The Weaver

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
Born into nobility in Medieval England, Baron William de Mort grew up wanting nor needing anything. Nothing that is, but true love. However, as was custom in the Norman ruling classes, marriage was not dictated by love but was used to gain power, land and wealth. But William was a true romantic and did not bend to his father’s wishes. Banished to Northern England after further disappointing his father, William meets Beatrice, a simple English weaver. But like most of the peasant classes, she is deeply mistrusting of Normans. William has set his heart on winning her trust, but his behaviour stirs tensions in both the castle and its townfolk.

Submitted: January 23, 2016

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Submitted: January 23, 2016

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The carriage rocked from side to side while William de Mort gazed out of the open window. His eyes fixed on a castle that dominated the lush green valley. The castle’s tall rectangular keep sat secure behind a stone ring of imposing fortifications. Still, the young Baron felt unimpressed and slammed the shutter closed.  “To think I inherited this... No wonder they call father, Berty the bastard.”

~

At the castle’s gatehouse William stepped out of the carriage onto the cobblestones, where he was met by the castle’s chamberlain. William looked down his nose at the skinny fair haired man. “And you are?”

“I am Peter, my Liege. The castle’s chamberlain.”

“So, you are supposedly my right-hand man?”

“I’m honoured to be so, my Liege.”  Peter did not possess the confidence to meet William’s cold stare. “I run the castle on a day to day basis. If you want anything at anytime, my Liege, then just let me know.”

“My father told me that you could be relied upon.”

“Then Baron Bertrand was a man of good judgment.”

“That may be so. But I reserve the right to make my own.”

-

Walking up the damp and drafty spiral staircase, William grumbled to his chamberlain who followed closely behind. “I’ve been on this land less than a week, and I’m already missing Normandy.” He heaved open the wooden door and stepped out onto the battlements of his castle. “It kills me to think that I’ll have to spend my days here...” Letting out a desperate sigh, William stared at the rain sodden and tumbledown settlement. “...in fucking England” The small town was bisected by a dark snaking river. Both halves of the settlement were joined by a small humpback bridge. “Such luck has made me believe that not just my father, but God himself, hates me.”

“Cheer up, my Liege.”

“Peter, it’s cold.  It stinks. And it never bloody stops raining. Don’t even get me started on the people... they’re as ugly as sin.”

“My Liege, I’m English.”

“And a good example of what I am on about.” William turned to look out at the dreary thatched houses. He shook his head while his nose caught the scent of manure. “Stinks, the whole place stinks of pig shit.”

“But my liege, at least it’s quiet. These people will not cause you any problems.”

“I’m not sure, living in such squalor might make them desperate... and desperate men do desperate things.”

Peter’s face lit up. “Well maybe you could engineer a town in your own image? Make it a more comfortable place to live. If the people prosper then your tax revenue will increase.”

“Certainly something to think about.”

“Excellent. I would suggest starting with a place of worship, one worthy of God’s name. Closer to God, the townsfolk would be less likely to sin or stray.”

“I was thinking less chapel, more fully equipped tournament field.” William shook his head while he watched a group of peasants arguing over the result of a pig chase. “People who think catching greased up pigs is a sport... Well, they obviously need to be cultured. I’m going to introduce sword fighting, archery and jousting.”

“My Liege, Pig chasing is a popular pastime.”

“The only reason the men chase pigs, is that the hog is marginally less pig-like than the average local.”

~

The wind blew through the grand banquet hall where William and Peter sat at the long oak table. A pack of hounds slept on a bed of straw in front of the open fire. William twirled his dagger on its stabbing point while Peter scrutinized the court’s papers. Despite the fierce fire burning on the stone hearth, William felt a chill deep within his bones. He groaned as he stood from his chair. “Peter.”

“My Liege?”

 “Why is it so God damn cold in here?”

“It’s England, my Liege.”

“Don’t remind me.” William walked towards the arrow slit window where an icy wind billowed like an arctic gale. “How come there’re no tapestries on these windows? Only a fool would leave them wide open like the legs of a whore.”

“William... I’m sure your father mentioned last year’s plague.”

“He did.”

“Well, it wiped out most of the skilled workers. Those who survived ran, never to return.”

“Ah. I see.”

“I’ve been searching the local guilds but found no weavers... None of note anyway. We need a mason and a carpenter too. I fear the castle will never be fully completed.”

William glanced around at large stone walls which supported huge oak rafters. “Well, I need some colour as well as warmth. This constant greyness is crushing me. If I’m not under a grey sky, I’m looking at four grey walls.”

“My Liege, Spring is only four months away.”

“Four..? Four..?”  William’s foot twitched as he thought about kicking a dog. “Four fucking months?”

“Well Spring doesn’t arrive until the last week in March. And that’s being optimistic.”

“Get me some tapestries. Immediately.”

Peter let his quill rest in the pot of ink “My Liege...” He watched William shift the dogs with his boots so he could warm his hands near the licking flames of the open fire. “The best tapestries come from the continent. They’re expensive to import.”

“The English must have something to keep them warm... Well apart from getting drunk and then beating their spouses.”

“We’re not all raving alcoholics, my Liege.”

William turned to face Peter. “Inform the stable boy to ready my horse, then bring me my cloak and sword.”

“Where are you heading?”

“Going to see what one can purchase.”

“On the continent?”

“No.” William cracked his knuckles as if readying to punch Peter’s clueless face. “I’m starting to think my father employed the village idiot.”

“But I thought you would rather die than mix with the peasant folk?”

“I’m bored and depressed. Seeing people worse off than myself... well, I’m hoping it may raise my spirits.”

 

Dressed in a wolf skin cloak, William rode his stallion through the dreary village. The buildings were tightly packed and mostly made from wattle and daub. Despite being confident that no villager would dare attack him, William’s hand hovered close to the hilt of his sword.

