“You’ll never believe what’s happening in Kent,” Sir Grummore Grummursum told Sir Ector.
“How do you know what’s happening in Kent?”
“Friar told me. They’re planting more’n half their fields,” he answered with all the seriousness such a revelation deserved.
“Serve the Lollards right if they wear out the ground and bankrupt themselves. What’s that to us?”
“No, it’s King’s men doing it, the friar said. Planting new crops, too.”
Sir Ector shook his head. “What a state the country’s in. Poor King Uther. Uther the Conqueror, with Lollards and Communists in his ranks.”
Sir Grummore decided not to say that he’d got some of those new peas off the friar and had considered trying it himself, now that the sowing was to begin here on the marches. He merely said, “The old ways are best. No respect anymore. Nice to have a friar round at Easter, though, isn’t it? The preachin’ wasn’t half so good when I was a boy, ’cept at school, of course.” He caught sight of the boys running through the court below. “It’s good for a boy to hear preachin’, even if he can’t appreciate it. Country’s based on preachin’.”
“That friar of yours sticking around, hmm? Good, could use an indulgence before I go confessin’.”
“Still worried about that joust?”
“What’s a man to think when his opponent up and dies? A friendly joust isn’t supposed to be fatal, now.”
“He had a bad heart. God was on your side.”
“An’ I knew it and challenged him anyway. That isn’t vict’ry from God.”
“Well, I passed him on the road, so he ought to be here soon. Unless Robin Hood gets him. You know these friars, sympathetic to every damned rebel.” They weren’t, really - friars in those days were notorious Tories, even in their hypocrisies - but Sir Grummore thought all friars like the famous Tuck.
Outside, the governess was calling for Kay and the Wart. Panting from the run down the stairs and across the courtyard, they hid in the dog run.
“You’re going to catch it now,” Kay informed the Wart, imperious in his fear.
“You’re the one who put it on her chair!”
“You caught the hedgepig in the first place!”
“Master Kay?” she called. “Master Arthur!” she continued, more sharply.
“See, you’ll be the one to catch it.”
“Only because she won’t punish a knight,” Wart muttered. If he were to be a knight, they could torment her anytime they liked without fear of her ruler. It had been fun, the hedgepig, but now Wart did not want his knuckles rapped. Kay was sorry Wart would catch it, too, even if he didn’t show it.
Her shouts were fainter as she headed toward the kitchens. Considering themselves free, they took off again, this time running towards the drawbridge and the freedom of the fields beyond.
“Master Kay!” She had seen them. Chagrined, Wart stopped, leaving Kay no choice but to stop, too. “Master Arthur! Back to the schoolroom. Never have I seen such unmannered, ill-behaved boys. Where did I leave that bottle of whisky?” she added under her breath. It was not whisky, really, just as Sir Ector did not have port for his guests, but it was a distilled liquor not considered appropriate for ladies.
The Wart saw that the hedgepig had vanished. He felt rather sorry for the hedgepig now, though the sting of the governess’s ruler was intended to remind him - and Kay - to feel sorry for her. But they did secure an early release from their morning lessons as she went in search of her “bit of medicine”.
They sprinted down the drawbridge, through the village, and out into the fields. Spring was regular in those days, and Easter always fell at a fine time of the season. “Let’s look for bird’s eggs,” Kay suggested. Well, really he ordered, “We’re looking for bird’s eggs,” but Wart didn’t mind. Climbing trees was tremendous fun - outside the Forest Sauvage proper, of course.
And it was fun, until Kay lost his balance and tumbled into the soft spring grass, nothing hurt but his pride. But that cut far more deeply than any physical wound, and the fun was over for the day. Kay stomped back toward the castle, the Wart following in his gloomy wake and looking at the glory of an Old English spring rather than at his offended companion.
Thus it was Wart who stopped short to stare down the road, and Kay stomped on a few more paces, until he noticed he was no longer being followed. “Will you keep up?” he snapped.
Wart pointed down the road. “Someone’s coming!”
Kay forgot his annoyance in the prospect of a new bit of fun. “Let’s ambush him.”
“But that’s not sporting.”
“Robin Hood ambushes all the time in stories and you don’t care then.”
Wart didn’t know enough to say “But he’s a Saxon partisan, and we are Norman gentlemen”, so he silently followed as Kay slid over the rise, keeping a hillock between them and the road. They slipped through a break in a hedgerow, surprising a squirrel. The shape moved along the road toward them.
Kay had the sharper eyes, when he concentrated, and he soon flopped over on his back, arms across his chest, while Wart lay on his stomach, watching the road with only his hair and eyes barely visible above the rise. “Well, that’s no good,” Kay huffed. “Only a friar. There’s no sport in that.”
“A friar?” Wart asked excitedly.
Kay caught the full import of what he had seen. “Come at Easter!” The boys tumbled back to the castle, straight into Sir Ector’s solarium. “A friar! A friar come for Easter! We saw him on the road!”
“Hooligans, both of you. Out! Aren’t you supposed to be at archery, eh?” Sir Ector chastised. “Well, your friar has come. You can stay if you like. Confess and communicate and all, eh?”
“Best be off home. A man leave his villeins on Easter?”
“True, true. Country’s in a sorry enough state as it is. Where are those boys? Ought to tell them the news.”
“They told us.”
“Oh, right, of course. More port? Shouldn’t go out in the damp unprotected.”
“Don’t mind if I do.”
It may be hard to understand now, but in those days, Easter was more important than Christmas. It was a day of jests and theatricals, feasting and celebration: the centre of the liturgical year for all of Christendom. The one day when everyone who witnessed the mass - priest, nobleman, and peasant alike - would take communion and listen to a sermon and process outside to chase the devil away for another year. For in those days, a lay man confessed but once a year, unless he was especially pious, and while a mass was beautifully sung in Latin every day by every priest, the bread and wine were taken by the priest alone. But at Easter, everyone took the bread and participated in the miracle.
Wart loved Easter. The mass had fewer mysteries for him than for the children of the village, for Sir Ector had given him a first-rate eddication, including much of the Latin used by the church, but the additional pageantry, the resurrection of the wafer taking the place of the body of Christ and the chasing of the devils, was far more fun than the ordinary masses he attended. The devils were really boys of the village - he knew that - and he looked forward to the day he might be old enough to play a devil. Kay would never be allowed to be so undignified, but Wart thought he might have a chance. And to have a friar come for Easter! There would be a long sermon, a very good sermon, something exciting to listen to and talk about all through the hard work of the spring plowing. Their priest had no confidence in his sermons - he could barely make out the pictures in the book the bishop had given him to instruct him in the art of sermons. He was certainly no great shakes at reading. But a friar added exceedingly to the holiday mood.
Kay even forgot he was upset at falling out of a tree and being thwarted in his mock-murderous quest. The coming of the friar to the Castle of the Forest Sauvage ensured that it would be a grand holiday.
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