Jumping O'er Times
A/N: Tommaso and his spell are mentioned in Juliet Barker's scholarly study ‘Agincourt' -- I've just tweaked them a bit. Thanks are due to Kerry the astrologer for technical advice. And for the purposes of this fic I have assumed that the animal protagonists in Part Three are striped.
Warning: This fic takes place between Agincourt and the signing of the treaty, and does not contradict canon with respect to the latter. In short, the boys decide to follow the path of duty at the end.
Dedication: For my beta, Fiona Pickles
...turning the accomplishment of many years into an hour-glass
The workshop was large and round, set high in a tower in the chateau of Fontainebleau, and all its windows were firmly closed against the chill night air. Lamps and flickering firelight illuminated it, and gave an eerie half-life to the many objects which cluttered it; here were crucibles on their stands, there an orrery; in a corner, in deeper shadow, was a statue, robed and bearing a horned staff.
A man in a scholar's gown moved among the work-benches and shelves, gathering together the necessary elements of the great work that was to be accomplished here tonight. Flasks, parchments closely written; bowls of white and gold and blue, filled with earth. His Pisan lead-founders had brought three hollow figurines to the tower this morning, and then gone forthwith. And here was the key to it all, the talisman that would set the spell working.
‘Tommaso.' The learned man looked round. He had hoped the young lordling would not appear, tonight of all nights. But there he was, slipping in through the door that he had not dared to lock, muffled in a dark cloak and smiling slightly, well aware of Tommaso's discomfiture. ‘How goes your great endeavour?'
‘All is in train, my lord,' replied Tommaso shortly. He knew that he meddled with dangerous forces, but all for the greater good. This spell was the most potent he had yet attempted, but the magnate who had commissioned it (one among many manoeuvring for position as the court slipped towards anarchy under the mad king) had spoken softly, persuasively to him behind closed doors, had given him rich reward already, and promised more; and now he was in too deep to withdraw. And truly, he himself wished to see the invader driven from France; the sudden new player in the game who would bring down magnates, sorcerers and all. His patron had paid for everything, and Tommaso knew that if he could succeed in this night's work his fame would spread across Europe and he would henceforth be able to choose his own masters and name his own price.
But this boy, slight, handsome, and with hair so black it was almost blue, had got wind of the scheme, heaven alone knew how, and had begun to haunt Tommaso's footsteps and then to visit his workshop, always with that knowing look and secretive smile. And since Gilles was a scion of one of the greatest noble houses himself, Tommaso had not dared to drive him away, but answered his questions as shortly as may be, and kept his books securely locked up; but he had begun to feel that he was caught between two masters. For the boy's questions had taken a darker turn than Tommaso liked; such matters had barely been touched on even in the university at Bologna, but Gilles, young as he was, already seemed to know almost as much about them as Tommaso himself, and his questions had hinted at less savoury interests still.
‘I'll stay to watch, if it will not disturb so mighty a sorcerer?' Gilles smiled, secure in the knowledge that Tommaso could not refuse the pretended request.
‘Your lordship is most welcome to stay, but I would ask that you do not interrupt. This is a most complex spell, three-fold and of immense power.'
How had he known what was planned for tonight? Tommaso would not give him the satisfaction of asking; he simply checked over the ingredients of the spell again, and then opened the window that would look out onto the night in the direction he wanted. There hung Sagittarius, the brighter for the moon's absence. He turned back from his friends the stars, and found Gilles stepping back from the work-bench, looking at Tommaso with a self-satisfied smrk. Tommaso ran his eyes quickly over the bench, but nothing seemed to be missing. He said, with sudden authority, ‘If your lordship will be seated,' and indicated a tall, carved, throne-like chair, from which he was accustomed to address the spirits he summoned from time to time.
Gilles inclined his head, and went over to sit in the great chair. Tommaso closed his eyes for a few moments, took a calming breath, and then, in the light of Sagittarius, began to speak the words of the incantation, which had been long-rehearsed. ‘By the power of earth and air, and earth and fire, and earth and water...' Still declaiming, he turned to the nearest figurine and filled it with earth from the first of the bowls, putting inside it also a sheaf of the spell-written parchments and one of the lesser talismans.
And then, that done, he took up a stylus and scored, so deeply that his hand shook with effort, into the figurine's breast a single name: HENRICIUS.
Part One: See you these Monsters
The winds had been contrary from Southampton, and instead of coming in to Calais as planned, the fleet had made for Cherbourg. Here, with some relief, the royal party had disembarked, and once ashore and more or less dried out, they made ready to complete the journey to Troyes on land rather than wait for favourable winds.
Montjoy had all the distaste of the French for the sea, and heard of this decision with more relief than most of his fellow-travellers. He found his horse Reynard among the dozens on the docks, and when, after some organisation of the retinue and its baggage-carts, they set out across the rain-soaked landscape of Normandy, he was of lighter heart than he had been for some days.
Sent to the English court, presently at Winchester, to set in train the arrangements for the signing of the treaty, he had found himself in sombre mood as he stood before Henry to give him details of his own king's agreement to attend a conference under the dubiously-neutral aegis of the Duke of Burgundy. Every member of the three warring factions knew what the outcome would be; England in the ascendant, Burgundy biding his time, Princess Katherine offered to Henry as his queen, but the forms had to be observed. Henry, to give him credit, showed no sign of triumph. He had never done so, even in the aftermath of the battle; had always had the look of a man doing his duty. But there had been a brief half-smile of welcome in his eyes as he saw Montjoy again, for the first time since that wretched day.
Then, the journey to Southampton where the fleet lay; two days of riding in Henry's retinue through the English countryside, followed by a rough crossing. Henry had boarded his ship with an apparently perfect confidence which the rest of the English dutifully shared and Montjoy did not. He had always much preferred being sent to courts on the mainland of Europe - except, of course, that there was no ruler in Europe quite like Henry of England.
Who appeared now on the grey horse which had carried him in the battle, his head turning at the last moment as he rode past Montjoy; and he gave a small nod. Then he was gone, to the head of his retinue, and Montjoy prepared to follow him out of the gates of Cherbourg and into pacified Normandy.
The roads were in poor condition, the weeks of rain having taken their toll. It was miserable riding in the blustery weather, but, Montjoy reminded himself, better than being at sea. Showers chased each other across the sodden farmlands. Here and there the road fell into disrepair and the party had to wait while the horses and baggage wagons picked their way round small landslips, or negotiated swollen fords.
‘Herald Montjoy, your country doesn't wish us here!' observed the Duke of Exeter, hair plastered over his eyes; over the last week or so the ice had been broken, a very little, between some of the English and the party's sole Frenchman; and Montjoy, patting Reynard's neck, tried not to agree too wholeheartedly.
Caen was their first objective, and after two nights on the road they set off under grey skies from Bayeux, the English garrison escorting the retinue a little way along the road before turning back. The green landscape stretched before them, intersected with little rivers, swollen with brown water and scuds of foam. They always approached the bridges with care, sending archers out beforehand to check for ambush; but the ambush, when it came, was not the sort which scouting archers could have anticipated.
Another bridge, the road slanting down the riverbank towards it; willows and reeds below the road, and an embankment with coppiced hazels above. The retinue, filing down towards the bridge, came to a halt as they saw another small landslip. The embankment had slumped across the track, recently by the looks of it.
Montjoy, seeing pebbles rolling down the earthy slope towards Henry, called out ‘'Ware stones, your majesty,' and then gave a startled cry as the whole embankment slumped and a human figure fell onto the roadway in front of the king. Then he realised that it was neither man nor corpse as he had first thought, but a crowned statue, and to his horror he saw that its hands were tied behind its back.
The horsemen drew back, some of them reaching for weapons, because the nearest among them could see the name carved across the statue's breast: HENRICIUS.
For a moment there was a silence, the scene transformed into a tableau. Henry himself, shocked, looked back at Montjoy, who stared, sickened, at the unpleasant figure on the ground for a moment before glancing back up into the king's eyes.
‘We should...' he began, but whatever he had been going to say was lost as a sudden sharp light flared across the sky, gone before they knew it. There was an abrupt vertiginous feeling, as if they stood on the edge of a cliff, and it seemed that the world tilted and they were toppled into an abyss, a great wind rushing past them, a long dizzy fall into shadow that when it suddenly ended left them reeling.
The horses staggered, and surged about, neighing as they tried to flee to safety. Their riders clung to their backs; Montjoy cried out to his God for aid, and heard others do the same -
‘Stay together!" Henry's voice rang out sharply above the noise, and Montjoy mastered Reynard's attempts to rear and bolt. All around him the English were doing the same, and then the confusion cleared and eighty men on horseback were staring wildly at each other and at the landscape around them... Far more open than before, road and bridge and river all gone. In the light of a cold clear dawn all they could see were scattered, windblown trees, ferny growth between them, and the bare stones and dust of a hillside rising away towards the east. Behind them, the slope fell away into a deep valley, the trees growing denser there, and more slopes beyond, and nothing at all that they recognised.
‘String your bows,' shouted Sir Thomas Erpingham, and the archers threw themselves from their horses, flinging reins to their comrades who were still mounted, and obeyed with all haste.
‘Form harrow all round!' Another command, from Henry, and the fighting men rushed into position, archers a little way in front with arrows on string and bows half-bent. The men-at-arms, a few paces behind and with shields up, made a solid defensive wall for the archers to retreat behind. The carts were in the centre of the formation, and Henry was outside it. Montjoy stared in disbelief, but Henry's head was turning as he searched the landscape for threats, his horse still sidling nervously.
