‘Have a care!’
The cry came from the big sergeant in the Roundhead line, and immediately the cannonade began. Guns were pounding the Royalist position in front of the bridge, and through the smoke I caught the glint of spearheads, as pike blocks advanced like troops of giant hedgehogs, drums manically beating the attack. The Royalist centre began to waiver from the first impacts of the shot. To my left, I noticed something that didn’t seem quite right: a group of dismounted dragoons were scurrying across the field wearing what looked like desert boots, and stalking Royalist officers with flintlock pistols! As I considered these blatant anachronistic dress and firearms errors, the action froze, everything went black, and after a short, pulsating electronic sting, a cheesy voice filled my ears.
‘So ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, as we go into the last quarter of the show, things are not looking too promising for the Cavaliers. Those god-fearing Roundheads have got the upper hand and are about to win control of the highway to Oxford and with it, the war. But it’s what you think that counts here, and after a short food, drink and comfort break, we’ll be back to you for the final vote of the evening.’
I sat in silence. This was Historyland, my new home and The Consortium’s flagship resort, where to my dad’s surprise and mum’s delight I had won a trial contract as junior historian in-residence. Jonathan, my re-enactment colleague was less positive and what I was witnessing now was exactly what he warned me about.
I was sitting in a small VIP box high above the north end of the arena with Rona Lusk, the Talent Manager’s executive assistant. Rona had just met me off the train from the Pale.
‘Welcome to Historyland, Dr Lyttleton. I think you prefer Rob?’ and without pausing for my answer, took off with fixed clipboard and started pointing to the huge transparent vistel on the concourse wall. It bore the slogan, ‘The world’s biggest and best historical entertainment resort.’ She was walking at what Jonathan and I would consider a very decent light infantry pace, and I soon found myself quick-marching towards the lights, explosions and applause of the arena.
‘Now I remember from our chats on the assessment day, Rob, that you have a specialty in The English Civil War?’ she said, and without waiting for my answer or even pausing for oxygen, told me that I had a real treat in-store. ‘You’ve arrived just in time to catch the second half of A Kingdom at Stake. Our Cavaliers v. Roundheads show. I love it, and so will you.’
So here I was, on my first night in Historyland watching the tactically implausible battle of Wheatley Bridge, surrounded by a phalanx of screaming children and their parents, being offered three ridiculously un-military options by a talent show compère.
‘As usual, we have three options for you’, he said and as he spoke these were simultaneously translated into Mandarin, Hindi and Russian and projected on giant vistels around the walls and roof of the arena.
The first option was a patently implausible Cavalier stand and victory against the odds. The second was a Cavalier rout leaving Cromwell’s men with an open road to Oxford. The third option, and perhaps only for the hard-of-thinking, was to watch this historical travesty all over again. Around me, families were typing into Tabs or pinching bio-patches to register their votes.
‘What are you going to vote for, Dr Rob? Or need we ask.’ Rona seemed to have a bit of a nudging habit.
I thought back to Rugeley station. The express was running late as usual, and my mother was shivering in the wind. She was clinging to the new suit she’d bought for me from the Gozoan Basement Webmall, but it was finally time to entrust it to me.
‘We are so proud of all you have achieved, Robert, and as sure as God made little apples, your dad and me know you’ll pass your probationary period with flying colours.’ She gave me one final kiss and reminded me to always go the extra mile for The Consortium just like dad always did. Back in the arena, I gave a neutral smile to Rona and reached for my bright and shiny Tab and selected Option One. I would vote for the Royalist army to stand its ground, and despite this unpromising start to my career in Historyland, so would I.
Paul Christopher Walton