Saturday, March 15, 2014


 And so it was, that we set out for the fair at Amiens, I on Magdalene, Mary and Roger riding with Stephen in the cart. Stephen had seen fit to fill the small larder beneath his seat with enough food to last the four or five days it might take us to reach Amiens. I had my little line, with hook, so that someplace along the way, I might try catching some fish for us as well. The skies were not fair, and yet, they were not threatening, either.
We again had some good foodstuffs, for which we could thank Stephen and Monsieur Luciole, all of the business about payment for the lodging finally cleared up. These included- a good fat wheel of cheese, a roast chicken wrapped in a cheesecloth, four bottles of good wine, a basket of good firm apples, and two loaves of bread for each of us, with a small jar of butter which looked like perhaps not enough, but which we might at least share out for a day or two. The roads had few people, and if there were, most were actually headed in the opposite direction, toward Harfleur, or to the junction of the Roman road which led south to Paris.
On our first evening, then, as day drew to a close, we settled for the night at a spot which was far from houses and far from any sort of town. I fair enjoyed this, for there were some broad oaks, and they made a fine shelter, and the carpet of their fallen leaves crackled neath the boot.
Roger prepared a fire, and we heated up the bird, and shared it out among ourselves, washing it down with wine, and making do for our desert with an apple and some cheese.
There were tall hedgerows along the sides of the road, these we did not breach, but at the point we had stopped these broke off, for there was that other great attraction for me- a river, the name of which none of us knew, which would be crossed by a bridge, but which, I am sure, held fat fish plenty for the taking. I got Stephen’s assurance I could set my line in the morning before we departed, in the chance I could get one, and that, if I did, we might have that as our midday supper.
Roger was in a good mood, for, after the incident with the moneychangers and the customs house and Luciole and Albertus and all the myriad things he kept in the back of his mind to keep Stephen on an even keel, he was talking and joking the entire evening. It must have been the wine, for he kept himself to just half the bottle (unusual!) and that, the rest of us did as well. We were trying to ration things the best we could.
Mary spoke with Roger about his knowledge of this part of the land.
“Aye, I have been on this road a dozen times, with Sire Richard on each of his trips, so my memory of this is quite firm. After this river we come to Valliquerville, and then, our next stop for the night should be at Porcieux. You will find there are few farmers along the way who will be pleasant enough to offer us more than water for the horses. And if they do, be sure you offer them some silver, else wise, they will cringe to hear your English tongue, and hold hand to dagger, till you depart.”
“It sounds as though they do not fair care for English? But we are Cheshire.”
“That be no matter, lass. Of course all these years this land has changed hands once or twice, even more, from the English King to the Duke and the Duke again to the English- ever since Duke William conquered England and became William King. Aye, there are sympathies in these parts which remind me well of our own dilemma! For who wants a foreigner ruling over them, one from another shore? I for one would not. So it is best to consider anyone possibly hostile, and hold one’s tongue in reserve, and just be fair, pay one’s way, and be on with it.”
“As I recall from Father’s stories, he had little trouble here.”
“Aye, lad, but then, your father kept much from you, the better you should learn some things of the world by yourself. I tell you—I will be fair with the Frenchies, but I should also take care, lest you end up cheated somehow.”
“Tis a pity none of us are French speakers,” replied Stephen.
“Well, not to boast, but I do know some,” said Roger. “But yes, we are at a disadvantage there. Nonetheless— some things are common in all places, and some gestures mean much the same, so it is also not so hard to get by with some signal or other.”
As the fire burned down, we all took to bed. Mary and I wrapped in our blankets together, Stephen and Roger taking sleep in their own bedrolls, lying on the woolsacks and cloth rolls of the cart. The horses all tied to a stand of ash trees, and we had led them to the river to drink as we made camp. They munched on straw which was tall and stood in generous clumps all about us.
And in the morning, while the others broke out the bread, cheese, and apples again, I headed to the river to set my line. I stayed there a full hour, or so, and was disappointed that I had made no catch. But surprisingly, as I was just ready to say “that is it!” I got a bite. This was an ugly old lucy, which seemed to have been lying await for the entire time not far from my hook, but which had apparently determined that my bait- a chunk of cheese- was worth the investigation, and I had him.
Man he was long, he was fat and he was round, but he might well make a meal for all of us!
We stowed him in the larder— wrapping him in the cheesecloth leftover from the hen— and Stephen agreed, when we did stop for lunch, we would fire him, and bake him up. Stephen and Roger had the sense to have brought a good thick iron skillet, which without, we might have needed to spit the fish, and that would have been both messy and perhaps, the fish might fall into the ashes, which would not be a good idea for eating! All the same. The stop for lunch would be a few hours more aways down the road.
