Portchester, South Coast of England, 1213

Stephen opened the door.

‘I will die in this room,’ he thought with a gathering sense of dread. ‘My body will be carried out of here.’

He had delivered himself up into the King’s hands. It would be a long restless night waiting to see if anyone would commit his murder. Stephen contemplated escaping but he could not; his lot was to wait and see if he was to die or not. What had John determined for him? Did it all rest on the King having a bad day or a good one? The future of Stephen’s existence now had the same level of predictability as tossing a coin; which way up would it land?

He had retired early for the night leaving everyone else feasting and drinking. His room, which was high up in the tower was sparsely furnished with a wide bed, a desk, a table and three chairs. The door possessed a loose wooden latch but no wooden beam to prevent entry. He took the precaution of burning only a solitary candle. He kept the others for later when they might be required.

Stephen sat in the most comfortable chair facing the door. He viewed his surroundings; it felt like a coffin. The papal representative Sub Deacon Pandulph was quartered in the next room but Stephen had little idea of where anyone else was located. A series of thoughts went through his mind inspired by John’s unpredictability. Calling him “Thomas” did not auger well and had succeeded in its purpose of getting under his skin.

He closed his eyes and at once was conscious of every creak of the wooden floor. There were far more creaks and groans from the floor planks than he would ever have imagined, ranging in volume and being of different duration. With every noise he felt agitated. Then, there was a pause in the restless sounds but this gave him no respite as within a few moments he imagined the knights bursting in on Thomas Beckett. At least Beckett had been slain gloriously at prayer in Canterbury Cathedral. Death in an upper room of a castle by contrast, would be a rather inglorious ending.

He considered barricading the door with the desk, but if John wanted to kill him, the slaying would not be stopped, just delayed. There was no other exit to flee from. It occurred to him that John might be wondering what he would do to secure the door. Would John send someone in on some pretext, to discover if he had attempted to block the door? John would be able to have a really good laugh if he was told, “the Archbishop is so terrified, he has blockaded himself in.”

He resolved to leave the door unobstructed so that anyone might lift the latch and enter. The bed was situated next to the entrance and he chose not to lie on it. An intruder could be on you, while you were still asleep, not that it was likely that he would sleep. Every time he shut his eyes he just saw another rerun of the slaughter of Beckett accompanied by King John’s commentary on the fatal blow. It was far worse now since John was not just in his imaginings, he was a living threat a few floors below in flesh and blood.

He rested in the chair and watched the door. Stephen reasoned that nothing would happen until the eating and drinking in the great hall had ceased. So he waited, sometimes getting up and pacing around the room. He thought of Elowise and young Stephen in the safety of Lincolnshire; perhaps he had already seen them for the last time. If anything did happened to him, Simon would make sure they were looked after. He thought of Elias and what a sensible and talented young man he was, very easy to be proud of. After a while it was quiet, he could hear no more noise.

He lit a second candle from the first and positioned both of them behind him so as to cast light towards the doorway. He wanted to see the faces of any intruders and crucially if they carried weapons. With the light from behind him he would be able to see figures clearly, but his own face would be shrouded in darkness. The candles cast two long shadows of him across the floor, stretching towards the door in a V shape. Stephen thought how appropriate the two shadows were; inside he was really two people, one a pragmatist, the other a man of justice who could not compromise. These two people did not always get on with each other and both of them were him.

At an hour past midnight he heard the latch gently lift. Was this the start of his last brief minute in this world? The intruder didn’t loudly burst in, which he thought was certainly good. They were creeping silently in, which equally, he thought was certainly bad. With the latch released, the door slowly swung into the room, but when only half opened it stopped. Stephen reasoned that this was due to the person encountering the unexpected light. He could feel his forehead becoming cold with sweat. He wanted to swallow but for some reason thought that he shouldn’t in case it was audible. Now the visitor advanced into the room. He would see if they possessed a weapon or not. He was poised to jump on them but he really didn’t know if he should do that or not. Just what are you supposed to do when someone stronger comes to kill you?

