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Saturday, 25 January 2014

Saturday Story - 'The Reckoning'


 by Nik Morton


Across the fields, on the other side of Naseby village, the fires of the Royalist camp glowed in the dusk. They were roistering and carousing, Matthew thought, while the soldiers around him watched and prayed. Tomorrow, he would ride out with Cromwell’s cavalry, perhaps to slaughter his own cousin, Richard Brampton.

            It promised to be Sir Thomas Fairfax’s first major engagement as general of the New Model Army. A thoughtful, judicious and humane man, Fairfax was greatly liked by his own troops and civilians alike. Matthew had also seen Cromwell – ‘the plain russet-coated captain that knows what he fights for and loves what he knows.’ The presence of both men inspired him.

            The battle was not his first, but Matthew dreaded it - perhaps because he felt instinctively it would be decisive.


It was decisive. And terrifying. Rupert’s cavalry defeated the Parliamentary left and charged off the battlefield in pursuit.

            Matthew knew that so long as the Royalist pike-men kept their nerve and tight formations, it was almost impossible for cavalry to penetrate the ranks of pike-heads and lay about them with swords. Nevertheless, Cromwell led the charge against these tough infantrymen.

            Hearing the heavy breathing of the horse, feeling its flanks rub against his thighs, Matthew still believed he could detect his own heart pounding in a mixture of fear and excitement.

            Sweaty clothes chafed at his flesh and his helmet wobbled on his head; he was a big powerful man who had difficulty finding a uniform that fit. Matthew’s calf-hide gloved hands tightly gripped the reins as he rode towards death.

            In front of the pike-men and under cover of the protruding spikes, the Royalist musketeers fired steadily. Puffs of smoke discoloured the air. Behind their ranks soldiers swore, jeered and cheered. With each rank taking it in turn to fire while the others reloaded, the musketeers poured repeated volleys into Cromwell’s horsemen.

            Matthew felt musket balls split the air near his face and on two occasions heard the awful dull thud of a ball hitting his saddle leather.

Within minutes, the battlefield was wreathed in smoke and resounded with the shouts and cries of the wounded and the dying.

            If the gunpowder and shot in the musketeer bandoliers held out, then the cavalry would be decimated. Recklessly, Matthew leaned down and heaved up the corpse of a comrade and set the man in front of him, dead legs astride the horse, acting as a shield. Then Matthew charged, at the last second swerving his horse and tipping the dead man on top of three pikes and two musketeers beneath them.

            Matthew swerved his horse round again and trampled the Royalists underneath, sword scything left and right.

A musketeer used his weapon to club the head of Matthew’s horse. The poor animal lost its footing and Matthew toppled.

            But his foolhardy strategy had created a breach and through this Fairfax’s cavalry charged, firing pistols and carbines.

            By sunset the King had deserted the battlefield and there was a trail of bodies all the way to Leicester.

            Matthew searched them all. Unless Richard was one of those whose features had been obliterated by horse’s hooves, axe or pike, he was not among the dead. Oddly, that comforted him a little.

            Bloodied, tired, aching in every muscle, his head still ringing with the clash of weapons, Matthew rode among the thousands of captured Royalists, seeking out Richard Brampton.


Night fell. Astride his horse, Matthew carried a flickering torch to light his way.

            Suddenly, out of the shadows stepped Richard Brampton, his fine brocade clothing in tatters. “You seek me, dear cousin?”

            Matthew charged, feinted then sliced down, shattering Richard’s rapier.

            Richard’s mouth worked, but no words came. He backed into a tree trunk.

            Dismounting, Matthew strode over.

            “She wanted us to, Matthew - I swear!”

            Matthew removed a parchment sheet from inside his battered blood-smeared breastplate. “She fled after you and your friend Ralph ravished her! She has written me from a convent and confessed all!”

            Swiftly, Matthew’s sword completely severed Richard’s right hand.

Richard screamed in shock and pain.

            “I only spare you for your father’s sake since he took Elizabeth and me in as orphans.” Fiercely, he thrust his torch at the stump: it hissed as the blood-flow was staunched.

            “My hand!” Richard whimpered.
            God, forgive me, Matthew thought. Turning away, he snarled over his shoulder, “Think yourself fortunate I only cut off your hand and not what hath offended my sister Elizabeth!”
A very short story.
Previously published in 2011 in The New Coastal Press. Copyright 2014, Nik Morton
A collection of my prize-winning short stories can be found in
When the Flowers are in Bloom here or here


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