King Stephen, the Silver man and Greta the Witch

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Chapter 16 – Protecting the King

Dr. Keith Maxwell awoke with a pain on his left side, a headache and his hands tied.

He hadn’t appreciated it then but as veterans of many skirmishes and battles Eustace and Henry had acted as a very efficient defensive military unit to protect their King. After they had murdered the two innocent riders, Eustace knocked Keith unconscious with a single blow of his sword butt. Keith had been so overcome by the death of his beloved Patch, he neither saw nor cared about the pain to his head.

Greta had watched as, Eustace had thrown Keith’s limp body over one of the captured horses like a sack of potatoes. Even though Keith was a tall man, Eustace was immensely strong. The head man-at-arms would have slit Keith’s throat, but the King has stopped him because he said he wanted to question him. They were convinced this was some form of attack to stop the King reaching his rendezvous with the Archbishop.

Greta was still mystified about the transition from a Silver man and the strange silver object, to the tall stranger and a dog. She rode the other spare horse as Eustace led them deeper in the forest, to set up camp. The King had fallen heavily, and they needed to time to rest and consider who may have betrayed them.

She listened impassively to the banter between the King and the men-at-arms as they walked the horses through the woods. Greta pretended not to understand the context of the conversation. She didn’t want the King to know she had been spying on him.

Eustace had selected the site for camp with care. None of them knew this part of the country well, so had no concept that the landscape was any different to the 12th Century. However, she did notice a strange burnt smell to the air as if there was something bad in it. She could also hear sounds that were unfamiliar to her. These were the rumblings of flying aircraft and distant traffic. The camp had good grazing for the horses, with a stream nearby. It was in a good defensive position, and offered several avenues of escape. The King was clearly pleased with Eustace’s selection of the camp site.

The two horses they had captured were considerably larger, taller and better nourished than their own horses. After they arrived at camp the King selected one as his mount, Eustace the other. Henry kept his horse, and Greta chose the King’s horse as her mount. The saddles and the bridles on the captured horse were also much better.

The King was propped against a tree. She made a herbal mix of calamine and nettles, which she mixed with soft mud from the stream and rubbed it on the King’s bruises. She also made him a broth from the bark of a willow tree, to help ease the pain.

He was examining one of the saddles from the captured horses, ‘Look at the craftsmanship on the pummel, I shall have to show the royal blacksmith when I get back to Winchester’.

Henry said, ‘Look Sire at that binding, it is of a cloth I have never seen.’

Greta saddled her horse, the King’s old mount, and called down, ’Sire I am going into the forest to fetch some more healing herbs for you. They will take the pain away, and help you sleep better.’

The King was disinterested and waived Greta away. He continued to examine the new saddle with Henry, while Eustace kept look-out. The truth was Greta wanted a little time on her own to think. She walked her horse through the woods to a clearing on the other side. She dismounted, and let the horse nibble the grass while she sat on a fallen log and examined the sky.

She could see silver objects in the sky that looked as if they had wings. They left a white trail in the blue sky. Sometimes there were two lines and sometimes four. The white trails seemed to spread like smoke in the wind. She wondered if this was the strange burnt smell in the air?

The trees were also strange. They seemed thinner and less developed. There was also a strange rumbling sound in the distance she could not explain. She decided to go back to camp and talk to the tall stranger to see if she could find an explanation. She found another willow tree on her way back to the camp and cut some bark with her dagger. She took it back to the camp and boiled it in some water from the stream. The broth, a natural aspirin, would help ease the King’s pain. She also thought she would give some to the tall stranger when he woke, because he would be hurting from the blow Eustace had given him.

She could also sense something important and significant about this tall stranger, as if meeting him was part of her destiny. But this was also something that she couldn’t explain.

Keith was slumped on the ground where he had been dragged from the horse. His hands and feet were bound with ivy that Eustace had cut from a tree. Before he realised what was happening, Greta cut the ivy away from Keith’s hands. She then helped him to prop his back against a tree and offered him some of the broth she had prepared for the King. Keith drank a few sips, and then without a word slumped back into unconsciousness.

They hadn’t noticed much game in the woods, so Greta butchered the carcass of the dog and roasted it on an open fire for dinner. The dog had been well nourished and there was a reasonable amount of meat on the carcass. The King had the pick of the carcass, with Eustace and Henry picking next. Greta ended up with the scraps.

Keith woke when he smelt the roasting meat. He saw the three men eating from the bones and at first wondered what meat it was. He then noticed the brown and white fur of his beloved Patch left next to the fire, and wretched uncontrollably.

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