A figure emerged from around the concealing door. He looked at the hands, they were empty but a weapon might be concealed or perhaps the intention was to smother him. This was not as he had envisaged, even in the half-light it was clearly visible that the intruder was a woman in a nightgown. His mind raced through many possibilities; a woman sent to kill him, or he was being tricked into killing a woman; perhaps a prostitute or this might be some sort of weird love gift from the king. Whatever her purpose, she might not be alone, others could be about to burst in.

In the candlelight Stephen could see that her face was anxious.

‘What do you want?’ Stephen asked quietly.

‘Nothing,’ the woman replied quickly, seemingly frozen to the spot. Her feet were naked. She did not make for the exit so it was clear she was not intent on leaving; her objectives whatever they were remained unfulfilled.

‘Why have they sent you?’ Stephen asked. He was conscious of hearing his own voice in a very detached way as if someone else was speaking on his behalf.

‘I don’t know,’ said the woman and she began to visibly shake.

Stephen was unwilling to take the risk of trying to reassure her. She seemed like a pawn in a game of chess but the next move might be more aggressive by a more powerful piece and it was difficult to predict.

‘Leave,’ said Stephen sharply, without feeling the need to know what her instructions actually were. As the immediate danger seemed to lessen, the chilling uncertainty increased.

‘I can’t,’ said the woman raising her hands to the side of her face as if overwhelmed with horror.

‘Then sit down on the bed,’ Stephen commanded her.

The woman seemed glad to obey. She flopped down on the bed with her shoulders sagging. Seeing how little threat she herself posed Stephen suspected he was being lulled into carelessness and others lurked outside ready to burst in. Were they to be killed together? The discrediting tale could be; Archbishop found dead in bed with unknown woman.

Stephen rose up and took one of the candles. He moved until he was standing almost square in front of her, but a little away from the partly opened door and just out of reach of a potential knife thrust from the woman. He held the candle between himself and the doorway. He was aware that his right hand supporting the candle was trembling which caused the light to shudder. It seemed important to hope the woman wouldn’t notice this insecurity.

‘Tell me what they instructed you to do to me,’ Stephen ordered her in a quiet but rough voice.

The woman managed to compose herself. She spoke to him but her eyes looked up at the corner of the room.

‘They ordered me to bite your neck, bite it hard,’ she replied in a distracted manner.

She paused. Stephen thought this was so bizarre it might well be true. She now turned her eyes back to him.

‘I was supposed to get out quickly. Now what can I do? I was told you would be asleep. You’re not going to let me bite you, are you?’

‘Stay there,’ Stephen instructed. He now took the supreme risk; he seized the door and thrust his head beyond it into the corridor. Momentarily he waited for the fatal blow to land. No blade struck him from front or from the rear. All was still and all was dark. He moved back into the room where the woman had not moved from his bed and shut the door.

‘Do you know who I am?’ he asked her.

‘You’re the Archbishop, aren’t you? How am I supposed to know?’ she replied, slapping the bed in frustration with her arm. ‘Why is this happening to me, I’m not an evil girl?’

Stephen ignored her query.

‘Ah, I think I know what has happened,’ he said. ‘Let’s try and solve this together.’

He talked to the woman for a while and then parting company, she left the room with his neck still unpierced by her teeth.

A few minutes after her silent departure, the night time peace of the castle was shattered by a man screaming out in agony. Almost immediately there were loud guffaws of laughter from the floor below. A door slammed and someone light footed could be heard running swiftly away. This was quickly followed by a door being flung open again and the sound of a man continually shrieking filled the air. The whole castle must have heard the commotion. The distressed man was shouting words too but it was impossible to understand what he was crying out.

A gang of men came noisily rushing up the stairway bringing candle light with them. They were perhaps the same company who had howled with laughter so heartily moments before. Now the men appeared shocked at the unexpected scenario. Several called out one after another,

‘What’s going on?’ ‘What’s happened?’

