Prologue Part I
The Priory Inn
London, Kingdom of England. September, 1483.
“By God's blood, thy father slew mine, and so will I do thee and all thy kin.”
Over the course of time there have been many blood feuds, some have lasted only days, some have lasted years and others have gone on to last for generations. These bitter, twisted affairs are the result of a combination of factors that include such things as; resentment, anger and hate. There is always a cause to these feuds if you care to peel back the surface and delve deeper into the roots of things. Yet so often these feuds spiral so far out of control and for so long that even the cause can become lost, forever in the pages of history. It makes one wonder, what on earth were they fighting for? What was it really all about? Well one thing that is certain however is that whatever the cause may have been it triggers retribution and with that often comes acts of vengeance, extreme acts of violence and at times leaves one feeling a powerful sense of justice.
A blood feud is not something that you volunteer for, it is something that you are born into. It’s quite literally, in the blood. It’s instinctive, it’s overpowering and it’s integrated deep into your bones. Yet not everyone is infatuated in such a way, it is possible to fight it should you choose, but a hatred so deep passed down over generations is no easy thing to rid yourself of. Quite often it is necessary to give in to the inevitability, kill or be killed. What would you do?
Now I’m sure you’ve heard of many feuds, both old and new. But there has never been and nor will there ever be, one quite like that as the one of the Longsword’s and the Ashbourne’s. A feud well over three hundred years in the making, stained with blood, death and much worse. The start is hazy of course, but the feud continues on as strong as ever and this is where our story begins…
There was a hollow knock on the wooden door of the Priory Inn. The barman, a balding fellow with a few wisps of white hair and a round tummy looked up from wiping his steel tankards, something which he had attended to several times that evening already. He surveyed the door with a cautious look for a moment wondering who in their right might would take to the streets at such an hour but excited at the prospect of a possible customer he scuffled across the room, knocking a few of the chairs as he went.
It was in fact rare for the Inn to be so empty at this time of year, it was midsummer after all. But with the war brewing and the constant downfall of rain and heavy wind over recent weeks, most dared not venture to far from their homes and traveller’s were just altogether scarce. It would seem that even the weather was as affected by the war as the people’s spirits were; Dark, foreboding and generally rather unpleasant.
Swinging the heavy oak door forward the barman was greeted by a strong gust of wind and a face full of whipping rain. He wiped the water from his eyes on the back of his sleeve and identified the vague outline of what looked like a scraggy hooded late middle aged old man. Still squinting he could just make out what appeared to be a wry smile on the man’s face catching a glimpse of his crooked yellow teeth. The Barman struggled to make head or tale of why the man would have any reason to smile on a night such as this, but he greeted him all the same. “Need a room for the night?” the barman asked rather grumpily.
“No”, he replied. “Ale will do”. The man walked past the disgruntled barman and entered the Inn. He took his time to glare around the square room, it was small, there were only a handful of tables but there was a roaring fire in the grate and it had a cosy feel to it. Apart from the barman it was practically empty except from a dark haired man sitting at a table near the open fire in the far corner alone, head down, concentrating on a hot bowl of stew. For a brief moment he watched the man as he carefully tore himself a chunk of bread and dipped it into his bowl, then slowly, purposefully, walked over towards him. Sitting down opposite he spoke. “Good evening Robert”.
The man who looked like he must be in his mid-forties seemed momentarily stunned, he stopped what he was doing and for a brief moment was completely still, unflinching, but after this short awkward pause he regained his composure and looked up from his supper. It was obvious that he had been roused deep from thought and this disturbance was clearly unwelcome. His slightly lined face now donned an aura of both loathing and fear.
“Grenwick”, he mumbled.
Robert held his gaze and looked deep into Grenwick’s eyes for a moment and caught a glimpse of the evil that lurked there in the bottomless pits, but soon turned his head away. Grenwick’s face broke out into a threatening smile. He had a way about him that made men feel uneasy. It was one of his best assets and it’s what made him such a good interrogator. He could instil fear into you with just a simple stare.
Robert Longsword and Grenwick Ashbourne were two men that knew each other well. There had long been hostilities between their families going back as far as their ancestors during the time of the third Crusade in the Holy Land. There were two Christian Military Orders back then and Robert’s ancestors had served one of them; the Knights Templar, which met its downfall at the hands of King Philip IV of France in 1312. Grenwick’s ancestors on the other hand had long been member to the other; the Knights Hospitaller. Both Orders consisted of elite groups of warrior knights whose sole purpose was the protection of pilgrims visiting Jerusalem. Neither order got on particularly well, sharing a rivalry that spanned decades and this was evident in the serious and violent disagreement that took part between the two families after the Battle of Acre. It is said to have involved a woman, but like many things the truth was washed away with time. Yet from then on the hatred between their families just grew and grew and killings between them became a regular occurrence.
