Demetrius Tancredi

 

Demetrius Tancredi, Chancellor of Dredgemarsh

 

“Tancredi relished the political arena, and if, for some reason, Dredgemarsh were free of political intrigue, he, Demetrius Tancredi, would create it. It was the game itself, and not the goal that completely dominated his every waking hour. Now, late into the night, like a grand chess master, he explored the possibilities that that momentous day had brought. He wrote out his priorities for the following day and then turned to his supper of oaten cake and vernage. He took his time eating at a small stone table set in a bay window, which looked out over the northern side of the castle and its surrounding territory. The bright moon etched a stark checkerboard of black shadows across the silver domes, spires and rooftops.”  The Reluctant King Chapter 12

‘Do you think I will allow your daughter to destroy everything I have worked for?’  Chancellor Tancredi was shouting, as he stormed into Arnulf Beaufort’s dining hall
.
‘What? What are you talking about?’  Beaufort, seated alone at his dining table, spluttered, as he tried to swallow a mouthful of doucette, a favourite late afternoon indulgence of his.

‘Have you any control over her or is this a plot against me?’  Tancredi was white-faced.

‘Plot? There is no plot. We have set a day, St. Sigbert’s Day! For the marriage. It is all arranged.’

‘Arranged, ha! Have you any idea of what your daughter is up to?’”
The Reluctant King Chapter 21

At that moment in time, he was once again the wretched child who was forced into slavery in a fuller’s yard after his father and mother died of plague. He felt again the awful shame of his ragged clothes, impregnated with the wash of piss and fuller’s earth. He could hear the jeering of other children; ‘piss pot, piss pot, greasy Tancredi’s a piss pot.’ The muscular spasm under his left eye pulled his face into a grotesque rictus of hatred and he sank to his knees in the foul water.”
The Reluctant King Chapter 21

‘My hour has come, Dredgemarsh’s hour has come,’ he whispered into the night air. ‘He must die, for all our sakes. There is no other way.’ He mounted and turned towards the castle. Over and over he rehearsed the details of the plan he had been incubating all that day. When it all fell into place, he gave a little gasp of delight at his own cleverness. As he approached the portal gate he felt he could sense the very walls, stones and paths of Dredgemarsh welcoming him, their new master.”
The Reluctant King Chapter 22

 

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Litchfield Cathedral

 

Litchfield Cathedral with a history dating back to the Middle Ages.

 

In this holy place

Where prayers are built with stone

We summon Christ the saviour

To walk among us

Blood and bone.

We summon heaven’s multitudes

Unravelling time, unwinding history.

I am here with Cromwell, Newton

Unnamed saints and holy men

Prince and peasant.

I stand with the ploughman

Who has lovingly embraced

These ancient Litchfield downs

I hear his hymn of hi and ho

Against the jangling tackle,

The song of the polished iron

Opening the sacred ground.

I am with him now, casting wide

The seed like prayer. I hear

The singing of mason’s hammers

Like bells of an Eastertide.

                                   Dermot McCabe

Francis Burstboil, Scullery Boy

Francis Burstboil - Dredgemarsh Scullery Boy

“Verm Bludvile had tied him to one of the decaying pillars in the storeroom of the Hall of Echoes. The empty crates that once held an abundance of candles were strewn around the floor. Bludvile sat on one of them, directly in front of Burstboil, observing him with unnerving curiosity. The petrified boy could not meet that terrible gaze, and tried to look elsewhere. His stomach churned. There   beside the crate, on which this monster sat, were the grisly remains of Sling, tail and head. The boy spewed. The contents of his bowels turned to liquid and flowed down his trembling shanks.”

The Reluctant King
Chapter 6

“It is impossible to fathom the human spirit; its amazing force, and equally, its amazing weakness and susceptibility. Verm Bludvile epitomised the force, the fanatical focusing of every facet of being on a single purpose, while the bedraggled and terrified scullery boy was, as it were, a blank page, upon which Verm could imprint anything he wished. It was a strange and fortuitous accident for Verm that this pathetic and weak-minded boy should fall into his clutches. It was stranger still that Verm, only recently come to self-awareness himself, could exert so much influence on another  human, even of the calibre of  Burstboil. Yet, that is what happened. Perhaps it was that the boy never got over the fright of that first terrifying encounter. Suffice it to say Verm had found himself a willing disciple and a slave.”