It was evident from their rapid response that they must all have got dressed very quickly to arrive so promptly. They even had their boots on. When they reached the agonised man he at first shouted all the more in his native Italian, holding his wounded neck with blood seeping through his fingers. Then the sub deacon spoke so that they could understand, exclaiming that a mad person had bitten him. ‘Imbecile!’ he kept proclaiming between grimacing and his loud penetrating wails. This was followed by a great deal of noise and shouting from almost everyone. The papal sub-deacon was certain that he was dying. Then he said something about telling the Pope of this outrage, which did at least suggest he thought there was a chance he might survive the crisis and live a little while longer.

One voice demanded several times: ‘How did she get into the wrong room?’

After about ten minutes of commotion, the group left accompanied by the sub deacon still expressing his fury to them. The last audible words of the angry group related to someone called Ralph being blamed, despite his earnest denials. His protests were brushed aside on the grounds that he had been drinking too much.

Stephen felt bad about convincing the woman that the Archbishop was in the next room. He now rested on the bed for the first time. He alternated between feeling guilty and sniggering at the plight of the papal official. It was strange how at one moment you can think you are about to die and the next you are being kept awake by your own guilty laughter. Was any of this real? With a mixture of relief and mirth he unexpectedly fell heavily asleep.

In the neighbouring room the sub deacon with his wound now washed, nursed his painful neck within his well barricaded room. No one tested his worthy defences but despite this he remained awake for the rest of the night. Pandulph was no longer enjoying the green beauty of England; if he was to die he wanted to die in his own country amongst his own civilised people not amongst these uncivilised English cannibals. He didn’t wake up the next day; he had no opportunity to for he had not been asleep. Stephen, however, did wake up, quickly alert and slightly surprised to find himself still among the living. He confirmed to his own satisfaction that he was still breathing, he was alive after all. It was an incentive to live each day as if it was his last. He felt that he had looked death in the face and not blinked. He was not leaving the room as a corpse. He opened the door and walked through the doorway into the rest of his life.

Below in the great hall, Pandulf talked effusively about the incident to anyone who possessed ears. Immediately after the event he had not known if his attacker had been male or female, now he declared it was a big woman whose ugly face he would recognise anywhere. He kept asserting that this woman had come into his room at dead of night and he had fought her off. Eventually he elaborated further, that she had come to rob him and that a considerable sum of his money was now missing. It would need to be replaced.

People listened to the progressively embellished story with decreasing sympathy. Once they were away from Pandulph there was a great deal of jollity about the tale and many inappropriate comments. One man claimed he himself was cursed with a terrible problem of beautiful women breaking into his room every night, no matter how he tried to stop them. Another said that the girl had gone into the room to be intimate with Pandulph because he was famous; but seeing how plump he was, she changed her mind and decided to eat him instead. Clearly he didn’t taste good either because one bite was more than enough. Another said, if he didn’t like our traditional English welcomes, he should go back to Italy where he belonged. The sub deacon’s misfortune created an air of merriment throughout the whole company.

Once everyone had eaten an unusually boisterous breakfast, the castle proceeded to gouge out its occupants. The King led the procession accompanied by the sub deacon who seemed determined to relate the fullest extent of the event all the way to Winchester. Behind them were Faulkes de Beaute and William Marshall who was the most famous knight in Europe and generally known simply as the Marshall. The Marshall organised the King’s army especially managing the provision of horses. The Marshall had served King Richard well and been made Earl of Pembroke. He was now over sixty years old but still cut an impressive figure with a swathe of long grey hair. His relationship with John had been through some difficult times. He didn’t like John but he was a royal official and everything he had had been acquired under the Angevin kings, Richard and John.

The King’s men and the Marshall’s men amounted to about sixty retainers. They were followed by the Archbishop now accompanied by two bishops who had arrived late the previous night; the Bishop of London and the Bishop of Lincoln. With the impressive horsemen in front, Stephen felt very inferior accompanied by a single bishop on each side. It was like being a captive on display, exhibited by a conquering general. Behind them came all manner of people, cooks, bakers, bed carriers, servants, carpenters and camp followers. They headed north climbing up Portsdown Hill at an angle, with a panoramic view of the sea and islands spreading out behind them.

