At long last I have a new story out – seems like ages! Hopefully won’t be too long until the next one though – so stay tuned for more!
This one is something different for me – a short story set in the First World War – something I haven’t written about before, but I would like to again. Smithers will fly again!
Lieutenant John Smith was not a gentleman in the opinion of the pilots of 32 Squadron. He hadn’t attended public school and he was dashedly bad at cricket. To top that his own Captain, Thomas Albright-Parker, looked forward to the day when Smith’s flying career would be ended by the Hun.
But Lieutenant Smith, or “Smithers”, was going to prove his doubters wrong when his Flight went on patrol that day.
Smithers Hits a Six is an anti-Biggles story for the modern reader. This is the tale of an officer not from a working class background and without the natural talented of Biggles. Like many real pilots he survives more on luck than judgement in the dangerous skies of the Western Front.
First look at chapter 6 of the next volume of Stonehearted. The first volume is By the Sword’s Edge. The second volume doesn’t have a title yet, so I’m going to call it Stonehearted 2 for now. I started writing the second volume towards the end of last year and am making fairly good progress on it at the moment. I thought it would be fun to post here each completed chapter as I write them. They’re only drafts at the moment – no fancy editing, so probably riddled with typos and inconsistencies. Once I have finished this volume I’ll publish it in print and eBook format and announce it on this blog.
Other chapters from Stonehearted Volume 2 can be found by clicking here.
She knew that she probably only had a few days before someone would come looking for her. Word would spread that the daughter of Sir Henry d’Aubray had run away, and that word would be carried around England and taken overseas on ships from the Eastern ports, and end up in Calais soon enough. Calais being just an extension of the English kingdom.
But that suited her. If she could spend as little time as possible in the garrison port that would not disappoint her.
“How much?” she had said, startled, when she enquired the price of a room at one of the many inns in the town. The rates were double the amount one would pay in Lynn, and seemed higher than London even.
The tight-lipped Madam of the inn with whom she spoke merely crossed her arms and shrugged. “C’est le prix, à prendre ou à laisser.” That’s the price, take it or leave it.
Eolande had left it, hoping that other inns would be cheaper. Down the long street through Calais she walked. Carts of wool trundled past her, kicking up clouds of dust as they went, on their way to the Staple warehouses to be weighed and taxed by English customs officials, having been off-loaded from ships that morning. It was afternoon now, and she wanted to find somewhere soon so she could start asking around after her father. There were plenty of soldiers here who might have served with him on campaign or garrison duty.
But she didn’t like the way that she was leered at as she walked. There were too many men here. Many more men than women. The soldiers of the garrison accounted it seemed for half the male population, every other man she saw wore mail, carried some sort of weapon and had the badge of St. George on their clothing somewhere. And many of the others were sailors or traders from England linked to the wool trade who’s only legal export was through the port of Calais.
Each man who walked or rode past her looked at her. She tried to keep her eyes on the path in front of her, and sometimes looked up at the signs to see if there was another inn. But she could still hear their shouts and whistles. “Just a kiss, love. Heh, Beauty, I’m in love!” And worse than that, words that she didn’t even know.
None of the inns were any cheaper. Some of the prices were going up even. She was near the castle and the town hall and the larger houses of the town merchants. This was no good, she wouldn’t find a cheap room here.
Two women passed her. That was unusual. She had seen some women walking the streets. Servants, wives of shop-keepers on errands, women selling food and pies from stalls in the streets. Most of them middle-aged, older craggy or saggy faced women. Not young. Not enough to draw the attention of the soldiers and sailors.
But these two who had walked past her were young, probably about her own age. They walked fast, their heads were covered like hers and they wore plain woollen clothes, but as they went on Eolande’s nostrils caught the smell of roses. These young women were wearing perfume. She turned and watched where they went. They turned down an alley. Eolande followed.
They walked perhaps half way along and then knocked at a door. After a few seconds the door was opened and they entered. Before the door swung shut again, Eolande could hear music and laughter spill out from within. And then all was quiet again. She walked on and approached the door. There were windows on either side of the door, both shuttered, but slivers of orange light seeped out between the cracks in the wood. Eolande gazed at the door. She tried to make out what kind of house this was. Who lived here? The women had looked modest enough. Were they craft-workers? Perhaps this was an artisan’s workshop? But the music?
