We were now at the river the French call Bresle, and at the crossing- the very one! Which our King Edward did take his men by way of their great victory at Crecy, some half century before our birth. The roads had yielded some of their mud, to a sort of sticky clay which while not quite dry, had yet more firmness, and allowed us to gain more miles with our cart.
Roger pulled us over, and we were close enough to the river that Stephen and I could unharness the horses, and led them to the river to drink. We left the canopy sail on top the cart as a precaution, indeed, we left it up all the way back to Harfleur, against rain which always threatened but yet never came to the point of breaking. I took the opportunity again to fish, but now I had Abu for my company, and we sat by the river together, I with my pole, he with his lute, speaking of the way in which he had come to look upon dear Mary.
For as he rode along in the cart together with her, and I upon Magdalene, there were plenty of occasion for him to lose my eye, and in that while, there were also many occasions for him to speak to her, which I learned that night, he had done, on that very subject I wished he would have held himself back.
“Julian, my brother, I know this is not to make the good of you. But as I have spoken with your wife now, I am even more sure of my position— that she should be for me the one to whom I make a pledge of chivalry. Ah, I do have a love who lives in Spain, yes, I would tell you again, she is the one for whom my heart most longs, and a man can hold but one mistress at heart at a time.”
“But your wife, she is not the target of my love, she is the target of my ideals. How can I tell you this without rousing you to an anger? For I can see this in your eyes.”
“Tell me more of this Spanish woman. It would seem to me you take an exception with my wife you would not grant to her.”
“She is the daughter of a Christian, who lives in Granada, at the foot of the hill on which is the castle of Alhambra, the finest sight for any eyes. And she herself is a sight for the eyes, even one of an infidel would realize this, if you but took a fancy. And as she is the daughter of a Christian, neither her father, nor mine, would ever concede to a marriage, so I am cut to shreds before I even begin to ask of it. Yet, she feels for me, for she has granted me two audiences, these I held with her in secret, as her father did sleep.”
“Well, she has a fine house, there, but living with her father and mother as she does, she will not come out of it, but lends me the favor to wait neath her balcony, and I with lute notes, scourge the houses about her with songs, that come with the light of the moon, and bring the anger of the people within them.”
“Such as it might be anywhere, if one is a minstrel out of favor with his town! I know this notion.”
“And in our audiences, she told me, that while she thinks fond on me, again, as she is Christian, and I but a Moor, even as my lord Sultan rules this land, there are customs which are much older than the coming of we to Andalucia, and of these, we have yet not enough grasp of what she called “the saved grace” for her to entertain such a notion, foolish as it may have been, that I may ever take her hand, with the approval of her father. Nor could I ever, even with the approval of my sultan, for the imams of Granada would bring me forward, and call me apostate, for not taking one of our faith, myself. It is a wicked game that the rules of the world play with lovers, Julian.”
I agreed with him. And now I had a bite! I struggled away from the safety of my seat, and rose to drag in what I hoped might be but the first catch of the day. Which it was. It was a good sized lucy and within another ten minutes, I had yet another. Perhaps it was my choice of bait, which had been a chunk of broken cheese, but I was getting someplace!
Abu looked upon the growing pile of flipping then softly stiffening, fish himself, smiling.
“I hope I might make five such strikes, Abu. We have got three now! With five, we can all eat well and our fill. The trip to Amiens was pretty good...”
“I am wishing with you, Julian, my brother. This river seems to run clear, and perhaps there is a bit about— what you called the music of place— to this little corner, also.”
There was yet another hour before I had gained the five I hoped for, but in that hour, Abu also admitted to me that while he would set Mary up upon a pedestal in his mind’s eye, he recognized fully my right as husband to my jealousy, and once again, he tried to turn me aside with words of trust. And all he was saying took my mind away from fishing for any more, since five would indeed be all we might need, lest I remind myself that keeping fish overnight was not such the wonderful idea.
And of all that, even yet, I felt shame inside myself for thinking thoughts of any jealous anger, knowing Abu was indeed a man who was suffering, and denied the way of his heart in his homeland, he had seemed to strike forward blindly, while he was outside it. I relented from my first anger about it all, and when I had brought the fish all in, and Roger had set the camp fire, I spent time before our meal speaking to Mary about Abu and his “real and growing love” for her.
“Well, Julian, he is an honest type of man, so are you, such as yourself even, to me. I have had words with him, yes, bet these have really only been his questions about our home, and especially, Cheshire, which interests him. He says he longs to see what is called our Emerald Isle, and hopes one day yet he can, but for the restriction, as you had let him know. And I told him that while we did have a house, near to the shore, in Cornwall, yet we had not been there long enough but that we had been on our journey here, so in my own eye, it is still a place I am aching to know myself. As for Cheshire I could describe it well for him—that of the house of my father Robert, of the manor of Stephen, even of the cottage of your own father and brother. And I spoke of the woodworking, of the ale my mother and I brew, of the carding and fulling of wool, of the lands of Stephen and all about them, and some, because he asked, about your Master Porcull, whom I but met on our wedding day, and of whom I could not say much more. He is just curious, Julian, and I would not allow him anywhere near that which I protect for you.”
This was more a relief to me. For if Abu had been a cheat or rapscallion he might have even used the time he rode with her to make an inroad, but as she assured me, I now let my heart and my jealous mind rest of all that.
