Amazing Scenes in the Square
‘What can I do to help?’ asked Tom.
‘’Not get scrobbled again.’ snapped Elisabeth, impatiently waiting for Abelard to be set ready for ringing.
‘You could make us some tea, Tom.’ said Mr Trundle. ‘Ringing tonight is going to be thirsty work.’
‘And a jug or two of cider wouldn’t go amiss.’ said one of the helpers. ‘There’s a barrel in the vestry.’
No wonder the bell ringers are such a happy bunch, thought Elisabeth. ‘How close are we to being able to ring Abelard, Aunt Hetty?’ she called up the tower.
‘How close? I’ll tell you how festering close I am girl… No I won’t, you’re still too young for such language. The doobry’s seized against the wafflegambit or something. Whatever it’s called, it’s giving us gip in the belfry. These blasted buccaneers are a cak-handed bunch – they’ve left a hell of mess behind. Keep ringing Godolphin Mr T – I need all the help I can get.’
‘I had hoped to have sufficient power by now to be able to avoid the shedding of blood.’ grumbled Professor Paragon, down in the Market Square.
‘I don’t mind that too much, as long as it’s not ours that’s shed.’ said Mr Bagley.
‘But we have to consider what we hope will follow this confrontation. We want the pirates to return what they have stolen and make good the damage they have done – not to have them malingering on stretchers or clogging up your church yard with their graves.’
The pikes and spears were surprisingly effective at keeping the pirates at arm’s length, and Will Nudd, bellowing in a voice like a rutting elk, was setting about them with an oaken club.
Boswell and Umbrage emerged from the narrow lane at the other end of which Berengaria still blocked the main road leading to the forge. They came up behind the pirates and Umbrage cut Hawser Trunnion’s belt with his dagger. Trunnion whirled round and Boswell used his rapier to slit both his braces. Trunnion’s baggy breeches then fell down and he dropped his cutlass as he tried to hold them up. Unable to walk properly he staggered for a moment and then fell as Umbrage kicked his legs and pushed him on to the cobbles. They rolled him over and trussed him up with his own braces, bundled him into a doorway and left him with his breeches still down around his ankles and his kerchief stuffed in his mouth to shut him up.
Despite their warlike appearance several of Rathbone’s men were still not fully recovered from Aunt Hetty’s lunchtime specials, and those whom Berengaria had driven into the harbour were still slippery of foot and sodden of shirt, so the fighting was not totally one sided.
Boswell attacked with light and fancy sword play, pricking and nicking several pirates, whilst Umbrage nipped around Boswell’s targets, teasing and confusing them, and shouting encouragement to the other defenders. ‘Go to it, lads! Bash the bleeders! Bonk the berks! Kick ‘em in the crunchables!
And so it went…
‘Who are you then?’
‘I’m Haroun the damned.’
‘You are now, matey – try that for size.’
‘The enemy am fighting back.’ complained Eustace.
‘That’s alright.’ said Rathbone. ‘They’re allowed to – it’s in their job description. Look out…’
‘Hello, I remember you – you’re the ducky one, aren’t you?’
‘Watch it, you saucebox. You must tell me how you got out of that cellar when this is over. How’ve you been managing?’
‘Oh, you know, mustn’t grumble – bit of a forced holiday in the woods. Wife and kids went up High Summerdale to stay with the mother-in-law, so I had a bit of peace for a change. How’s about yourself?’
‘Oh, my dear, you wouldn’t believe the problems we’ve had…’
‘Do you mind?’ bellowed Rathbone. ‘This is a punch up, not a party – belt the bugger.’
‘Just a cotton pickin’ second here…’
‘You’m saying dem words jus ‘cos me’s a black man innit? Racist you – No respec’…’
‘Sorry – no offence meant. Take that instead…’
Steelclaw Hawkins and Blackheart Luke were pinned in a corner by two of the Bashem brothers.
‘Ouch!’ ‘Aaah!’ ‘Ohhh!’ ‘XXXXing XXXX!’
‘Urrgh, Urrgh, Urrgh!’
…and then both were laid low by fist related face disorders and multiple mangling.
Jasper had paused on the rising ground at the point where the road forked. Up the track it wound through the trees leading to the church, but carrying on before him the way sloped down again to pass around the back of the town.
Above, huge yew trees obscured the churchyard entrance where the brewer’s dray now stood out of sight near the lych gate, with the bells still being unloaded.
