Shivering, despite the cloak draped over his shoulders, he strolled through the camp, his boots squelching in the thick mud and his wavy hair blowing in the cool breeze.
“Good day sir!”, one man called out as he went past, bowing deeply.
He nodded his head in response, trying to smile but his face seemed to have frozen. His stomach felt tight, almost as if it were tied in knots.
“Some meat, sir?”, another man asked as he walked past a camp fire, a joint of meat turning on a spit above it, the aroma reaching his nostrils, making his stomach want to heave.
“Oh, I’m actually on my way to…’, he started to say, and then paused as he noticed the anxiety in the other man’s eyes,’ yes, I’d enjoy some of the meat”. He’d force some down.
Holding his hand out, the man thrust some of the meat at him, balanced precariously on a wooden platter.
It was warm and juicy with a smoky flavor. As he chewed, he ignored the juices dribbling out the corner of his mouth and down his chin, and surveyed the camp.
The men surrounding him were chatting quietly as they saddled their horses and packed up the makeshift tents. A small group were kneeling, deep in prayer, regardless of the mud and dirt around them. They didn’t expect to come back. The whole atmosphere was subdued.
“Thank you”, he said quietly, wiping his sleeve across his face and handing back the platter, the bones clean.
The man bowed as he continued towards the striped tent in the distance, it’s bright colors visible for all the men to see.
Ducking under the flap, he blinked, trying to accustom his eyes to the dark.
“Ah there you are’, his uncle said, glancing up from the makeshift desk where he was examining a map sketched roughly in ink,’ my scouts report that they’re here, here and here”.
With each ‘here’, he jabbed his forefinger at the paper, the skin on his hands wrinkled and loose.
It looked as if they were surrounded.
Swallowing the lump in his throat, he whispered,” The men seem anxious, sir”.
His uncle looked back at him, no expression in his eyes,” Nothing to be anxious about, they’re being paid, they know what to expect”.
“A lot of them aren’t expecting to return”.
His uncle grunted,” Fortunes of war, that’s all it is”.
The tent flap lifted and a young boy scurried inside, his eyes large and round.
“Sir, they’re saying..”, he said and then hurriedly bowed, his eyes remaining lowered to the ground.
“Yes, yes, never mind that’, the older man said impatiently,’ what are they saying?”.
Glancing up nervously, the young boy whispered,” They’re coming”.
The young boy nodded.
His uncle turned to him, his face wearing the most serious expression he had ever seen.
“This is it, you know what you have to do”, he said, placing one hand on each of his shoulders.
“But sir’, he whispered, trying not to let the young boy hear,’ what if I can’t do it? What if it isn’t meant to be?”.
“It is your destiny. You’ve waited your entire life for this moment. Lead the men. Let them see you in front, and you won’t fail”, his uncle whispered back.
Nodding to him, his light eyes filled with tears.
“Uncle…”, he said.
A trumpet sounded from outside the tent, in place of a bugle that no one had.
“This is it”, his uncle said and, with a final nod, grabbed his sword and helmet from the young boy, and disappeared outside.
Left alone in the tent, he realized that he’d been holding his breath, his chest felt tight.
Exhaling, his hands started to shake and sweat, and his stomach, before a tight knot, now felt bubbly, almost as if he wanted to be sick.
“Sir?’, another young boy said as he poked his head under the tent flap,’ your uncle says the men are ready for you”.
“I’ll be right there”, he answered, his voice quavering.
The young boy disappeared, he could hear him murmuring to some one the other side of the tent fabric.
“Pull yourself together’ he whispered to himself,’ you can do this”.
Breathing slowly, he picked up his own helmet lying to one side and thrust it on his head, the recently shined metal glinting in the light as he stepped outside.
The men were already gathered, most on their horses, the others scattered around, all waiting for him.
Straightening his shoulders, standing as tall as he could, he mounted his own horse, the leather saddle and harness rough against his fingertips, his armor clanking as he moved and tried to settle himself comfortably.
His uncle moved next to him.
“This is it”, he whispered.
The trumpet sounded again.
I should say something, he thought, but what? What can I say to inspire and lead them?
Thick mist lay around the edges of the camp site.
In the distance they could hear the hooves of the horses, the bugle sounding and the many shouts and cheers from the opposing army.
His stood silent.
“I can do this”, he whispered to himself and urged his horse forwards.
Standing in front of them, his heart seemed to settle, and he no longer noticed the cold.
“Men, this is it!’, he bellowed, his voice now steady,’ follow me, and you’ll have your reward!”.
He raised his sword in the air. His army cheered, more ragged and less enthusiastic then the other army, waiting for them the other side of the mist, but still a cheer.
Slowly, his flag bearer close to his side, he moved his horse forwards, his cloak billowing. He could hear some one playing a drum, setting the beat, and the clank of armor and swords as the two armies marched silently forwards to meet each other.
The mist was so thick that, even though they could hear each other getting closer, they still couldn’t see.
A horse rode past him, the man riding it squinting trying to see.
“Ahhh!”, he yelled, raising his sword and swiping at him.
The other man turned his head in surprise. It was too late. He fell from his horse, blood pouring from his wound, and lay motionless on the ground.
The men crowded around him as the other army surged forwards on hearing one of their men fall.
Swords swung, the metal hitting metal echoing, the shouts and dying screams all around him.
He swung at another man and then saw, through the thinning mist, the King, no longer on his horse, the crown on top of his helmet, sparkling in the light, his own flag bearer standing next to him. His army, busy fighting their own battles, had left him exposed to attack.
Should he ride past and just swipe at him?, he thought, No, that wouldn’t be fair.
Slowly he dismounted, his sword still clutched in his hand, and marched towards him.
The King looked his direction at the last moment. It was too late.
Quickly before he could raise his own sword in defense, he swung his own.
The King collapsed onto the mud, splattering it all around him, covering the silver of his armor and helmet. His flag bearer whimpered, the flag drooping.
Several horses came running, and he saw his uncle throw himself down beside him, his tired face beaming.
“I knew you could do it”, he said and embraced him tightly.
Breathless, he nodded not sure what to say.
All around them, the battle was still being fought, unaware the King was dead.
His uncle pulled the crown off the King’s helmet and knelt on the ground before him, holding it up to him.
His hands shaking again, he dropped his sword, covered in mud and blood, and grasped the crown.
It’s metal surface felt cool and smooth.
Pulling off his helmet, he placed the crown on his own head. It fitted as if it were meant to be.
The men surrounding him knelt down in the mud, their hands raised towards him.
“Hail, King Henry!”, his uncle yelled.
“Hail, King Henry!”, the men shouted back.
“I done it”, he whispered to himself as he looked at the bowed heads around him.