On this day, 533 years ago . . .
Matthew Wansford wakes on Redemore plain…
“The moon was setting. Almost full, it rested a moment on a far-off hill. But it wasn’t the great gold coin of other nights. Its gleam was tinged red.
‘Blood moon,’ muttered one of the guards as it slid down behind the dark bulk of the hill and soon was lost from sight.
He spat on the ground.
‘Bad tidings for the traitor.’
A camp fire flared before a nearby tent, then another further off.
‘Not long till sunrise, I reckon,’ said the second guard.
He grasped my shoulder, turning me around and pointing. A thick grey line sketched the outline of trees on the other horizon. The tentative call of a bird broke the silence, another chirruping in answer. ‘Time to wake His Grace?’
Slipping back through the flap, I rolled up my mattress and blanket, then felt my way across the pitch-dark tent. At the table, I fumbled in my pouch for my tinderbox, and struck a light on a candle in its gilded holder.
I shielded the flickering flame with my hand and, with Murrey a lithe shadow at my heel, approached the King’s fabric-shrouded bed.
He was sleeping still, his head upon an embroidered linen pillow, an arm outflung across the fine cloth of his coverlet. In the pool of candlelight his face was younger than I had ever seen before, the lines smoothed away by sleep.
For the briefest moment the face of his son, poor Ed – not glimpsed for two years – swam before my eyes. Then my dream came back to me.
My hand shook and the candle flame quivered. Murrey whined, her dark eyes liquid in the candlelight as they gazed up at me. The fingers of my free hand twined themselves in the tufted fur of her head.
The King’s eyes opened, then narrowed at me, bending over him.
‘My lord, it is time to rise.’
I drew back, pulling Murrey with me.
He eased himself off the bed, then reaching for a thick fur mantle upon a nearby chair, swung it around his shoulders and strode towards the tent’s entrance. As he tugged the flap aside, the guards stamped to attention. He bid them a quiet good morning as he passed.
I trailed after him, still clutching Murrey’s collar. The metal fleur-de-lys stitched there was cold against my hand. I recalled old King Edward buckling the leather strap around her neck as I stepped forward to stand beside his brother.
We gazed out at the camp as it began to stir.
Before us, grey ranks of tents marched down the dark hillside, swallowed up by the pool of mist gathered on its lower slopes. In the distance only the tips, their pennons limp in the windless air, poked above the milky depths.
Among the nearer tents, ghostly figures glided, their calls, laughs, greetings to their fellows floating to us above the wreathing mist. Here and there the comforting glow of camp fires. I could see cooking pots hung over the hot coals of the closest.
Far to our right, men were busy among rows of horses, feeding and watering. Again the clang, clang, clang of hammer on metal, but this time I did not heed it. Instead I watched King Richard as his gaze swept across the awakening camp.
A chill still cut the air. As the King gathered his fur cloak about him, I longed for my blanket but did not move to retrieve it.
A serving man scurried up and knelt before the King.
‘Your Grace? Do you wish me to waken your chaplains?’
‘Aye, and my lords Norfolk and Lovell, if they are still abed. Also Lord Strange. We shall take Mass together this morning.’
The man hurried off and we were silent once more.
Rooks cawed in distant trees. Above our heads, the last sparks of the stars were fading as the greyish light grew in the east.
Then the King spoke.
‘Well, Matt, what do you think of your first battle camp?’…”
Requiescat in pace Ricardus Rex