Abu and Stephen and Roger were all waiting about the fire, where Roger had greased up the skillet, and so, with great aplomb, I gutted out the fish, lending the tripes to Panoptes as his supper treat, and set them all to cooking. It was not long before time to flip them, which I did, using a flap of a great green leaf, and when they were done, all of us began to eat them, as they were yet hot, on a set of old trays that were a part of Stephen’s cart pantry. We ate with our fingers, the juices running down our hands, and we wiped these on the legs of our hose, and while it was messy, it was all fine. We had a jug of milk to drink which had come from Amiens with us, which was not yet soured, and was still light and wholesome, so we finished it with that and hunks of bread, that which Stephen had also taken in Amiens from the taverner.
There were yet some hours left to the day, so after we had allowed the horses pasture for the while that we made supper, we hitched them again, and continued travel west until it was well beyond sunset, and the skies were purple, and you could see the evening star in the west where the sun had gone. And there, we pulled off the road, we set again the horses to give leave the yoke, tied them all to trees, and we drew upon us each of us their blanket, and slept on the rolls of textile beneath the canopy in the little cart. Morning broke with a fair fine mist, a fog, even, but there had yet been no rain, and of that Roger was quite relieved. We could make Harfleur in yet two more days.
And this day was one in which Abu and I, our minds set aside from any talk of Mary, grew closer in our appreciation of the landscape, the scenery, and the cosmic music of that land the Normans call home. I thought at times upon the Conqueror, that these had once been his lands, and how English kings since had claimed them as a portion of England also, and battles had been fought to prove this, such as Crecy and how there might yet even be more battles still, to prove it yet again.
And even then though I thought on the French, for this was France, after all, and not England, how ridiculous it was to have Britons striving and seeking to control a part of the world against which the great Channel itself always stood as a barrier and a rebuke to all ambition. Let each people to their own realm, and put aside all these ideas of making men take allegiance to those of a foreign cast!
The land itself was fair. There were all these great walls, or bocages, as I believe Theuderic had called them, made of stone, and brush, and even trees, upon which grass and flower grew, and which presented themselves most nobly as the borders of many a farmer’s domain. And there were beautiful trees, which had begun to make themselves yellow in the autumn, but which seemed no less noble for those bare stalks which they reached with toward the sky, row upon row of them. There were great lands filled with apple, which had all been harvested, and these had lost their leaves already. There were vineyards, but these were not even half what Abu said they were in the lands to the south, and there were small stone farm houses, with chimneys offering smoke toward the coming cold months, and which all seemed to relate a way of life which would continue on for the ages yet to come. A radiant peace, and which of itself taught Abu and I to meditate well upon what our own music, minor as it might be, offered as a gift to the One, and offered as a Joy to those who Live, holds so much in common with the everyday speech of the bird and the forest deer, and is the language of the world.
Abu spoke to me of his learnings of music, where he had studied, and through home. There had been a man in Spain who held the post— what I suppose the English might have called a “choirmaster”— something like the teacher of Organum I had had in Chester, the bane and crisis of my early school years, Master Rolf. This man who had been Abu’s teacher was not a man of strings, but one of reeds and horns. And he had instructed Abu in Modes, and manners of Key, and as he had already told me, he spoke with knowledge of the way music lives in the land of India. That there are hours of the day appropriate to each key, and that the harmony of our world is best spoken by adhering to these rules. I thought it was a rather silly rule, but then, he chided me with saying:
“Then how much sillier is it than you telling me there is a music which is particular to every place? Time, and place, are they yet not related?”
I had to admit that Abu was causing me more minor frustration but that he did have a good point.
“Someday,” I said, “someday, if I ever have the luck or the cause to come to your country, Abu, I should like to learn more of these things of which you speak. I should like to know more about what key strikes what hour, and maybe even make myself an author of a new way of looking at music, at least, for those of us who dwell in England. It is all new to me, everything, from this “cosmic music” to those things of which you ramble. And so, in honor of this, let us break when Stephen draws down the horses, and drink a draught of wine together, and toast those men who have given us their wisdom, such as we might make our way in life as minstrels. What good men they are! At heart and at deed! For they hold themselves not to the duty of war and death and harassing the poor and those who can not get out of the way, but all they happen to do is add grace and beauty into the world.”
Abu smiled, and nodded. “I shall sip of your wine, but not so much. I am a man of all moderation, and yet, if I fall too far, I should know that I might never get up. And then, I would be an odd man out in Muhammad’s court!”
I smiled back, and we rode on, until well after noon, Stephen again struck camp, and there, we shared together wine from Amiens, rich indeed it tasted in the turning of the year, there on the high road leading to Harfleur.
We had crossed the Bethune and were now quite close to Harfleur, said Roger. I was glad that Abu and I had had our long talks, for it did put my mind at rest as to any designs he may have held over Mary. I was also quite glad to lay any thought of jealous nature— such as I know I possess! against one so skilled at the musical language, so highly attuned to the fields of nature, so gifted at the nature of chivalry and romance. For I had made a friend, and the closer we drew on Harfleur, the quicker the sands of my friendship were spilling down. I asked him if we might play a few more times together, and this he readily agreed to— we played as I rode my horse, and he sat near the opening of the drawn cart. The creaking of the cartwheels provided a shaky rhythm, which we put to our advantage, even if it bothered Roger to such a degree he threatened, at one point, to have Abu set out on foot, if we did not depart from it! But Roger managed to survive it.
