Pain Beyond Pain
April, 1291, York
John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch
York, the fortress, the last remaining place held by the English in northern England. The feeling that they were doing God’s work was strong amongst the men, King David had done what no man had done since his namesake had done many years ago, and now King David had achieved it, and done it without England being torn by civil war. That achievement in itself was impressive, and John could not help but feel a sense of admiration for the king. The king who had rewarded him so handsomely for his service to the crown, John as well as being Lord of Badenoch and Lord of Lochaber, was now Earl of Bamburgh as well. He was continuing his father’s dream of furthering the family’s power, and he would soon be named Chamberlain of Scotland. All they needed to do now was take York and the campaign would be over. The king had asked him to meet in the command tent, and John could see a map of northern England spread out before the king.
“Ah, John, good you are here. Please do sit down.” the king says cheerfully. John sits down before the king and waits for the man to begin speaking. The king takes a moment and then says. “Now, I know you have been a very vocal opponent of Robert Bruce, the Lord of Annandale and his grandson, I would know why.”
John is somewhat surprised by the question, but takes his time to consider it, and eventually responds. “I think that their family is hiding something Your Majesty. There is something not right about the way they have been acting. Bruce, might have shown his anger and disappointment about the actions of his son Carrick, but I think that was all a public display of emotion. I do not think he was genuine.”
The king looks at him then, his eyes staring into John’s very soul. “And what has made you think that this is the case? Despite the obvious loyalty they have demonstrated throughout this war. They have had many chances to side with King Edward, and they have not done so. What then has prompted you to consider that they are not genuine?”
John looks at the king, and knows that perhaps his reasoning might be somewhat flawed, but he cannot help it. His father always told him to remain true to his instincts. “I do not know how explain it properly Sire. I just have a feeling that there is more to Carrick’s treachery than Annandale is letting on. I think they were planning something like this for many a year, there were rumours before Your Majesty’s father died.”
At this the king interrupts him. “Yes, those rumours I am well aware of. That the Bruces were far too connected to the English court, that Annandale cared more for his heritage in England than he did the lands he had in Scotland. I was aware of them, my father was aware of those rumours, and yet we never did find proof of such things. It does make one wonder, where such rumours might have originated from.”
John senses what the king is implying, and though he resents the potential charge, he does not speak to it. Instead he says. “Surely you do not think that Bruce is completely innocent in his son’s crimes? The son reflects the father, and Carrick and Annandale were always heavily involved in England.”
The king looks at him appraisingly, and then says. “You are allowing your bias get in the way of sound judgement my lord Comyn. I must say that I am disappointed. Your father I would have expected such things from, but not from you. You, I would have thought had given the rivalry some rest. Why then do you persist in maintaining it?”
“Bruce has not forgotten the rivalry, he maintains it in his very being. We both know this to be true Your Majesty. I must keep my family strong, as the head of the family that is my responsibility. I will not allow them to move against me.” John responds furtively.
The king laughs then. “Ah rivalries, the things that nearly tore the realm in half the last time they came into being. I had thought this war might have settled them, and yet it seems they have not. It seems that these are things that must be settled when the war is done. Tell me, my lord of Comyn, what would it take for you to forgive and forget?”
John is somewhat surprised by the question, but takes it into serious consideration and then says. “Bruce would need to approach me himself. I will not accept any intermediaries, he must come forward and want to take himself. I will not allow things to remain as they are now.”
The king looks at him and then says. “And in your mind, how do they stand now?”
John swallows and then responds. “I think Bruce is trying to gain more power, and he is not afraid to use any means to get it. I think we must restore the balance of power. And he must come to terms with the fact that it was in the past.”
The king fixes an appraising eye on him and asks. “Have you come to terms with that?”
John swallows and then responds. “Yes, I have. There is no point in continuing a feud that might tear the realm apart. It must end, and for the good of the kingdom and our two families I am willing to do that.”
The king looks at him and then after a long moment of silence responds. “Very well, I shall speak to Lord Robert, and suggest he speak with you.” A pause and then. “Now enough of this talk, tell me what word has there been from those sources you have made within York?”
John smiles at this and says. “It seems that the earls of Hereford and Surrey are becoming the bitterest of foes, determined to block one another, their raids onto us are meant as an attempt to bait us into a trap. Of course, my men have seen off most of the men they have sent our way. We can continue like this for some more time.”
The king looks at him a moment and then responds. “Very good, and what of the English? How long do you propose they remain within the castle, aloof from all and sundry?”
