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Authors: Margaret Frazer

The Boy's Tale

BOOK: The Boy's Tale
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The Boy’s Tale

Margaret Frazer

 

 

Chapter 1

 

The warm summer's afternoon was worn well away. They had been riding nearly without letup since there was light enough to see their way; the horses were tired, and so was Jasper, but he had little hope Sir Gawyn would let them stop soon. These June days the light bloomed early and lingered late, and if today went as yesterday and the day before had gone, Sir Gawyn would keep them a-horse until it was almost too dark to find their way. Then he would maybe make them sleep along a hedgerow as he had last night, instead of finding an inn or other sensible place to stay.

 

It had seemed such a great adventure when it began all unexpectedly two days ago. He and Edmund had been at afternoon lessons, with Master John intoning as usual over the endless declensions of Latin and Jenet sitting with her sewing across the room. Another hour and they would be loosed, Jasper had been thinking, watching a shadow not move across the windowsill.

 

Then Mistress Maryon had suddenly come in, followed by two servants. She oversaw their attendants, and no one had questioned her when she pointed to the boys' clothing chests against one wall and said, "Everything in those, and were apart. When they were together, it was plain that Edmund was half a head the taller and more slenderly built than Jasper. He was quicker of movement and temper, too; and though, like Jasper, he never wavered in the certainty that they stood together in everything, he also never let loose of the advantage his six years gave him over Jasper's mere five. But the eleven months between them made all the difference in some things, including the fact that he had a dagger and Jasper had none.

 

If Mistress Maryon noted Edmund's dagger, she said nothing, only told Jenet and the two menservants to go down, that the horses were waiting in the fore yard, and then said to him and Edmund, "You'll make your farewells to your lady mother now. Quickly. It's a pity twice over your father is away."

 

As she led the way from the familiar chamber, Edmund eagerly at her heels and Jasper close on his, Jasper had looked back to Master John, still standing beside the lessons table. He was stern about their lessons but never more stern than he had to be and was often quite kind over any honest problem Jasper or Edmund had. Jasper raised his hand halfway in the beginning of a farewell to him, sorry the tutor had to stay behind with his books while they went adventuring. For surely the suddenness of this journey had to mean an adventure. But the sight of tears running down Master John's face had frozen Jasper's hand. Master John had never wept at their departure before, and Jasper had left the gesture half made as he turned and fled, unsettled by the sight.

 

And then, when they had come to Mother in her bedchamber, she had been alone, none of her ladies with her, and that was strange, too. So great a lady was never unattended. But she had been then, standing alone in the center of her chamber, and when he and Edmund had gone forward to make their low bows to her as always, she had not waited for them to finish but fallen to her knees and gathered them into her arms.

 

Edmund, always aware of proprieties even if he did not always choose to follow them, had gone momentarily rigid. Jasper, always ready to return affection for affection, had cuddled into her warmth without hesitation, loving the sweet smell of her.

 

"There, my darlings!" She had kissed one and then the other of them, and then kissed them the other way around, to keep it even. "And so again! You're going such a long way away with Mistress Maryon and Sir Gawyn now and you must do all as they tell you and be the brave chevaliers."

 

Jasper would have asked
why
they were going, but Edmund was their leader as usual and demanded, "Where?"

 

"Way away to where your father was born. Remember the stories he's told you? You're going there."

 

"To Wales?" Jasper said disbelievingly. Wales with its mountains and magics and dragons? Father's "stories had made him want to go, but he had been told he would have to wait until he was grown.

 

"To Wales," Mother said. "But you mustn't say so to anyone, not even to each other, until you're safely there. Promise like brave chevaliers?"

 

It was a less strange oath than many they had heard in stories; they had promised vigorously, and she had kissed them again and stood up and said over their heads to Mistress Maryon, "Owen is already gone."

 

"Gone where?" Edmund had demanded jealously. How could Owen go adventuring like him and Jasper when he still had a nursemaid?

 

"To church," Mistress Maryon had said before their mother could answer. "To pray for you as you must pray for him."

 

"Are we going to have to pray before we leave?" It was a knightly thing to do, but Edmund had been impatient at the idea.

 

"No, but you must pray nonetheless," their mother had said. "For your brother and for me and for your father." Jasper had disbelievingly seen her eyes were sheened with tears as she said it. His mother, who was beautiful and merry and smelled always of summer flowers, could not be crying; it was wrong for her to cry. To keep from seeing it, lest he cry, too, and be sent to church with the baby, Jasper had burrowed his head against the warm curve of her neck, and she had hugged both him and Edmund tightly enough to hurt. And then she put them from her again and stood up, her eyes were dry and her voice her own as she said, "One last thing. You should have this, Jasper." She took from the table beside her a boy-sized dagger in a leather sheath already hung from a belt, ready to be worn. "We meant it for your birthday, but you had best take it now."

 

"My lady, there's little time," Mistress Maryon had said warningly.

 

Smiling down at Jasper's eager delight, his mother had bent to buckle the belt around his waist, saying, "God will give me time enough for this. Be thou a true, brave chevalier, my son."

 

The dagger had settled against his right hip as if it had always been there. Hand on its hilt, Jasper had smiled up at her and replied with due gravity, "I will, Madame." She kissed him swiftly on either cheek, and then Edmund, and said, "You're my brave and beautiful sons. God keep you in his love. Remember, remember that you're forever in mine. Remember."

 

"My lady," Mistress Maryon had said again, more warningly, and Mother had gestured hastily at them to go.