The Reluctant King
Chapter 7

‘Oh Mistress Crumble I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.’ he began to mumble. He wished himself back in the Dredgemarsh kitchens, scrubbing floors and being ordered about by everyone save the kitchen cat. He longed for the reassurance of a stinging slap across the ear from Bella Crumble. The image was bliss and his mind focused and froze on that image. Thus he remained, only dimly conscious of the shadows that pressed and converged in an ever-tightening circle around him. The puny kitchen boy was suspended in a crucible of terror that threatened to shatter his mind like glass. His only means of defence was physical and mental paralysis. Somewhere deep within him, these primitive mechanisms were triggered.

The Reluctant King
Chapter 15

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The Faddan More Psalter

Faddan More Psalter 8th Century from a bog in Tipperary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If we don’t have our history, we are orphans. I don’t know where I heard that phrase, or something similar, but it struck me as being a very profound statement.

The idea came to the fore this evening as I watched a replay of a documentary on the Fadden More Psalter. This psalter was discovered in a bog in Tipperrary, Ireland.  It dates from the 8th century and is an incredibly important find.

It has always been recognised  that Irish Christianity in the Middle Ages was different from the European or Roman Christianity: it was based on a monastic model as opposed to the hierarchical Roman model of Pope, Bishops, Priests and lay people.

This monastic model was, in fact, more akin to the Coptic Church and the Desert Father’s who sought isolation in the deserts in order to get closer to God. The similarity to the Coptic Church was not based on any hard evidence or concrete connection.

However, after painstaking restoration work, a remarkable discovery was made which points to a very tangible connection to the Coptic Church. On the inside of the leather cover of the psalter, the restorer found a pattern, the weave of which reminded him of ancient papyrus. Papyrus was not a material that had ever been cited in ancient Irish studies, nor was it a material that one would ever expect to see in Irish latitudes. After tests, however, the page on the inner part of the leather cover was confirmed as being papyrus: a material widely used in early Coptic manuscripts.

The connection between the Irish and Coptic Christianity is now even more intriguing. How did the papyrus get to Ireland?  How and why did it end up in a bog.

These are the fascinating questions raised by the discovery of the Fadden More Psalter. With regards to how it ended up in a bog, one theory is that it was hidden in the bog by a monk to save it from being destroyed by Viking raiders and that the monk himself did not survive to reclaim it. This seems like a plausible explanation.

Whatever the real story is, science and future treasures from the bogs will help us piece together the remarkable lives of our ancestors and their great love for the written word which has always been a notable feature of the Irish culture, right up to the present day.

The video about the Fadden More Psalter is at http://xrl.us/bmyn2p

Washing Day

The poem, Washing Day,  by Anna Laetitia Barbauld, was written well over a century ago. It describes perfectly that frisson of irritability that invades a household on a wet washing day. Anna Laetitia Barbauld, was a remarkable woman who  wrote, poetry, essays and text books for children as well as writing pamphlets of serious social and political issues of the day. She was strongly in favour of the abolition of slavery and  was highly critical of the war between England and France. She predicted that England would not maintain its position of dominance in the world, a very unpopular view which resulted in her rejection by the establishment and abandonment by many literary friends who were initially great admirers of her writing.

Washing Day (partial)
by Anna Lætitia Barbauld 1743–1825

Come, Muse, and sing the dreaded washing day.

Ye who beneath the yoke of wedlock bend,

With bowed soul, full well ye ken the day

Which week, smooth sliding after week, brings on

Too soon; for to that day nor peace belongs,

Nor comfort; ere the first grey streak of dawn,

The red-armed washers come and chase repose.

Nor pleasant smile, nor quaint device of mirth,

Ere visited that day; the very cat,

From the wet kitchen scared, and reeking hearth,

Visits the parlour, an unwonted guest.