We ate a last supper on the road before coming to Harfleur an hour after. There were dark men about in the street, men whom were not soldiers, for the wore no coats of arms, but whom themselves went about highly armed with bow, arrows, pikes, and swords. Yet these men had no organized squadron, so far as one could tell. Perhaps they were awaiting some sign, maybe there was a leader under whom they would await service, perhaps it was one of the local Dukes they were in thrall to, but their presence was unnerving, and it lent a rather auspicious feeling to our arrival. Stephen and Roger drove the cart up to the dock area, and it was not long before we did find Albertus, and Barcelona, moored where we had left her a fortnight-and-half past. The Barcelona twisted its cables and rocked to and fro on the harbor water, which seem’d to hold more chop than when we had stricken ourselves out on the highway.
Indeed, Albertus said that we must make sail within the day’s time, or we might be caught up in a storm at sea, which was sure to be coming, and might even overtake us at all events as we headed to Penzance.
The crew of Barcelona- the same eight men, led by the first mate Regulus and the bosun Chelmswadd we had met before, began taking off the merchant goods, and stowing them. The very same process we had witnessed in Penzance took place again— the long rolls of cloth, the larger sacks of spice, the varying other sundry goods with which Stephen would gain further favor with Lord Anselm, all made their way upon the backs of the men up the plank and into the hold. And lastly, the cart itself, and the horses were taken aboard. It was good we had thought to feed them and water them on the highway, but short of their feed sacks, which we would give back in the morning full of oats, and buckets of freshwater taken from the ships’ supply itself, we would not be seeing Magdalene, Nibs, nor Plodder, until we were once more boarded.
Abu watched the work going on and there was indeed I could see a sadness in his own eyes.
“Watching this work, Julian, it makes me remember even still how much I wish to make my own return homeward. France has been a rather disappointing experience as yet, when I compare it to the way the men of the south are, to these here northward. There are many suspicions in their minds, I feel. I also can feel the tension between you English and these French.”
“Ah, but remember, Abu, we are but English in our flag, if not our approach. We who are half-Welsh or even fully—as half of Cheshire are—are not yet half as fond of this King we now have as we were of the King we had before, whom he had overthrown. And we should hope that, our little Shire of Chester, might yet find relief under the throne of another, not this current Crown Prince. For while he is himself not yet King, he is from the issue of his father, and as his father’s way is a way of perdition, yet we quail beneath his yoke. We long to become free Welsh, and under our own flag. It is treason to speak so, and yet, what other, what more can we ask? Are we to live forever unchained, or shall we need to take up colors yet for these tyrants of London? Well, in all these things, the French seem to understand, for there are yet places like Calais and even Harfleur which while being French are yet beneath Henry’s domain. It is a shaky peace that shall not last. If war comes again to Wales— as I know it will— then we will have support of the French. And all the crazed ways of the English court— a marriage here, a treaty there- all these ways will never be enough to change the manner of people’s minds, as to whom they owe their liege and duties. So it is best, that each place decide themselves under whose colors they must march more than it is, that colors should be thrust into their hands forthwith by some other command.”
I had not known myself to talk in this fashion, but from Abu’s nods, I could tell he was picking up some of the grief which we Cheshire men yet carried. Without the pleasure of his company our return to Anselm seemed as though it would be quite lessened- after all, Abu might have learned things at Anselm’s court which might help turn the tides of war from his own lands! Such as it was, the northern French and Spanish Kingdoms were making their own secret alliances. This we knew not at the time, but within the year, we would be learning. One thing I enjoyed most about Penzance was that as a seaport we got word of changes in the winds much quicker than those in the country shires and the northern places of Britain.
All the same. We had finished the work of loading our cargo, and then we all headed for the Ogre. For there, we could take rooms, keep our personal things safe, dine, and spend the night, and all we might need then for the morrow would be to board Barcelona and ship back to England.
And then I had the most surprising encounter I had had with anyone in months— as we were taking our baggage inside at the Inn of the Ogre’s Cove, it just happened that there, inside at the bar, and enjoying himself immensely with a pitcher of ale, was Ranulf! Ranulf whom I had not seen in nearly a year, since I had been in Penzance the winter before my trip to London! But it was him alright- the same bearded, blushed-out cheeks, the same hair, with the cowlick drooping down between his eyes, the same set of bagpipes, even, only now they held more grime, and it was even harder to see the design of the cloth on their sack. But it was Ranulf, alright.
At my entrance to the bar, Luciole looked up, and immediately brightened.
“And hair he ees! The man from Chestair! Julian, the lutist!”
Ranulf’s eyes goggled out as well, for he had not had the slightest idea that I had ever been of the mind to pass this way, and yet, here we were again. Immediately he shook my hand, asked me how I was doing, and I pointed out to him, behind me now, and helping Stephen with some of his sacks, Mary, who was taken enough to manage half a bow, as she and Stephen disappeared together down the hallway to our rooms.
“You will play togezzair for us tonight, non?” asked Luciole, but it was more a statement of command than a true question. Of course we would!
And Luciole, indeed, had left some room for Stephen where smaller sacks of spice could be let down, although the other rooms, where we had once lodged, were now taken by a pair of French nobles, and these we could not budge from their appointed positions.