However in the last century both their fathers had served as archers together in the English army most notably at the battle of Agincourt in 1415 when the English overcame a much larger French army thanks to the longbow men to which they both belonged. Having both led a score of archers and men at arms during the battle they received heroic status from the people of Britain and their families were well respected nationwide. This called for an agreed cease fire between the two men and put a temporary stop to this family feud. But many years later during the Battle of Castillon in 1453, when Robert was only sixteen, Grenwick’s father was killed. The French were credited with his death, but Grenwick was adamant Robert’s father was responsible, despite his assurances that he had nothing to do with it. Not long after that Robert’s father went missing and two years later at the First Battle of St Albans marking the beginning to the War of the Roses, Robert and Grenwick would find themselves on the opposing side for the first time.
Thirty years down the line with the civil war still raging on, the two families are still having their differences. For the main Robert is now a paid mercenary in the servitude of Henry Tudor from the House of Lancaster in his bid to capture the throne from Richard III of the House of York for whom Grenwick is now a commanding officer. The two men although never on speaking terms have never previously sought each other out as a matter of respect for the past agreement made between their fathers, during the Hundred Year War in France. But for Robert it was only a question of time before Grenwick came after him. He was adamant Grenwick was behind his father’s disappearance and had the horrible feeling that he would be next. Now that civil war threatened to tear England apart, it was hard to tell who was friend or foe, and the thread that hanged the balance between the Longsword’s and the Ashbourne’s, was wearing pretty thin. Soon Robert knew the feud would, reignite.
For a few months now Robert had been back in London, his home town, working as a spy for Henry passing him information on Richard and his goings on. He was an expert in going undetected and in close combat making him most suitable for the job. Having grown up during the war with France his father an English soldier had insured that he had been well trained and able to look after the family and carry on their name. However after his father’s disappearance at Castillon and his mother’s untimely death, leaving him as the last remaining Longsword, he met the daughter of a Spanish mercenary, fell in love and decided to put his fighting days behind him. They married but not long after moving to Spain well away from the Ashbourne’s and their feud, she fell victim to the plague, leaving Robert alone with a young son. Thinking it best, he chose to leave his son in the temporary care of his deceased wife’s parents and returned to England in order to raise the funds needed to give his son the life he deserved and he did so doing what he did best, working as a mercenary fighting other people’s battles.
The barman sensing some tension between the two men edged his way over slowly, breaking the silence that had ensued and gently settled down a clean tankard of ale on the table with a soft clunk, fresh foam dripping down the side on to the wooden surface.
“Thank you”, Grenwick muttered taking his eyes off of Robert for a split second. He waited for the barman, who clearly wanted nothing better than to get away from the pair of them, to move back out of ear shot so he could speak once again. “I know you work for Henry, Robert”, he whispered locking his gaze back to the eyes of Robert once again.
“What makes you so sure?” Robert replied fidgeting slightly in his seat.
Grenwick watched on intently sensing unease in the face of his rival. “I have my sources Robert, had I not had the smallest of respects for our fathers arrangement I would have tracked you down long ago-”.
“So why now?” Robert asked, knowing exactly where the conversation was leading.
Ignoring the question Grenwick carried on, “I know what you saw the other night”.
“I have no idea what you mean”, said Robert casually and hastily returned his eyes back to his soup.
Grenwick lowered his head and leaned in closer and whispered, “You were at the Tower”.
Robert was shocked, he froze. How does he know? Grenwick said the words that Robert feared he would, but it didn’t make sense. It is true, Robert was at the Tower of London only days ago. What he had witnessed was something he dared not speak of, to anyone. But as a master of disguise he had no idea he’d been seen. No surely not? I must have been betrayed.
Robert sighed, “I am a simple man Grenwick, earning money where I can, I care not for the goings on in the world, only the money to feed me and my son. I do not get involved in your war and I certainly have no idea what goes on in that Tower!”
“You lie Robert Longsword!”
