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AFTER EVESHAM

by

Feona J. Hamilton


LIST OF CHARACTERS

*actual historical characters

Royalty and the Court

*Henry III, King of England

*Eleanor of Provence, his queen

*Thibault, one of the Queen’s household

*The Lord Edward, his elder son

*Prince Edmund, his younger son

*John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey

*Alice de Warenne, his wife

*Sir Roger Leyburn

*Cardinal Ottobuono Fieschi, Papal Legate

Jervis FitzHugh, squire to John de Warenne

Philip, a squire in the de Warenne household

Robert, a squire in the de Warenne household

Madeleine de Tourney, widow of Sir Roger de Tourney

Joan, her servant

London

*Gregory Rokesley, a merchant

Hubert, his manservant

Walter, his ostler

*Benjamin Yechiel, a prominent Jew of London

Dorcas, his wife

*Aaron Yechiel, their son

*Judith, his wife

*John Albyn, a fishmonger

Joseph, a Jew of London

Ruth, his wife

Esther, their daughter

The Disinherited

*Eleanor de Montfort, widow of Simon de Montfort

*Guy de Montfort, her younger son

*Trubodi, one of the de Montfort household

*Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester

*Sir John d’Eyvill

* Sir William de Monchesny

Others appearing in the story

*Abbot Hugh of Ely

*Mosseus Crispin, a Jew of Cambridge

*Salomon, a Jewish goldsmith of Ely

 Isaac, a Jew of Guildford

 Rebecca, his wife

 Ralph, an innkeeper of Boston

 Adam, a soldier with the Disinherited

 Master Bonami, master of the cog he owns jointly with Gregory

 Master Adam, a merchant of Winchester

 Osbert, a soldier

 Cedric, a soldier


PROLOGUE

Below the high altar of Evesham Abbey, Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, lay at peace at last. The dismembered, mutilated body of the man who had tried to defy a King was now decently covered in a shroud, hiding the work of those who had hated him. Beside him lay the bodies of one of his sons and of his most loyal supporter. The priest approached and began to intone the words of the burial service.

As the sonorous Latin echoed round the interior of Evesham Abbey, only a few people were there to hear it. The monks who had carried Simon, his son Henry, and his most devoted follower, Hugh Dispenser, from the battlefield, bowed their heads and added their voices to the chant. In the dark recess just to one side of the main door a huddled group of men stood listening and trying to understand what had happened to the bright dreams of the last months. Their leader was dead and many of those who had believed in him and in his reasons for doing battle with King Henry lay like heaps of rags on the bloody field of battle, just outside the town.

There was a sudden hush, as the bodies were lifted from the trestles on which they had lain and lowered gently into the holes prepared for them in front of the lowest of the three steps leading to the altar. It was so quiet that even the sound of the ropes being withdrawn from the graves set up their own echo as the soft susurration died away. The priest chanted the last words of the Mass, sprinkling a handful of earth into each grave. Turning, he genuflected to the altar, and walked away. The choir of monks, their duty done, filed after him.

The group of men at the back of the abbey stood in silence, watching as two of the younger novices reappeared with shovels, and began to fill in the graves. At last, one of the group, sighing heavily, bowed his head as he crossed himself, then turned to make his way out of the building. Taking it as a signal, the others followed suit. Not a word was said, as they mounted the horses that had been cropping the short turf outside and rode out of the abbey grounds.

There were few people visible as the riders cantered swiftly through the town, but the reason for the empty streets was clear as they came out into the surrounding countryside. The battle, so recently fought, had left its mark on the hill and fields through which they passed. All across the slope of the hill lay the corpses of those who had lost the fight. Looters and mourners alike moved through them, absorbed in their searching. The looters bent quickly over each corpse, fumbling through the clothing and looking around for anything of value, but the others took more trouble and turned the bodies with something approaching tenderness, as they sought for their fathers and brothers, their uncles and cousins. A sudden wailing cry announced the end of a search.