Ranulf gathered his wits, and poured me a cup of ale, and when Mary returned she came and sat beside me at the bar.
“Julian, I am so happy that I can see you! Of course, we shall play! What brings you to Harfleur, and in particular, what brings you to Luciole le Ogre’s?”
“We have been traveling, to the fair at Amiens. This, my wife Mary, and my friend from Chester, Stephen, and his man, Roger, and also, we have another friend with us. Abu, the Moor, who hails from Andalucia and the court of Granada!”
And at this point, Abu, who had, himself, made himself quite small against the wall of windows near the front entrance, came forward to the table, shook Ranulf’s hand, and sat beside Mary and I.
“It does sound as though things are changing for you, eh, Julian?”
“That is one big mouthful there, Ranulf! I am married, I have a house, in Penzance, and I hope you might accompany us there! Remember the Baron we played for over that Christmas season two years ago?”
“The one with the big holiday fair! Yes!”
“Well, he asked me if I should find you, he wishes us to play once again, for him, in fact, we can do so this year, for Christmastide! Together!”
“You don’t say! Wonderful. Why yes, I have nothing to stop me. Except... I doubt I have the passage across the Channel...”
“Never you mind that! I have the coin and I can pay your way. You can repay me after we have been with Anselm, and he pays us for our work! There will be many days and nights working together, ahead of us, I know it. And I am glad to find you since Anselm himself asked me in particular if I might bring you back with me!”
“This indeed is good fortune Julian! Of course this will all work out for both of us.”
“Stephen and Roger have a ship, and they will meet the Captain again in the morrow. He is moored in Harfleur port here. We are yet coming from Amiens...”
And Roger and Stephen huffed in and out of the front doors again more bulging sacks burdening their backs.
I introduced Ranulf once more to Abu.
“Ranulf, Abu is a court minstrel, and he plays the oud himself. We will also play with him this night! There will be much merriment for Luciole the Ogre!”
Luciole, for his part, bent his attention toward Stephen and Roger, and was toting up the sums of another night’s stay, and going over their proposed supper meal with them. We all took up a large table now, the six of us. And once again the serving girl, Jillian, harried but polite, waited upon us. Mary held Panoptes near her, on the long cord we had fitted him with, and he made a play of jumping in and out of Ranulf’s lap. This was highly amusing, and as we waited for Luciole to return and ask us what we wanted for our supper, Abu took up his oud, and began to play a melody of northern Spain upon it. He then began to sing a song, a rather sly and bawdy one, in French.
“With the sweetness of the new season
Woods fill with leaves and the birds sing
Each of them in its own tongue
Set to the verse of a new song
Then is the time a man should bring himself to where his heart has gone
From my best and my fairest to be
No messenger nor seal I see
So my heart neither laughs nor sleeps
Nor do I take further steps
Until I know that we agree
It is as I want it to be
The way this love of ours goes on
Is like the branch of the hawthorn
That keeps trembling upon the tree
In the night in the rain and ice
Until the sun comes and the day
Spreads through the green leaves and branches.
I can still recall one morning
When we put an end to warring
And how great was the gift she then
Gave me: her love and her ring
God, just let me live to getting
My hands under her cloak—again!
What do I care for the strange way
They talk to keep my love away?
I know how words are, how they go
Everywhere, one hint is enough
They talk of love, what do they know?
We have the morsel and the knife.”
“And so soon, the morsel and knife shall be before us!” I was thrilled having my musical friends meeting in this fashion.
“It is indeed a shame, Ranulf, that we cannot bring Abu with us to Penzance. But you know...”
“Yes I know, your kings despise all Moors. He has a rather narrow mind, and even more narrow a heart. The day will come, though, Julian, where a Moor may walk in London town beneath the sun of noon. I know this, inside.”
“For now, we will eat, and drink, and then, we shall play!”
And Luciole came by to ask what we should choose to dine upon. This time I chose a fat hen, and that Mary and I should share this. Abu chose a leg of lamb, and Ranulf, a shank of steer. Roger and Stephen made each of themselves a stew of potted fish, with clams and eels and other strange ocean beasts, which Luciole served to them both together in one large pot which they shared. You could hear them bicker over little choice bits as we minstrels began talking about our latest journeys. Ranulf, himself was very curious as to how Moorish Abu came to be in Northern France, and he explained, if briefly, the mission his Sultan had sent him upon.
Turning to me, Abu said something very startling.
“You know, Julian, that my own Sultan came upon his throne much as did yours. It has been said that he killed his brother, Our Sultan before, by way of imprisonment and poison. In fact there have been few of our Sultans in this last century who themselves did not gain their crowns but by murder or some type of plotting. And yet, as he is my Sultan, and has given me this post and mission, to travel in these cold north places and bring back words if I might, whether they are to mean war or peace, these things I cannot question, for on my very life, I must give him duty.”
“Well I can understand myself on this. I have my friend Stephen’s father, if not my own, for an example of the duties that lie on people for the work of their kings!”
Ranulf gave in to the curiosity again. “What means he, that here are words of war or peace? We Normans are not at league nor at war with the Moslems of Spain. Nor should we wish to be, although we play the same game of high-placed marriages with Spanish kings and princesses. But say no more for the thoughts of the mighty. I concern my questions more to the journey you made from Compostela! It is a trip I wish someday I might make myself. I have been blessed all my life long with good measure of kindnesses, from men both high and low. And if I might travel there I can express my gratitude at the bounty of the Lord.”
