Authors: Vaughn Heppner
Tags: #Historical, #Fantasy
Books by Vaughn Heppner:
THE ARK CHRONICLES
People of the Ark
People of the Flood
People of Babel
People of the Tower
OTHER HISTORICAL NOVELS
The Sword of Carthage
The Great Pagan Army
Visit www.Vaughnheppner.com for more information.
The Rogue Knight
by Vaughn Heppner
Copyright © 2011 by the author
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.
On the last day of April 1258, the English barons attended parliament in full armor. They left their swords at the door, but it did not calm King Henry the Third. In fear, he yielded to their angry demands, which became known as the Provisions of Oxford, the first step to democracy. However, Henry was a slippery king, and his struggle against the barons did not end there. In time, he began to evade the most onerous of the stipulations.
In desperation, the barons agreed to let King Louis of France render an arbitration on the provisions. Earl Simon de Montfort would travel to France as the baronial spokesman. All knew him as a powerful advocate and a forceful man. Alas, a hole in the road near Catesby caused his horse to throw him. Simon fell and broke his leg—and the accident changed history. He was unable to travel. Without Simon de Montfort in attendance, King Louis went far beyond his role as arbiter. And on the morning of 23 January 1264, he handed down the Mise (or settlement) of Amiens. The mise favored the English King on every point, and the Provisions of Oxford that King Henry had sworn to observe were declared null and void.
It meant civil war.
The rebelling barons were strongest in the Western Marches of Wales. It was a rugged country, and the English crown had not yet subdued all the land. Prince Llewellyn of Wales bent no knee to any English lord or king. His Welshmen often raided the Anglo-Norman strongholds. The constant fighting had turned the Marcher Barons into a rough, war-ready lot, independent and jealous of their rights. Perhaps that’s why most of them supported the Baronial cause.
Yet not all the barons in the Western Marches had fallen away from the Plantagenet King, Henry III. In Pellinore Fief, the people loved the king because their lord Baron Hugh de Clare did. Tonight the baron celebrated in a cruel but usual medieval fashion.
In the main castle yard, huntsmen dragged a young bear to the baiting post. Bonfires raged, throwing lurid light upon the scene and upon the gathered crowd. Peasants in their dirty smocks shouted and jeered at the bear. The knot of nobles in their finery, their eyes bloodshot from countless jacks of ale, laughed and placed bets. Young dog-boys struggled to hold onto a pack of vicious brutes. The hounds were huge, with slavering fangs and heavy collars of spiked iron. After studying the hounds, no one dared to bet coins on the bear.
“That’s what the king should do to de Montfort!” shouted a huge old knight. Firelight played off his bald dome of a head and off his thick, white eyebrows. He towered over everyone, and everyone feared him. He was Sir Philip of Tarn Tower, the Seneschal of Pellinore Castle.
Lady Alice de Mowbray shook her head. She pitied the poor bear. It bawled in fear as the huntsmen knotted its heavy leather leash to the baiting post. The Baron and Sir Philip had captured the bear two days ago. The Baron boasted endlessly about it. He’d waded in with only a net in hand, jumping upon the beast and wrestling it to the ground.
Alice de Mowbray sneered as she slipped away from the growing throng. She wore hunting clothes and a dagger with a jeweled hilt. She was twenty, with blonde hair and a face many considered beautiful. Tonight was her long sought after opportunity.
Nearby, stable boys shouted in glee. Bloody-handed cooks bellowed advice to the two young dog-boys. Grooms gave odds to each other. Herders booed the bear. Maids, scullions, masons, pages, squires, the priest, goose-girls, men-at-arms and the knights, everyone eagerly awaited the coming fight.
Usually, boredom afflicted everyone. Stuffed in the narrow castle corridors and the small rooms, people soon tired of one another. Only a handful of nobles and churchman read books, and minstrels soon told all the good tales. Hunting was fun, so was fighting and chasing girls…but regular castle life, with its endless dull routines and chores, soon become boring in the extreme. Therefore, everyone lusted after the slightest excitement. It didn’t matter if it was cruel.
