Sir Greed and the Knights of Exploitation

Sir Greed banged his fist on the round table, “Bring me truffles!” he thundered, as the serving staff in BHS livery went scurrying. “’Tis treachery! The May Queen talks softly of helping the poor, yet it is the avowed intent of this fair kingdom to crush their will and keep them in grinding poverty, lest they get ideas and organise resistance!”

Knight on horse
Sir Greed rode out on his black stallion

He rode out of Castle Green at the head of his personal escort and made his way to the commission of poor men to give evidence for his alleged misdeeds. His squire, a mean and indolent fellow called Chappell, rode beside him.

“Chappell, heed my words. These villains will ask why I favoured thee with half my lands, to which you must reply, ‘My Lord put me in charge of the upkeep of the serfs in good faith, but I lacked the knowledge of my wise master to manage the estates and provide for their welfare’. Got it?”

“Yes, my Lord. And I shall remain in your favour by not mentioning that you stripped the silver and gold from all the holy places to pay for your new royal yacht.” Sir Greed glared at his snivelling underling, knowing full well that his deviousness and avarice had bound him to the villain.

“Look, my Lord! The May Queen awaits you before the humble parliament shed.”

“Good day, my Queen, to what do I owe this pleasure?” The portly knight said, quivering in his saddle as he attempted an ungainly bow.

“It is no pleasure of mine, Sir Greed! I have come to warn you not to mock my councillors and give truthful evidence, for I intend to reform this kingdom and reverse the culture of theft and oppression that has become your hallmark.”

“My Queen, I will doff my cap and tell them what they want to hear, but we both know your kingdom is based on a wealthy elite exploiting the serfs for personal gain, aggrandisement and displays of riches. For every rich man, there must be hundreds of serfs to support him, working his fields for a pittance, fighting his battles, and being grateful for a rat-infested hovel to live in and a handful of grain to feed his lice-ridden family.”

The May Queen eyed him with a cold, well-practiced withering look, and answered in a low and threatening voice. “That may be how we want it, Sir Greed, but we must at least make a show of appearing to care for the welfare of the legions of poor, for without their labour, our kingdom would falter and we would not be able to continue our lavish lifestyles… beware the dangers of arrogance and cruelty! They have been the undoing of many Lords, and I will move swiftly to strip you of your titles if you do not play along with our mocking game of deception and false hope for our minions!”

Sir Greed, suitably chastised, went before the commission, and smiled like a devious crook as he rebuffed charges of dishonesty, avarice, and cruelty to his people. For in truth, the commission had no powers to strip away his lands or titles, merely the power to chastise and humbly request some coins for the alms box.

Sir Greed and Squire Chappell rode away, laughing at the powerless rage and frustration of the councillors, and dismissing the paltry amount paid into the alms box.

“We shall recover our outlay with higher taxes, my Lord,” the heartless squire quipped.

As they rode through a dark, foreboding forest, making their way slowly under overhanging trees, their path was suddenly blocked by a band of outlaws.

“Out of our way, vermin,” Sir Greed demanded.

The leader of the group, an ageing man with a grey scaggy beard, approached on a mangy nag. “My Lord, I am The Corbineer, leader of, well, one of a number of bands of outlaws in this forest, having been duly elected by my peers, and I must now ask you for your purse, as we have many mouths to feed.” He waved a short, bent sword, and encouraged his men to laugh at his boldness.

“Out of my way, scum!” Sir Greed replied, spurring his horse forward and brushing aside the dandy bandit. He rode away on his black charger, closely followed by his whimpering squire. They soon cleared the forest and turned back to see their entourage beaten and stripped of their clothing.

“Shall we ride back to aid our followers, my lord?” the panting Chappell enquired, feigning bravery.

“No need,” Sir Greed replied, “There are plenty more where they came from. I shall send a group of knights from the Order of The Exploiters to deal with this troublesome Corbineer. The poor are too divided with their village rivalries to come to his aid. We will not kill him but instead capture him and keep him in our Palace of Westminster as an example to others of how hope of advancement is in vain and they must accept their subservient position in our kingdom. As my Uncle Avarice once said, ‘It’s their hope that kills ‘em’.”

