Book Two in The Hacker Chronicles series
Publication date: December 2020
THE SECOND DAY OF JULY in the year of our Lord, 1644, will be remembered long after my flesh is no more and my bones have been reduced to dust.
It is close to seven o’clock in the evening. It is a Saturday, a time when husbands should be at home with their families; when sons should be working with their fathers; on farms; in forges; anywhere but this cursed place: the moorlands of Marston, some eight miles outside the great city of York.
As torrential rain lashes the land and lightening illuminates the grey and foreboding sky, more than forty thousand men silently await their doom.
At this late hour, the armies of the King and Parliament are preparing to unleash themselves upon each other. They have been waiting for most of the day. Patiently; silently; nervously; eager not to show their hand too early, lest it gives the other side an unassailable advantage.
And the stench of their fear is overpowering.
Every man fears death before he marches into battle. Sometimes it is visible; sometimes, it is not. But it is there, seeping from every pore, just as surely as pus oozes from a corrupted, fetid wound.
At these times, nerves are tested and, as men, we discover who we are and what we stand for. As we prepare to meet our Maker, most of us realise glory is not what we seek; it has never been so. The simple preservation of life itself is what we wish for – and to be reunited with the ones we love.
Bravado cannot disguise the sense of powerlessness that grips a man's soul. On the battlefield, he has nowhere to run, no place to hide. The only available pathway will, in all likelihood, lead to his painful extinction – at a place where axes, swords and muskets bite into flesh and reap a rich harvest; at a place where all destinies are fulfilled.
In a bid to find inner peace, men like me kneel and pray; we sing psalms, hoping the Lord will accept our repentance and forgive us for a lifetime of sin. For others, it is a moment of torment and angst; of bleakness; it is a time of pleading to whoever will listen, begging to be spared.
Alas, nobody escapes the torture the final minutes bring, when the silence is deafening and when we have time to dwell on the many ills we have perpetrated in this vile civil war and our increasingly meaningless life. Long before the cries of “In God's name” or “For the King” strike up, shattering the peace and sending cold pulses racing down the spines of every man who still possesses a conscience.
Many are affected, their rank and social class meaningless at a time that makes all men equal.
Fear consumes almost every one of us. It doesn’t discriminate. Regardless of our breeding, we cannot control our bowels and bladders, so we soil our breeches where we stand. For men of war are meant to be humiliated when the rivers of blood start to flow over our rich and verdant lands.
In the gloom that shrouds this cursed place, brave, godly men fill the Royalist ranks and look down from the ridge on the massed ranks of the Parliamentarian army. They, like my comrades and I, are sodden, such has been the intensity of the deluge.
As I watch my foe through the narrow slits that are protecting my eyes from the lashing storm, I cannot understand how committed followers of Christ Jesus continue to pledge their fealty to a Sovereign who does not deserve their loyalty. A deceiver who believes his rule is by divine appointment. Prince Rupert of the Palatinate and the Earl of Newcastle, commanders of the Cavalier army, are also undeserving of the support they receive, for they are brutal, reckless and selfish men.
Our King has been in the ascendency since this damnable and bloody conflict started in August 1642. Parliament has lost many battles thus far. And men like me are deemed to be “rebels” because we choose to stand up to the tyrant and try to force him to rescind his Catholic ways, rule justly and accept the will of his people.
Edgehill, in the county of Warwickshire, is the one exception. We fought Charles here, bringing our massed army to this quiet, unassuming place. Unfortunately, we achieved naught, only a stalemate. On that bleak day, thousands died. There were no winners, only losers. Men went to their grave for no compelling reason.
And it has been the same ever thus.
Now allied forces, comprising soldiers loyal to Parliament, led by the Earl of Manchester and his deputy, Lieutenant-General Oliver Cromwell, and Scots soldiers from the Covenant army, sent south of the border under the command of the Earl of Leven, have an opportunity to deliver a telling blow against the King's northern regiments. These are the wily foxes that just twelve months ago decimated Fairfax's northern armies at Adwalton Moor. I remember our capitulation well; forty-nine of my best, most committed men died that fateful day.
Soon we will know whether Parliament has learned lessons from so many painful defeats: swords are being drawn from their scabbards, our many cannons are being loaded with grape shot; men are continuing to pray, and all around me the blood lust is rising.
And this damnable rain, that turns the firm ground into merciless, unyielding mud, continues to hammer down.
I look at myself; I am in a sore state. The realisation makes me laugh aloud and recall a memory from long ago about my old Latin tutor. Whenever he needed spiritual guidance or sought to draw strength from his Faith, Erasmus Woodbridge would quietly whisper to himself: “In deo speramus.”
It is an apt expression. Even though I know very little Latin, this is something I have remembered for more than twenty years. And it is so true. For who can we trust if it is not God?