As they neared the summit, the King being at the front of the column, could see a group of horsemen approaching from the east along the top of the hill and a second smaller group, more distant coming from the west. As the procession reached the brow of the hill the nearer of the two groups of horsemen was not far distant. The horsemen raised the red and yellow banner of Robert FitzWalter, broke into a gallop and then pulled up sharply in front of the king which produced a cloud of pale dust. They all dismounted and bowed.

‘My lord,’ said FitzWalter, with an exaggerated flourish of bodily movements.

John could not bring himself to look down on FitzWalter. He seethed with anger but he knew he would have to bide his time. The baron was able to appear before him because he travelled under John’s own sheep skin letter of safety. The awkward silence lasted so long that Pandulf’s sticky grin which had suddenly reappeared, vanished almost as quickly as it had reasserted itself.

‘My Lord FitzWalter, fall in behind the king,’ the voice of the Marshall instructed ending the standoff.

‘Gladly, my Lord Marshall,’ FitzWalter declared rather too grandly.

He and his men mounted and the king’s column started moving forward again. However, FitzWalter did not fall in behind the Marshall and Faulkes de Beaute, instead he waited until Archbishop Stephen was level with him.

‘My Lord Archbishop, the eyes of the whole country sparkle with joy at your homecoming,’ he shouted as if he wanted this to be heard all the way to France. ‘I cannot come between you and my lord, the king so recently reconciled. I will be content to fall in behind you, the humble servant of you both.’

‘You are welcome my lord FitzWalter,’ Stephen replied, trying not to betray a laugh.

With that FitzWalter fell in behind the Archbishop. They had hardly been moving two more minutes when the more distant group arrived from the west. The group consisted of Giles, Bishop of Hereford, Henry de Bohun the Earl of Hereford and William Mallet the Sheriff of Somerset. The same procedure of stopping, dismounting and bowing was followed by the two barons but the bishop remained steadfastly on his horse. He glared at the king who failed to meet his gaze. Instead John kept his head motionless with his eyes fixed forward. Giles was the son of Maud de Braose, the outspoken woman starved to death by John. Giles continued to look upon the murderer of his mother and elder brother. He said not a word and neither did the king. They were as silent as the two corpses that had been sealed up in the tower.

‘Fall in behind,’ the Marshall instructed once more. The new group now took their place behind the Archbishop.

This was not the last interruption. After a mile or two Geoffrey de Mandeville could be seen with a dozen knights approaching from the front. At this latest arrival John could not contain his fury.

‘Don’t stop,’ he instructed the Marshall and Faulkes. ‘This is not mere chance. They have planned this to make me look small.’

Geoffrey and his men were in the process of dismounting but the King failed to acknowledge them and increasing his speed, he just rode on past him as if he wasn’t there.

‘Fall in behind the king,’ the Marshall demanded knowing full well this wouldn’t happen.

Geoffrey remounted and joined his father in law, Robert FitzWalter in riding behind the Archbishop.

The next contingent was led by de Clare, the Earl of Hereford. John did at least stop for him, spoke to him and received his bow. The latest arrival meant there were more armed men following the Archbishop than the King. John’s mood grew darker and darker whilst Stephen’s mood became more and more buoyant as his approach to Winchester turned into a triumphant procession.

John sent a rider ahead for the Bishop of Winchester, a loyal supporter to come and meet him with as many men as possible. A few miles from Winchester the bishop duly arrived with some armed men but also a hastily assembled rabble of servants and labourers. This caused a lot of laughter from the riders behind Stephen, but not from John. Things then got even worse when the Earl of Winchester, a close relative of FitzWalter, arrived with an impressive group of armed men.

‘My Lord, welcome to Winchester,’ the Earl declared.

By now John was so furious he could hardly speak.

