The Banner

The Banner: a pair of jeans on a pole

verse epic


Part 4: The Battle

3: Cantos 11-15

Auksford crest: a great auk displaying an open book with the words "Ex ovo sapientia"
-  Auksford, 2015  -

© Robin Gordon 2015

The moral right of the author has been asserted

Canto 11: In which Norah changes her tune

See now the goddesses on high
are looking out upon the scene
as Tommo and the Wild Bulls cry
while on the roof they skip and preen,

with Hotrod and the Furies too,
all full of triumph, pride and joy,
and Johnny Cowan and his crew,
and many another Halden boy:

“We’ve got the Engine Sheds,
we’ve got the Engine Sheds,
ee-aye-addio we’ve got the Engine Sheds.

We shall not, we shall not be moved!
We shall not, we shall not be moved!
We’re the lads from Ha-alden,
and we shall not be moved!

Where are Swarrell?
Where are Swarrell?
They’re among the scrap,
cos the wankers
fro-om Swarrell
are just a load of crap!

We’ve got the Engine Sheds,
we’ve got the Engine Sheds,
ee-aye-addio we’ve got the Engine Sheds.”

Then Rita points towards a swarm
of Dragons coming to the fight,
approaching like a fearsome storm,
and Norah sighs in pure delight.

“Willie’s on the warpath, Jane!”
she calls, and Jane replies and grins,
“I see th’ approach of Halden’s bane,
for now, I think, it’s Swarrell wins.”

“Yeah!” cries Norah, “Now our sex
can watch the boys all lose their kecks.
We’ll see a sight fit to arouse us.

The Dragons come to take their prizes
as Willie shows how he despises
his foes by stripping off their trousers!”

The Dragons came with battle cries.
The Halden lads around the Shed,
mistaking confidence for size,
towards the Alebeck quickly fled.

From off the roof the lads leapt down
to join the sudden fearful rout.
“Oh, look,” cried Norah with a frown,
they’ve all escaped.”  Then came a shout.

“It hasn’t turned out quite so bad,”
said Thelma.  “Look, they’ve caught a lad!”
Then Ada shouted, “Get his jeans!”

His jacket’s off, his boots are too.
This boy is really in a stew,
this most unfortunate of teens.

Then Norah sees and recognises
that this captive lad is Johnny,
and most unwelcome that surprise is.
If Cowan’s fame goes down the Swanee

then at school his reputation
as a bully never beaten,
much to Norah’s perturbation,
might appear somewhat moth-eaten.

So she stops her girls from calling,
shouting for a quite appalling
fate for him, cries, “Let him go!”

“But,” cries Thelma, “he’s a boy,
so I think we’d all enjoy
seeing Johnny’s pride brought low.”

Now poor Norah must explain
why it is that she would rein
in the lads she had incited,
stop them stripping this benighted
victim, so she says to Jane:

“Don’t ever think that I’ve turned soft.
I still want trousers up aloft
flaunted in the breeze like flags,
and if the Swarrell gang debags
the whole of Halden till they’ve doffed

the pants off every rotten boy
I’ll skip and carol in my joy,
but Johnny’s got to keep his kecks
as the scourge of all his sex,
for he’s the weapon I employ.

We girls,you know are far too weak
and only those boys who are meek
and scaredy-cats are ours to scrag,
so I use Johnny to debag
the stronger boys.  I always seek

out victims whom I’d love to shame,
and Johnny plays my fem’nist game
and never cottons on at all
when he dances at my call
that I’m just using him to tame

the male sex as a whole.  He thinks
that his bossy bullying jinks
impress the girls, that he looks strong
when boys are shamed, but he is wrong.
See, that is how a girl hoodwinks

a boy and bends him too her will,
but what he offers as a thrill
is not at all what he supposes.
We females lead them by their noses.
They’ll bully for us, even kill.

He’s mine to use against his sex,
to make them all feel feeble wrecks,
a bully feared throughout the school.
My puppet must not look a fool,
and so he’s got to keep his kecks.”

But while she spoke and made her pleas,
and Johnny struggled on his knees,
and Dragons threw his coat and shoes
about, and crowed that he would lose
his trousers next, he saw a chance,
and took it to evade their dance;
but swift they came in hot pursuit,
unwilling thus to lose the loot
that they’d expected they would take,
so close behind him, in his wake.