Fresh mounds of earth showed where some of the fallen had been hastily buried in the churned-up soil. Crops lay trampled by men and horses, and ominous part-dried puddles of crimson blood were still visible, especially where the fighting had been heaviest. There would be no harvest from these fields in this year of 1265.

At a sign from the foremost rider, the group came to a halt and gathered round him.

“We will go back to Kenilworth and rest there,” he said. “My mother is still there and we must decide what to do now that my father and brother are…”

His voice faltered and he cleared his throat, frowning fiercely as he fought to control himself. Raising his right arm, he gazed defiantly at the men around him.

“Follow me if you will!” he cried. “If not, I bid you goodbye and wish you Godspeed!”

He wheeled his horse round and galloped off, not bothering to look and see who would follow. There was no hesitation in the other men. As one, they dug their heels into the flanks of their horses, and galloped after him.

   The silence of death settled over Evesham.


PART ONE



CHAPTER ONE

The group of riders surrounding their wounded king came to a halt at last, beside a brook. They had been travelling for hours, and darkness was near. Leaving Evesham’s bloody fields, they had set out in a south-westerly direction, following the long gash between the hills that was the Vale of Evesham. Now they were through it and out into more open country, where the fields of wheat, oats and barley lay undisturbed, basking in the sunshine, and sheep and cattle turned their heads lazily as the weary little group rode past.

The battlefield was behind them, the day’s fighting already a memory, although it would come back to haunt some of them for many long years to come. Their success was undoubted—the man in their midst was proof of that—and, despite the horrors of the day, most of them looked cheerful. The horses lowered their heads and began to drink. 

King Henry, bewildered by the day’s alarums, and half fainting from loss of blood, sat grimly astride his mount and fought to remain upright. His wounded shoulder, roughly bound and held in a sling, was still oozing blood, which soaked through the bindings and stained his torn surcote. It turned the plain brown cloth that Simon de Montfort had made him wear into a dark and regal purple, as though even his clothing insisted on the stature of the man it covered. The man on his right gripped his good arm as he swayed slightly, but Henry shook him off impatiently.

“Let me alone!” said Henry, crossly. “We must press on until we are able to rest in a place of safety.”

Ahead of them, a gentle slope led across the open country and towards a cluster of buildings that looked like the edge of a town. The road they were on led directly towards it and disappeared between the houses. They could see, to the left of the buildings, a massive abbey, on the other side of a river. Its golden stone and heavy, rounded arches showed its Norman beginnings and its solidly built walls gave dignity and an air of security to the abbey church.

Roger Leyburn, still riding beside the King despite the rebuff, pointed to the huge tower in the centre of the church, looming above the small town.

“We have reached such a place, Sire,” he said. “See—there lies Tewkesbury before us. They will surely make you welcome at the abbey and there will be room for all of us.”

Henry opened his mouth to utter a sharp retort, but Leyburn, confident in his position as the man who had saved his King, pressed blithely on.

“An overnight rest, Sire, while we all gather our strength and rest the horses, and we  can go on to Gloucester  looking like a band of victors, rather than a, a…”

Here, a glance at Henry’s face warned him, and he faltered to a halt.

There was a tense silence, as the men waited for a display of Henry’s famous temper. The King’s brows drew together, and his colour began to heighten. Everyone held their breath.

Suddenly, to their surprise, the King’s face lightened and he began to chuckle weakly instead.

“Rather than a band of outlaws?” he said to Leyburn. “Come, my good Roger, you were about to liken me to a common thief, were you not?”

Leyburn grinned sheepishly, his fair skin flushing like an awkward schoolboy’s in his embarrassment.

“Your pardon, Sire,” he said. “It was the heat of the moment and my pride in being in the company of my King.”

“Well said, young man!” said Henry, pleased by the flattery, but not deceived by it. “Well said indeed!”

He turned to the rest of the group who surrounded him.

“So—let us rest awhile in Tewkesbury, then! Perhaps we may hear what has happened to others who fought for us this day. We cannot be the only people riding from Evesham in this direction!”

John de Warenne and his squire, Jervis FitzHugh, glanced uneasily at each other, their doubts clear in their expressions. The look was not lost on Henry and he pounced immediately.