Crossing the stone bridge onto the far bank, William noticed the once busy streets had emptied. The inhabitants kept out of his way. Young boys scurried down dark narrow side streets like rats, while mothers herded their children back into their simple houses. Those brave enough to remain bowed their heads in respect.

William saw something he wasn’t expecting. Disbelieving, he wiped his gloved hand across his face. But his eyes hadn’t deceived.  “My God, she is beautiful.” He smiled at the woman who shied away, then shouted, “My lady!” But the woman ran through an open door into a ramshackle workshop.

Climbing from his horse, William winced as his leather shoes squelched in the churned mud.  Guiding his horse by its reins, he slipped and slid across the road until he made it to this wooden building in which the woman had disappeared. Peering through the open window he raised a pleased smile. Inside the dimly lit room a thick-set woman dressed in a shawl sat at a bench, weaving a pair of trousers. But his eyes looked beyond the woman, focusing on the long tapestry which hung from a vertical loom. “Excuse me.”  The woman first appeared frozen in shock. She then climbed from the bench before curtsying. He asked, “Is this your workshop?” The woman’s arm trembled as it pointed to a room towards the rear of building.

“I am only employed. Beatrice is the head weaver, my Liege.”

“Then I want to see Beatrice.”

A pretty face peaked around the wooden door frame. Quietly as a harvest mouse, she muttered, “I’m Beatrice.”

William recognised her as the woman he had seen on the street. He then walked to the entrance and stepped into the workshop.  He dryly smiled as the young woman cautiously entered into the room before curtsying. “You’re too young to be the proprietor.”

“It was my parents’ business. But the plague snatched them. I’m in sole charge now.”

“Not your husband?”

Beatrice shook her head while focusing on her mud covered clogs. “The plague also took Herbert, my husband. We had been married only six weeks.”

“My sympathy, madam.”

“I’m not the only one who lost, my Liege. Everyone has been touched by the plague.”

“Indeed, I hear these lands were ravaged by the plague. My chamberlain told me it wiped out half the village.” William felt awkward as he didn’t know what else to say. “Well, your luck is about to change.”

“My Liege?”

William stepped up to the vertical loom causing the two women to disperse like timid street dogs.  His eyes lapped up the elegant floral patterns, which were warmly coloured with reds and ambers. Lightly brushing his fingers along the fabric, he nodded with satisfaction. “Fine work, I may be interested. However, I’m confused. “

“My… My Liege?”

”Who could possibly afford such work in these impoverished lands?”

“Let me explain. We… we mainly produce simple garments for the locals.” Drunk on a concoction of pride and excitement, Beatrice’s tongue tripped over her words. “But… but every so often the Abbey will order a tapestry. If we’re lucky they’ll sometimes order three or four at a time.”

“How come you have kept your skills from me? I could easily view this as treason?”

“Forgive me, but I have not. Your chamberlain turned me away.”

“Peter!” William thumped his clenched fist against the wooden wall “That useless shit wouldn’t know a tapestry if I beat him around the head with one.” Flexing his aching fingers, he shook his head while walking towards the door. “Girls... consider yourself employed.” He glanced over his shoulder towards Beatrice. “Report to the guardhouse at sunrise... you have a castle to decorate.”

“Forgive me, my Liege. But you’re… you’re not jesting us?”

“I’m a Norman... I don’t have a sense of humour. Now, I’m off to beat seven shades of brown out of my useless chamberlain. Good day to you.”

Once William had left, the workshop remained in silence for a few moments. Beatrice listened to the hooves of the Baron’s horse until they all but disappeared. She then screamed, “What the hell just happened?” Still screaming, she grabbed hold of her faithful weaver. “Matilda... was I dreaming? Tell me I wasn’t.”

“No, he was here. I witnessed him, dressed in his fine clothes and smelling of rose water.”

“What are we going to do? I mean... he asked us to decorate his castle, did he not?”

“I’ve never been spoken to by a Norman before.”

Beatrice sat on the bench seat, open-mouthed. “He spoke in English, and he’s ravishingly handsome too... Baron Bertrand was as ugly as a corpse. But this William, he’s something else.”

“Beatrice, don’t get carried away. His ancestors slaughtered ours and took all their land. He and his kind now tax us up to our eyeballs, keeping us locked in poverty. He is no better than any other Norman.”

“I’m not stupid, Matilda.” Beatrice stretched out her legs, scraping her clogs across the wooden floorboards. She placed her hands on her cloth covered knees and stared at Matilda. “But did he, or did he not, just offer us business? Lots of business.”

“He did that indeed. But you know as well as I do... never trust a Norman. Not even a dead one.”

-

The smell of raw sewage made Peter cover his face with his arm, while descending the steps into the torch-lit bowels of the stone keep. In the flickering light he saw William holding a shovel, while standing next to a large bucket. “My Liege, why did you choose such a terrible place to meet?” He then felt like vomiting as William handed him the shovel which was covered in excrement.

“The cesspit needs emptying.”

“My Liege, the castle employs a gong farmer to empty the cesspit.”

“Well, it’s either I beat the shit out of you, or you clean up everybody else’s. What is it to be?”

“Why do you choose to use such angry words with me?”

“Beatrice Buxton, the town weaver. She came to sell her fine tapestries.” William held a bag of rose petals to his face as he opened the door to the cavernous pit. “But you turned her away. Why?”

“Her tapestries are of low quality.”

“Then you question my judgment… an offence worthy of flogging.”

Peter swallowed deeply. “I wouldn’t dream of it, my Liege.”

“I have inspected her tapestries and believe them to be woven by the hands of an angel.”

“You’re right. Beatrice is an angel. In fact, I love her deeply. But she broke my heart and married another man.”

