Neve, Chapter 7 . . .
The pit exuded cold and the smell of old sand though the sun, newly risen, was rapidly drying the sweat on her back. One more part of the task now done. In satisfaction Guy looked around him. Again, Neve saw the armed guard Raesan had called Regin-yorl’s Stoats. Stoats? Yet each in some way wore an heraldic sign of a bull’s head, wide-horned. Their lights rippled, Silver Folds. Except there was the Crystal she’d seen before, and there too a Flame. Then Toli with no light at all, and his face red from the exertion. She felt Guy’s shame and regret that Toli had been brought to this. He was a good lad. Hawk, though, still dusting off his hands, he would be safe. The sheriff didn’t know of his involvement. Besides, Hawk’s lord was the earl. He’d protect him. Finally Guy turned to look at the Asars.
It was a shock to see Raesan dressed thus, in billowy silks of citrus and spice. Yet otherwise he looked exactly the same. He stood alone, apart from the others, two arm-lengths at least from the pale Flame Freilsen. But Guy looked longest at Kerrid and Jiar, his chest swelled full of gratitude. Neve thought of her grandma’s saying, that a couple who belonged together were like cup and saucer, two parts of a whole. But that thought was shot into space as a fist ferreted into her guts.
Guy was jealous? Indeed, he even acknowledged it. Then from habit he began to beg off his God forgiveness.
He halted, his notion of God now shredded. Thoughts tossing, tilting, feelings surging, he could no longer define what was God.
To escape the confusion he fixed his thoughts on a petite ivory beauty, with dark red hair like the richest of silks. Oh, but he wanted that haughty vixen. But no! No. He must stop that thought too. He swallowed hard. Buffoon, still to hold that desire.
So that was the cause of his jealousy. No yearning there for the gypsy-skinned Kerrid, but regret that he’d never have love of fair maiden.
Raesan? Explain, please. Why are Guy’s thoughts worded in English?
I’m translating them.
But what of those memories that flooded her head when she was at work and he no place near? She had no time to ponder. With his thoughts of fair maiden the scene altered; the transformation jolted, sunlight and sea-breezes vacuumed away to a dark miasma.
She was inside a wood-and-thatch building, that smell was familiar. Stale stable-manure. A rustle of straw, a horse’s snort, brought a surge of affection and the name of Grimbag. His horse. He was in the loft above the stable, the lodging shared with all but a chosen few of his lord’s company. And he was angry.
Panicked, he muttered, “Mary, Mother of God, where is that blessed locket?” He’d hidden it amongst his bedding, he know that he had. “Someone has stolen it!” But what a buffer of him to leave it here. And it was intended for her, taken from a Frank killed two months ago. Then, praise the Good Lord, his fingers hit on it, relief as great as a morning piss. He disentangled its chain from the straw.
The only light was from the door below, yet Neve could see the ornament clearly. Small as a pill-box, though square and of gold and plain but for a cross chased into it. Guy shook it, gently. Inside something rattled, and she felt the weight of it. A relic. But again he muttered, “A relic, some relic. What value has that? She’ll want to know more.” He dredged up the story already concocted. It was part of the spear that the Roman guard used to pierce Christ’s side while He hung on the cross. So as not to lose it again, Guy slipped it over his head. Neve felt the sudden cold on her chest. Then she – though really it was Guy – scooped up the mail-coat.
Guy stopped at the top of the ladder. Quandary. To throw down the coat, or to sling it over his shoulder? He opted for the latter, proud to be able. Seven years old when he came to Rauf Rainald, a scrawny whelp, yet she had befriended him. And so she ought, was he not the son of a marcher lord.
The yard outside was busy with scrabbling fowl and sparring soldiers who bantered and laughed, snubbing the mercenaries who gathered together and stayed at a distance. Neve noticed at once the mix of accents and dialects. It seemed Rauf Rainald’s company included men from east, north, west and south.
“Ho-la, Lord Landless! Off to soften our lord’s haughty daughter?” called a French-spoken Norman soldier.
Guy answered with a cheery wave. He’d fought many a battle beside these men these past two years. He had proven his worth and now was a valid part of their company. Their jeers didn’t change yet they no longer seemed cutting.
“He’s off to sofan the white-breasted maid,” laughed another, accent decidedly northern.
“Ay-la,” shouted the first, “more chance of me pissing upon yon roof-ridge.”
Guy accepted their banter without trying to answer. They could say as they would, Adele had been his since that day they went swimming, naked together, in the Tais. Neve felt a warmth spread in her body at his remembering – though they’d been children, nine years old, at the time.