We continued. I walked Magdalene at an easy pace, she found it well to walk apace with the other horses, so usually I would be in the lead, compared to the others on the cart. We did pass a few more souls, but before we reached Valliquerville, we had a fateful encounter. This would be an event that had some bearing on the trip, as it happened.
Before Valliquerville, a man approached us as we were going along. This man was a little bit hunched of back, he had bad teeth, he smelled rather foul, and had not wiped his nose for a day or two. Grime on his forehead, and his hands, and his clothing was so old that it hung in a tatter at his knees and elbows. But he approached us, speaking English! This was unnerving.
“Kind people! I see you are English by your manner of hair and the cut of your clothes! Have mercy upon me! I am a poor man, but I am wise in these lands... Let me journey with you! Let me help to guide you, oh, for the sake of a fair penny, for I am a poor man, and my wife has long died, and my children know me not any longer!”
Roger, who was now driving the cart, brought it to a halt. I sat saddled on Magdalene, flanking the beggar, should he attempt to make any moves such as attempt to possibly rob us. I had seen enough of highwaymen in England, that even a beggar in France could not be any less suspect.
From his seat at Roger’s side, Stephen looked him over.
“Tell us your name, poor man, and tell us why we should offer you our company? We have business up in Picardy, and we are headed there and will get there, baggage or none! Tell us your meaning, tell us your preference.”
“Good sir, good Merchant from the other shore, I am Theuderic, I come from the meager village of Porcieux, and I am a poor man. Once I was a scholar of all things fair and noble, and earned my bread and my board from the Baron Roussendalle. But he has died, some ten years now, and the new lords of my own country have no use for me. In fact, they have scorned me, and sent me out to beg upon the roads, as have my children. Good Lord, you never knew such ungrateful little snots! But I speak your tongue! I can help to speak the language of the land, and ease your way in doing so! And please, oh, but for some fair penny, that I may buy bread, and shoes for my feet, and a wash!”
Stephen looked at him.
“A wash, my good man, can be had for as free as the water flowing at that river we just crossed back there. Just take oneself to the public baths.  Shoes— well, perhaps I see you may be in need. No man should be without. And bread, well, perhaps I might share with you a bit of mine. As for being our guide? We know whereof we go, and we know what we mean to do there.”
“And where do you go, good merchant?”
“We mean to Amiens, and the fair, there to depart our present loads, and make up more to sell in England.”
“Amiens!” He said it with a shudder. But he pulled himself together, and made a show of courage.
“Amiens! I know the town. The fair- c'est bien! Ah, you make the fair! I will see you make the fair! I can help with any troubles...”
“Just make sure you give us no troubles, sir, or you shall find yourself at the fair point of my dirk!” Roger was speaking gruffly, but Stephen calmed him, indeed, Stephen calmed them both.
“Then alright. We shall take you to Amiens, but then we shall owe you no more. And I may pay you something, but for that, you must wait, and what I pay shall be at my own judgment as to how you have given us fair or foul. Then get on, Theuderic, and we will take you along.”
He shrugged at me, and I nodded back. Theuderic climbed onto the cart, and with some apologies to Mary, placed himself on the cloth rolls, and looked quite happy, much as a clam in a tidal pool could, for he had patrons, and now he could show off his wisdom— if wisdom that be.

We made our way then, somewhat in silence, for the new addition to our company was apparently not a man of many words. He was content to ride along, looking at the trees, the sky, the hedgerows, the fields, the birds in the field and on the wing, and hardly said anything. We stopped for lunch, and as Roger went about gathering wood and setting up the fire for the lucies, he managed to keep himself underfoot. Only now, his bent of talk was more of his needs, and less an explanation of  what had driven him to the roads.
“Bread, sire, you promised bread...”
Stephen nodded. “Assuredly, I will give you some. When I am good and ready. I wish you to tell me more of your life. How came you to lose your wife? Why do your children despise you? Surely there are reasons, as there are always three sides to a story, and two are usually wrong.”
“Oh, sire, but for the grumbling of my guts! Ach, you want to know the pain of my existence! Listen”— he coughed, and wiped his grimy hand on his sleeve, and seeing as he had all of our attention, began.
“As I said, I was in the court of Baron Roussendalle at Beauvais. For fifteen years I was. I had been to Paris and to the College and I had made my study the lives of the Popes. Yes! There are some sure rogues in that coterie, I will say! But it was for me to learn their ways, because Baron Roussendalle had a bishop who was, himself, they said to become a candidate to be Pope himself one day. Well, when I married, my wife thought me at times too wrapped in study to pay her the mind she wanted, if you know what I mean?”