“It is not meet that you must go anywhere at all to show Allah his due respect,” admonished Abu. Ranulf drew back.
“Proof of a pilgrimage cannot do more to change a heart than can the awareness that it is Allah himself who provides your mercies and bounty. For Allah is with you wherever you go, no matter how far you wish to travel, to get away from yourself. Enough to reflect on that, and keep gratitude within! For all you would gain is a badge like this”— and he tapped the scallop on his turban for emphasis— “And all that this really says is, “I have traveled far! Look upon me!”
“The ways of Allah are mysterious, but less mysterious is the announcement of a man’s pride, which he might wear as a badge thusly, and yet perhaps, not know humility. I wear this myself as a means of protection, against those who would see in me only a Saracen, and person of distrust. And without which perhaps my journey might have never been so safe to me as it was. ”
Ranulf spoke no more querulously of Abu, and seemed to want to change the direction of our talk, so instead, we began to speak of music, and Abu himself, of this new way of relation to the land and the music with which I had now seemingly infected him.
“What is this “music of the land” of which you speak, Julian? For I have had feelings mayhaps, something like this sometimes, it is real- only I have never heard anyone express these things in this way. Yes, I believe that there are angels who rule those realms of nature, and which flee at the approach of men with saws, hammers, and mills. But are these things, not phantoms, fairies, ideas perhaps hatched by the Foul One to cause us to believe in lies, and not the Savior?”
“I do not see how the Savior...”
He cut me off.
“You do not see how the Savior himself came to cut our allegiances to all other realms of spirit but that of the Lord?” Ranulf surprised me, in his devotion, apparent to all, for the Church of Rome. and but for that, I would not feign friendship toward him, but even with that, I appreciated all he had meant to me. This would not get in the way of my future life with him, if I could help myself from it!
“Ranulf, these ways of speaking were first imparted to me by my teacher Porcull of Cheshire. I brought them along with me from my trip to London, which happened hence the last time we played together, a winter ago in Penzance. This is a new way and manner of looking at music. Imagine that the stars are a great web of intrinsic random design, and yet each strand of connection which builds a constellation, is itself a web built on strands of the Lord’s love— for all things. All things here, and all things thence. Now think upon those “heathen spirits” you feel bound to despise out of your sense of piety, and reflect that these too, must have been creations of the same Lord, the ruler of all the stars and planets, and that holds us all in thrall to that Love, to choose to honor or to despise, by our own good will. I believe that Porcull taught me a way of looking upon the world with which now I might use to a full advantage, to win those to whom I bring the music forth for. And in this, Abu and I spoke at length, on our journey here, and even Abu, a Saracen, understands the wisdom in this manner of seeing.”
I could tell I was making Ranulf either upset, or sad, but I did wish to remain his friend, and that there could be less problems with him were I to gain the time to explain it at length. Right now, he was thinking only of how I must burn for heresy, and yet, I knew there was no heresy greater than burning those who dare to think on noble things. So I let that be.
Luciole came to the table, after we had all eaten and dunk our fill. It was obvious as he approached what he would now be asking.
“Zho, Gentlemen! Now you vill play upon instruments, and give yourselves fair worth for what has been lain before you, yes? I shall offer each of you two florins for the evening, know that. But I shall also wish that you take especial care. Tonight ve vill have special guests, men who are “high up on the banners” as we might zay, yes? Zo, you must play vell and make zem happy! Zey are to be here quite shortly. Do not affect yourselves vrum zere arrival, to your work! For better you keep to that zen you do yourselves trouble by your recent manner of talk. Zis I say to you as your friend, believe, eh, certes?”
We nodded at Luciole, then all of us went to the place in the dining hall where we were accustomed to making noise. Abu took the right side of the great hearth, and Ranulf took up a spot between us. I on the left side could keep an eye on the entrance, for Luciole had aroused my own curiosity to an extreme. Who were these “high up on the banners” men? Would they have any power to hold us longer if we should not perform to their liking?
As it was we had very little to worry about, in the end. We did play. Ranulf took me through many of his Breton dances, the same as he knew he had taught me before, and Abu did well in accompanying us, although his playing added some choppiness, in that these were mainly all new on him also. But it was fine! And all through it, Abu and I together, when we could, we would play our own take upon each melody, stretching out the dance and stretching out the meter so that each piece was longer in turn from the last. And when the “high up” men came in, I could scarcely see how they were any higher than, say, Albertus, in the world of merchants. Each of them however did wear a hat with a special plume, which must have shown they held some form of office, but perhaps, this was really more something to do with the town of Harfleur, than it had any to do with the domain of the Crown. And while they listened at times to us, they were well more into their own conversations, which we could not hear anyway, situated as we were. Once in a while one of them might spend time staring at Abu, whose ark skin (and scalloped turban!) set him apart from Ranulf and myself, clad as we were in customary tunics and hose, and which both of us took as daily dress, and paid no mind to ornament.