“Her husband is dead... and yet you’re still bitter?” William glared at Peter. “You had me freezing my bollocks off, just because yours are bitter?”

“I asked Beatrice again since his death. But she still refuses me.”

“But, Peter. Her refusal has nothing to do about the woman being cruel. Nor is it to do with her still loving her husband.”

“Then what is it, my Liege?”

William motioned with his head, signalling for a forlorn Peter to enter the pit. “It’s about you being as ugly as sin. Now, Peter, the gong farmer. You have a cesspit to empty.”

~

Towards the East the sun had barely melted over the horizon, while to the West a distant winter storm brewed.  Beatrice and Matilda found themselves caught in the middle while they waited outside the guardhouse.  The studded oak door finally clunked as it opened. Immediately Matilda pinched her nose as a familiar face peeped around the door. “My God... Peter... you stink worse than usual.”

“Good day to you both, Matilda, and Big Tits Beatrice.”

Beatrice chocked as she stepped backwards. “You should change your name to Peter The Arse. What is wrong with you? You smell like a filthy moat rat.”

“I’ve been knee deep in shit.”

“What trouble have you been in this time?”

“No literally... I’ve been knee deep in shit. Yesterday the Baron had me cleaning out the cesspit all afternoon... that’s six months of crap I had to carry to the dung cart.”

Matilda looked on suspiciously. “Isn’t that Gordon the Gong Farmer’s job? You’re doing him out of a living.”

“He needed some help to shift it. I suppose that’s the downside to a good sprout harvest.”

~

Inside the great hall Beatrice listened diligently as Peter explained the Baron’s wishes. Along with Matilda, she chalked notes onto a square of slate.  Peter then stopped explaining about the Baron’s preferred style of tapestry. “You know, Beatrice? That’s what I always liked about you.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re like me. Educated.”

“That will probably have something to do with the fact we shared the same teacher, Mother Agnes.”

“You should choose your next man wisely. Just think how clever our children will be. He will have two parents to educate him... or God forbid we have a daughter.”

Peter’s words burned Matilda’s ears like hot wax. Her anger boiled over causing her to snap her chalk. “What’s wrong with having a daughter?”

“It’s a man’s world.”

Beatrice felt compelled to defend her employee, “Aye, it maybe. But I’m doing just fine.”

“Yes you can weave as well as anyone, Bea. But your tits and golden locks are what set you apart, Beatrice. If you were fat and greasy like Matilda,” Peter held his hands apologetically to Matilda. “No offence. But I doubt you would be working here.”

“I should break you in two and feed you to the pigs.”

“God is my witness. I’m only telling the truth.”

Beatrice pulled back Matilda who appeared ready to throw a punch at the chamberlain.  Beatrice then glared at Peter. “If the Baron was only interested in looks, then how did you get a job here..? Your face makes a leper’s backside look handsome.”

“Wow. I’ve been called many things during my time. But never have I been called a leper’s backside before. You have an inventive tongue, Bea.”

“You never used to be such a horrible scrotum. I think all this has to do with your obsession with me.”

The door opened and William stepped into the great hall. He glanced at Peter then clicked his fingers. “Peter.”

“Yes my Liege.”

“I’ve had a change of heart. I’m going to organise the furnishings myself.”

“Oh.” Peter bowed his head. “Whatever you deem best.”

“You can go and busy yourself in the vegetable garden, as I believe it needs weeding.”

“It’s raining hailstones that are the size of small catapult shot.”

William nonchalantly shrugged. “And you waste my time with this inaccurate quibble because..?” He then glared at Peter who wilted under his stare. “What are you waiting for? Go.”

“Right away, my Liege.”

Once William had closed the door behind Peter, he smiled at Beatrice. “Right, tell me what the runt has told you... I’m guessing most of it is wrong. So I hope you have brought plenty of chalk.”

~

The hail thundered on the thatched roof of the workshop. Despite the cutting wind outside, a high spirited Beatrice felt a spring in her step while she hung her cloak on the wooden peg. In the flickering light of the candles, she laid the chalk boards side by side on the wooden bench.  After inspecting the boards for a moment, she glanced at Matilda who was restocking the fire grate. “Matilda, this is... this is...”

“Amazing?”

“Yes. I can’t even speak because I’m so excited.”

“Needless to say we have never had such an order. Not even from the abbey. We have enough work to keep us busy for a year... maybe longer.”

Beatrice chewed her fingernail while studying the Baron’s order. “Longer. Eighteen months I would say. We’ll have to train more girls. This is good, not just for us, but the town.”

“Just think, we could build and expand the business. We could get more work as word of mouth spreads.”

“We’re gonna be rich, Matilda. Bloody rich. People are going to have to start calling me, my Lady.”

Matilda warmed her hands in front of the flames as the fire engulfed the logs. “Never mind being called Lady. I’m going ask people to call me Queen ... Queen Matilda.”

~

The workshop resembled a jungle of loose ends and pieces of material. Beatrice stood alone while she loaded the loom with red thread. Her ears were alerted by the sound of the door opening. “That was quick Matilda... or have you forgotten the money again?”

“Excuse me, Madam.”

“Oh, my Liege.”

William waved at her to continue her work. “No... Please continue. No need to courtesy every time you see me.” He gestured towards the bench seat. “May I?”

“Oh. First, let me clear some space for you.”

“No need.”

“But...”

“Continue to work.” William pushed aside the strips of material before sitting on the bench.  “Just imagine I’m not here.”

“I’ll do my best.”

“I hope you don’t mind, I was unsure whether I can trust my chamberlain’s judgment on this issue... So I thought it best to inspect the work myself.”

“It’s your right, but I’m afraid little is done so far.”

“I understand. I’m not here to add haste.” William smiled as he watched Beatrice shivering while doing her best to weave. “Are you cold?”

“No.”

“Then why do you shake like an autumnal leaf. You look ready to fall.”