But looking down into the town Jasper could see into the Market Square rather well. He could not see the archers in the south west corner who were hidden by a building. And neither could he see Professor Paragon nor Mr Bagley who were shielded from his sight by the pillars of the portico of the Town Hall entrance. And he couldn’t see the Bashem brothers either. At first they had only stood in the north east entrance to the Square and now were mixed in with the confused melee below. But he had clearly seen the charge lead by Rathbone and the mayhem that ensued.
‘ “All day long the noise of battle rolled…” ‘ said Tantamount.
‘I do so hope not.’ said Jasper. Well, Rathbone was certainly getting stuck in. He hadn’t heard any gunfire or seen any smoke but that was as all too the good. Needless slaughter would be best avoided if objectives could be achieved without it. In fact he was feeling increasingly concerned about the inhabitants of Summerdale…
‘The pirates are more agile than us.’ said Mr Bagley. ‘There is too much room for them to chase our men and dodge the stronger ones. If only it were market day – the whole square would be crammed full of stalls and they wouldn’t know which way to turn. We would have a definite advantage then. Ah, that’s the half hour bell ringing now – can you do any more with that to help?’
‘Of course I can.’ snapped Professor Paragon, clapping his hands as Abelard’s silvery blue haze pulsed over the rooftops and across the cobblestones. From the recesses of his cloak he brought out a handful of sapphire and turquoise crystals.
‘Market day, you suggest? Very well, so be it…’ He rubbed the crystals together in his hands and then threw them high out above the fighting throng to shatter into thousands of slithers of light as he cried out ‘MACELLUM FACERE!’’
Jasper had just started to move off on the route that would take him to the forge, when he heard the second bell begin to ring out and found himself and his men illuminated by the azure waves of sound, passing over him and across the town, deep dark blue shot with silver sparks within the shadows of the buildings, and sky blue with frosty streaks where the bright sunlight still shone.
At the foot of the hill, within the market square, the whole complexion of the battle changed. Suddenly tradesmen and pedlars were now joining the combatants, and stalls and canopies appeared, with carts and panniers full of wool, of hops, and of fruit and vegetable produce. Even a few sheep and goats and a rather bemused cow and an inquisitive pig were now present. More and more complications materialised before him, clearly linked with each chiming of the two bells now ringing, even though the colours had now ebbed away.
So that was the power the witch had wanted! The blasted bells were magic, but had to be rung before they could work. A market to hinder movement was a nuisance, but what next might she next accomplish given her performance before?’
‘ “And the clash and the boom of the bells rang into the heart and the brain.” ‘ complained Tantamount.
‘Indeed, and damnation!’ snarled Jasper. ‘Change of plan, men. Never mind the forge – we’re going to the church. It’s vital that we stop the bells already there from ringing any more!’
Jasper arrived at the church yard to find the empty brewers dray abandoned behind the yews, and the great cart horses grazing in the field behind the church.
As he rode through the lych gate a new note rang out from the tower above. Now Calabar, the second largest bell, was free to peal once more. Orange and amber radiance spread out into the sky, illuminating the early evening clouds, and then flooded over the town and the surrounding countryside in waves as each chime rang. From where he stood Jasper could see the first shooting shaft of colour soaring across the land towards the stone circle on the hill where it seemed to explode against the tall stone in the centre, sending a fountain of every shade of orange, from yellow red to ochre with golden flashes in between – sending that fountain high into the sky to splash across the landscape and then softly fall away.
In that moment Jasper sensed that little hope was left.
‘ “Ring out wild bells, to a wild sky, ring out a slowly dying cause…” ‘ sighed Tantamount.
‘Sometimes you’re so negative – do you know that?’
‘But now with reason, Jasper Scabbard!’ Aunt Hetty, at top of tower, called out to him below.
‘Ah, Madam Paragon. I should have expected to find you here. So the bells hold the power you needed. What a fool I was not to realise that, given all the aggravation that they have caused me and my men. The most simple member of my crew suspected it from the very first.’
‘Hindsight is a very valuable asset, Sir Jasper. Unfortunately it is never available when we need it most – before we are committed to the rash acts that so confound us. May I ask what you had in mind – trudging up here to the church?’
‘I had intended to stop the ringing of the bells but now, finding you in command, I sense my intentions may be frustrated.’