‘We thank you,’ he managed at last.

With the final rendezvous accomplished the column proceeded to the city. As they approached the city gates crowds stood outside and respectfully bowed. John suspected that they were not there to welcome him but to celebrate the homecoming of their Archbishop Stephen.

With so many men present, accommodation at the castle was overwhelmed and many tents were erected in the castle grounds. While John was staying with Peter de Roches the Bishop of Winchester, many of his men had pitched their tents at the castle. It was a clear warm summer night and much of it was given over to eating and drinking. FitzWalter at last had his much desired hog roast provided by his cousin, the Earl of Winchester. As they sat outside drinking FitzWalter saw the Marshall in the distance.

‘Stephen, Stephen, have you seen the Marshall off his horse? Without pausing for a reply he continued: ‘It is a sight to jiggle the eyes. He’s not used to being out of the saddle. By no means a creature of the earth! See how he ambles around.’

FitzWalter now sprang to his feet and started waddling forward wide legged and swaying from side to side, as if a horse was still between his legs. This occasioned much laughter from his men.

Stephen looked over to the Marshall; it was true he had become rather bow legged. FitzWalter turned and waddled back to them. A cheer went up from his followers.

‘What a life the Marshall has had, Stephen. Most feared knight in jousts. All the fools who dared to go against him in jousting tournaments; he dumped them right on their backs. Then, when he gets too old for that, he marries a seventeen year old, but he still thinks he’s in a joust. He dumps her on her back and before she can take a breath she’s given birth to a dozen of his squealing children. Now if you see her, she walks in exactly the same way as him! Little wonder she’s not as nimble as she used to be.’

Once again FitzWalter set off on a waddle to raucous laughter from his hearers. He turned and waddled back.

‘Stephen, you should see them together; they’ve grown so alike as only a man and wife can. You really can’t tell them apart.’

With that he began to pull up Geoffrey his son in law.

‘Come on Geoffrey, you’ll have to be the wife. You’re far to pretty to be the Marshall.’

‘You promised we wouldn’t do this again,’ said Geoffrey, offering up little resistance.

The two of them proceeded to waddle up and down, side by side while everyone laughed. The rumpus attracted the attention of other groups and the Marshall glanced over.

‘They don’t walk like that,’ said Stephen breaking his silence at last.

‘Oh yes they do! Have you seen them together?’ asked FitzWalter.

‘No,’ replied Stephen.

‘Then how could you possibly know,’ FitzWalter declared, laughing all the more. ‘The trouble with the Marshall is that he wants to be both sides of the fence. That’s the real reason he walks like that. In private he’ll lean one way and say we mustn’t let John pick us off one by one. Then he’ll shift his weight on to his other leg and attending John he’ll be all cream and buttercups.’

‘He’s a brilliant strategist,’ said Stephen, ‘very clever.’

‘Like the wind, you never know which direction he’s going to be blowing from tomorrow,’ FitzWalter replied- ‘I don’t trust him.’

‘He’s a great knight, I wouldn’t like to be up against him,’ said Stephen.

‘You could bring him down wielding a club Stephen! He’s not the man he used to be. You’ll see how this will all work out, the Marshall will look after the Marshall first and probably the Marshall second. He has one foot firmly planted each side of the fence. One day he’s with the king, the next against and equally passionate on both days.’

FitzWalter now drew closer to Stephen and dropped his voice.

‘I’m worried about Geoffrey. Since my daughter Matilda’s death he doesn’t look after himself. He doesn’t care about anything. I still cry about her but not every night. He cries at night and in the daytime he does it all the more. Life has to go on. I have other children to think of, but with Geoffrey it is as if he died when she died. I said to him, do what everyone else does- marry another girl quickly, I won’t be offended, you’ll have my blessing- but he won’t. He’s as stiff as a corpse.’

Stephen put his arm on FitzWalter’s shoulder and looked him in the eyes, ‘I’ll do what I can Robert.’

‘I know you will Stephen, at least this trouble with John gets him up out of his chair and forces him to do something.’