“No, go on.”
“I mean, she liked me a’slammin’ her more than felt good for me, you know?”
Roger huffed, at that, but kept silent.
“I mean, I like a roll as much as any other man, but there are women in this world who, like many men, think of little else. And I found myself on the outs, one afternoon, as she brought a lover to our door and led him inside, and they made of me a beast with horns, while they made the beast with two backs! And that was not enough! For that evening, when my children came home from their own schoolhouse, they found the usurper himself eating at our table, and what is more, they welcomed him! More than they did me! They turned on their own poor father— and all of them! They drove me away... they drove me into this life. I have not gone home since that day—  my wife is a cheat and adulteress, and my children resent me, for not being man enough to keep her in line, and another man sleeps in my bed, eats from my table, and shits in my pot! Oh, woe...”
Now whether any of this was true or not, neither Stephen, nor I, nor Roger, nor Mary, would ever know for certes. But it was told well, and it was told with such alacrity and sincere tone that we assumed, this must be true. For whatever could drive a man, a scholar, a person who spoke not only French, but English, Latin, and Greek (he said) from his own door, and into such a state of disrepair that  it looked far from certain he would ever see again such a noble estate, as that from which he had fallen?
“This wife of yours, and this lover, what did you do to regain your status with respect to yourself?”
“Respect for myself? What? I am not one to take these things lightly. But the lover is a man of great land, great company, a man who is known to many of Baron Roussendalle’s court as the chancellor. I have little chance myself, against a man with that much stride! A boastful man, too, but one whose authority comes of a higher regard of the Baron. And of that, I am only a plebe, and my family... Well perhaps, they could be better off with someone like that, than with a stupid man like me.”
Roger huffed again. As we set the pieces of lucy in the pan and set them to frying, he was clearly thinking thoughts of Theuderic, and that his story was, perhaps, even if true, a little bit on the short side of believing.
Mary was in the cart, still, and had not moved nor budged even to stretch her legs, and I motioned to her to get down. She brought the lute and the sack of poppets with her, and she began working on the Fool poppet.
The fish was browning, and Stephen brought out the bread, wine, cheese, and apples, cut from one apple a half, and gave it to Theuderic, who grabbed it with greedy fingers, and gobbled it in three bites. He wiped again his greasy hands on his tunic. Stephen cut him a portion of his bread, and on it, placed a slice of cheese upon it. Theuderic took more time with this, but within a minute or two he had devoured it all. Stephen poured for him a cup of wine, and Theuderic slurped it—I watched, and he spent less time than I might have, but at least in this, he seemed to have had some noble manners in him, and he took his sips in measured paces, which did, in fact give him a more pleasing presence for us.
When our dinner was done, and the sun was own, and we had finished hearing all the beggarman had to say, we all camped there by the river, and the horses tethered by the cart.
In the morning, Roger hooked up the horses, we got back on our way with early light, not but bread and cheese for our breakfast. We rode most of the early morning but eventually reached a town, called Augrain, around about the hour of nine. Here, Stephen made it clear to the beggarman that he wished to do him a noble favor. It was always Stephen’s way to do things for others. After all, when I had dragged him choking from the Dee that day four years ago, he had gifted me with the lute Luisa, and had granted me power to come and go as I chose, on his father’s lands, and from there, I had become friends not only to Stephen but to his father, and Roger as well, and the other people around the manor, such as Master Porcull.
So it was that out of his generous nature, as we rested our cart horses, and refreshed ourselves with milk, and a meal which we all purchased from a grocer, that Stephen took Theuderic to the shop of a cobbler, and bought him some good solid boots, such that might last a man tramping the highways for at least a year or more. Then, not satisfied with that, for what are good shoes without other clothing worthy of the word, he took him to a tailor, and to his own expense, fitted him with new hose, a tunic, and an overcloak for the winter. In such a fashion Stephen and Theuderic returned and we were able to resume the journey, after a break of an hour or so.
Mary saw Theuderic’s manner as quite changed, for in his new clothing, he was near resplendent and did, at last, seem to be someone of whom it could be believed had spent time working in a royal court, as his story had put it. And while Stephen felt not a little put out by the expense, he shared confidentially with Roger and myself that he had done it as a matter of feeling charitable, and that perhaps, the beggar could offer something to us, as he had put it, as being our translator, for our time at the fair was to be as long as we might make it, and it would do us so much better had we a native French speaker to give us the real word on what was meant by this or that.