“Forgive me.” Beatrice dropped the bobbin but left it to hang by its thread. She felt deafened by the sound of pressure waves in her ears. “I’m not used to such company.”

“I’m just like any other man.”

“My Liege, why do you mock me with such words?”

“I do not intend to mock you. Quite the opposite. I...” William felt his tongue become heavy. “In the great hall I saw you writing and calculating. You seem very educated for a... for a...”

“A peasant?”

“I was going to say woman.”

“My Liege.”

“My words might be clumsy but they are true.” William fingered his neatly trimmed beard the way he always did when he felt stressed. “That’s why I admire you. You’re one of the few women I know with their own trade. I respect your determination to succeed.” He let out a sigh which escaped louder than he expected. “For what it’s worth, from what I have seen, I’m sure you will thrive.”

“Thank you, but only plague doctors thrive in these parts.”

“You’re a survivor. Plus, your education will see you through.”

“Mother Agnes educated many children at the abbey. I was fortunate to be one of them. So were Matilda and Peter.”

“She sounds like a good woman.”

Beatrice smiled while reminiscing the times shared with her old role model. But after a moment the smile was replaced by a sigh. “The plague took her as well. It seems that even God could not protect one of his own from the ghastly plague.”

“The plague seems to have robbed you of everyone you loved.”

“It did. They say God has a plan for everyone. I’m still thinking what it is he has in stall for me.”

“This fine trade is your calling. Name me a woman who has such a business, unless it’s a whorehouse?”

Beatrice could not think, her mind felt nothing but a blank canvas. “I...”

“Of course you can’t. You’re already very successful.”

“Thank you.” Beatrice ran her fingers down the back of her neck. “But what’s the point if I have no one to share it with?”

“You need to lighten your soul. It’s weighed down with much sadness and worry. What do you do for pleasure?”

“Work. There is little pleasure in this life beside my loom.”

“That I do not doubt. But what makes you laugh?”

Beatrice’s face lit up. “I do like a good pig chase.”

“Pig chase? Really? Like those fools who wrestle pigs on the moat lawn?”

“Yes.”

Despite his distaste for this primitive sport, William felt intrigued by Beatrice’s enthusiasm for the pastime. “Then when is the next one? I need to know what you English see in this vulgar activity.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. I want to see this wonderful smile of yours more often.”

A tint of rose coloured Beatrice’s fulsome cheeks. “My Liege, you alight my face with blushes.”

“Beatrice. I wish to attend a pig chase with you.”

“They are held on market Fridays...just after mid-day.”

“Great.” William swung his gloved fist in front of his chest. “Friday it is then. Now I must go. I can’t leave Peter alone in the castle for more than an hour.” He shook his head, while breathing a sigh. “Peter gets above his position and starts asking the kitchen staff to call him King.” The fact Beatrice giggled at his joke made William feel warm inside. “Good day to you, young lady.”

~

Beatrice felt lightheaded as she weaved. She grew angry with herself because of her lack of focus. But it was no use, all she could think of was William. The door creaked causing Beatrice to turn and smile as Matilda stepped in off the street, while carrying a basket of bread.  “He was here.”

“Who? Peter the turd?”

“No. The Baron.”

Matilda felt confused. “Really?” She placed the basket on the table and then broke the crust from the loaf. “I thought Peter was the Baron’s messenger.”

“No, the Baron was here in person. I have the feeling he likes me, Matilda.”

“Don’t fall under his spell. Normans make the most cruel and wicked men. He’ll use you and throw you to the hounds, just watch.”

Beatrice opened a small cupboard and lifted out a parcel. She unwrapped the cloth to reveal a lump of mouldy cheese. “But he talks to me... talks to me as an equal.”

“That may be. But he is Norman. Normans are not to be trusted.”

“I know... but...”

“Don’t forget they have no respect for us. None at all.”

Beatrice felt stressed and wanted to strop like a young lovesick girl. “He seems different, Matilda. Warm and friendly. He’s even meeting me on Friday.”

“Straight to his chamber to have his way. Don’t doubt my words.”

“No, he’s meeting me in public. At the pig chase.”

Matilda slammed the knife through the cheese. “What do you possess that he would be interested in? Tell me.”

“I don’t know.”

“What can you offer him that he hasn’t already got? And if you say your tapestries, I’ll roll one up and beat you around the head with it.”

“Maybe he likes me.”

Matilda spoke with her mouth full of cheese and bread. “All he likes about you is your beauty, Beatrice.” She then gulped down her morsel.  “He wants to see your nakedness and have his evil way with it.”

“I think you’re just jealous. I’m going to be a prude and make him treat me like a lady. Just you watch!”

“A peasant making a Baron treat her with respect... Good luck with that.”

“You’ll see.” Beatrice snatched the cheese from Matilda. “Now, stop hogging the cheese, Ten Bellies.”

~

The usual hustle and bustle of the Friday market sounded subdued as William sauntered through the gathered crowds. Feeling eyes upon him, William knew his presence was putting the townsfolk on edge, but his face cracked a smile as he spotted Beatrice haggling the price of a sad looking turnip. He approached Beatrice unnoticed then gently felt her slender shoulder. “That’s a shocking turnip, Beatrice.”

“Oh! Sorry... my, Liege. You shocked me. You’re early? The sun say’s its not yet noon.”

“I was excited.” William nodded towards the vegetable stall. “So the turnip... How much?”

 “He wants a pretty penny for an ugly turnip.”

“Is that what he asks for?  I do suppose he must make a living like the rest of us.” William untied the velvet pouch that hung from belt. He then pulled out a silver groat. “My good man. I have a silver groat.”

The ill looking grocer stood open mouthed. “Forgive me, my Liege.  Have you not got  a smaller coin? I have not enough to change your groat.”