Alice de Mowbray was different. She no longer found interest in cruelty, not even cruelty to a young bear that would some day grow up into an old and ferocious beast that would probably raid the sheep. The bear was a captive, taken from its home and bound in a place it hated—Pellinore Castle.
Despite her noble breeding, Lady Alice spat on the ground. She also hated Pellinore Castle for she too was a captive. The Baron, her liege, hoped to bind her to the husband of his choosing, just as the bear was now bound to the post. Such a husband would be no better than the vicious brutes unleashed and urged to attack the bear.
Alice strode away from the throng, away from the bonfires that cackled and threw sparks and flickering flames into the night. She clenched her fists in rage, although she sought to keep her face devoid of emotion. She looked back, and was surprised to see Cord the dog boy standing by the castle wall. It dawned on her that Cord should have been handling the vicious brutes. He scowled as he watched the fight. He crossed his brawny arms and planted his muscled legs in a wide stance. Though only a dog boy and a felon’s son, Cord had a knight’s bearing, and he was handsome. At his side sat a huge dog, an imported Italian mastiff named Sebald. Many considered the mastiff the most courageous dog in the castle, perhaps in all Wales.
Alice recalled Cord’s refusal to have anything to do with baiting so young a bear. He would pay for that refusal. But perhaps like her he knew what it meant to be a captive.
A dog snapped at the bear. Another bit the bear’s flank. The bear spun to defend itself, but the leash jerked it short. Baffled, the bear roared. The dogs snarled, continuing to circle it. The bear lunged at the nearest dog. The leash strained tight and then parted. Freed, the bear pounced upon a surprised dog, killing it with a blow. People screamed. The young bear rose onto its hind feet, roaring at the crowd. Then something short and heavy hissed. The bear grunted, with a crossbow bolt stuck in its neck.
Sir Philip laughed in glee. He held the crossbow.
The bear sank with a groan, and the dogs rushed in for the kill.
Alice turned away in disgust and hurried into the darkness. With long, reckless strides, she fled the jeering crowd. She drove the blood-maddened sounds from her mind. Instead, she listened for anyone who might catch her and report her deed to the Baron. She must succeed tonight. For too long, the Baron had held her against her will. Her father had died in a night of terrible rapine and slaughter. The Welsh had stormed his castle, butchering everyone. With no blood kin to protect her, the Baron could chose whom she would marry, and he wielded that baronial right like a whip over his men. Alice was the prize. Whoever married her gained the right to her castle—for everyone knew that only a man was considered capable of running and defending a castle.
“They’re wrong,” Alice whispered to herself.
She looked around. No one was in sight. Carefully, she opened the door to the pigeon loft. A bird cooed in its nest. Others, in the darkness, rustled their wings. Alice unerringly moved to the roost where a special pigeon sat. He was Father Bernard’s pigeon, from the Bishop of Canterbury’s pigeon loft. If freed, this pigeon would fly straight there, providing no hawk caught it along the way.
Alice scooped up the surprised bird and hurried outside. She looked around once more before she took out a small strip of parchment and a string. As the pigeon cooed its complaint and struggled to be free, she tied the parchment around its leg. Alice’s fingers felt clumsy and fear clenched her stomach. If anyone caught her…
A low growl alerted her. She spun around. Sebald, the Italian mastiff, pointed his blunt snout at her. A moment later, Cord the dog boy stepped up. He stared at her in surprise, seeing the pigeon in her hands, and then the note. His handsome eyebrows shot upward.
Alice licked her lips, readying a lie or a harsh command.
Cord spoke first. “I understand,” he said. He wrapped his big hand around Sebald’s collar. “Good luck.” He turned and dragged his hound with him, striding out of sight.
Alice blinked. Then she blinked again. She laughed as she threw the messenger pigeon into the air. Although it was dark, the pigeon beat its wings and flew out of sight. Would the message do any good? She wasn’t sure. She hoped so. She laughed again, a sound of release, then one of pure gladness. It was good to know that not every hand was turned against her. She sighed. How sad that Cord the dog boy was a felon’s son and held so lowly a station in the castle hierarchy. He was so strong-looking and brave.
Alice shrugged. Then she slipped away into the night, wondering what the future would bring.