They laughed as they rode to Castle Green, oblivious to the cries and screams of their abandoned followers, safe in the knowledge that order had been upheld in the Kingdom of Fear.

 

To find out about the future of the Kingdom of Fear…

http://amazon.co.uk/dp/B01EGDLHLW

 

 

Halloween 50BC

celtic-druidsThree loud raps on the gate sent her scurrying. Peeping through the spy-hole her eyes widened in alarm at the tall hooded figure of the Druid, staff in hand, waiting to be let in.  Elissa called her son to help pull back the heavy wooden spar.  The Druid’s arrival from his sacred grove in the woods always preceded a festival or funeral.

“Where is your husband, Waylan, the Gate-keeper?” he demanded of the cowering woman.

“Sir, he is dead this past week, killed in the last raid by the Atrebates. His body awaits burial.”

“Then we must honour him,” said the Druid, pushing past her and making for the house of the village chief. “We will summon his spirit at Sah-wen this night.  Make a place for him at your meal table.”

She was alarmed at the thought of the ghost of her departed husband and other spirits returning to walk amongst them as she set about making breakfast for her 9-year-old daughter, Dulla, and son, Tristan, aged 12.

“Mum! Do we get to wear our animal costumes tonight?” Dulla danced and tugged on her sleeve.

“Yes, dear, but first we must help build the bonfire and single out an animal for sacrifice. Perhaps the old ewe will do.  She is dry, and we must not show the Druid that she is lame.”

They had each prepared an animal skin costume with a cured head; Tristan would wear a ram’s head with curling horns, Dulla a sheep’s head and she would wear her husband’s stag’s head with antlers, as she was now head of the house. He had died defending the village’s rear gate, next to where their round house was positioned, as it was their family’s duty to keep the gate and watch out for invaders from the east.  They always came from the east, walking silently out of the woods, axes by their sides, often with the rising sun at their backs.

The village of 30 dwellings was surrounded by a ditch and earth bank, with two wooden gates at east and west. The men had been building a series of wooden platforms on top of the bank, on either side of the gates to give better defensive positions.  Tristan took his sentry duties very seriously, and would roll out of bed at dawn to patrol his new lookout position.  Attacks by their hostile neighbours were becoming more frequent.

That evening the villagers gathered in the central area where the Druid waited to address them:

“Tonight we celebrate the festival of Sah-wen to mark the end of our year, and make ready for the long winter. The harvest is stored and animals fattened.  Now we ask to be favoured by our gods and pay homage to those who have died this year, and summon them to walk amongst us, before they pass to the spirit world.”

Dulla led their elderly ewe and Tristan carried a basket of vegetables to the Druid’s assistants, who received them and placed all the offerings in a wooden box on a raised platform, around the feet of a bound captive, who chanted in his own dialect, expecting death. Tree branches and faggots of twigs prepared by the children, were arranged around the sacrificial cluster of objects.  The moon had risen over the woods as the grey Druid raised his arms and a hush fell on the group.

“Almighty Brea, protector of the people, accept our offerings to you at Sah-wen, and favour the new year. Watch over us through the long winter nights.  We offer these sacrifices to you so you may bless the crops in the fields and the fruit on the vine.”  He started a low chant that was taken up by the villagers, who held hands and swayed as the sacred bonfire was lit.  Animals cried out in terror and fowl flapped their wings in a desperate attempt to escape the flames.  Their sacrifice would ensure the safety and prosperity of the village for another year.

As the sacred bonfire burned low, the head of each household took a burning branch from the Druid’s hand, and returned to their home to re-light the family hearth. Each family group followed the torch-bearer in tight-knit groups, looking out for the spirits of the dead who might be roaming the compound.  Their animal costumes disguised them from the ghosts, who would roam mournfully before melting away into the night air once the hearth fires were re-kindled.

Elissa led her children through the dark doorway of their house and lit the hearth fire from the torch. The wood crackled and spat embers out as light and warmth were restored to their home.  Their meals had been laid out before the ceremony, and now they turned their attentions to the dining table.  A cold breeze made her shiver and she gasped as she saw the plate of food that had been set out at the head of the table was now empty.