“Well, John?” he said to John de Warenne. “What do you and young FitzHugh know that you are keeping from me?”

“Sire,” said de Warenne. “We are a small and specially chosen group, escorting you to safety while de Montfort’s followers are dealt with. Your son, the Lord Edward, is in pursuit of the main body of de Montfort’s followers who have escaped from the battlefield …”

“Where do they think they can escape to?” interrupted Henry, keenly.

“They were heading for Chester, Sire,” said Jervis FitzHugh, as de Warenne paused.

There was a long moment as the King digested this information.

“So—my son chases my enemies to the north, and my friends take me south, directly away from them,” he said. “And when were these plans laid? Certainly not today, in the heat of battle!”

“No, Sire, not today,” agreed de Warenne. “But today has gone according to the Lord Edward’s plan. We sought to rescue you from de Montfort and we did better—we have killed him and routed your Majesty’s enemies!”

He drew himself up, proudly.

“We have stopped those who would rule in your stead, Sire, and we will restore you to your throne!” he said.

The other men gave a ragged but heartfelt cheer, some of them raising their swords in triumph. It was irresistible to Henry, to see such loyalty and pride among the tired men. He nodded his head and raised his hand to quiet them.

“You have all done well,” he agreed. “And I am proud and honoured to have such loyal friends about me. But, I still wish to know—where are you taking me? At the moment I am as much a captive as ever I was, despite the change of captors for the better!”

“By your leave, Sire,” said de Warenne. “We are taking you to Gloucester, which has been in our hands for these past few days. The people are loyal and were unhappy under de Montfort’s yoke. You will be safe there and can rest, while your wound is attended to and heals.”

“Then let us first rest in Tewkesbury Abbey, as you suggest, and make our triumphant entry into Gloucester tomorrow!” said Henry, grinning round at his men, his discomfort forgotten in his pleasure at the turn of events.

De Warenne turned to his squire.

“Jervis!” he said. “Do you go on ahead and tell the good monks of Tewkesbury that their King joins them tonight!”

“Gladly, My Lord!” said Jervis and, bowing his head to the King and then de Warenne, he galloped off towards the town and the abbey, along the bank of the brook.

Urging their horses into motion once more, the group surrounded the King and, thus protected, he entered Tewkesbury and into the chaos of an abbey in turmoil by the news the monks had received. The gatehouse, which straddled the entrance to the abbey, had both doors wide open, with the porter hovering nervously and staring with his eyes coming out of his head as the group went past him. At the last moment, he tore his hat off and stood gripping it in one hand.

Inside, the space in front of the church was filling up with monks who had stopped whatever they were doing and come to see the cause of the commotion.

The abbot came out to meet him, wringing his hands nervously, and forcing a smile on his pale face. The horsemen before him parted and he found himself looking up at King Henry. He gasped audibly and made a deep obeisance.

“Y-y-your M-majesty!” he stammered. “W-w-we are most honoured…”

He stared at the ground, and slid his hands deep into the sleeves of his gown.

“We are grateful to you, Abbot!” said Henry, forcing himself to speak briskly, despite his fatigue. “As you see, we are but a small band of friends and will not impose greatly upon you. Some food and wine and beds for us, some hay and water for our horses and that is all! In the morning, we will be gone again and you will wonder if this visit really happened!”

He smiled encouragingly at the abbot, who gave a weak smile back, his relief clearly visible. Standing straighter, he spoke in a firmer voice.

“Then Your Majesty must sleep in my lodgings for the night,” he said. “And—if it pleases you—your friends may sleep in the abbey’s guesthouse.”

“It pleases us very well,” said Henry.

The abbot bowed again and turned to wave an arm at one of the monks who stood behind him in a bewildered semi-circle, gawping at their unexpected visitors.

“Come, Brother Michael,” he said. “Show the King’s men to the guesthouse, while I lead His Majesty to his own quarters! And Brother Sebastian, get you to the kitchen and prepare some food to serve our guests!”

