Guy by Michale Fitzalan


Guy Michael Fitzalan and the Captain of the Guard – Chapter One, i, Getting the Sack, 4th November 1605

“Captain of the Guard,” cried a sentry, his voice echoing off the vaulted cellar ceiling.

The sound of footsteps filled the brief silence that the sentinel’s voice had created.

Even the rats scurrying about the dust searching for spiders stopped as his voice boomed, bouncing off the brickwork.

A stout soldier, with a grey beard, led a troop of four men each armed with a sword and carrying a pike. Therefor, his hand rested on his sword and it was clear that although beautifully polished, his breastplate was old.

He smiled benignly to the sentry on duty. 

On his head, he wore a helmet with a wool cap underneath to soften the feel of the metal and to keep his head and ears warm.

His legs were clad in grey wool hose; they looked strong and slender, like those of a young man. His girth showed a love of taverns, ale and food, food and ale and perhaps a little more food with the ale.

“Well, Tom, soldier of mine, any news this November night?” the captain asked warmly.

“I have none, only that I’d like to go home uncle, ‘tis cold and bitter.”

Replied the sentry shivering slightly, his teeth chattered almost imperceptibly.

These cellars were cold; but the Thames was almost frozen, chilling rather than warming the structures on the banks of the river.

Furthermore, the November evening had no cloud cover to trap any heat from the day and there was a bitter north wind blowing, cold and damp.

An uncomfortable atmosphere for those abed, more so for those abroad on such a night.

Remaining still in cold weather was not a comfortable experience particularly with the cold Thames running by and a chill wind blowing. He knew that he might have got as cold, anyway, in the market.

He knew, though, that on a stall, outside, he would have been moving about and working, piling crates and moving stock about, rummaging about around the place.

All he could do on guard duty was wriggle his toes and pace back and forth between the walls. Occasionally he put his pike against the wall and flapped his arms to get some feeling back into his frozen fingers. His gloves helped little.

“Hear men, he calls me uncle, there is not a better loved officer in the Palace of Westminster. I’ll wager, nor London itself. I would have been proud to serve with you all in the Low Countries had you been old enough. I’ve often told you.” Continued the captain. “I told you to wear your warmest clothing. November 4th 1605 promises to be the coldest night we have felt. I’ve felt a few in my time abroad; there was once….”

“Captain, good uncle, can I be relieved? I have been here a long time, my bladder is almost full and I need hot soup to bring life back to my cold bones.”

Tom whined, not caring that he was interrupting and revealing to all that he was not a man but a boy of fourteen.

“Be in good humour, Tom. You, Petigrew, your turn on duty at this door,” the Captain commanded using his voice of authority to end the matter.

“Why can’t it be Benjamin, isn’t it his turn to do it?” Petigrew asked petulantly. He stopped himself from stamping his foot in frustration but he could barely hide the resentment in his voice. He had, in his opinion, done more than his fair share of standing around.

Falsdart knew that Petigrew would not be mollified.

“All right, Ben, you take position,” the captain growled more sternly. Ben looked suitably horrified at the order.
“What about Jon? He hasn’t done guard duty all week, he was ill and you let him off,” whined Ben like a young child. He was young enough to have a strong sense of fairness, but not old enough to sound assertive.
“What say you?” asked the Captain of the Guard

“We all had to take on his duties when he had the plague,” Ben added for good measure.

“I did my fair share, I stood-in for you when you were ill, we all did, we had to do a fourth more work all week, thanks to you, what about Hal?” Jon complained.

“Hal, come up here this instant and take over guard,” cried the captain almost as loudly as he had been announced.

“Sir, captain, uncle, father of mine for I have none, have pity on me I have just recovered from the ague. My fever was such my mother poached an egg on my forehead.” pleaded Hal, he was sweating still; beads were on his upper lip and were breaking out beneath the helmet.

His face, even in the light of the sentries’ lanterns and the flaming torches on the walls, looked pale and pasty. His uniform looked too big for him, his tiny frame sticking out from under the breastplate; the gloves were far too big, suede gauntlets that made his arms look even thinner and more pathetic than they were.

