Friday 1 March 2013

Extract From Shadows and Strongholds

To set the scene, Brunin FitzWarin, aged 10, has just left his rather troubled home life to become a squire to Joscelin de Dinan, lord of Ludlow Castle. Joscelin has a daughter the same age as Brunin...

Brunin thought that Lord Joscelin looked rather splendid in his hauberk, and was anticipating the day when he could be a knight and wear one himself.  From his child’s perspective, the weight seemed a small price to pay.
            They rode over the timber bridge spanning the ditch.  Brunin listened to Morel’s hooves beat on the wood and straightened proudly in the saddle, imagining that he was a lord returning from a day’s deeds in the field, and that the knights and men at arms surrounding him were his own. 
            The guards on duty at the gatehouse saluted Joscelin and his troop through into the bailey.  To the right were the timber dwellings of the guard’s quarters, the laundry and sundry storage buildings.  Straddling the thatched roof of one of them was a girl of about Brunin’s own age.  Much of her curly, dark-red hair had straggled loose from its braid and coiled around her dirty, tear-streaked face in eldritch tangles.  A rip in the side-seam of her dress exposed her chemise and an orchard ladder was skewed at the foot of the shed as if it had been climbed and then fallen awry.
            Astonished, Brunin stared at her.  Catching his eye, she stared defiantly back, as no peasant’s daughter would have dared.  Beneath the grime, her complexion flushed campion-pink. She scrambled to her feet, balancing precariously on the dusty, chopped reeds of the thatch.  
            ‘God’s bones!’ Joscelin muttered and spurred Rouquin over to the storeshed.
            ‘That’s the lady Hawise,’ Adam side-mouthed to Brunin.  ‘Lord Joscelin’s youngest daughter and the apple of his eye.’ The squire gave a low chuckle.  ‘I wonder what scrape she’s got herself into this time.’
            Brunin was incredulous.  That dishevelled dirty girl was Joscelin’s daughter?   The one responsible for choosing his mount?  He had been carrying the hazy vision of a demure, tidy girl with a sweet smile, but that now dissipated faster than smoke in a brisk wind.  This one had the sinewy wildness of a young vixen.
            Joscelin drew rein under the shed.  ‘Jump down,’ he commanded, and spread his arms.
            The girl drew her sleeve across her eyes.  With trembling chin, but not a shred of hesitation, she did as he bade, leaping from the thatch with absolute trust.  He caught her cleanly, but with a loud whoof as his breath was forced from his lungs.  The roan sidled once and then stood firm.  The girl embraced her father’s neck in a stranglehold and buried her face against his mailed breast.
            ‘What were you doing up there, sweetheart?’ Joscelin asked.  To Brunin, who, in the interests of self-preservation was accustomed to listening for every nuance in adult speech, his lord’s tone carried enquiry, amusement and only a hint of reproof.
            ‘Nothing.’ The girl wriggled.
            ‘A strange place to be doing it, child.  Where is your mother?’
            She shrugged and raising her head, appraised Brunin with a bright grey stare.  He hastily looked away. ‘Marion threw one of my juggling balls out of the window because I wouldn’t play midwives with her,’ she said indignantly. ‘So I pushed her and she fell over and banged her head.’  She held out the ball of red leather she had been gripping tightly in her fist.  ‘Look it’s split.’
            Joscelin bit his lip and Brunin saw that he was fighting not to laugh. ‘Just like Marion’s head then,’ he said. 
            ‘She only bumped it, but she screamed as if she was dying, and mama was angry with me because she didn’t see what happened.’  Hawise’s voice rose with grievance.
            ‘So you judged it best not to stay?’
            She nodded and rubbed her cheek against Joscelin’s mail.
            ‘That still does not explains what you were doing on the storeshed roof.’
            ‘The ladder slipped,’ she said, as if surprised that he should ask.
            ‘Hawise…’  A warning note entered Joscelin’s voice.
            ‘I was playing.’  She drew back to look at him. ‘You said that when you came to a siege here before you wed Mama, there were ladders up against the keep wall and that men climbed them and fought on the battlements.’
            Joscelin sighed and shaking his head, tweaked a tangled strand of her hair.  ‘Perhaps I did, but that is no call for you to re-enact the event.  You saw what happened to your ball when Marion threw it out of the window.  What would have happened if you had slipped off this roof?’
             ‘I wasn’t frightened.’
             ‘That is not necessarily a good thing,’ Joscelin said.  ‘I certainly was.’
‘I am sorry, Papa.’ She looked down as if contrite but Brunin had his doubts.
Her father sighed and gave her a little shake. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘But I want you to go straightaway and make your peace with Marion and your mother.’  Her prepared to let her down off the horse.
            ‘Can’t I stay with you?’  She looked round him at Brunin.  ‘Do you like Morel?’
            Brunin opened his mouth, but was unsure what to say or how to address her.  Nothing thus far in his life had prepared him to respond. 
            ‘Child, where are your manners?’ Some of the indulgence left Joscelin’s expression.   ‘That is not the kind of question to ask of a gift you have given, and especially not before introductions are made.  Nor,’ he added wryly, ‘are you fit to be introduced at the moment.  You look like a hoyden out of a gutter.  Now go, do as I say, and when the time is right you can ask Brunin all the questions you want.’
            She hesitated as if she might further argue, but then seemed to think the better of it and relaxed so that Joscelin could set her down.  Shaking out her dress, she looked again at Brunin and gave him a smile.
            ‘I hope you do,’ she said. ‘I chose him.’  And then she was gone, lifting her skirts above her ankles to run long-strided like a boy, her wild auburn hair bouncing at her shoulders.
            Joscelin sighed.  ‘What am I to do with her?’ he said, and then he gave a reluctant chuckle.  ‘I am her father and I ask that?’  He turned to Brunin.  ‘One rule to remember is always judge on your instincts, never on first appearances.’
            ‘Yes my lord,’ Brunin said neutrally.  He was still struggling with his astonishment.  He didn’t have a sister, but if he did, he dared not imagine what punishment such appearance and behaviour would merit at Whittington.  Rather than feeling censure, he sympathised with her plight, although his own instinct would have been to hide in a corner rather than climb conspicuously onto a roof.  Judging with one’s instincts was not as simple a matter as lord Joscelin made it sound.  First, you had to trust those instincts.