‘Does any man see an enemy?'
‘I see none!' Bedford's voice answered from the other side of the formation, and from another quarter, rather shrill, Gloucester, ‘Nor I!'
‘Nothing here, my liege,' Exeter called, and silence fell again and they waited long minutes out.
But nothing happened. No attack, no sign of movement, no noise but for the soughing of a cold wind. The sun, just rising over the ridge off to their right, climbed higher. Henry made a slow circuit of the harrow, the hoofbeats of his horse sounding clearly in the greater silence, and conferred with Exeter. Bedford and Gloucester, his younger brothers, anxiously rode forward to meet them.
‘Sir Thomas, have half your archers stand down.'
There was a ripple of relief, for the men had been strung tighter than their bows waiting for a threat that had not materialised. The King and his three kinsmen were still talking, Gloucester pointing at the higher ground, Bedford apparently urging caution.
Montjoy, now that the first shock of the change was passing, was feeling rather dull and detached, and a headache was beginning. He rubbed at his forehead. Other men were doing the same, and talk was slow and desultory. The horses were hanging their heads. He dismounted, and found himself sitting on the ground, still holding Reynard's reins.
There was a stir of movement among the royal party. Henry turned his horse and addressed them, ‘We will climb to the ridge, and see what may be seen. Stay together, trust in God and in each other; we have fought our way out of tighter corners than this! Uncle Exeter, take the lead with me. My brothers will guard the rear. Dismount and walk that the archers may be ready to shoot.' And with no further ado, he and Exeter moved to take the lead.
For all his confident words, Montjoy could see the strain on his face as he passed, but he felt the bracing effect of his words, and so did all the men around him. He climbed to his feet and prepared to make the ascent.
The ridge looked close at hand, and they should have gained it quickly, but it turned out to be a painful business reaching it. He found himself staring at the ground as he plodded in Henry's wake, his head throbbing. How the soldiers managed the climb, carrying bows or looking out for danger, he did not know; but of course they had fought and won a great battle in little better case. Then as his breath grew short, he forgot to wonder, and the placing of one foot in front of another was all that mattered. The carts, lumbering along in the centre of the party, had the worst of it, though the slope was smooth and not steep. Hardier men than he were helping them along, and he found himself with Reynard's reins looped over his shoulder, leading two other horses while their riders heaved at the carts. He felt ashamed of his weakness.
Then, at last, they halted. Lifting his head, he saw a small party, mostly archers, go warily ahead, and of course Henry was among them. Why did the king have to risk himself so? They would be lost without him. He watched anxiously as they crested the ridge, and paused, and straightened, gazing about them. Their attitudes spoke of surprise rather than immediate alarm.
‘Come up, but leave the carts with the rearguard!' A shout had them on their feet, and a man passing them on the way down said, ‘There's no people to see, no sign of habitation; it's like the sixth day of creation up there,' but his eyes were a little wild, and he hastened on to speak to Bedford and Gloucester.
Montjoy found the climb easier this time. His headache was passing, and he was able to look around him as he went. Fir and pine, and other trees that he could not recognise, dotted the hillside around him. Reddish shaley soil crunched underfoot, and the air was sharp and clear. He reached the crest, and stared round.
Another valley fell away before him, of much the same kind, bare soil and single trees all around, and mountain-sides beyond. But the nearer slope was bathed in early morning sunlight, and there were shapes on the ground of which eye and mind could make no sense at first. Grey or bluish, bulky and motionless, they looked like boulders at first, and then he saw something that might be a creature's leg, and perhaps the line of a jaw...
Creatures such as he had never seen before. Dozens of them, the size of plough-oxen, lying prone on the ground, long-tailed, with huge crests like sails on their backs. His gasp was echoed by many of the men around him, and several snatched glances around to check for danger on either hand. Henry's archers were standing tense and ready.
‘What place is this? What creatures?' That was Erpingham, voicing the question in all their minds. There was no answer. Even Henry made no response.
The perplexed silence stretched out, and then before it could become too awkward, Montjoy said diffidently, ‘Your majesty... In atlases, I have seen pictures of crocodiles. These look similar, except for the crests. But crocodiles come from Africa.'
The thought hovered that no-one had dared speak, that this was sorcery, but Henry seized on this statement, and said decisively, ‘So, however we got here, we might be in Africa. I've heard tell that much of the land there is empty. But we might encounter paynims; we should be ready for that. We must all be wary. And we must find water, and forage for the horses; send scouts out, but well-armed, and not out of earshot, and not alone. A place to camp while we take council. This ridge will do, if we can find a spring. Uncle Exeter, do you find us a defensive position; Sergeant Bates, take men down to the carts and send the rearguard here with my brothers; then to find provisions. Sir Thomas, you and your men to stay here. You too, Montjoy.'
The men, relieved to be given employment, hurried to carry out Henry's orders. He watched them go, while Sir Thomas' men took up positions on the ridge, bows still at the ready. Then he looked back once more over the valley of the monsters. His shoulders slumped slightly, and then as if he felt Montjoy's eyes on him, he straightened again, summoned him with a gesture, and took him a little aside.
‘Montjoy. Tell me what you know of this. You were going to speak, just before the flash in the sky at the bridge.'
‘Nothing, sire. Guesses. I have never seen a crocodile, except in pictures. But these creatures are like nothing else, except maybe dragons, and they have no wings. And dragons are solitary beasts, if the tales are true.'
‘Dragons crossed my mind too, but that's not a thought I want the men to have. I was glad of your suggestion. What of the figure in the earth?'
‘That's sorcery. It must be.' He knew his distaste and fear showed in his voice. ‘Your majesty knows our king is sick in mind and body. There are ambitious men at court. I heard strange tales a time or two.'
‘Tell me of these tales.' Henry's voice dropped, so low that Montjoy had to move closer to him. Henry was still looking out over the valley, his expression grim.
‘There are men who claim to be diviners and astrologers...'
Henry's face turned contemptuous. ‘And but a short step from there to the dark arts.'
‘Most of them are harmless enough, sire. But others see it as a way to advance at court, and others still...'
‘A means to get rid of the English, would you say?'
‘I am not one of those who would say it,' said Montjoy sadly. ‘We had not the discipline to oppose you. We suffered the consequences.'
‘I don't imagine that you were involved in this. I saw your face when you looked at that figure. You were revolted, as any right-thinking man would be. And you are here with us, which to my mind suggests you had no hand in it... Tell me, Montjoy.' His voice dropped still further. ‘Do you honestly believe we are in Africa?'
Montjoy pulled his cloak closer about him; now that he was no longer climbing, the air felt bitterly cold. ‘It is not easy to believe that, but if not there, then where..? Though if any traveller had seen creatures like those, we would surely have tales of them.'
‘No more do I think it likely. But I had to have something to give the men. You will pretend, for now, that Africa is where we are. And you will bend your thoughts to a find a way of getting back to France.'
One did not complain at the unfairness of a king's commands. One simply tried to carry them out, however impossible. ‘Your majesty, I will do my utmost.' And then he found himself saying, ‘I should perhaps go back to the place where we arrived, and see what may be seen. There may be some small indication there of what happened.'
And the King gave him a half-smile and a nod of approval, and then added, ‘Wait till the first scouting parties are back, and I have a defensible camp established here. I'll have Erpingham send a guard of archers with you. No-one should be alone in this place.' The guard, Montjoy realised, would not be entirely for his protection, but that was understandable. ‘Can you use weapons?'
‘Not well, sire.'
‘You should have them, even so, and some form of armour. Sir Thomas!' He called across to the old knight, who was directing the cutting of stakes from the surrounding trees, and when he came over to them across the ridge, said, ‘See that Herald Montjoy is given with suitable weapons, and what armour we may have to fit him. Then he may aid you with cutting stakes until we have a secure place to camp.'
Thus dismissed, Montjoy bowed formally, wondering how it was that he had agreed to help the invader return to France, and left Henry turning once more to look out over the valley of monstrous beasts and to the slopes beyond.
A while later, feeling both slightly ridiculous and greatly reassured, he was outfitted with dagger, halberd and a leathern coat from one of the carts. His own outer clothes he folded and stowed away carefully, and he followed John Bates, one of Erpingham's men, to take his inexpert part in sharpening stakes.
Even this simple exertion made him sluggish, and the men around him were feeling the strange tiredness too, judging by their comments, made with great freedom when Sir Thomas was out of earshot. But they all kept doggedly at their task. They might need the stakes at any moment.
Long before noon, the camp was well established, and Sir Thomas came over to Montjoy and said, ‘The King tells me you think it worthwhile to go back down the hill, to see what may be seen there.' Montjoy looked up from contemplating his blistered hands, and nodded. ‘I'll send a guard of archers with you, and you'd best ride, though spare the horses as much as you can. John Bates! Take your archers and escort the Herald to the place where we arrived; the King's command.'
John Bates cast aside his mallet. ‘Ay, Sir Thomas.' He called his men over, and they picked up their bows while Montjoy collected Reynard; and then they rode slowly back down-slope, following their own tracks, for there was no sign of a path. In short order they arrived back at the gateway to this world. Here they all dismounted and John Bates set his guard, while Montjoy quartered the trampled soil slowly. He had no idea what he expected to find.
Glancing up, he saw the men for the most part staring outwards, alert for danger, but John Bates was watching him, would-be casually, but he also had an arrow on the string. Fair enough. He gave the man a half-nod, and resumed his search, and then a shard of metal caught his eye. He stooped and picked it up. It was heavy, and dull grey. John Bates came over casually.