“Very well, I love you like my sons and I am old enough to be your father, we are a family. Therefore, the oldest will do the duty, I have no lots to draw and that is the fairness of a family the eldest takes responsibility. Ben, tell me, when were you born?”

“The year of our lord fifteen-ninety-one,” he replied proudly.

“What day?”



“Dunno. All I know is that I’m fourteen and, come the New Year, I will be a year older.” he explained.

“I see; and the rest of you?”

The captain of the guard would not be diverted a second time.

“1592, spring,” Petigrew replied.

“Winter; it was the winter of 1591.” said Jon.

“Are you sure?” asked the captain.

Jon nodded but not convincingly.

“Summer, 1590, worst luck,” said Hal, sweating even more with the tension and the knowledge that the cold cellar was not the best place to recover with its stale air and smell of rat excrement, cat urine and dust.

“That’s settled my boys, let’s go a searching the cellar; come Tom, a march around these cellars will warm you up and make you less stiff.”

With that remark Corporal Falsdart marched ahead of his troop of teenagers, holding his lantern aloft, reassured by his resounding footsteps and the echoes of those formidably armed and well trained sentries as they tramped loudly behind him. The cellars were mainly deserted at night; it was a show of strength and a necessary precaution.

One day they might find an intruder and they lived in hope. The exchequer had deemed that boys should be used, it cost less but that did not mean that his guard would not be the best that it could be, he ensured they were drilled in using the pike and in swordsmanship. They practised marching and military craft as if they were real soldiers.

He was proud of his boys even if they were sick a lot. 

Even so, he had met and lost many a true friend on that adventure. He was also proud of his service and even more proud of his lineage, which stretched back to the Housecarls of King Harold Godwinson. His ancestor had been one of the King’s personal bodyguards and had tried to save Harold from arrows and swords.

They had been the Housecarls of old. These favoured men would die in order to save the King’s life.

They were the ancestors of the Beefeaters and of his small guard. Members of his family were still protecting the monarchy. He reckoned that they had been bodyguards since 1066.

That was five-hundred-and-thirty-nine-years of tradition, at least. 1605 was a year away from 1606, so he calculated that next year his family would have been guards for five hundred and forty years, if not more, a record he could be justly proud of and he was, all humility aside.

Deep in the bowels of the building, there was a lone night-watchman guarding barrels of sack. Guido had rolled the barrels around, as instructed, to keep the sediment moving; he upended a small firkin and sat on the face where the tap would go.

Using his mallet, he knocked the keystone in further so that it was flush with the barrel and provided a more comfortable seat. Sitting down on the small barrel, he could feel the cold stone of cellar floor through his shoes and his hose.

The chill of the cellar had penetrated his very bones. Wrapping his cloak around him, made him feel only slightly less cold.

He had, next to him, a hessian sack that had once held corn. The sack had been cut in half and each portion had been half-filled with spiles for the top of the barrel.

One bag carried identical-sized, soft wood cone-shaped pieces of wood, the other bag identical-sized, hard-wood, cylindrical pieces; soft spiles were used for serving, they were porous to allow any fermentation gases to escape.

The cellar-man’s art was the skill in knowing when to use a soft spile and when to use a hard spile. It was confusing for Guido.

The vintners and innkeepers treated the sherry like beer because it had sediment; the flor produced by the sherry formed a blanket over the liquid so such precautions were superfluous but they were not to know that.

Sherry was a virtually unknown drink in England, only available to the wealthiest.

Being a cellarman for such a large amount of Jerez sack was a huge responsibility. This was Jerez from the Sandeman family and therefore of finest quality. He felt the responsibility of guarding the shipment weigh heavily. Before he dozed off again, he heard the echo of footsteps approaching.

He knew the drill; he had been told what to do by that charming esquire. Thomas Percy: ‘Pretend to be John Johnson.

Let the soldiers roll the barrels to show it is indeed fine sack and then give them a drink from the jug and guard the barrels until they are collected’. They were simple instructions.

