HER BODICE RIPPED FROM SIDE TO SIDE...
Historians have probably lost count of the number of times their beloved England has been attacked by the French. There have, of course, been notable occasions such as the disaster that occurred in 1066, and it wasn't really the French back then but the Normans, and they were no more and no less than an offshoot of the Vikings, and everyone knows how rotten they were, with all the raping and pillaging that they did. But there have been minor (and almost totally disastrous from the perspective of the French) attempts at stealing the little Island the English called (and still do call) home, and many of them have long been lost to history.
One of these incursions occurred during the History of this little saga, and it happened like this.
Dawn had broken, a sunshine and jolly dawn with seagulls chanting across the channel and doing their fascinating little aerial dance in time to the odd howling of distant wolves inland. A small fleet of boats crept almost silently across the last few yards of sea towards land, or it would have been called a fleet had there been more than two of the vessels. But both ships, with single sails fluttering as the breeze died down, were heavy with a force intended by the duke of a minor French region (I'd call it by name, but History has forgotten it) to assault and take England, bit by bit and by terribly vicious stealth. Those Frenchmen were really good at vicious stealth: the English taught them all about it.
The ships grated on English sand and their cruel inmates leapt ashore and pulled on ropes, dragging their vessels up the sand and out of the waters. As they did so they chanted a merry little French boat-dragging song (in French), and any Englishman who heard it would have felt his heart freezing within his chest. I say “would have” because no Englishman actually heard it. The only human beings anywhere near were two monks and their guest in a chantry, and at the precise moment when the invading force did its chanting the monks were doing theirs, so neither had any chance of hearing the other. History does not record whether the monks or the small but vicious attacking force were the more melodious, but the monks, chanting as they were in Latin, were the most classical.
Having secured their little ships, the army gathered on the sands and stared at the white cliffs that seemed to reach to the skies above them. Their Captain (a swarthy individual with a wooden leg and and a squint), hands on hips, stared at them and gabbled at them in medieval French.
“We are here on the very shores of our foe,” he began.
“Do they know they're our foe?” asked one moustached individual with a deep scar running across his face, from ear to ear.
“They'll find out soon enough, Pierre,” roared the Captain grandly. “These English are turnips! And they eat their dogs! They are heathens and unbelievers! They must be put to the sword in the name of our sacred Father in Heaven, and it is up to us to do it!”
“Hurrah!” shouted a voice from the back, and “Hurrah!” everyone else joined in. “Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!”
“Aren't the English really French?” asked a nervous voice from the middle. It was a cabin boy, not above nine summers old and unbelievably French even though he had been on the receiving end of some education. He was fed up already with this expedition because, being a cabin boy, he really ought to have some cabins to be a boy in, but there were none. The ships, both of them, were too small to have cabins and they just had decks and single sails. I suppose that had any Englishmen seen them they would have called them pathetic, but we have already established that the only Englishmen were busy chanting in a chantry.
“What do you mean by that?” barked the Captain. “What mean you? The English being French? I ought to run you through for even thinking that!”
“Well, didn't William the Bastard of Normandy take this land once, and didn't he flood it with good honest Frenchmen, and didn't he do really nasty things to the natives, like try to exterminate them. I think they call it genocide, but I might be wrong.” whispered the cabin boy without a cabin to be a boy in.
“Genocide?” shouted the Captain. “Genocide? Who told you that? It wasn't genocide at all, but attempted genocide, and it failed. It's our job to put right the wrongs done by William the Bastard, that's what it is. Run them through with swords. Clobber them with clubs and maces. Steal their cattle and rape their women. Especially that last one. I haven't raped a woman since a week last Michaelmas, and I'm suffering withdrawal!”
There was a general splattering of laughter and several breathless cries of “ouch!” as the sailors clouted the cabin boy on his back and in his stomach for daring to suggest anything like genocide without calling it attempted first, and anyway they all, to an adult man, fancied the raping part of the expedition. They were far from pleasant, these vicious interlopers, but then they were French, and not thoroughly decent modern French but Historical French, which makes all the difference.
After a further bout of shouting and haranguing, the Captain led his men along the beach, looking for a way up those mighty white cliffs and to the green lands they could spy above them and where he thought there might be ripe crops so that he could invade a few fields and feed his hungry men.
It was the cabin boy who found the right path. He sneaked off to vomit as a consequence of the hearty back slapping and stomach punching he'd received, and noticed a narrow way between a treacherous array of rocks, and it both wended steadily upwards and showed signs of having been used by mortal feet before any of them had as much as noticed it.
“Here!” he called, his voice choked and feeble as account of the physical congratulations he'd already received.
The Captain came and took a look.
“Good lad!” he exclaimed, and poked the boy in one eye with a straight finger as a reward. “You'll have to help me,” he added, “for I have a wooden leg and can't climb so well.”
“Me, sir?” wept the cabin boy, tears and blood oozing from one eye.
“You, sir!” roared the Captain, poking him in the other. “Most certainly you sir!”
And that was how the invasion began. The cabin boy with a combination of body fluids pouring from two damaged eyes acted as a kind of walking stick for the Captain, and the two of them struggled upwards whilst the rest of the attacking force followed behind, grumbling in loud voices at the severity of the slope they had to force their way up.
At the top they found a kind of windswept plateau and the only green stuff was stunted grass and briny weeds.
“The bastard English!” roared the Captain, and he smacked the Cabin boy about both ears in his exasperation.
“Ouch!” exclaimed the Cabin Boy, then he pointed at a blotch on the horizon.
“'Swounds!” he exclaimed in French with a Northern accent. “Over there! I see a building, and it can only be one thing!”
“I see no building, rasped the captain, looking the wrong way.”
“Over there!” urged a frustrated Cabin Boy, pointing extra hard and earning a clipped ear for his cheek.
“What is it?” asked the Captain.
“It can only be one thing, cap'n,” said the scarred swarthy man. “I've seen places like that before. The English are good at 'em. It's a chantry, no doubt, and if you listen extra hard I'll bet a cent to an English farthing that you'll hear chanting!”
“A chantry, you say! Hey, all you scumbags! Silence or I'll cut out your tongues! Listen hard, all of you!”
A sudden and total silence fell over the small French army.
And sweet as a sandpiper's whistle, over the crusty land there swept the distant chanting of voices urging a fallen spirit heavenwards.
“Beofatt, Sir Beofatt,
Dead but not forgiven,
Beofatt, Sir Beofatt,
Find thy way to Heaven!” rang out like a whisper across the land.
“After 'em, lads!” shouted the Captain.
And roaring in French, using a great number of French naughty words, the tiny army launched itself in the direction of the chantry in which Genesis and Exodus were steadily chanting their deceased benefactor Heavenwards.
“Beofatt, Sir Beofatt,
Dead but not forgiven,
Beofatt, Sir Beofatt,
Find thy way to Heaven...
©Peter Rogerson 08.10.11