Trial By Combat- Fry’s Island, Reading
In April 1163, a great concourse of people assembled.
The King himself was there. Essex and Monfort were
ferried over to the island , and were bidden to fight out
their quarrel. Let God judge between them!
Royal Berkshire History
David Nash Ford
Water lapped the island’s edge
and branches swayed in calm.
On banks across the silver-streaked,
carp-brown water, crowds would swarm
anticipating death as righteous judgement.
A faith was placed in truth and falsehood
travelling through the flesh where two men lived.
Startled crows would fleck the near-sky
as metallic crash of combat played.
The accuser’s limbs found ease
in iron confinement and they sprang
heavy-handed blows upon the accused.
Years after disgrace in sinew and muscle,
followed by the ghost-pulse of survival,
came years filled with monastic, faceless living.
The man who’d been Henry of Essex would say
a vision of St Edmund the Martyr loomed
between the island and the clouds,
all vitality draining from his limbs.
Damon Young has been published in a variety of journals, is a winner of the Alzheimer’s Society Poetry Prize, has been commended in the Prole Laureate Prize, long-listed for the Canterbury Festival Poet of the Year and short-listed for The Robert Graves Poetry Prize, The Wells Festival of Literature Poetry Prize, The Brian Dempsey Memorial Prize and the Welshpool Poetry Prize. He helps to run the Reading Stanza of the Poetry Society and Reading’s Poets’ Cafe.