At this John hesitates and then responds. “I am not sure Your Majesty. Truth be told, it seems to me as if the English are most desperate to lure is into the city. They know that once we are inside the city, they can close the gates and then begin their slaughter.”
The king considers this. “We must tread carefully here, we are doing well enough on the supplies we have, and yet we must also think to the future. The English are going to be marching from elsewhere as well. Roger Mortimer, if he has not already, will soon be approaching and we must make sure our army is not overwhelmed.”
John nods seeing the sense in this. “What would you suggest my king?”
The king looks at him and then says. “You have been speaking to a captain on one of the gates have you not?”
“I have my king.” John responds.
“What has this man been saying? Has there been much grumbling amongst the common man within the city?” the king asks.
John considers this and then responds. “It seems there has been. The people are scared, the captain reports that almost daily there are demonstrations within the city, from people demanding that they be allowed to leave. Hereford and Surrey are preventing them from leaving.”
The king laughs then. “The English never learn do they? This is exactly like Durham. Except this time it is two old martial men who are making the mistakes. Curious that.”
“Nerves make a man do many strange things. The captain I have been speaking to, he is of the opinion that in another day, the city will revolt.” John says.
The king looks at him then as if assessing him. “We cannot wait another day. We must make a move and soon. Speak to your captain, today, and tell him to begin the revolt now. We must make our own action, for I doubt the English will willingly give it to us.”
Before John can respond, one of the king’s guards bursts into the tent. “Forgive me, my king, but word has come from Sir William, it seems the English have begun their battle.”
John looks at the king who looks at him briefly, and then looks at the guard. “On what gate?”
“The Western one Sire. They are pressing in hard, and it seems their aid has come as well. The banners of Mortimer were seen flying.” The guard responds.
John looks at the king and the king nods. “Go my lord of Comyn, ready your men, armour them and prepare to fight. We make our opportunities in the gift of God.”
John stands, bows and then hurries out of the tent, he runs through the camp which is coming to life. He hurries into his own tent, barks commands for his men to begin preparing, and then helps himself into his armour. He mounts his horse, and then rides out prepared to meet the king, his captain Sir Dougal greets him with grim tidings. “Mortimer has come with some three thousand men my lord. They are pressing in on the west.”
“How many did Wallace take with him?” John asks hurriedly.
“Some eight hundred my lord. Not near enough to defeat the force of Mortimer and what men come forth from York.” Dougal responds.
“Why did he leave with so few men?” John asks exasperated.
“I do not know my lord. What are your commands?” Dougal asks.
John mounted on his horse looks at his captain and says. “We are the ride with the king’s main army and ride for the western gate. Are the men prepared?”
Dougal nods. “They are my lord, they are ready and prepared for battle.”
“Good,” John states. “Let us begin the march then. Sound the horns Dougal.”
His captain nods, taking a horn from his side, presses it to his lips and blows. The sound of the horn stirs something within John, and he knows then that the war is truly coming to its conclusion. The fight will be bloody he can feel it inside him. He spurs his horse onward, then through the throng of tents and men, coming somewhere close to where the king is sat, waiting on his horse. John’s cousin the Earl of Buchan pulls up beside him. “What a day for war, eh cousin?” his cousin asks good naturedly.
“A day to end English pretensions to our lands. We shall triumph, though with luck perhaps Wallace might dent Mortimer some.” John responds.
“Aye, Wallace knows what he is doing, as does De Keith. We should be fine.” Buchan responds.
Both men fall silent as the king speaks, his voice booming. “We are now going to finish what we started. We are going to win this battle, and make the English know what it means to fight the red lion of Scotia. We shall do our forebearer proud.” John roars his approval along with the others. The king continues. “Let us begin the fight and let us roar and send these curs to their deaths.”
John roars his approval, and then he is lowering his helm, taking his lance from his squire, and spurring his horse onward. His heart is racing, his blood is pumping through him, and he feels alive, alive in a manner he has not felt in so very long. The sound of hooves on the ground is real to him, as real as it has ever been. He sees the enemy coming more and more into vision, he says a quick prayer and then his lance shifts into position and the battle begins.
