Hollow stone soared high overhead, forming a sacred space in the midst of the flames. Those fires had been burning for weeks, somewhere or other in the beleaguered city, for all that its people watched, and fought the flames. This house of God was safe for now, but its sister church had barely escaped one night of inferno not so very long ago.
These were the sounds that night; flames, and alarm-bells, and machines that delivered death, high up in the sky. White spears of light searched for them and found them, now and then.
Outside the door, the city waited.
In the crossing of the church, beyond the high altar, was a little group of family tombs. Here they held vigil, the fierce Plantagenets, around their realm's patron saint. Perhaps they had more need of his grace than most. And here, on this All Hallows Eve, they met in whispered conclave.
'It goes well,' murmured the saint, 'they guard the land well.'
'My Marshal is proud of them,' said the next eldest, 'and they have my prayers too.'
'It should never have come to this pass!' said his son, scowling down at the rest. 'Our country is not to be conquered!' But that was what one might expect from the Malleus Scotorum.
'Save once,' said the Confessor, and was that a note of smugness in his tone?
'They should take the battle to the enemy,' growled the greatest of them all, another Edward. 'Cross the sea! Strike back! Strike hard!'
'Yet remember the enemy,' said his queen, softly. 'Show compassion.'
'No mercy was shown to me,' whispered a voice from a little way off, and below. 'I died, alone and in fear...' and King Richard's grandparents fell silent, sorrowing.
Up at clerestory level were soft footsteps, murmurings, the brief gleam of a torch. A small door opened; there was a woman's voice. Smoke drifted high in the nave. She took off her helmet - of a pattern familiar to the younger kings - 'Nothing up there so far. God, I'm tired. Good luck.'
'Safe journey home.' They didn't say that there might not be a home at the end of it. The man went through the little door in his turn, out onto the leads, to watch for fires there.
The woman's footsteps moved along the high walkway, and as her torchlight bobbed about, it fell briefly on a pool of scarlet by the west door. Not blood, though it was the exact same colour. It was a mass of flowers; not real flowers but man-made, so they would never fade. The flowers were poppies.
The Plantagenets watched the woman. 'We must help defend the land,' said the youngest king of all. 'They are almost at their last gasp.'
'How may we help?' asked the older Henry. 'There's little enough we could do in years past.'
And then came a woman's voice, strong and imperious. 'Our poet may help, perhaps.' The Plantagenets looked beyond the circle of their tombs, past the younger Henry's delicate chantry, towards the east end of the abbey.
'Yes, help them! They need help!' The voices of two young boys. There at the door of a side chapel stood the woman, and she had a hand on each of their shoulders. And though she was a woman, and younger than any of them, they all fell silent and listened to her.
'Yea, my poppets, we should help,' she said to the boys; another Edward, another Richard. 'And perhaps our poet may be the means. For did he not write of a martial king who triumphed against a mighty foe? I heard that play, and I am a descendant of that king's queen. What say you, King Henry, Fifth of that name?'
'That poet's far from here, not like the rest,' and away in a transept there was a murmuring, as the poets and musicians there heard this king's words. 'He lies in his home, not far from our castle of Kenilworth.'
'Kenilworth...' sighed the voice of King Richard.
A pause. Then Elizabeth spoke again, briskly. 'The people here have an actor, almost the equal of our Burbage. We may send to him, perhaps, more easily than to Stratford. Put it in his mind to make the play anew. We all know the value of a show. Make our people remember how they've fought and won before.'
In the night far above the hollow shell of stone there was a menacing mechanical sound, idling through the high air. All the kings and queens fell quiet, listening, for there was nothing they could do about this menace; but the living folk of the Abbey stood by their sandbags and their water and their pumps. The noise fell silent, and there was a pause - short in time, long in heartbeats - and the dreadful roar of an explosion.
'We must send to the actor, now!' said the woman, crisply. 'Who'll go?'
'I'll go,' said one who had been standing at the shoulder of his king. He himself was not a king, save by courtesy only. The same malady that had taken the fifth Henry had taken him too, in the same castle, the same hour; and since the Valois queen had found another love, he had been constant in affiance with the Plantagenet king.
'Dear herald, will you? There are old wounds to be re-opened...'
'My people need hope too. And we're close allies now.'
'Then stay not one moment; go!' And now the fifth Henry was smiling, and Montjoy, smiling too, departed at his word.
'It is well,' said the Confessor, and all his successors said, 'We can do no more, but it is well.'
And since they could do no more now that Montjoy was searching for that great actor, they resumed their vigil; and all the folk of the Abbey, both living and dead, did the same.
A/N: The royals, in order, are: Edward the Confessor, Henry III, Edward I, Edward III and Queen Philippa, Richard II, Elizabeth I, Edward V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York; Henry V and Montjoy King of Arms.
Inspired by a visit to the Abbey, and by reading H V Morton's In Search of London in which I found the image of the torchlight falling on the poppies.