Hell will be unleashed once the Parliamentarian army has filled its belly and the men of the York garrison, who have swelled our number, are given their battle orders. Their arrival takes the strength of the army to just under twenty-five thousand men.
We are more numerous than the enemy, and our fifty drakes and many mortars will wreak death and carnage when they are brought to bear on the foolhardy and arrogant King’s men. I am confident, for as the day grows longer the omens and conditions become more favourable.
For some reason, Rupert chose not to attack us when we were at our weakest: that was in the morn when we first arrived and our command lines had yet to be established, our men were hungry, and our armies were of equal strength. As the day has worn on, we have grown stronger and more confident by the hour, not least because reinforcements have continued to arrive and Cromwell has had us singing psalms most of the afternoon.
He knows only too well how these precious words always give us the lift we need before the fighting starts.
It is now seven-thirty in the evening, and the Royalists are in the midst of retiring when the slaughter begins. They are surprised and unprepared for what is to come.
Leading the fight for Parliament is Cromwell. His Ironsides slice through the King’s men, like water bursting through a dam. Such is the ferocity of the Lieutenant-General’s perfectly timed charge, and the courage displayed by the infantry on the left, that Prince Rupert’s finest men are powerless to resist our violent advance. They buckle. And that is all the encouragement we need.
The sound of the death rattle is everywhere. The steel of thousands of sabres flash in the gloom; gunpowder turns the air grey as muskets are fired indiscriminately; and men from both sides fall from their horses, their warm blood eagerly consumed by the ravenous Yorkshire meadowlands.
Death is stalking many a soul this evening, all because Charles, the tyrant King, refuses to yield to the will of his people.
In the thick of battle, as Cromwell’s force clashes with Lord Byron’s men, the Lieutenant General lurches to his side. Crimson flows from his neck; a well-aimed musket ball has left its painful mark this day.
“Drive them back,” he yells to whoever will listen, barely noticing the stinging sensation pulsing down the left side of his body and the blood that is now flowing freely onto his leather jerkin. “Send these curs to Hades. Show them whose side God is on.”
As Cromwell leaves the field to have his wound dressed, a huge cry goes up. His men are driving the enemy backwards, angered by the injury to their commander; their very own Alexander the Great. As the pressure intensifies, our foe struggles to keep their footholds in the mud; the spilt blood, intestines and guts of their comrades adding to their acute difficulties. And all the time, Parliament's forces press forward, a relentless, disciplined and unstoppable phalanx.
For many, it is too much. Facing overwhelming odds, hundreds of Byron’s troops surrender in the face of the onslaught.
I survey the wondrous scenes. Almost everywhere, it is a similar story: Parliament is winning the day.
As the battle reaches its conclusion, it is becoming evident the King’s army was grossly unprepared for the assault. Afterwards, we will learn that many troops had left their positions in a bid to find food to fill their ravenous bellies, believing hostilities would not commence until the following day, the Sabbath. Their underestimation of Parliament’s resolve is their fatal mistake.
It is surprising just how little the likes of Rupert and the Earl of Essex know us. They have been fighting our forces for the last two years – besting us on so many occasions. Surely they should know our armies are filled with thousands of God-fearing, zealous men who have no desire to draw blood on the Sabbath. Give them the chance to fight in the rain on a Saturday, albeit every inch of them will be soaked through to the skin, and they will take it gladly. For Sundays should always be a day of rest and prayer.
While Cromwell is being attended to by the field-surgeon, Prince Rupert’s famed squadrons of horse continue to be pressed in the centre of the Royalist formation.
In just over an hour, the fourteen thousand-strong Scottish covenanters, led by Lord Leven, have succeeded in bludgeoning their way through to the most famed troops in the King’s army. No quarter is given. Many of the Prince’s men die where they sit. They are hacked. They are mutilated. The Scots have a point to prove and a bounty to earn.
On the right flank of the allied line, Fairfax's men are engaged in a far more even struggle. It is only when he breaks free of the struggle and rides to Cromwell, alerting the newly stitched-up Lieutenant General to his plight, that the tide turns.
Cromwell quickly gains control of his men and, as a disciplined wedge, they plough into the foe, shattering the tenuous advantage the Royalists hold over Fairfax’s brave and steadfast men. Hundreds die as they come under sustained assault from Parliament’s most formidable fighting force. The sickening sound of swords and axes being hammered into flesh and bone can be heard all along the line, as can the screams of the dying. It doesn’t take long before the Cavaliers seek to take flight, the need for survival so much stronger than any other instinct.
And so the slaughter becomes a rout.
By thirty minutes past nine in the evening, with the skies continuing to emit tears of unbridled joy, the fighting is at an end and more than four thousand Royalists have been slain. A further two thousand enemy soldiers are held captive and all of the King's artillery is in the possession of Parliament.
The battle is over.The tide of the war is turning