“Look Mum!” Dulla cried, “Daddy’s been to visit us again!”

Gunpowder Plot Revisited

Life of George, Chapter 8 – Gunpowder Plot Revisited

Parliament bombedFollow my serialised novel at:-

http://channillo.com/series/life-of-George

‘…Ken eyed his moody companion and said: “Come on George, I’ve arranged for us to meet the Inspector at the staff entrance to the Parliament building. We can play our part in preventing this madness by identifying any of the main activists on CCTV if they approach the building. We should be able to recognise Stevo and Tommy by their body shape and gait long before any of the coppers, even with hoods up. Come on, it’s the final act of the Thames Valley Four! Let’s finish what we started”.’

‘…George called over WPC Wishaw and pointed to the screen. “He’s definitely one of them! Alert security! They’re in the building!” The petite PC smashed her hand on a big, red plastic button, setting off a loud alarm, as she dashed across the room to call her superior. “Quick! Get everyone you can to the service area! There are two of them and they’re carrying a back pack!”…’

Sanctioned!

He woke up at the noise. The first plane flew over the house at 6am every day, including Sundays, like a Promethean punishment from the Establishment. Although his alarm was set for 7am, he rarely slept beyond the first low-flying aircraft heading for Heathrow Airport. “Please, don’t let them build another runway,” he moaned, as bleary-eyed and with an uncomfortably full bladder, he manoeuvred his swollen legs and numb feet over the edge of the bed and sat up.

despairMarge was still sleeping, ear plugs in and mask on. He looked at her with a mixture of love and envy. He couldn’t sleep with ear plugs in – what would happen if there was a break-in or explosion? Such things were not unheard of on the Runnymede Council estate. He managed a slow, painful shuffle to the bathroom and relieved himself. After a quick wash and shave he returned to the bedroom to get dressed. Not a straight forward procedure, as nerve damage to his hands and feet made routine tasks a trial. He sat on the bed and took his pills.

Johnny was downstairs having his cereal, ear phones in and eyes glued to flashing lights on his tablet. Thankfully, he was a self-sufficient teenager and could make his own way to school.

“What you got on today?”

He removed one ear plug. “Nuffin’ much.”

“Well, let’s hope your teachers can spark an interest; and stay out of trouble.”

The letterbox snapped and he robotically moved to the front door. His heart froze in shock. A brown envelope. He hated getting brown envelopes. It was not his fault he was unable to work anymore due to a chronic condition. These things happen. Now he was in The Welfare System.

He sat at the kitchen table, turning the envelope over in his tingling hands, sitting quite still with bowed head as the boy plonked a mug of tea in front of him and rushed out just as she rushed in, gulping a cup of coffee.

“What you got there?” she said.

“Letter from the sosh.”

She hovered behind him. He could sense her unease.

“I’ll open it when you’ve gone.”

“Oh, no you won’t. I want to know what it says before I go for work. You know our budget is on a shoestring. Any changes will leave us going to the Food Bank. Open it.”

He reluctantly thumbed it open, fearing the outcome. He read in brooding silence.

“Come on then, what does it say?” There was an uneasy tone in her voice.

“It says, ‘…you are required to attend a meeting to review your status as being medically unfit for work.’”

“Oh God!” she cried, as she slumped onto a chair. “Why can’t they leave you alone? Doctors have examined you and said you’re not well enough to return to work. Why are they doing this? I’ve got to go. We’ll talk later.” A kiss on the cheek and she was gone.

He took his time clearing up. Put warm water and washing up liquid in the sink. Pile the dishes in, then sit down. Wash up and leave on the drainer. Sit down. He moved slowly to the lounge and picked up his inhaler and welfare correspondence file. Sit down. He was breathing heavily and took a few seconds to recover. A squirt on the inhaler. His tired eyes wandered to family photos on the wall. One of him with team mates holding a trophy.

The warm sunlight and effect of the medication made him drowsy and afternoon naps were a part of his new routine. He woke to the sound of sobbing coming from the kitchen. Slowly pushing himself up from the armchair, on swollen feet he moved to the kitchen. She was sitting at the table, head in arms, body shaking with deep sobs. He put his arm around her.

