Avalon 8.11 Tax Collectors and Other Thieves, part 2 of 6

That evening, the travelers found a place to camp not far from the road they would take into England Proper, as Father Tucker called it.  He explained to them that the lowlands they were in used to be considered part of Scotland, but the Normans came up and stole at least the southern part of it, like Galloway.  Lincluden Abbey was still in Norman lands.  He was actually on his way to Scotland but got as far as Lockerbie and turned around to go to Dumfries and to the building at Lincluden.

“They needed a proper priest to serve them until the bishop could appoint a priest.  He eventually sent both a priest and an abbot to discipline the monks there, so I am no longer needed, though I suppose a thank you would have been nice.  Anyway, I got to thinking about home and so, here I am.”  He smiled for them all.

“Why were you trying to get to Scotland?” Katie asked, and Alexis, who was cooking the deer, nodded, like she wanted to ask the same question.

“Yes.  Well, I ran afoul of the sheriff.  I’m from a little town south of York called Sheffield.  You probably never heard of it.”  To his surprise, a number of travelers heard of it.  “Well, anyway, John Lackland had his eyes on Sheffield Castle, but King Henry granted that place to the Lovetot family.  Good people overall.  Well, Lord Lovetot died suddenly in an accident when Sir Guy of Gisborne was his guest.  Some believe Sir Guy murdered the man for John.  He has that sort of reputation.  But I argued with the sheriff, Lord Sir Ralph Murdac, that the eldest daughter, Maud at age thirteen should be given to ward the castle until such time as she came of age and married or until the king should decide otherwise.  I guess I was persuasive because Lord Murdac agreed, and Maud, with help, gained the Hallamshire properties.  Too bad for John.”   Father Tucker let out a small laugh.

“Lovetot,” Lincoln interrupted.  “We are looking for Helen Lovetot in this place.”

“The little one?” the priest looked surprised and then not surprised.  “She is a strange one, but with a good heart.  Lord Lovetot only had the two daughters, which is why I had to argue so hard to keep the property in the elder one’s hands.”

“But it sounds like things worked out,” Katie said before Decker mentioned the obvious, with Nanette nodding.

“You said you ran afoul of the sheriff.”

“Yes.”  He picked up a stray stick to stir the fire.  “As soon as Richard left on the holy crusade, John forced Lord Murdac out of his place, seeing as Lord Murdac frustrated John’s ambition.  Lord Murdac appealed to Longchamp and Puiset, the men left in charge of the kingdom while Richard was away, but nothing ever came of it.  John got one of his friends to take the spot.  The Baron William de Wendenal is now Sheriff of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and the Royal Forests, and a meaner man has never been born.  John wants money, and his new sheriff is happy to steal everything, every penny from the people, right down to the food out of the mouths of the babies.”

“So, you tried to argue with the new sheriff?” Katie asked, trying to piece it together.

“No.  I ran away,” the priest admitted.  “I got Lord Furnival to watch over Maud, Helen, and Sheffield, and keep it out of the hands of John and his baron, but then I got fingered as a main conspirator that kept it out of the hands of John in the first place.  Forget Longchamp and Puiset.  All they do is argue and no one is there to stop John from doing what he pleases.  I ran to Scotland to escape the kingdom altogether and thought about how this would be a good time to go on a pilgrimage to Rome.  But the Lord Almighty got hold of me and calmed my panic.  The Lord turned me to Lincluden where they needed a priest.  And now, it is time to pay the piper.  That is one of Helen’s expressions, but I have found it useful more than once.”

“So, Boston,” Lockhart said.  “Looks like we might see the Sheriff of Nottingham.”

Boston grinned and nodded while the priest said, “Nottinghamshire?”  He knew the town, but he was not sure what they were implying.

“I wonder if Robin Hood is around,” Boston said through her grin.

“Yes.”  Father Tucker picked up the conversation.  “I have heard there are all sorts of hoodlums like poachers, robbers, and even murderers hiding out in the forests, just waiting to prey on unwary travelers.  I have heard of this Robin Hood.”

“Yes!” Boston said.  “But the story says they are free Englishmen and people who are starving under the heavy tax burden imposed by the sheriff.”

