The story of an unknown man
This is a continuation of excepts from Harry Nicholson’s excellent book, Tom Fleck. –Jeff Guenther
Introduction: “Tom Fleck is partly a response to the flush of novels about Tudor royalty. I feel small connection with those great lords and their ladies; I sense more kinship with the lives of ordinary folk. So I’ve imagined the lives and adventures of unknown men and women, people without heraldry, people who left no marks of their passing except for the blood that flows in our veins.” –Harry Nicholson
More Fragments of Tom’s world:
Tom is with his father, about to dig into a burial mound on the Cleveland Hills:
They waited for a day of drizzling low cloud when they could dig the mound in secret. Clear weather would paint them like standing stones against the skyline. Francis sat on a rock in the clinging mist and, grey-faced, stared at the burial mound. His eyes closed, and his face softened. Not for the first time, Tom watched his father fall into a trance.
The Inn at Northallerton:
The merchant gave a slight cough and, spreading his hands, asked, ‘Now, young man, are you going to show me what you have brought from Cleveland today?’
Tom fumbled as he untied the leather bag from his belt. He drew out a coil of braided wire rope and, skin prickling, placed it before the Jew. It gleamed with a dull golden light.
Isaac’s eyes widened. ‘Ah yes! It is as though your father had come. Something rare from the northern hills of long ago.’ He took it up and unrolled it on the table. It formed a straight, slender rope of woven gold about ten inches long.
‘David’s temple!’ he breathed out. ‘This once adorned chieftains! Look here and here,’ he whispered. With a trembling finger he pointed at the ends of the rope. ‘See these delicate dragon heads? Such workmanship! You bring an object more rare than anything your father offered. How did it make its way to you?’
The room downstairs still heaved with shepherds and drovers. By the window, a group of men shouted and cursed at dice clattering across a table while two lurchers snarled at each other beneath. The door to the street was wide open, and a swaying man with a bloodied face supported himself against the frame. Above the din, the fiddler played on, ignored, save for a weedy man who aped every movement of his bow arm. Tom stepped quickly through the beer-soaked sawdust. He tried to squeeze through the doorway at the same time as the innkeeper ejected a troublemaker.
He is tested on the Scottish border:
‘Form into a column fifty men wide,’ a breast-plated marshal shouted above the chanting of the priest. ‘Stay to this side of the beck. Follow Cuthbert’s banner.’
An hour later:
‘String bows! String bows! Ready quivers!’ Captain Jackson moved among his company.
On every side men worked fast with hardened fingers. Tom fumbled and swore at his trembling hands as he strung the bow. His heart raced and he tasted bile. Meg whined again. He grasped his bowstring and pulled on it a few times. He checked, yet again, the sheaves of arrows at his waist; yes, he could reach them and the flights had kept dry enough – for the moment. He pulled at the bone finger guards on his bowstring hand: might they be too tight? Were the grooves in the right place? He pulled at them with his teeth. Next, he fiddled with the leather sleeve that protected his left arm from the whip of the bowstring. Shit! Bloody hell. Dad, I’m shaking – tak howld! Tak howld! He coughed and spat out phlegm. Men around him knelt on their right knees and made the sign of the cross. Squalls of cold rain continued to thrash the left sides of their faces . . .
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Harry Nicholson grew up in Hartlepool, County Durham, England, from where his family have fished since the 16th C. His first career was as radio officer in the merchant navy, followed by television studio work. Since retirement, he has devoted himself to art, poetry and the teaching of meditation.