“Don’t worry, love. Things will be alright. I’ll get another letter from the doctors. I’ve already made an appointment.”

“Oh no it won’t!” She sat up, red eyed. “Look what’s in today’s paper!”

He read out loud: “‘Sick Dad Killed Himself After Benefits Axed’. Hmm… a Coroner has ruled that a man committed suicide as a result of a government-approved assessor telling him to get a job against doctors’ advice.”

He looked at a photo of the Minister responsible, clearly selected to make him look sinister. She sat up and looked at him miserably, mascara running down her cheeks.

“What are we going to do? You can’t win against these people. They’re on a mission to cut welfare payments at all cost, even killing people! It says in there that 2,500 sick and disabled people have died within two weeks of their benefits payments being stopped after being declared fit for work. It’s not fair!”

“Come on, love. There’s no way they’ll find me fit for work. Look at me! Still in my dressing gown in the afternoon. I’m a wreck, and that’s how they’ll see me. Let’s have a cup of tea.” They sipped their teas and munched on biscuits in miserable silence. How can I tell her that I’ve already been sanctioned for missing a meeting?

He persuaded her to go upstairs and have a lie down. His mind was numb. There was nothing else to be done. They’ll probably be better off without me – the Union will pay-out. He took a roll of washing line and a foot stool and walked out into the back yard. Blinked up at the late afternoon sun, he scowled as the shadow of a ‘plane flashed over. Placing the stool under a tree he stood on it and threw the washing line over an overhanging branch.

Madge woke from her nap when the front door slammed.

“Mum! I’m home!” Johnny shouted.

She got up and made her way to the bedroom window, looking down to their tiny patch of garden. She froze in horror at the sight of her husband’s legs standing on a stool under the tree. With a scream she rushed downstairs, past the startled boy, and out into the garden. His head and torso were obscured by the leaves of the tree as she rushed up to him, throwing her arms around his legs and squeezing as tight as she could.

“Hey! What’s going on, you silly mare!”

“Don’t do it!” she sobbed, “We’ll manage!”

“What are you on about? I’m just fixing the washing line!”

Thames Valley Tales – Two Months Old!

Themes_Valley_Tales_Cover_5My first dip of the toe into the pool of creative writing…

I’m glad I paid for professional proof-reading and copyediting, as I can face my readers and say, ‘It’s the best I can do at this stage of my development, and I’ve ensured it is technically sound and a smooth read.’

As for the stories themselves…are they engaging? do they stand comparison with other author’s work?  Here’s what my first five reviewers said…

“I love the range of emotions wrapped up in each story.  Witty, informative, educational – a thoroughly interesting read.  Strongly recommend it to any literary reader!”  awww…thanks sis.  I’ll try and be nicer to you…

Here’s a slightly cryptic one from someone I don’t know…

“Great collection of stories. Intriguing and witty.  Popeye shouldn’t read this…but everyone else should.”

Thrilled to get a five start rating from a stranger…but what does it mean???  I can’t see Popeye grappling with a tablet with his big thumbs, open can of spinach in the other hand.  Olive Oyle is a potential reader though…

A review from a member of my writing group is most welcome and I appreciate the peer support…

“Fascinating glimpses into the history of the area.  I thoroughly enjoyed all the stories and wanted some of them to continue so I could find out what happened to the characters.”

Hmmmm….perhaps some stories could be extended into something longer, but I like the short story format because of my short attention span and inclination to hop from one idea to another.

Another review was from a cousin who I have no contact with, so the family grapevine works…

“An excellent collection of short stories which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Well written – can’t wait to read more from this author.”

Wow! great review and from an unexpected quarter… maybe I should re-engage with some distant branches of the extended family.  Especially now I’m an erm… author.

A review from a golf buddy who I never discussed books or reading with, just put his email on a speculative mailing…

“Great little stories.  Who is the murderer at Henley Regatta? Definitely the best of the bunch.”

