For Love and Valour
Roundheads or Cavaliers?
It was a fierce and bloody battle that raged relentlessly from dawn to dusk. The hills shook as the cavalry charged past and the earth turned to scarlet, becoming saturated with the blood of many a gallant soldier. Spawned of a war where every able-bodied man was forced to choose his own allegiance, it was a battle where father would take up arms against son and brother against brother; while wives and sisters prayed for a diplomatic solution.
The Roundheads appeared to be winning but the Cavaliers remained steadfast in their devotion to noble King Charles and bravely continued to defend their position. If they could not live to fight another day, then they would gladly die now for their ideals.
Annie, a camp follower, was watching the exploits of her betrothed on the battlefield; it was her bounden duty, she thought, to be there whenever James needed her. "I would gladly tear my finest petticoats into shreds to bind your wounds than wait for unwelcome news in some nearby Inn," she had told him on the eve of the battle. How handsome he looks, she mused, watching James ride amongst his Royalist men, boosting their morale.
"For King and Country!" he cried, as he raised his plumed hat high in the air. "We must drive the parliamentarian traitors from the land! Law and order must be restored and our goodly King returned to his rightful throne!"
Formidable pikes, fifteen feet long, were brandished in the air as the enemy prepared their muskets. James' men rallied round, stirred to action by his encouraging words, they repeated his battle-cry and braced themselves for the savage onslaught.
A skilled military man in every sense of the word, James was no newcomer to armed combat. His reputation with the sword and his fearlessness against an adversary spanned the length and breadth of the country.
As the battle progressed it became clear that the Royalists were strategically disadvantaged. Their opponents were more organised and better equipped. The verdant fields of middle England were soon reduced to a blood-bath of brutality and slaughter. Rivers ran red and monstrous atrocities were commonplace.
By mid-morning James had already suffered at the hands of his antagonists. With several deep gashes to his arms and his shirt in tatters, he allowed Annie to tend to him. Not a moment passed when she did not think of her beloved and the future they had planned together. They were so young and had so much to live for; surely nothing would stand in their way.
Later that morning, Annie gasped in despair as she watched James' horse stumble; concerned that the full weight of its body had pulverised his flesh. She rushed to the scene immediately, with little regard for her own safety. "I fear you are badly wounded this time," she sighed, trying to staunch the flow of blood that gushed from his injured leg. "You have fought boldly, but now you must come away from this bloody battlefield and let me tend to your wounds."
"'Tis nothing, my love... I am not done yet." And within the hour James was back in the saddle, giving fresh courage to his troops. He heard the enemy's re-enforcements approaching long before he could see them; their drums beating in unison as they marched to join the conflict. Then he saw the banners of Cromwell's New Model Army, waving in glorious emblazonment as it began to cross the narrow bridge on the opposite bank of the river. Discipline is their obvious strength, James gathered, as he watched them draw nearer. "More Roundheads!" he cried, warning his loyal men, but he realised then that the battle was lost. They were clearly outnumbered.
James glanced at his watch; in just over an hour or so his loyal comrades would have fought for their cause courageously to the last man. He sighed in desperation at the horrific scene all around him and reflected on man's inhumanity to man.
There came a sudden blast of cannon fire and again James was thrown from his horse. Annie ran to him, covering his lacerated body with her cloak. "All is not yet lost, my pretty," he groaned. "I will fight while I still have strength in my bones and courage in my soul. Fetch me my trusty steed and pray that I may have the stamina to remount."
Annie obeyed unquestioningly, admiring his indomitable spirit, as once more she dressed his wounds. When James returned to the midst of the action, she guessed that it would be his final, illustrious act. "I know you are determined to be a hero," she whispered as he rejoined his decimated army, "and I am so very proud of you."
James fought on regardless, as if the outcome of the battle depended only on him. His was the kind of valour that was the stuff of legend.
As the blazing afternoon sun weakened, James' luck eventually ran out. His horse had bolted and he was left ill-equipped to face the menacing Ironsides; it was only a matter of time before one would deal him a fatal blow.
There was a clash of burnished steel, and Annie, powerless to intervene, watched in horror as James was struck to the ground like stubble. She ran nimbly to her brave cavalier, knelt down beside him and cradled his head in her lap. Gently stroking his matted hair, she could feel the strength ebb away from him, knowing the end was near.
"Goodbye my sweet love, I have breathed my last," James lamented, before collapsing limply in her arms.
"Oh, cut it out now will you!" Annie laughed as she helped her blood-spattered fiancé to his feet. "That's enough heroics for one day. Now let's get off to the beer tent before they run out - these Civil War enactments are thirsty work."
© 2014 Stella Kaye