“Yes, I imagined that to be true, but like other secrets that have been discussed, we will have to see when we get there.”

People nodded and quieted.  “Standard Watch,” Lockhart said.

###

Father Tucker proved a gruff man, not given to putting up with nonsense, but at the same time, he came across as gregarious and kind.  He had a good heart and smiling proved to be his natural state.  He wore a short knife to cut his meat, and a long knife that would not qualify as a sword.  He said it was to defend the innocent.  People did not question him about that.  He also had a bow and a few scraggly arrows, he said, to fetch his meat to go with his daily bread.  He nearly gagged when Decker first told him to keep his arrows, raised his rifle, and took down a deer with one shot.  Decker was well practiced by then.

It took ten days to reach Nottinghamshire and Sherwood Forest, or the Royal Forest, as the priest called it.  That first day on the main North-South Road, they passed some soldiers—Normans.  Father Tucker hid his face from the men, but after that, after some thought and prayer, he went out of his way to show his face to whoever they met on the road.

“I will fear no evil because the Lord is with me,” he said.

Most of those ten days were pleasant.  They stayed at village inns on the third and fourth days but found the accommodations uncomfortable and the food barely edible.  After that, they opted to stay alongside the road.

“You should eat the food that the monks eat in most places.  You have no idea how inedible food can be,” Father Tucker said.

“Army food,” Decker agreed.

By far, Father Tucker spent most of those ten days with Decker and Nanette, once he found out they were Christians, not Muslims, and they were engaged and looking to marry.  They shared openly with the father that they were traveling through time and trying to get back to nine hundred years in the future.  It allowed them the chance to talk openly around the campfire about past time zones they traveled through and hopes for the future if they did not give too many future details.

“So, Margueritte married Roland,” Father Tucker said once privately to Boston.

Boston nodded.  “My Roland was named after Charlemagne’s friend.  But he was a grand nephew, or great-grand nephew named after Margueitte’s husband.”

“I see,” he said.  “Sort of like being part of the family.”

“Alexis is the only family I have right now.  She was Roland’s sister, but she became human to marry Lincoln, and now she is too human for words.  Alexis’ elf is still in there, somewhere, I think.  But sometimes it is hard to find.”

“Yes.” the father said.  “Elf.  I am still getting used to that.  You people have opened my eyes to so many things.  I’m sorry.  My poor mind can only handle so much at a time.”

Boston kissed his cheek and left him so he could find Nanette.

Alexis called it twelfth-century premarital counseling.  She said she and Lincoln could have used some of that, especially at first.  She imagined she had an inkling of what Decker and Nanette must be going through, being separated by a hundred years in their upbringing and worldviews.  “Conventions, attitudes, cultures change in a hundred years, especially those hundred years,” she said.  “Nanette got brought up in horse and buggy days, but Decker left the future more than fifty years after men landed on the moon.”

Father Tucker quickly realized the same thing.  As an outsider, and one barely able to follow the things they talked about, he did what he could to help bridge that gap.

Then they came to Cunigsworth Ford and crossed a small river into the forest.

Avalon 8.9 Metal Men, part 2 of 4

Lord John Ernulf de Belleme de Hesdin came in the night and took over a local blacksmith shop shortly before dawn.  He decided the half-dozen men who rode in with him needed better weapons.  One in particular needed a sword that would not crack on first contact, and John was an excellent blacksmith.

‘I learned many things growing up on the road with my father.  Blacksmithing is a good and honorable trade,” he told the blacksmith as he worked on the sword.  “My father was an illegitimate son, and so was I, but I find John the Blacksmith a much better name than John the Bastard.  I’ll let Duke William keep that title.  Honestly, I like to believe my father would have married my mother, but the times being what they are… She got raped and killed by one of the armies that went through the neighborhood.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”  The man had some sympathy.

“Well…”  John shrugged.  “So, my uncle, my father’s younger brother, threw his father, my grandfather off the land and took over.  My poor grandfather wandered for a long time and took my aunt with him.  Father and I wandered in the opposite direction, because, frankly, my grandfather got what was coming to him.  Everybody hated the man.  He was cruel, mean, rotten, just plain evil… I believe my aunt is worse.  She learned from the master and is trying to outdo him.”

