MY DEATH 22nd August 1485
by
Paul Trevor Bale

I am dead, yet seem unable to yield the ghost, and each time as evening draws on, I find myself once more on Ambion, the summer's heat making sleep impossible, talking with Richard....
    
Dawn comes early today, as if the angel of death has summoned it to gloat upon the living as they prepare to meet him. Only a slight mist lays upon the ground, spirits floating on a still lake. Pink fingers touch the horizon just beyond the enemies and their camp. A distant trumpet calls them from their slumbers as I keep my vigil from outside my tent. Venus, the morning  star, hangs dully in the Heavens, the thief of morning having dropped it alone on fleeing its nightly raid upon the sky's treasure house. As I stand outside my tent, gazing towards the enemy campfires as they are dulled by the light, I feel a presence. I am no longer alone. The King is also watching, and he waves a greeting to me. I bow as I return his good wishes for the day to come. Gervaise, my squire, stretches and yawns upon the pallet behind me, rough pallet that he last evening flopped down on and called his bed. He sees me standing here, and at first does not know where he is, or who I am. I smile down at him through the opening in the cloth, his senses return from their nightly escapades, and he leaps up to assist me to dress myself. I laugh at his confusion, perhaps the only joy this morning will bring to me. As the boy runs off to fetch me water for my morning ablutions, I turn to search again for King Richard. He is standing in front of his pavilion still, but  has moved forward to the edge of the escarpment, eyes straining into the distance, looking at the opposing army, seeking some clue as to how they will conduct their battle. He senses me watching, and turns. He waves me over to him and I walk the few paces to stand at his side. I pull my cloak tight around me. The night, though warm, has left the world cool, the air fresh and chill. Our  other Richard, Ratcliffe, moves up and stands on his left, greets me in his usual somber manner. True Yorkshireman our Rat, no nonsense, business always first! The King too is briefly amused at Rat's demeanour. He  too will find any humour he can today, in anything. Briefly. He points down at the plain beneath our vantage point, and asks my opinion. I tell him of the scouts reports, of Norfolk's position, start to speak of Stanley.....the King interrupts, repeats his question. He does not want what he already knows, he wants my feelings, not my end of school term report. I apologise. I think that we have spoken of those feelings during the night, when we talked inside my tent. But I begin again. As I speak he seems to lean closer to me, but his eyes do not move from off the opposing troops and their camp. Trumpets sound behind us, as  heralds call the loyal to their preparations, commanders, household, all the loyal, come out of their tents to greet us, while squires look to the armour they last night laid out for their lords. Gervaise, returned from the well, is hovering near to our swelling circle. He watches Richard with a chidlike expression of awe. He knows only too well my loyalty and love for this slight powerhouse of a man, and by now appears to share the charismatic draw he has with me. Although I speak with my king and lord, my mind wanders to the wolf hours in the middle of the night, when pacing back and forth within the confines of my tent, King Richard came to me. My tallow flame shook gently as he pulled back the tent flap and ducked inside. He had seen I kept a vigil with the night, as he did, and came to share it with me. His face looked tired and drawn in that shallow light and I offered him some wine. He shook his head and flopped into a chair. He wanted someone to listen to his thoughts, and because he saw me still awake, the choice had fallen on me. Gervaise, long snoring on my pallet, was unaware of our visitor......
Later...
The day is hot now, dusty. I think again of the night, of my attempts to sleep, my failure to do so, my vigil. No I did not  sleep at all well last night. I never do before a battle. Before a battle? I sound like an old man reminiscing on his glory days! I have only fought in one. I followed Dickon at Tewkesbury. Important though it was, I feel as a virgin on her wedding night. This one is more important than any I could have so far fought in my 35 years, for should the king lose, I will lose too, everything I have, including, probably, my life.