“Then give me its value in other vegetables.”

“I would, but I fear I do not have enough to sell you.”

“Stop worrying, man... My chamberlain will send a kitchen boy later in week to collect the rest. ”

Beatrice felt confused by William. “I didn’t think you would be so keen on such vegetables.”

“They are for you.”

“But I only wanted a turnip.”

The smile on Beatrice’s face raised William’s spirits. “Yes. You need a good meal... almost as much as this trader needs the money.”

“I appreciate your kindness. But can I share the vegetables among the townsfolk?”

“Why would you do that? I bought them so you can eat well for a month.”

Beatrice glanced around the market. “Because they are my neighbours.” Seeing the tired faces of the people she had always known made her feel sorry for those she had lost. “We endured the bad times, so we should also share in the good times.”

“I can see that you’re a generous soul.”

“I try to be.”

Eyeballing the grocer who appeared close to death, William ordered, “Pack the vegetables into a strong sack and deliver it to the cookhouse with the order to make fine soup for the town’s needy.”

“That’s very kind, my Liege. Right away.”

Beatrice felt humbled by William’s actions. “They will appreciate your good gesture.”

 “It was not my gesture, but yours. I need to change my ways as I’m tighter than an otter’s bottom.”

“How do you know how tight a... never mind.”

“I was reliably told by my gamekeeper.”  William could still sense the eyes of the town on him. “Do you think once the peasants get their soup they will stop looking at me like my horse just shit on their doorstep?”

“It’s not your fault, nor is it theirs. They’re just weary. The last Baron was known for his bad temper and punishing taxes.” 

~

The pair arrived at the moat lawn where a fenced ring had been constructed. A crowd had gathered and cheered the pig handler, who opened the gate of the pen to release his animal into the ring. As the pig snorted and patrolled its space, William asked, “So explain... what is this so called sport?”

“Basically, it’s a penny to enter and the first one to catch the pig takes the winnings at the end of the day. If there is more than one winner... then it’s the one with the quickest time. But hardly anyone ever catches the pig... It’s easier to find an honest Norman.”

“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.”

“Oh my Lord!” Beatrice covered her mouth with both her hands. ”I’m so sorry, my Liege. A mere slip of the tongue.”

“Don’t worry.“  William’s eyes widened as he heard the crowd cheering his name. “Why are they cheering my name? Have they found out about the soup already?”

“No, the pig is called... William.”

“But I’m called William?”

“Yes. That is a fact which hasn’t gone unnoticed.”

William ground his teeth. “That’s more than pure coincidence... isn’t it?”

“Well, it is a common name.”

 “Not in pig circles it isn’t. I mean, it’s not up there with Porky, Smoky or bloody Sizzler. Is it?”

“I thought you told me you didn’t have a sense of humour?” Beatrice watched as William took off his rich robe. “What are you doing?”

 “Right, I’m going to challenge.”

“Are you sure? You will get filthy, risk making a fool of yourself, or even injured.”

“I’m a fine specimen of a man. All I have to do is keep it on its flank for three measly seconds, right?”

“Yes.”

“Well, how hard can that be?”

William noticed the pig handler asking for participants, then threw his arm up into the air while shoving his way through the crowd. The pig handler felt shocked and shouted over the excited cheers of the audience. “My Liege?”

“I see your pig is called William.”

“I swear to God that I did not name it in your honour. It’s a family name.”

“I want to prove that there is only one William in this town.”

Fearing for his own safety as well as the Baron’s, the pig handler uttered. “Are you sure you want to enter? It can be dangerous, my Liege. No place for the landed gentry.”

“Damn it, man. I’m as sure as a man can be.”

“OK. Then you’re first.”

The pig handler shoved open the gate and the Baron stepped into the ring. William faced down the greased pig who seemed more interested in combing the floor with his snout. 

The word had spread and it seemed the entire town had now gathered to watch the surreal event of a Baron tackling a pig on a muddy field.

William rolled up his sleeves while he slowly walked up to the pig.  “Easy boy, I’m not going to hurt you.” As William steadily closed in on the pig, he slowly opened his arms. “Now there we are. I just want to give you a hug, old boy.” He then stopped with only half a step between them.

The crowd  collectively drew its breath as they watched William inch closer towards the pig. All the time the pig was yet to even acknowledge the presence of the Baron.

William pounced but the pig scampered.

A flailing William hit the muddy turf with nothing to embrace but the muddy ground. While he lay motionless on the rain sodden turf, he could hear the mocking crowd ringing in his ears.

Finally William cracked, “The little bastard.” Wiping the dirt from his face, he climbed to his feet. “Time to get serious.” He glared at the pig which seemed uninterested. “You’re going to be on my plate before this day is through.”

To the cheer of the crowd and the sound of his own battle cry, William raced towards the pig.

 In an effort to reduce the escape routes, William shepherded the pig towards the fence. Remaining light on his feet he tried to judge the direction of its escape.

Carefully judging the distance William once again  threw himself at the pig. This time he landed on top of the hog and wrapped his arms around its body. He then proceeded to ride backwards on the pig with its curly tail tickling his face.  But the grease aided the pig’s struggles and William eventually lost his prize.

On the churned ground William pulled dirt from his mouth once more. He then spat towards the mud as he gingerly picked himself up. The crowd remained silent as if they did not know how to react to the Baron’s plight. William shouted, “Who wants roast pork tonight?”

William’s rallying call caused the crowd to become raucous. He then approached the fence, where a worried Beatrice stood in the crowd, before offering his muddied hand. “Help me out here.”

“Me?”

To a mixture of wolf whistles and cheers, William helped Beatrice over the rickety wooden fence.  Jumping down onto ground, Beatrice stared at a mud covered William. “I don’t know if I should laugh or cry?”

“What’s life if you can’t laugh, Bea?”