Luciole did deliver, as well, and the two florins made their way to my purse, and I was again, feeling I had made a good decision in coming on this trip, for again, I was returning home with more coin than when I had left, even with the expenses from the fair, and even with the payment I would make to Albertus to effect Ranulf’s passage over the Channel. When our musical cooperation had held the attention not only of Mary, Stephen, Roger, and the noblemen, but the various persons who made up Luciole's normal daily clientele, we recognized it from their applause. At the end we were called back twice, and Ranulf sang a song alone, which was the Song of Roland, and which both Abu and I together also knew. This was exciting, but even that had to come to an end. And so it was that Abu and I, lutes in hand, both approached to the door of the Ogre’s Cove, and made our way to the street. I felt like leaving him with some more things to consider, though I am afraid I sounded much like a man in readiness to die, than a lover of my own life! But this is what I had to say:
“O, that I shall worry not the estimations of fools, that by my living and learning I be not wise! For many live to a ripe old age never learning the art of happiness: which is, to enjoy the days allotted one to their fullest serving the joy of one’s heart such as one can and quailing not when our Friend Death at last comes to collect his debt on our bodies.”
“You sound as one who has thought long on this.” Abu looked at me, curious as though there were indeed more he wished to hear.
“Only so long as I feel needed. For once one walks through a door, he knows the room. Some rooms are easily guessed and estimated. And of the last room, beyond the last door who are we to predict what lies behind it? Therefore we should be happy. For until that door shuts locked behind us, we may yet explore the rest of the house.”
“The prophet tells us there will be paradise gardens and maidens fair.”
“But yet there are many of them here, Abu. You told me of the one you love the fair haired girl of Spain.”
“But alas, Julian, she is haram for me. For she is Christian, and I a Moor. There will be horrible sanctions against our union. And I only love her from afar. I do doubt she has any thought of me, beyond that I was a handsome player on strings.”
“That is one of the things which I wish were different about these rooms we now live in. Send her your love, and make her your ideal. Who knows? Things could work out to your liking, one day.”
“Sooner I shall fall into the sea like Icarus for my waxed wings, than I should be allowed, Julian. O, this does tear my heart.”
“And yet, Abu, I feel that you are not marked so for doom. When I return to Penzance, I shall write up your stars, and make them known to you by way of a message, to be sent to your palace and your Sultan. Perhaps there will be answers yet there. Write down for me your birth and the year day and the time. I shall consult all my logs to discover what that good fortune doth truly mean for you.”
Abu took a pen from his own pouch, fitted it with an ink stone, and wrote them out for me on a scrap of paper. He was seven years my elder! One would not have thought so by looking at him, for his face had conserved itself from the work of time. Perhaps the easy life of the court had had that effect. But I noted all this, and tucked it into my own pouch, for safekeeping.
“And so, Abu, we shall part. Knowing you has been a great blessing, and I wish you fare well and safe travels, on your way back to Granada.”
“Yes, Julian, my brother, I wish you the very same. I shall return by way of the south, and bypass all the Christians of the Camino. I have had that. I wish to see Provence, again, and Barcelona, and Algeciras, before I return to the Sultan. I have much to learn and to share with the troubadours of the south. And something—more than one! To think about!”
Rather than to prolong it, he stepped away walking down the street from the tavern, playing on his lute, the melody I had shown him, “She Moves Through the Fair.” He turned a corner and was gone. I returned inside the tavern to my companions. It was a decent night. And I would think on Abu often. And I would, indeed, keep my promise to him, to scribe his stars.
Inside, Roger could now be found, having broken table from Stephen and Mary, standing at the bar with a young woman who seemed to be of good birth, at least from the manner of her dress. She wore a green cape over a rust-red dress, which reached to the floor, and a type of sandal on her feet, clad in long hose. Roger was obviously seeking her out for a good time, as was his normal fashion, on the night before a voyage.
“Excuse me, but I know you. You are the woman who sold herself to me last year, are you not?”
“Certainly not, sir, For I am neither bought nor sold.”
“Perhaps that’s so, if you allow of so many your attentions, you have little the memory to tell one from the other...”
“Then what if I was? What have you done to deserve such a grace even if I were?”
“Well, I am willing, even eager, and what’s more, I can pay...”
“Aw pshaw. Put down thy money where thy tongue is then, Big Talker. And allow me the discretion of judging how suited thee be to my own desires. For I can have any man in here.”
“You can’t have him,” said Roger, pointing to me.
“And how not? Is he not more young than you, and so, twice the stallion?”
“The young master is married, Miss. And so you, I know too well, are not. And yes I do think I know you, for if I remember right, there is a mole right beneath your left armpit, on the edge of the hollow...”
The slap she gave Roger resounded across the tavern. Men looked up from their pursuits and turned in our direction.
“I beg your pardon!” she was quite visibly angry, and turning redder.
Roger, however, would not give up.
“So it is. You would not have taken such offense at an obvious untruth. And so it is that you are the same strumpet with whom I rode the beast of two backs a year ago. Well, well. I suppose I shall find those more comfortable with my opportunities!”
“That then, old oaf, would be a good place to start!”
The woman turned back to her table, and nursed her mug of ale, and soon was engaged speaking merrily to another gentleman, not Roger.
“I get this sort of thing a lot,” he shrugged to me.
For the rest of the evening, I drank with Roger and with Stephen and Albertus. Mary left us early and was off to the room, and when I rejoined her, she was fast asleep. It was as well, because in the morning it was to be off, again, sailing on the sea homeward.
The morning broke, but there wasn’t a sign of the sun. Thick cloudy skies held him off from us, and threatened rain. Strong winds were blowing from the west—when we met Albertus at the dock and boarded Barcelona, he told us we were in for a tough sail.
