Chapter 1 - La Fete, England, 1136
‘We’ll make camp here,’ King Stephen called to his driver. ‘I am weary of travelling.’
The caravan stopped and Stephen’s court and band of followers scrambled down from carriages and horses to set up camp by the road to Winchester. The King watched as his man, his Knight of the Garter and head Man-at-Arms, Sir Eustace of Ypres took charge. Using his horse-whip liberally, and with shouts and curses he cajoled the carriages into a defensive ring. The horses were relieved of their burdens and taken away by the grooms to forage. Eustace was brutal but efficient. He was the man you wanted on your side in a skirmish, and he had saved the King’s neck more than once.
The King’s tent was quickly put-up in the centre of the defensive circle. It was a practised routine, they had been on the road for weeks. The tent was royal blue with his coat of arms embroided in gold thread. The King’s carriage was hung with blue curtains of the same colour. As he descended from the carriage, his squire knelt and his footman bowed as he opened the tent flap for the King to enter. Both were dressed like himself in light armour and carried swords, however his own armour and sword were much more ornate.
He threw his sword and body armour on a trunk, he also removed his helmet. He turned as the flap of his tent was pulled aside and she slipped elegantly through the flap carrying a jug of water. She helped him remove his boots, and then his heavy leather tunic.
Greta the Witch watched as the tall serving wench with the golden hair slyly pulled the flap aside and closed it discretely behind her as she entered the King’s tent. She was his current beau.
Greta had tucked her small frame into the corner of the carriage used to transport the King’s tent. In this way, she could travel unnoticed. She had cut a small peep hole in the wood at her eye level, and through it she could also see Eustace and his thugs bullying the camp into action. There were thumps as horsewhips found bear flesh and fists landed punches. The thumps were punctuated by cries of pain, running feet and the sounds of the alarmed horses. The dogs that always followed the camp barked, howled and snarled. They knew the camp would soon be coming alive with food and tit-bits, and they were sorting out their pack hierarchy.
Once the King’s tent was fully in place and the King settled inside, the porters began the routine of putting up the smaller and less significant tents for the men-at-arms and the camp followers. Greta noticed they were also digging latrines, this meant they would probably be staying a few days, not just overnight. She was close enough to hear the giggles from the girl in the King’s tent as he took his pleasure. She could smell the wood smoke, as the cooking fires in camp kitchen came to life.
The cook and her serving wenches quickly assembled the trellis tables and laid out the jugs of ale. The servants knew that once Eustace and his thugs had settled down on stools with a drink in their hands, and food in their bellies the harassment would stop.