King Richard lose? Unthinkable, as I stand here, surrounded by half his royal army, thousands of us, a magnificent sight, and try to make some sense out of what is happening on the plain beneath.  The movements of Norfolk's men are shrouded by a cloud of dust. All we can make out are shadows, and the glint of sunlight shining off the metal of their armour now and again. Surrey is in there somewhere near his father Norfolk, too. The horses up here can smell the death in the air, and shuffle and whinny nervously. Soon we will ride down to join in the victory, for victory it must be. We outnumber this Tydder by at least 4 to 1, more if Stanley choses our side. Let us pray he does, for Thomas always lands on the winning side. Even the King acknowledges that for a fact. I doubt he will execute Stanley's son George, for  he likes the boy, and the boy him, but he has him in chains for the enemy spies to see the threat, and report back to his father. 'I have other sons' his herald announced earlier to Richard. Such arrogance cannot, must not, go unpunished. That he had executed the man and his wife, this Tydder’s mother Margaret Beaufort, back in 83 when they had involved themselves with Hastings plotting!
    The King calls out for me to join him in a charge. I do not understand. A charge to where? Richard points across the field. He has spotted the Tydder and we are to ride to kill him, for then the enemy will yield the day, and as few Englishmen as possible will die. Tydders army is some Breton scum, pulled from their Duke’s prisons on the promise of a pardon if they fight this battle. If only they knew what Richard is like, they would change their colours gladly. But then again, Brittany has their wives and families to act as surety for their behaviour. This world of ours seems to get more bitter every day. The King calls for my opinion. I tell him of my doubts about the Stanleys. He laughs at me, unafraid, even though, as I explain to him, we must ride across in front of their position to get near the Welshman and his group of cronies. I cannot call it his household, unlike us band of friends and servants of the King. Even though they tell us his men think of him, and call him king. How dare they? this man has not spent any of his adult life here in England, but has been pushed from exile court to exile court, a pawn of French and English politics. A bastard pawn at that! My horse is getting nervous. He senses this is his moment of glory, as I am pushed up into the saddle by my squires. Even with this light armour  I weigh heavily, too heavy for this heat. If only it were over with soon. A gasp goes up in the ranks of our troops, and then a cheer. I turn in the saddle to see the reason. The King has donned his helm, a golden band around it! He will be an even bigger target, for all the enemies men will see him, recognise him as King. He does not care. Richard has forever been courageous, forever brave,   proud to wear the crown of England on his head, fearless of the possible cost.
Only God can take it from him now. Thus  were our prayers last night and early on this morning. It is one of the reasons I love and follow him. He stakes it all now, on the result of this, our days' labours. Risk. All. Risk all. I feel the rush of energy, the adrenalin of coming battle, my tiredness disappears, my blood sings in my veins, making my heart beat faster, stronger. The King is ready! I raise my helm and shout. "A Richard! A York!" My cry is taken up by the others. All our friends are crying out their loyalty. all those faces I know so well. Ratcliffe, Catesby, soft John Kendall the king's secretary with a sword in his hand instead of a pen, even comfortable, benign  old Brackenbury, rushing up from London, from the Tower, to serve, maybe die, for our master. The men of York have not yet arrived, but we cannot wait longer. The King commands, we loyal friends obey, without question, for we all have loved this man like no other in our lives. We trust him totally. Northumberland sits at the back. Has Richard told him of his plans? No, I think not,no time, or Harry Percy would be here, arguing as he so often does with Richard. And this king's decision is so of the moment, I doubt the King has even spared old Harry a thought. Will he feel hard done by at missing out at sharing the moment of Richard's final glory? Of course he will. My mind shoots back to the King. Richard is shouting. "We seek Henry Tydder! We ride to seek the Tydder! None other, gentlemen. It is to be Henry or me this day!" "No choice my lord!" I cry and Richard smiles at me. For a short moment all the sadness that he has carried since Queen Anne passed on disappears. He is like the youth I  first met all those years ago at Middleham. If only Francis Lovel could have been here today, then the friends of those happy years would ride together as comrades to battle once again. But Lovel is delayed. We were not. Frank will forgive us his loss of the glory of the day, for Richard's glory is also his.