‘You’re so right – remember this?’ She leant out from the tower and waved her crystal pendulum in a circle above him, and then appeared to simply bless the churchyard below.
An orange glow simmered and then flamed within the yew trees as though fire was burning behind the dark green needles thickly cladding the many gnarled trunks and stems. Then skeins and coils and strands of coppery coloured wire writhed forth, some thick, some fine, but all rapidly encircling and binding Jasper’s men, not painfully tight but sufficiently restrictive so that they could no longer move. He alone was spared this indignity.
‘I see.’ sighed Jasper. ‘What next?’
‘Only one bell, Magnus the mighty, is not yet ringing but it is being set as we speak.. When that can be pealed then not only his power, but the power of the special Goldcaster Six Bob Change can be rung – you’ll enjoy that, I promise you!’
‘I very much doubt it. And pray tell me, why am I not encumbered with your magic copper coils, Madam Paragon?’
‘You already know my powers, Sir Jasper, your men do not, and I would not wish them to come to unnecessary harm by foolish actions before they realise their disadvantage.’
‘That consideration is appreciated. I saw some of your effects taking hold in the Market Square. I presume my men’s efforts there have been frustrated and our enterprise is now ended?’
‘Not quite yet, but the conclusion is inevitable. And I have not been responsible for any sorcery in the town. My nephew, Professor Paragon, has been in charge down there. No doubt chaos has reigned, but hopefully in our favour. What do you plan to do now Sir Jasper Scabbard?’
‘If you will permit me, I would like to see to the welfare of the rest of my men, pay my respects to your nephew, and if necessary go down fighting…’
‘I judged you rightly Jasper. Return to the town then.’
‘ “Wild horses on bended knees wouldn’t get me down there.” ‘ said Tantamount.
‘Please yourself, parrot. I thought better of you.’ snapped Aunt Hetty. ‘What if your master needs a cheering quote?’
‘I don’t blame you, Tantamount.’ said Jasper. ‘Normal conflicts are one thing, but hope-shattering phenomena are something else.’
‘But perhaps I’ll fly above you… Just in case.’
‘What about my men here?’
‘I give them back to you – Resolvere!’’ exclaimed Aunt Hetty.
The copper coils fell from his men, they staggered back, and then stood close to him, as though believing he could protect them from the witchcraft.
‘It seems we have been bested, lads.’ said Jasper. ‘I am going back to see if I can help the others. They must be having a tough time by now. You are free to try and reach the Leopard if you wish…’
‘Sod that Cap’n. If we go down, we all go down together…’
Working under considerable pressure and in hectic circumstances the Professor added more stalls…
‘Get your come-uppances here – They’re fresh, they’re ripe, they’re lovely, they’re well overdue. Only four groats a pound today, tuppunce a hundredweight. Here we are sir – want yours now do you? Certainly, my pleasure… That punch hard enough? Oh dear, we seem to have become recumbent.’
RUST NEVER SLEEPS
‘Come along gents – quality parts and service, swords sharpened, muskets mended, ramrods repaired, faulty flints fixed. What have we here? Oooh, well, I dunno, this cutlass is a model E isn’t it? Can’t get the flanges these days. Had it seen to before have we? By a cowboy by the look of it. Leave it with me – I’ll see what I can do.’
‘But I’m in a fight! I need it now!’
‘Best push off then, a bit sharpish – Look out! What a pity, too late…’
RENT A SWINEHERD – HIRE A MINION
‘No lobdoterels, no fartiplungants, no scrag buttocks. Villeins without vices, serfs without attitude. Get yer pliant peasants ‘ere. Milking and mucking out a speciality. Guaranteed entirely impotent – no inter species crossover likely. And, just in case, no wellingtons worn when stock in heat. New staff often required.’
‘Er, got any openings for ex-pirates? Just in case…’
‘Might have. Got any references? No? Well let me see your CV later.’
BUNNIES FROM HEAVEN
‘Breed for pleasure and profit. Healthy hutches for randy rabbits, confined but not denied. Buy two, have twenty before you blink. Ideal for the pensioned pirate – sweet little pets to entertain and bite the kiddies. When bored with that you can let ‘em loose to overwhelm a continent or chop ‘em up for the choicest of casseroles.’
‘Ta muchly mush, but I’m not retiring just yet.’
‘That’s what you think…’
McFERDY’S FAST FOOD
(In and out of you before you blink)
‘All vores catered for – herbi, carni, omni, – come one, come all,
fill your gut with rubbish here.’
