The sun must have been shining somewhere beyond the clouds, but she never saw it until it was preparing to set. She berated herself for losing track of time and looked at the cluster of damp reeds she had harvested. Only now did she consider the question of how to return with them. Sheathing her knife, she frowned thoughtfully, but in a moment the blade was firmly clenched in her hand, this time as a weapon not a tool.
Someone was watching her.
She did not know how she knew, but she was certain she was no longer alone. Perhaps she had seen a shadow moving, or heard a heavier rustle in the reeds than the wind or a bird would make. Whatever the reason, she was certain someone had their eyes on her, and equally certain it was someone she did not know. Robert had taught her how to use the tool as a defence, how to hold it lightly and move it with slight, delicate movement. But as the frightening sensation of being watched by an unseen observer continued, she only gripped the handle all the more tightly.
“Who are you?” she demanded, but her gentle voice quivered like the tall reeds. “Where are you?”
“Not in the direction you’re looking,” laughed a voice from behind her. “But I live here. I should be asking you who you are.”
She spun around to face this intruder who only laughed once more as her knife flew from her hand. Still she could not see him, and now she was unarmed. Her knife appeared before her, offered by an outreaching hand which parted the dense reeds around it. She took the handle uncertainly and drew back the reeds to find the owner of the hand. He was kneeling down in the tall plants, almost camouflage in a pale shirt which, far from being a winter garment, hung loosely from his shoulders. His eyes were dark and set so far into his skull that no amount of the dying sun’s light could reach them. But it was his smile which caught her imagination and gave her cause to lower the small blade. True, it was mischievous, but it made him look like a child rather than a villain.
“It’s not just that,” Philip sighed. “I try, repeatedly, to instil some hope for him of peace and eternity. But I’m afraid he damns himself at every turn. Sister Helena divulged something to me when last I was in Yorkshire.”
At this name, the monk frowned and subconsciously his hand gripped the cross which hung from his wide girth. He rubbed his thumb across it, and his lips twitched in a prayer he wished to remain solely between himself and God. Eventually he ceased in his rosary and swallowed hard before daring to speak.
“Are you at liberty to speak her words to me?”
“Yes. She asked for no secrecy concerning it. God had shown her my brother’s demise, condemned to a continuous battle with a man for the length of his mortal life. And God did not favour Lord De Bois.”
“Do you know who this man was?”
“She described him to me. It is strange to have a description given by a blind woman. He has the deer on his shoulders, she said.”
“A hunter, then,” the monk mused. “And one of nobility, or he would not hunt such an animal.”
“And acorns for eyes. His hair was reeds, his boots calves.”
“These things cannot tell us who,” the monk mused. “Was there nothing to distinguish him from another?”
“His bow was in leaf.”
A silence fell in the vestry as they considered this. A man with acorns for eyes and reeds for hair had not seemed strange or important, but the mention of this bow carried a far greater significance.
“Then Sister Helena is to appoint your brother’s judge and preordain his doom.” The monk brushed the back of his hand over his forehead and looked down thoughtfully at the sweat which rested there.
The Year We Lived
“Fool!” Henry called out. “Tell me why the bishop wishes to talk to me.”
The musician skipped forward, making deliberate movements so that the bells on his knees jingled as he moved. He did not stop until he reached the bishop and looked quizzically at his face, before clasping his hands to his face and turning back to Henry.
“This is easy, my lord,” he announced, before lowering his voice to mimic the bishop. “I’ve taken confession from a budding rose, but the bud is premature.”
“Stop this ridiculous show,” the bishop snapped. “I know you listen at keyholes, and open doors you have no right to enter so you can throw your accusations into your wit. But a confession is a private matter between the sinner and God.”
“I have not left this hall, your grace,” the jester explained. “Then how did you know?” he continued, in the bishop’s voice. Returning to his own voice he replied, “Perhaps a little bird told me.” Spreading his hands apart a small bird flew from his grasp.
“Very good, Fool,” Henry laughed, clapping his hands while the jester gave a deep bow to accept the applause. “Follow me, your grace.”
The bishop sneered down at the fool before following Lord De Bois from the hall and into a much smaller room.
“Deride me as you wish, Philip,” Henry laughed as he closed the door. “He’s the best fool I’ve ever watched. He acts, mimics, dances and sings.”
“Will he always do it to your tune, Henry?” the bishop asked.
“I believe he will. It’s strange what power one can have over others, isn’t it?”
“If you continue in these games, Henry,” Philip cautioned, “there could be a great deal of damage that fool might cause.”
“I enjoy watching him being an imbecile,” Henry said, pouring out two vessels of wine and handing one to the bishop.
Robert watched as the young man struggled to hold the sword Alric gave him and the moment the two weapons met, Dunstan’s blade went spinning from his hand with such a force that he stumbled back.
“I don’t think I was made for the sword,” he said tentatively. “Nor was there ever a sword made for me.”
“But if you are to join us,” Robert began. “Then you must be able to defend yourself.”
“I can defend myself. I simply go. It has served me well these years.”
Robert took his arm and rolled up Dunstan’s sleeve to reveal the wound his arrow had left. “Disappearing from sight will only protect you as long as your enemy is looking for you. What if he hears you or, and it can happen to anyone,” he added with a laugh, “smells you?”
Raucous laughter filled the hall, during which Dunstan blushed slightly.
“I have a knife,” he replied. “And I have a sling. I can catch animals with both. What are people but big animals?”
“I am not afraid of a man who hides in a hall. If he were truly concerned for her welfare, he would leave her alone.”
“Which is what he has done. But none of your patrols have yielded a location, and several have resulted in conflicts with his men. As soon as Robert discovers you continue to wound his sister, he will come after you.”
“You’re right,” Henry mused. “I shall send out a full force to meet him. I will be rid of him once and for all.”
“No,” Philip began, exasperation in his voice. “You should change how you treat Edith, not wage war with her brother.”
“He is my enemy, Philip. She is collateral. I will have the army readied at once and tomorrow we shall ride out and find him. Peace will not be obtained while he continues to draw breath.”