Then she spotted it. It was right before her, carved all over the wood of the door, and now she realised on the wooden shutters as well. A goose in elaborate and finely worked carving deep in the wood. It had covered such a large area that she hadn’t spotted it at first. Without thinking she took a step back and fingered the ring on her finger that acted as pretend wedding band. She’d never seen such a place, but she knew they existed. There were some in Lynn, she thought, and in London the whole of Southwark was full of stews owned by the Bishop of Winchester. The Bishop’s Geese they called the whores there. Such a place was not illegal, but the good burghers of any town would not want a brothel on their doorstep, so in London they were away from the city across the great river, and in Lynn and here, the establishment was hidden away, disguised, but less than a bowshot away from the respectability of the richest in the town.
She looked up and down the alley. There was no one else about at this time. No doubt in the evening when men had more drink in them they would be coming in groups to take their pleasure here. There would probably be some of the same type of men who’d been leering at her on the street inside now, unable to control their lusts and with spare coin to pay for their relief. The thought made her heart pound. These men would be soldiers. Perhaps some of them were back from campaign or raiding and might have heard word of her father. Where else would they be more at ease and perhaps willing to talk than when their trousers were round their legs and their pathetic member would lead them to do anything.
Eolande slipped the ring off her finger and put it in her bag. She pulled her shoulders back and pushed up her bosom, held in her stomach, practiced a smile and knocked on the door.
If you want to read the first volume of Stonehearted, By the Sword’s Edge, then click here.
I have been reading The Scourging Angel by Benedict Gummer, which is an account of the Black Death in Britain. The books is well worth a look if you are interested in this period of history during the Middle Ages. One thing I came across that I didn’t know is what happened to Jewish populations in Europe when the Black Death began to sweep across the Continent.
Medieval Europeans didn’t know why the plague was upon them. Many Churchmen put the blame on man’s sin – it was God’s divine punishment. But lay people however had more down to earth suspicions and decided that there were being maliciously attacked. Rumours spread that wells were being poisoned by enemies. And enemies in Medieval Europe usually meant the Jews, who were seen as outsiders and subject to myths such as the blood libel (the murder of children), the murder of Christ and well poisoning. The stresses of the Black Death turned people’s attentions to people who were seen as outsiders living amongst them and as the plague spread so did the attacks on Jews.
The Church did try to stop this – indeed Jews were protected by Papal order, but these orders were ignored (the Church was not all powerful in the Middle Ages).
In scenes chillingly similar to what would happen under the Nazis whole populations of Jews were slaughtered. For example in Strasbourg the burning of Jews lasted for six days. This was not just people attacking Jews opportunistically where they found them, but an organized slaughter of every Jew that the city authorities could get hold of.
At University I studied Medieval History, Language and Literature, which I loved, and I guess it has influenced some of my interests later in life! I went on to do a Masters in Medieval Literature, choosing The Court in English Alliterative Poetry, 1350-1450 as my thesis topic. Why did I choose this subject and what is it for starters? Well if you know anything about Medieval English literature you will no doubt have heard of Chaucer and his Canterbury Tales. Chaucer was from London and wrote in English that was heavily influence by French and Italian poetic styles. His main verse form was called rhyme royal using five stresses per line arranged in rhyming couplets. Chaucer was probably writing for an audience associated with the Royal Court, one linked more to the culture of continental Europe perhaps. In contrast English poetry going back to Anglo-Saxon was traditionally based on an alliterative line with up to four alliterating stressed words per line and not really using rhyme at all. This tradition did survive the Norman Conquest and lived on through poems such as the Twelfth Century Layamon’s Brut. By the late Fourteenth Century, you might think that it would be fading away, but this was not the case. There were poets, mostly located in the North West of England and North Midlands who kept the art alive and indeed produced wonderful works of art like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which combines the descriptive power of alliterative verse with a finely honed courtly sensibility.
According to a report on a new study in the Guardian the Black Death was not spread by rats, and there’s even some debate about whether it was plague at all. The evidence against rats (in London at least) is the lack of rate skeletons found. Barney Sloane says that you’d expect to see lots of dead rats in excavations too, but they aren’t there!
Here’s an extract from the article about why rats weren’t to blame:
Mortality continued to rise throughout the bitterly cold winter, when fleas could not have survived, and there is no evidence of enough rats.
Black rat skeletons have been found at 14th-century sites, but not in high enough numbers to make them the plague carriers, he said.
In sites beside the Thames, where most of the city’s rubbish was dumped and rats should have swarmed, and where the sodden ground preserves organic remains excellently, few black rats have been found.