Edgehill, free stories, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, present, Rackhay, writing

The Unknown Soldier – a ghost story for Hallowe’en

“It’s cold,* I said to the fair-haired man sitting by the church door.

He hunched broad shoulders inside his heavy black wool coat and shivered, grimacing. “Bitter,” he agreed, getting to his feet. “And I swear, it gets darker earlier.”

“You always say that,” I said, and tucked my hand into the crook of his elbow.

There was no full moon, no wisps of mist rising from the autumn-chill ground on this Halloween night. It was cold and damp and it smelt of wet soil and bitter coal-smoke from the little cluster of houses nestled at the foot of the Vale of the Red Horse.

Possibly, the smell of rank, wet decay came from the coat of Captain Nathaniel Rackhay, casualty of the first battle of the English Civil War, on this very hillside, three hundred and sixty years ago –

“And a week,” he said wryly. “Three hundred and sixty three years. And a week. But – who shall count the hours, unless they be sunny ones?”

Handsome bugger, was Captain Rackhay, for a man who was dust for every other night of the year. Big, and broad-shouldered, with a lion’s mane of fashionably dishevelled fair hair, a swashbuckling grin, and one raffishly missing canine tooth that gave him the look of a cavalier Errol Flynn – which comparison, given that he’d been a cavalry captain in the Army of Parliament, would have appalled him. No, I didn’t fancy Nathaniel Rackhay, living or otherwise. For a dead man, he fancied himself sufficient for both of us.

“It’s freezing,” he grumbled again, and pulled his tawny silk scarf up further about his throat. “I’m sure it never used to be this cold.”

“Yes it did. They reckon that if there’d not been such a hard frost, the night after the battle, hundreds more would have died. The cold saved their lives, you see. Stopped the bleeding.”

“Bollocks,” he said cheerfully, and tugged the silk scarf away from his throat to show me the glistening grey-blue ropes of muscle and ragged artery where a Royalist sword had taken him, just above his breastplate. “Would have done me as little good were it as cold as Acheron out there. Those as God meant to die, died. Speaking of which, madam – ” he cocked an eyebrow at me, with a wolfish grin that I suspect he thought was irresistible – “we have an assignation with them, I believe?”

I’d known Rackhay for six years, now, and he still didn’t give up. He was one of the vainest of the Edgehill ghosts, though not above claiming the old war wounds pained him, if he thought the sympathy might get him somewhere. He wasn’t the only one who disguised the more disfiguring of his injuries, in the faux-candlelight of the pub. There were a number of ragged felt hats worn slantwise, and carefully-arranged lovelocks artfully concealing shattered skulls; pinned-up sleeves where the glint of bone showed through shot-tattered fabric. It amazed me that the locals never noticed – or at least, seemed not to, as a knot of young farm labourers in fleece jackets and jeans chatted perfectly amicably through a dozen ragged grey pikemen in buff leather, clustered at the bar.

“Miserable old turd,” Rackhay said without moving his lips, nodding to Sir Edmund Verney, hunched glowering on a bar stool with his pint held huddled against his chest by the bloody stump of his left arm. The King’s standard-bearer had left his severed hand on the battlefield, still clutching His Majesty’s precious banner, though there had been precious little else left to identify its bearer. I did not like to look at Sir Edmund. He’d been caught under a flying cavalry charge, and he looked like it; but more than that, he was furious. He had been cold-furious for three hundred and odd years, and his temper wasn’t getting any better. He gave me one simmering fiery glare, and then he returned to his contemplation of his pint.