A forest stood between Pellinore Fief and the wilds of Wales. In this forest lived the King of Beasts, though he was neither lion, bear nor hulking wolf. Old Sloat, the King, was a wild boar, a monstrous pig with lower eyeteeth that were as sharp as a poniard, set at an angle to do the most damage. They were continually honed by the upper eyeteeth, which acted as a block-like whetstone. At one time or another, he’d used those tusks to kill a wolf, a bear and even a man.
The man had died hard, on his knees, his teeth bared and knife raised. He’d tried to turn his mangled body and always face the King. In the end, Old Sloat had gutted the man, the forester of Pellinore Fief, as he’d gutted so many other foes before him.
As befitted the King of Beasts, Old Sloat ate whatever he desired. In this, he was much like a man. In his forest, he usually dined upon acorns and beechnuts, rosebay, willow herb, hogweed and goatweed. However, to have reached his vast size, the ponderous ruler had pounced upon wounded rabbits and gobbled down eggs and the young of ground-nesting birds. Nor did snakes or frogs survive a meeting with Old Sloat. Those too he chewed, swallowed and grew strong upon. Dead fish, in lean times, proved edible to this giant among pigs, while insects by the thousands, grasshoppers being his particular favorite, garnished his more usual fare.
Within his forested domain eyesight counted for little. Shadows and streaks of light waged an uneven struggle here. Gloom usually prevailed, until the fall of night when darkness became supreme. The King of Beasts was unconcerned. Like all pigs, he relied more upon his wonderful sense of smell and keen hearing than upon his indifferent eyesight.
On one particular gloomy early afternoon Old Sloat raised his ugly head with its stiff brown mane shot through with white. His beady black eyes became glassy and his flat snout twisted ever so slightly.
Truffles! He smelled truffles!
With a grunt, he broke into a trot, following the odor with unerring accuracy. Above all else, he loved truffles, a potato-shaped fungus that grew in the ground.
A long, low gray shadow slunk out of his way. The wolf clearly wanted nothing to do with the King.
Old Sloat ignored the wolf because he lusted after those truffles. Truffles, truffles, truffles. That’s all he wanted. Truffles to gobble, truffles to gorge on.
Then he slowed. A new smell made his flat snout twitch again. He smelled MAN, and just as strongly, he smelled MAN’S horrible ally DOG. He snorted and tested the scent further. Ah. It didn’t matter. While he smelled MAN and DOG, he didn’t smell HORSE. Upon HORSE dwelled the most terrible kind of MAN, the one who wore metal and roared with fierce pride. That kind of MAN had at various times tried to hunt him. That kind of MAN invaded the King’s domain with his horrible ally DOG.
MAN ON FOOT, however, was nothing.
It was impossible, of course, for the King of Beasts to know the dreadful laws of Pellinore Fief in 1263. He didn’t know that by law peasants, men a-foot, couldn’t hunt wild boars or even spear the deer that nibbled upon their hard-worked fields. Not even rabbits could be lawfully slaughtered and thrown into the cooking pot, to ease the ever-hungry stomachs. If a peasant did any of these things, and was found out, the man on horseback, the knight, either took the peasant to the chopping block to remove the offending hand, or to the hanging tree to remove the offender altogether. All that Old Sloat knew was that the despised MAN AFOOT feared to close with him. Yell and swing his sticks, yes—come near for the final clutch—no.
Maybe, though, that’s all Old Sloat needed to know, other than the wonderful smell of truffles. Truffles, truffles, truffles. He chomped his teeth together as saliva drooled from his jaws. Very soon, he would feast to his royal delight.
Cord the dog boy wanted the newly vacant position of forester. Old Sloat had slashed the previous forester to death. At nineteen years of age, Cord was tired of sleeping on the rushes in the main castle hall, and tired of sleeping with the hounds. Too many people thought of him as part hound himself. That, however, was only half the reason for wanting to be forester. In order to marry Bess, the rich miller’s quite beautiful daughter, he needed to have a prestigious job. Chief dog boy wouldn’t do. Maybe he had an uncanny knack with the hounds, maybe he was tall and ruggedly handsome, as more than a few of the castle scullions had told him, but none of that counted with the ambitious miller or his wife.