Nice…and I’ve put ‘Murder at Henley Regatta’ forward for inclusion in an anthology of emerging writers…

With a few sales and a handful of reviews, I feel I’m emerging, blinking into the sunlight, embracing my new status and standing firmly behind my book in a few local media interviews.  It’s a start.  I’m up and running.

Arthur King and the Holy Grail

The Cornwall County Fair was in full swing, a twirl of colourful distractions, as Arthur and his mates strode purposefully through the throng of laughter.  Their destination was the Holy Grail marquee and their aim was to win one of four tickets to try out the new computer game, being unveiled here, today, for the very first time.  They had slept in tents at a makeshift campsite on a grassy meadow beside the rippling waters of the River Camel.  Arthur had not slept well, his imagination no doubt influenced by a local farmer telling them that the place where they camped, Slaughter Bridge, was so named because it was the site of a battle that had taken place way back in the Dark Ages.  He had dreamed of an ancient king, of knights in shining armour, of swords, shields and helmets littering the blood soaked meadow.  Since morning the visions had continued to invade his conscious mind.

Waves crashed on the granite cliffs, gulls circled, buffeted by the wind.  He looked out over the stormy sea, not seeing where the grey skies met the maelstrom, an all powerful force of Nature, pounding against the World of Man; relentless and eternal, before us and after, unbeatable, untamed, supreme.  Kingdoms may rise and fall, but the power of Nature is an ever present force and must be respected.  Behind the walls of Tintagel Castle he felt safe and secure, but soon must ride out to do battle.  He felt uneasy – a sense of foreboding.  king_arthur_wallpaperKnights who had deserted him, led by his own kin, were coming for him.  There could only be one King, and it was his head that wore the crown.  He must defeat his own son in battle and reform the Knights of the Round Table.  He must ride out in the morning and face down those who were once his loyal followers.  It would not be a pleasant business.  It was beyond talking.  He was determined to end it once and for all.

Dozens of computer gaming geeks jostled at the entrance to the Camelot Marquee, anxious to get inside for the two o’clock launch by legendary game designer, Marvin Ambrose.  The stale and rancid air caused Arthur and his friends to gag as they pushed their way to the front.

“Oy!  Stop your pushing!” someone said.

Arthur just glared and squeezed past.  He would not be deflected from his mission.  Four computer terminals with stools were behind a roped off area, and outside a generator hummed a self-satisfied tune.  Marvin suddenly appeared, as if by magic, resplendent in a flowing white robe, and the group of predominantly young men applauded enthusiastically.

“Dear friends, you are here because you are the few true followers of my games.  You have successfully decoded the clues I placed in my last game, ‘Arthur’s Test’, that have led you to this very place at this time.”  A sweep of the arm fired up the PCs and the words ‘Quest for the Holy Grail’ appeared on all four screens.  The youths leaned forward to see and sporadic hand clapping and ‘oooing’ and ‘ahhing’ broke out.  He held up his hands for silence.

“Dear gamers, today I am launching my latest game, which contains recently developed features as yet unknown in the industry.  I want to select four worthy players from amongst you to be the first to battle through four levels to achieve the ultimate prize of finding the Holy Grail.”

Arthur and his pals were enthralled; hanging on the older man’s every word.  His keen grey eyes moved over the rank of eager faces and he held up his hands again for calm.

“I will ask you all a question, and if you think you know the answer, put your hand up, but do not shout out.  The question is: In my previous game, ‘Arthur’s Test’, what was the name of the damsel in distress whom Arthur had to rescue from a fire breathing dragon in level five?”

The mighty King rode out in regal pomp and majesty, his banners displayed at the head of a small army.  His heart was heavy as he reflected on the origins of the feud that had torn his Court apart – the secret love between his Queen, Guinevere, and his mightiest knight, Launcelot.  He had no choice but to condemn her, but his authority had been undermined by Launcelot’s rescue and elopement with her.  How he missed them both – his beautiful wife and best friend – now his sworn enemies.  There could be no reconciliation.  His bitterness and unhappiness had been exploited by his ambitious son, born out of wedlock and brought up to hate him by his sorceress mother, Morgana le Fey.  He had been bewitched into fathering this malignant son by his own half sister.  A tangled web of deceit and betrayal had led to this day – a day of reckoning.