“Why?” I said, when Nat rejoined me with our drinks.
“Why’s Verney a miserable old turd? Born so, I imagine, or wasn’t spanked sufficiently by his nurse -”
“You know what I mean.” I sipped at my cider, and glared at him.
It was a funny thing how easy it was to forget that flirtatious, raffish, amusing Nathaniel was a dead man. That the young man with the long, mousy curls, laughing with his mates on the other side of the bar, was a dead man, and so were his ribald mates. I’d known Nat these six years past, since I’d seen him on the battlefield site with a handful of his officer comrades, walking the slopes pointing out sites of significant interest as the late October light faded. Assumed he was a tour guide, listening to them muttering darkly about alternate battle-plans and how the day would have been won if this thing or that thing had not happened. Realised in very, very short order that he wasn’t. And I’d been coming back every Hallowe’en since, not because there was anything romantic or longing about it, but because –
He sighed, or cold air whistled through his throat; one or the other. “Because no other bugger will remember us, if we do not.”
And that was why I came back, year on year. He gave me a wry look. “Oh, I know, I know. They have a service to mark us, on the day of the battle, and another service to mark all soldiers, in a sennight’s time. Aye. Well. My thanks, but -” he lifted a somewhat grubby hand dismissively. “Where’s it say my name? Verney’s? That lad’s, yonder? They put us in a pit, all of us together, in Radway parish. I’m an Essex boy, by birth, mistress. All my family’s over Colchester way. I’ve not even a marker for them to mourn me by. D’you know how many men died on that field, that day?”
I shook my head, because I didn’t – we didn’t, still – and he gave me a wry smile. “Aye, and neither do I, for no one was keeping tally of what lads came from where, and who they might belong to. They slung us all in a hole together, in the cold clay, with none to mark us one from another. King’s men and Parliament’s, all piled on top of one another. But mistress – I had a wife. I had two daughters, and a son. That lad there – he had a girl, in Sevenoaks. We had people who cared what became of us, and they never knew. We were living, feeling, breathing men, till this war. And now – what are we? Not even names. We could not even take that to the grave.”
I didn’t want to finish my drink, suddenly. He shook his head at me. “No, no, girl, don’t weep for us, that’s no good. Spoil your pretty eyes.” He raised his eyebrows in what he evidently hoped was an irresistible fashion. “Gets cold, out there in Radway ground. Cold, and a long way from home. A man gets to missing a bit of a kiss and a cuddle, before -“
“You’re a married man,” I said tartly, and he shrugged.
“Can’t blame me for trying, now, can you?”
One day. One day, in every year, set aside for the remembrance of the spirits of the dead – but what of the unclaimed dead, the unwanted, the unknown? He put his cold lips gently to the back of my hand, and there was no lewdness in it, now. “God bless you, mistress,” he said softly. “For remembering.”
I nodded. “Always, Nathaniel.”
He finished his beer, sucking the last of the froth from his moustache with every sign of evident relish. “Best be off, then. Some puppy in the King’s Lifeguard getting ideas above his station again – and doubtless Verney’s going to get maudlin-drunk again and start a fight with some poor bugger – I’m off for a walk up the field, while there’s still a moon to see it by. Want to come?”
The first spatters of rain hit the black window-glass, and I shook my head. “Er, no. No, I’ll give that a miss. Thanks.” Because walking a battlefield in the dark with half a hundred muttering ghosts arguing about who died where, and whose fault it was, held little appeal. “Same time next year?”
“Aye, that’d be nice.” He bent over my hand again. “Same time next year, then. Pray for me?”
“I will.”
He tipped a hat that had been rotted to nothing for three hundred years, and stood up, tucking the tawny silk that had been his sash of office, around the gaping bloodless hole in his throat. The door closed behind him, and not a one of the young men around the bar – living, breathing young men, talking of girls and sport and music – none of them saw him go.
I looked around the pub.
In the shadows by the window, there was a man in the colours of Hampden’s Greencoat regiment – young-ish, too thin, freckled, with dark hair cut short that stood on end. He was quite by himself, and his knuckles stood out white as bone as he stared around the room with frightened eyes, tears rolling down his freckled cheeks.
Not a man I recognised, but then, they said over a thousand men had died at the battle of Edgehill. Nat Rackhay was a gregarious sort, but he didn’t make a point of introducing me to everyone. 
I picked up my drink, and sat down opposite him. “Hello,” I said. “I’m Kit. Captain Rackhay’s friend. I don’t think we’ve met before. What’s your name?”
disability, Edgehill, free stories, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, ponderations, Russell, Thomazine. writing

About Face – thoughts on disability in fiction

Too often in fiction we like to see characters with a disability as “brave” or “tragic” – something that can be mended, or magicked away, or ignored, or overcome. Sweet, and gender-neutral, and slightly romantic, but broken: a thing not quite right, that can be made “right” – and socially acceptable – by an external agency, under the right circumstances. Because that’s the point of fiction, isn’t it? We can edit out the things we don’t want to know about, airbrush over the horrid bits, especially in historical fiction.