“Hail, keeper of the sack,” cried Captain Falsdart using his loudest and warmest voice while raising his sword hand in salute; his exaggerated annunciation bounced off the walls; he deliberately made his movements theatrical and if the room had not been full of barrels, his booming voice may well have echoed.

“Captain Falsdart, a welcome sight and sound,” replied Guido. He was happy not to attempt to match the volume of the other’s voice.

“John Johnson, alone in the dark, alas, alack,” replied Falsdart smiling, “poor keeper of the sack!”

“Would you care for a mug of sack to ward off the cold once you have checked the cellar old?” asked Guido, quite used to his pseudonym by now.

“By all means, bless you, kind sir, my boys and I would love a warming mug on our way back from patrol, thank you.”
Captain Falsdart gratefully accepted the offer; they had of course had some small beer for breakfast and a mug of ale at luncheon time but the warming effects of the alcohol had worn off.

However, a little extra drink would be a bonus, the alcohol would warm the blood and the bones; chase the chill from their cores.

“I would appreciate the company; this work wants for entertainment as surely your work does!” Guido acknowledged cheerily.

He was very lonely indeed; it was a long night without diversions. Thoughts of sleep and warmth preyed heavily on the mind.

The chill of the cellar insidiously crept over flesh and between cloth, seeping into blood and bone. Guido dismissed them as he busied himself with sloshing sherry into six small tankards.

“Fortune’s fickle wheel turns too slowly for the poor; our time is full of drudgery and pain; we must take comfort in each other’s company at every opportunity,” Falsdart concurred.

“Your health and you company,” Guido toasted.

“Indeed, we should, for our work is hard and dull, lacking any entertainment, providing only the satisfaction of a job well done,” Falsdart added.

“Well said, your Saxon ancestors furnished you with a keen mind!” Guido noted smiling; he knew the Captain of the Guard had a warm heart and a wise man’s outlook.

Derek Falsdart was a good man. Guido knew instinctively that he would make a loyal friend and one day Guido might tell him about Rosa if they were able to maintain the friendship that they had built up over the past few months.

“You are a kind man and good company, John” Falsdart replied.

For he knew Guido only as John Johnson and he liked the man. He was a man who had lived just like himself, an old soldier and survivor with no family to look after him in his dotage. They had talked enough to know that they had both suffered in the Lowlands conflicts.

“Patrol these precincts for a while longer.”

Guido suggested trying to keep any hint of a plea out of his voice.

“We will return, have no fear,” the captain assured him confidently, which assuaged Guido’s feeling of mounting loneliness.

He did not want them to leave, he basked in Falsdart’s warmth, marvelled at the open faces of the young men, watching and listening to the older men’s conversation.

Just in case they could pick up a quip or a quote to show others how clever they were.

As they left, with their lanterns carried aloft, the cellar became darker and seemed suddenly colder.

Guido wrapped himself in his cape and stamped his feet, desperately trying to get warm and waiting for his relief. Of all the jobs he had performed, night watchman was the most tiresome by far.

The boredom and the loneliness were almost too much to bear. The palace guard had become his only respite.

He was a man of action, moving stores, hauling ropes, manhandling barrels and boxes, moving cargo from hold to hard, from warehouse to yard. He had experience of tapping ales and wines, fortified and otherwise.

If you were not a master of one trade, you had to be Jack-of-all trades. Flexibility had kept him in work whether fighting or hefting, he survived.

He did not expect to prosper in these troubled times, few people looked beyond the day-to-day struggle. The monotony of sitting around did not suit his personality.

In the morning, he would sleep at his digs off Fleet Street. Then work the docks on the evening tide and, then, find some other work and another bride. He was too poor to keep his previous pride; he would take what work he could.

Perhaps his drinking friends from the pub would give him more commissions. He might be able to find an old spinster who would enjoy his company, and they could grow old in contented penury.

That would be his dream come true, he was very lonely, all alone. He would settle for maintaining his strength and being able to work for whatever wages that he could get.

At the moment, he had no choice but to work from day to day. His lonely job made him feel more vulnerable. Then he wondered whether it might be time to move up to the north and find his family as he had not found his fortune.

He had too much time to think and this thinking time made him wonder if he had left everything too late. He prayed for his relief, the hours dragged, the minutes passed slowly.