‘That looks like lead,' he remarked.
‘And in the shape of a floret. I think it comes from the crown on the figure of the king that we saw, just before -‘
‘It happened. Are there more pieces?' They both stared round, and Montjoy spied another piece, and John Bates another. In the end they had a double handful of shards, one with signs gouged into it that Montjoy vaguely recognised as occult. But he could not interpret the symbols.
‘Well, there's nothing more to be found here. We should get back to the camp.' He put the heavy lumps of metal into the satchel which also held his writing materials, and waited while John Bates called in his guards, and then they made their slow way back up the slope. This time the horses were better able to manage the climb, and they were able to ride.
Reporting back to Sir Thomas, he left the shards of lead with him, and then took Reynard over to the horse-lines, where a pile of fodder had been cut. It was unusual foliage, almost like fern but not quite, and there were branches of strange leaves from the trees. The horses were nosing at the unfamiliar foliage, but in the end they settled down to eat steadily. Montjoy began to brush Reynard down, and while he was doing so, another man came to fetch him to the king.
Henry was sitting on a fallen log under a pine-tree, and several of his kinsmen were with him.
‘Montjoy.' Henry motioned him to sit further along the log. ‘What do you make of these pieces of metal that you found?' He passed one of them across.
‘That they are from the figure of your majesty that we saw just before we were translated,' he replied. ‘Further than that, I cannot go.' He turned the shard in his hands, rubbing at a spot where a crust of earth had lodged. He felt completely inadequate; Henry was looking to him for answers, and he had none. Exeter emptied out a bag containing all the other shards, and Montjoy spread them out on the log, trying to fit them together, more as a way of avoiding Henry's eyes than with any real expectation of finding something useful. Then he bent more closely over them, and picked one of the shards up. Henry made a slight sound of expectation, and waited. Montjoy's thumb polished away more soil.
‘Here.' He pointed at a tiny device scratched into the metal. ‘This coat of arms. It's twisted by the force which destroyed the figure, but I can still make it out. Those are the arms of Pisa.'
‘Pisa? I was no threat to the Pisans. Why would they cast a spell against me?'
‘There's one man who might. He's court astrologer; Tommaso da Pizzano. An ambitious man. He used to boast that he could drive the English out of France, and no-one believed him - though it seems that someone took him at his word. He had a workshop at Fontainebleu where he'd allow no-one to go. If he was making this figure I can understand that.'
He put down the shard, picked another up, and examined it closely too. ‘Here are fragments of Latin. I cannot read what it says...'
Henry looked up. ‘Master Stephen.' A man in cleric's robes came across, and Henry passed the shard to him. ‘What do you make of it?'
Master Stephen, small and grey-haired with ink-stained fingers, peered at the sign. ‘I would need more of the text to understand it.'
‘We may infer a plot, though. What more do you know of this Tommaso, Montjoy?'
‘Very little. I was travelling most of the time, and paid him no heed. But I know his daughter, Christine de Pizan. She's a scholar and a writer, a most unusual lady.'
‘Would she have been involved in this?'
‘I ... think not. She would deem it unchivalric.'
‘So, maybe just a few men involved in the conspiracy,' said Henry slowly. ‘But that leaves us nowhere, unless you and Master Stephen can unravel the spell between you. We should stay here, though, near the place where we arrived, rather than travel widely in this land. The camp is made, and we have water; it will be no hardship to stay here for a while. Master Stephen, will you put Montjoy's finds safely away now? I would rather such devils' tools in a churchman's keeping. Safer for us all.'
‘Of course, your majesty.' Master Stephen did not seem very enthusiastic at the charge, but he gathered the shards into a box lying open at their feet, and took his leave. The nobles stood, Montjoy with them, but Henry signed for him to stay when they left. Montjoy waited, rather apprehensively, for what the king had to say to him in private.
‘Montjoy, there's another matter which puzzles me.'
‘This spell was directed at me. I can understand why the Englishmen with me were swept up in it. But here you are, a Frenchman, with us.'
‘I... was with your majesty's party. Perhaps the spell simply took hold on whoever was close to the figure.'
‘Then how would Tommaso have set the spell and got away safely? And his helpers? That metal is lead, heavy. He could not have buried it alone.'
‘I ... cannot tell. I will consider it. Perhaps I should go back down the hill tomorrow, maybe with Master Stephen, and look again. Majesty, I am sorry, but I cannot think of anything else to do.' He looked at Henry, hoping that he would accept this.
A half-laugh. ‘I can understand that. Take John Bates and his men when you go. He's got a head on his shoulders.'
Montjoy bowed his head in assent, and took his leave before Henry could pursue the matter of why a Frenchman had been affected by the spell. For of course he could not admit that, for a long while now, a small corner of his heart had, most treacherously, been Henry's.
In the afternoon there was movement among the sail-backed creatures; they began to browse on the trees and clumps of fern, even tossing their heads and stamping at one another. Muted roars and snorts filled the air; the effect was almost one of a herd of cattle, if one took care not to look at the blue-and-grey monsters or the gold tracery on their sails. But they seemed harmless enough, not at all inclined to climb up to the ridge. Nor did they seem afraid, or more than dimly aware, of the men in the camp.
This was fortunate, for they were all weary beyond measure by sundown. The evening meal, served out from the carts, was consumed in near-silence. The air was bitterly cold. There was no shortage of dry wood, but Henry was wary of lighting fires until he had seen that there were no lights anywhere beyond the camp. Montjoy's mind tried to tell him that this was not unexpected, but it was just another peculiarity to add to all the others, the monstrous sail-backs, the ultimate strangeness of their translation.
He huddled into his cloak. All around him the other men were clustered together, groups of friends keeping each other's spirits up, warmed as much by each other's company as by their campfires. Beyond the flickering firelight the world was huge and dark and empty. He was a solitary Frenchman, his only companions recent enemies, in a world beyond his comprehension.
He had never felt so alone in his life.
The sound of a step beside him roused him from his introspection.
There was a hooded, cloaked figure looking down at him. Dazzled by the light of his small fire, he did not realise who it was at first.
‘Montjoy,' and then he knew, and made to scramble to his feet.
‘No, stay there, said Henry, and then, ‘May I share your fire for a while?'
‘Your majesty. Please,' said Montjoy, and there were more things he could have said, such as I need company, I'm glad it's you, but he shifted across slightly so Henry could sit down on his patch of clear ground if he wished.
‘A cold night,' remarked Henry, and spread his hands to the fire. There were other men, other fires close by, but Henry had chosen his to sit by.
‘We're lucky there's so much firewood close at hand.' He could talk to this man. He could.
‘We've been fortunate, all things considered.'
Henry was trying to put him at his ease, to make him feel included. It was incumbent upon him to respond. ‘I have been trying to think back for any mention of such a thing happening to other people.' Henry made a movement beside him and the hood slipped back slightly. He actually looked interested. ‘There are stories in Brittany of the hollow hills...'
‘Not quite the same, for we've not encountered the Fair Folk... and we've already drunk water from this place... but yes, I'd forgotten those stories. We used to hear them in Wales, too, when I was a child. And the people in them came back in the end.' He picked up a broken branch, and fed it into the flames. ‘Do you think that means Tommaso had knowledge of the old tales?'
‘Maybe. But I don't know how that can help us.'
‘Oh, it helps us. You've helped us. We've been here less than a day, and you've found out who did this, and you've shown me a way to stop the men panicking, and now you're giving me hope that we might get back again. Who knows what you'll do tomorrow?'
Montjoy laughed, as he was obviously meant to do. ‘Your majesty places too much confidence in me.'‘No, I don't. I have soldiers aplenty, but you - well, you seem to notice things that other men miss.' His voice became persuasive. ‘I'll need your help for as long as we're here, I think. If you can join forces with an Englishman for a while, of course.'
Another half-laugh. ‘We are a long way from England and France, sire, and I want to go home too. What little help I can give is yours.'
‘Good.' Henry stood up, and Montjoy rose too; the interview was over and he would miss this man's presence by his side. ‘Come along with me. My other counsellors are all by the main fire. I would have you all together. Maybe we can find an answer between us.' Montjoy, bemused, hastily banked up the fire, picked up his bag and satchel, and fell into place beside Henry. ‘My brother Gloucester's a bookish man, and you should talk to my chaplain, Master Stephen; he's a scholar too, but his first care must be to tend to his flock.'
They made their way between the campfires, Henry stopping now and then to speak to this man or that, always addressing him by name, ‘Court, we will need a song of you at service in the morning... Pistol, I have my eye upon you... Sergeant, I trust you to keep discipline in the ranks.' Each time he brought Montjoy to stand in the firelight, so he could be seen.
Henry was making sure his men knew the Frenchman was in his confidence.
They passed the horse-lines, and Montjoy stopped briefly to speak softly to Reynard. Henry watched him for a moment, and then said, ‘Bring him with you. You may as well have him handy in the morning. You can tether him with Cloud.'
‘Thank-you, sire.' Cloud, the king's great charger. Montjoy's head spun a little, but he picked up Reynard's harness and then found that he had no hands to spare for the horse, standing for an instant unsure whether to come back for the gear. But then Henry, seeing his difficulty, untied Reynard's tether and asked his name, stroking his neck before leading him away towards the pine tree. Montjoy, who felt this was perhaps the most extraordinary thing that had happened all day, followed the king up the hill. They passed more campfires, Henry stopping occasionally to talk to his men, and Montjoy, who was slightly encumbered by his baggage, was glad of the opportunity to catch up.