Then up the steps he quickly sped,
hearing at his heels the tread
of many eager, chasing feet.
Never had he fled so fleet.
Now Norah’s girls are at the top,
and it’s not Johnny that they stop,
for Rita hustles him away –
he lives to fight another day.

Canto 12: In which the first trousers are taken

The girls then turn to watch the fight,
and down upon the battlefield
they see, to Norah’s great delight,
that lower limbs may be revealed,

for, pressed by Swarrell, Halden’s fleeing,
and Scouse is close pursued by Pete.
Norah screeches, now foreseeing
that her girls will get a treat.

Pete cuts off Scouse’s path of flight
and forces him towards the stair
and brings him well into the sight
of all the girls high in the air,

up high upon the viaduct.
Pete tackles Scouse and brings him down,
and Norah hopes to see him plucked
like a chicken, his renown

as a fighter turned to naught.
“Get his pants off!” Norah called
as Scouse for freedom vainly fought,
and wept and pleaded, blubbed and bawled.

Then Ronno leads a charge to help
Pete to strip of Scouse’s kegs,
and Norah laughs to hear Scouse yelp
and jeers at him as still he begs

for mercy.  None is to be had.
Now Scouse must surely lose his kecks,
a fate that shames a teenage lad
when witnessed by the fairer sex.

But the Halden lads haven’t all fled in retreat,
for Tommo has turned the Wild Bulls back to cheat
the Swarrell lads out of their triumph this day
and rescue the lad they have captured as prey.

So the Wild Bulls descend on their foes like a storm,
and the Halden lads turn and they come in a swarm.
Then Swarrell retreats and Scouse is set free,
but that’s not the ending of Norah’s girls’ glee,

for Pete is now captured in Halden’s firm grasp,
and vainly he struggles their grip to unclasp.
They pull off his jacket, his shoes and his socks.
His trousers are next, and Tommo then mocks

his victim and brandishes trousers on high.
“We’ve got a new banner!” is Tommo’s loud cry.
Then Pete is released to make his way back
while Halden exult in successful attack.

At the sight of this there’s tension
among the girls.  Perhaps dissension
may break out, for Jane, like Hera,
the wife of father Zeus, holds dearer
the boys who come from her home town,
and cannot stand to see cast down
a lad who comes from her own side.
She says she really can’t abide
the way that Norah gives support.
So Norah says, “You really ought
to listen to the things I say.
It’s nowt to me who wins the day,
if Halden strip the pants off Swarrell
or lose their own.  I use their quarrel
to win a victory for us.
So listen, Jane!  Don’t make a fuss!
When I say us, I mean us girls.
If you had listened to the pearls
of wisdom that come forth from me
you’d understand I want to see
males young and old from every nation
lose their power of domination.
I want to make tham blub and plead
with us, us girls, as we’ve agreed.
It isn’t that I want to see
their dangly bits.  They’re nowt to me
except as something we can mock.
What I want to do is knock
them down from their exalted place,
and losing pants means losing face.
Their status symbols are their trousers.
That’s why debagging should arouse us
to girlish squeals of pure elation
to see them suffer mock castration.

Now, Jane and Thelma, you must run
to Willie, tell him what’s been done.
Embolden him to vengeance dire,
while my girls go and fan the fire
of Halden glee and spur them on.
We don’t want an ephemeron
that’s over sooner than it starts,
so go on down, enflame their hearts.

Now, off you go, except for Rita.
For you, my girl I’ve got a sweeter
task: just head off down below
to Tommo, and make him bestow
his trophy on you.  Say our hands
will guard the trophies that the bands
of his marauders soon will gain.
The boys won’t recognise the pain
of giving us their precious kecks
till far too late.  That’s how our sex
will win a vict’ry over theirs.
Each side will strip so many pairs
of trousers off the other’s legs,
but we’re the ones who’ll win their kegs.
Howe’er this battle now unfurls
it means a vict’ry for us girls.”

Now down upon the battleground
Tommo brandishes around
the trousers that he took off Pete,
while Halden jeers at Swarrell’s fears,
and each and every warrior cheers
a victory that is so sweet.
So Halden’s spirits now take wing,
and this is what those bold lads sing.

