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Monday, June 28, 1999
By Paul Ford
A goofy fiction.
When I was in England I was at the site of a 12th-century battle. The standard placards were up, with Helvetica lettering and the seals of royalty. We walked through the remnants of castle grounds, a half-exposed, dug-up firmament stones, the bones of some arched 30-foot tower. I was bored and read the placards. Some Earl or Baron or Thane or Archduke wanted this castle, and its land. He had some grudge.
I knew nothing about this place. I had never read about it. I grew up in Indiana. I had never researched this time, or heard it existed. I was in England to meet women, see the London homes of great novelists, and to drink. My friend liked wars and pulled me out here.
Suddenly I could see the battle in its entire scope. I saw the uniforms, the torn fabrics, the horses rending up their hooves, and mud flying everywhere. I saw armor on the rich and heard bows springing and then the whistling hiss of arrows. Shouts and relentless, terrifying screaming. A man with a sword running another man through immediately to my right. Bales of hay, for some reason. A long field, and dirty, old flags raised in the air.
I remember the castle embroidered onto something-a flag? A tapestry?
A minute before I died I looked up at a hill and saw an audience for the battle. There was a beautiful woman, and she was waving a kerchief. She seemed beautiful. It might have been her manner of dress. But I thought then that she was waving at me, and I plunged deeper. I was a foot soldier of some sort, but we all understood how knights behaved and like children we pretended we were knights, without the armor, without the horses.
I plunged into the crowd at the waving of the handkerchief--I do not even know whose side she was on, or what side I was on. I was on her side. I plunged, and with my pike I struck out, and I was immediately knocked down, gored through by something sharp and slick. I rested in the mud and felt the life bleed out of me, and it hurt agonizingly, but the body knows death when it sees it and began to give to me a kind of slow, quiet peace.
I heard the horse hooves roaring and splashing past me, and thought of that handkerchief, and the face of a young women of whom I was very fond whose father kept the Dogshead Inn, and I thought of the horse I wished to own when I had farmed enough and saved enough. I thought about the oxen I owned, four of them, and the images blurred. The oxen turned green, the faces of the women turned green, and the world around me turned green.
Later I hovered over the field and watched as some boys lifted my body and dragged it to a pile of other bodies. They checked my pocket. They found nothing worth stealing. Someone knew my name and yelled it out as I was dragged. And then the images turn blank gray.
So when I returned to the States I researched, and I
I saw a hypnotist. These things are very anticlimactic. I sat on a blue vinyl couch and this man in his mid-30's with a well trimmed beard speaks to me, holds up his fingers, and wham. Then, later, he and I watched the videotape.
"Where are you," he said.
"I am on a field in the year of our Lord 1225," I said. "My name is Etherood. I am a smith. I have made many of the swords here today." My voice was ethereal, dark, gritty, my lips barely moving.
But now I think I had a flash, a sense of connection. And a memory of movies--like Branagh's Henry V--and books compiling.