Near the pine-tree they came to the place where the nobles' horses were tethered. Henry tied Reynard next to Cloud, as he had promised. The grey whickered softly at the sight of his master, and then put his ears back at the interloper and snapped at his neck. Reynard danced away, but was brought up short by Henry, and Montjoy dropping his baggage went to his head. ‘Oh, mind your manners, Cloud,' said Henry, and cuffed him lightly across the nose, while Montjoy got Reynard safely quieted. Cloud, his authority over the newcomer established, graciously accepted his presence.
‘Well, horses are horses,' said Henry, and took Montjoy up to the camp-fire near the tree where his kin were sitting. The men looked up as they approached.
‘Herald Montjoy will be joining our fire,' stated Henry, and sat down in the space which had been left for him. He gestured Montjoy to sit next to him. There was not quite enough room for two; Exeter gave him a little space, and Montjoy found himself crammed in between him and the king.
It was a cold night, and he spread his hands to the blaze, feeling completely awkward and out of place, but no longer alone. The moon - surely bigger than it should be? - and a sky full of strange stars glittered down on them, but the fire was warm. And the king's shoulder was warm against his, and his heart was warm too.
‘How are the men, sire?' asked Exeter.
‘Nervous, but they're keeping discipline. We will all have to reassure them as best we can. Do you all take care to walk round the camp and speak to them. Reassure them that we know what has happened, and while we might not make a swift return we are not helpless. Gloucester, Master Stephen, confer with the Herald in the morning about what he has found for us; we will need all our learned men to solve this riddle.' They nodded to him across the circle of men. ‘And now, my friends, we should sleep, if we can, for it's been a long day, and will likely be a longer one tomorrow.'
In the general shifting and rearrangement of men as they found blankets and wrapped themselves in their cloaks Montjoy found that two burly Englishmen had somehow separated him from their king, which was reasonable enough. But the memory of those few minutes in the warmth of Henry's touch, impersonal though it had been, made him smile to himself in the dark.
There were no alarms in the night, though he was dimly aware of sentries passing around the camp, the horses shifting, and the soft murmur of voices now and then. In the morning, driven into activity by the piercing cold, they rose (Montjoy groaning quietly as he did so, for it was a long while since he had slept on the ground) and Master Stephen led them in worship.
Montjoy, and almost everyone else, he noted, decided to forego shaving; the cold was so bitter that he felt the need of the protection of a beard. He went to see to Reynard, took his blanket off him, brushed him and made sure he had enough fodder; and when he returned to the pine tree there was an impromptu council in progress over breakfast.
‘I saw no fires other than our own all last night,' said Exeter, as close to worried as Montjoy had ever seen him, ‘this land seems to be empty but for us.'
‘No roads or buildings either. Which means no threat that we know of. We have food and water here, firewood and a defensible position.'
‘We must keep the men busy.'
‘We must give them hope, too...' and here Montjoy found that Henry was looking at him.
His heart sank. ‘Sire, with your permission I will go back down the hill to look for more traces of the spell. We were in haste yesterday, and tired, and may have missed something.'
Henry nodded. ‘Go, and take Bates and his archers with you; Sir Thomas, see to it.'
Going back down the trail that had begun to form, Montjoy found himself wishing that he could speak to Henry quietly and alone to tell him that he had no idea what to do, no plan for their return. Then he acknowledged to himself that Henry was in the exact same case, and felt a pang of sympathy for the poor king who carried the weight of responsibility for them all, as well as his own fears.
Bates beside him distracted him by asking a few questions about the significance of what they had found the day before, and when they dismounted, he set half his men to combing the ground while the rest kept guard. But they found little else besides a few more shards of metal, and Montjoy took charge of them, looking at them with distaste before putting them away, and then they surveyed the site dispiritedly.
And then Montjoy, used to taking swift notice of the details of an enemy's dispositions while carrying out his duties as a herald, saw something. ‘The ground is swept almost bare,' he said in surprise. It's as if there had been a sudden wind, but' - he looked around - ‘it's all coming from the one spot. Where we arrived.' There were no twigs or dried fern-fronds in the patch of ground, but plenty a little way away, caught in trees or against boulders. ‘Did you feel a wind rushing past us, as we were sent here?' He had not thought to ask others about this.
‘Yes, I did - as if it was carrying us along... So anything lighter than the lead would have been blown some distance away, perhaps.'
‘Paper or parchment, maybe... John Bates, we will need to search a little further afield!'
‘Sergeant!' came a call from one of the archers, and they turned to see a party of horsemen coming down the trail towards them. Henry was among them. Abandoning their conversation, Montjoy and Bates waited for him to arrive.
‘Well, Herald, Bates, have you found anything for us?'
‘More fragments of the figure, sire, but I believe it may be worthwhile extending our search. We have only found shards of lead on the ground, but anything lighter may have been swept away in the commotion of our arrival.'
‘So.' Henry smiled a little, took a look around at the twisted trees and the ferny growths on the ground, and dismounted. ‘Where do we begin?'
They had a handful of parchments by the time the search was finished, plucked out from bushes or clumps of fern. They were stained and torn, but Montjoy could make out strange characters close-packed in twisting lines; here and there was a blank space or a few words in Latin or Greek. He bent over them, and then sighed. ‘I cannot read these,' he admitted, looking up at Henry. ‘Master Stephen may be able to. They must be important; we will have to understand them before we can go any further.'
‘Keep them safely, then.' Montjoy stowed them carefully away in his satchel. Henry took one last look round, and then said, ‘We've done all we can here, I think. We'll get back to the camp before evening falls.'
They mounted up, and rode back to the ridge, going slowly, for the horses were lethargic. There was no grass for them, only the branching ferny growth; moreover the very air seemed to sap the energy of both men and beasts. Henry waited some moments at the trailside while Montjoy came up the slope, and then brought Cloud up beside Reynard.
‘Montjoy, do you have writing materials in that satchel of yours?'
‘Yes, sire.' Paper, and ink, and quills.
‘Then I would have you copy those papers. We must not lose them. Why, what's wrong?' For Montjoy had drawn in a sudden breath, and was wondering that he had not seen it before -
‘Sire. I have quills to write with, plenty of them. But when they are all gone - I have seen no birds.'
‘No birds.' Henry twisted on Cloud's back, gazed around him and into the sky. He of all people would know what that meant. ‘I've seen none, either, nor any sign of them. No feathers for our arrows. What is this place?' He looked at Montjoy for a moment, as if expecting him to produce an answer.
‘My lord ... I have never heard of a place where there are no birds.'
‘I'll give the order that the arrows must be saved. You may make a record of that, too.'
The next day, one of the sail-backed beasts was shot, with a view to eking out the food from the wagons, and William the cook was butchering the carcass, muttering to himself as he carved his way among the unfamiliar joints. Then a sudden commotion just beyond the camp brought everyone to full alert. Two more such beasts were making a rush towards the pile of meat. William shouted, threw stones, and brandished his cleaver, but still the beasts came on. There was rush of men to their weapons. William fell as he turned to run, and one of the sail-backs scrambled over him, he cried out and his mates yelled in anger. Moments later, the beasts had been stopped by a few well-placed arrows. Montjoy cast around him for his halberd, which he had left lying on the ground by the pine tree. By the time he had found it the dust had cleared and everyone was staring round, looking for further attackers. But there was no sign of further movement among the beasts.
‘Dr Colnet! Fetch the doctor!' Court was bending over William.
He was on the scene quickly enough, black bag in hand, a lean man with a kindly, competent manner, and knelt beside the groaning William.
Bedford, with a few archers, went out to insect the new carcasses, and came back shaking his head.
‘Not much to choose between these and the other sail-backs, save these are more green than blue, but when you see them close to, these have got teeth like hunting dogs. We've grown careless. Every man, look to your weapons.'
Montjoy, mindful of Henry's instructions that he should keep a record of all that happened, shouldered his satchel and went over to inspect the dead creatures. Close up, they were bigger than he'd thought at first, and the larger had a long gash down its side, only partly healed. He pulled out his pen and ink, made a small sketch of the beasts showing their hunters' jaws and the green-and-ochre patterns on their sails, and then another of the more placid kind. After Bedford's observation, he could see the difference between the teeth of the two kinds, but felt that this would only become apparent when it was almost too late... Some of the men came to hack the fangs from the creatures' jaws as trophies. He left the carcasses to William's assistant, the cook now being bandaged up by Dr Colnet, and returned, thoughtful, to his study of the fragments of the spell.
A shadow fell across the scraps of paper, and he looked up to find the king standing next to him. He stood quickly.
‘Well, Montjoy, what have you found?'
‘Sire, there is a great part of the spell here, I believe; what Latin text there is runs on from one page to another with no loss of sense. But I cannot understand these signs,' and most of the parchments were covered in them, ‘and so I do not see how we can counteract the spell. Master Stephen can pray, but if prayer alone would work, surely it would have answered by now?' He realised that he sounded tired and dispirited, and though how unfair it was that he should burden Henry with his misgivings. ‘I will speak to him over dinner; maybe he can find a way that I have missed.'
Henry sat down, gesturing for him to sit also, and looked at the fragments of paper, weighted down with small stones, that had him in such perplexity. ‘I have never found that prayer alone suffices; one must act,' he observed. ‘This is a copy of the spell, by the looks of it?'
‘Yes, my lord, and I've given the original to Master Stephen for safe-keeping.'
‘Make a copy for my brother Gloucester too. He may recognise a phrase or line here or there... How much paper do you have?'
