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War Game

Anthony Price

I've travelled the world twice over.

Met the famous: saints and sinners,

Poets and artists, kings and queens,

Old stars and hopeful beginners,

I've been where no-one's been before,

Learned secrets from writers and cooks All with one library ticket

To the wonderful world of books.



For Margaret and Brian Aldiss dummy5

From Perfect Occurrences of Parliament and Chief Collections of Letters from the Armie, 9th to 16th May 1645: Friday, May the 9.—I shall this day in the first place present you with a May-game; but such a one as is not usuall, and deserves to be taken notice of, and it is an action of Warre too, and therefore the more sutable to the times.

In Kent the countrey people (no where more) love old customes, and to do every yeer what they have done in others before, and much pastimes, and drinking matches, and May-Poles, and dancing and idle wayes, and sin hath been acted on former May dayes.

Therefore Colonell Blunt considering what course might be taken to prevent so much sin this yeer, did wisely order them, the rather to keep them from giving the Malignants occasion to mutinie by such publique meetings, there having been so many warnings by severall insurrections, without such an opportunity.

Colonell Blunt summoned in two Regiments of his foot Souldiers to appear the last May-Day, May the 1, at Blackheath, to be trained and exercised that day, and the ground was raised, and places provided to pitch in, for the Souldiers to meet in two bodies, which promised the Countrey much content, in some pretty expressions, and dummy5

accordingly their expectations were satisfied.

For on May day when they met, Colonell Blunt divided them into two parts, and the one was as Roundheads, and the other as Cavaliers, who did both of them act their parts exceeding well, and many people, men and women, young and old, were present to see the same.

The Roundheads they carried it on with care and love, temperance and order, and as much gravity as might be, every one party carefull in his action, which was so well performed, that it was much commended.

But the Cavaliers they minded drinking and roaring, and disorder, and would bee still playing with the women, and compasse them in, and quarrell, and were exceedingly disorderly.

And these had severall skirmishes one with the other, and took divers prisoners one from the other, and gave content to the Countrey people, and satisfied them as well as if they had done a maying in another way, which might have occasioned much evill after many wayes as is before declared . . .

(Appendix F from Sir Charles Firth's Cromwell's Army: A History of the English Soldier during the Civil Wars, the Commonwealth and the Protectorate, being the Ford Lectures delivered in the University of Oxford, 1900-1.)



The Battle of Swine Brook Field

THE Swine Brook was running red again, with the wounded and dying laid out along its banks under the dappled shadow of the willows.

Mostly they were quiet now, engrossed in the final act of the tragedy which was about to take place in the bright sunshine of the water-meadow where the London pikemen and the wreckage of their brother regiments were huddled, waiting for the last great Royalist assault.

Bathed in sweat under their buff-coats and breastplates, unnerved by the suddenness of the fall of their general, the footmen had nevertheless fought like lions. Twice already they had repelled enemy attacks at push of pike; once—ill-advisedly—they had even tried to follow their retreating attackers up the ridge; galled by the fire of the two sakers up the hillside when their own cannon had fallen silent they had closed up and stood firm, so that the original extent of their line was now marked by their dead to the left and right of them. "Steadfast" had been their field-word and they had lived up to it: now they were about to die by it. The lions had become bullocks waiting for the arrival of the butcher.

The moment had come. The sakers banged out for the last time, the trumpets on the hillside shrilled and were drowned dummy5

by the rising tide of Royalist cheers.

God and the King!

The answering cry from the water-meadow, God our strength, rang hollow. This day God was a Cavalier, and both sides knew it.

Even so, the Parliamentary ranks held firm for one shouting, grunting, groaning minute after the rival pikemen met. Then the lie of the land and superior numbers —and history itself—

overwhelmed them: they broke and ran in panic towards the stream, their fear fed by the knowledge that Thomas, Lord Monson, was notoriously averse to taking Roundhead prisoners. Black Thomas had private scores to settle—a dead brother and a burnt home among them—and this was his day for the reckoning.

Clouds of insects rose from the water as the fugitives splashed through it in the thirty-yard gap between the hawthorn and blackberry tangles; the smoke from their burning wagons thinned, to reveal their abandoned cannon on each side of the rout.

The Royalist infantry surged after them, Monson on his great black horse now leading them. But as he reached the Swine Brook one of his men overtook him—

This was the moment of victory, and also the moment of the act which was to immortalise that victory—and Black Thomas with it—when greater triumphs and commanders would long be forgotten.


The soldier tore off his helmet and filled it with the dirty, reddened water. Then he climbed back up the bank and offered it to the Royalist general.

There was a growl of approval from the footmen as Black Thomas lifted up the dripping helmet high for all to see, a growl rising to a great cheer as he lowered it to his lips, the water cascading on either side down his gilded black half-armour.

Black Thomas had promised.

Black Thomas had fulfilled his promise.

"A Monson! A Monson!"

"God and the king!"

The Royalist infantry shook their pikes and waved their swords in triumph; and the watching crowds on the hillside above, who had been waiting for this above all things, took up the applause.

Henry Digby, observing the spectacle from his post beside an old willow ten yards upstream, grunted his disgust. One well-aimed musket ball would have cut Lord Thomas Monson down to size at this moment, and would have gone some way towards avenging the Swine Brook Field slaughter of the righteous. But he had no musket and today there had been no musket ball with Black Thomas's name on it. That day would come, but it was not yet come.

The dead man beside him raised himself on an elbow.

"He's not actually drinking the stuff, is he?" asked the dead dummy5


A dying man who had been dabbing his toes in the water nearby laughed. "I wouldn't put it past him. Just like the real thing—and I'll bet they're all damn thirsty by now." He pointed to Digby's plastic container. "It's not poisonous by any happy chance, is it? But that would be just too much to hope for, I suppose."

"The dye?" Digby shook his head, frowning at the implications of the suggestion. "Of course not. It's strictly non-toxic. But I hope to heaven he doesn't drink it. The stream's full of cow-dung."

"Yrch!" The dead man stared at the stream, wrinkling his nose.

"But they drank it. And he drank it, that's for sure," said the dying man. "And it was probably full of pig-shit then. And it didn't do him any harm."

"I expect they had stronger stomachs than we've got.