Babbitt, Cornwall,, Lucey, new books, South West campaign, spoiler

The Serpent’s Root – Cornwall 1646.Two months and counting….

Release date of March 21st and if you’re wondering what may have befallen Hollie Babbitt and the rebel rabble since the end of “A Wilderness of Sin” – here’s a taster…

“I want to go home,” Luce said dully, and turned his head on the pillow, though his eyes stayed closed. “I want to go home, Hollie.”

“Aye, I thought –“

He was mending, and his hair was lank, sticking to his forehead with sticky sweat: bless the lad, there wouldn’t be a girl in Hampshire who’d look at him twice, now, but he opened his eyes then and looked up at Hollie.

“It’s all right,” he said, in that rusty, thready voice, strained with coughing. Closed his eyes again. “I’m sorry. I – she – I dreamed of her. Of Gray. It was nothing. The fever. I -” He trailed off, and under the blankets, his chest jerked, as if he might have sobbed. Only the once. “I almost believed it was real. That it – that she – that this was the dream, and she the reality. That I might wake and find myself at Bristol again, and be -. It was the fever. Nothing more.”

“Just the fever. Aye. I know.” And he wanted to do something reassuring, just a reaching out so that Luce might know that his lost girl might have faded like smoke, but that his friends were here, and real, and solid. But what comfort was that, when you had dreamed of a loss made whole again, and woke to find yourself in a lonely bed? Hollie put his hand on Luce’s shoulder, and squeezed, gently. (The brat was a boy again, all skin and bone and tousled hair. That made Hollie’s heart hurt, too, for the lad had no right to be so fragile.)

“Just the fever,” Luce echoed. “Surely.” And then he closed his eyes, and one single tear made its way from under his lashes, and slid down his face into his tangled hair. “It was a good dream, though. I wish -“
“No you don’t,” Hollie said, for that way lay madness.
“I miss her,” he said, as if Hollie had not spoken, and his voice was as flat as ever, as if he were talking of a skipped meal, or a forgotten engagement. “All the time, I miss her. And I do not know how I might bear it.”

And how could he answer that, without sounding as if Gray were a thing of no account? You get used to it? There will be other girls? “Yes,” he said, eventually, and hoped that was sufficient.

“She was not beautiful. I never counted her beautiful. But she was- alive, she was always so, so – she was never still, was she?” For the first time in weeks, another slow tear made its way from under his lashes, trickling down into his hair, soaking the greasy pillow. “Hollie?”


Luce covered his eyes with the back of his wrist. “How do you forget?” he said, in a tiny voice.

And all Hollie could say was, “You don’t, Luce. You keep putting one foot in front of t’other. You don’t forget. But you get used to it.”
No consolation to think that after almost ten years there were still nights when he dreamed of Margriete, and still hurt to wake and find her gone. And that just for that first heartbeat, it hurt as much as it had.
“It will always hurt?” Luce said, and Hollie nodded, forgetting the lad had his eyes screwed tight shut.

“Like any other scar, brat. It will always hurt, if you get touched on it.”

“Good,” he said fiercely.  “For – I c-cannot bear that she should not be here, Hollie, and yet I cannot bear to pretend she never was.” And he sat up, quite forgetting that he was supposed to be on death’s doorstep, with all his tangled dirty hair falling about his face, and he buried his face in his two hands and sobbed like a little boy, with no thought for his beauty or his dignity. “It hurts,” he wailed, “it hurts, Hollie, it hurts!”

Aye. Well. Luce had forgot his beauty and his dignity, but Hollie was reminded, suddenly, that he had a daughter. And that one day, as the sparks flew upwards, she would look to him to comfort her. It was thinking of Thomazine that he sat on the edge of the bed and put his arms round the brat, patting him gingerly on the shoulder as he wept.
“It’ll all come good, Luce,” he said, and closed his eyes and thought of Thomazine. “It’ll all come good.”

