England, 1074 A.D. The Norman invasion, led by Duke William II of Normandy, was a success, dispatching King Harold II at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on 25 September, and occupying the country. Many combatants and dissidents were thrown into the dungeons in the months and years to follow. Dead center on the island, the castle at Shrewsbury housed numerous Britons, still loyal to the rightful lineage of kings, from Edward the Confessor onward, even if they didn’t know who lawfully came next.
“Christ this dungeon is leaky!” Chained to the wall by hands and feet, alone, stood George. A rat continuously darted for his toes, and he kept kicking it away, more glad for the company than angry at possibly catching the plague. Thankfully, the Black Death was still some centuries away.
“William the Conqueror,” George said with a snort. “Who the bloody hell ever called him that? We always said he was Sir William the Shitheel, that’s what we called him. The Conqueror. Get over yourself.”
The mighty iron door was unlocked with a bang, and a sooty sack of bones and skin dragged in.
“Excuse me, this is a private cell,” George said. “I was told when I moved in that I shouldn’t be with other prisoners, and -”
Smashed in the yap by the bulky guard, George stopped talking. They chained the new meat to the opposite wall and left. George eyed him suspiciously.
“Oy,” he said. “You’re not British, is ya?”
The man, half delirious, only rolled an eye in George’s direction.
“They put a stinking frog in here with me! You from Brittany, ain’t ya? Of all the rotten damn – guard!” George rattled his chains like to raise the dead.
“I’m not French,” the man said.
“The hell you’re not. You’re perfumed like a whore and stink of that cheap eastern France wine. Guard!”
“Shut up with all that. I’m from Shrewsburyshire.”
“My bleedin’ ass! This is Shrewsbury Castle, we’re in Shrewsbury, Shropshire – who the hell calls it Shrewsburyshire?”
“My whole family calls it Shrewsburyshire!”
“Your family is a bunch of lying bloody Frenchie ignoramuses! Shrewsburyshire! Honestly!”
The man rattled his chains and looked around at the dank, stone surroundings.
“This isn’t Shrewsbury. There’s no castle in Shrewsbury. Lived here my whole life.”
“Well where the hell have you been, then? They’ve been building this damn thing for years. Just opened a few months ago. Look at them chains! Still got the cellophane on ’em! Got that new castle smell, don’t it?”
“Ain’t that amazing? Brand new, leaks like a worn bucket.”
“What’s your name?”
“Don’t you go getting chummy with me, ya rotten crummy frog bastard!”
“I’m from bleedin’ Shrewsburyshire!”
“There’s no such place!”
The man hung his head and noticed the rat at George’s feet. “What’s that all about?”
“What? Oh. That’s Willie the rat. He’s my best friend.”
“You named the rat after that scum Duke William, did you? Nice.”
George eyed him warily. “Were you at Hastings?”
“Were you at Hastings?”
“Don’t you question me about Hastings! I was at Hastings start to finish! You weren’t at Hastings!”
“I was too at Hastings! Fought like the goddamn devil himself! You could dam a river with the skulls I lopped off at Hastings. We must’ve had 8,000 men at Hastings.”
“More like 10,000. Didn’t matter though. Damn William.”
“William the Conqueror.” The man snorted. “We called him William the Shitheel.”
“We called him that too!”
“That was his name, wasn’t it? Everyone called him that. Hope he rots in hell, that son of a bitch.”
“George. My name’s George.”
“I’m George, too!”
“No kidding! Well how do you like that?” Original George kicked the rat gnawing on his toes hard into the far wall, killing him. He had a new best friend now.
“How’s the food?” New George asked.
“Like eating spit-roasted asshole!”
And they shared a good laugh, the first of many. They would suffer through many diseases and beatings those first few weeks, and ultimately die unliberated, but happy in each other’s company. Thus passed an unsung chapter in history, a footnote of the great Norman Conquest of England, and a shining example of stolid British comradeship in the face of hardships and vermin.