© JackF – Fotolia.com
An out-take from the first draft of ‘Dragon Line’ that (probably!) won’t be in the final version. Lord Stretton, New Marcher Ruler of the area surrounding Church Stretton, is planning another of his ‘celebrations’…
Too much indulgence was having an effect on Lord Stretton. At least, that’s what his advisers were trying to tell him. But, being Lord Stretton, he very rarely listened anyway. Seeing as most of his retinue were spineless lackeys – none of them ever having the backbone to stand up to the decadent New Marcher Lord and only worried about their own positions – they decided to let it pass again.
Belching crudely and slumped on a tacky-looking, gold painted throne set on a raised wooden platform, Stretton ran a hand of chubby fingers over a balding head of flowing, grey hair and re-adjusted his over-weight mass in his seat. The weaselly Squire, who’d made the suggestive comment to which his Lord had so ‘eloquently’ replied, appeared sheepish as he stood before his master’s throne. Adjusting a thick red cloak clasped on the right shoulder over a beige linen smock, the thin-faced vassal cleared his throat, wiped his mouth with his hand and replied.
‘So, my Lord would like to organise another celebration for tonight?’
‘Yes, Prescott, that’s what I said! Another party!’
Lord Stretton had already held a small ‘soiree’ the night before in the great hall of his hill-top retreat, inside which he was still un-soberly slouched. It was early morning now, and Stretton had just finished a hearty breakfast, one which many of his subjects would have given their right arms for. High above a valley where lay the principal centre of his domain, Church Stretton – the place from which he took his name as a New Marcher Ruler – he’d constructed a fortress after his ‘acquisition’ of the territory when he was somewhat younger. In the years following the Collapse, men such as him had risen to the top and taken control in their respective fiefdoms as neo-feudal rulers. To protect their interests, many built fortifications in prominent locations, re-occupying old Iron-Age forts and medieval castle sites amongst others. Sometimes for real security, sometimes as a visible reminder of power to their subjects. The one Stretton had built here fitted the mould in both respects. An ancient stronghold known locally as ‘Caer Caradoc’ atop a conspicuous elevation, so-named because of its legendary associations with a British resistance leader against the Romans.
Stretton emitted another loud belch as he pulled himself upwards in his seat, straightening the stained crimson-red tunic and ermine cloak that that covered his tubbiness before continuing.
‘One last fling before we finally succumb to the new era of ‘austerity’. What d’ya say, Prescott?’
‘An excellent idea, my Lord!’
Prescott looked warily at two worried and wistful-looking male contemporaries stood next to him before turning back.
‘And what does my Lord intend to do at this ‘final fling’?’
Stretton fingered the stubble on his chin tardily as he stared ahead of himself, a lustful expression on his face as he pondered his reply.
‘Oh, you know?!’ he began, ‘The usual, along with the ‘special entertainment’. One last crack of the whip, for old time’s sake!’
The Squire looked once again to his even more pensive fellows with raised eyebrows, before replying once more.
‘Sir, are you sure? Given the current climate and everything?!’
‘Dammit!’ snapped Stretton, raising himself quickly out of his throne and causing his advisers to flinch. ‘Yes, I am! We might not be able to do such things for much longer, what with our new found ‘allies’ breathing down our necks and the like! But at least we can still make the most of the ‘forbidden fruit’ for one more night! Especially here!’
He gestured about himself at the fairly expansive interior of the timber-framed hall, the walls and dirt-covered floor of the wooden-raftered and once whitewashed interior, stained with dried wine and food from the previous occasions. His prized retreat was really not just a great demonstration of power or a place of security. It was somewhere that he and his close circle of associates could conduct their indulgences out of view of his down-trodden subjects, most often on the products of his own people’s endeavours. Well, wasn’t that what being a ‘Lord’ was all about?
‘Of course’ he continued, ‘we’ll need to tighten our belts and clear this place up, especially when we inevitably have a visit from some Ironside dignatories. I anticipate a visit from Lord Cromwell himself, one day! I guarantee, when that happens, we shall make him think that we are as pure and as devout as the purest of his ‘Christian’ soldiers?’
The mere mention of Lord Stretton’s new allies and their highly feared leader was enough to make Stretton’s advisers shrink back. He’d certainly made a wise move in terms of personal survival by switching his allegiance from the Duke of Shrewsbury to the New Parliamentarian invaders. However, there was a price to be paid in backing the self-appointed neo-puritan saviours of devastated twenty-first century Britain. That meant Lord Stretton backing away at some point from some of his more sordid, debauched practices.
‘However’ continued the Lord enthusiastically, ‘at the moment, the Lord High Protector is still somewhat engaged with matters further south, whilst those of his army who remain here are tied up on the Welsh border! So tonight, we shall celebrate! You know what that means, Prescott?’
The Squire nodded pensively, knowing exactly what was coming next.
‘Yes, my Lord Stretton!’
‘Go to the local villages! Gather enough ‘provisions’ for tonight’s festival. And make sure there’s enough for each of my guests to indulge. I want none to be left out!’
‘Yes, my Lord!’
Prescott bowed compliantly. Inside, though he couldn’t say it, he was rather gladdened that this would be the last time…
© Owen Law 2012