Babbitt, new books, Russell, spoiler, writing

Babylon’s Downfall – an excerpt from the new novel

 1644 – and here we are, knee-deep in Yorkshire, after the battle of Marston Moor. Having mislaid Thankful Russell, briefly, but….

The scarred lieutenant was such a distinctive figure, though, tall and straight and stiff as a sword-blade, all the time. He never slouched. He never relaxed. 
He was wearing an tawny silk sash, a bright, barely-faded one, and his hair was so fair it was almost white, and he wore it long and tied back, and you couldn’t miss the bugger, even from the back. Pacing – not walking, pacing, on his dignity, managing to look like a man who was braced to receive blows even when he was just picking his way gingerly across the whins a quarter-mile distant. 
There was little less dignified than a cavalry officer sprinting in riding boots, but it was often said of Hollie Babbitt that he had no dignity anyway, and so he sped up. Careful of outflung hands and upturned faces, with the dew wet on open eyes and open wounds – of the just cause and impediment of battle, of spent shot and dead horses. “Russell.” 
The lieutenant didn’t look his way. Almost under Hollie’s feet there was a groan, and he shot sideways like a startled partridge, and then Russell looked his way, and came hobbling across. Still stiff and straight and upright, but limping like a man who’d been on his feet all night and who had the blisters to show for it. “Sir.”
“Hapless…what the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Some of the corpses looked better than Russell. He stopped, and looked up with his mouth open, and blinked, and then said, “I don’t know.” Thought about a second, and then said again, sounding surprised, “I don’t know.”
The wounded man at his feet groaned again, a horrible, graveyard noise, and Russell yelled, “And you can shut up, as well!” And then sat down abruptly in the ditch and burst into tears.
Hollie’s first reaction was that he was going to laugh, and that he couldn’t stop himself. His next, thank God, was to sit in the wet moss between Russell and the casualty – whose side? Buggered if he knew, a lad with his leg broke, badly broke, under a dead horse – and what with the wounded trooper whimpering on one side and Russell whimpering on the other, he wasn’t sure where to put his sympathies first.
“Right,” he said firmly, because he was the senior officer here, and that meant he was in charge. “I know who youare, Russell. No introductions necessary. Who’s your mate?”
The wounded man was crying, now, a sort of desperate, relieved, sobbing, as if he had been afraid alone and now he had other living men about him and he could let go, a little. “You’re not dying, old son,” Hollie said over his shoulder. “Not on my watch you’re not. Hapless, have you been preaching at this poor bugger or something? What have I told you about saving souls when you’re on duty?” 
And Russell looked up, blinking, affronted, and swiped the back of his hand under his nose like a little boy. Which did nothing for his dignity, especially since it was the hand with the armoured bridle-gauntlet on, and it hurt. “I – you – he said – “ and then stopped, and frowned, and looked at Hollie out of the corner of his eye. “I see. You are teasing me.” 
Hollie nodded, and stood up, and put his hand on the lieutenant’s shoulder. “Aye. I’m teasing you. Blow your nose, and let’s get this poor sod out from under.” 
There were two of them, and the hurt trooper – and he was on the wrong side, he was one of Widdrington’s horse, and Hollie sat back on his heels and whistled through his teeth at that, knowing how close Widdrington’s men had been to Rupert’s troops – was starting to run a fever, after a night on the moor, and was neither use nor ornament. He did know who he was, though. His name was Will Bailey and he was Northumbrian-born and he was twenty-six and he wanted his wife, very badly. 
Now you can do a bit of praying, if you like, Hapless,” Hollie said grimly. 
Bailey’s horse had stiffened, in the night. “How are you going to –“ Russell began, and Hollie cut him off. “Faith, sir. If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove. Faith, and a musket butt, and you are going to pull like a bastard, lad. I got a bad wrist. You, on the other hand, are fit as a butcher’s dog. Now stand to, and on my command, heave like hell.” 
Bailey screamed like a rabbit, and even with the leverage of a musket-butt under the dead beast it was only possible to rock the horse’s bulk a finger’s breadth or more, and it was barely enough to drag the trooper a few inches. “Do it again,” Hollie said, panting, and Russell was sobbing again, because it was horrible, it was undignified and agonising and Bailey had pissed himself in his pain – 
It took forever. It probably didn’t, but it felt like it did. Bailey was out cold and bleeding badly, and Russell was all but useless, gone beyond shock into a shaking numbness. “He’s going to lose that leg,” Hollie said, because it needed to be said, while the Royalist trooper was unconscious. “If he’s lucky, he’ll go home. Better off with one good leg and a peg ‘un than dead in a ditch.” 
The scarred lieutenant was staring at his bloodstained hands. “I walked out to – to see if I might be of help.” He blinked, without his gaze shifting the once. “There are so many dead men. Colonel.” 
“Hollie. I can’t be arsed with colonel.”  