“We’re coming for your pants!
We’re coming for your pants!
Ee-aye-addio, we’re coming for your pants!

We’re gonna take them off!
We’re gonna take them off!
Ee-aye-addio, we’re gonna take them off!

We’re coming for your pants!
We’re coming for your pants!
Ee-aye-addio, we’re coming for your pants!

We’re going to take your trousers off!
We’re going to take your trousers off!

Onward Halden hooligans,
marching as to war!
We’ll take the pants off Swarrell,
just like we did before.

We’ve got a Dragon’s trousers.
We’re coming for some more.
We’ll use ’em for our banners
in our holy war!

Onward Halden hooligans,
marching as to war!
We’ll take the pants off Swarrell,
just like we did before.

We’re going to take your trousers off!
We’re going to take your trousers off!
We’re coming for your pants!
We’re coming for your pants!
Ee-aye-addio, we’re coming for your pants!

We’re going to take your trousers off!
We’re going to take your trousers off!

Oh we’re coming for your trousers,
Swarrell scum!  Swarrell scum!
Oh we’re coming for your trousers,
Swarrell scum!
Oh, we’re coming for your trousers,
yes we’re coming for your trousers,
yes, we’re coming for your trousers,
Swarrell scum!

We’re going to take your trousers off!
We’re going to take your trousers off!”

Canto 13: In which Norah’s agents inflame the courage of the boys

Now while the boys all sing and cheer
Scouse is full of anxious fear.
He quietly plucks at Tommo’s sleeve
and tells him it is time to leave,
says, “Tommo, let’s get out of here.

It’s time to go while we’re ahead,”
says Scouse, still filled with nameless dread.
Says Tommo: “Why are you so yellow?
We’ll take the pants of every fellow
from Swarrell if he hasn’t fled.”

“Suppose they take the pants off us,”
said Scouse.  “Do not discuss
such things with cowards such as he,”
cried Rita.  “I say you will be
heroes to us girls.  We’ll fuss

Over you, and we’ll accord
to each of you his just reward –
I think you know just what that means.
Strip the Swarrell lads of jeans
and see what pleasures we’ll afford.

The more you take, the more you’ll be
heroes to my friends and me –
but you don’t have the men to spare
to guard your trophies with due care –
a problem, but I have the key.
Why don’t you ask the girls to guard
those trousers.  We won’t find it hard.
We all support you in your quarrel
and we’ll make bloody sure that Swarrell
don’t get them back.  Howe’er ill-starred

and how unfortunate they think
themselves, or what a dreadful stink
they kick up, we will  only jeer.”
Then Tommo gave a rousing cheer,
for he’d decided in the blink

of an eye what he would do,
so to Rita and her crew
he handed Pete’s pants and the Banner.
Thus Norah gained in this bold manner
the trousers that she felt her due.

Meanwhile to the Sheds came Jane,
who listened to the lads complain
and say it’s time they all went back
home.  She said, “You lads all lack
the courage that you need to fight.
If you fought well, why then we might,
we girls I mean, well we might be
generous, for we would see
you all as heroes – so that means
rewards for those who bring us jeans
and make the Halden lads look silly
walking home and feeling chilly
round the legs, but each lad’s head
for shame would be a glowing red.”
“There’s more of them than us,” said Stan
“and we fought clean, as every man
always should, but they fought dirty,
stripping Pete down to his shirt.  He
should have lost his colours, but
not his trousers.”  Jane now cut
in and interrupted what
he was saying, snapped, “He got
what any loser well deserves.
The lads that we let stroke our curves
are winners, as I’ve said before.
You can’t afford in any war
to treat your enemies with pity.
I think debagging’s rather witty.
It shows a boy just what you think
of him: that he’s a smell, a stink.
By stripping him you show that you
are stronger.  Strong lads get their due
reward from us, the fairer sex,
so get out there and take their kecks!”

There’s nothing that a lad wants more
than sex – he’d even pay a whore.
With this in view the lads decide
to strip their foes and then deride
them, not to do these things by half,
but show the girls to make them laugh.