Well, I’ve been reading a lot lately about the soldiers in the first World War who suffered facial disfigurement, and the reconstructive surgery they were (and weren’t) offered. It’s been an ongoing battle in my head, around Thankful Russell, hence the research around facial disfigurement. Because it’s so hard not to slip into romantic hero mould and have him just lightly damaged but noble, like a sort of 1640s Heathcliff – dark and brooding and, well, Ross Poldark. After all, he’s handsome, right, our Russell? Fair and elegant and rather stunning from the right side – he can’t be too disfigured, not so it shows: that’s not how it works in books, he’s got to be just a little bit enigmatically damaged.

And he ain’t. The stories of those young men in the early twentieth century were heartbreaking – young men who’d lost their beauty by shrapnel, by machine gun, by fire, and who came home to find their sweethearts turning away, or that nurses didn’t want to remove their bandages because they didn’t want to see underneath. Their children cried to see them. Many of them turned to drink, many committed suicide because they were –
“..not meek and biddable, He was not grateful. He was sullen-mute and his cheek was an agony for most of his waking hours, itching and burning and throbbing. He whimpered and sobbed through most nights. He was barely worth the pennies Parliament paid for his care.” ( -A Cloak of Zeal)

I used to work with a man, some years ago, whose face had been badly burned in an incident at his old workplace and who had ended up having to be redeployed because he could not bear to be looked at. He’d grown a beard, which was possibly not one of his better ideas, because it had grown in patchy and fair over the scars. (He was rather gorgeous, actually, with or without the scars, but he wouldn’t have believed me if I’d told him.)

I had a really interesting review of the short story in which Russell meets the lady who will eventually become his wife (which is called “Si Tu Dois Partir” and it’s available in the anthology “Steel and Lace” HERE) in which it was described as the story of two less physically-fortunate people who manage to find a touching and meaningful love. I get that, I get that absolutely, but why on earth should the fact of Russell’s scarred face preclude him from romance?  Imagine a hero who isn’t sure if he can still kiss a woman, who slurs his words when he’s tired, who’s not prepared to meekly put up with being stared at by the curious and patronised by the great and the good. Imagine a man with a conspicuous facial disfigurement who’s still got a sexual identity, who is bloody good at his job, and who, every now and again, falls off the wagon when the strain of conforming to everybody else’s normal is too much for him.

Thankful Russell’s not pretty, not any more. Get used to it.

Babbitt, Edgehill, Essex, history, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post

The Earl of Essex – In Cromwell’s Shadow

When I started writing “Red Horse”, I knew it would be set around the battle of Edgehill, 1642, the early days of the English Civil War. I’d been lurking around Worcestershire since I was knee-high to a backsword. I’d been to Powick Bridge, I’d been to the Commandery in Worcester – been inside the cathedral, admired Prince Arthur’s Chantry Chapel: what Tyburn left of it. I’m a 17th century re-enactor, I know about the clothes and the food and the smell of black powder. 

What I needed was a villain, of course. And the chances of one plain provincial captain of horse getting close enough to the Royal household to have His Majesty as the villain of the piece were minimal. (Even if I thought he was. Which I don’t. But more on that another day.) 
Black-hat-wearing Puritan villain? Um, got a black-hat-wearing, if somewhat lapsed, Puritan hero, don’t need another one. I get one – don’t I, Russell? – but that’s not for another book. 
Oliver Cromwell? Not at Edgehill (turned up late, probably muttering darkly) and even if he was, I happen to know that one big, scruffy redhead with the ability to quote apposite bits of Biblical text quite gets on with another. For now. 

I settled, then, on Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex. 