Both men now saw the Marshall advancing towards them and Stephen thought to himself, I mustn’t laugh. However, he soon realised everyone else was thinking just the same about the Marshall’s duck like walk and some were sniggering. The Marshall reached them and greeted Stephen with a bow and then nodded to Robert.

‘Tomorrow, all this difficulty with the king will be behind us,’ said the Marshall. ‘It’s all gone on far too long. At least the King has seen sense at last.’

‘We can but hope for a better future,’ said Stephen.

‘We’ll drink to that,’ said Robert handing the Marshall a goblet and he proposed a toast: ‘To the restoration of peace and the rebuilding of castles!’

The Marshall glared at Robert but he did drink to the toast. The Marshall stayed and talked. It was obvious that although FitzWalter and the Marshall had a grudging respect for each other as powerful men, neither was entirely happy being associated with the other. The hours passed in good humour until men began to drift away to where they would settle for the night. Some, like Stephen, would have a comfortable bed in the castle, while others would sleep on the ground in a tent. How different from the previous night; Stephen had no fear of dying and he slept the entire night.

The next morning the Cathedral was crowded full of people standing; there was an excited buzz of expectation in the air. At the north door of the Cathedral Stephen and five bishops waited for the arrival of the King. He arrived accompanied only by Pandulph and William Marshall and, as previously agreed; he knelt down at the bishops’ feet. He seemed to be profusely weeping with an anguished face.

‘Have mercy upon us and our kingdom!’ he cried.

Stephen and the other bishops lifted him to his feet and led him into the Cathedral; all eyes upon them. The Cathedral itself was a dazzling site. It was not just tall and extremely long but a riot of colour with gold, silver, gems and a mass of colourful paintings of every shade on the walls. The Cathedral was celebrating the feast of their local saint, Saint Swithan, so there were flowers, candles, and banners. The sun shone brightly through the stained glass windows casting colour wherever the light fell.

The Bishops followed by the King, Pandulph and the Marshall moved to the chapter house and sang the fiftieth psalm:

‘What authority have you to recite my laws, or take my covenant to your lips?

You hate my teaching and cast my words aside.

When you see a thief you join with him, you throw in your lot with adulterers.

Your mouth is full of evil and you tongue devoted to deceive.

But I will now rebuke you and accuse you to your face.’

Having sung the psalm they returned to the main body of the cathedral. The king, now without his supporters beside him, knelt down and placing his hands upon Holy Scriptures vowed to defend the church, to repeal evil laws, to revive good laws and to provide justice through the courts. He promised to restore property seized from the church.

Stephen now absolved him from excommunication. England was still under an interdict, but John, the king, alone among the people of England was right with the church and God. It had all proceeded with wonderful smoothness. Stephen announced that the King of England, now being absolved and communicate with the church would receive the bread, the body of Christ.

Pandulph, who had stood to the side, was now positioned next to his fellow papal sub-deacon, Simon Langton. He now rushed forward to Stephen and motioned to the congregation a stop signal with his right hand. He spoke to Stephen in Italian and Stephen replied in the same language.

‘Archbishop Stephen I forbid you to do this! The Pope has not agreed to this. The interdict is not lifted, only the king is absolved! He is forbidden to have the bread.’

‘How dare you interrupt me?’ Stephen snapped at him with indignation. ‘Withdraw Sub-Deacon Pandulpho Masca, you have no authority here!’

‘I represent the Pope, the negotiations with the king are not concluded, the interdict is not lifted, and you Archbishop are exceeding your authority!’

Seeing this argument developing but not understanding Italian, the King rose to his feet and motioned the Bishop of Winchester Peter de Roches to come to him.

‘What do I do?’ whispered the king. What is Langton playing at?’

‘I don’t know my Lord,’ replied de Roches, I had no inkling he was going to do this.’

The whispering was drowned out by the rising voices of Langton and Pandulph.