Then Jane came up with a suggestion:
when hard in battle there’s no question
of sparing lads to guard the prizes,
so she proposed that what is wise is
to hand them over to the girls.
No matter how the battle swirls,
if Halden chance to make some gains
they’ll reap no pleasure from their pains,
however hard they may attack
they’ll never get their trousers back.

Now each and every heart was stirred
by each and every stirring word
that sweetly fell from Jane’s red lips,
and now enthusiasm rips
through each and every Swarrell boy.
To fight and win!  What bliss!  What joy!
To grind your enemy in the dirt
and strip him to his very shirt
to show that you’re the better man
and thereby win, as you well can,
the favour of the girls who wait
to choose the strongest as their mate.

To Willie now comes Thelma, who’s
keen to bring the latest news,
that in the thick of battle’s heat
the Halden lads had captured Pete,
and, capering like drunk carousers,
had cruelly stripped him of his trousers,
which Tommo flourished like a banner
while Halden lads all cheered, “Hosannah!”

Wille then with rage was filled,
for King, who thought himself so skilled,
prevented him from taking prizes,
and now La’al Willie recognises
while he has stayed inactive and
kept back his forces, stayed his hand,
the Halden lads had stripped his friend
of trousers.  Patience at an end
Willie says, “It’s time to go.
We’ll sweep right down upon our foe,
catch them before they are alert,
and strip each one down to his shirt.”

“We’ll cheer you on!” cries Thelma next.
“It’s Tommo who has really vexed
me,” said Willie with a frown
“We must make sure we take him down
and bring him back to our HQ,
and then he’ll find what we can do.”

Now Thelma cried, “Lads cannot carry
their trophies when they go to fight
their next opponents.  It’s not right,
but neither should some warriors tarry

to guard their spoils.  You need them there,
for each one should his strength employ
to strip another Halden boy.
You need some others to take care

of all the trophies you will win
and keep them safe from battle’s din,
prevent the Halden lads from getting
their trousers back, but stop your fretting:
no matter how the battle swirls,
to keep them safe, just trust us girls.”

Canto 14: In which the battle gets going, Norah gains trophies, Willie falls into peril, and Tommo is taken

High upon the viaduct
Norah and her girls looked down
and hoped their words would now construct
a battle fit to wake the town –

a battle fit to wake the dead.
The Halden warriors advanced,
but Swarrell also steamed ahead,
and Norah’s hopes were now enhanced,

for to the battle Dragons came,
pouring forth across the tracks.
La’al Willie now has joined the game,
and pants will fall when he attacks.

Then Rita comes to Norah and
brings to her the captured prizes,
a pair of trousers in each hand –
success to Norah’s enterprises.

But Jane then says, “Those jeans are Pete’s
and you have got to give them back,
not leave him slinking through the streets
bare-legged and red-faced for his lack

of nether garments.”  “Will I hell?!”
cries Norah, “for we girls are winners,
and all those boys can say farewell
to trousers, be they saints or sinners.
I’ve told you, Jane, we mustn’t quarrel.
This war is us against their sex.
We’re not Halden, you’re not Swarrell,
for all the boys will lose their kecks.”

“Here come the Dragons!” cried Jane.
“Now Swarrell is going to gain
advantage, and we
will presently see
Halden pants falling like rain!”

“Exactly what I want to see!”
said Norah, “I think this will be
our triumph, our joy,
when every last boy
loses his trousers to me!

We’ve got them all trapped in our net,
so, girls, off you go now and get
the trousers they’ve taken
before they awaken
and realise we are a threat.”

Down in the thick of the scrimmage and battle
where brickbats and pebbles and missiles all rattle
and bounce off their heads, still the Dragons pursue
Tommo.  It’s Willie who’s leading the hue
and the cry, for he’s after a vengeance for Pete;
and meanwhile, all round, his lads knock off their feet
Halden lads who are subjected to scragging
and, much to the joy of the girls, to debagging.

Then Tommo is spotted and Willie gives chase
ahead of his gang till he comes face to face
with Rita and Ada, with whom he collides,
while Tommo escapes from his clutches and hides.
“Oh look who it is!” cries Ada.  “It’s Willie!
Well, now is our chance to make him look silly,
so come on you lassies, and give me a hand
with removing his trousers.  He’ll soon be unmanned.”