Now if you Google the Earl of Essex you see image after image of a handsome, charismatic courtier, beautifully dressed, a dark-eyed man with a fashionable beard and an enigmatic smile. 
Pity it’s not the same one.The second Earl of Essex was the spoiled favourite of Queen Elizabeth, possibly her lover, certainly her beloved: an intriguer, a true Renaissance man, who pushed his luck too far and was executed for treason in 1601. 

God alone knows how that political pirate produced such a pedestrian boy, but there he is: Robert Devereux, the third Earl of Essex. 

Life did not begin well for that young man. King James (not a man whose taste in women I would rely on, much) arranged a marriage for young Robert and at the age of fourteen he was married to Frances Howard, daughter of the Earl of Suffolk. He was under-age, and she wasn’t impressed. He was sent abroad, presumably to acquire a little finesse, a little polish, a little je ne sais quoi, and she acquired Sir Robert Carr in his absence. She was then granted a divorce in 1613 on the grounds of Devereux’s impotence. 

(Let’s just take a minute to think about that. Even now, even today, a young man would be hurt and ashamed and humiliated, at such a public declaration of his not being up to the manly job. Imagine how much more shame he might have felt in 1613, when divorce was a much rarer thing.) 

He went back to Europe and fought in the Low Countries, and an amateur psychologist might make much of that – a desire to be out of society in England until the behind-hand gossip and laughter had died down, a need to prove himself as a man in other ways, an understandable wish not to keep bumping into his ex-wife and her new man at every turn. It was a largely undistinguished military career, in which he served with Prince Maurice of Nassau (which must have been awkward, later) From 1620-4, Essex served in Protestant armies in Germany and the Low Countries. He joined Sir Horace Vere’s expedition to defend the Palatinate in 1620 and served with Prince Maurice of Nassau from 1621. In 1624, he commanded a regiment in the unsuccessful campaign to relieve the siege of Breda. The following year, Essex was appointed vice-admiral in Sir Edward Cecil’s expedition against Cadiz, which ended in disaster for the English. But although Essex’s military career during the 1620s was undistinguished, he earned the affection and loyalty of the troops who served under him because of his willingness to share their . 

Easily offended and acutely sensitive to the honour of his family name, Essex became estranged from court life and was associated with the parliamentary opposition to King James and his successor King Charles I. Because of his criticism of Buckingham after Cadiz, Essex was denied command of an expeditionary force sent to Denmark. He then turned down an offer to command a regiment on the expedition to La Rochelle in 1627. Essex refused to pay the forced loans demanded by King Charles, and he supported the Petition of Right in 1628. After the dissolution of the 1628-9 Parliament, Essex withdrew into private life at his estates in Staffordshire. In 1630, Essex married Elizabeth Paulet (who is Luce’s mother’s cousin, in “Red Horse” – there’s the family connection!) but six years later this marriage collapsed too, because of her adultery with Sir Thomas Uvedale. When Elizabeth gave birth to a son in November 1636, many believed Uvedale to be the father. Essex once again became the laughing-stock of the court. He accepted the child as his own and even forgave the countess, but when the child died the following month Essex gave up all hope of family life

His military career throughout the English Civil War was a history of missed opportunities, also-rans, and passed-overs. At Henrietta Maria’s request Essex was suddenly demoted to Lieutenant-General of Horse in favour of the Queen’s courtier the Earl of Holland during the Bishops’ Wars in Scotland, despite being the peer with the most military experience. He wasn’t offered any command at all in the Second Bishop’s Wars of 1640. In January 1642, Essex was told by the Countess of Carlisle, from gossip at court, that the King intended to arrest the Five Members regarded as his leading opponents in the House of Commons. Essex warned the MPs, who went into hiding. After the failure of his attempt to arrest them, the King was forced to make a humiliating withdrawal from London. Essex refused the King’s command to join him at York and was dismissed from his office of Lord Chamberlain. He was the first member of the House of Lords to accept Parliament’s Militia Ordinance in March 1642.

