On the first day of spring 1692, Jeramisa Munt had a waking vision, or it may have been the tail end of a dream, but whatever it was it was an idea that was to shake Littleworth to its very bones. As we all know, Littleworth is so known because Oliver Cromwell said as much during the Civil War. Cromwell, Old Ironsides, Old Noll, or just plain Ollie to his friends (which numbered very few indeed), was travelling from Oxford to London via the London to Oxford turnpike and had just cleared the summit of the ancient Shotover hill. Looking to his left and observing the lay of the land through his spyglass, he decreed, to no-one in particular, although someone must have been listening because Ollie's word had some clout – he was the would be Lord Protector of all England after all - “This land, below and to the left of me, this land is of very little worth to us. Proceed, to London – Ho!”
And so it was that Littleworth was so named, the fact, and this is a fact, that there are more than one Littleworth in England, indeed, there are two in Oxfordshire (even old Oxfordshire) should indicate one of two things to learned historians and laymen alike: Either, Oliver Cromwell lacked imagination when naming places of no interest whatsoever, or alternatively, there were two Oliver Cromwell's bounding about around the English countryside, possibly, as has been hypothesized by gentlemen far more learned than me, two Oliver Cromwell's existing within the same meta-physical space, but on entirely different planes, so ubiquitous (some say omnipresent) was the great man.
The early morning sun shone through the curtainless window that pre-dated modern trappings of haberdashery. The hamlet of Littleworth had grown quickly from land of little worth but fifty years previously to now supporting a solitary cottage in which Jeramisa Munt had just awoken, disturbed by that pesky early morning sun. But Jeramisa Munt was a man of ambition and, more importantly, some ready cash, which he had come into by selling off his great herd of Oxfordshire “Blue Backs” - a breed of pig so hardy that they could easily survive through an English winter with no food suffice for rabbit droppings. His ambition now, was to build on his once pig-ridden stronghold and small holding and turn Littleworth from a one cottage town into a thriving metropolis of trade and adventure. This metropolis, he ventured, would need to house a population of up to thirty and to do that, he would need to build at least three other cottages, maybe four, or even five.
Jeramisa had the vision, he had the ready cash and he had the time. He lacked the skills and he lacked the population to fill the cottages when finally built, but this was no obstacle for he knew of a fair maiden from the lowlands...
Ollie’s black steed chomped at the bit, its nose snorted steam and its eyes bled. It was truly the devil’s own horse and looked every bit as menacing as its rider. Ollie barked orders left and right, urging his men, and his own horse to move faster.
Dusk was enveloping the Shotover plain, the sky raw with red cloud, raw as the back of Ollie’s black steed. Ollie’s balls were also a but tender, with all that charging about and galloping and galumphing, but he let it pass, he knew that their destination would soon be in sight.
“Sergeant!” Ollie shouted to the man on his left over the clippety-clop of horses’ hooves.
“Yessir, Mr Cromwell.” Answered the Sarge.
“We approach Littleworth, I feel it in me bones. When we descend this godforsaken hill, we will be upon it. I want the men ready to fight.”
“Yessir, Mr Cromwell,” said the Sarge again, lacking in originality, “but Mr Cromwell sir, the men are tired. You have flogged them all the way from that there Oxford. They are knackered out sir.”
“Knackered out be done!” Scolded Ollie, “I will personally kill any man who doesn’t stand up and fight! You hear that you blaggards!” Scolded Ollie some more, raising himself out of his saddle and turning to face the ramshackle crew that had travelled with him from the olde seat of leaning that was Oxford. His eyes burned like black coals and his forked tongue writhed like that of a snake. He took advantage of his standing position to quickly massage his swollen nuts.
His travelling companions uttered not a single word, just kept their eyes forward and their ears buttoned and their hands tight on the reins of their mounts. In all, there were forty of them. Forty burly men of every hue, but mainly a dirty, swarthy, white. Fighting men. Mercenaries. Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army. The Army of the Damned. The Army of The Devil. Of Lucifer himself personified.