Guido said a decade of the rosary to occupy his mind and bring him from his physical discomfort to a spiritual plane, to move his mind from temporal to godly matters.

His relief would come when the King’s servants arrived early in the morning to roll the barrels into the room where King James would hold his reception.

Still, there, they would tap and soft spile the sherry so that it would undergo a secondary fermentation.

It would ferment again; and in a few hours any remaining sediment would be settled at the bottom of the barrel. The flor would have already risen up through the liquid and formed on the top.

All would be right for the reception by noon.

Even so, as an added precaution, the tapped sack would be poured through a muslin cloth to ensure total clarity and that none of the dregs made it into the glasses.

Real glass, Venetian, the best, would be used; the light would reflect off the stem and bowl in a rainbow.

“For this relief, I would, indeed, give much thanks,” he mumbled, echoing Rosa’s favourite phrase, “’tis cold and bitter!”

How he missed her. He stepped up onto the upturned barrel and tried to get comfortable on its round face, the opposite end of its circular base, drew his frozen feet up off the cold floor, furling his cloak around him, looking like the top of a candle snuffer, a cone shaped figure, then, he allowed himself to doze off.

He would be relieved to be enveloped in the arms of Morpheus; it would extinguish his feelings of loneliness. Yet, he dared not sleep.

A story by Michael Fitzalan

About the Author

Michael Fitzalan lives in south London, where he was born. His Irish parents were doctors and they settled on the West Side of Clapham Common and had six children in quick succession. The youngest started writing thrillers at fifteen. He published his first fiction book, a romance, The Taint Gallery.


Michael Fitzalan’s first novel gained cult status and here are some others: Waterwitch was a hit with those who have ever sailed; two brothers battle storms and Spanish support for the Malvinas in an attempt to meet up with their girlfriends in Ibiza. They have to get from The Algarve to Ibiza, all very straightforward until engine failure and storms threaten to sink all their plans. The Taint Gallery tells the story of a modern Romeo and Juliet; the story is set in Cheslea and Fulham, not Verona, nevertheless, it is a doomed relationship. The book was shunned by big publishers for its highly charged and graphic sexual content and the small publisher who produced the book folded, copies are rare. A reprint is planned for its twentieth anniversary next year; it is still as pertinent and shocking today as it was back in 1996. Switch is an amazing mixture of Franz Kafka realism yet it reads like a Raymond Chandler thriller. Joe Ederer falls for a French girl but he is recovering from being dumped by his English girlfriend. A fish out of water in London, he chases her home only to be rejected. He hooks up with a suffocating drug addict and that is when his nightmares begin. Major Bruton’s Safari is the story of innocents abroad; a family invited to celebrate the coronation of the Kabaka of Buganda become indoctrinated into the ways of Africa. With an acerbic observer on hand, the family experience the warmth and ways of Uganda that help them to understand themselves a little better. IPG – Innocent Proven Guilty is about a teacher, Philip Hayward whose brother sold their shared flat and ran off to America with the proceeds. Philip bumps into his brother’s ex-girlfriend and she tells him his brother is back. Racing to the address she gave him, he arrives to find his brother with a knife in his back. As he leaves, his shoes leave bloody footprints and the police come looking for him. Carom – Finn McHugh and his team take on a swindler and smuggler, Didier, who is depraved in so many ways. They know he is smuggling art and drugs; he must be stopped before others take him out. The Cubans, want him dead, Finn wants to break the smuggling ring. Who will win? Remember the Fifth November – Guy Fawkes was innocent, Catesby was a broken man who brought his children up in the Anglican faith, yet Robert Cecil arranged for them to be portrayed as terrible villains. With a spy service second to none and with moles everywhere how could someone hatch a plot like this and fail to be discovered? The answer, they could not. Read the truth! One – Bullying does not go on anymore in schools. I would not bet on it. Weep as you read the terrible story of a school bully and the misery he dispenses to all the boys. Then, cheer as one of his victims takes revenge. Take a trip to a prep school in a time when kids built tree houses, danced and swung on Tarzan ropes!

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