A dozen players shot their hands up, including Arthur, and the crowd surged forward.  Marvin appealed for calm, and two security guards appeared by his side.

“Can those twelve hands please come down to the front.  Alright.  Now, whisper the answer to my glamorous assistant.”  An attractive blond haired young woman had also appeared, dressed in a long flowing medieval gown of green with gold trim.  Starting at the end farthest from Arthur, she bent forward to hear the whispered word and either tapped the shoulder for ‘Yes’ or shook her head for ‘No’.  When Arthur’s turn came, he whispered, ‘Demelza’.  She smiled at him and tapped his shoulder.  The twelve had become eight.  Marvin beamed happily and said; “We have eight loyal and worthy players who have correctly named the damsel in distress as Demelza; also the name of my glamorous assistant!”  She bowed to thunderous applause.

“But now, dear friends, we must halve their number to just four brave knights who will take on the quest for the Holy Grail.”

Demelza produced a velvet draw-string bag and handed it to Marvin.  He rooted around inside and removed some balls.  “Dear friends, we must take on a game of chance and be guided by the hand of fate in making our selection.  In this bag are eight balls.  Four are red, and four are gold.  Our seven young men and one lady;” he said, nodding to a blushing young woman in the group, “will draw for the privilege of playing the game.  A gold ball will give you a seat at a terminal!”

Arthur was second from last in line, and had to wait anxiously as six others drew balls.  When it came to his turn, only two balls remained – one of which was gold.  “My moment of destiny,” he murmured as he swirled his hand around, feeling the two balls, whilst holding eye contact with his hero.  He extracted a ball and held it out, as if having drawn a sword from a stone.  Marvin smiled at him, and then shook his head sorrowfully at the eighth gamer.  “Sorry my friend, the last ball must be red.”

In this meadow, beside the River Camel, at a ford called Camlann, the two opposing armies faced each other.  A thick mist enveloped the opposing forces, and they moved slowly forward until they could make out the outline of their foe, like ghosts emerging from the fog.  A cry went up and they charged.  Bitter fighting ensued, with many men slain by their own side as confusion reigned in the thick mist that hung ominously all around them.  Cries and shouts became fewer as men died of their wounds, until only the mighty King remained with one Knight standing, the loyal Sir Bedivere, facing their only surviving opponent, Mordred.  The King bade his loyal knight to stand aside as he fought in mortal combat with his own son, neither holding back nor showing any signs of weakness.  Finally, the King struck down his foe, but in delivering the death blow, was himself fatally wounded.

“We have our four brave knights, and fittingly for this New Age, one is a lady!”  The crowd clapped as the four lucky winners were ushered behind the rope and allocated terminals.  “And now let me introduce the game,” Marvin said.  “They will all play the same game, each as a different knight, and will compete against each other for points on four tasks that lead to the Holy Grail.  After each level the knight with the fewest points will be eliminated.  The two finalists will fight their way through a maze and the winner will be the first to find the Holy Grail.  Now, log in and name your knight!”

Hunched forward with thumbs twitching manically, the four gamers set about fighting dragons, armies of the dead, competing in a jousting tournament and then through an enchanted forest.  After level three, just Arthur and Melanie were left.  After a brief respite for drinks, and amidst cheering on from their supporters, they started level four.  The tension in the marquee was palpable, as the game fans watched on a big screen.  The two remaining knights approached a heavily fortified castle and fought their way through a maze of corridors, dodging goblins and fighting dwarfs, before entering the chamber of the Holy Grail.  A glittering golden vessel stood on an altar, but the approach was beset with traps.  Arthur made a judgement call, and gallantly allowed his rival to go first.  When she fell through a trap door, he made his way to the magical cup and lifted it to the sound of trumpets and a choir of angels.  To rapturous applause, Arthur stood up and squinted shyly at the crowd, raising his hand in salutation.  He had won; he had found the Holy Grail – he was their champion.

Marvin presented him with a replica golden goblet, engraved with ‘Holy Grail Game Champion.’  Arthur felt this was the happiest moment of his life – a champion at the tender age of nineteen.  “Our winner, aptly named Arthur, not only wins a copy of the game and a console, but can also accompany us, if he wishes, to the O2 arena in London next week to give a demonstration of the game and take on other contestants.  Thank you all for coming, and remember the game is on sale from all major retailers from Monday!”