To Willie she said, “Till you came we were winning,
now you’re going to lose!” and at this she was grinning.
“You’ll be the one of the first to run home with bare legs,
and the first stripped by lassies,
            ’cos we’ll have your kegs!”

“Gerroff!” screamed La’al Willie,
            but, look, here comes Jane,
shouting, “Leave him alone!  Do you think you can gain
a vict’ry for Halden by stripping the Swarrell
lads of their trousers?  I think it’s immoral!”

Says Rita to Jane, and hostility flickers
deep in her eyes, “P’rhaps we’ll rip off your knickers!
You’ve told me too often what I shouldn’t do.
I’m sick of your moaning!  Perhaps we’ll scrag you!”

They glare at each other with grimaces foul,
like tomcats at night when they meet on the prowl,
then Norah comes down, and she tells them to stop it,
and Willie then seizes his one chance to hop it,
so he races off, with both colours and pants,
while Norah explodes into one of her rants,
and tells all the girls she’s disgusted by their
stupid behaviour.  They ought to ensnare
the boys into fighting and stripping and scragging
each other, instead of which now they are dragging
the girls who all ought to be disinterested
into the mêlée where boys should be tested,
by fighting each other until they are broken
while the girls take their trousers as victory’s token.

Norah returned to her place up on high
and looked down to see what there might be to spy,
while Willie, avoiding the worst of all fates
for an arrogant lad, went back to his mates.
They looked all around.  Their expressions were taut,
and Tommo it was whom they eagerly sought.

Now he had joined the Bulls once more,
but was no safer than before.
The Halden lads had mostly fled,
but there, beside an Engine Shed,
the Wild Bulls found themselves marooned.
Would they be depantalooned?

Willie looks around to spot ’em,
and it’s not long before he’s got ’em.
This time there won’t be any error,
for Willie’s learnt from his late terror.
The Dragons move together.  Slow
and sure’s the way to trap a foe.
More Dragons join them as they come,
but still the Wild Bulls see a crumb
of hope, and so they make a dash
for home.  The Dragons in a flash
are after them, hot on their heels.
They reach the track, and Tommo feels
God’s on  his side, for once they’re over
the railway track they are in clover.
The Alebeck Marshes are to cross,
but, over these without a loss,
they’ll be beyond the grasp of those
implacably pursuing foes.

Then comes a train, with thunderous roar,
and turns delight to fear once more.
They have to stop.  The Dragons surge
forward, pushed on by an urge
to grab the Wild Bulls and debag
their leader for a fine new flag.

The train is past.  They flee again,
but Willie and his merry men
have just one target in their sights.
It’s Tommo: his the worst of plights.

The Dragons close in and they have him surrounded.
His gang, the Wild Bulls, all make their escape.
Now Tommo, at last, finds his hopes are confounded.
He’s at Willie’s mercy for prank or for jape.
He’s at Willie’s mercy for thumping and scragging.
He’ll find no escape from a shameful debagging.

The Wild bulls go squelching through mud in their flight,
leaving their leader enmeshed in his plight,
and Willie calls, “Leave ’em, for we’ve got our man.
We’ll take him back with us as fast as we can.
Tommo claims to be king?  All hail!  Salutation!
We’ll take him and give him a great coronation!”

The girls, high on the viaduct,
now joyfully see Tommo plucked
from his flight to safety.  They
all cheer and jeer and loudly bay
for trousers, for they hope to see
poor Tommo’s lower limbs set free
of their enclosing denim jeans.
Then Thelma says, “I think this means
the Count!  That’s what they’re going to do!”
The Count?  Well Norah never knew
or heard about it till that day.
She asks, but Thelma will not say.
She says she’s never seen it done
but heard about it.  Oh what fun
for Norah and the girls to watch!
She thinks that it will be topnotch
entertainment they’ll enjoy,
though not much fun for Tommo-boy.

Then Norah has another thought:
the Halden lads have fled away,
abandoned Tommo, who is caught,
and is, it seems, about to pay

a price that never in this war
between the rival gangs was set,
a ritual that ne’er before
had any captive leader met.
“Now, Rita, you must call them back!”
cried Norah.  “Call them to attack.
Tell them all that Tommo’s taken,
not to leave him here, forsaken.
Call them back to rescue their
leader, lest he be stripped bare.”