King Edward I Plantagenet
It had been humiliating, the battle of Ripon, a victory he should have had. Instead he was forced to flee, flee for his life as if he was a common cur. That was not what he had wanted, not what he had wanted at all. He had sent no word to Eleanor for some time, and that had pained him. She most likely thought him dead, thought him gone to the God they both loved, and yet he was not gone, he missed her. He missed her and their children. Gods it was painful and frustrating, the waiting had been the hardest part for him, not knowing when to strike. They had fled from Ripon to Harrogate, running as if their lives had depended on it, and thanks to the people of the small village they had not been found when his nephew’s forces had come looking. His nephew, by Jesú the man was good in war. A smart commander, Edward was sad that it had come to this between them both. Now there could be no going back, he would fight his nephew and he would win, he had to, otherwise his own kingdom would not be safe.
He remembered all too well the chaos that had come from his father allowing Montfort any sort of power, he had feared becoming his father for as long as he could remember, and it seemed that he had in his old age become like that which he had feared. It disgusted him and made him want to roar with anger inside, but he did not. Instead he kept the anger locked away, kept it locked away through all the discussions, all the talk of this and that. He knew just how he was going to use it, when battle came, as they had marched through the snow covered ground, and through the melting ground, he knew how he was going to use it, how he was going to make sure that the fools in Scotland knew what they were dealing with. Men had rallied to his banner in western Yorkshire, determined to drive out the Scots, and he knew how to use them.
His heart is hammering within his chest, he can feel the anticipation that comes from battle. How many times has he felt this sort of thing before? Lewes, Acre, so many places has he felt this feeling, he had always known before that Eleanor would be there waiting for him, and now, well now he is not sure if that will be the case. He does not want to die, he is not done with this life, but he is not afraid, he knows that he will have done all he could have done. He looks around, and sees the men who had come, a force some one thousand strong under his command from Western Yorkshire, Henry Percy, a young man, a boy perhaps, is there commanding one part of the army. Neville, one of many in the north had come as well, answering a call to arms that his cousin would have felt proud of. Edward considers this and laughs. He moves on from there, his heart hammering still.
Edward sees the banners of the Scots, York is in chaos, there is fighting all around them. He raises his lance, nods to Sir Adam of Gascony, and the horn is sounded. The charge of battle begins, Edward keeps his arm steady, knowing that the time will soon come for when he shall meet his nephew, and the thoughts of what he will do when that time comes is what makes him keep steady, though his heart is thumping. He barks commands, and the men form around him, one thousand men from Yorkshire determined to remove Scots from their homes once more. The charge intensifies, they begin moving, the ground flies past them, and soon they are into the fray. Edward’s lance pierces through a boy’s armour, and the boy is attached on until he falls limp and off the lance. The charge continues, Edward’s lance works through the soldiers being thrown at him, again and again they are thrown and again and again they fall. He would laugh, if he were not so determined to end them right now.
He leaves a lance buried inside one of the Scots, and then draws his sword, and so begins the culling. He had always been good with a sword, and this time, even though he is old and somewhat wounded, he proves his worth once more. He swings his sword, cutting through men as if they are nothing more than meat, which he supposes they really aren’t. His men follow him, the dragon of no mercy is flying alongside him, the Scots will know his wrath, his body is taking a pounding, the armour holds though and so he continues riding through it all. He roars a challenge, shouting in any language he can think of. Men come to meet the challenge and he cuts them down, the ground is covered with blood, and this is something that makes his heart race.
Something is not quite right, he does not know what, but something feels as if it is not right. He cannot shake that feeling though he is not sure where it is coming from. A feeling of fear runs through him then briefly, and then he dismisses it. He knows that he cannot rely too heavily on those tales of old. The Scots are people not some sort of beast, and yet the feeling is not going. It remains fixed within him, and as such his grip begins slipping, as his sword becomes wetter and wetter, he finds it harder to maintain his grip on it. Eventually he sees what has happened, and he would applaud his nephew, the trap was expertly set. He is surrounded, his guards are being slain, and there before him is William Wallace, a man who is a giant in the flesh. They move toward one another and begin their duel.
Edward is not a young man anymore, but he gives as good as he gets, he swings his sword and removes Wallace’s defences bit by bit, but his body is beginning to move in on itself. Blood is pouring from wounds he did not know about before, his vision is going dark, and still he continues fighting, he will not stop fighting, not now, not for anything. Wallace is before him, kill Wallace and his nephew will have lost a very good commander. Pain, pain beyond pain, something that he cannot name, it inflicts him now, and he feels his sword hand drop from his body, Wallace is there gleaming in the sunlight. He looks at the man, closes his eyes, and welcomes death with a laugh, as the wings of death engulf the armies of Scotland and England.