Palmsunday Field: Prologue

Posted on 26. November 2012

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For the folks from the German NaNo board and everyone else who is interested, I’ll post the prologue of my novel “Palmsunday Field” as an excerpt. It has been through the first editing round already, so I hope there won’t be any major mistakes.

I wrote the prologue, which is set in St Albans in 1455 (five years before the beginning of the main action of my novel) because I feel the events of that day are highly significant for what happened later. St Albans set the tone for what would later be known as the Wars of the Roses in some ways and certainly created interesting dynamics between some of the noble families, to say the least. With this battle, revenge became a driving factor for many survivors and the families of those who were killed.

Also, we’re meeting Henry Beaufort, later to become Duke of Somerset and thus my MC’s lord, for the first time.

Enjoy!

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St Albans, May 5th, 1455

The town looked deceptively peaceful. St Albans was a rich market town, profiting from its place near one of the most important trade routes, and it showed from the pretty, solid houses and the clothing of the people passing by. Normally, this would have been a place to go shopping or make a visit. Not a town for bloodshed.

Maybe that was the reason why none of the noblemen, knights, men-at-arms and archers assembled on the market square seemed particularly worried. Even though there were enemy troops stationed outside the city, even though everywhere in the city soldiers were stationed behind barricades, ready to fight, proof of the defensive measures the men now waiting in the town had placed earlier, even though there was fighting in some places in the outskirts of the town, the atmosphere reminded more of a moderately important parliament session than of a battle. The King didn’t seem particularly worried either, but that probably didn’t mean much since it was doubtful to what extent King Henry VI was even aware of the situation. Nowadays, his mind seemed to wander in places that had little to do with reality as most people perceived it.

“You will see, there will be a peaceful solution, just like the last times,” Edmund, Duke of Somerset, said to his son, 19-year-old Henry, who was standing next to him. “Do you really still think so? Even though York decided to attack?,” one of the other nobles asked skeptically. “This won’t amount to much. Some little skirmishes, and then they’ll get stuck on our defensive measures. You’ll see, soon they’ll want to talk. York is no fool, he knows when he can’t win,” Somerset said confidently. The two men had been rivals for years, fighting over power, influence and honour. It was often said that this kind of relationship led to knowing each other at least as well as one knew a close friend. It seemed as if most of the men believed in this kind of authority, anyway, since there seemed to be general trust in the Duke’s judgement on this matter.

“Maybe we should attack. It might be better if we fight. We can’t allow them to undermine the authority of the king like this,” Henry suggested. He appeared restless, full of youthful energy and genuinely outraged at their opponents’ behaviour. The Duke eyed him fondly, but he shook his head and said: “Believe me, I would like that. By God, I would. I don’t like this any more than you do, son. But as usually, we must think of politics… imagine what it would do for the country’s stability if…”

The rest of the political lecture he might have given his hot-headed son would never be uttered. It was replaced by a moment of shocked silence followed by hastily shouted orders. Because that was when the enemies attacked. A group of fighters, brandishing weapons, came storming upon the market square which, just moments ago, had looked so peaceful.

The attackers were upon the waiting men in seconds. Someone swore, another man gave a panicked scream, but most didn’t even have time for that before they had to try and defend themselves. Within moments, the men were fighting for their lives. It was an uneven fight. The attackers, who, as the defenders now saw, mostly wore the red livery of the Earl of Warwick, had the element of surprise on their side, determined fighters attacking a totally unprepared enemy. “Protect the king,” someone shouted. Despite the chaos, the order was heard. Immediately, some of the assembled men-at-arms made a ring around the king who stood on the square as if he was totally overwhelmed by the situation. He hadn’t even drawn his sword. His defenders were threatening everyone who approached with their weapons, protecting their sovereign, their years-long training taking over.

The Duke of Somerset shouted commands, trying to establish some amount of order so his men would use proper tactics instead of panicked one-on-one fighting. His son was by his side, thrusting, hitting, parrying, handling his poleaxe with the deadly precision and quick, deceptively casual-looking grace of someone who had been trained at arms since his childhood. For a few moments, it looked as if they might successfully defend themselves. Then, however, one of Warwick’s men got through the Duke’s defence with a quick thrust of his sword. Using his opponent’s momentary distraction, caused by the Duke’s desperate attempts to organise his army, he found a weak spot in his expensive suit of gothic armour. Without hesitation, he thrust his sword right in, cruelly moving it around for maximum effect. Blood covered the blade, the armour, dripped on the ground, dyed the Duke’s surcoat a brownish red.

The Duke collapsed immediately. Henry, realising the situation too late to help, could only watch as his father fell and vanished in the chaos of fighters. He hesitated only the briefest moment. Then he grabbed his weapon and charged. “Sir, come back,” one of his father’s men-at-arms shouted, but Henry didn’t hear, rushing into the Warwick’s men, wounding two of them with his first wild hits. His rage and desperation only made him quicker and more deadly. Still, he stood no chance. Soon, his opponents had gotten over their shock at his sudden attack and assessed the situation. The men who had come to his aid, trying to protect him, could only watch as a fighter from the second row hit the young noblemen’s head with a quick, almost casual-looking blow. Henry immediately fell. Like his father and most other fighters of their group, he wore a full suit of armour, but no helmet. They had wanted to leave that for later, for when they’d actually go into the fight. Now, the fight had come to them and they paid dearly for their lack of protection.

The fighters from the Somerset household were desperately trying to get through to the Duke and his son but couldn’t do much against the organised opponents. Everything got worse when the arrows came – deadly, white-feathered missiles soaring in with a precision and firing rate unmatched in the whole world. “Incoming,” someone shouted as the men desperately tried to protect themselves. Some more men fell, others got hit by arrows but somehow fought on despite their injuries. The men who had tried to shield the King were shot one by one. The King himself was struck by an arrow and bleeding.

It wasn’t clear who was the first person to make the call, but soon, it was echoed all through the army. “Retreat,” the fighters shouted, running, struggling to reach their horses which they had tethered a short distance away from the square. More and more men followed the call. Some made it, others were cut down by Warwick’s men who followed them in hot pursuit.

After only a few minutes, it was over. Once again, the town of St Albans was quiet. This time, however, the sun of a cool spring day shone upon the bodies of the soldiers who had fallen, lying, dead or dying, on the cobblestones. The day had not seemed to bring bloodshed, but now it had brought more of it than most of those involved could have imagined. Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, was content. Calmly, he gave orders to his men. His tactic of going into the town through a series of undefended, totally forgotten gardens and back alleys had saved the day for his army and for their leader, the Duke of York.

So many had died that day. Young Henry, however, lived. Severely wounded, blood matting his dark hair, he lay on the square, but he, unlike his father and so many others, had escaped death and would with a bit of luck recover from this fight. “He comes with me. I’ll put him under my protection,” Warwick said. No one challenged his decision. He had, after all, just won an amazing victory for his allies and his lord. After he had dealt with his young prisoner, Warwick turned towards the King who was now devoid of protection and in the hands of his captors. Negotiations would follow; negotiations that could only go well for York after such a victory. This day, Warwick was sure, would be remembered.

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Posted in: history, writing