Neve wanted to see more of Rauf Rainald’s hall but Guy was soon into it. An old building, Saxon in origin, it stretched from the beck to the church stopping short of the graves. Stables at one end, Rauf’s quarters the other, the fire-hall in the middle. Guy’s thoughts intruded upon hers. Rauf Rainald talked of building in stone, he talked of a castle if his lord-king would allow it. But why here, why in Maringtorp? It was just another of his holdings, and not even the biggest. Why invest here when no one of importance was likely to visit. Guy knew, as they all knew, that their lord Rauf had only remained here this long this year because their lord-king had gone into a panic. But now word had come that the Danish invasion had been averted by the timely killing of the Danes’ own lord king in a church on some Danish island. That meant the mercenaries soon would go home. Guy was impatient for that. It was because of the mercenaries that Adele wasn’t here, sent to Ristun, a manor held of Rauf by Rauf’s younger brother. But Guy couldn’t make sense of it. Ristun nigh kissed the coast and was surely the more vulnerable.
The cool of the hall kissed Neve’s skin, for a moment refreshing after the heat of the yard. But flies were everywhere, spreading disease. Rauf Rainald sat in his chair, a veritable mountain upon a veritable throne, a grey-glazed pot in his hand, its wine spilling like blood in a battle as he waved it in greeting like a common soldier – which according to rumour he’d been before Hastings. But there was nothing common about his robes. How close would Guy go? Neve wanted to look, see the styling, see the intricate embroidery. Silver brocades and eastern silks. She supposed them had off the Franks and those ‘treacherous Danes’. Guy wanted to spit at the thought of them, trading with the Norman lords yet threatening invasion with an eye to their land.
“Ah! All prepared for the siege?” Rauf asked.
Guy knew he was teasing. He bowed his head. “My lord Rauf.”
“Set the mail down.” Rauf nodded to the benches arrayed by the wall. “Something’s forgotten.”
“My lord Rauf?”
Rauf snorted and gave a brisk shake of his straggle-haired head.
“My lord, I have knelt the night in the church.”
Rauf raised an eyebrow as red as his beard. Guy waited, more anxious than the eve of a battle. What had he forgotten?
“What say we chase this together and discover the lack, hmm? You have the belt?”
So that was what Rauf Rainald was after: wanting to brag of what he had given young Guy. Guy had no choice but to play the game with him. “I have, my lord Rauf, as girded by you just this morning. And the weight of that buckle surely is cause for some pride.” Who cared from which corpse it was taken, Frank, Norman or other.
“And your sword? Ay, not forged especially for you, but that comes with time. Old though, there’s value in that. And pattern-welded.”
“Ay, my lord Rauf, a fine sword, finely balanced.” And if the hilt lacked a gold finish, and the sheath was plain with no gems or fancy drawn-wire encrusting, what of it. It fitted his hand and it was his.
“You’ve your lance too, and your steel-axe?”
Guy bowed to acknowledge.
“And gifted this morning with a Breton-bred horse?”
“Ay, my lord Rauf. Tawn-Tur, a fierce fighting stallion.” But no replacement for Grimbag. That steed and Guy were as one. “I ought to prostrate myself, with all that you’ve presented me.”
That pleased Rauf, enough he refused it. “Ney, no need for that, you’ve sworn. And I’ve returned you the mantle your father sent with you?”
“Ay.” Apart from this training, and his life, that cloak was the only thing he’d ever had from his father. And despite the heat he wore it now. Green silk brocade, and an age it had taken to fasten it just right at the shoulder.
“The mail-coat, a coif and helmet.” Rauf glanced at them, set on the bench by the wall. “Now say what’s forgotten.”
“I have thanked you, my lord Rauf, for the grant of the land.” It was a few wet acres between the hall and the main road south, but it gave him a name.
“A prime piece that. Aspect lacking, but over the seasons it yields. So for the third time, I ask what’s forgotten.”
Truly, Guy did not know, and he wished not to offend.
“Toli!” Rauf yelled from his throne in a voice more suited to command of a battle.
Guy scowled as the Saxon lad entered, no hesitation, but that was Toli: he always was bold.
“Your squire,” Rauf said, leaning forward. “Someone to hold your shield while you piss. To properly brooch your mantle.” He tapped at his shoulder as again he sat back. “Yours to train.”
Guy scrambled through thoughts for how best to express his gratitude. But . . . Toli? Saxon, spotty and tubby, the lad didn’t even know who his father.
“You hesitate. You think a lord’s life is the making of gifts? I’ve things to attend, a journey to make and you’re in my way. So whistle your squire and be gone.”
Guy glanced again at the lad and back to his lord. He hardly dared to say, yet . . . ‘My lord Rauf, I am off to visit Adele.”