 

In the fore yard, Jenet and one of their mother's household knights, Sir Gawyn, and four other men were all waiting, mounted, with three saddled horses for Mistress Maryon and them. Proper horses too, not their usual ponies, Jasper had noted with joy. But then he realized he was unsure how to mount a saddle so high by himself.

 

He was saved by Sir Gawyn's squire Will coming to lift first him and then Edmund up. Will had then made sure of their girths and their stirrups for them, saying despite Mistress Maryon's impatience, "Better we see to it now so they can keep their seats than find out too late they can't." At Sir Gawyn's order then they had trotted out through the castle gates, and into a canter beyond the drawbridge.

 

They had slowed to a walk when they were away from anything Jasper was familiar with, and had ridden all the rest of that afternoon through the summer-lovely countryside. It had been exciting enough to be going along in a jingle of harness among men obviously set on covering as many miles as might be. They had kept to deep-hedged lanes, where flowers grew in the long grass of the banks and ditches. Blue, creeping mugwort here; a bold splash of scarlet pimpernel there; the scarlet and blue spires of Joseph-and-Mary sometimes; dog roses twining up the hedges toward the sun. There were glimpses of the green fields of grain through occasional gates in the hedges, and sometimes a long view across a swathe of common land where the hedges stopped. Sir Gawyn always raised them to a gallop across the openness and only slowed when they were back in a hedgerowed way.

 

In a while Jasper had realized that Sir Gawyn was indeed earnest about not being seen, that they were avoiding towns and villages and anywhere that people might be if they could. Once, ahead of them, Jasper had seen that their road ran right through a town, and he had thought with delight of the fairs Jenet had often talked of, where there were jugglers and music and games and sweetmeats. But they had turned completely off the road and followed a band of woods that led around and away from the town, to Jasper's great disappointment.

 

That day they had ridden far past any hour Jasper had ever been out before, far past supper time and well into twilight. He had been nodding to sleep over his cantle when a great cockchafer blundered into his nose, making him start and startle his horse, who had jumped sideways suddenly. Jasper might have fallen if Will had not been there beside him with a steadying hand. He had been very glad when soon after that they turned in under the gateway of a small country monastery, and the day was over. There had been a sort of supper, far plainer than he was used to, and then beds, far harder ones, with rougher blankets, than any Jasper had ever slept in. And oddly, as he was sinking into utter sleep, he heard Mistress Maryon speaking to a servant about "her sons," and dimly understood" she meant him and Edmund, which was not right at all.

 

At barely dawn Sir Gawyn had had them up and riding again. There had been hills that day, and less choice of ways to avoid what villages mere were. Sir Gawyn refused them any but the most necessary stops. They had even eaten— mere cheese and bread—while they rode. And last night they had slept not under any roof but on a dry bank below a hedge in a field off the road, with only their cloaks for bedding and he and Edmund crowded between Mistress Maryon and plump Jenet for warmth because Sir Gawyn would make no fire. There had been more cheese and bread for supper and to wash it down only water from a stream, and in the dew-damp dawn, more bread and cheese for breakfast.

 

At midday Sir Gawyn had sent Will into a town they were bypassing and he had brought back a pair of meat pies. They had eaten sparingly of them then and he and Edmund were promised some for supper, though it seemed everyone else would have to make do with what was left of the now hard cheese and bread.

 

But there was no promise of any bed better than last night's grass. And Jasper had begun to ache with all the riding. It was not fun anymore, and if this was an adventure, it had become a very dull one.

 

They were out of the hills; this was open countryside, all pastures and fields. Jasper knew Wales had mountains, but there were no mountains in sight even in the far distance when they would crest a rise in the road and have a long view ahead. He had not imagined it was this far to Wales and asked Mistress Maryon riding beside him, "Is it much farther? Are we almost there?"

 

"Not even half the way, I think," she said briskly. "You must set your mind to that, my lord. We have a ways and a ways to go yet."

 

"I want to do something else," Edmund announced from Jasper's other side. "I'm tired of riding."

 

"That's neither here nor there, my lord," Mistress Maryon said. "Your lady mother told us to journey and so we must."

 

"Why?" Edmund demanded, voicing the question he and Jasper had whispered between them in the brief moments before sleep last night, before Mistress Maryon had shushed them.

 

"That's not for me to say."

 

"Why not?" Edmund insisted.

 

"Because it's not my place."

 

"Whose place is it, then?" Edmund demanded. He had never been ill-kept and inconvenienced in his short life, and he did not like it. He had tolerated it at first as part of the adventure, but there had been no adventure except this riding for hours and hours and hours, with nothing good to eat at the end of it, nor any decent place to sleep.

 

Sir Gawyn rode up on Jasper's other side. He had always been a favorite with them among their mother's knights, ready with stories or a game or to show them swordwork when they asked, and was elegant in his dress and manners. It was strange to see him now in an old leathern doublet over a heavy shirt and rough breeches, with his curling brown hair barely combed and his beard coming in after these few unkempt days. Jasper noticed with surprise it was as much gray as brown. He had never thought of Sir Gawyn as any particular age. Was he old? Certainly he was different than he had been at home, with neither stories nor anything else for them, only orders.

 

Now he said over Jasper's head to Mistress Maryon, "I intend we'll press on until dark again. That will have us well past Banbury. We could be across the Severn sometime tomorrow maybe."

 

With a doubtful glance from Edmund to Jasper, Mistress Maryon said, "It might be better if we found somewhere for the night, rather than sleeping out again. There's a nunnery not far off this way we're going. It's a small place and nothing near it but a slight village. I think there'd be no harm in—"

BOOK: The Boy's Tale
13.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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