I hope you have been enjoying this sojourn with slapstick comedy.
hannon stood wondering how, if he was right and the “madman” was none other than the king that Horsa and Botopher, not to mention the King’s own officers and soldiers, could have missed recognizing his voice from within the prison hut. Maybe it was not the king. Maybe the King really was dead.
Now he was looking at the enclosure behind the guard house. An idea came to him. He started singing, quietly at first, and walked slowly over to the wall of the enclosure on the other side of the guard house from the gate. As he approached the wall he sang louder. It was a song he had made up about the Queen and her single minded effort to learn to use a sword. It was not finished last time he was with King Lawrence and not widely known yet. But Lawrence had supplied a few of the lines for it. He put his back against the wall and sang, nodding with a smile as people passing looked at him.
He paused at a particular point in the song. He listened carefully and found he was hearing a muffled voice singing the song. The voice was off key by a long way and the words were un-enunciated as if the singer had been gagged, but the poor singing alone told Shannon what he needed to know. It was the King! When the singing stopped Shannon called through as stealthily as he could, “Saints be praised for your terrible ear, my lord. I’ll be getting’ ye out of there soon, never fear.”
As Shannon made his way to the cookhouse he noticed a band of players coming into the stronghold. They were clearly players, for they all wore colorful strips of cloth hanging from their sleeves and hats. He took a detour from his path to greet his fellow performers.
“Lads, ‘tis grim pickin’s here this night. The lord here is a sour man.. dear God, ye look like a chapman threw up on ye.” He started to laugh then caught site of his lute. “Damn the ale house keeper.!” he thought. “I’ll be after getting’ that back ere the night is through and will have a score to settle with the blackguard on the morrow.” He stomped away.
Lark asked Wulfstan, “Why did he look so angry all of a sudden?”
Wulfstan shrugged. “I am just glad the fellow went away. It would have been a calamity if he’d asked us to sing something.”
When Shannon, still fuming, found the simple servant woman who had been described to him, he caught himself up short. She was of a height with him and had a face as covered with freckles as he. He guessed that if she did not have the head covering Saxon Christian women always wore she probably would have sported thick curly red hair. He got an idea.
He had planned to talk with her, find out how to get in where the King was held, but instead he feigned indolence and whistled a tune as she went into the servants’ quarters. He saw her take off her cloak and hang it on a peg in the entrance way. he waited for her to disappear into the smoky gloom of the sleeping area and liberated the cloak from its resting place. In the cookhouse he found a length of linen toweling to use as a head covering. He had helped many a woman put on her headdress and knew how to put it on himself, so he did, tying it around his forehead with a length of twine he found, and threw the cloak over his shoulders. He took a deep breath, tried on a sweet but simple smile, and started to make his way to the guardhouse carrying a bucket covered with another linen towel.
He had to pass the hall and in the growing dusk he was startled by the figure that came around the corner. He glanced long enough to recognize Jehan. He thought fast and dropped a curtsy to the earl.
“Ah, sweet Kyre, just the pretty one I want to see,” the man crooned.
Jehan had been killing time ever since he had stomped out of his and his wife’s chambers. Those he passed raised eyebrows as he passed and gave each other knowing looks. It was not an unusual event to see the earl going about muttering angrily under his breath, with the word “she” sibilantly punctuating whatever it was he was muttering at regular intervals.
Unhappy at the prospect of killing the King, a man he knew was powerful enough even bound and gagged to overpower him easily, he was likewise completely without faith in his ability to convince the man he had a good reason for throwing him into the brig. He paced about, gesturing to no one in particular as he pep talked himself. He stopped abruptly near the stables and smiled. He had it. He would tell the King he knew someone was planning to kill him so had hustled him into captivity so he could ferret out the culprit before the person knew the King was in the fortress. With a satisfied smile, he went into the stables and joined his groom ministering to his favorite horse, ironically one King Lawrence had given him to thank him for his part in the liberation of Ratherwood.
Now as Jehan took him in his arms, Shannon kept his head down and kept mum. Jehan leaned trying to get a look at his face, put a finger under Shannon’s chin and tried to lift it. “Dear, dear, you need to pluck your chin better. If I didn’t know very well that you are not a man, I would think you were growing a beard.” Jehan laughed at his own joke.
Shannon twisted and stepped quickly aside and dashed past him, but not fast enough to avoid an appreciative whack on the arse.
“I have an errand, sweet, but come to me later. My lady wife is vexed with me and is not going to be in my chamber tonight. I would rather it was you in my bed anyway.” he blew Shannon’s back a kiss and admired the retreating view.
With a shudder Shannon, shook off Jehan’s touch. “’Tis no wonder then the lass looks so sour…” He hurried to the gate of the prison stockade, stopped and adjusted his cloak, head covering and the pantomime dinner pail.
He approached the guards with as close to the halting walk he had seen the girl Kyre use. The two men, bored and tired, brightened up at her approach. “Kyre, girl, another meal for the lunatic?”
Shannon knew better than to try to mimic a voice he had never heard, so he just giggled. He kept his head down trying to look timid. This seemed to satisfy the guards – or at least they seemed to accept who she was. As for other satisfactions, not so much. The other guard tried to reach to lift her chin.
“Give us a little kiss, then, Kyre?”
Shannon tried the giggle again.. but this time it was not enough. In fact, it seemed to encourage the fellow. He groped again for her chin trying to cup it in his big, rough hand. Shannon tried to twist away, but to no avail. “Och, then, will I have to let the oaf kiss me?” he worried.
It was then he felt the man’s other hand groping for a breast. Not having any, he panicked, but his knowledge of women of all types acted for him. He started to whimper and cry.
“Will you leave the lass alone? You know she’ simple-minded. And all she knows is that someone told her to bring the bucket and that she will catch holy hell if she doesn’t.” The first guard had reached his even larger hand and push the lecher away firmly. “If what I overheard is right, this might be the last time she visits the brig.”
The second man lost interest in Shannon. “What did you hear?” he inquired with obvious interest.
“Just that if milord does not deal with the madman soon milady will, and we all know she learned a bit of herblore from that Saxon lass who was murdered by her brother…”
Shannon risked a glance to see if the man was jesting. On the contrary, he was puffed up from the chance to show how much he knew of the nobles’ goings-on.
“Poison? In the food?” Good Christ, and I was going to steal some from her pail… once I’d gotten that kiss.” The lecher looked decidedly greensick just at the moment. “Well if the lass is the Angel of Death tonight, I’ll not stand in her way.” He turned to the gate and pulled up the heavy bar that kept it tight shut. He and the other guard stood back to give the girl and her pail plenty of room to pass.
“Kyre, lass, you know not to eat what’s in the pail, do you not?” the protective guard called after her.
Next: Speinging the King
Before there was the novel, there were the stories...
by Nan Hawthorne, who also writes under Christopher Hawthorne Moss, Books and Stories b ChristopherHawthorne Moss at http://authorchristophermoss.vlogspot.com