Chapter Three. An ending and the first heavy swells.
It was the first day of the first set of eight days after the 5th Saints day and the sun shone out of a cloudless sky as the gentle breeze cooled Brother Patrik’s face.
Sophia’s father sat in the lee of the farm house where it was cool while Elizabeth hung out the washing with the help of Natalie Venison. Sophia was cooing and fussing over the two boys while Tomas wielded a scythe cutting the grass in the garden area.
Patrik saw all this as he pushed opened the gate and made his way down the path to them. His loose white silk monk’s hooded robe hid the pronounced curvature of the spine that he had since birth. His cane that helped with his twisted hips clicked on the stone path to where poor Clarence sat. His head was large like his expressive hands and thrust forward his visage gentle and calm.
“Hello Master Clarence John, ladies, children!” He said cheerfully.
Sophia’s father started a little and tried to hide the cloth he held to his face. Patrik was saddened to see how thin the man had become, how ill he was.
“Hello Brother and well met. What can I do for you?” He asked breathlessly.
“I need your help my friend? May I sit?” Clarence began to get up but Patrik waved him back to his seat. “No don’t rise the settle will accommodate us both.”
He took the hand offered to him and sat down on the bench. As he did so he extended his senses through the contact with the man’s hand into his body, and saw the damaged the illness had wrought especially in his lungs. As he began to withdraw his mental touch he felt the patches, the low level healing, Sophia had achieved and was pleasantly surprised how skilfully they were applied. But he was painfully aware how little time the poor man had left. A few sets of eight days at the most perhaps just a few eight days there was no way he could tell.
“Ah thank you Goodman Clarence.” He stretched his bent frame as best as he could. “I am sorry to call on you unannounced but I need your help with a problem I have.”
The monk sighed dramatically.
“I have little to give Brother but you are welcome to it.” The farmer wheezed more than a little worried. As the illness had taken hold he had been unable to work as hard as he once had and had to rely more and more on the help from the Venison family. So in truth there was little he could give the monk but in his heart he knew he could not refuse his Lord God or his Saint should they ask him for it.
“Bless you Goodman Clarence you misunderstood me, I am not here to take anything from you quite the opposite.” Patrik told him with a light laugh. “Two of our young Brothers were set the task of preparing and tasting the wine and the liqueur we make at the Abbey. Well they were affected by the vapours and took too much in their tasting and became quite drunk. The devil alcohol had completely taken away their common sense.”
Clarence started to laugh which made him cough up some blood. Patrik acted as if he hadn’t noticed as Clarence quietly wiped it away.
“It is no laughing matter master Clarence they were so drunk they were found in the chapel singing quite disgusting versions of the holy songs and doing cartwheels down the aisle.” Patrik began to chuckle. “Yes alright I concede it was funny but that doesn’t solve the problem of what punishment to give them. Would they be able to work the land for you as their punishment as to be honest with you I have no idea what to do for the best?”
Patrik held his breath praying that the ill man would take the lifeline that was being offered.
He needn’t have worried for though Clarence was a proud man he wasn’t a foolish one he knew in his heart that he hadn’t long to live and needed to secure his families life for after he was gone.
“I think I can help you with that Brother as there is much they can do here as a punishment.”
Patrik let out a deep breath and sagged against the wall.
“Thank you Goodman Clarence the problem has vexed me much these last few days and has given me several sleepless nights I can tell you.” He shook the man’s hand on the deal. “I have a Brother Simon who is a little slow of wit but a good boy just the same. He can do some work around the farmhouse and garden for you. Our Father Abbott is a little touchy, shall we say, due to his dyspepsia and finds poor Brother Simon an irritation. It would be good to get him out of harms way.”
Patrik called the three monks in and introduced them to Clarence and the family. The next fifteen minutes was spent enjoyably setting the three young monks their tasks and talking about the farm in general before Patrik brought the subject around to his other concern.
“Goodman Clarence I have an idea that, though I am reluctant to suggest it, could be an appropriate way of thanking you for your help.” He smiled warmly. “My novice has moved on to his first parish and I have need of another. Would you consider your daughter for the post? I would need her only one day each week for learning and on eighth day for services. We would compensate you for her lost time at the farm naturally.”
“Yes I agree it would be good to know she would be in safe hands.” Clarence nodded before looking over at Tomas who was working quite happily with Simon in the garden.
“If you would agree your son could come to the Abbey two days in every eight to train as a Priest. I could teach him his numbers and letters as well as the scriptures. You would be paid his stipend naturally.” Patrik patted the man’s knee and was shocked to feel how thin the man had become.
“You are serious Brother?” Clarence asked quite overwhelmed.
“Of course, it would be the perfect way of thanking you and it would take a load of my mind.”
“Sophia call your mother and Lady Venison please we have much to discuss.” The farmer seemed to rally as if a load had been taken off his shoulders. Which considering the situation it probably had.
Thirty minutes later all had been agreed.
Both the children were pleased by what had occurred.
“Daddy when I grow up I’m going to be a Paladin like Sir Andrew and make you so proud but I have to be a priest first.” Tomas told them.
