A somewhat belated posting of a commission which was performed last year at the New Vic Stoke.
The Rime of the Staffordshire Hoard
He sat quite quiet, in the Boat,
Supping his pint of beer,
His thread bare coat, dangling loose,
A finger beckoned us near.
Now lonely men are not that rare
In roadside hostelries,
But glimpsing the shape of his sunken eyes
He seemed to want to share
Something, maybe, that he knew
From a long and troubled past,
Of long lost love, intrigue and trysts,
Of vino veritas.
“Come here” he whispered loud but soft,
I have a tale to tell,
That has been handed down to me
From ancestors that fell.
It has never felt the pen,
Just kept to the spoken word,
For this is a tale you cannot read,
It only can be heard.
It has been passed down by mouth,
From father to son and daughter,
From the mothers breast, from fireside hearth,
Stories of wealth and slaughter,
In Mercian times, when war was waged,
With savagery and steel,
The victors supped from hard won spoils
Stripped bodies in the fields.
Swords were prized above all else,
Their pommels and their hilts,
The metal, the gems, the plate the gold
Fine fashioned and carefully built.
And over time the war chest grew,
From battles far and wide,
The vanquished knelt, prizes seized,
Spoils for the winning side.
From the north , the Northumbrians crossed
The Trent intent on plunder,
But Eckgrith was routed, put to flight,
His army sliced asunder.
From the east King Anna rose,
With armies wild and true,
Penda took the fight to him,
And at Bulcamp, the Anglian he slew.
To the west the Welsh were tamed
“The Paradise of Powys” at Pengwern
Wroxeter bled and genuflected
Whilst all around them burned
To the South ,Wessex fell in thrall,
As Cenwealh was defeated.
Mercian land kissed by southern seas,
Success and wealth repeated.
Coelred ruled this mighty land,
But was quick to take.
Revelry and earthly things,
He just could not forsake.
From Tamworth castle edicts flowed,
Charters, and royal decree,
And little by little the people were lost
Defeat by degree.
For centuries Watling Street had borne
Traders, and legions too.
A highway of wealth and fame and power
Retreat was something new.
As enemies circled, and dangers grew,
His treasure drew attention
Envious eyes and evil plots swirled
At the riches’ mention.
Coelred despatched his aide, Edward,
To find a hiding place,
His anonymity assured,
By an unknown face.
So Edward rode to seek a spot,
West from the castles gaze,
Where silent ground could hold its tongue
In a quiet restful place.
Riding horseback is thirsty work
The road, uneven laid
Not since Roman Times had care,
Attention, and repair, been paid.
The wagons unmarked, creaked and groaned
On the journey there,
The trusty band of diggers moaned,
Heading out somewhere.
So ,with darkness closing in,
Letocetum came in view,
Very far from in its prime,
But with a tavern or two.
Just beyond there lay a lea,
WIth trees and grasses lush,
Where a shallow trench, quickly filled,
Would not be noticed much.
So they set to work, with spades and trowels,
With sweat and furrowed brow,
Till the earth absorbed this fabulous hoard,
Disappeared from view for now.
And as reward they headed back
For an ale or four,
And when they had sank the fourth fine ale,
They all went back for more.
Night then spread her dusky wings,
The men consumed by excess,
All thoughts of maps just vanished,
Location would be a guess.
With heads that throbbed,
And hearts that sank,
They scoured all around.
But fruitless was their frantic search
For tell -tale broken ground.
But trees and bushes, stumps and lumps,
They all just look the same, (don’t you think?)
The buried don’t talk, just slumber on,
Like those consumed by drink.
Edward returned to Tamworth town,
Told Coelred the deed was done,
Coelred thanked them all for their pains
Then silenced them one by one.
All bar Edward, who was restrained,
In a castle garret, in solitary.
Kept in food and water,
But never in company.
As time passed and Edward pined
For human company,
He grew unhinged, and lost his mind
For all around to see.
With great alarm Coelred despatched his man
To recover the buried gold
But his years alone, and hours at the Inn
Had left his memory cold
Edward was ordered to continue his search
Until his dying day
Which he did, trowel in hand
Seeking where it lay
For many a year, there were reports
Around Hammerwich and of Wall
Of ghostly moans and shovel borne thuds
And desperation calls
He was condemned without respite
To continue his demanded quest
To search each clod of Mercian earth
In this world and the next
Now he rests, the hoard recovered
In the hands of a new protector
Thanks to Edwards guiding spirit
On a metal detector
Then the stranger, whose eye was bright,
Whose beard with age was hoar,
Was gone: and now I cradled an empty glass
Turned from the lounge bar’s door.
I left like one that had been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man,
I rose the morrow morn.