As the highest-ranking nobleman to support Parliament, Essex was appointed to the Committee of Safety in July 1642 and commissioned Captain-General of the Parliamentarian armies  He proved meticulous (or pedantic) in planning his campaigns but was always cautious in carrying them out, to the extent of anecdotally carrying his own coffin and winding-sheet on campaign, just in case he might require them. Although criticised for his lack of flair and initiative, “Old Robin” remained popular with his troops. (Apart, obviously, from Hollie Babbitt, who can’t stand him, but as the antipathy is entirely mutual, no loss on either part.)  

Essex commanded the Parliamentarian army at Edgehill, where he is said to have stood alongside his men wielding a pike at the head of an infantry regiment, and stood his ground in the defence of London later in 1642, though his refusal to pursue and attack the Royalist army as it withdrew from the capital disappointed many Parliamentarians. He was slow to begin campaigning in 1643 while peace negotiations with the King proceeded, but besieged and captured Reading in April. He was then unable to advance on the King’s headquarters at Oxford after becoming bogged down at Thame with sickness rife in his army and no money to pay his troops. Severe criticism of Essex’s leadership started to appear in the London newsbooks and members of the War Party praised his military rival Sir William Waller. When even his old ally John Pym rebuked him for inaction in June 1643, Essex angrily offered his resignation, but this was not accepted by Parliament. 

Hostility towards Essex reached a peak in July 1643 after he submitted an ill-considered letter to Parliament in which he complained that his army was so weakened by sickness and desertion that Parliament’s best hope was to seek a treaty with the King. This was widely interpreted as an indication that Essex was about to defect to the Royalists. However, Pym succeeded in turning the situation around by proposing a parliamentary investigation into Essex’s grievances that resulted in a resolution to settle arrears of pay in his army, to raise reinforcements and to issue a public vindication of his conduct. 

In justification of Pym’s confidence in him, Essex fought his most brilliant campaign when he successfully relieved the siege of Gloucester and fought his way back to London at the first battle of Newbury in September 1643. Essex’s Gloucester campaign halted a long run of Royalist successes and revived flagging morale in London. 

After John Pym’s death at the end of 1643, Sir Henry Vane emerged as political leader in Parliament. Vane had no confidence in Essex’s abilities as a general and manoeuvred to have him removed from command. Essex opposed the formation of the Committee for Both Kingdoms in February 1644, realising that it threatened his authority. His political influence was further undermined by the failure of his military campaigning that year when, after arguing with Waller, he disobeyed orders from Parliament, split his forces and marched into the West. Although he relieved the siege of Lyme, his subsequent invasion of Cornwall resulted in a defeat at Lostwithiel in September 1644 after which Essex left his troops to their fate and made an ignominious escape in a fishing boat. The Cornish campaign is the subject for another book in its own right. 

Although he was not officially censured by Parliament, the disaster of Lostwithiel finished Essex as a commander. Returning to the House of Lords, he supported the Earl of Manchester against Oliver Cromwell’s criticisms of Manchester’s leadership of the Eastern Association, and in December 1644 he joined an unsuccessful attempt to have Cromwell impeached for sedition. Essex led the opposition in the House of Lords to the measures proposed in the Commons for the re-organisation of Parliament’s army, but he was finally obliged to resign his commission, which he did with a dignified speech on 2 April 1645, the day before the Self-Denying Ordinance was passed. 

Thereafter, Essex lived in semi-retirement, a revered and respected figure once he had laid down his military commissions. He suffered a stroke after stag hunting at Windsor and died on 14 September 1646. He was buried in Westminster Abbey with great pomp and ceremony, and an effigy was erected to his memory. A month after the funeral, however, his grave was vandalised and his effigy beheaded by a former Royalist soldier. The effigy was refurbished but was finally destroyed on the orders of Charles II after the Restoration, though Essex’s body was left undisturbed. He died without male heirs, so the Essex title was extinguished until its revival at the Restoration, when it was granted to the son of the executed Royalist, Lord Capel. 