“I can laugh. But maybe we should just admit defeat here?”

“Normans never surrender.”

Beatrice glanced at the angry hog. “But that’s one hell of a pig.”

“Just imagine it glazed with honey and stuffed with onion and garlic...Not to mention the succulent smell of it roasting on the fire.”

“I can taste him now.”

“Then let’s get him on our plate.”

The pair targeted the pig in a pincer movement, forcing the hog to make a dash in between.  William made one last dive. This time he took the hooves from under the hog, tackling it to the ground.  But once again he could not grip and risked letting the pig escape from his grasp. However to the delight of the crowd, Beatrice swan dived on the wrestling pair.

The exhausted  pig laid in submission. The battle was won. William and Beatrice were the winners.  

Pork dinners all around.

-

Matilda sat on her wooden stool weaving the tapestry on the vertical loom. She took her eyes off the bobbin to take a glimpse at the smiling Beatrice who was preparing the woad dye. “Stop smiling you... you’re making me jealous.”

“Sorry.”

“I wish I was as young as you.”

“You’re only a year older... I think it’s not your age that you regret, more the fact you have a husband and three children.”

“I’m happy. I just miss being carefree.” Matilda continued to weave the bobbin. But from the corner of her eye she could still see the big smile on Beatrice’s face. “You can’t stop thinking about your adventures with the Baron, can you? Lil’devil.”

“No, I can’t.”

“It was quite a spectacle, I admit.”

“Do you think his feelings are true for me?”

Matilda breathed a heartfelt sigh. “I have had my say and do not wish to upset you more.”

“I’m not a naive girl. I do feel there is something there.”

“I believe him to be nothing but a March hare.”

“But what if he loves me..? How could that be wrong?”

The back door opened and Peter stepped in from the dark. “Randy little bugger, aren’t you..?’’ He leered at Beatrice. “Sorry, I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation. You women should gossip quieter. Such words could get you in trouble. ”

“I told you always to use the front door, Peter. The back door is forbidden.”

“That’s what all my women say.”

“You have a cesspit for a brain.”

Peter picked a bogie from his nose before wiping it on his grimy sleeve. He then glared at Beatrice. “Regarding you, the Baron and love? Love doesn’t come in to it! Do you think William would marry you? Of course not. Stop such girlish fantasies of princesses riding unicorns. Normans marry for land and wealth. Not tapestries.”

“But...”

“There is no buts, Bea. I suggest you complete the work, take the money and be done with him. In fact, you know what? Normans are so wicked, I would go as far as to say this...”

Beatrice felt close to tears. The excitement of the pig chase seemed like nothing but a  distant memory. “What?”

“The Baron will use his love to get out of paying for all the work... afterwards he’ll lock you up in the dungeon forever.”

“Don’t say that, you’re scaring me.”

Matilda stood from her stool. “Enough, Peter. You have made your point. Now off into the night with you.”

“I came to ask if my top is ready.”

“I said leave.”

“I’ll take that as a no.” Peter turned to face the tearful Beatrice. “I tell you this because I want what is best for you. I may work for the Baron, but I do not like him.”

“All you do is make my eyes burn with tears.”

Matilda shooed Peter towards the door. “I said leave.”

 “Good night to you both.”

“Good riddance, Peter.” Matilda waited until Peter had closed the door behind him. She then placed a sympathetic hand on Beatrice’s shoulder. “Although his way with words is harsh, Bea, I’m afraid Peter’s warnings should be heeded.”

“But what can I do about William’s advances? I don’t want to make him angry. Just imagine what he could do out of spite.”

“That’s why you should tell him early. But first pray and hope that he will take it like the gentleman you think him to be.”

~

Under vaulted ceilings of the banquet hall William and Peter admired the weaver’s work. William nodded with satisfaction as Peter stood on a wooden ladder while hanging the tapestry on the wall. He placed a hand on Peter’s calf while his eyes gorged on the intricate floral patterns woven into the deep red and royal blue. “Finally some colour other than bloody grey.”

“Yes, my Liege.”

“That Beatrice...”

Peter closed his eyes as he stepped down a rung on the ladder. Her name resonated deep within. “Yes, my Liege?”

“For a commoner, she is a talented woman.”

“Indeed she is.”

“Educated, good looking.”

Peter stooped down to pick up his box of tools. His voice strained under the weight. “She is all those things.”

“Could almost be a Norman.”

“Could be. But she isn’t.”

“That nun must have been a fine teacher.”

“Mother Agnes was a wise old woman.”

 William scratched his neatly trimmed beard while watching Peter walk towards the heavy oak door. He raised his voice. “Beatrice’s parents.” William’s words caused Peter to stop and face his master. “What were they like, Peter?”

“Honest hard working folk. They ran the workshop before Beatrice. ”

“So I believe.”

Peter sheepishly asked, “Why do you want to know so much about Beatrice?”

“I might risk sounding foolish, but my heart beats to the sound of her name.”

“But she is a commoner.”

“I don’t listen to what people will say. Nor do I care for such words. I never have and never will. Beatrice is a good woman even if we were born to different privileges.”

“My  Liege. Your bloodline and w…”

“I know what you will say. I’ve heard it all before.  And believe me, I care not to listen to you anymore.”

“I fear what may happen.” 

William spat his words. “I do not have to justify myself to you anymore.”

“One last thing.”

“If you must?”

“I advise you to take her to Eden Bridge.”

William opened the door and gestured for Peter to leave. “What the hell is that?”

“An ancient stone bridge that crosses a wide but shallow river. It’s on the old Roman road north to Carlisle Castle, a distance of about five miles from here.”

William slowly closed the door shut. “What’s so special about the stone bridge? Beatrice doesn’t look the sort to appreciate fine Roman engineering.”