“Are you indeed young man, does Sir Andrew know this?” His father said with mock seriousness. “My son Tomas I don’t need you to be a Paladin to be proud of you. I am always proud of you, proud of you both.”
He took them both into his arms and cuddled them.
“If you are going to take my place young man I’ll have to size up my opposition.” Came a booming voice from the boundary wall.
They turned as one to spy Sir Alexander leaning on it with his gaggle of students behind him.
“Forgive the intrusion but I couldn’t help but over hear the boy. I was coming to ask if there was a field that I could use to train the students in archery. I can’t use the normal archery range as Lady Venison’s husband is using it to train his rangers and guards.” The big man seemed almost apologetic.
“Come in and join us my Lord and bring the children with you. You can use the meadow in front of us to practice.” Elizabeth said cheerfully.
“Well I must be on my way good Clarence, Ladies, and children.” Patrik got up and wandered toward the gate out of the farm with both Elizabeth and Natalie Venison in tow.
At the gate he whispered lowly so only they and Sir Alexander could hear.
“My Goodwife Elizabeth it pains me to say this but I fear your husband is not long for this world. I could feel the consumption, the bloody flux, within him. I can not cure him, though I wish to God and our Holy Saint I could, but if you wish he can come to the Abbeys hospice were we could ease his pain?”
“Thank you but no Brother. I and the children know his fate and wish his last moments be spent at home with us, in the arms of those who love him.” Her voice broke and Natalie took her hand to comfort her. “I want him to feel our love as he leaves us.”
Patrik put his hand on hers and sent gentle warmth to both the women.
“I will pray for you all. Go with God and Our Lady Goodwife Elizabeth, may they bless you, keep you and strengthen you in the trying days ahead.” He made the sign of the Holy Ankh on her forehead. “Look after her my Lady?”
“I will Holy Brother.” Natalie replied with glistening eyes full of unshed tears.
“I am so sorry Goodwife Elizabeth I would not have disturbed you if I had known.” Alexander said sadly.
“Thank you for your sympathy my Lord but could you sit with him for awhile it would lift his spirits I am sure?” Elizabeth replied.
“My dear woman I would be honoured.” The knight said truthfully before turning to his charges. “Go and play for a time but keep in ear shot so you can come when I call you.”
With purposeful strides he crossed over to where Clarence sat and plonked himself beside him. He pulled off his helmet and laid it on the ground with a sigh of relief.
“Thank you for letting us use your field Goodman Clarence. It is on warm days like this that I wish I didn’t have to wear this armour.” He lent back with a sigh as Clarence signalled for Tomas and Sophia to join in with the other children.
Soon the children were chasing each other around the old oak tree with gales of laughter.
“Your lad is quick and light on his feet Master Clarence. Look how easily he holds his own against the older children.” Alexander wasn’t joking or exaggerating.
Tomas easily out manoeuvred the others and proved a difficult prey to catch. Pierre De Anjou seemed to have made him his target for his spite but though he tried to catch the younger boy’s legs several times Tomas always managed to escape.
Alexander didn’t like the boy and liked him even less now that he had spotted what he was doing.
“Play nicely children.” He yelled at them.
But he wasn’t the only one to have noticed Anjou’s bulling ways.
“My dear Clarence I have just had a perfectly brilliant idea. Why not I take Tomas under my wing as the other children’s squire, I’d compensate you of course. I’d pay a large stipend to have him with the others. I can’t take him as a Trainee as he is too young officially but as a squire I can. I only need him one day in each eight when I train them in warfare. What say you Master Clarence is it a deal?”
Clarence was stunned by the swift course of events but with Elizabeth’s encouragement he agreed.
“Tomas get your bow please.” Alexander called. “Bonnyface help me to set up the Archery target if you please, the rest of you string your bows.”
Within moments they were ready for their lesson in archery. All of them had been taught by their families, as decreed by law, but this was the first time they had been assessed and they were all nervous.
Bonnyface went first and proved how powerful he was by the depth the arrows sunk into the target but they were well scattered. Aziz followed with all his arrows clumped together in the blue outer circle. The girl put a clump of arrows close together in the inner red zone the others arrows were well scattered.
It was Tomas’s go at last much to Anjou’s disgust. His first arrow only just caught the rim of the target; he paused to feel the wind against his cheek before firing all the other five in quick succession.
They all hit the dead centre of the target in a perfect cluster.
“What went wrong with the first one Tomas?” Alexander laughed only for Tomas to say seriously.
“I’m sorry my Lord but I forgot to take into account the strength of the wind.”
“Oh I see!” Alexander started to laugh as he took up his own bow and explained and demonstrated how to correct their common errors.
They tried out what they had learned and found an improvement in their skills. Tomas worked diligently managing not only to tighten the grouping but increasing his distance from the target.
As the morning progressed an archery competition was held with Anjou in the lead then Tomas came up to fire only to find his way blocked by the surly boy.
“Ah it is teachers pet trying to ape his betters.” Anjou kick Tomas’s ankle but if he felt it he didn’t show it, in fact he didn’t rise to the bullies insults either, which only annoyed Anjou further. “I can’t wait to have you at my beck and call.”