And yet, while we did manage to gain Theuderic’s trust, we were loth to trust him fully, even though he did, of course, agree that it might be itself a fair deal, clothing for service. But we were to be sore and disappointed in the reality, once things took their full course.
But that day, we had little to make any complaint as yet. Theuderic sat in the cart rolling along, something of a dullard’s joy in his eye, as he spent time picking lint and stray threads from the tunic, which I could see he wore with no small amount of pride.
Outside of Chatenoy we again stopped, this time, it was for the evening meal, and Roger roasted all of us links of sausage that had come from the grocer back at the town we’d stopped at last. Roger said we still had at least two or maybe even three days of driving left before we would reach Amiens— and so we were yet not but halfway on our course!
I told Roger that on the morrow, should we hit another river, that again I would try my hand at fishing, and that if we could get enough for the five of us, that I would even give him some more portion of my own. Roger laughed, and said that there would be little need. For he had also bought another large wheel of cheese, as well as a jug of wine, and that both of them should be enough to last us until we came to the fairground.
The next day was much like the one before. We rode along a road, an old road made by Romans, with flat stones, and ditches beside which rose up on both sides into bocages, and these blocked much view into the wide farmland plains that were just beyond them. Sometimes, we might see cows, often, we noticed many types of birds, which would take perch in trees that lined the bocages, and watched us warily, before flitting away. I came to think this landscape, but for the huge barriers of tree and stone, much like that of Cheshire, only of course, Cheshire’s fields were oft marked out with scree of flint and chert, and not quite built up to such heights. But at about two in the afternoon we did hit another river, and Roger nodded to me, and I raced off with my line and pole to try, try again, to bring in our dinner.
I don’t know why I didn’t stop at catching just five, though, because by the hour of five I had not just these five fish that could feed each of us alone, but I had double that! It would be a tough thing to keep this fish over the night, but Roger said we should eat the excess as our breakfast, and that we did. Such a filling breakfast! The fish, while no longer fresh, were still not rotted, and indeed, had I had the mind, I could have salted them all, and hung them on the wagon posts to dry in the sun. But the weather was not the best.
In fact, while the rain stayed away, mercifully, the clouds often hung low, and menaced, and it would only be the mid part of a day really when the clouds kept themselves from darkening the road. When there was sunshine, I would doff my cloak, and place it upon the saddle as Magdalene bore me along, and when the wind and the clouds and the cold returned, again I would don my cloak, and bundle myself against the growing chill. At every stop we made, we had a fire, and with this we could warm our hands, arms, and legs, yet the nights were beginning to get so chilled, that Mary and I were often loth to move from beneath the blankets. We had each other for warmth, and our growing familiarity had become something that it was taking an effort to throw off, that the traveling could continue on apace.
The day before we reached Amiens, we did stop at another tavern, and there, the beggarman set about on his own, to garner coins from the patrons. I used the time to tune the lute, and provide some music gratis, for those who might lend me an ear. Mary was continuing her work at costuming her poppets, and Roger and Stephen were content to drink of the ales, and wines, and for Roger, anyway, to attempt passes at the country wenches. But he had little luck. At least one of them looked at him cockeyed and all funny when he burst forth into his accent— betrayed by his Englishness, she turned up her nose and strode away, unconvinced of Roger’s worth, heedless of any of his need. Stephen put us all up again in the tavern so we had real mattresses to sleep on, although they were none as comfortable as the Inn at Harfleur. And the horses and cart were well looked out for, although we did, again, take the precaution of moving the wooden chests off it, and into our rooms.
I spent what must have been three evening hours  from five until eight? Playing my lute. Again I used the Breton dances, but I did try also to improvise ideas of my own, reflecting on all I had yet seen, and reflecting on the faces of the poor people who inhabited the tavern, and were drinking, playing at darts, or dice, or cards. Or with each other, as Roger had hoped to find for himself a play friend, but did not.
“Stephen and Roger tell me that we should arrive early tomorrow,” Mary told me. “I look forward to being able to sell father’s chests! I look forward to what it all shall be like. I do hope that both of us will enjoy ourselves, as much as if we might have been at home...”
Again, talk of home made me both anxious, nervous, and hopeful, that we could make it back and that all would be as we had left it, and all would be well and fine. I said another set of prayers beyond my usual ones for my father, mother, and Simon, and this was directed to Mary, and her father and mother.
“May they be free from the wrath of King Henry and the vileness of their servitude to him. may Robert come home safely from Wales, may he have great success and luck in battle, as it happens, and may we be delivered one fine day from the English. Amen.”
And once more the sun rose, breaking over Dracqueville with the sound of roosters and somewhere the honk of an ass and many noisome geese which passed over the town.

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