Authors: EH Lorenzo
By EH Lorenzo
With love and appreciation to my dear wife, Dana for all that she is and does, and for patiently helping me complete this work.
Text copyright © 2013 EH Lorenzo
All Rights Reserved
Table of Contents
Not so long ago, there was a time when lives were greatly impacted by limited capability to travel and communicate over even small distances. Each of us had ancestors who lived then, but we don't often think about them. What were their lives like? How did the lack of communication and transportation resources affect their lives? Life was hard. They didn't know any different. We are little equipped in our modern world to live the lives that they lived. What the average person accomplished just through survival each day would be monumental for us.
The following story chronicles the lives of such people. They were loyal by nature. They were brave, but didn’t know it. And they remembered.
A heavy cloak of dampness filled the air inside the cold, dark room. The musky smell of moist stone made each breath seem heavy. Sleep had not come to the prisoner during the night. His mind had been racing, recalculating the injustice that had been dealt him. Thoughts of revenge boiled over and over in his mind. Such thoughts were completed contrary to his nature and he fought to replace them. But all his efforts thus far had been in vain.
Now in the moments between night and day he first began to realize just how hard his bed of stone was. The small woolen blanket that he had found in the room provided little relief from the chill coming from the slit of a window above him. Not a window for viewing the world, but instead, more of an opening to allow those outside to taunt those inside. He had never actually participated in such activities before, but had not condemned those who did. After all, he had reasoned, those who occupied rooms such as these did so as a result of their own foolishness and wicked behavior. Or so he had thought. The events of the last several days had made him question his previous thinking.
He felt something bite on his boot. He jerked with a start. Then he realized that rats are more regular visitors in such places than are people. He hated rats. He imagined the rat crawling up his leg , on the flesh beneath his trousers. A shiver ran up his spine and he drew the blanket more tightly around himself.
The rat scampered now across the room looking for a morsel that couldn’t be found. Suddenly there was a swift movement in the darkness and the rat hit the wall near His head. The force of the impact killed the rat and it fell onto his chest. He quickly flung his arms and the blanket sent the lifeless rat into the air and away from himself.
The room was probably meant to be occupied by one person, but tonight there were two. He had not been alone when he first came here in the night, there was one other prisoner. The stout oak door with its lock securely fastened ensured that they would not be leaving.
He had caught a glimpse of the other man in the candlelight when he had been thrown in. He had not been able to make out the face, but he had observed that the man wore the clothes of a commoner.
Despite the closeness of these quarters, neither man had uttered a word thus far. The prisoner knew most of the people around these parts and he couldn’t help wondering who his cell mate was in this ‘God Forsaken’ place and what his sin might be. The other prisoner might not be local at all, but rather a traveler. He kept to himself though for fear of the unknown. Even though he knew that he did not belong here, he could not help but suspect that the other individual was of the vilest variety and would receive no greater punishment for causing his death than they were going to receive anyway.
Outside a light snow had been falling most of the night. The thin blanket of snow muted most sounds that would normally be familiar to the night. The prisoner could still hear the sound of dogs in the distance and an occasional disturbance from the public house across the narrow roadway. Most disturbing though had been the sound of hooves most of the night. He knew all too well the fate that most people met once they had lodged here.
The prisoner was especially restless now after having been startled by the rat. He stood on the stone bed, if it could be called such, and peered through the thin opening above. The sun had just begun to glow in the eastern sky, but behind the thick layer of clouds its glow caused more eerie shadows than actual figures.
He could make out the shadows of an occasional woman as she hurried to the village well for water and then returned bearing the heavy load. He also made out the figure of a man next to the public house. Two other shadowy forms lay on the ground nearby. Undoubtedly they had spent all their money on ale and were thrown out into the cold night. He had always held such people in contempt. They often would stagger to a monastery or a priest's house begging for assistance after they had drunk themselves near to oblivion. They used valuable resources that could otherwise be used to aid starving families.
He could hear the thumping of horse hooves coming up the road now. He stood a little taller hoping to improve his view. Horses were expensive and only the privileged owned them. Someone out so early must be on an important errand. As the sound drew closer he realized that there was more to the sound than just the hooves. There was also the unmistakable sound of wheels, not even the thin layer of snow could muffle the sound. Almost as soon as he realized the nature of the sound the wagon passed him. Then, as though in recognition of who they were passing, the wheels on the left of the wagon hit a small puddle, spraying freezing water on his face.
He pulled back in mixed feelings of shock, surprise and anger. Losing his footing in the process he fell from the stone bed and onto the dirty floor of the room.
He picked himself up from the floor and wiped his face on the thin blanket. Just then he heard another wagon coming. Exercising greater caution this time, he looked out the slit of a window. There was sufficient light now that he could distinctly make out the load of wood in the back of the wagon.
There were more people outside now. Some were already on their way to their daily labors. Most slowed or stopped when the wagon went by. They spoke quietly to each other, and motioned in his direction, then continued on their way.
'These are simple people,' he thought, 'ignorant to the ways of the world.' To them his fate was nothing more than a temporary diversion from the unremarkable drudgery of their lives. Most of them were teetering on the brink between survival and death themselves.