“Our forefathers called the valley Eden, as it is rich with fauna, meadows and fruit bearing trees that give the area a heavenly scent.”

William nodded with satisfaction. “Sounds quite a place. I shall visit one day.”

“It’s a Saints day tomorrow. Take her. Legend has it that if you take your lover there, and kiss her on the bridge, then all your troubles will pass, and you will be entwined by bliss forever and a day.”

William let go of the door latch. He then stepped toe to toe with Peter. “Why would we being together, be of interest to you?” He leaned forward until their noses met. “I thought you had feelings for her? What have you got planned? You little shit shoveller?”

“Because I have made a life changing decision.” Peter could see the suspicion etched on William’s face. “I wanted to tell you first. I... I have decided to become a monk and live a life of piety.”

“Fuck me.”

“I no longer wish to hear such foul words.”

William placed his hand on his chest. “Oh, yes. Sorry.” He coughed into his hand to buy time for the shock to recede.  “Does that mean you will be leaving the castle?”

“Yes. I have held several talks with Friar Benedict up at the monastery. In truth I’ve been thinking about it for some time.”

“Why did you never say anything?”

Peter didn’t lift his eyes from the slate grey floor. “I was scared.”

“Well, you shouldn’t have been.”

“I made up my mind yesterday and informed Father Benedict this morning of my intentions. I will leave for the monastery tomorrow where I will become a novice under Benedict’s guidance.”

“Good. I’m happy for you. But what has this got to do with Beatrice and I?”

Peter’s emotion made it a struggle for him to speak. “If I can’t make Beatrice happy... Well, that doesn’t mean I don’t want someone else to. I wish you good luck, my Liege.”

“Thank you.”

“But keep this between me and you until I am gone. I just want to part quietly.”

William reached for Peter, then placed his hand on his shoulder. “You have my word, Peter.”

_

The horse’s hooves clipped on the stone of the Roman Bridge. Built of local granite, the ancient bridge still stood proud and spanned three arches. The lack of recent rain had caused the river to recede and flow only through the central archway. William rode his horse, with Beatrice riding pillion. He enjoyed the feeling of being so close that he could feel her warmth. Smiling, he muttered, “So, is the first time you have ridden horseback?”

“First time I have had to wear trousers, too.”

“You still look beautiful. So much so, that the fact I can’t see you while riding makes me wish it was I riding pillion.”

 “My Liege... I’m afraid you’re teasing me with such kind words again.”

“Of course not. In fact I want to dismount on this bridge... just so I can see you.”

William climbed off the horse onto the granite cobbles of the bridge. He reached up and took Beatrice’s hand in his. “Beatrice I would never tease you.” Cupping her hands in his, William raised it to his lips and kissed the back of her delicate hand. “Now let me help you down.”

“My Liege... I don’t know if I can.”

“Please call me William.”

Beatrice’s smiled wildly. “Are you sure?”

“Of course. Now come.”

“But William, I fear I may fall.”

William grinned as if he thought Beatrice was joking. “It’s easy.” The fear on her face made him aware she was serious. “OK. Listen to my directions, swing your other leg to this side, then slowly shuffle forward and slide off. I will catch you.”

“But what if I fall backwards.”

“Then you will bang your head and risk death.”

“William!”

William chuckled. “Then simply make sure you fall forwards, then.”

“I can’t be sure.”

“Beatrice, now come on.”

The cold splash of a raindrop made Beatrice peer to the heavens. The grey clouds had been threatening all day but now seemed intent on replenishing the thirsty river. “Oh, William... it’s raining.”

“Then you have no choice but to dismount and shelter with me under the arch.”

Beatrice gingerly brought her leg over the horse. She then closed her eyes as she shifted her weight forward to dismount. “Catch me!” The fall caused her to scream, but she stopped as she felt William catch her by her waist and pull her close. Opening her eyes she was eye to eye with the man she craved. Leaning forward she rested her lips on his but pulled back. “I’m sorry.”

“What are you sorry for?”

 Closing her eyes once more, Beatrice rested her forehead against William’s. “How can we be?” Beatrice opened her eyes, but her vision was blurred as her tear ducts finally overflowed.  “We’re merely playing a game of lovers.”

“There are no childish games between us.”

“Stop making me the girl to your boy.”

“Stop claiming that I’m a fool, Beatrice. Or that I’m some vagabond who is stealing your heart.”

“But I’m nothing but a simple poor girl.”

William pulled her tight to his chest. “You’re not a serf or a peasant. I think you’re as educated as you are beautiful.”

“William... leave me alone and stop with this cruel charade.”

“This is no cruel charade. My lips may move but it is my heart that speaks. What’s more it speaks nothing but the truth. Nothing but your name.”

The heavens fell from the clouds in sheets of cold grey rain. Beatrice broke from William’s arms. “Then your heart rules your head.”

“And so what if it does?”

“Even if your heart does call my name... what good is it? Your fellow courtiers... what will they think of us?”

William stepped up to Beatrice but she took a stride backwards. He then wiped the rain from his face. “I know plenty who have married English girls.”

“I’m not from English nobility, nor am I rich. I will never, ever, be accepted.”

“I don’t care.”

“You say that now, but your words will not last the test of time. That is why I must turn you down. I have a simple but happy life. I like what I am doing.”

“Beatrice.” William felt his heart sliding in his chest. “You speak as if you wished we had never met.”

“I do not wish to be locked up in some lonely tower only to be played with when you are bored.”

“I love you.”

Beatrice framed her face with her hands while her tears mixed with the rain. “You need to find someone suitable. Someone who can please not just your desires, but match the desires of your family.”

“I have been touted around by my parents like a political pawn. But to my parent’s disgust, no woman took my fancy. They thought I was more than merely stubborn.”

“And why is that? Because you’re waiting for me..?  Do not speak such lies, William.”