“Ay, I know it. Offer my greetings. Now go.”
“But . . .” Again he glanced at the Saxon, no attempt to hide his contempt. “With him?”
“He is your squire. Yours to be your constant companion – as till this morning you were with Ansgot. When you shit, he hands you the wipes. When you swive, he hitches her skirts – but not my daughter’s, not till you’re wed.”
Still Guy didn’t move, just looking at Toli.
“Go!” Rauf shouted. “You’re annoying me now. You’re scarcely made a knight yet I’ve honoured you with a squire before you’ve yet earned it and now you’re riding off to claim my daughter. Go! And I want you back by Saint Michael’s mass. Two months.”
Guy opened his mouth but found no words. He bowed deeply instead. He turned to retrieve his mail-coat only he find his squire already had it. His squire, the meaning of that was slowly congealing.
“Prepare the horses,” he commanded, rather liking the taste of it.
“Accomplished,” said Toli.
“Accomplished, Sir Guy,” Guy enjoyed the correction.
Toli repeated it. Neve noticed the sarcasm. “And I’ve attended the water, procured the food, and the bedrolls secured.”
“Shield?” Guy had to find something he could bollock him for.
“Latched to my horse. Sir Guy.”
“Ay-la!” called that French speaking knight as Guy again crossed the yard. “Regardez, Adele! Your knight now has a squire he can ride.”
Neve felt the sting. Guy’s face must have glowed.
“Take no note,” Toli advised. “My ma always says—“
Guy snapped him to ‘shut it’. He didn’t want to hear of the Saxon’s ma.
~ ~ ~
There came a rapid succession of scenes, changes too fast to catch as Guy scrolled through his memories, rejecting. He settled upon an evening scene, in a town.
Where are we? Neve asked Raesan.
Raesan made no answer.
Why are you showing me this?
Again, silence from Raesan.
Had he abandoned her? She suddenly panicked. What if she couldn’t return to her own time? But would that be a problem? She wasn’t in a hurry to leave, not yet. What was happening here was amazing. Before, on the pier, when Raesan showed her Skimaskall, she’d been but a passive observer. Now, however Raesan had managed it, she was more like an homunculus inside Guy’s head, living his life as he remembered it. She realised that was the difference, that these weren’t Raesan’s memories as before, but were Guy’s. It was incredible, she couldn’t have wished for anything more. Except she’d like to have known where she was.
She shivered, the day’s swelter replaced by a cool evening breeze. The journey had taken longer than Guy had expected. As he’d approached the gate he’d feared the guard would not admit him. And his problems weren’t yet done. Night was fast closing and, though he was confident of a welcome at his father’s town-house, he had yet to find it.
Neve asked again, Where am I? But still no answer.
The road was remarkably quiet considering it led to the castle. Few soldiers, few travellers, and the merchants and traders had long since closed shop. The same couldn’t be said of the lanes leading off to the left, scaffold and bricks and imported stones, and someone close-by was entertaining – loud music and drunken calls. Neve felt the false swagger in Guy’s gait. But that wasn’t the way he must take.
He glanced up at the castle as he passed beneath it. But unlikely the sheriff was there, thus neither his brother. No fear, then, of slamming into him, face-to-face. Less anxious, he crossed the quiet marketplace, empty but for a beggar, and found the steep sewer-cut gulley that would take him down to the river. Tightly enclosed by tall houses, the lane was dark even in daylight. He oughtn’t to be here. And it wasn’t a long alley yet it seemed an age before, with relief, he emerged onto the broad riverside. There, at least, the half-moon provided some light.
But it was no more pleasant here, the stench appalling because of the tanners and fullers, and at every few steps, dark passages that wormed their way back to the market above through the town’s oldest quarter. Saxons lived here. Despite the day’s heat wood- and peat-smoke hung thick in the air, and who knew what dangers might lurk in there. Again, Guy acknowledged that he oughtn’t to be here alone. But he wasn’t alone. Neve clearly could hear the chubby squire following. But that wasn’t what Guy meant by ‘alone’. He missed the protection of Lord Rainald’s full company. And again the false swagger as he led his horse on. He didn’t want his Saxon squire to know he was lost and searching. Oh, he had been here before but only the once, and that in full light and when he was young.
At last, the house, almost touching Saint Benedict’s gate.
“Not as grand as you said,” said Toli, and added, “Sir Guy.”
Then of course this late the door to the yard was barred. Guy banged on the house-door. “You! Inside there!” He knew at least one servant was there by the light leaking through the high cauled-window.
His calls were eventually answered. “You bear de Lissay’s mark?” the burly servant asked. “Then be gone, you beggar in the night.”