The King spurs his mount White Surrey to action, and I do the same to my beautiful Red George. He is big and brutal and the king suggested that I name him for his dead brother of Clarence. He would have found it ironic being ridden into battle to save his younger brother's crown!  I whisper in Red's ear, and he calms himself with a whinney, acknowledging my mastery of him, and the privilege he confirms on me. We become as one, horse and master, as lovers do during the moment  of greatest pleasure, charging now to meet our fates behind our beloved friend and King!
Sweet wounds of Jesu! Blanc Sanglier herald mounts his charger, unfolds the Kings banner! Is this insanity or military genius? Either way our swords will run in blood before long. The King of England, crown upon his head, the arms of England waving in the air above him for all with eyes to mark, rides into  battle, friends of the household around him. There will only be one claimant to his throne alive this evening in England. If he does not ride to victory, he intends to ride to his death. Gervaise requests to be allowed to join us. It is no day for boys I sternly tell him. He steps back as if slapped across the cheek. My sister would not forgive me were I to put her son’s life at so great a risk. God knows I love him as my own and will not chance his life today with mine. I must play the coward on his part. Our horses snort and whinny. Do they smell the fear  upon the air and catch it's awesome threat, as we do?
Later....
My George lies dead behind me, cut from under me by a giant of a man that held a huge Red Dragon banner in his hand. I recover, push myself to my feet, hack with my sword while my other hand somehow keeps hold of my broken but still useable lance. The man appears in front of me, rising as a monster from the deepness of the fighting, bloody in tooth and claw he appears sword raised to swing at me! My lance pierces his breast and he rises in the air, a piercing scream escaping from his mouth, a terrifying sound, a death cry from the depths of Hell that almost freezes me, staring at his body as his innards ooze out, steaming, from the gaping wound I caused, slide down the hilt of my weapon to cover my mantled hands. And as I, near frozen by this horror, feel a sting, an insect bite below my arm. Another follows at my groin, piercing beneath the chain mail that I thought to protect me, make me invincible, untouchable.
Suddenly the world slows down, no man moves properly any more. I feel a sudden sweet warmth in my groin, but when I look down  to know the reason, all I can see is blood, the dead warrior’s that I had slain, not my own, surely not my own? But his corpse lies beneath me on the ground, twisted, rotting almost as I stand and watch, mesmerised by the ease with which I had taken his life.
I try to spin my head around to seek out my King, and despair fills my heart, for Richard is surrounded by a horde of Stanley's men. The traitors have declared their colours. We saw them riding into the melée and had thought them come to  their senses, come to support us. The bastards shall reap God's judgement for this day's work. The king's sword slashes bloody at the air, as spear and lance hide him from my gaze and pierce him.  He screams out "Treason!" and I try in vain to do the same, my body struggling through a sea of sticky liquid. I can no longer feel my legs, but, of a sudden, a coldness comes upon me, as another sudden pain aflicts my body. This is no insect bite, for my back is set afire, while the wetness pouring from my belly grows torrential. I lift my arm, battle axe dripping gouts of blood, and salute my dying, betrayed, brave, beloved friend, and King, while from the depths of my very soul I summon up the strength to cry the battle cry of England for the last time, "A York, A York, A Richard!" The agonising pain in my back becomes too strong, and I fall to my knees, down, down, into the pool of deep, red mud that I myself have made with my lifeblood. Again the pain in my lower back grows too much for me to bare. I look down to my stomach and finally see the the steel that has emerged out of it. An enemy sword point cuts my life in two! As the world spins, a heady brew of redness, and the smells of blood and death fill my nostrils, the world is surmounted by the dragon of Cadwalledar, rampant, unbelievably victorious in the air above me. I try to cry out again for Richard, for my friend, my king, but I sense that he too has thrown off the cares of this life, moved into the next, and as ever, loyal to the last,  I follow. As the dragon roars again above my head, another steely kiss takes me away, there is now only pain,  a black pit opens at my feet, and I no longer can resist dropping into it. Sounds and visions of death and battle disappear, and I am at peace.
Briefly....

for I am dead, yet seem unable to yield the ghost, and each time as evening draws on, I find myself once more on Ambion Hill, the summer's heat making sleep impossible, talking with Richard...