The silent breakfast meal is soon despatched,

Uninterrupted, save by anxious looks

Cast at the louring, if sky should lour.

From that last evil, oh preserve us, heavens!

For should the skies pour down, adieu to all

Remains of quiet; then expect to hear

Of sad disasters — dirt and gravel stains

Hard to efface, and loaded lines at once

Snapped short, and linen-horse by dog thrown down,

And all the petty miseries of life.

Saints have been calm while stretched upon the rack,

And Montezuma smiled on burning coals;

But never yet did housewife notable

Greet with a smile a rainy washing day.

But grant the welkin fair, require not thou

Who callest thyself, perchance, the master there,

Or study swept, or nicely dusted coat,

Or usual ’tendence; ask not, indiscreet,

Thy stockings mended, though the yawning rents

Gape wide as Erebus; nor hope to find

Some snug recess impervious. Shouldst thou try

The ’customed garden walks, thine eye shall rue

The budding fragrance of thy tender shrubs,

Myrtle or rose, all crushed beneath the weight

Of coarse-checked apron, with impatient hand

Twitched off when showers impend; or crossing lines

Shall mar thy musings, as the wet cold sheet

Flaps in thy face abrupt. Woe to the friend

Whose evil stars have urged him forth to claim

On such a dav the hospitable rites;

Looks blank at best, and stinted courtesy

Shall he receive; vainly he feeds his hopes

With dinner of roast chicken, savoury pie,

Or tart or pudding; pudding he nor tart

That day shall eat; nor, though the husband try —

Mending what can’t be helped — to kindle mirth

From cheer deficient, shall his consort’s brow

Clear up propitious; the unlucky guest

In silence dines, and early slinks away.

I well remember, when a child, the awe

This day struck into me; for then the maids,

I scarce knew why, looked cross, and drove me from them;

Nor soft caress could I obtain, nor hope

Usual indulgencies; jelly or creams,

Relic of costly suppers, and set by

For me their petted one; or buttered toast,

When butter was forbid; or thrilling tale

Of ghost, or witch, or murder. So I went

And sheltered me beside the parlour fire;

There my dear grandmother, eldest of forms,

Tended the little ones, and watched from harm;

Anxiously fond, though oft her spectacles

With elfin cunning hid, and oft the pins

Drawn from her ravelled stocking, might have soured

One less indulgent.

At intervals my mother’s voice was heard,

Urging dispatch; briskly the work went on,

All hands employed to wash, to rinse, to wring,

Or fold, and starch, and clap, and iron, and plait.

Then would I sit me down, and ponder much

Why washings were; sometimes through hollow hole

Of pipe amused we blew, and sent aloft

The floating bubbles; little dreaming then

To ee, Montgolfier, thy silken ball

Ride buoyant through the clouds, so near approach

The sports of children and the toils of men.

Earth, air, and sky, and ocean hath its bubbles,

And verse is one of them — this most of all.

Verm Bludvile, The Candle Lighter

Verm Bludvile swears vengence on Cesare Greyfell, King of Dredgemarsh

“Verm could not remember why, but he hated “them above”. It was in his blood, some old long-forgotten grievance or dreadful wrong done to him. ‘Degenerates and fornicators,’ his father, old Wat Bludvile, used to fulminate at the mention of the royal household and its staff, never explaining, even on his deathbed, the reason for his obsessive hatred. He had also been the Candle Lighter. Verm knew nothing of his mother, but in his grim world of flickering candlelight, the only kindness he had ever experienced was from old Wat. Now, the passing years had almost extinguished that trembling flame of affection and left in its place an emptiness that, on occasions, even the hard armour of bitterness could not repel. But as long as he had his candles to light, the squalor of Verm Bludvile’s existence could be endured.”
Chapter 4 The Reluctant King