Forester. He had to become Pellinore Fief’s new forester. The bailiff had already given him the nod. Now Baron Hugh de Clare had to agree. Today, without the squire, the bailiff or any of his men to help, Cord had to move six of the baron’s boisterous boarhounds and force Tiny to accept their lodging in his hut. If he could successfully do this task, he could probably win the baron’s agreement.
Even so, gaining that agreement would be difficult. Cord knew that, and he also knew why. Oh, he knew why, all right. He’d had a lifetime of learning the why, short as his lifetime had been. Twelve years ago, his father had been a knight turned outlaw. Eleven years ago, his father had been a captured outlaw hung from a massive old elm tree. That had turned Cord, a lad of nine then, into a felon’s son.
A felon’s son gained kicks, buffets and brutal beatings where others only gained a box to the ears, a stern reprimand or a wagging finger. A felon’s son seldom had friends. Because of that, the castle bullies had targeted him for their particular attention. Worse, Baron Hugh’s meanest knight had often gone out of his way to thump Cord’s head.
Reviled and picked upon, living in a strange castle without any protectors, the spirit within young Cord had flickered and almost winked out.
The only reason the baron had taken him in, Cord knew, had been to acquire his father’s special boarhound. Even then, Cord had had an uncanny knack with hounds and with that boarhound in particular. That boarhound had licked Cord’s cuts and bruises and had slept beside him in the Great Hall, and had kept the young boy’s spirit alive. Old Hob, a drunken
—a non-noble horseman—had told Cord to set the boarhounds on his tormenters. Cord had, and he’d been severely whipped because of it. Yet the worst of the tormenting had stopped. And from that moment on Cord had determined to become Pellinore Fief’s chief dog boy.
It had taken him ten long years to achieve the rather lowly position. A felon’s son could do nothing quickly. Bess had changed all that, however. Now events moved at a bewildering pace. At first, he’d had to sneak to see Bess, as her proud and rather clever father had strict ideas about whom his daughter could see and whom she couldn’t; unfortunately, Bess had soon tired of him. Until, that is, Cord had shown her his secret ring.
Eleven long years ago, when they’d hung his father, his enemies had jeered at the dangling corpse. They’d even dragged Cord near to watch. Alas, his father’s enemies had also known fury because his father’s golden signet ring had been missing. A year after the hanging, a visiting monk, a brown-habited Franciscan, had spoken to Cord at Pellinore Castle. The monk, who had been at the hanging, pressed a small hard object into Cord’s hands. It was his father’s missing ring. Cord had been dumbfounded.
“Hide it,” the monk told him.
Cord had hidden it that very afternoon, protecting it in an oily cloth and burying it in the ground. Perhaps once a year he’d dug it up and tried it on his finger, only to bury it again. That ring he’d shown Bess. She in turn had begged him to show it to her father, who had wondered aloud and appraisingly if this meant Cord was still technically a noble. That’s when, by following the miller’s clever advice, everything had begun to change for Cord.
The golden ring now hung from Cord’s neck on a leather thong, hidden under his tunic. Upon the ring was the image of a lion, his father’s signet. Cord considered it his good luck charm.
As he thought about the ring, Cord rubbed his angular jaw. He moved down a trail with his long stride. He wore boots, leather leggings and a woolen tunic. On his belt hung an empty food sack and a big hunting knife. He smiled at the two black-and-tan Italian mastiffs beside him. They moved thick muscles as they trotted. Each dog wore a spiked collar to protect it from bear or wolf bites, or from the dreaded slashes of a boar’s tusks. In all Pellinore Fief, only Baron Hugh’s prized bloodhounds had cost more than the imported mastiffs.
Cord had brought them along for a reason. He could hardly wait to tell Bess the reason. That’s why he’d taken this long route, hoping to find her at the mill.
In 1263, there were only two mills on all Pellinore Fief. Whoever used them paid for the privilege. While Baron Hugh had sold a few peasants the right to grind their own grain, he hadn’t allowed the same privilege with the fulling mill. Cord knew from listening to Bess and her mother and father, that mills brought in a lot of money. While the building of mills dipped heavily into the pockets of rich men, the returns from the rents quickly filled those pockets back up. Cuthbert Miller, because he had part ownership of the mill, had grown incredibly wealthy for a Thirteenth Century English peasant.