Tomas, almost at the adults distance, fired his arrows smoothly grouping them close to the centre of the target. That is not all for one had successfully split one of the others.
As all the rest of the children grouped around Tomas cheering and trying to lift him on to Bonnyface’s shoulders Anjou slipped away around the back of the farm building to where the latrine was situated fuming at the outcome of the contest. As he tided himself away after a angry wee he was grabbed by the neck and slammed into the wall.
“If you hurt my brother I’ll hurt you.” Sophia’s angry voice hissed into his ear.
He swung round to find her looking up at him from her lowered head her eyes almost black in colour. “Our Holy Lady talks to me all the time telling me who is good and who is evil and you are evil through and through. One day my brother will kill you I’ve seen it in my dreams.”
She was so menacing, her face manic, that the boy actually fled to join the others with Sophia’s eerie laughter echoing in his ears.
Fourteen days later Clarence slipped away in Elizabeth’s arms with Sophia and Tomas nearby.
People who had been at the market appeared with bolts of cloth’s and sewing equipment and set to, pinning, cutting and sewing until they had made a set of clothes for each of them.
On the day of the funeral Elizabeth led the way in a beautiful spring green dress clinched tightly at the waist with a broad brown belt. Sophia was all in white with a headband of steel around her head. Tomas was in a silk shirt, doe breeches and a tabard with the Abbeys manorial coat of arms emblazed on it.
The service was held in the Abbeys chapel by Father Pierre with fine words spoken by friends and those who knew him. Then Tomas stood up as tradition demanded and took on the mantle of Head of the Household, as he was the first born and only son.
“My father is dead but lives on through me and through the grace of our Holy Lord who lost his own son and granddaughter. My father was a good kind man who helped those in need and I dedicate my life to those ideals as son, priest and hopefully Paladin if our Lady sees fit to choose me. Amen.” His voice rang clear and surprisingly calm through the chapel.
“We now commit our brother Clarence to the cleansing fires in the knowledge of the rebirth when we shall all be judged.” Father Pierre lit the funeral pier and led the congregation away.
“I am not satisfied.” Brother Patrik whispered to Alexander.
“About what Brother?” The knight asked in reply.
“He sickened and died too quickly. Yes I know people do when they have consumption but I still don’t like it.”
“If you have doubts they need to be investigated I shall do so discreetly for you.”
A little way ahead they watched a tableau unfold that worried them further.
“I am so sorry about your loss Goodwife Elizabeth. I shall visit these following days and help you, and the children of course, recover and deal with any outstanding debts.” Pierre said full of concern.
“Thank you Father Pierre that is good of you.”
Gently he led Elizabeth and the children away.
Later at the wake a very flustered Brother Simon rushed into Clarence’s house calling for Brother Patrik.
“Calm down Brother, now take a deep breath and tell me what has happened.” Brother Patrik was very concerned; he’d never seen the boy so upset.
“ Big man come and chased me away said it was his land now.” The boy was near to tears.
“Easy my son.”
“I’ll go and investigate Brother.” Alexander offered but he’d barely gone four paces before a massive bearded man burst in.
“Right you lot you have an hour to get off the land before I send in my guards.” The man roared.
“What is the meaning of this sir?!!” Alexander asked loudly dropping his hand on to his sword hilt in warning.
“This is the man’s wake show respect.” Patrik was also incensed. “Who are you?”
“I am the Duke de Anjou and by law this land has fallen into free ownership with the death of Clarence.” Anjou ran his hand down his chin barely able to contain his impatience. “The boy is too young to lay claim to the land and as no woman can hold land the farm is forfeit and open to anyone to lay claim to it. I have done so. It is all legal and above board.”
Tomas stepped forward wearing now his father’s mail coat and sword as tradition required.
“You may not have this land it passed to me as son and heir.” He stood tall and proud. “Do you wish to fight me for it sir?”
“Tomas, no!” His mother cried. “I will not loose you both in one day.”
“Hold!!” Such was the command in Alexander’s voice that everyone fell silent. “You’ll do best to remove your claim as it has already been bequeathed to the abbey. Clarence with his dying breath and hand did declare it so. I can get the document he signed from the Abbey or do you wish to fight me over it. Aged as I am I think I could give you a good run for your money.”
“The Abbey and Clarence agreed that Goodwife Elizabeth and the children will stay on as tenant farmers. What ground is not being use for crops and cattle will be for the use of the Paladins for training.” Patrik smiled a few heart beats before adding sarcastically. “I suggest you leave and get off our land.”
“You haven’t heard the last of this.” He left slamming the door behind him.
After the man had left Alexander whispered to Patrik.
“I better make up the document when we get back to the Abbey.”
“I thought you were bluffing but I was nowhere sure. I’ll give you a hand when we get back.” Patrik paused a beat. “What would you have done if you were challenged to produce the document, my friend?”
“I have a suitably impressing document in ancient Roma that would have done the job for now.” Alexander gave a tight grin. “So that’s De Anjou’s father can’t say I like him much no wonder the boy is such a pompous brat.”
The pieces were all on the table and the game had begun but who knows the eventual outcome.