This call, of course, did not suit Jane.
She wants to savour Tommo’s pain,
for this, she thinks, will win the laurel
of victory for her town, Swarrell.
And what of all those trousers ripped
from Swarrell lads, by Norah whipped?
Will they to Halden boys be given?
Oh, Muses, see how thus is riven
this close alliance of the girls,
for like a snake that darkly curls
in hidden places, swift to strike
and plunge in living flesh its spike,
suspicion still resides in Jane.

Then Thelma speaks and says, “It’s plain
to see that they’ll be safe with her,
for whatever may occur
no lad will ever get his kecks
from Norah, for she hates the sex
that always claims to have dominion.
You surely must know her opinion.”
“It’s true,” says Norah, “that they’ll never
get their trousers back from me.
As for rescue, their endeavour
will fail, as you must surely see.
Tonno’s captured, and his fate
can’t be altered, though they try.
However quick, they’ll come too late.
This is what I prophesy.
Into battle they will run,
skirmish, scrimmage, fighting, fuss.
Then more trophies will be won,
trousers taken, brought to us.”

“Leave it, Norah,” Thelma sighs.
“Piled up here’s a huge amount.
Watch the climax.  Leave those guys.
Watch Tommo suffering the Count!”
Down below the clamour’s growing
from elated Swarrell boys,
singing of what they are going
to do to Tommo.  What a noise!
“Go on, Rita!” Norah shouts.
“But I’m missing all the fun!”
says Rita, filled with dismal doubts
“Go on!” says Norah.  “Be quick! Run!”

Now down below, inside the yard
the throng is growing, pushing hard,
surrounding Tommo who is brought
to execution, for now naught
can save him from his dreaded shame
as Willie dominates the game.
The Dragons shout and jeer and scoff:
“We’re going to take his trousers off!
We’re going to take his trousers off!
We’re going to take his trousers off!”

Canto 15: In which the Wild Bulls desert their leader

The procession comes out in the wide open space,
where the girls looking down have a jolly good view,
and Norah is thrilled, and she says, “That’s the place,
so we can all see what they’re going to do.”

Then Tommo is dumped down hard on the ground,
and there he is left in a sad sprawling heap,
while the Dragons all form a circle around
so that Tommo is trapped, and they call him a creep.

Vile insults they hurl at him, calling him names,
and then Willie tells him he shouldn’t have bragged
and called himself king and made such wild claims
to be slayer of Dragons.  He’ll now be debagged,

and not just by boys, for the girls will all see
his trousers ripped off and his package revealed,
and then he will suffer their jeers and their glee,
and the shame he will have then will never be healed,

for the program that’s fixed in the genes of the male
impels him to seek out a mate and impress
by dominant status, which now they’ll derail.
A trouserless weakling will get no caress

from a girl, for she’d think it was quite incorrect
to love any lad who had lost in the fight
his masculine honour.  Her own self-respect
would make her despise anyone in this plight.

Tommo looks up and is trembling with fright.
He shivers with terror he cannot surmount
while up on the bridge the girls squeal with delight
as Willie says, “Afterwards you’ll get the Count!”

Tommo looks round as if seeking a way
out of the circle that holds him at bay.
He charges to see if he can break through,
is repulsed and they throw him with hullaballoo
back to the middle.  He heavily falls,
then gets up again to jeers and loud calls.
They taunt him and mock him, while all the girls yell
as loudly as devils.  Cacophonous hell!

He charges once more and is suddenly seized
and dragged to the centre.  Now Norah is pleased
to see Willie grab at his waistband and flies,
and she cheers as La’al Willie reveals Tommo’s thighs.
The trousers descend, right down to his knees,
and Willie contines: the ankles he frees,
then slides Tommo’s trousers off over his feet,
while up on the bridge those wild girls are replete
with delight at the sight of a boy being stripped.
Norah is laughing and cheering, quite gripped
by the triumph she sees for the feminine sex
in making those boys strip off other boys’ kecks.