“So, they settled somewhere,” the blacksmith pointed out.

“Oh, yeah.  Those two conniving, manipulative jerks wouldn’t stay down.  No.  Grandfather put my aunt in an advantageous marriage.  He promised the man’s family the land if they helped him get it back.  Fat chance they would ever get the land if he got it back, but they had the connections.  You know what I mean?  So suddenly, my father’s younger brother mysteriously dies at a fairly young age, and grandfather gets the land back.”

“And you did not go home?”

“Not a chance,” John said.  “Grandfather got ill.  No one has heard from him, or anything about him in these last five years.  My aunt rules the house and my father and I get nothing.”

“Your father’s name?”

“Oliver.  Well.  We left Brittany and crossed over the land by way of Paris.  Ever been to Paris?  The place stinks.  I went looking for artisans on the left bank.  All I found was manure.  On the left bank, the right bank, mucking up the river.  Hey, if you ever go there, don’t drink the water.”  John paused to let out a little laugh and hammer the metal.  He dunked it, making a great volume of steam.  “Needs sharpening.”

“But what happened?” the blacksmith asked.  “How dd you come to be here?”

“Eh?”  John had to think.  “Well, first we went to Brittany.  We wandered through Normandy, stayed away from the troubles in Maine, and went back to Brittany.  I made friends there and we were not unhappy, but when we heard grandfather was sick, I think my aunt wanted us out of the picture.  We escaped to France and eventually got to Flanders.  There, we lucked out.  We got a piece of land.  All Father had to do was marry the niece of the landowner.  She was a big, fat, hard to look at girl that nobody wanted.  Emma.  But she turned out to be a very nice, kind, and gentle soul.  I guess you really can’t tell by appearances.  Anyway, she got sick, and when she died, Father mourned her.  He is seriously talking about becoming a monk.  Go figure.”

“But why are you here?”

“Well.  Father and I helped William a couple of times in his days of trouble.  I was young, but Father supported the duke.  He would not remember me, but Father said William was gruff and greedy, but a loyal lord who actually cares about his people.  You don’t mind fighting for a man like him.  Most Lords are just greedy.  They know nothing about being faithful or caring for others.  I’m not saying William is perfect, but what else am I doing with my life?  If I am going to fight for someone…” he did not finish the sentence.  “William is attempting to achieve something great.  Let’s say I want to see how it is going to turn out.”

“But, what about the Flemish landowner? Might you fight for him?”

John thought for a second.  “Yeah, maybe,” he said.  “He was nice to us, but he is old.  Probably doesn’t have many years left, and his son is a different breed.  I don’t know about him.  Besides, the landowner is getting more out of the deal than just getting my father to marry a poor unwanted girl.”

“What?”

“He knows my father will keep my aunt, and by extension, her husband away from his land.  He knows if his land gets invaded, my father and I will be first in line to drive the invaders out.  We will do it by ourselves if we have to.”

The blacksmith sat for a while thinking about what John told him.  John picked up the sword and swung it a couple of times.  He about decided he and the sword were ready for round two when the man asked a question.  “You are obviously young and very strong.  I have no doubt you are a great fighter.  But how can you and your father drive invaders from the land by yourselves.  And who is your aunt and her husband to have such men to invade a land in the first place.”

“Hey, Gerald.  Pump up the heat on the furnace, will you?”

“Yes, Lord John.”

“Lord John?”

John wiped his hands on a cloth.  “I guess I didn’t explain that part well.  Maybe because it doesn’t matter to me.  I told the important parts.  My name is John, but also Ernulf de Hesdin.  I was given the Ernulf name by the landowner.  It was his grandfather’s name.  My father is the Count of Hesdin, but he was only made the count by Baldwin V of the House of Flanders six years ago.  Until then he was Oliver de Belleme.  Mable de Belleme is my aunt, and her husband is Roger de Montgomery who grew up with William as one of the duke’s best friends.  I met Roger once.  He seemed very nice.  I’m so sorry he married my aunt.”  John looked carefully at the lines of the blade to be sure the blade was straight and knick free.  He tested the weight and balance by feel.