Cord, along with everyone else who kept their eyes open, knew that much of Pellinore’s prosperity came from sheep. The fulling mill, built over six years ago, showed it. All over England and parts of the Western Marches had arisen fulling mills. No nation had more or better wool than England. With the new fulling mills the transformation from loomed to fulled wool occurred faster and more uniformly than it had in the past.
How many afternoons had Cord listened to either Bess or her mother and father go on and on about the fulling mill? They’d been countless. Why, he almost knew as much about fulling as Cuthbert.
The old way of fulling took a lot of sweat and labor. After leaving the loom, strong men took the wool and soaked it in vats. It had to be scoured, cleaned and thickened. For hours, men tramped the wool with their feet as it lay in troughs, or they beat the wool with heavy, fulling bats. Cord had tried the old way once and had gotten a handful of blisters and sore back muscles.
The new way... ah, what a marvel it was.
Cord and the mastiffs strolled beside the babbling Iodo River. They took a bend in the trail and came upon the marvel, the fulling mill.
The stoutly-built wooden building rested securely on a foundation of stone. Even now, the big wheel spun round and round as the swiftly-flowing stream pushed it. Cord stopped and watched, always amazed at the power of water. He listened to the hammer sounds from within, to the clack of gears and cams, to the shouts of men. Amazing! To let this wonderful machine do the work of so many fullers, ah, what clever men millers were.
Cord strode to the main door and peered in.
He saw a bewildering array of cogs, gears and cams. This was a tilt-hammer system, according to Cuthbert. A revolving drum moved by the water-wheel caused wooden hammers to lift and then smash down against the soaking woolen cloth. One man, the miller, oversaw it. Once whole gangs of men had been needed to do the work. Cuthbert employed two half-Welsh workers to help him move the heavy lengths of cloth. They also helped Cuthbert buy from the Welsh shepherds who came to Pellinore to sell. Few Welshmen farmed the way Englishmen did. On their hills and mountains, they mainly herded sheep. Cuthbert was always bragging about what great bargains he’d made off the loony Welsh.
“Cord! What are you doing here?”
Cord waved to Cuthbert, a beefy man with huge hands. Sweat ran down the miller’s face and his leather apron was wet. He must have been moving wool.
“I’m here to see Bess!” Cord shouted.
“Try the village!” Cuthbert shouted back.
Cord frowned as he stepped away from the door. He wasn’t sure he had time to search through the Tanning Village. He surely didn’t have time to go to Cuthbert’s house and ask for Bess. Well, he’d better waste no more time. He turned and broke into a trot.
It wasn’t long before the Tanning Village came into view. The houses were bigger and better built here than Pellinore Village. The reasons were the tanning and tawing yards, which brought the peasants prosperity.
Cord peered over at the nearer yard. An old man with two young apprentices was tying a hide onto a wooden frame. Other men, working farther down the row of framed hides, carefully scraped them. Still others worked at wooden pumps, pouring river-water into sunken vats. There with long sticks they stirred soaking hides.
Two long buildings stood to the rear of the tanning and tawing yards. There the tanners and tawers stored their cured hides, and there in stone crocks they kept their special chemicals. The tanners, who cured ox, cow and calf hides, used tannic acids or lime. The tawers, who cured deer, sheep or horse skins, used alum or oil.
Unfortunately, from the two yards and into the stream flowed dried blood, fat, surplus tissues, flesh impurities, hair and acid, lime and alum. Near the tawing yard stood the butcher’s yard, and over a rise of ground were pens for sheep and cattle. Baron Hugh had decreed that no one draw water from the Iodo River until a mile away from the Tanning Village. Even so, the villagers downstream of the Tanning Village constantly complained about the corruption of their water. Pellinore Fief’s best ale came from the East Village, which unsurprisingly was upstream of the Tanning Village.
Cord scanned the village for sign of Bess. When he didn’t see her, he wondered what to do. Should he stop at the house? No, he decided. He’d better worry more about
his task than telling Bess about it. Therefore, he crossed the stream on the rickety bridge and trotted toward the East Village.