Sunday, 20 March 2016
Shakespeare Sunday: World Storytelling Day
The following extract comes from part way into the story, as a certain King of England is patrolling incognito among his troops when runs into a very strange stranger indeed...
The rustle of something moving through the brush snapped Henry from his thoughts. His hand sped from the glove tucked into his belt to the dagger hanging from it. His eyes struggled to pierce the darkness. Faintly he could make out a figure moving among the trees. 'Who is there?' he called out in French.
The reply was rendered in accent so barbarous that Henry had a hard time making sense of the words. 'One that would offer service to a king,' the figure answered. Beyond its brutish inflection, the voice had a repulsive quality about it, like the scraping of a snake's belly across a gravel path. Without realising it, the King found he'd drawn the dagger, clenching it tight in his fist.
'Are you Frenchman or Englishman?' Henry demanded. He knew the question was foolish, for such a loathsome voice never issued from either French or English tongue. 'Come forward and show yourself.'
The figure stepped out from the darkness. Henry was surprised to find himself looking upon a man wearing a leather hauberk and a helm of cuir boulli, his leggings tattered and stained, his boots worn and scratched. The features were rough and weathered, the face of a professional soldier. In aspect, the man was alike to the soldiers Henry had so recently spoken with. It was something less tangible that set the King uneasy, something that offended him at a level far more base and primal than reason and sense.
The soldier bowed before Henry. 'I'm only a humble man, sire, but I offer service to you.' Again, the words had that primitive intonation that made the King's ears feel unclean to hear them.
'Your bow will be called upon on the morrow,' Henry told the man. 'Or if you have no bow, then there will be work enough for your sword.' He moved to turn away from this strangely repugnant soldier when the man caught at the hem of Erpingham's cloak.
'The service I offer is worth a thousand bows, a thousand swords,' the man waved his hand towards the distant fires of the French camp. 'No arms can win against that.' A crooked smile worked across his face as he looked up into Henry's eyes. 'You need a miracle, sire.'
Henry would have laughed at that, but his humour faded when he considered that only a moment before his own thoughts had taken a similar turn. 'Are you selling miracles?' he wondered.
The strange soldier straightened. 'If you will forsake scruple and honour, there is a way to ensure your victory. How much do you want to triumph over the foe?'
"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, and if you run into any squamous tentacled horrors, clobber 'em!"