The Harp

Britain 1071. The Anglo-Saxon King Harold II of England has been defeated at the Battle of Hastings and King William of Normandy now sits upon the English throne. Many of the old native English nobility fear for their lives and have gone into hiding.
Yet as William pushes the borders of his newfound kingdom ever further, he encounters increased opposition. In the North-West of England, the sturdy folk of the Lake District do not take kindly to foreign rulers. And in Wales, though the mountainous terrain makes a centralised resistance difficult, the sons of Wales will fight to the bitter end to defend their homeland.
It is in this atmosphere of resistance that our story takes place - a story of love, betrayal, cruelty and redemption.

(Partly inspired by some of the miscellaneous poems of Sir Walter Scott)

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1. Helvellyn

   Helvellyn was cold in January. In fact, that doesn't do it justice - Helvellyn was magnificent in its icy splendour. As far as Jack could see, the ground was covered in at least three feet of unblemished snow, and his hands were numb with cold. Beside him, his dog Charles seemed like a small, snowy dragon, his breath steaming and billowing from his mouth and visibly emerging like tendrils of smoke from his nose. Both he and his dog were panting heavily - perhaps it was time for a rest.

   This rest consisted of Jack unceremoniously dropping to sit down in the snow. Not because he was particularly tired - merely because his body was not built for delicacy. Charles loyally followed suit, laying his head down and then quickly pulling it up again and resting it on his paws when he felt the cold bite of the snow on his face. Jack laughed fondly and ruffled the dog's head. Charles looked at him with something resembling irritation. He did not find their current predicament very amusing.

   "Oh cheer up, you miserable old mongrel. It's beautiful up here, why don't you take a moment to appreciate the wonders of England?" The dog obediently swung his gaze to the wintry view, and then looked away, unimpressed, but Jack remained looking out on the splendours of the Lake District. Surely there was no other land on Earth that could look so beautiful even when all in it was dead and cold. He loved to come up here, near the summit of Helvellyn, to appreciate the view and reflect on life. He realised with a hint of surprise how much he loved this country, how much it meant to him. He had never realised how deep his attachment had run, but now that he thought about it, he was surprised by the force of his innate patriotism. Charles whined glumly, forcing Jack out of his reverie.

   Jack sighed. "What you need is a bit of music, to lift your spirits a little." Charles leant his head on his shoulder, as if considering this proposition. Then, with what seemed to be a nod of assent, he walked over to Jack's bag and began nudging it open with his muzzle.

   Jack laughed with fondness. "Here, let me help you." He pulled open the bag and took out his harp. Without hesitation, he began playing and singing an old Border ballad. Charles seemed soothed by this and began to nod his head in time with the music.

   When the song was finished, Jack stood up. "Come on, then. You've had a rest. Don't expect me to sit here and play lullabies until you fall asleep. I'm not a fool, you know." Charles looked up as if seriously questioning this self-appraisal, but reluctantly stood up and began following in Jack's footsteps.

   It was then that it happened. 

   Snow is a treacherous terrain to walk in. Even a walker as experienced as Jack, who thought he knew Helvellyn like the back of his hands, was not exempt from the risk associated with walking in snowy mountains in winter. Therefore, it is not perhaps surprising - though of course, it is terribly tragic - that Jack should wander a little too close to the edge, and lose his footing. In fairness, it seemed like a safe distance, and at any other time of year he would have been quite safe - but snow is treacherous, and gives the illusion of covering solid ground when in actual fact it conceals nothing beneath it but flimsy branches and open air. Thus, when Jack wandered ever closer to the edge of the path to better appreciate the magnificent view of his beloved country, it was almost inevitable that the snow would give way underneath his feet, leaving him to scramble for a foothold somewhere in the weak, flimsy upper branches of a withered tree. Of course, he found none, and fell far until finally his head found contact with a large, very solid root, killing him instantly and leaving him laying prostrate on the ground, with his arms spread out and his lips pressed against the icy floor, almost as if, even in death, he sought to kiss and caress the land he had so loved in life.

   Of course, it was not only him that fell. He was closely followed by his bag, which came trailing behind him, and Charles. The dog who had so faithfully walked in his master's footsteps in life would not dream of abandoning him in death. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately, as can only be appreciated by those who have outlived those who should have outlived them) the dog's fall was broken somewhat by the various branches and, most significantly, his master's body (must we really call it a corpse so soon?). After recovering from his fall, Charles began licking his master's face, certain that soon he would awake - it was not like him to sleep for long in the day, and even when he was most tired, he could always be woken by a few licks. But after a while, as he could feel his master's body growing ever colder and drained of warmth, some deep instinct within him gradually brought him to the realisation he had been so much dreading.

   Positioning himself next to Jack's body, he lifted up his head, and howled mournfully at the pitiless sun.

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