When he turned around he saw that a small shaft of light from the window ran across the face of the other person in the room. He knew the person well and despite the fact that it also meant that he was in trouble with the law, he was happy to see him.
The next couple hours were spent mostly in quiet, subdued conversation between the two prisoners.
These were desperate times they both agreed. England had not so long ago survived a period of more than one hundred years in war with the French. Great hardship had been suffered by the people, rich and poor, as a result of the conflicts. During the hostilities it appeared at times that England would rule all of France, but in the end she was only able to retain a small portion and that may not be secure.
No sooner had the flames of these conflicts been smothered than new, more insidious flames began to engulf England in its entirety.
The Houses of York and Lancaster were contending in a bloody struggle for the crown of England. Rewards for the victorious would be enormous. Punishment for the conquered would be death. For those of royal birth it was necessary to choose an allegiance and fight for survival. For those of lesser status it was best to stay out of the way and fight to survive.
The war had become known as the War of the Roses, referring to the white rose of York and the red rose of Lancaster, symbols of the opposing sides. The king of Lancaster, King Henry VI, was reportedly insane. The duke of York, Richard, claimed the throne by virtue of his descending from Edward III.
It had seemed at times that England itself could not endure the struggles. Surely these were the last days and the end of the world was encroaching upon mankind.
Soon the guards came and removed the other prisoner from the cell and he didn't return.
Once he was alone in the cell, he sat on the stone bed beneath the window. He hadn't been sitting long when he felt a sharp pain in the middle of his back. As a rock fell to the floor he jumped with a start and whirled around to see two small boys through the slit above him. He wanted to lunge at the window to take hold of a leg if he could. But he was not fast enough. The boys ran away yelling taunts over their shoulders. He surely did not deserve such wretched treatment, but was in little position to restrain such. He decided to avoid sitting beneath the window.
As the boys ran off he noticed that there was considerably more traffic on the narrow roadway now than he had expected. The road was lined with shoppes and a small stone walkway ran along each side. The village center stood near an open meadow through which ran the River Welland. The river and meadow existed outside the village wall and the only access near the dungeon was over a narrow stone bridge and through a gateway. The stone bridge and the river were to the left of the dungeon. There seemed to be a general flow of people from the direction of the bridge.
Some women, fortunate enough to have the means, darted in and out of shoppes buying provisions and bread for their families, but most people were making their way to the village square.
The square was to the right of the window as the prisoner looked out. The most prominent feature of the stone-cobbled square was St. Mary's Church. The church was already several hundred years old. He did not have a full view of the square nor the church, but he could see that at least one man was bent on the task of stacking wood in the square near the base of the church spire.
'So this is the reason for the wagons,' he exclaimed half to himself and half aloud. His heart began to pound within his breast. Of all the ways to die, he thought, this was surely the worst; excruciating in its pain, insulting in its spectacle.
Just then he heard the door at the top of the stairs creak open on their massive hinges. He stood at the door of the cell and through its small window-like opening he could see the glow of candles as two men descended the steps from above. The men cast larger-than-life shadows on the walls as they came down the stairs. They walked briskly to the cell where the prisoner was kept. Thoughts of fighting them off and escaping crossed his mind. He knew however that such thoughts were useless. Even if he were able to get out of the cell, how might he get past the guards beyond the top of the stairs?
Now the soldiers were at the door and it was thrown open. He almost cried out for mercy, but before he could do so they grabbed him by the arms and dragged him from the cell. For a moment, he was struck with disbelief. He gave a momentary struggle, but it was useless, the men were much larger and had a firm grip. One of them withdrew a double-sided dagger and threaten to slit his throat right there if he made any further attempts to flee.
At the top of the stairs they bound his hands behind his back and led, or pushed, him out into the street. A light snow continued to fall and the gentle breeze was chilling, but he did not notice either. The crowds of faces seemed a blur as he was led past the throng. People filled the roadway from one side to the other and they seemed to stumble over themselves to get out of the way.
On past the dungeon he was marched, toward St. Mary’s and the village square. Twice he stumbled on cobblestone and was jerked to his feet by the soldiers. He entered the village square to cries of, ‘Burn 'im! Burn the 'eretic!’
The pile of wood was in the middle of the square. Surrounding the square were houses of wealthy people. Most of them two and three stories with balconies. Each balcony was filled now. Some people were crying, others acted as though it were a day of celebration. Some mothers were busy rounding up their little ones and rushing them away from the scene.
The prisoner was forced to the top of the pile of wood and tied to an upright beam that stood in the middle of the pile. He was now bound hand and foot. The bands were so tight that his extremities were already beginning to turn purple and they ached. His hands were tied above his head so that the ropes would not inadvertently burn and allow him to escape the flames.
A man came forward and placed a lighted torch to the bottom of the pile. The flames started small, but quickly spread along the bottom pieces of wood.
His mind was racing. How had his life come to this point? The heat was now becoming unbearable on his feet and the pain brought his mind back to the present. He could smell an awful odor and realized that it was his shoes.