Brother Sebastian, his round, moon face blushing with pleasure, bowed hurriedly toward the King and the abbot, and turned to waddle as fast as his bulk would let him, in the direction of his kitchen. Brother Michael, a lean, ascetic-looking man with a serious expression, merely nodded his head, and said softly, “If you would follow me, Sire?”

Then, looking as if he greeted and guided his monarch every day of his life, he slipped his hands inside the wide sleeves of his habit, turned, and began to walk with a peculiar gliding motion towards the abbot’s house.

By nightfall, some semblance of order had returned to the abbey. Henry was comfortably bedded in the abbot’s richly furnished quarters, his wound cleaned and dressed by the abbey’s infirmarian. Outside his door stood a guard. Across a small cloister, in the guesthouse, most of his supporters lay in a deep sleep, undisturbed by the monks chanting the offices through the night in the great church.

Among them, resting on his bed but with his eyes wide open, staring into the dark, lay Jervis. It had been one of the strangest days of his life, he thought. That morning, he had been roused from his sleep by someone shouting his name. Flinging on his clothes, he rushed outside to find a man holding his horse, ready saddled. He mounted as the fellow told him he was “to follow the others,” flinging his arm wide to point at the body of men galloping off in the middle distance. Urging his horse into a fast gallop, he caught up within minutes. It was a rider at the back of the group who told him they had been called to join Prince Edward.

Before the end of the day, Jervis had found himself drawn into bitter fighting with only his short sword and a shield for protection. Somehow the adrenalin flooding his body, coupled with the speed and surprise of it all, carried him through safely, until, suddenly, it was all over and the battle was won. Before he had time to think, he heard de Warenne calling his name and joined his lord, to discover that, in doing so, he had also joined the King’s party.

Jervis gave a great sigh, part satisfaction, part relief, turned on his side, and fell asleep.

***

In the morning, they rose with the sun, breakfasted and set out again within the hour. The sun shone through high, drifting cloud and a cooling breeze blew, freshening the air and making the horses whisk their tails and toss their heads. They followed the course of the river, riding along its bank from Tewkesbury, knowing that it would lead them unfailingly to Gloucester.

Jervis rode beside de Warenne with a smile on his face. The past few weeks had been chaotic and there had been times when he, like everyone else, had feared for his life. The flight from Lewes after Henry’s defeat just one short year ago, the exile in France, and the struggle to rescue the King from Simon de Montfort had seemed an unending nightmare. Yet here he was, safely back in England, another battle fought and this time won. The King was riding ahead of him, the man he served and loved, John de Warenne rode beside him, and they were revelling in victory and success! He breathed deeply, and grinned again with the joy of it all.

They rode along in silence for a long time, each man alone with his thoughts. The countryside lay empty around them, with only the sound of the River Severn chuckling along beside them and the occasional burst of birdsong to break the silence. A blackbird sang its lush song from among the trees of a small coppice as they rode by, and a magpie chattered at them as they disturbed it. As they followed one of the Severn’s wide loops, grasses hanging over the water rustled sharply and there was the faint plop! as a wary vole slipped into the water and safety. It was all a world away from the sights and sounds of battle and the men were grateful for the healing peace of it all.

When the sun reached its highest point, they were at the foot of a hill and a small wood offered them welcome shade. 

“Jervis, go ahead and see that the wood is empty,” said de Warenne. “It would be a good place to stop, rest the horses, and eat.”

As Jervis rode off, de Warenne turned to Henry.

“If you agree, Sire?” he said, politely.

The King gave a wry smile and pointed at his wounded shoulder.

“This dictates my moves for now, John,” he said. “And it bids me rest, whether I would or not.”

Jervis had reappeared from the wood, and sat astride his horse waving them on.

“There is no one,” he said, as the others came up to him. “We have it to ourselves.”

As soon as they were in the shade of the trees, the men dismounted and left the horses to crop the grass round the edge of the wood. Leyburn, along with one or two others, went further into the trees to relieve themselves, then returned to the group which had helped the King off his horse and got him settled comfortably against a tree.

