The Battlefield

By Richard Corkhill

The battlefield was strewn with bodies. One body. At some distance from where I stood at the edge of the wood. I braced myself for the probably unpleasant encounter, aimed my carapace in the general direction, and clanked morosely over. The rowels of my spurs snagged in the wet ungrazed grass, slowing my progress.

A carrion crow lifted off at my approach, while its mate, braver, or just hungrier, delayed its departure by a few more seconds. Its harsh croaking cry echoed thickly in the hanging mist of early morning. The only other sound being the squeak and swish of the dew-laden grass dragging at my spurs. And the clanking of my bits of metal.

I was tired and evil-tempered. So tired that I had not had the wit to remove my pot-helm: it was stuffy inside, and the view through the slit was somewhat restricted. My gambeson, which had kept me warm during the night, for which I was now forgetting to be grateful, was making me sweat uncomfortably. What did they stuff it with? The long mail tunic and surcoat didn’t make matters any better. Adding to the weight I was lumbered with were the metal plate caps on my knees, shins and elbows. These latter encumbrances I found particularly embarrassing: I didn’t relish being reminded that in civvy street I taught in school, and, apart from a layer of chalk-dust, nothing more proclaims the schoolmaster than a tweed jacket patched on the elbows. At least, that’s the public, and media, perception. I just don’t see the elbow-patch as a badge of honour.

As far as I could recall to my fuzzy memory, the Ladies’ Gage had staged a version of the Battle of Bouvines, ‘A’ Team versus ‘B’ Team, “somewhere in Warwickshire”, as Kevin vaguely put it. Kevin de Courcy, as he liked to be addressed. The prat. I sometimes, well, quite often really, wonder abut the type of recruit that is drawn to thirteenth-century military re-enactment societies. I’d been led to believe that the Ladies’ Gage was one of the better ones, although unfortunately rather too far from home for my taste. Kevin, like me, was in the ‘B’ Team, which always felt to be inferior, however much old Hector Prothero insisted there was no difference in status between the teams. Any team with Kevin de Courcy in it was, ipso facto, inferior. It couldn’t be anything else. Take last tournament day. Who had to wrap a pair of his girlfriend’s tights round his helmet in the morning lists? Answer: Kevin de Courcy. The rest of us kept strictly to gloves, even though we had to buy a pair specially for our “better halves”, as old Hector insisted calling wives, partners, sweethearts and molls. Nobody wears gloves these days, ell, not that sort of glove. Gardening gloves would look silly. Perhaps not as silly as Kevin’s better half’s tights fluttering in the breeze on the end of Denis Pargetter’s lance. But silly all the same.

Then there was the time he tried on the trick of wearing a breastplate to join forces in his fevered imagination with Simon de Montford at the Battle of Lewes, 1264, while the rest of us were stuck in the technology of 1214 Bouvines. Jim asked him why he didn’t bring along a Gatling gun, and the fathead took him seriously and asked where he reckoned he might lay his hands on one! Denis offered to get him a service rifle, only one user, from the recent conflict in Iraq. Failing that, would he fancy a cluster bomb? I think it was at about that stage that he cottoned on that he was being ribbed. He reacted quite nastily, winging his mace at all and sundry, and threatening to crush the skulls of those who had already doffed their pot-helms and were laughing too close to where he was sitting. Eventually someone brought him up against the real world by placing the point of a rapier in his armpit, at the same time sobering him up and educating him in the point of weakness of the plate-metal cuirass. About the only way Kevin would ever learn anything. But he was a spiteful little oik. Tough with it, though, astonishingly tough, and apparently impervious to pain. And he’d already taken against Denis Pargetter for showing him up by picking those tights off his pot-helm with contemptuous ease , and galloping off with them on a lap of honour, to shrieks of laughter from the crowd ….

As I drew nearer, the body became two. Two bodies. One on top of the other, like lovers. The one on top had both hands chopped off and had died from loss of blood. The one below had Kevin’s teeth clenched round his windpipe. Denis had died, and killed, in self-defence.

(More about Richard)


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