“Speak one of you!” Yelled Ollie. Not a sound (other than the aforementioned clippety-clopping), just grim determination and steely faces.
“Sergeant! They do not speak. What is wrong with these buffoons!”
“Mr Cromwell sir, I said, sir, they are tired sir. All knackered out sir. Too tired to talk sir.”
“Pfft. Fools. Wimps. Lilly livered Bum Chummers. Be ready to fight, that’s all I say. Be ready!”
They were descending from the mount of Shotover now, the horses sweating heavily and the men concentrating on their mission with single mindedness usually reserved for a serious game of poker. Which is, of course, what this was. They were playing poker with The Devil. With Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell the strategist. Cromwell the master tactician. Cromwell the hunter. The hunter of Cavaliers. The hunter from Huntingdon (when Ollie played darts, that was his favourite nickname). Cromwell the Round Head. Slayer of Kings. Torturer of the common man. Cromwell The Beast.
OK, enough now. He’s a bad chap, all right and he’s in a bad, bad mood. And then guess what? It starts bloody raining as well.
Cromwell’s motley band of muckers pulled their assorted mounts into the first coaching inn on the High Street of Littleworth Village. A sign outside the inn said “The George and Dragon Coaching Inn. We are pleased to make you acquaintance. Children must be accompanied by a valid receipt of purchase. No Slaves. Please leave your scythe at the door. No Fighting. No Gambling. No Women. Cash Only.”
Beneath that sign was another that said “Inn Full, Sorry :)”.
“Full!” Roared Ollie, reading the sign, “Full?!” He said again incredulously. “I am the future leader of England! Full, my arse.”
He dismounted his mount and ordered Sarge and a couple of the other of his vagabonds to do the same.
“Full, full, full,” he ranted, “we’ll see how full they are. You three, with me,” as he marched towards the door, hand on musket and other hand on short stabby dagger.
The inn was full. Full of people jostling and crowding at the bar. Full of dogs barking beneath the knees of the people crowding and jostling. The tables were full of tankards. The tankards were full of ale. The floor was full of saw dust and the saw dust was full of spilt ale. The air in the bar was full of a strange smell that only happens when a bar is full of hairy men that are drinking tankards of hairy ale.
Ollie shoved his way through a couple of peasants.
“Oy!” They protested.
“Move!” Insisted Ollie, hand on musket. They moved.
Way now blocked by a table of unsavoury types playing cards. He thought about upturning the table. Looked at the four unsavoury characters. Thought better of it. Looked how far he had to go to get to the bar and the Inn Keeper. Afor him the bar was full (still). Layer upon layer of squirming manly human(or inhuman)ness.
He pulled his musket with his right hand. Pulled his stabby dagger with his left. Having both hands now full, knee’d the nearest card player in the ribs with his knee.
“Oy, sweety,” said the roughian, sweetly, “I’m in ‘ere. Got a good ‘and.”
“Need to get to bar,” said Ollie roboticly (Yes, ok, robots haven’t been invented yet, it’s 1642, it’s just a phrase).
“OK, no problem, sexy, just let me play this ‘and.”
“Now!” Insisted Ollie.
“In a minute, gorgeous. What’s the ‘urry?”
This phased Ollie a little. What exactly was the rush? Well, there wasn’t one per se. But Ollie was a mean, evil, psychotic son-of-a-bitch. The Hunter from Huntingdon. The High Prosecutor of the Parliamentarians. His Highness the Devil incarnate. Blah. Blah. You’ve got to keep up appearances haven’t you? I mean, no good being a mean ruffty tufty sort and not living up to expectations is there?
“Move!” Screamed Ollie in the roughian's ear hole.
“Listen, bitch,” said the rough one, “I have a bloody good hand here,” he showed his hand to Ollie. Three Queens and Two Jacks. Full House. “Now are you going to ruin that for me?”