At the sound of raised voices the barman once again looked up from wiping his tankards. He sensed hostility and was eager for an entertaining finale to a rather dull evening. Perhaps he would get the chance to throw this old man out. He put down his rag and lowered his hand below the bar and clasped his thick fingers around the handle of his mace. Now he may not look like much But I sure as hell know how to wield this!
Sensing the barman’s eyes burning a hole in the side of his head Grenwick stood up tall. “Until we meet again, I’ll be watching you Robert”, Grenwick growled looking down at Robert square in the face before he turned and headed back to the front door of the Inn. He gave a curt nod to the barkeeper on his way out and walked head first into the wet stormy night.
Once outside in the mud drenched street Grenwick looked across to his men lurking in the shadows. He could just make out the whites of their eyes until a sudden flash of lightning meant they were clearly visible. Five companions had accompanied him and all of them were his sworn swords. He walked through the wet mud of the narrow street to meet them. They looked uneasy about their whereabouts on such a treacherous evening but never questioned it. What must be done must be done and Longsword was their number one priority. “The bastard’s in there all right, take him and I want him alive. He is just one man so do not fail me. I will return with the others!”
The men nodded to show they understood the order and temporarily sneaked back into the shadows. With satisfaction Grenwick swiftly turned and raised himself up onto his horse that was tied up to a post. He glanced up at the faded wooden sign swinging in the wind outside the Priory Inn and suppressed a smile before turning his horse, I've got you now Longsword, he thought before riding off into the night.
Back in the Inn Robert was upstairs in his room. He began to pace up and down, the uneven floorboards creaked beneath him. What shall I do? They know I was there, they know what I saw and now, they know where to find me, they’re watching me! He knew now that his life was in jeopardy. He had been found out. But he was so close to the end. The final pieces of information he had intended to give to Henry lay written on a piece of paper on the table in the far corner of the room. He knew that what lay written on that paper, could earn him a reward big enough to set him and his son up for life. But in the wrong hands it could be his own death warrant. Robert froze. It dawned on him he could be about to die. He had to deliver this letter at all costs. It would be his final mission. Robert gave the paper one last look of utter despair and read the words he had etched there only hours before.
Today at the Tower of London to my disgust and disbelief I witnessed the murder and execution of the two young princes Edward and Richard at the hands of James Tyrrell on the behest of their uncle King Richard III. How can someone do such a thing to their own flesh and Blood? He was chosen as their guardian and protectorate. The Boys as you know were declared illegitimate to the throne and it is my sincere belief that he was behind it. Even so, it appears that was not enough for Richard who knew that only on their death would his throne be secure. He has had the bodies hidden under the main staircase and will hush up their disappearance by any means necessary. However this information if made public could turn the war back in your favour.The people will never stand for this and will rise against him and join forces with you. Use it and you may yet be crowned King of England.
Robert glared out of his window, he could barely make out the street below in the darkness. The weather was really fierce now. He stood and listened to the sound of the rain as it came thudding down onto the Inn’s rooftop. Suddenly the street lit up as a bolt of lightning flashed across the sky, and then he saw them, five men making their way towards the Inn, Grenwick’s men Robert knew. He wasn't in the least bit surprised, Grenwick was a liar a thief and a murderer.
There was an almighty crash downstairs as the men entered the bar, Robert heard raised voices. No doubt James was taken unaware, he felt sorry for the barman who he had become a good friend to over the years. He had served Robert as one of his men at arms and fought for him at the First Battle of St Albans, but like him had gone into hiding after the defeat. James had found himself a place here in London and Robert wished the man no harm. He went to his trunk at the end of his bed and took out his sword. If this was to be his last night in this world he would go down fighting. Too long had he lived in fear, too long had it been since he had felt steel in his hand. He may not be able to kill Grenwick but he could kill some of his men, at least that would go some way to avenging his father’s death.
Robert entered the bar and the fight was already in full swing. Many times he had heard a drunken James claim to be a master with the mace that he kept under the bar, not that Robert had ever actually seen it. But here it was covered in blood and judging by the dead man on the floor had been used to crush his skull. Before James had the chance to swing it round again, another of the men darted forwards and slashed his dagger across James’s face, causing him to fall backwards. Robert pounced wielding his sword high bringing it down in a great arching motion taking the man’s left arm clean off at the elbow. He crashed to the floor screaming, writhing in agony. The other three men not seeming to notice their comrade’s pleas for help closed in towards Richard.
“There need be no more bloodshed Robert, lower your sword, come with us and we will spare your friend’s life”, said the man closest to Robert, He had black matted hair and a small black goatee to match.