“Dead men. Everywhere. Dead, and dying, and hurt, and –“ And still not looking away, still looking at his blood-sticky hands. “I killed one of them. Colonel.” 
“Me. I thought I could. I’m not sure I can. It was horrible. And what if –“  
“What if he wasn’t dead? What if he’s just lying there? With a hole in his belly – and the worms crawling in, and the –“  
“Russell.” He shook the lad, not hard, just hard enough to stop him, because thinking like that did nobody any favours. “You killed someone. Aye. You did. You’re a soldier. That’s your job. What the hell did you think, Hapless, you’d do a bit of smiting and the Lord would bear the buggers off in a fiery chariot?” 
And it was hard to tell with Russell, but his level brows drew sharply together, as if he was shocked, and anything that that shocked him out of that mad spiral of blame was good. “I – “ he lifted a shoulder in a tiny shrug. “Suppose I did. Rather.” 
“Well, that was a bit bloody stupid, wasn’t it? Hey!” Hollie could hear voices. He raised a hand. Looked down at Bailey’s limp, broken form. “Got a live one over here, lads!” He looked at Russell. Russell looked back, quite level, and quite sane.

“He’s one of ours,” Russell said coolly. “Be so good as to take him to our –“ his voice broke a little, “to Witcombe. I imagine he will be able to attend to Trooper Bailey’s hurts somewhat quicker than awaiting the attentions of the Army’s own surgeons. He has the less to deal with. Witcombe,” he said again, and they hoisted Bailey’s body onto a makeshift hurdle, “of Babbitt’s company. And should he wake – should he be afraid – tell him – tell him that Lieutenant Russell is praying for him.” His voice cracked, and he got up and fled, abruptly.

“Bloody funny lad, that one,” the soldier on the head end of the hurdle said, shaking his head. Looked down at Bailey. “You reckon he’s going to make it?”
Hollie shrugged. “Bloody will if Hapless has got anything to do with it.”
Babbitt, history, Lucey, Naseby, new books, Russell, South West campaign, spoiler

A Wilderness of Sin – available for pre-order (and the first chapter for your delight and astonishment)

