By Earnest Long
Copyright 2017 Earnest Long
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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The Norman Lord Robert sat on an impressive chair in a hall in his castle. A Saxon knight Henry had come to pay him homage. The man strode in wilfully intent on discussing some matters with his lordship and in making good use of the time given to him. But as soon as he walked in, he took a step backwards and gave the most elegant bow. Really, his cap almost brushed the floor that he took off when seeing the lady Eleanor.
“Pardon me, sir!”
Henry who had just arrived in the castle said this in his most cultured tones for a Saxon. However, as he said this apparently with utmost benevolence to the old lord, his beady eyes were all on the lady. Yet there was quickness and a subtlety in his gaze.
You should address your Lord Robert and not his daughter Eleanor. This is wrong that you should do this as if you had no time for me now having once seen my daughter.
“I do beg your pardon my lord. And I will depart immediately.”
Henry made an extravagant flourish with his cap and then left as if a bad boy told off by his father for not eating his meal given to him. The lady laughed at this.
“You can come and see me again good knight,” she said merrily calling after him and rising from her chair.
She had risen from her chair to get more of a look at his muscled physique with just a bit of fat on it so that it was not too lean. This was as well, with his having come back from the wars not less than a month ago.
Henry barely faltered in his steps and gave a flourish of his cap on his way out to say that he had heard her speak. Also, this was to acknowledge her as his lady Eleanor. And it was to say that he would indeed want to see her again having admitted to her wish for him to do so.
The lady Eleanor is in her chamber dressing and helped by her three ladies in waiting.
One of the ladies in waiting lifting up a hat says, “These Saxons can be so brutal. And they say that the one in the village you ask about is a drunkard and a layabout. He is a good for nothing and never will be. And he will probably never have a penny to his name once he has spent what he’s already on drink, gambling and women. This is as well once he’s spent the money given to him by our Norman lord right here in this castle for his services rendered to him in these ever-present wars. But we can only hope these wars finish and we don’t have to put up with such a drunkard like him anymore. Then, he can join the peasants toiling on the land. That is unless he has a bit of money left behind to get a trade. And after that, we may hear no more of him and nor hear your idle chatter about him.”
“But don’t you think he’s handsome?”
“Perhaps, he is handsome for a Saxon.”
The ladies in waiting giggled and they all giggled.
“Do you think he will be at the tournament in a month’s time? I hear there might be some good jousting and a display of fine horsemanship. That’s not to mention some handsome Norman knights. Perhaps, your Saxon knight will be there as well. And you can compare him to the Norman knights. But I don’t know if you might find him lacking a bit.”
Two out of the three ladies in waiting giggled more. And the lady they were attending let out a smile but did not laugh aloud. The senior lady in waiting who had not giggled all with the others at this last piece of conversation looked serious for a moment and stepped forward bringing a hat over. She bustled in front of the other ladies in waiting. With a hatpin in one hand, she brushed her lady’s hair back and took command of the others.
“Enough talk now! And try your hat on. Your lord will want to see it and it has to be right.”
It seemed then that they had started again to dress the lady to go to see their lords and other ladies and so they temporarily forgot the matter. That is everyone who forgot about it. Except that, for the next month the lady Eleanor could not sleep. As well, Eleanor would only say that she was looking forward to the tournament.
The day of the tournament came bright and fair. And the Lady Eleanor took her place on the stand. The tournament started with some jokes from the fool. After that, troubadours played, sang, and performed poetry and short plays. Then, there was a display of horsemanship. knights pierced hoops with their lances and other such displays. Following all that, there was combat with blunted weapons. And this was according to the rules of the tournament.
Henry had not slept well like the lady Eleanor hadn’t but differently to her fretting with her ladies in waiting in her chamber. He had instead been in a midnight vigil in the chapel. And he rode onto the tournament field and made a challenge. He made his challenge in front of the crowd, the people on the stand, his lordship and the tournament director.
Keeping to the tournament rules, the tournament director asked him if he wanted to fight with pointed or blunt weapons. This was only a formality.
“Pointed weapons,” said Henry.
“May I ask why,” said the tournament director a little peeved and worried.
“When I was on campaign with his lordship, his lordship did offer me his daughter’s hand in marriage to the lady you see here. She will confirm that he did and that he had told her that as well as what I have said. He said this to her when I’d asked her to approach him about it….”
His lordship rose, spluttering and gasping and said, “That was a joke! I would never consent for my daughter to marry a Saxon. Before I went on campaign, my daughter was awkward and a problem for me. No man could have seriously considered marrying her. And that was why I said it just to pass conversation in the camp. This was amongst my Norman knights, hired mercenaries and camp followers. And it is such as the Saxon must know. This is just as a man he must know what people think of him. Though, they do think of him as a bold friend in times of war. But, if it weren’t for his fighting skills, they would never normally know him or want him around their hearth in times of peace. Now I have returned I saw immediately that my daughter had blossomed into a young beautiful woman. And she would be a good match for anyone. She will be married to a Norman of high standing that I plan for her to be so.”
“I don’t believe what your lordship is saying,” said Henry. “At the time in the camp on campaign, I made amends to see if it was just your humour and ribaldry like you say to everyone now. But your lordship assured me then that it was not and he meant it. Methinks he just does not want me to marry his daughter now that he could find a better match for her. And such a match would increase his lands and wealth. Yet, this is against a solemn promise he made to me. And it is a solemn promise as I took it to be then and now today. For that, sire, we will fight over it according to the code of chivalry. The code of chivalry is both yours and mine. This is then according to the code of chivalry to fight in combat to the death. Or it is until your consent otherwise has been obtained. And it is as well whichever you so desire.”