“The Flemish and Normans have had a kind of love-hate relationship for years.  Baldwin would rather not fight another Norman invasion of his lands.  Heck, he gave his daughter Matilda to William for a wife, just to make peace.  But then, Baldwin never expected William to set his sights on England.  Baldwin has been a great supporter of the Anglo-Saxon throne in England for a long time.  It is a quandary for him, but he figures since I am originally of Belleme blood, I can take a reasonable number of men and give Flanders a good showing in the invasion force.”  John shrugged.

“My Lord,” the blacksmith tried to bow, but John yelled.

“Stop that.  Between you and me I am Blacksmith John, and that is enough.”  He huffed as he stepped to the stone.  “Mind you, I wouldn’t mind if you cleaned the handle.  This blade is almost ready.”

“Certainly,” the blacksmith said.

###

Back in the traveler’s camp, Boston got up with the sun.  She felt good.  Madam Figiori explained to her that light elves lived from dawn to dusk.  They got up a little before the sun rose and went to bed a little after the sunset.  The dark time was the time for sleep, even in the north country where the dark time might be fourteen or more hours in the winter.  That was sleep time.  Boston understood that, instinctively, but no one ever explained it to her before in so many words.  In their short time together, Madam Figiori explained a lot of things out loud that Boston felt but never actually verbalized.

“Come on, sleepy,” Sukki poked her head in the tent.  “You are going to miss the sunrise.”

Boston sprang out of bed and went first to the fire.  She put on a log and caused the flame to make a good start while Sukki prepared the pot of fake-coffee-tea.  To be honest, Sukki did not exactly know what coffee was, but from the way Lockhart and the others talked about it, she was looking forward to trying some—that and chocolate.

Boston and Sukki sat facing the east where the sun rose.  Elder Stow decided against a nap that morning.  He worked on his screen device instead.  For the present, his scanner was functioning about as well as could be expected for a toy.  But there were still several adjustments he wanted to work into the screens.  A Decker wall, for instance.  He also had a thought and decided to experiment.  He tuned one of his discs and tossed it beside the girls and waited.  He tried not to whistle.

Boston and Sukki were not impressed with that particular sunrise.  It was plain, about a five or six, and Sukki suggested it might have been better rising over the sea.  Boston shrugged and got up.  She headed toward the fire but banged her head into the screen.  She shouted.

“Hey, Elder Stow.”  She scolded the elder as Sukki got up to feel all around where the screen projected.  They appeared to be trapped in a complete bubble.  They could stand and walk a few paces in each direction, but it was like a screen prison.  Of course, Boston could phase right through the screens, which she did as Sukki complained.

“Father.  I have to get the food started.”

Elder Stow stood there, grinning.  He held the screen device in his hand and Boston wondered if he had some way of projecting the screen.

“How did you…” Boston started to ask how he did that, but the answer came to her, so she turned to Sukki.  “Look at your feet,” she said.  “Look for a disc.  He tuned the disc to the screen device.  I didn’t know he could do that, but that must be it.”

Suki looked around her feet.  Elder Stow quickly turned off the screen device and said, “Careful. The discs are very sturdy, fireproof, crush proof and all that, but they can be broken.  We have a limited number and may need them in the future.”  He walked to where the disc landed and retrieved it.

Sukki smiled for him.  “You are the most brilliant father a girl ever had,” she said and kissed his cheek before she went to work on the food.

Boston already flitted to a new topic in her elf mind.  “I’m going to go invisible today and see what is in that wagon.  Want to come?”

Elder Stow and Sukki looked at each other.  They did not think that was a good idea.  Elder Stow spoke.  “It would be dangerous with that doctor and Engel, Hoffen and Budman around.  We should at least wait until everyone can discuss their ideas.”

Boston flitted on, like it was a done deal.  She pulled out her amulet, her morning habit, though in this case she was not double-checking their direction.  Instead, she wanted to see how far away the Kairos was.  She jumped.  “Hey! The Kairos is already in town.  He must have come in overnight.”

“Stay,” Sukki yelled in case Boston was thinking about racing across town.  She put her hands up like a traffic cop.

Elder Stow agreed.  “Wait until the others are up and have their breakfast.  Then we can all go there together.”

Boston harumphed and went to the tents to begin waking people up.