Naseby, Northamptonshire
June 1645
It was a pale pearl of a midsummer dawn, and Thankful Russell looked like a dead man.
            Sitting on his bed, he looked fragile and very, very young. As well he might. He’d turned twenty-one two weeks before the battle at Naseby. He was twenty-one, poor bugger, and as of three days ago, he was blind.
It had been an accident, or a case of mistaken identity, or something of the sort that inevitably happened to Russell. It hadn’t even been during the battle. Colonel Hollie Babbitt hadn’t got to the bottom of it, didn’t want to get to the bottom of it. Thank God, he had spent most of that particular sickening low point in the trajectory of the New Model Army, laid out cold in a churchyard in the nearby village of Marston Trussell, perfectly, and literally, unconscious of the vile massacre being enacted by men he’d fought shoulder to shoulder with. His own troops. Oneof the troops under his command, at least. Hollie had been endeavouring to stand between the ravening ranks of the godly, hellbent on unjustified revenge, and those poor bloody brave, stubborn, doomed camp-followers. One of the women had had smacked him in the side of the head with a griddle. Collapse, as Lucey would put it, of stout party. It had done no good in the end, either. There’d been over a hundred of those poor women dead or mutilated – hacked apart by good Parliament men. And there had been nothing Hollie could do to stop it.
            Whatever Russell had been doing to stop it, he ought not to have, because it had ended with him shot in the head, not to say having been, by the look of him, very badly beaten. Sitting upright on his bed after three days unconscious, Russell was a horrible sight, and he hadn’t been that lovely before. The scarred lieutenant had a stunning black eye, and a series of clotted, black gouges torn into the cheek that wasn’t already marred: his mouth was swollen and torn, and there was old, dry blood on his top lip and his chin. The funny thing was, the pistol ball had only grazed his skull – the troop bonesetter had taken it out from under his skin with no trouble at all. Hollie had always said Russell had a thick head, and now he had actual, slightly-flattened, lead evidence of same. It had been enough to leave him senseless for the better part of three days, though, and it had bled something fierce. 
“You can’t do this, Hollie.” Luce was bumping about like a bee in a bottle, trying every way he knew to deflect Hollie from his stated business of removing Russell to a place of safety. “You can not expect a man with a serious head wound to ride sixty miles. You’ll kill him.”
Russell turned his head to look in Luce’s direction. That was the pitiful thing, that the lad was trying to look as if he was intact. Looking at the blank wall behind Luce’s head, his head slightly cocked, looking alert and intelligent and facing in just slightly the wrong direction, his eyes not moving. “I should rather not be left behind,” he said, his voice as cool and accentless as ever it was. “Thatwould kill me, Cornet Pettitt.”
“My baggage is packed, sir. I will ride when the colonel wishes to leave. At first light.”
Luce looked at Hollie and his mouth quivered. It was first light. And proper, impeccable Russell’s baggage was shoved anyhow into a saddle-bag, one forgotten stocking still flung across the bed where it had been missed. Hollie reached across and very quietly emptied the bag, smoothing the crumpled shirts and folding them before replacing them. Russell was frowning very faintly, his head jerking almost imperceptibly as he tried to pinpoint the sound. “What are you doing?” he said, and his voice had gone high with anxiety. “Sir? What -“
            Hollie put his hand on Russell’s shoulder. “Nowt, lad. I’m not doing nowt. I just thought I’d dropped summat a minute ago.”
“Colonel Babbitt, sir, I will not allow the lieutenant to leave my care!”
All he needed, bloody Witless. The troop bonesetter, who may have been christened Witcombe but who was definitely Witless, was a fat young man with bad skin who stuttered and blushed and only had any degree of competency at all when he was bloody to the elbows. As a plain trooper he was almost wholly useless. He’d managed to put a pistol ball through the brim of his hat in battle, on one occasion. Clear through, clear enough to see daylight. Give him a lancet or a fleam and he was transfigured. The worst thing was, that lummox had trained Luce in his own image, and now the brat was an eager apprentice in his own right. Frightening.
            “Why? You going to give him a better haircut?”
Russell looked uncomprehending. Actually, he looked like a lunatic, with a patch of hair cropped to the skin where Witless had stitched that bloody runnel through his scalp. Witless was never going to make a gentleman’s gentleman. He’d hardly flattered Russell’s vanity, such as he had had in the first place. What the lieutenant was going to say when he regained his sight – and he bloody well would, Hollie would not have it any other way – and realised that possibly the only beauty he had remaining to him was stuck out at crazy angles to his head and matted with blood. Hollie shook his head, and then remembered that he had a row of stitches of his own, slightly more considerately put in by Luce, who might only be a half-trained butcher but at least he had warm hands. Head-shaking, notwithstanding, made him feel somewhat dizzy.
“I’m not sure you ought to be racketing about the countryside on your own, either, Hollie,” Luce said gently, and Hollie scowled at him.
“That’d be it, then, brat.” Luce might be his dearest friend in the world, but he was still ten years, and at least one rank, Hollie’s junior. Brat he was and brat he would remain. “You can come with us. There you go, Witless. Lieutenant Russell’s got his own private physician. There’s posh for you, Russell.”
Babbitt, Bristol, Fairfax, history,, new books, ponderations, Rupert, South West campaign, spoiler