William ran his hands through his matted hair. He took a fleeting look into the grey mist as the low cloud began to consume the valley. “I fear I have no answer which will please you... But I know my father sent me to this backwater as punishment for not expanding the family’s wealth through marriage.”

“Then I feel sorry for you.”

“Don’t be. I was never interested in wealth, power and politics. I wanted love... and I found it in you.”

“I have lost one husband already.” Beatrice gazed into William’s eyes while she exposed her tortured soul. “I never want to experience such pain again.”

“If you don’t trust me because I am Norman. Then I will be an Englishman.”

“What do you mean by that? You are how God made you. A Norman.”

William finally grabbed Beatrice by her shoulders. “I will give up my riches and come and live with you.”

“But people will know who you are?”

“We’ll move to another town, start a new life with your vertical loom.”

“You’re crazed!”

“I am not.  I will give up my life to live another with you.”

“You fool.” Beatrice felt her heart swell. “Kiss me, William. Kiss me and never let me go.”

~

Under the arch of the bridge Beatrice smiled as William carefully disrobed her. She did not speak as words could never convey or express the emotion she felt. Despite the cold temperatures she felt nothing but the warmth of the lover. William’s kisses soothed her of her pain, freed her from her worries... killed any remaining doubts.

William’s hands traced Beatrice’s body. To his eyes she was beauty defined. Her alabaster skin glistened with the rain water, while her fulsome lips parted just enough to expose her healthy teeth as she sighed to his touch.  He stood naked but felt nothing but confidence. Holding Beatrice tight he lay down his love on the clothes.  Their lips locked, their bodies merged.  They never wanted to be parted.

Beatrice wrapped her leg around William. She silenced her groans by nuzzling her face into the crux of his neck. The sensation of love in its physical form played havoc with her senses. Feeling the need to scream, she expressed her love to her man by losing herself in carnal pleasure.

~

Walking hand in hand back to the horse, William and Beatrice barely heard the sharp whistle on the air.

The force of the arrow forced William backwards before dropping onto to sodden ground. Blinded by pain, he tensed up while screaming in agony among the reeds. Beatrice dropped to the side of her lover. She shook her head in desperation as she noticed the arrow had buried deep into his shoulder. “William, Oh, William.”

“Get on the horse.”

“Let me help you.”

“Forget me. Get on the horse.”

Beatrice burst into tears. “We must escape together.”

“They want me, not you. Now stop wasting time and escape while you can.”

A subdued cry passed Williams lips as he snapped the arrow shaft. As he gingerly climbed to his feet, William spotted a masked bandit running towards him wielding a short sword. He glanced over his shoulder to see Beatrice climbing on to his horse. William paced the horse to collect his sword. “Be safe. Don’t come back for me.”

“You’re drenched with blood. Let’s flee together so you can be healed of your wound.”

“He has a horse and will hunt us down.”  William unsheathed the sword from its scabbard. “I love you.”

“Don’t do this to me!”

“If not now. I will be with you in the next life.” William slapped the rear of the horse, sending it galloping across the shallow river towards the far tree line. 

William faced his enemy.  Despite his bleeding wound he stood his ground, holding his broadsword outstretched. The bandit screamed as he launched his first blow, violently slashing with his sword.

 Keeping his elbows close to his body, William parried each glancing slice.  He kept his knees bent and feet sturdy, making sure not to lose his balance after each defensive parry.  Despite his ailing strength William knew he had to bide his time until he could capitalise on the aggressor’s first mistake.

Polished blades cut through the rain as they battled under the angry sky. Thunder from the unsettled heavens interspersed each grunt and clash of steel of the combatants.

The bandit proved too eager and locked swords. He pushed forwards in an effort to overpower the injured William.  But shifting his standing feet, William forced the bandit to make a false step. Off balance, the bandit was powerless to stop William gaining leverage with his sword and lost the flow of the fight.

William seized his opportunity.  In one strong sapping blow, he swung, but cried out in agonised frustration as the bandit merely parried it.

Without the strength to carry on, William knew he was done for.

“Leave him... Leave him, I say!” A drenched Beatrice had crossed the river once more brandishing a large branch. “Leave, or you’ll have to fight the both of us.”

The bandit seemed stunned. His attention spilt, he couldn’t focus. William knew this and thrust his sword towards the bandit. But the bandit easily sidestepped the blade. However, he couldn’t avoid getting clobbered on the face with Beatrice’s branch.

With the bandit floored, William kicked away the assailant’s sword. Beatrice then kissed William’s cheek. “Are you OK?”

“Fine, but you need to take me to Carlisle once we have dealt with this rat.” William reached down and unmasked his stricken foe, revealing a bloodied face.  To Beatrice’s hysterical screams, William could barely mutter, “Peter?”

“My Liege, you left me no choice.”

“Why? Oh Why? You foolish wretch.”

“I’m sorry... I.”

“You...” William bowed his knees. Exhausted, he could hardly speak. “You wanted me dead? You betrayed me.”

“You stole the love I could never have. I couldn’t let you taunt me by making Beatrice happy.”

“You were to be a monk... No?”

Peter could barely speak for the blood pouring from his nose. “I was going to live my life as a monk in hope of redeeming my soul after killing you.”

“But this... it never had to come to this.”

“Kill me, as I no longer wish to live.”

Feeling faint, William could not muster the strength to pick up his broadsword. He instead unsheathed his dagger.  As he went to slit Peter’s throat, his hand was met by Beatrice’s.

“Let him live.”

“Why should I? He will not allow us to live in peace.”

Beatrice did not relinquish her grip. “Knowing that we’re happy while he is shackled in the dungeon will serve him better than the tortures of Hell.”

“You’re wicked, Beatrice.”

“I’m just a simple weaver.”


© Copyright 2019 Dominic Murphy . All rights reserved.

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