Arthur followed Marvin and the Damelza out of the marquee and into a caravan behind, where they relaxed and got acquainted.  Marvin had researched the Arthurian legend when developing his latest game, and now studied the shy but happy youth.

“A young man from Cornwall called Arthur, one thousand five hundred or more years ago, pulled a sword from a stone, and was proclaimed King, not far from where we are now sitting.  A Wizard called Merlin guided him and kept him safe from harm, believing that he was destined to be a great leader who would unite the People of the West against the invading forces of Saxons who were pillaging the land.”

He gleamed at his new protégé: “Maybe you, young Arthur King, have been chosen by fate to be a new leader for your generation.  You have a quick mind, exceptional hand-eye co-ordination and have smashed the previous high score on this game, set by our best games testers.  You have a bright future, my boy, if not leading armies in the field, then inspiring the youth of today in other ways.”

Demelza squeezed Arthur’s shoulders and he was already feeling accepted as one of the team.  “No promises, but you could have a future as a games tester.”  The old man winked at him: “’Arthur King and Marvin the Games Wizard’ has a ring to it, don’t you think?”

King-Arthur-ExcaliburThe noble Sir Bedivere carried his dying King to a nearby lake, and rowed him in a boat to an island where a healer received him.  On the way, the brave Knight assisted him to fulfil his final wish – to throw the mighty and magical sword, Excalibur, into the lake.  To the knight’s surprise, an arm emerged from the calm waters.  The Lady of the Lake received the sword, and King Arthur, mighty ruler of the West and hammer of the Saxon invaders, died soon after.

 

Arthur accepted the offer, and wandered off to tell his friends.  Maybe it could be the start of something – the possibility of a job as a games tester, or some other unknown destiny.  As they walked over Slaughter Bridge and back to their camp site, he did not tell his friends about the visions.  He had seen the dying King throw his sword and the arm of the Lady of the Lake rise to receive it.  A Golden Age had ended in that moment and the lands fell into a Dark Age as barbarian invaders swarmed over it, destroying all traces of learning and subjugating the people to their harsh pagan ways.  He felt a curious resolve to do the best he can in life and to stand up for what he believed to be right.  Legends live on for a reason and the deeds of mighty men continue to inspire those who come after.

The Grey Lady

I ARISE FROM my bed with a sense of dread.  Something troubles me, but I know not what.  A shaft of silver moonlight crosses the woven mat on my wooden floorboards, giving me enough light to find my shawl, and I walk out the door.  My two little ones are sleeping soundly, and I pass unheard and unseen over the landing.

ghost-lady4

My bare feet take me to the narrow wooden stairs and I descend into the oak-beamed hallway.  My way is clear and I feel drawn to the garden door, trying to remember what it is that alarms me.  I sense that there is danger nearby, and go in search of my husband, James, the innkeeper at this place, the Maybush in Newbridge.  I pass through the barred door into an enclosed garden and hear the distant sound of men fighting.  The Roundheads have come to take the bridge.

I am drawn towards the sound.  Clashing of swords, cries and curses assail my ears.  We live in dangerous times, in this year of our lord, 1644.  I hear my husband’s voice.  I must go to him.  I close my eyes and feel the cool night breeze play with my hair, a tickling sensation on my neck.  I curse Cromwell’s thugs, tearing at the heart and soul of merry England, bringing terror to simple God-fearing folk.

A shiver runs through me as I pass through the solid wall and find myself outside on the pathway above the river.  I see my husband on the bridge – he is fighting desperately but is overwhelmed by greater numbers.  He falls, and two men are upon him, cutting and slashing with their swords.  Through his dying eyes he sees me, and a look of sorrow, regret, helplessness is conveyed to me in that briefest of moments.

Then he is still.  I cry out.  The two men are upon me.  I am too terrified to move.  They seize me roughly by the arms and drag me past the blood-soaked body of my dearly beloved, onto the bridge over the river.  One of the villainous Roundheads, stinking of sour ale, tells me: “You and your husband have harboured Cavaliers at your inn and plotted against our leader, Master Cromwell.  Now you will pay with your life – a death to all Papists!”

