King Stephen, the Silver man and Greta the Witch

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Chapter 7 - Hertleye Wynteneye

The King enjoyed the banter with Eustace and Henry as they trotted the horses towards the rendezvous. The rode ahead of the two squires, who followed the hunt at a discreet distance. Keeping out of ear-shot. The squires were knights in training, who led pack horses to bring back the meat. The squires also brought with them supplies for the hunt.

Before they reached the rendezvous, point Henry rode back and ordered the squires to wait by the road. This was normal, because the larger pack horses were more cumbersome, and would often spook the deer.

Henry joined up with the King and Eustace as they rode up to the three men they were meeting at the pre-arranged rendezvous in Hertleye Wynteneye. The small hamlet of Hertleye Wynteneye was really just a clearing in the forest. Henry knew that the land was farmed by the Winta family, loyal servants to the King’s father. Henry also knew that King Stephen had played here as a boy, also learning to ride and hunt. The King had a great affection for the place. On the ride to Hertleye Wynteneye the King had said he was planning to authorise a priory on the site, he made a mental note to contact his aid Geoffrey fitzPeter on his return to Winchester. Knowing this was the King’s business, the Winta family had chosen this time to go on a pilgrimage to Canterbury and to pay their respects to the Archbishop and his family. This way, they could not be accused of colluding with the King.

Greta’s lolloping run had allowed her to just keep the horses in sight. The King and Eustace had been walking their mounts slowly, to allow Henry to catch them up. She watched hidden in the treeline as Henry joined up with the King and Eustace, and then they rode up to the three men waiting in the clearing. As the three-horseman approached the waiting men all dropped to one knee and bowed their heads in respect to the King. The King dismounted, and the tallest of the waiting men, came forward to bow and embrace the King. Greta noticed how alike these two men were in build and appearance, both tall and thick-set, with similar beards and the same brown coloured hair. They were also dressed in matching green and brown hunting clothes. She would not have been able to distinguish them except the King wore his distinctive hat with his coat of arms embossed on it. She crawled a little close to the edge of the tree line, and she now recognised the man as the King’s half-cousin, William de Blois, one of his Stephen’s fathers illegitimate off-spring. William was a regular visitor to the court at Winchester. She could hear the men clearly from her hiding place, they made no attempt to talk quietly, and the clearing in the forest made a natural amphitheatre.

‘William!’ the King gave the man a hearty hug. ‘Cousin of mine, are you ready to become a king?’.

‘Of course. Always glad to aid my king.’ Greta then watched in amazement as without ceremony the King and William changed clothes. Their clothing was quite similar, they were both dressed for hunting, but now William had on the King’s clothes embossed with his coat of arms. William put the wide brimmed hat on his head, and the deception was very convincing. From this distance Greta, would have believed that William was the King.

While the men-at-arms took vittles’ around the camp fire, the King and his cousin strolled in the forest. The spoke in French, the language of their boyhood. Also, Greta assumed, because if overheard they were less likely to be understood. Greta kept her distance but she could clearly here the booming male voices in the quiet of the forest. She spoke fluent French.

The King began: ‘So my cousin, I have a plan for you. You must travel to Winchester in my carriage to give me time to go and parley with the Archbishop. I do not want the court to know I am gone. The deception will work well if you remain in your carriage on the road, you can say you have a fever and you will be confined to your sick-bed throughout the journey. But we me must switch places again before you reach the court at Winchester because our deception will be discovered.’

‘You mean that bitch wife of yours will see I am better endowed than you?’

The King gawped in denial, and said braggingly: ‘Yes her and the 20 serving wenches I have been bedding’.

William said with good humour: ’You better tell me then, the one’s you haven’t had so they can’t see the improvement. Don’t want to waste my time as King. Especially if I’m going to be confined to my sick-bed all the way to Winchester.’

The King described in lude tones one of the serving wenches, who he hadn’t yet bedded but was planning to. His cousin thought he would enjoy the trip to Winchester.

‘Of course, if she is not to your taste, you could always bed that witch Greta.’

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