A Wilderness of Sin – the Siege of Bristol, 1645

For the full effect, read whilst listening to Bach’s “Cello Sonata No 5”
Some names have been removed to retain a degree of spoiler-dom… but really, it doesn’t matter who. I just say as shouldn’t that it’s a hell of  a good piece of writing. I cried writing it, and I cried reading it again,

Prince Rupert was finally brought to a stand at the end of the siege of Bristol in September 1645, and after a brief and ferocious stand-off, surrendered to Thomas Fairfax.

I dare you not to shed a tear.

Hollie sat on the stairs with his eyes closed, feeling that old familiar gritty sting of too many tears under his eyelids. Watching the sun dropping down below the rooftops, covering the city with a kind rosy blanket, and listening to people being alive in the world. About their business – beginning to stir again, after almost a month under siege, beginning, shyly, hesitantly, to be unafraid. Someone singing in the kitchens below and for the lad’s sake he wanted them to be silent – how could they sing when a man’s wife was dying in his arms? – and then he shook his head, no. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
He hoped the lad was strong in his faith. He hoped the lad would believe most firmly that he would meet her again, in a better world than this, and that it would comfort him in his adversity. Hollie had remained uncomforted in his for the better part of ten years, seeking comfort or extinction by turns. Had lost his hope, his career, his faith, his good name. If it hadn’t been for Het, his bright pole-star, he’d not have come back. The September sunset was warm and mellow now, flooding the landing with a golden tide, and the singer in the kitchens had fallen silent. The city was silent, an odd moment of stillness, almost as if the world were enclosed in a fragile, hollow soap bubble. A blackbird, singing, in an apple tree, the liquid notes falling clear into the dusk.
He could hear the lad, talking to his wife, through the latched door. Couldn’t hear the words. Just the lad’s happy, bright conversational voice, talking to himself. Talking to a dead woman who was still breathing. Saying, God willing, all the things he hadn’t had time to say in six weeks of marriage, and should have had a lifetime to say. The lad was barely twenty-two, he was a boy yet, it was wrong that he should be made to suffer so. It was bloody wrong and any God that thought it was fitting to put a pistol ball in the brain of a living, feeling young woman with so many years of useful life in front of her, and then to leave her husband to lie alongside her on a narrow bed in a strange town and wait for her breath to stop – ah, Christ, no, that kind of God was a vengeful arsehole and Hollie Babbitt would look Him in the eye on Judgment Day and bloody well tell Him so, and the hell with the consequence.
It was nothing to do with the lad. He knew that. It was thinking of himself and Griete, all those years ago, that made the tears come again. Thinking he knew what the lad was feeling, though he didn’t, God knows he couldn’t, they were as unlike as flint and cheese, but – even so. Hollie knew what it was to love and then suddenly to find yourself cut loose and desperate. He’d not let the boy go into that darkness. Not alone.
He put his back up against the door and sat with his head on his knees for a while, listening to his own breathing. Thinking of his own girl. Loving her twice over, loving her for that other girl’s sake, for still being alive to be loved while the other girl was leaving this world. Crying again, silently, for he had no right to mourn another man’s wife, but he mourned the loss of the lad’s first love and the his innocence and, for a while, his joy, and that was a death in itself.
He’d miss the daft, dreamy little bugger. He could only hope the man was one day going to be as full of hope and dreams and cockeyed romanticism as the boy.
The moon was rising. In the room behind him, the lad’s voice was growing hoarse, but still steady, still constant. Worn out with war and grief, Hollie slept, with his naked sword to one hand and one of Het’s faded silk ribbons clutched like a child’s comforter in the other.

It was shortly after dawn the next morning when the lad opened the door. Pale, but neat and dry-eyed and calm “She’s gone,” he said softly. “Would you be so kind, sir, as to fetch – fetch your father?” .