Now, like Babbitt, I think Essex must have been an absolute pain in the backside to serve with. Pedestrian, dutiful, and yet quick to take offence and slow to do much about it, possessed of an over-inflated sense of his own significance. I have seen one suggestion that his “impotence” was in fact down to medical grounds – an insufficiency of male hormones, although his lush facial hair and tendency towards aggression would indicate the reverse. 
And yet. And yet. I keep thinking of the young man he must have been – hurt and humiliated at court, the subject of public mockery and scorn – and the older man who married again, maybe full of hope, maybe not romantically in love, but hoping for some peace and comfort, only to find history repeating itself, as his wife took a lover And to have a son – who may, or may not, have been his own, but whom Essex was prepared to acknowledge as his own boy – and then to lose him, at a few months old. 

I hope someone loved Robert Devereux, just once, in his life. 


Edgehill, free stories, history, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, new books, Russell

And speaking of Hapless…."A Cloak of Zeal" free to read until 2nd March (with a link that works….)

A Cloak of Zeal by M. J. Logue A Cloak of Zeal  
A Cloak of Zeal – free until the 2nd March
Babbitt, Edgehill, Essex, free stories, history, Lucey, new books

By! It’s either a feast or a famine….

(As the lovely Hollie would say, being a North Country boy, and prone to such peculiar expressions.)
Three people are going to be very fortunate – my rather elegant new cover!

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    Goodreads Book Giveaway


        Red Horse by M.J. Logue



          Red Horse


          by M.J. Logue


            Giveaway ends March 30, 2015.

            See the giveaway details
            at Goodreads.




      Enter to win


Edgehill, history, new books, ponderations, Russell

One of these books is not like the other ones….

The first blood to be drawn in the English Civil Wars, at the Battle of Edgehill in autumn 1642. The King raises his standard against Parliament, and for bright, handsome young Puritan Thankful Russell, his new officer’s commission in the Army of Parliament is the gateway to a freedom and a happiness he has never known before. Freedom, and friendship, and an escape from his zealot sister, and a new purpose in life. (And girls, and laughter, and music, and all the other things that any ordinary good-looking young man at nineteen takes for granted.)

But Thankful is no ordinary young man, and these are not ordinary times, and before the day has ended his life will take a turn that he never, in his wildest dreams, imagined.

Or his worst nightmares.

A Cloak of Zeal is a darker turn for the Babbitt books. But then, Russell is Hollie Babbitt’s dark shadow.

Darker, and altogether harsher, and the first chapter made me cry and it made my other half very angry. And as for the end…. well, we must thank God that we know what we know, and that it does not end there.

Edgehill, history, ponderations, Russell

And That’s Lieutenant Russell to You, Sir

Funny way to start a blog, natch, but then Hapless Russell is a funny lad and he is very much on my mind, of late.

He was only ever meant to be a minor walk-on character, was our Hapless, a prissy little minor bureaucrat, but I find myself wanting to make things come out all right for him in the end. The more I know about him, the more I pity him – a junior officer in Hampden’s Greencoats, invalided out and on the scrapheap at twenty-one after Edgehill… I’m not surprised he goes a little bit off the rails. It’s a silly thing, but I had to write this short story, because I had to know – I have to piece together just what it is about Russell that makes him tick, because he’s not for telling, bless him. There are some characters who will just cosy up and tell you everything – Luce Pettitt, for instance, has no secrets at all. (And Captain Venning is an incurable gossip, but that’s a whole other barrel of salt fish.)

Someone (lawks! a real live reader an’ everything!) asked me yesterday if the young man who is plagued/comforted – delete as appropriate – on the field after Edgehill by Luce in “Red Horse”, is in fact Russell.
And I had to think about that, because I hadn’t meant it to be Hapless, but…

Well, the definitive answer, is that it isn’t…. but that it’s someone else’s Hapless.

So. There it is. Hello, welcome to the world of 1642, just come on in and meet Hapless, he’s not always been a bipolar, whackjob Puritan with suicidal tendencies and a drink problem. The boy is simply not temperamentally inclined towards moderation….

Hapless Russell is Unbreakable. I imagine it will be the first of many free Russell stories.

Happy New Year.