‘Enough to last a while yet.'
‘Master Stephen surely has some by him, or if the worst comes to the worst we may take some pages from his books.' Montjoy flinched at the thought of such a thing. Henry patted his shoulder comfortingly. ‘Need must, Herald. God will not begrudge us a few pages from His books in such a pass as this.'
As always, Henry's presence was acting on Montjoy's thoughts; he wanted, so much, to lift the burden of leadership from him a little. He turned from the sheets of paper, and looked at the man sitting next to him, the workaday clothes and fair hair besprinkled with dust; Montjoy could see the weariness in his eyes. They had not been so close by daylight since the battle, and Henry had been equally tired then; Montjoy had been hard put to it not to touch him, to cross that unthinkable gap. His impulse now was to say ‘You should rest, my lord; you drive yourself too hard,' but of course that could not be said. Instead he asked, with a thought of keeping Henry sitting for a while, and with a memory of his conversation with Sergeant Bates the previous day, ‘Sire, do you remember the moment of our translation?'
Henry gave him a surprised look. ‘I had not thought about it; there's been so much to do.' He reflected a while, and then continued slowly, ‘I heard you call your warning, and then that damned figure fell out of the hillside and into the road. Everyone pulled back away from it. We were all frightened of it, and with good reason... The rain had stopped. I caught a glimpse of your face; you looked as sickened and surprised as the rest of us. There was a flash of light in the sky - not the sun, more like a shooting star, but many times magnified. I thought we fell, for a long time, and feared we would be broken in the landing. And then, when my eyes cleared, we were there down the hill, and everything was strange but we were alive, and all I could do was shout out orders and try to protect the men... that's all I've been doing since, for truth to tell I've no idea what to actually do...' His voice trailed off, and he smiled, a little ruefully.
‘We would have been lost without you,' said Montjoy firmly, giving voice to the thought which had occurred to him as they reached the ridge. ‘We still would be.' Henry glanced at him, and smiled slightly in acknowledgement. ‘Sire, may I question the others as to what they may have seen or heard in those last few moments? That flash of light, it must have been the spell taking effect, but someone may have noticed some little thing which may help us.'
They sat silent for a few moments, gazing at the torn pieces of parchment.
‘Herald?' Montjoy looked back at the king. ‘We'll ask my kinsmen what they saw. The men, too. And keep having these ideas. I come to you when my spirits are getting low, and you've never failed to give me hope.'
‘Sire... there's little enough I can do, but I'll do it gladly.' Henry was relying on him more than he had realised; was in fact treating him as a friend. He smiled at him, and Henry smiled back.
‘Come, the meal's almost ready; let's go and see what these creatures taste like,' and Montjoy put his papers away safely and followed him to the pine tree.
Over the meal, Henry told his kinsmen that Montjoy would be asking them about those last moments in France. One or two of them seemed inclined to start talking immediately, but Henry, after a glance at Montjoy, stopped them, saying that it would be best not to blur their memories by sharing them. This met with approval, and then Henry added that the men would have to be interviewed too, each by his own commander, for Montjoy could not do it all alone (and Montjoy appreciated that he did not add, that they might not speak so freely to a Frenchman.)
But as he spoke to each of the commanders the next day, his heart sank; none of them remembered much more than he and Henry. As they went one by one to speak to his own men, his spirits fell; and then Bedford appeared with the most villainous-looking member of the party in tow, a shabby, pock-marked figure, one of the rank-and-file of Henry's following.
‘Montjoy, this is Aunchient Pistol.' Bedford's voice was so studiedly neutral that Montjoy immediately thought, There is a story to be told there; but he nodded pleasantly to Pistol, and waited.
‘Pistol, tell the Herald what you have told me.'
‘Sir Herald, soon after we set foot upon the shores of France, and before our most sorcerous translation...'
Montjoy tried to grapple with this man's speech.
‘... whilst I and my companions were refreshing ourselves in a hostelry scant distance from the port of Cherbourg...'
He'd gone to a tavern.
‘...by chance, or by a kindly Fate's intervention, I fell in with another traveller, of goodly garments and speech most fair...'
‘... who departed in some haste. Too late did I become aware that he'd misplaced this hour-glass.'
He exchanged glances with Bedford, who gave the tiniest of shrugs, and produced the stolen hour-glass. It glittered in his hand; crystal and gold, or so it seemed. No wonder Pistol had appropriated it. Bedford gave it to him, and it was lighter than he'd expected; it was not gold, but brass.
But Pistol had not finished.
‘...on the dusty soil, where, astonished at our enchantment, we were taken all aback...'
Montjoy shifted his feet slightly.
‘...this depiction of mighty Jove and Phoebus.'
This time it really was partly made of gold, and partly of some silvery metal; a small disc fractured into three parts, with Jove and his eagle on one side and the sun-god in his chariot on the other. Around the edge were tiny markings, and there were similar markings on the brass frame of the hour-glass.
‘Did you find anything else, Aunchient Pistol?' he asked mildly, and overcoming the urge to reply in like vein.
‘Nay, Sir Herald, for my duty's to the King, and since he requites me well, I'll not neglect it.'
Bedford gave the slightest of sighs, and handed Pistol a coin. ‘You've done him good service this day, Pistol.' The man smiled, in simulacrum of surprise, and the coin disappeared with magical speed into his scrip.
‘This wayfarer you met, Aunchient.' Montjoy said. ‘Can you tell me aught of him?' The man's style of speech was catching, no doubt of it.
‘Sir Herald, his apparel was all of black, and he spoke in the Italian tongue,' and here, astonishingly, his voice took on the exact cadence of that language.
Another glance exchanged with Bedford. Tommaso da Pizzano, surely.
‘Thank-you, Aunchient Pistol. You've done well, and the king will not forget it. If you should remember anything else, be sure to tell us.'
‘'Tis but my duty, and you'll never find Pistol lacking in that,' and with a courtly bow he departed.
Montjoy turned amazed eyes to Bedford, who simply said ‘It's the king's story to tell, not mine... What do you make of these things?'
‘I hardly know, but they're important, I can see that. We may all have cause to be thankful to Pistol yet.'
Days passed; Henry kept the men busy with scouting-parties going out on foot (for the horses were losing condition) along the ridge, or hunting and smoking meat. There was daily archery practice; Montjoy glanced up at this from time to time and marvelled that his countrymen had ever imagined that armoured knights could defeat longbow-men. Once he tried to draw Bates' bow; he could not get the string even half-way to his ear, and handed the bow back to Bates with a rueful smile, but the rest of the men in the squad clapped and grinned nevertheless, and he glanced beyond them to find that Henry was watching approvingly. From time to time Bates, or Erpingham, or one of the king's kinsmen would try to train him in the use of his borrowed weapons. He improved, a little, but only a little.
He was woken from a deep sleep late one night by a rumble and deep groan, which seemed to be transmitted through the earth as much as the air. He raised his head groggily, and heard men stirring all around him. Across the camp-fire there was a surge of movement as Henry sat up.
‘No sign of attack, sire, but that sounded like cannon-fire.' A swift reply.
The noise came again. Henry was gone, to the edge of the camp, and his kinsmen with him. Montjoy checked round for his satchel, and found his halberd. The archers had their bows strung. Every man was still now, staring out into the night.
But nothing else happened for a while, and then perhaps a quarter of an hour had passed, there was another, louder, explosion. But there was no flash to be seen, and the noise seemed to come from a long way off.
‘Mines?' said someone doubtfully, and someone else said, ‘There's nothing to undermine, here.'
‘No-one giving orders, no lights or camp-fires...'
All was quiet for a while, and then more distant thuds in rapid succession. Someone muttered, ‘How many guns must they have, to keep up that rate of fire?'
Henry could just be seen, a dim shape in the light of an old moon, conferring with his commanders. Then the order came ‘Guards to be doubled; the rest of you to sleep while you can.' But the king did not return to the camp-fire, and Montjoy wondered whether he would find time to sleep himself. He suspected not.
In the morning there was still no sign of activity to the east, but the sound of the barrage continued intermittently. Montjoy and Stephen redoubled their efforts on the closely-written parchments, Gloucester appearing in the late morning to hear what they had learned. But the intricacy of the symbols continued to baffle them.
Montjoy returned to his task of transcribing the spell, and then suddenly he found himself thinking, ‘Oh yes, that's Sagittarius,' and the extent of his own idiocy became plain to him. He gave a low cry of disbelief, and across the fire Stephen looked up, and Montjoy rushed across to him.
‘Here, and here and here,' Montjoy pointed to the repeated symbol, ‘my birth-sign, Sagittarius, the traveller. Why didn't I see it before?'
‘There are so many signs there,' replied Stephen, scanning the sheets, each covered with tiny script. ‘We didn't know if it was a code or cipher... but if Tommaso is an astrologer, yes, it makes sense...' They stared at the parchment.
‘He was trying to make us travel,' said Montjoy slowly.
‘And succeeded,' interjected Stephen.
‘But why the hour-glass? Unless...' He stared at Stephen. ‘No, it can't be true.' Then he suddenly scrambled to his feet. ‘I must speak to the king.' He cast hurried looks around him, spied Henry organising the strengthening of the camp's defences, and made haste to join him.
The king looked round as he approached; the urgency in his manner had obviously caught his attention. After a brief exchange of glances, Henry spoke quietly to Exeter, and left his side to come over to Montjoy.
‘Sire.' Montjoy was slightly breathless, whether from nervousness or speed he did not know. ‘I think I have understood da Pizzano's spell. At least, it all makes sense, of a sort, but it seems impossible...' He lowered his voice. ‘I must speak with you where we cannot be overheard.'