“Good hand,” said Ollie, pressing the muzzle of his musket into the back of the gentleman’s bandanna bedecked skull.
The camp one jumped a little in recognition of Ollie’s persistence.
“All in?” He said, winking at his three comrades and pushing his stack of coins into the centre of the table.
“All in!” They agreed whole-heartedly and in unison, they swung into action, the camper one swinging his arm wildly behind him to disconnect Ollie’s musket from his head and knocking the barrel upwards toward the wattle and daub ceiling.
The musket went off with a boom, showering the room with dust and gunpowder. Ollie took a punch on the chin. But what a chin, eh? Fine and robust and square. The puncher yowled in pain as his fist crumpled. Ollie picked him up by the neck with his free hand and threw him into the others. They toppled as one over the table and it gave way beneath their combined weight. The foursome lay, sprawled and dazed on the floor.
The full inn was now considerably less full. People seemingly blending into the paint work. Ollie now had a clear path to the bar and stepping over his prostrate foes, confronted the landlord of the inn.
“We’re full.” Said the landlord of the George and Dragon.
Ollie laid his musket down on the bar top.
“Normally landlord,” he said, “I am not a patient man. But,” he hastened to add, “in your case I will make an exception. This establishment here appears to be one that likes a flutter or two. Am I right?”
“That would be true,” said the landlord.
“Well, in that case, let’s make a wager.”
“What are the stakes?” Inquired the landlord.
“Are you owner or tenant?” Queried Ollie.
“Tenant, of course,” said the landlord, “do you think I could afford this place myself?”
Ollie look the landlord up and down. He was shabbily dressed, as shabbily as most of his customers, wore a dirty grey shirt and baggy trousers, tied at the waist with twine. On his head, he sported a filthy headscarf that appeared to double up as a bandage, or had at one point since it had a dried blood stain over his left temple.
“I suppose not.” Answered Ollie at last.
“The stakes,” said Ollie, “are this: On the turn of a card, I will have a higher card than you. If I win, my troops, forty in number, stay here, board and lodgings, for the night. If I loose, we go elsewhere.”
“And if I don’t accept the bet?” Said the landlord.
Ollie just made eye contact with his musket on the bar. They shook hands.
“Sargent. Bring me that deck of cards, or, at least what’s left of it.”
The cards, maybe 45 in number, appeared on the bar.
“Shuffle.” Said Ollie.
The landlord picked up the cards and performed an elaborate shuffle manoeuvre, fanning them into themselves so that they were well and truly unsorted.
“Cut.” Said Ollie. The landlord cut the cards.
“You or me first?” Inquired the landlord.
“You go first, that’s fine,” said Ollie.
The landlord cut.
“What you got?” Said Ollie.
“After you,” said the landlord, following decorum.
“Two of spades,” said Ollie, “looks like your luck was in.”
“Two of hearts,” said the landlord, “even.”
They cut again.
“Jack of Diamonds,” said Ollie, “beat that.”
“Black Queen,” said the landlord, “I win.”
“Bang!” Said Ollie, picking his musket up from the bar and shooting a perfect round hold in the landlord’d forehead.
“Oops,” said Ollie as the former landlord slumped to the floor, “guess I won after all.”
“You!” Ollie shouted at one of the soldiers behind him. One of the two, behind Sarge, that had so far seen no action whatsoever.
“Get behind the bar and serve us whisky.”
“You!” He pointed to the other soldier who had accompanied them, “Get the others in here. Drinks on me. All round.”
The remainder of the New Model Army trooped into the inn. Began sitting and slumping in the now empty room. Whisky, by the bottle began appearing on the tables.
“Men!” Cried Ollie. “Drink! You have ridden hard. Now rest. Enjoy! We have a new day in front of us, but tonight, we relax.”
Ollie kicked off his riding boots and withdrew his horns. His forked tongue licked the rim of his whisky glass. The night was young, but, he knew, there were things to resolve before the sun rose.