“And what of mine? Will you spare that too?” Robert spat.
“That is not for me to decide, take the risk Robert, or die here by my sword.” The man raised his sword in preparation, waiting for an answer, the seconds ticking on.
“No Robert, don’t you dare!” cried James from down on the floor panting, “You fight!”
One of the other men turned to James and kicked out at him “Shut up you old fool!” before turning back to his comrade. “Kill him now Michael, forget what Grenwick said.”
“No!” screamed James, with no time to stand he mustered all of his strength and in a fit of rage he swung his mace merely inches off the floor towards the shin of the man who had kicked out at him. The man yelped and tried to jump out of the way. But to late the mace made contact with a sickening crunch as his ankle was smashed to pieces. Like the man with no arm he went down screaming. Michael turned to see his comrade fall, it was a big mistake. Robert wasted no time in thrusting his sword straight into Michael’s stomach.
“Oh”, was all he said before crumpling to the floor with a sigh.
Robert turned to face the last man, he was barely twenty by the look of him, but he had his sword raised and was eager for the fight, he had been trained well. Fool Robert thought. “Do you expect to take both of us?” By now James was on his feet, his face was a savage mess, Robert could see his cheek bone, yet he showed no deterrence.
“There are more on the way, you will die tonight Longsword!” the boy shouted back at him.
“He’s right Robert, you must get out of here, take my horse it’s out the back, go!”
“But James what I said before-”
“I know, just go, I will finish up here”, James turned to the young man and edged towards him a look of determination on his bloody face.
Robert turned and fled from the back of the inn. The last words he heard was that of the young man’s ringing in his ears, turning to James he said, “Time to die old man!” Outside the Inn Robert was already saddling James’s horse. Not the finest of horses, a palfrey, auburn in colour but she would suffice. As Robert swung himself up and put his feet in the stirrups, there was a piercing cry from inside the Inn, it was the young man’s voice. “Good luck James”, Robert whispered before racing off up the street.
“Sir, is that?” Grenwick turned to see Robert fleeing from the scene. “No! After him men!” he growled.
Grenwick watched on from the high ramparts as Robert went thundering past the tower heading towards the river and London Bridge. Sudden fury engulfed him. Damn those men I told them to take him. “Leigh?”
“If any of the men that went to the Priory survived, hang them!”
Grenwick made his way around the ramparts following Roberts’s movement as he went, while twenty of his best men emerged out the front gate in hot pursuit. He knew Robert would not be able to out run them for long but if he could get across the bridge before they caught up to him then it would be no easy task to find him. He could easily lose them among the narrow streets of London. That was the problem with this city Grenwick thought, too many places to run and hide for stinking cowards. But however long it took Grenwick knew he’d find Robert again and when he did he would enjoy extracting the information from him that he wanted and then he would kill him himself.
“Grenwick”, a voice spoke from behind him, a slithery voice he knew well. He whipped around to see King Richard standing a few feet behind him, while several of his men all of them archers fanned out around the ramparts. “I see you have successfully subdued the target?”
“Your Grace, I'm afraid he managed to evade capture, he is extremely cunning, but nothing that my men cannot deal with. I assure you he will be caught in due course.”
But the King looked thoroughly unconvinced. “Tell me Grenwick, how do you propose to do that? From where I stand it looks an awful lot like he’s about to get away.”
“I have men after him your Grace, it is only a matter of time.”
“You will call them off.” The King demanded.
“But your Grace-?”
The King was furious. “Silence!” he cried, his cheeks turning a deep shade of puce. “You have failed me Grenwick and you forget yourself, you are not the King! You will never question one of my orders ever again, are we clear?”
“Yes your grace”, Grenwick conceded.
The King turned and spoke to one of his men, the man nodded and shouted out, “Archers!”
Grenwick looked around to watch the King’s archers as they all took a bow from their quivers and placed it on their bows before aiming them up into the sky. He looked down from the ramparts and he saw Robert on his brown mare race along the embankment heading towards the bridge. Know this Robert, I may not have killed you, but I will kill your son.
“Fire!” the command was given and the arrows soared into the air.
Grenwick watched as they fell with rapid velocity and came hailing down around the bridge. One arrow thudded into Robert’s back and as his body arched in pain another rammed into his side, puncturing his lung. For a moment he swayed there on his horse before tumbling from his saddle and within seconds was lost to the river below.