Cold pasties from Tewkesbury Abbey were produced from packs on two of the horses and distributed, and Jervis went to the other side of the wood and came back with the news that the water was sweet and drinkable. They rested for some time and then, after de Warenne had insisted on looking at Henry’s wound and pronounced it clean, they remounted and rode up to the top of the hill that blocked their way and looked around them from the summit.

For a long silent minute, they stared down the slope to the distant prospect of Gloucester. The sun glanced off the tip of the cathedral spire and danced along the surface of the river which snaked its way around the city, forming a natural barrier on the western side, as the hills did to the east. Even the castle looked cheerful in the sunlight, instead of its normal forbidding self, its great tower rearing above everything. It was as though Gloucester had dressed itself to greet its King.

Henry shook off the idea—the city had no idea that it was about to have himself and his party of supporters in its midst again, he thought. He had no way of knowing, even, whether they would be welcome or not. Certainly, all through the summer, when he had been kept there by de Montfort, the city had shown a proper respect for the stature and dignity of the monarch. Had that been at the behest of the baron, or because they truly were the King’s subjects? Who could tell, these days, which place was for de Montfort and which for the King?

“Well, my fine fellows!” he said. “Let us return to Gloucester—and see what they will make of us!”

There was a scramble and bustle then, with Henry sitting bolt upright, Leyburn and de Warenne on either side, and their squires behind him, they set off down the slope that led them to the city gate which stood invitingly open below them.

As they came nearer to the city, they left the grassy track and came on to a well-worn road. The horses’ hooves clattered on the packed earth and struck the occasional stone that was buried there. A figure suddenly appeared between the gates, looked at them for a few seconds and disappeared into the small gatehouse which could be glimpsed just inside the wall, where he could be heard shouting excitedly. He suddenly popped out again, followed by two others. The three of them stood watching the approach of the riders, their mouths open, clearly unable to believe their eyes.

Henry leaned across to Leyburn.

“Do they think we are ghosts?” he said, in a loud whisper.

Leyburn was grinning broadly and nodded his head.

“I think they might, Sire!” he answered, laughing. 

“Shall we stop and greet them, Sire, or will it add to their fright?” said de Warenne.

“I think they might die at the shock!” said Henry, chuckling. “Let us ride into the city and greet them politely as we pass.”

And so they did, riding into Gloucester and solemnly bowing from the waist at the three dumbstruck men as they passed them. The stunned silence followed them until they had turned the corner and were making their way to the castle.

Shortly after, they heard the shouting begin again behind them. Clearly, the shock of seeing their King riding back into the city was a great one, and it sounded as though all three men were yelling instructions to each other at the same time, with no one taking any notice of the others. Next, there was the sound of running feet and a figure flew past them at the crossroads, as one of the gatekeepers sought to give warning of their approach. Out of sympathy, Henry deliberately slowed the group down and they walked the horses along. Doors opened and people came out into the street to see who was passing, eyes widening in astonishment at the sight of a group of men in armour, clearly guarding the wounded man in their midst. Few realised it was the King at whom they gazed, but those who did murmured his name, and the murmur accompanied their progress, as the name was passed along the street. Some bystanders remembered to pull of their hats, while others stood gawping. A woman with a child on her hip smiled and lifted the infant’s arm to wave at them and Henry nodded and smiled in return. Another child, clutching at its mother’s skirts, slid round behind her and then peeped out from the place of safety to watch them pass by with wondering eyes and a runny nose.

Henry shifted his arm in its rough sling and leaned across to de Warenne.

“We are making quite an entrance!” he remarked.

“Indeed, Sire!” said de Warenne. “Let us hope they will be ready for you by the time we reach the castle.”

“At this pace, they should at least have found hot water and something to drink,” came the dry response.

As they came up to the castle wall, the gates which guarded its entrance were being opened for them, groaning and creaking on their hinges. Through the entrance, with men bowing on either side, and into the broad green expanse beyond they rode, until they came to a stop in front of the group of dignified men awaiting them.


END OF SAMPLE



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