Now Willie takes the trousers and he waves
them like a matador who goads and braves
a bull, for he has heard that Tommo’s taken
the name of Toro, so the pants are shaken
to goad him into charging.  Tommo snatches
at the trousers, but, before he catches
them, they’re thrown about from boy to boy –
now that’s a sight for Norah to enjoy.
Thus Tommo, with his pride now fully humbled,
skipped and staggered, jumped and ran and stumbled,
tried to catch his trousers as they’re thrown
about, for sadly must he now atone
for his ambition, and with many a groan.

Between the Alebeck and the city wall
allotments lie, and there the Bulls have fled,
across the marshes, fleeing from the brawl,
but now to them a girlish form there sped.

The girl was Rita, who had been sent there
to bring the Wild Bulls back into the game.
“Your leader,” now she cried, “has been stripped bare
of nether garments, and I fear their aim

must be to give him such humiliation
as never in the annals of damnation
could any of the damned souls e’er surmount!

A fate for him most foul they have devised
to show how much by them he is despised:
they’re just about to put him to the Count!”

“It’s all his fault.  I said his plans all stank.
So they can do whate’er they like,” said Wank.
“I’m going home.  I think I’ve had too much
of his ambition and the fight,” said ’Utch.

Then other boys around agreed and said
they’d lost their shoes or shirts and they were fed
up with all the fighting, didn’t care
if Tommo was abandoned to despair,

for some had lost some blood,
and others were with mud
covered, and a very large amount.

Some said the clothes they’d worn
were either lost or torn.
They didn’t care if Tommo got the Count.

Among those lads were some who’d lost their kegs.
The prospect of going home with naked legs
through all the streets of Halden, brightly lit,
was one they didn’t relish, not one bit.

Then, even if they managed, what their mums
would say, if they turned up with naked bums,
would not be pleasant.  Those maternal rants
would really make them rue their loss of pants.

“Forget him!  He’s a wanker!” then said Nelly,
while Scouse just stood there, trembling like a jelly,
while tears sprang from his eyes as from a fount.

Now Scouse we know’s a coward.  In the end,
will he for safety flee and leave his friend
despairingly subjected to the Count?

Then Hotrod and the Furies came along,
all showing many symptoms of their hurts,
lamenting everything that had gone wrong,
for some were wearing only just their shirts,

and others wearing jeans so badly ripped
they scarcely covered anything at all.
Still others looked as if they had been dipped
in mud from head to foot or had to sprawl

in Alebeck marsh while making their escape.
Now some with bleeding gums and mouths agape
showed loss of teeth, and others bleeding noses.
Rescue Tommo?  Hotrod now opposes

any such suggestion Rita makes.
For Tommo he would never give two shakes,
and so the Furies leave the battlefield
ignoring every word that she might wield.

Then there comes a roar,
and counting up to four.
“I’m missing all the fun,”
cried Rita, “I must run
or I will be too late
to witness Tommo’s fate!
They’re counting up to eight!”

So Rita sped away
and left the boys, and they
turned, about to leave
though Scouse said they should grieve
to leave their leader thus.
“Oh don’t make such a fuss!
He’d do the same to us,”

said Nelly with a frown.
“We’re heading back to town.”
“Why don’t we use the van?”
cried Scouse.  “Yes, that’s our plan!”
“The keys!  The keys!  They’re lost!”
cried ’Utch, “Oh that’ll cost
me hard, for when we crossed

the marsh I must have dropped
them.  Now I’m really copped.
My brother, he will grill me,
make me confess, then kill me!
Don’t leave me in the lurch!
You’ve gotta help me search,
or we’ll all get the birch!”

Then Nelly and Claggy and Wank
said, “Please don’t expect us to thank
you for the van, ’cos we’re off.
Deny it and just do not cough
or spill any beans when they ask.
Just put on an innocent mask,
but searching’s too much of a task.”

We’ll leave the Wild Bulls to their fates,
Master Nelson, Master Clarke.
Masters Hutchinson and Bates,
slinking homeward through the dark.
Then off they went.
Each one was bent
on saving his own skin.
Scouse only stayed,
and looked dismayed,
for how should he begin
the task he’d set
himself, to get
Tommo back from danger,
to boldly go
and face the foe,
when courage is a stranger?

Please remember that this poem is copyright.  See Copyright and concessions for permitted uses.  If you enjoyed this tale, please tell your friends about it.

The Battle: Cantos 16-20

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