“Now in the autumn of the fifth year of Cesare’s reign, something startling and strange began to happen to Verm. He was beginning to feel some vaguely unsettling emotions. Ideas, totally alien to him, began to hover and flash indiscriminately across his mind. It took him some time to realise that his unease was growing as the stock of candles, in the storeroom below the Great Hall of Echoes, was diminishing. It was unprecedented; the supply of new candles to the storeroom had ceased. These emerging feelings grew, and changed to fear, and finally terror. It was as if the candles were burning away the hours and minutes of his life.”
Chapter 4 The Reluctant King

“… he cursed and howled with rage, until a deadly calm took hold of him and he began to plan his revenge on Cesare Greyfell, the author of his misfortune.”
Chapter 4 The Reluctant King

“Verm could smell the hateful pursuers now, could hear the excited baying of the lymers. He turned sharply right through a small opening in the tunnel wall. There was nowhere else to go. The way forward was blocked by the massive granite blocks of Dredgemarsh’s outer wall. He was trapped at last, in a dismal chamber in the very pit of Dredgemarsh. He crouched down in the furthest corner of the room.

Poor Vermie, poor Vermie. He was experiencing an incredible dislocation in time and place. He was a small petrified boy, trying not to cry, not to give himself away and the terrifying unctuous voice saying, poor Vermie, poor Vermie, I’m coming, coming, won’t hurt Vermie…be nice to your…no harm, no harm at all…our little secret, Vermie. The smells came back, rich perfume, nauseating, the sweet comfits, and the soft white insistent hands. Verm Bludvile wailed in anguish. His pursuers stopped, appalled by the sound. It was not anger or defiance they heard, but a cry of unfathomable desolation and loss. Then the lymers gave voice again and the spell was broken. ”
Chapter 19 The Reluctant King

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Farewell to Annie

Annie Towell (nee McCabe)

I cannot reverse the cell’s dissolution

or stop the final slow unyoking

of spirit from blood and bone.

Though your old eyes plead

for consolation,

I cannot help,

cannot speak the words you long for.

You see me rooted, solid in life.

I watch you untethered, drifting

on an ocean of pain

beyond my reaching.

I hold your hand and wish you

a swift journey

beyond all fears.

you, disengaging,

leave me

the miracle of tears.

Dermot McCabe

The Reluctant King

The Reluctant King - Book One of the Dredgemarsh series.

It has taken a very long time but finally I have finished  book one of the Dredgemarsh series I have been writing for many years. The title of this first book is The Reluctant King. The story takes place in Dredgemarsh, an imaginary fortress city. The setting is Gothic and the time is late Middle Age.

The Dredgemarsh Series started out as a very short piece of descriptive writing about an imaginary character who spent his whole life keeping the subterannean halls and corridors of Dregemarsh illuminated with candles. He was the Candle Lighter, Verm Bludvile. I then began to expand on this character and other menials and varlets who laboured in the lower reaches of Dredgemarsh began to emerge. I couldn’t stop them.

The cast began to grow with characters like Francis Burstboil, the kitchen boy, Lazarous Clutchboll, the Cook Meister, and his staff Bella Crumble, Leopold Ratchett and Nellie Lowslegg. A quirky Professor Quickstrain and the court scribes Havelock and Dipslick joined the growing throng.

The problem was, what were all these characters going to do  in this great crumbling fortress. I simply had them milling around like characters from a Bruegel painting. What was the story? Well, I can’t remember how it all started but the idea came to me that Verm Bludvile would be very upset if he lost his job as Candle Lighter.

This event inevitably involved the overlords of Dredgemarsh and the story of Cesare Greyfell, King of Dregemarsh, and the beautiful  Lucretia Beaufort emerged accompanied by a very sinister Chacellor Demetrius  Tancredi and a host of good and bad characters whose lives, loves, wars and death revolve around the almost living presence of Dredgemarsh itself.

The story took off from there and now, almost two decades later I have a series of three books set in Dredgemarsh. But books need polishing; a writer owes his readers the courtesy of making his/her story as accessible and enjoyable an experience as possible. It takes time. If you do purchase The Reluctant King I hope you enjoy it. And remember there are two more books to come after a bit of polishing. Book two is called The Lost Prince and will be published in July.

That’s it for now. The labour has been long but the final delivery sweet.