The tournament director and some of the other knights near the lord looked around to gauge the reaction of the people on the stand and the peasants in the crowd. They seemed agitated, happy, and keen to see a fight, blood and death.
“So be it!”
The tournament director said this interjecting.
“Let combat begin with pointed weapons.”
Henry stood before the crowd and the stand and turning from one to the other and to his lordship that was dressing for battle, said, “I demand the hand in marriage of your lordship’s daughter. She has come of an age to marry. And it is the day as well for me to inherit the lands as far as anyone can see from the top of the mount yonder and in three other counties as promised to me when on campaign.”
The older knight says, “You are not a good man who treats women well. And you will drink and squander my money. So you will not have my daughter’s hand in marriage.”
“Bah,” says the younger knight. “None of that is true. We will fight now with pointed weapons at this tournament for me to prove that I am right and I deserve your daughter’s hand in marriage and your lands. That is those that I have said belong to me.”
Robert thinks for a while about what his chances are. This is when Henry, the younger knight, is certainly strong. And but for his cruelty to women and being a Saxon anyone might think him a handsome man who would make a good husband and defender for their daughter. As well, the old man has heard so much about his drinking. Also, he has heard so much about his gambling and mistreatment of women that he knows he is right. So his daughter won’t be happy when he is so brutal and a drunkard ever.
“So be it! We will fight on this field.”
They take their pointed weapons from the tournament armourer and stand opposite each other in the field. They tap the front of their shields with their swords as a sign of respect to both of them. The crowd of peasants cheer this. Some lesser nobility sitting on wooden stands put up in the field also shout out. They do so after the peasants have cheered. The peasants’ cheers are lubricated by beer. Yet, the lesser nobility’s cheer is deeper and in some ways throatier. It is lubricated by red wine. The field is muddy with long horse grass. A rope shows the crowd where to stand. The sun comes out watery but fine on the medieval tournament. And so combat begins.
Henry makes a strong thrust that Robert is barely able to parry with his shield. And Henry lets out a guffaw at this. Henry makes a few more thrusts. The older knight despite his being experienced is only able to parry better after a minute as if having just learnt it today. After a few more of these thrusts, Henry now makes some cuts and slashes. Robert parries these with his shield or with his sword. Then when seeing Henry stand back on his heels, the Lord Robert smashes down his sword on the other knight’s shoulder. This is as if Henry was losing his concentration or as if he is tired already. Henry just avoids the crushing blow. This is a blow to him breaking his arm and shoulder therefrom normally incurred. After that, the younger knight is more circumspect of the older knight. And he begins to circle around him a bit. He does this before making any more thrusts, cuts, slashes or smashes or other entreaties. They fight for a minute or so longer. And then Henry, the younger knight, comes forward bodily. As he does so, he smashes and slashes, upends the other knight Robert and sits on his chest. He pulls off the defeated knight Robert’s breastplate. Sitting astride him, Henry takes out a knife from his belt. And he deliberately cuts out his opponent’s heart.
With a blood-spattered grimace, Henry puts his own head up to speak to the crowd and holds the bloodied mass of his opponent’s heart in his hands. Speaking to his opponent Robert still living and as well speaking to the crowd who’ve come to watch, Henry makes a declaration in a harsh strained voice.
Henry says, “Do you now agree Lord Robert that you were wrong to have thought so dissolutely of me Henry, a humble knight in your previous service. And I should have your daughter Eleanor’s hand in marriage and all the lands you can see from yonder mount and your lands in three other counties so described to me as well?”
The crowd jeers and laughs. Some of them are already looking forward to the feast that they will start to prepare in celebration of the announcement of these new changes and Henry becoming leader. Some others of the crowd are already beginning to leave and go to the next field. This is where there will be the usual fun and games. And that is just as after every tournament. Today, as well, there will be a feast. It will be ready before sundown. A feast that is not always usual besides that.
Not feeling a part of the fun and games and unable to attend the feast afterwards, Lord Robert, the older knight, feels disheartened. And he agrees to the demands of Henry the younger knight.
Henry yells in triumph. He slings down the heart discarding it now in the long horse grass and mud of the field. And the young knight brushes off the gore on his right arm with the fingers of his glove. He does this to avoid the blood dripping down inside his arm through crevices in his armour. This is so it is not dripping through chinks in his armour that would be annoying. This matter resolved for now, he is able to go and get ready to join the crowd. They will want him to celebrate with them.
So in a while, Henry can try his hand at Push Penny and some other games. That will please them as well. This is when being a simple man at heart, he is interested himself in common games. And really, in this regard, Henry was not much different from many of the peasants. But just as the victor, he has an onerous duty to rule over them. Yet, that is all that separates Henry from the crowd. For now, he has gone part way in securing his and theirs future. This is with his new bride Eleanor. And he has her hand given in marriage today to him by her father.
Henry goes to undress, get ready for the fun and games and get ready for the feast. The young knight goes as well to meet his new bride. This is for the first time as her soon-to-be husband. And he will bring his future wife to the feast. He has fairly won her hand. Henry’s betrothed is Eleanor. They will marry in good time. This is with the chivalrously given consent of her father. It is now for them to marry and to live happily. After their wedding, there will be another feast and more fun and games. These celebrations are for the peasants and for Henry and Eleanor as well and their friends, lordships and ladies.
Normans verses Saxons. It has a tip of a cap to Ivanhoe. Ivanhoe was a classic of the medieval history fiction genre made into several films. Henry, a Saxon knight returns from campaign with his Norman Lord Robert to Robert's estates and romances his daughter whose hand Lord Robert promised him in marriage on campaign. But now Lord Robert might have changed his mind! His daughter has blossomed whilst away on campaign into a most beautiful young woman. And he wants a better match for her. This is to a Norman of higher standing. Read the story to see how this medieval double crossing might play out.