“But better now than be up inside it later, shall we say, for that is for certes.”
Barcelona creaked and yawed at the rails. All the goods were aboard, as were our beloved horses, and Panoptes shivered in Mary’s arms.
“To my cabins, all!” declaimed Albertus, and there we went, again, to spend the best part of this trip in and out of the weather, which was getting more dubious all the time.
The crew heaved off, and soon she was passing out of Harfleur’s protected harbor. We could not see much from the windows of his cabins, but it was disappearing fast behind us, the great sea wall and its towers were getting dimmer, and now, as it would happen, here came curtains and sheets of rain, so that there was soon nothing of the coast visible, and the white-topped waves curned and Barcelona rocked back and forth fiercely, and steady on she moved, the rudder manned by Regulus, and the sails all still wide out.
“We will furl our sails halfway through the day. Once this morning rain pulls off there will be time for the men to furl them again, but for now, everyone but Regulus gets to take in the storm from below decks.”
“This time of year, you know, it’s exactly as to be expected. The northwesterly winds blow down the channel and help keep the current moving toward Calais. And we must work against it to make our way to Penzance. You can expect we may well take a half day or more added to this trip, due to Aeolus and his sprites.”
“Meanwhile, enjoy the ride, if you may!”
It was obvious to me though that Mary did not feel so wonderful, with the ship tossing about, and the loud winds rushing past the hull outside, and rain splattering the windowglass.
“Have you a bed I may lay down?” she asked
“Of course. Where you slept?”
Mary went without a word back to the cabin adjoining the captains, and I listened for more sounds of her sickness, but there were none. The captain called to his cook.
“Bring us some chowder, then, Catso, and let us have bread to sop it and staunch our bellies! This weather shall not lead us to the foul edge of despair. We shall be grateful we have a good ship as can take the storm, and we shall, for certes, arrive anon to Penzance, on the day from tomorrow.”
There would not be a lot to do, but I could see then and there, much of what I would need to do for the journey were to keep Albertus and my traveling companions entertained with song.
I took Luisa from my back and tuned her.
“I shall now play the Lay of Hotspur” I said. “I have not often played this, for I should always hope those I play to are of a mind with me, as to the perfidies of our King. Rest then, merry gents, that we should one day be rid of him...”
I had written the song on the trip home after the battle at Shrewsbury, with my brother Simon helping with words, some, with both of us reeling from both the defeat of the rebels, on whose side Simon had been fighting, and the ugly execution of the King’s noble prisoners. Now that we were returning to England I hoped that in offering Albertus this view of Henry, he might help register his opinions for the cause.
“A’lack a’ Dee, for Lack of Dane,
Bad Henry king, Fair Percy slain!”
On hearing this, a wise knowing smile crossed Albertus’ face.
‘”Tis a sad thing, that the Percys, so long loyal to Henry, should have been so tricked as to need take arms against him. But this then, you say, is his nature, to do double deals to make his best friends hate him. Oh, they say the king is always chosen of God. I do not know that that is all so true. The King is the one who has the power to undo whomever is in his way. Richard might have been a bad king, but he was not so hot for war as this Henry, nor was he so the type to dishonor his word. Se,e we Cheshire folk knew Richard for what he was, of the line and of the place of Kings. Henry came along and had undone his own exile, and with treachery in the other Lords, gained the pwer to throw Richard into the Tower and Pontrefact. And that was no good thing, of certes, for then Bolingbrooke, Lancaster, Monmouth, by whatever name ye know him— he took from us what we knew for trust, and laid new charges down upon us. New tax. New levy. New this, new that, all no question why Cheshire men now flock to Glyndwyr and to Wales. Not since the Conqueror were we ever so ravaged. One reason I like to keep at sea, for while I am at sea, no king can say my loyalty is not with him.”
“And I myself fear a levy to my own self. It was just by luck I was not pressed to arms either. When I was at Shrewsbury I watched all from a tree— having been caught by means of my traveling home, I had missed all the muster, although my brother took arms himself for Percy and Vernon. This would be dreadful, but ‘tis my hope I do have the money now to pay scutage and so escape once more. Because they will, Henry and his lords, soon be calling for another levy, and take whom they can get, mainly those who cannot afford the measure of being let alone.”
“You are wise, Julian, to not be so foolish as to rush seeking glory to save the crown and the “nation at large” yourself. What sense does it pay that there are men who take to killing others so easily that with the promise of a handful of shillings and mayhaps, should they win, a little more land, that they would fain abandon Christian reason and hack and slay and rape and rob, all for the one Lord of the Land, who sends them in a direction and says “Now do it!”
“Nay, I too see no sense in wars. Better that men trade in goods and be kindly than to abuse the fair grace of heaven so.”
I played more. There was little I might take from our surroundings— but the grey-green stroming sea— and it rained against the side of the ship, great sheets you could hear thrumming and humming and the ship never steady, not for a moment, but heaving side to side and bow to stern.
Now while I played, Stephen and Roger and Albertus set up a game of dice between themselves. Now there was little talk, but that they lent an ear to the lute and I attempted to throw chords to help ease their own stress at the unending agitations of Neptune.I guess they played and played for a number of hours, and the cook came and went, and so did our bowls of chowder, and my wife slumbered abed in the cabin beside me, little Panoptes curled at her elbow, himself somewhat frightened by the newness and numbness of our cramped condition.