With that, he drew his knife across my throat and I swooned, feeling my warm blood spill down the front of my nightgown.  “Oh God, dear Jesus, receive me,” I mutter as I fall down, down spinning silently into the dark murky waters of the Thames.

A curse on these lowly wretches who see a chance for self-advancement in chaos!  But my last thought is for my children.  What will happen to my beloved Geoffrey and sweet Annabelle?  I must search for them.  The cold waters envelope me and a silver ribbon lights the way to my watery grave.

The Windsor Long Walk

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They were so loved up, bubble wrapped in their perfect world.  Arm in arm they gazed into each other’s eyes, abdicating all responsibility for possible collisions with a carousel of walkers, joggers, skaters, bending parents and careering toddlers, all enjoying a bright, crisp Valentine’s Day on the Windsor Long Walk.  They followed the straight, long, tarred pathway in the direction of the George Monument, leaving the imposing walls of Windsor Castle behind them.

Ben looked up.  The volume of noise around them had suddenly increased.  There was a group of loud American tourists hogging the middle of the path ahead, a scissor-legged roller skater swerved around them to his right.  The way to his left was blocked by a squawking couple, arms wind-milling in a public display of anger.  He held Annie firmly by the waist and manoeuvred her away from the mayhem.  “Do you thing the Queen watches all this from a castle window?” Ben quipped, drawing a giggle from her.

“Let’s find somewhere to sit,” she said; “my legs are a bit achy.”  They found a vacant bench and plonked themselves down.

“I don’t think I can make it all the way up to the Monument,” she sighed, whilst squeezing Ben’s arm tightly as if to make sure he didn’t run off.

“That’s OK, it’s like a ski slalom course out there.  I’m tired of dodging people.  Let’s watch them for a bit and then stroll back.”  The tourists shuffled off in the direction of the Castle, robotically following a tour guide with a raised umbrella.

Another loved-up couple sauntered by.  Ben said: “Look…they’re in love, just like us.”  He squeezed her shoulder and looked into her eyes, hopeful of a favourable response.

“Yes, isn’t it nice,” she replied, smiling sweetly, with an angelic but somehow detached air.  Her phone buzzed and she quickly checked the screen to see who had texted her.  She angled the phone away from Ben and hurriedly pushed it into her handbag.  He fidgeted and looked straight ahead.  A herd of red deer grazed in the distance.  Don’t make an issue of it.

The wind picked up and a mini tornado of crisp packets, chocolate wrappers and paper cups spun crazily towards them.  Annie shrieked and Ben turned to see a hooded youth run off with her handbag.  In his haste, he slammed into a dog walker and went tumbling to the ground, ankle caught up in the yelping dog’s lead.  “Help!  That man’s got my bag!” Annie pointed at the struggling figure on the ground.  A large Dad flopped on top of him, winding the much smaller youth, and soon a crowd had gathered around.

Annie and Ben pushed their way to the front, and the large Dad, now on his feet, was holding the wriggling youth with one hand and her handbag with the other.  “Is this yours?”  “Oh yes!  Thanks very much, you’re so brave!”  A small round of applause rippled through the crowd.  As if to magically solve the next problem, two Royal Parks Police officers arrived on the scene, mounted on large chestnut horses.  One of them dismounted and seemed satisfied with the various eye witness accounts, handcuffing the forlorn youth and leading him away.

Annie thanked the big man, who blushed and picked up his adoring daughter.  Daddy the hero.  Annie checked the contents of her handbag, and satisfied, took Ben by the arm and led him away.  “That was some speech, Ben,” she said happily.  “Just to let you know, the text messages are from my sister – our mum has a health problem.  There’s no one else for me – only you.  Of course I love you.”  The faced each other on the busy path, embraced and kissed.  A moment in time, two specs on the earth, as it moved slowly through space.  The pale winter sun inched fractionally across the wide blue sky as the carnival spun gaily around them.  They were just starting out on the Long Walk.