Neve shared his mortification as the door slammed in Guy’s face.
“It’ll be Snap-the-Dragon then, Sir Guy?” Toli’s gloat was clear. He’d suggested the inn when they’d first entered the town.
The Dragon’s hall was crowded but at least everyone seemed of good repute. Yet Guy refused to move along the bench when a sallow-faced Jew tried to sit beside him. Neve did not understand.
Toli leaned-in close. “Sir Guy, you might bring your head down from the heavens.”
Guy didn’t understand. “My thoughts are on my fair Adele.”
Toli chuckled, but quietly. The lad wasn’t offensive – at least, Neve thought him not. “You believe those Breton troubadours with their songs of love, Sir Guy? That love is as real as ice in June.”
“You, Saxon, I shall forgive. For you, Saxon, know nothing. For a fact I know there is ice in June in Rome.”
“In Rome, but here is England, Sir Guy. As my old ma always says—”
“Hush it! I’ve said.”
“So, our lord Rauf, he always says . . .” Toli paused while he warily eyed Guy, but Guy had to allow it “. . . he says we’re to honour the customs of the folk whose lands we ride through – even if they do include elves, demons and other peculiar practices.”
Guy didn’t understand what Toli was saying but he knew it was criticism.
The scene suddenly changed. At firs to the welcome shade of a dusty-leafed oak. But for some reason Guy was hurting hard, and the scene again changed.
~ ~ ~
It was morning, a cool breeze and birds calling. All around, the echoing sounds of hooves drumming the dry ground. Guy sang as he rode his steadfast Grimbag.
“What’s that you’re shouting at, Sir Guy?” Toli called to him.
“I am singing.”
Toli laughed. “Na, Sir Guy, this is singing.”
And it was. Neve thought his voice angel-sweet.
Guy waved him to stop. “You won’t sing like that once your balls have dropped.”
“So what were you singing?”
Guy heaved an intentionally-audible sigh. “A lay I heard while away in France – only I don’t remember the words.”
Toli chuckled. “Don’t remember the tune either.”
Guy turned with a sigh. “Toli fitzMa, clearly you’re unacquainted with the role of the squire. Humbly to serve his knight.”
“Oh, I know that, Sir Guy. But what’s to humble me? The four years between us? Na, let’s make us a deal. Say, the higher you rise, the lower I’ll bow. Does that satisfy, Sir Guy?”
~ ~ ~
Adele’s long hair, the dense red of a dark damask rose, was held from her face by a lavender band. Her gown was of the same silk, a cascade from her shoulders that hid most of her form and tempted Neve’s hand. Guy was tempted more by the exposed skin of face, as translucent as the church candles lit in the name of Mary, Mother of God. But he never would touch, terrified of offending the maiden. Awkwardly, he looked to either side of her.
Neve welcomed that, catching glimpses beyond the sheltering oak. They seemed in a sea of ripening cereals. That would explain the soft smell of dry grasses. They must now be at Ristun – though nothing she saw, heard or smelled suggested they were near to the coast. The land shimmered with heat and not a wisp of a breeze yet Neve could smell water of sorts. From Guy’s thoughts she know it a river, fen-edged, beyond which lay Hreppessey. But how far was this oak from the hall? There was no chatter of workers, just a whicker of horses and the bleat of a goat. Otherwise silence. No geese. No fowl. All probably slaughtered so no invading Dane could gorge upon them.
And this was the most awkward of situations. An intruder inside Guy’s head, she was aware of the force of his desire. Yet oddly – and thankfully – it lacked sexual content. Still, her heart galloped along with his.
The pale Adele up-tilted her chin. “So my father agrees it but my mother will ask what have you to offer.”
So Guy had already proposed. Why didn’t he want to remember that? Had it been so clumsily done?
He straightened his shoulders with intense desperation, his chest pushed out. “I am knighted now. I have land.”
“You call Hamahall, land? You judge me a cottar’s daughter?”
Oh, the scorn. Neve sympathised at Guy’s cringing desire to shrink into the ground. He glanced back at his squire, holding the horses in the scorching sun, and wished the lad were not here to witness. He’d only add it to the tally already against him.
“My answer to you, Gui fitzPeter – or ought that now to be Guy of Hamahall? is . . .”
Guy waited, unable to breathe, his life hereupon decided. But for long aching moments she said nothing. Then, as in exasperation, she threw up her hands and snapped at him.
“. . . is to just . . . go away! Earn for yourself more than a measly knight’s fee. Gain a meritorious name. Do that then . . . then go speak to my mother.”
. _____ .
Next Tuesday (29th January 2013): The Measure of a Man