The field between the manor and the church had once held a crop of wheat, but all the yellow stalks were bent and trampled destined never to become bread. Instead they were weighed down by the bodies of the dead, the blood of French and English soldiers blending to blacken the crop and the soil.
Jake grasped a handful of wheat stalks and tried to pull himself to a sitting position. But he couldn’t. There was a weight on his stomach and legs. He levered himself on his elbows and regarded the obstruction—the heavily armoured corpse of a French knight was sprawled over him. With a jerk of his knees Jake was able to shift the armoured corpse enough to move it. The body rolled away. Jake didn’t want to look, but he couldn’t help seeing the face of the Frenchman—he’d worn an open bascinet, no visor to protect his face and he’d been paid back for his recklessness. The knight’s face was opened from top to bottom by a knife that had been jammed in there and twisted so hard that the face’s features were distorted like a lump of dough that had been kneaded by a baker.
And then Jake remembered that it had been his knife and that he had done the kneading. He felt his head. It was sore and tender. Someone must have hit him. But not hard enough. He had been lucky, unlike this knight he’d killed. If he’d been a knight and able to afford a bascinet with a visor, he’d have bought one. No matter what if you could get so terribly injured like this knight. But for an archer like him the cost was beyond his reach and besides the visor would get in way when drawing the bow.
Without the weight of the Frenchman on him he was able to stand. He did so and looked around. He wondered where the rest of the retinue were. He couldn’t see anyone around apart from the field littered with bodies.
That was Ralph de Chester there he realised—the decapitated head of his ventenar stared up at him. Poor Ralph, he’d not been a bad leader to the archers. And near him lay more in the colours of ??, Old Cob, John the Snake, Hugh, Richard. On and on the names came to Jake’s mind. He stalked across the field, using his sword to prod at the bodies and turn them if he couldn’t see their faces. They were all there. Even Sir Robert himself and his son, the young Robert. They were all dead. The whole retinue.
He was the only one living out of all of them. The French must have won. Jake went back to each body looking for signs in life, in case like him some of them had only knocked been knocked cold by a blow to the head. But no, the wounds were ghastly and all mortal—deep cuts from swords axes or skulls smashed by hammers and maces.
The fighting had been bloody, brutal, fast and violent when the two forces met. Jake thought that neither had known of the other in the vicinity until each one came across from the opposite side of the field—the English from the church side and the French from the manor.
There had been about forty of the French—and the English had numbered thirty two. Jake counted the bodies. He was careful not to count any twice. Sixty five. Could there have been any survivors apart from him?
He shuddered. The day was darkening. The sun had sunk behind the clouds over a wood in the West while he had been counting. Long shadows of the trees lurched across the field and Jake imagined that the spectres of the dead were getting up to walk—to leave their bodies in the night.
And who would they haunt? Who else would they pursue, but him, the only one who survived the encounter of the bloody field?
Jake turned and ran.