Henry gave him a concerned look; ‘Not good news, then,' he said quietly, and led Montjoy to an outcropping of rock that jutted out from the ridge. There they sat, and Montjoy looked out for an instant at the hillside where they had arrived, dotted with the fantastical sail-backed monsters. Then he braced himself, and faced the king squarely.
‘The spell is an astrological one. All those signs - they're for the planets and stars, and for conjunctions and aspects between them. I don't recognise most of them, and that's why it took me so long to realise it, until I saw my own birth-sign. But, sire... the crystal hour-glass. It's the most unusual object of all that we've found. I think it's important to the spell. And it's a symbol of time. And that made me think of that statue of you. It's made of lead, and lead is ruled by Saturn. And to an astrologer, Saturn represents time. The past. And limitations, boundaries.' He drew in a shaky breath, frightened more than ever now that he was speaking the preposterous idea aloud.
‘Herald. What are you saying?' Henry's expression was grim.
‘Sire, I think we've been sent back into the past.' He snatched a quick look at Henry, and then plunged on. ‘It might explain why there are no people, if we're in the morning of the world. And I think he's tried to trap us here. That's why the spell has fractured into pieces - like the statue, and the token of Jupiter and the sun.' He swallowed, gripped his hands together in his lap, and stared out across the empty landscape.
There was a short, heavy silence. Then Henry said, ‘Have you talked of this to anyone else?'
‘I was with Master Stephen, and thinking aloud. I mentioned Sagittarius, which signifies travel, among other things. And then I said "why the hour-glass?" and the answer came to me, and I went straightaway to find you. He may have realised by now what I was thinking.'
‘I'll speak to him. He's no fool. He won't spread this around.' Another pause. Now it was Henry who was gazing bleakly out at the land sloping away in front of them. He exhaled, a soft sound of frustration or dread. Then his jaw set. ‘Listen, Montjoy. If this is true, it is a blow, I'll not deny it, and it fits together all too well. But now we know what the spell signifies, we have a better chance of reversing it, do you hear?'
‘Yes, sire. But ... I do not see how we can reverse it. I only know the astrology that any Frenchman at court would know - the most superficial things. I recognised that sign only because it's my own birth-sign. This would have been a spell of terrible power. I don't know where to start with it...'
‘I'll call a council tonight. And you're not the only learned man among us; Master Stephen will help you, and my brother Gloucester was a scholar before ever he was a soldier. I don't expect you to do it all by yourself.'
Henry was taking the weight of the discovery onto his own shoulders, easing the burden for Montjoy, looking for the positive. He felt suddenly ashamed of himself; he had rushed to the king and spilled out his fears, in however unintentional a fashion, while he had told him of his suspicions. Now he had to take some of that burden back.
‘My lord, may I tell Stephen what I've just told you? We can go over the parchments together before the council tonight, and perhaps begin to see a way through the problem.'
‘That's a good thought. Tell him to keep silence, though. The men mustn't know of this yet.'
‘Aye, my lord.' He paused; he wanted to say I'm sorry and you've helped me and I wish, but when Henry glanced across at him the words would not come. He had been equally tongue-tied in his presence once before, and this was not something that should happen to a herald; but as on the eve of Agincourt, with an equally determined King Henry before him, he tried to put everything he felt into a very simple expression: ‘Thank-you.'
And as he had at that encounter, Henry seemed to understand what was unspoken. He gave the ghost of a smile, and a nod, and then he got up and said ‘I should get back to the defence-works. We still have those explosions we heard to think of. You and Stephen - just talk it over for now, yes?'
‘Yes,' said Montjoy, softly, because suddenly he could not trust his voice for normal speech; and bowing his head slightly took his leave.
Under the pine tree as the frost of evening set in, a worried circle of men considered the news. Montjoy, Stephen and Gloucester found that they were carrying most of the discussion; the others listened resignedly to their talk.
Unexpectedly Bedford, sitting next to his brother the king, put in his thoughts. ‘There's a story in the Canterbury Tales about a magical horse made of brass that could carry his rider anywhere he wished. I remember our grandfather telling me how Chaucer read the story out at court. The characters were actually planets and stars, and the horse was an astrolabe. When he reset the astrolabe the story came to an end. It was a kind of key to the tale.'
‘Where did he get the idea for the story?' Henry looked at him with reluctant interest; all this talk of astrology made this most practical of kings uncomfortable.
‘No, I don't know that, though it's set in the East, at the court of Genghis.'
For some reason they were all turning to Exeter.
‘Uncle Geoffrey didn't say what his sources were. He used to try the stories out on us children before telling them to the court, but we never asked about the background to them,' said that formidable warrior.
Montjoy sincerely hoped that his surprise had not shown on his face. He had quite forgotten that the wise poet had been married to the Duke's aunt.
‘Though, if he had the idea from the East, there may be some grain of truth in it; they're unequalled as scholars of the stars,' put in Erpingham, ‘your grace's father and I saw that when we went to Jerusalem.'
‘We've found no astrolabe,' said Montjoy suddenly, ‘but the hour-glass is made of brass.'
There was a sudden pause in the talk, in which the hiss and pop of the flames in their camp-fire, and the voices of the men at the other fires, could be clearly heard. Then Stephen reached into the chest which was lying open on the ground before him. He pulled out a small packet of cloth, unwrapped it, and held up the hour-glass. They all stared at it, at the gradations marked on the brass, at the crystal bulbs.
‘The key to the spell,' said Henry.
He held out a hand; Stephen rose and gave it to him, and as he took it into his hand he gasped suddenly, and fumbled, almost dropping it before catching it in an iron grip. ‘Oh!' It was such an uncharacteristic thing for him to do that they were all astonished.
‘What's wrong, nephew?' barked Exeter.
‘It seemed to stir in my hand, almost as if it were alive, trying to get away from me.'
Exeter snatched it from him, and held it. ‘I feel nothing.'
Again a silence, and then Stephen said, ‘Sire, you are the king. You have an especial power under God.'
Montjoy had never seen Henry so thoroughly disconcerted, but this statement seemed to reassure him slightly. ‘I should not touch it again, perhaps, until we know more of it,' he said slowly. Exeter nodded agreement, as did many of the men around the fire. ‘Master Stephen, you must take charge of it for us. But don't leave it in the chest. Wear it, from now on.'
‘Of course, my lord.' Stephen accepted the glittering thing back and wrapped it again, and then slipped it onto the chain which bore his crucifix.
There was another heavy pause, and then Henry spoke. ‘So. This is an astrological spell, and we have the key to it. But those parchments are the clue we must unravel, and how to do that? None of us are scholars of the discipline.'
‘None of us at this fire,' said Gloucester, suddenly animated. ‘But Dr Colnet works with the stars' influence in the course of his duties. Might he be able to help us?'
A stir of hope ran round the circle. ‘Send for him!' said Henry, and when the physician had been brought from the next fire down-slope, he put the matter to him.
‘Why, yes, your majesty. In fact, I have an almanac in my bag. It tells me all I need to know of the stars. Shall I fetch it now?'
In the morning, when there was light enough to study it, they struggled through the crabbed handwriting of the almanac. The section on astrology was not well-used; Dr Colnet had his preferred remedies and tended to keep to those, only using the reference section for the more unusual ailments. But here was a list of the glyphs that had so baffled them; here a catalogue of the stars and planets, their attributes and influences. They fetched a collective sigh of relief. Stephen and Gloucester turned to the parchments, while Montjoy made a minutely detailed drawing of the hour-glass before giving it back to the priest.
It was a slow business; several days of hard work, and they all suffered from headaches and were irritable by the evenings. Dr Colnet recommended that they not spend all their hours in study. So every so often one of them would get up and walk around the camp or see to his horse, though riding was no longer possible; the ferny growth that they were being fed on was no adequate substitute for good green grass. Henry continued to go about the camp, in conference with his men, or organised hunting parties that went out and brought back meat to be smoked. Once Montjoy showed a group of men how to extract pine seeds from their cones, as was done in the south of his own country, to add variety to their diet.
The barrage in the east continued intermittently, but no direct threat appeared to trouble them. The weather turned hazy after a while, and a fine dust began to fall.
After a week of intense effort the scholars had a clearer idea of the nature of the spell, and a conference was called that evening under the pine tree, and Montjoy baldly summed up what they had learned to the ring of worried men.
‘We were sent out under the sign of Sagittarius, the wanderer, with Saturn and Mercury lending their influence. The crystal in the hour-glass is charged with their light. How we were sent here, in particular, is something that I cannot tell... '
‘Can you reverse the spell?'
‘In theory, yes. There are constellations and conjunctions which represent homecoming. But, my lord, the stars are different here, though the moon and planets seem the same. I do not know how we can work our own spell without the influences we need. And it was a spell of several layers, I fear, extremely difficult to cast, or it would be used much more often. Something happened to give it an uncommon power.'
‘But we know that the hour-glass fears your majesty's touch,' put in Stephen, ‘and it may be that this is a reason for us to hope.'
Henry sighed. ‘What is the constellation that we need?'
‘Cancer, for the home.'
‘A water sign,' said Dr Colnet musingly. ‘There may be herbs that look to it, though most herbs are ruled by the planets.'
Gloucester picked up the almanac again, and looked through the lists at the back. ‘There are hundreds of herbs listed here. We'll have to check through them all.'
‘We know so few plants here, though,' said Montjoy. ‘Pines, and firs. Even the ferns are not quite the same.'