‘I’m a vegan.’
‘No challenge. How’s about a Chef’s Special tasteless washing up water onion soup, slice of condensed smog cheese in a ghastly soggy bun with the usual vile gherkins, tasteless cardboard mini chips, and a pseudo strawberry shake to go?’
‘Er, no thanks – cheese comes from cows.’
‘Not mine don’t matey – it’s GM modified muck.’
‘Oh, no… I’ll give it a miss if you don’t mind.’
‘Our men are still getting hurt.’ fretted Professor Paragon. ‘We need something more effective to stop the fighting.’
‘Can’t you just turn them all to stone or something?’ said Mr Bagley.
‘It’s not that simple.’ snapped the Professor. ‘It would be all of them – including our lot. Ah, good – Ignatius has started to ring…’
A rose pink sheen and vivid scarlet beams now lit up the square with each new chime.
‘Just the ticket!’ said Professor Paragon. ‘We’ll distract them with entertainment and music.’ He snapped all his fingers at the scene before him. ‘ACROAMA!… MUSICA!…’
Suddenly the Professor and Mr Bagley were pushed aside as bright lights and gantries and backdrops and a stage appeared on the Town Hall steps.
‘Mind the cables sweetie, watch out for that camera… Can we check the sound level Jeremy? Lovely, lovely – that’s it babycakes. Everybody ready? O.K. darlings – break a leg. Pan with number four. And cuuuue – Joccy!….’
‘Well, hello, good evening, and once again welcome. I’m Jocular Banter – your genial host, and in a packed programme tonight I have as my guests the very best representatives of modern entertainment – yes, we have Stiff Pilchard and the Shudders with their views on the Coffee Bar culture, Slush Runway with his twinkling fingers giving it ‘Sidesaddle’ on his ivories, and our high spot this evening, all the way from the wonderful U S of A – yes, we have specially for you, alive and writhing, here in groovy Goldcaster, the great, the one and only, the King of Rock and Roll himself – Elbow Greasely!
‘No, no, No!’ shouted the Professor,waving his hands dismissively ‘INUTILIS! – DIVERSUS!’
The television chat show disappeared and the square was filled with festival. A full fledged hippie festival with light shows, strobes, acoustic guitars, multi-coloured robes, ropes of beads, afro wigs, half naked nutters lurching about, the smoke and smell of skunk spliffs wafting upwards, overflowing toilet tents, and mud and blood and a deafening din…
‘Yeah man, yeah… Dig that groovy chick… Moody the vibes… Way out… Get on down-oh, you are down… Cool, man, cool…’
‘Oh dear, oh dear,’ sighed the Professor. ‘Please – not the ‘60s. Let’s try again…’ And the mini Woodstock was replaced by a disco in the Market Square.
‘Greetings pop pickers! Here we are again with all the latest sounds of the seventies. On the hour, every hour – it’s happy hour with the DJ with the mostest. Fantabulous… Cringetastic… Grungemungous… Mould breaking discerama… That happening type feel dontcha think? Truly brill – hang loose. Howsabout that then guys ‘n gals, not ‘arf, me old mates. Stay bright, it’s all shite – this is your old fart Fluff saying tara for now, tara!’
‘Who is that?’ said Mr Bagley.
‘I have seen him before, but not in a century you’d like to be in. And yes, ‘tara’ it certainly is…’ He waved his hands about again and muttered angrily once more.
The DJ disappeared, and suddenly there was a bus stop, a cash point, traffic lights, No Waiting signs, telephone boxes, satellite dishes on the buildings, double yellow lines around the perimeter of the square, an ambulance with blue light flashing and siren blaring trying to make its way through the crowd, a police helicopter hovering overhead, and everybody present staring doubtfully at the mobile phones that had arrived in their hands.
The Pirates and defenders were totally bemused.
‘Where are we?’
‘Who are we?’
‘When are we?’
‘What’s going down man?’
‘It dat tall shaggy daddy – he’s biggin it with de voodoo jive, innit…’
‘Curses!’ exclaimed Professor Paragon. ‘It’s even further into the future.’
‘How many futures have you got?’ sighed Mr Bagley.
‘Far to many today it seems. I’m trying to get something they can relate to – preferably not bear baiting or cock fighting…
Author of Dangerous Chimes, read more about Michael Macauley over here.