… too late…
by Peter Hunter
'A peculiar, almost supernatural repetition of Toby Archer occurred frequently through the centuries, always in the middle of happenings vital to our national life, from 1415 to 2016, when World War Three could suddenly start.
With Peter Hunter's uncanny knack for writing things that, in a few years become facts, we should perhaps be very worried…'
* * *
… Was I really looking at a face that died violently 596 years ago - on St Crispin's day 1415? A French lance piercing his chest minutes before, desperate with the pain of it, he killed the chevalier who almost certainly would have done for his king, Henry V - and probably changed the history of the world.
A change of events, possibly, that would prevent me being here today?
The two-wheeled wooden cart creaked and bounced along the rutted track across the water meadow, following the course of the mud-stained river. Tired oxen both straining forward, stumbling, breathing heavily with their thick wooden yoke joining them between shoulders and neck - their snorting nostrils, plumes of condensation adding to the already swirling mist as they struggled to pull the wood-slatted cart beside the swollen river Stour - from the watermill just upstream at Stour Minster to the tiny hamlet of Hammoon.
I was not so stupid as to realise that perhaps my mind was merely playing tricks…
Stirring up an imaginative cocktail of the thoughts already budding in my receptive brain, working on what the vicar had told us in the hamlet's tiny church earlier in the day. Today was also the date prior to a new moon, dark and atmospheric… Legend was that on this very day, St Crispin's Day, each year the apparition would reappear - but with that almost ideal setting… of the brooding river mist, the scudding low cloud and whatever thoughts were already somehow… implanted in my mind…a dream, some fantasy or reality - I could not really be certain.
All perhaps conspiring to expand my psyche with the vision I viewed before me… or thought I was seeing.
Was it… was it really Tobias Archer ahead of me? That ghostly apparition folk-law claimed, and I had not… at least until now, believed.
Was what I witnessed really a ghost… or merely some distortion of the swirling white threads of twilight mist - combining and refining my own over fertile imagination - all stimulated by that local legend?
Meeting my wife Helena later that evening at the Fox Inn in the nearby village of Ansty, we discussed what I had, or thought I had, experienced earlier. We both agreed that there must have been a heady atmosphere by the river and it also had been a very strange sort of day. Earlier - in the morning we had both visited the same tiny hamlet of Hammoon, only four hundred yards from where I had seen, or thought I had seen, the apparition - to meet Reverend Nigel Hawkins, the vicar responsible for spiritual leadership in a number of the local villages around Sturminster Newton including, of course, Hammoon.
We had arranged to meet Reverend Hawkins in order to see the inside of the tiny church, which was locked, normally secured by an outer steel mesh door - unlike in bygone years when such buildings were left unsecured as a place of safety, somewhere to find peace and rest, in order to contemplate and worship…sometimes sanctuary…
The church at Hammoon was seldom used these days, usually only once a month - and at all other times locked. Anyone wanting to view inside had to make an appointment with Reverend Hawkins - who was normally only too pleased to provide his services and speak with enthusiasm to visitors.
As the vicar unlocked the security grill covering the heavy oak door, we told him of our interest in the 'legend' of Tobias Archer - the story concerning the folk-law ghost predicted to re-appear, a few hours later on this evening of St Crispin's day. Hawkins showed no surprise or emotion, no sign that the subject was in any way strange to him. Instead he led us directly into a dark unlit corner on the right hand side of the building, behind the altar.
In the soft gloom of the unlit building, we struggled to read what he pointed to… a small, square, dark greyish sandstone plaque, obviously very old and part of the inside wall of the church.
On it was carved simply two words 'Tobias Archer' and two or three strange symbols - one a simple circular spiral of a single line - another symbol, a straight line intersected by short curves.
Above the stone slab was a very ancient longbow, its horn notched tips remaining, but devoid of anything else such as a leather thong handgrip. The wood was pale yellow on the inside of the slight curve and dark, almost brown, on the other. I knew enough to recognise it as being made of yew.
'… Tobias's bow…' as if the vicar was reading our thoughts '… brought home from Agincourt…'
We sat, quietly, hushed and subdued, on one of the pews - and Helena, having asked Reverend Hawkins for his permission to intrude on the peaceful sanctity of the place, poured all three of us some coffee from a flask as we listened, fascinated by what he had to say.
'Legend has it that behind this plaque lies the preserved heart of a medieval yeoman from this parish, Tobias Archer, who saved the life of Henry V at the battle of Agincourt. The heart, preserved in a jar of brine, was brought back to Hammoon from France by Archer's friend, the villein Tom Turner, the second of the two archers from the hamlet who travelled to France as part of Henry's army.'
'The symbols on the stone are from the ancient Wicca religion, practised in these parts for thousands of years - and still is in a few places…'
We did not interrupt Reverend Hawkins, listening to him retell the legend as he, and many of the hamlet, believed it.
As we walked back to our car, Helena asked; 'did you notice the small tattoo on the vicar's wrist… a small continuous circular spiral… identical to the one inscribed on the Tobias Archer plaque…?'
End of chapter
© Peter Hunter 2012
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