‘How else might we represent the sign?' Henry, despite his discomfort with the idea of astrology, doggedly brought them all back to the point.
And Gloucester, leafing through the almanac, said ‘There are the glyphs, and the beast itself, the crab. There are the planets that rule it, and gems for each - '
And then Montjoy sat up straight, and interrupted without thought. ‘A talisman! We could make our own!' Blank stares all round; he rushed on, ‘They are fashionable at court, for riches, or health, or luck. I've seen some of them; jewels carved with signs of the Zodiac, made out of the correct metals and stones. The astrologers charged high prices for them.'
‘We've no astrologer or sorcerer here,' said Henry, frowning.
‘No, Sire, but you're the king, and the hour-glass tried to escape you. You have a power that no-one else here has. And, Master Stephen,' he turned to him, ‘you're a priest, you have power of a different sort. The two of you could surely match any astrologer's strength!'
‘I have some store of herbs in my bag, and holy water would perhaps serve for water signs,' put in Dr Colnet, and there was a babble of voices as a flood of new ideas was released. Montjoy began to take notes in a small hand.
Henry called him aside when the rest had gone their ways, and took him to the outcrop where they had sat before. ‘Herald. This will be a cobbled-together spell at best. Bits of plant, and metal, and the light of distant planets - how can it work?'
‘Sire, I do not know,' said Montjoy; he was floundering himself. ‘I have no other answer for you, though. We know how Tommaso made his spell. And the hour-glass feared you.'
‘Not half so much as I feared it!' said Henry, with a sudden self-deprecating grimace. ‘That was not a comfortable feeling, having it wriggle in my hand like a live thing.'
‘I saw no movement,' said Montjoy in perplexity.
‘I felt it, so strong I feared it would tear me away from you all. Do the talismans you've seen have that same effect?'
‘I've never heard of such. But our king is sick, and lives retired much of the time. If only kings have that power over them - '
‘Then you could not know of it.'
‘No.' Montjoy sighed. ‘Sire, I am sorry I have nothing better for you. Someone else might think of a different plan. You should not rely only on me.'
‘Oh, I've talked it over with the others, when you've not been there, and none of us could come up with any other answer. And they all end by saying "Listen to Montjoy." They're baffled, and they admit it. You keep thinking, and noticing things, and you'll make us think too.' He smiled a little, sidelong. ‘You and Pistol between you might save us yet.'
Montjoy made an indeterminate sound, half amusement, half acknowledgement. ‘Sire, he's a far better thief than I am an astrologer!'
‘Then we must all study to match his expertise... Tell me again what you will need for this counter-spell.'
‘There must be a way of capturing the light of the planets. Herb-salves, if Dr Colnet can find the right ones. Gem-stones and metals for the constellations and planets.'
‘Now that's something I can help with,' said Henry, with relief. ‘We'll see what we can find in my strong-box.'
And so they found themselves sitting in a cart with the strong-box between them, the almanac open on Montjoy's lap, while they sifted through Henry's regalia to find what they needed. And looking back on the day, Montjoy reflected that this was one of the oddest things that had happened so far, for never had he imagined that he would find himself sorting through a treasure-chest with a king, tossing gold and precious stones back into the chest as worthless and keeping silver, and pearls, and moonstones for their use. Henry, too, seemed to find it amusing, for every so often his mouth twitched up at the corner. There were moments when, but for the new golden beard, he looked like nothing so much as a little boy playing at kings, and by the end of the session they were both smiling, and went cheerfully enough to their evening meal.
Now there was a new air of purposefulness about the camp. John Melton, the king's guide by night, when consulted, threw them all into angry gloom by saying that the conjunction they needed, of Venus and Mercury with the moon, might not occur for years. Then a few minutes later he cheered them all again with the proposal that they isolate the light of each planet separately, directing it onto the gems of their talismans.
Montjoy spent a day sitting drawing out small, precise designs for the armourer, Allbright Mailmaker, to trace on the new talismans, and as he did so he remembered the office, high up in the Louvre, where as a young pursuivant he had painted coats-of-arms in the heraldic rolls. He had glanced out of the window from time to time, over the curtain wall to the Seine and its washerwomen and reeds and skiffs, at the courtiers promenading on the embankment with their little dogs at heel. Beyond the river the fields spread flatly out. Small figures of peasants toiled at their tasks; crows and magpies followed the sower, whose arm swung, regular as a pendulum, casting the seed in an age-old rhythm.
Homesickness took him; he rarely felt it, but now he was so far from home. Under the cold bright sun of the land of the sail-backs, he traced the sign of Cancer, of the home. And then, in a sudden incongruous flash, he remembered the scarecrow in those fields; dressed as an archer, its longbow held stiffly out to one side. He looked up, and round at the camp, so full of archers, and at their leader, who was somehow becoming his friend. He smiled, and bent once more to his task.
On the other side of the camp-fire John Melton, Allbright and Richard Berry the saddler were in conference with Gloucester. Berry was holding a leathern tube which he and Allbright had contrived, and they were demonstrating how it could be used to isolate the light of the various planets which they needed.
Melton was worried again; ‘My lord Duke, the Moon's simple enough, and Venus will hardly be more difficult, but I have not seen Mercury yet. It could be weeks before he's visible, and we don't know yet whether it will be at sunset or sunrise.'
‘Well, we will have to contrive. The other planets are in plain sight. We'll use them to make trial of the tube in the meantime.'
Up at the outcrop, Bedford was supervising the building of a platform and frame to steady the tube. Henry and Exeter were once again at the margin of the camp, listening to the barrage, which had started up again. But the mountain-sides to the east were empty, and the noises were no nearer than they had ever been.
Montjoy paused in his drawing, and made a note to himself to find out the birth-signs of as many of the men as possible. If they could find several men born under Cancer...
And at some point Henry would have to touch the hour-glass again.
They did this one bright noon, with Stephen standing on one side of Henry and Exeter's protective bulk on the other. Stephen had heard his confession and administered the Sacrament; he had all the safeguards they could give him.
With set face, he reached out and took hold of the hour-glass. He gave a low cry, and tightened his grip; Exeter supported him with an arm around his waist, but his legs gave way and he sank panting to the ground. Pale-faced, and with sweat filming his face, his hands, his wrists, he clung on to the bewitched thing. They were all on the ground now, Montjoy scanning his notes frantically and feeling worse than useless. What if he had misinterpreted the spell, miscalculated the malevolence of the hour-glass? Henry might be badly harmed by the thing and it would be all his fault -
Henry grunted, his fingers jerked open, and he let the hour-glass fall. It spun to the ground and lay there, glinting, seeming-innocent. Stephen snatched it up, while Henry slumped against his uncle; Dr Colnet, who had been waiting silently in the background, hurried forward and began to examine him. Montjoy found himself making a half-move to touch, to comfort, but of all the eighty men in the party he had the least right to do that. His eyes fixed on Henry's face, he sank back into his place again, and then -
‘I'm all right,' gasped Henry. Montjoy slumped slightly on an exhaled breath and his eyes closed briefly. Then he resumed his anxious watch. Dr Colnet was giving Henry a cup of some draught, and wiped his face and hands.
‘It tried to escape me again,' Henry said. He sounded exhausted. ‘Then it fought back. Sent me a flood of evil visions, tried to poison my heart and mind. I don't want to think about how it was made. But I mastered it, in the end. It was a long battle - '
‘Sire, it took only minutes,' said Exeter.
‘Seemed like an hour.' Henry tried to sit up. ‘God. I'm as weak as a kitten.'
‘Rest, then, nephew.' Exeter leaned him back against the fallen log they normally sat on, pillowing him with blankets and cloaks. Henry lay there for a few moments, and then said, ‘Herald.'
‘Aye, my lord.' His voice was shaky.
‘You had the right of it. That was the key to the spell. But it's clear of the taint, now. It's just crystal and brass. You can use it as you see fit.'
‘Sire, I wish there had been another way...' and he knew his distress was plain for all to hear.
‘But there wasn't. Duties of kingship, Herald, you know all about those,' there was a wan smile, and then he said ‘I would rest, now,' and Dr Colnet sent them all on their way with a single look.
Later, Montjoy, still subdued, asked Stephen whether he felt any difference in the hour-glass. ‘It feels - lighter?' He shook his head in bafflement. ‘I've seen the ritual of hallowing before, but this was something altogether greater, and more costly to the king. But he's won us a notable victory.'
‘I hope the cost to him has not been too great.' He cast a worried glance over his shoulder, to the little tableau under the pine tree; Henry, lying down now, and Dr Colnet sitting beside him.
‘Whatever the cost, he'll expect you to keep working at the counter-spell,' said Stephen, with a slight smile.
‘Yes, the counter-spell, of course,' and Montjoy fished in his satchel and took out his notes again, but found he was reading them without comprehension. For appearances' sake, he kept leafing through them, but Henry's pallid face kept intruding between him and the paper. He got up, went and spoke to Allbright Mailmaker, and took charge of the carved stones and graven silver that he had ready. Then in the end he walked would-be casually past the pine tree, and from a little way away he saw Henry sitting propped up once more.
Dr Colnet came over to him. ‘He would speak with you, Montjoy. Do not tire him.'
He could not even answer, but gave a brief nod, and went to stand quietly before the king.
‘Well, Herald, you had the right of it.' Henry smiled slightly, and pointed at the log, an invitation to sit.