At about half past three in the afternoon, finally, there came a calming to the storm, and the rain stopped, and Albertus went to the hold and spoke to the crew, who were soon out hoisting halyards, furling the mainsail and turning the bow sail so that we would now head directly to Penzance, rather than as we had, north direct of Harfluer. There was a little joy in Mary’s eyes to learn we had hit a lull in the storm, but as I sat beside her and fed her her bowl of chowder by spoon, she complained.
“This is no good for my stomach, although it tastes wonderful. I mean that the sea is not good. Oh but that we have another two nights of this! Mercy!”
We tipped the leavings of the bowl to Panoptes, who greedily lapped it up, and then struggled to find his balance on the floor of the cabin.
“He will want for solid land himself! And yet we are at a remove. Oh, Julian, ‘twas a fair journey. I shall not regret that we undertook it, yet, my longing for home is worse than ever, now that we be so close.”
“It has weighed upon me too. That we should get our breath for a while and fully settle in there, that is my hope. I am also glad we undertook this trip. We kept Stephen and Roger company, we helped where we could in their sales, we saw the land and countryside of France, we met interesting people, rogues and tavernmen, and we are bringing back some things too. Mostly I am glad for having met Abu! What an interesting fellow!”
“And an earnest one as well,” she blushed.
“Well yes, that, but then, love, you are quite beautiful, and it might be said that your beauty honors me, that men should be stricken by it so.”
“I do hope he will find the love he seeks. For Icould not I would not, I could never allow what he asked of me.”
“Better he love you at a distance, yes, than that he should keep running a course possible to coming foul of mine!” I agreed.
“And I have coin for father! When we might have the chance... to get it to him...”
There was something of a qeustion in what she had said, implying, when would we be traveling again to our old homes in Chester and Upton, but, I had set my own mind on a life far from Davis and Simon. I knew there was the matter of getting Robert payment for his goods, but it could be months before we made our way back home.
“We shall make a way for that, before the turning of the summer, I know.” I was not all so confident of it, but then, what was there to stop me? Or her. Something would happen. We would see Robert and Alexandra again, I knew. At least, to see Robert was a hope, and Alexandra was more of a sure thing. For if Robert came not home from Wales... that would be worst of all.
When Albertus came back down to his cabin again, we had another three hoursof rain, and he spent more time at his charts, and Roger and Stephen had their own account books out on the table, and were poring over them like the merchants they were. How many ells of good Bruges silk, how many of Flemish cloth, how many rolls of fulled cloth from Chester, from Exter, perhaps from Bristol, how much spice they returned with, how many casks of wine were to go to Anselm’s great cellar, how many shillings would go to Simon, or to Robert, or to Albertus...
All that they discussed and I played on.
Albertus took the wheel in the rain as night came on. That he did for another three hours, into the night, and then as the rain pattered off again, he relinquished it to Regulus for the night, and we were in for another round of brandy, and fair talk... much of it between the captain and merchants. When Mary felt a bit better she was about, but only to sit by me at the captain’s table, and sip with me the cup of brandy he kept refilling for me.
Once we had had enough brandy (we knew that we had when the rocking of Barcelona had become a contest within our stomachs!) the cook again came on with plates of bully beef, and these we gladly set upon with gusto.There was no argument— some find it to be a poor substitute for a fine cut steak or lambchop or breast of hen, but to me, this was enough. I was long learned at taking what came before me without argument. The cook then brought us all a pudding made from apples and peaches, and this itself, was quite delightful, as it was on the high sea and not the kind of dish one would think of, necessarily. This went over well, and then, another round of brandy,and then it was late, so we retired, leaving the three of them seated about the table discussing their next trip together.
Mary and I took the dog between us and snuggled close on the hay-filled mattress, under thick blankets, and I blew out the candle, and we rolled with Barcelona on the roiled sea, until sunrise.
The sea calmed at some point in the night, although the wind still blew and there was some rain. But it was not so fierce as the day before. We did not venture above deck until very late in the day, however, because we were deep into several games of chess- Ranulf and I- and when not in our chess we were showing each other new ideas of music. Ranulf taught me a few more melodies, and I showed him my newest songs. Mary offered ideas for new poppet shows- such as, a story about a boy who grows up to own a magic swan, which flies him over the mountains and the seas, as far as India. This magic swan is like the winged horse Peagasus, which always (she said) was one of her favorite enchanted beings. The magic swan changes into a fantastic wizard, which it always actually was, anyway, but the wizard takes the boy prisoner and holds him in his castle, until he swears allegiance. It reminded me some of our situation...
The captain of Barcelona, Albertus, let it be known we’d arrive at port the next day. For now, all there was to do was watch the cliffs of Dorset and the shoreline, knowing that we were within sight of Britain, and yet, at mercy of Neptune. But Neptune did not give us rest nor respite, because it continued raining, slow, and surely, but none so much as to toss the cog as he had our first day out.
Ranulf’s pipes though blasted out over the waves as he stood on the bow looking to the west, playing as what might be in his heart. I will hold that picture of him all my days— the piper on the deck, with rain misting his hair and his clothes, and the pipes blowing into the wind, so defiant, so iconic... I joined him fo a time, but the rain was a bit too strong to play to, as water ran down the fretboard and got into the lute’s soundhole. I took his leave, and he played on.