‘The interdict remains just so you can impose a poll tax on these poor people,’ declared Langton angrily. ‘A penny, every year, exacted from every household, rich or poor to be shipped to Rome. You intend to fill your wide hat to the brim with coins until it overflows. When we sang about one thief joining another we were singing about you Pandulpho! Stand aside or I’ll have you thrown out!’

Looking on as everyone else was, de Roches said to the king, ‘I will have to assist him, he is the archbishop, but my lord you do not have to take the bread.’

‘If I don’t take it I will look stupid and condemned by the church, if I do take it then it makes it look as if I’m supporting Langton.’

‘The Pope will sort it out to your advantage my lord,’ said de Roches.

Pandulph’s voice could now be heard refusing to be intimidated by Stephen.

‘It is Peters Pence that is due to the Pope,’ he protested shrilly.

‘And that has hardly ever been collected and it won’t happen now. The King sits one side of the cow grasping two udders and now you sit the other tugging at the other two. The cow is almost milked dry but the drier it gets the more you tug and order the poor beast to stand still. When the cow struggles to break free you blame the animal. You are full of greed!’

‘The Pope shall hear this,’ threatened Pandulph.

‘No doubt,’ replied Stephen, ‘I’ve saved you the trouble of inventing stories. Now look at the faces of these men; do you know which one bit you? Now stand down or they’ll have the rest of your overfed neck!’

Pandulph’s face now turned as bright red as his neck. His anger was so fierce that his swollen red wound was absorbed into the redness of his face.

‘By the relics of St Peter, I will have removed from Canterbury,’ Pandulph retaliated.

‘In which case you will cause civil war; I can’t see the Pope listening to you. I will have you removed from England!’ Stephen retorted.

Pandulph managed to sneer in response.

At the rear of the church Christa stood in the back row. Although clergy nearly always had wives, they had to be discreet about being seen with them, so she was unable to stand with Simon. In Winchester it was common for sons to succeed to their father’s churches even though they were technically illegitimate. So unable to be with Simon, Christa stood with a more plainly attired woman who had travelled with the King’s party.

‘I know the Archbishop,’ the woman said to Christa, ‘He’s a very kind man.’

‘I’ve heard that as well,’ said Christa intrigued by this revelation. ‘How do you know him?’

‘Well, I don’t really know him, I just met him the once recently. He helped me out of a really, really difficult situation with some really good advice. I received a few sharp words from someone but I escaped a beating.

‘That’s good then,’ said Christa rather surprised and wondering what the detail might be.’

‘They’re very loud what are they talking about?’ asked the woman.

‘I think it’s just men’s talk.’

‘They don’t usually shout like this,’ said the other woman.

‘I think the Pope’s man is saying how glad he is Archbishop Stephen is back in England, said Christa- He looks very emotional about it. He’s clearly delighted and has now moved aside to be with another man. I think that might be the Archbishop’s brother Simon.’

The humiliated Pandulph was indeed back standing next to Simon Langton who smiled broadly at him.

‘I didn’t quite catch all of that,’ said Simon. ‘You did better than most people with him. He completely wipes the floor with most people apart from me.’

Pandulph scowled.

At that moment Stephen spoke up in English,

‘Papal Sub-Deacon Pandulph has just welcomed the King back into the church.’

Stephen looked towards the sub deacon and began to clap loudly, his hands ascending heavenwards with every clap. The whole cathedral began to ring with applause. Pandulph, disconcerted by everyone looking at him, began to nod to the congregation and eventually he waved a few half-hearted waves until the applause ceased.

The penitent but absolved king knelt again and the mass was celebrated. John duly received the bread from the hand of Stephen the archbishop under the glaring eye of the papal representative. Robert FitzWalter and the rest of the barons could not receive the bread; the country was still under interdict.

The barons were split in their loyalties; the church was split among the bishops and between England and Rome. John had worked to divide his enemies and he had succeeded admirably. Only John and his paid mercenaries were fully united. John had a coherent plan of action for the future and he was ready to put it into effect. His success would make him the greatest king that England had ever seen.


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