What could he say about his fears and self-reproaches? He had already burdened Henry with them enough. He sank down on the log. ‘I don't think we need trouble you to do anything like that again, my lord. We can do the rest ourselves, now. See, here are the talismans Allbright has made.' He opened the white leather bag that Sir Thomas had given him for the talismans, and tipped out the engraved moonstones and the silver and the pearls. Henry took them from him, cautiously at first and then with increasing confidence.
‘I half-expect anything of a magical nature to hurt me now,' he said. ‘I was always dismissive of astrology and magic, and it's a blow to my pride to find myself so vulnerable to them.'
‘But the hour-glass was vulnerable to you, my lord, and no-one else, and you were the stronger.' Montjoy looked at him, unconsciously twisting the bag in his hands.
‘Another battle won, and I suppose it shows that I'm the true king...' Henry's voice trailed off, and he picked up a moonstone, and a pearl set in an engraved silver ring, and studied them with bent head. ‘These things are beautiful, and they feel wholesome. Allbright made them, you say? ...But I think you designed them.'
Startled, Montjoy could only nod. How had he known? All the skill in drawing that he had learnt as a pursuivant had come back to him, and he had put his heart into the making of these talismans. Had Henry sensed that?
‘There's naught for me to fear there,' said Henry, smiling a little. ‘What will you do now?'
‘Charge them with planet-light, and herbs of the moon and Venus - Dr Colnet has some small store - and Stephen will bless them. The hour-glass, too. We will have to devise a way to use that to the best effect, and to make a circle to limit the counter-spell. We don't want to take any sail-backs along with us when we go...'
Henry gave a surprised half-laugh. ‘No, indeed!' He looked down-slope to the herds of browsing monsters; mostly blue-grey, but from their vantage point they could see a green and ochre hunter making a stealthy approach to one of the plant-eaters. ‘Herald, you think of everything. I will leave it all in your very competent hands. Here,' he gathered up the remaining talismans, gleaming softly on the trodden earth, and gave them back to Montjoy with a small air of ceremony; who took them with an equal formality, and put them back into the bag.
‘My lord,' he said as he rose to take his leave, ‘I am glad to see you in better health.' That was a small phrase to contain all his feelings, but it would have to suffice, and it seemed Henry understood, for he smiled once more; and so they parted.
Bedford came down from the outcrop just before sunset one evening, and handed the leather bag to Montjoy. ‘John Melton has found Mercury!' The satisfaction was plain in his voice; everyone around the fire sat up straighter and there were pleased exclamations.
‘So we have caught all the planet-light we need?' asked Henry.
‘Yes, and I'll be glad not to spend any more evenings up there in the cold... But sire, there's another thing.' The murmur of talk stopped abruptly. ‘The men know we are out of our own time.'
‘How?' A single word, rapped out.
‘Easily enough,' sighed Bedford. ‘The moon was slightly out of phase, and once Melton started looking for the planets, he realised that they were all wrongly placed with regard to each other. I think the men may have known as long as we have.'
There was an embarrassed silence.
‘They've all been very calm about it.' Henry's voice was a strange admixture of pride in his men and discomfiture at their own slowness.
‘Sergeant Bates and Allbright have been telling them that we've got a plan.'
Faint, incredulous laughter ran around the fire.
‘Why, so we have!' said Henry robustly, but there was a grin in his voice. ‘Well, next time we'll take them into our confidence, and maybe they can tell us what to do. But now, Montjoy,' but then there was a series of dull explosions from the east, and they all turned their heads and listened intently. This time the noise built up instead of dying away, becoming an almost continuous thunder.
‘Montjoy,' he continued. ‘How close are you to completing the counter-spell?'
‘A day or two yet, my lord,' he said anxiously. ‘We have to write out our own spell-sheets fair, and coach the men who will speak them. Your grace needs to hallow the new talismans, a true circle must be drawn...'
‘Do those things, then. Brother,' he was looking at Bedford, ‘Uncle Exeter, Sir Thomas, we'll make ready for an evacuation. Sleep if you can, my friends; we'll be busy tomorrow.'
‘Sire, will you wear our talismans tonight?' asked Montjoy diffidently. ‘We may need them at a moment's notice, and if you had already hallowed them...'
‘Ah, yes,' said Henry, and hung a pendant inscribed with the Ship around his neck, with Canopus picked out with a diamond; but looked askance at the hour-glass. ‘Master Stephen, keep that for me for tonight. It would give me unquiet dreams even now, I think.'
‘Of course, your majesty.' Stephen tucked it back under his robe.
Henry pushed the rings of silver and moonstone and pearl onto his fingers. The pale, glimmering things looked incongruous on his square soldier's hands, but he showed not a sign of hesitation about putting them on. And then of course he did not settle to his rest immediately, but went on a round of the camp-fires first, and, as always, Montjoy wished that he could go with him. But when they rose at first light, Henry gave the talismans, warm from his body, back to him with a smile, and he looked remarkably rested and alert, as if he had slept unusually well.
To the accompaniment of an almost-continuous barrage they went about the business of packing up the camp, and Montjoy, Stephen and Gloucester, along with Bates and his men, and four men born under Cancer, went down from the ridge to the gateway. Here they drove in a peg, to form the centre of a circle big enough to take eighty men and horses and the carts too, found the four cardinal points and marked them with blocks of stone. He explained to each of the four men what their role must be; one to burn his spell-sheet, one to bury his, one to tear his up and cast it into the air, and one to pour water on his. Thus they hoped to harness the power of the elements; and the moon and Venus were to be invoked with silver and copper.
‘Clockwise, remember, Stephen,' said Montjoy, possibly once too often, for Stephen replied in a sing-song voice, ‘The way the sun moves round the sky,' and Montjoy made a hasty apology.
They climbed back up to the ridge, and found the camp packed and ready and a large meal waiting for them. A dense haze was creeping across the evening sky. Then the crescent moon rose, out across the valley of the sail-backs, and it was tinged almost blue.
Exeter stared at it, and muttered something about the explosions. He and Henry got up, and went to look out over the valley of the sail-backs, while the camp waited in tense silence. After a while, Henry and his uncle came back.
‘Still no sign of an attack, and it's too dark to move now. But be ready at first light. Master Stephen, a prayer, I think.'
Every man in the camp knelt for the prayer, and when it was over, Henry did the rounds of the camp-fires again, while the blue moon floated higher among the strange stars. Montjoy repeatedly ran over the counter-spell in his mind, and checked the contents of the white leather bag. Everything was there, sure enough... There was not enough light to re-read the written spell, but he and Stephen and Gloucester had been through it several times and found no fault with it; Moon and Venus in a square, under the sign of Cancer... He lay down, and signs and planets danced a stately round in his mind as he tried to sleep.
When they were awakened, the moon was setting, still blue, and light was broadening in the east. All the sky was hazy now, and dust was falling, thick and soft, all around, and the stars were no longer visible. And when the sun rose, it also was blue.
There was a flurry of movement as every man crossed himself, and a murmur of voices. Henry rose quickly. ‘We will stay no longer. Back down the hill. We will leave as soon as may be.'
Under the strange light the men harnessed the horses and uprooted the stakes; Montjoy collected Reynard and joined the long line that was winding down the trampled path. His heart was beating fast. Suppose they cast the counter-spell, and nothing happened? He found Stephen walking next to him, and they exchanged a strained look, but neither of them could think of anything to say. Gloucester was in the lead, and he halted the column when they reached the stones and peg they had placed yesterday.
‘Everyone within the stones,' called Gloucester crisply, and they complied, filing in good order into the space, the archers, each with his bow and stake, at the periphery, the horses standing quiet, heads hanging, in the centre. There were a few subdued remarks; tension filled the air, and the blue sun climbed visibly higher above the ridge.
Stephen was uncoiling a long line, and then tied a bow-stave to it. Montjoy handed out sheets of paper and talisman rings to Dr Colnet, at the northern stone, and the three other men born under Cancer. To Colnet he also gave a silver penny, and to Guy, at the west, one of the archers under Bates' command, a copper penny. Then he took each of the four to one of the cardinal stones and double-checked that they had the right sheets.
With the point of the bow-stave, Stephen was tracing their circle. ‘Clockwise,' he muttered as he passed Montjoy, and handed him the hour-glass. Men and horses were stepping over the line, stretched taut between him and the central peg, as it swept on round the circle. The carts were trundled over the top of it. There were bursts of coughing as clouds of dust were stirred up into the cold air. Montjoy went back to the peg, where the king was waiting; Henry reached out and took hold of the hour-glass for a brief moment, and then gave it back to him. Kneeling on the ground, Montjoy opened a small bottle of salve that Dr Colnet had prepared, and put a sheet of close-written paper, taken for this solemn purpose from one of Stephen's prayer-books, on the ground.
All the men were silent now, and even the horses had caught the tension in the air, standing stock-still. The barrage in the east could clearly be heard over the ridge, and that strange sunlight flooded down on them. The spell-sheet showed blue.
‘The circle's closed,' called Stephen, and returned to Montjoy: Bates and Erpingham were already standing, surely not by accident, one on either side of him. Henry was on his way to its eastern edge; his kinsmen were at the other cardinal stones.
‘Is everyone within the circle? All in position?' Montjoy asked, and Erpingham glanced round, and replied, ‘All set, Montjoy.'
He drew a shaky breath, dipped his fingers into the salve, and smeared it over the hour-glass. ‘Ready,' he called, in his herald's voice. Then he set the hour-glass down squarely in a blank space in the centre of the sheet. ‘Raphael. St Christopher,' and the blue light suddenly receded very far away into an ocean of blackness, and fragmented into tiny sparks, and went out.