The valley sung with the symphony of battle, swords clashed and intertwined like violins and cellos, maces used shields as drumheads and arrows soared high above on invisible harp strings. This orchestra was no practice session, it was opening night and the audience although small was suitably impressed from their high seats that overlooked the valley.
‘ah ope its Lord Mortimer.’ Francis said, as he gave a loud sniff.
Brother Pat looked at the serf and shifted his broad shoulders in an attempt to make his habit sit more comfortably.
‘Does it really matter?’ Pat said.
‘Yer Lord Mortimer sposed to be a decent liege lord, ah was talking to one of is serfs from Westbrook, he only takes 6/10ths produce.’
‘The serf only takes 6/10ths?’
‘No Lord Mortimer only takes 6/10ths, yah cud almost feed two mouths wit that much produce left.’
‘How many children do you have?’
‘Six,’ said Francis, as he held up four fingers, ‘but Bernard is almost eight, so e’ll be getting a job soon.’
Pat looked over to Sir Richard, the Templar knight who was his escort, Richard shrugged and resumed peering over the ridge at the battle. There was a small crowd from the nearby village watching, it was evidently a slow day. The Brother and the Knight stood out even with their simple attire mostly due to their elegant speech.
A collective gasp rose from the crowd as a large cavalry charge was thwarted by concerted arrow fire. Men, and horses were left in a screaming pile as the survivors retreated. One of the village women fainted at the sight and Sir Richard bowed his head in prayer.
‘It is a shame to see so many fall,’ Pat said, solemnly, ‘especially the orses, war spoils the best of em.’
‘Ah remember the good ole days when Lord Emery was in charge,’ Francis said dreamily, he wasn’t listening to Pat, ‘He only took alf of our produce.’
‘How did you know how much produce he took?’ Pat asked.
‘Well his tax men would give us a list an it had our produce on it, nd they take alf orf wot was on the list.’
‘Can you read?’
‘Then how did you know what was on the list and if they actually took half of what was on the list?’
‘They told us.’
‘Ah,’ Pat said, Richard rumbled deep in his chest.
‘Anyway, ah always say yah don’t look a gift chicken in the mouth.’
‘It’s pronounced ‘I’ and that’s not the saying.’
Francis gave Pat a politely disbelieving look, it made the serf look dizzy, ‘Ah changed it. Now ah don’t say something everybody says ah say something ah always say.
‘Your version doesn’t make any sense though. Seriously ‘I’ not ‘ah’, like the things God gave you to see through.
‘I,’ Francis said, with slow deliberate diction. ‘know it can be ard to keep up with me but don’t be mbarrassed.’
Pat raised a finger, probably about to comment on how the word embarrassed is pronounced and lowered it as he conceded that particular battle.
“I meant that the saying you are ‘making your own’ is a reference to the practice of checking a horse’s teeth.”
‘So,’ Pat said, with a look to the heavens, his faith in grammar and logic was being tested, ‘Chickens don’t have teeth.’
Francis opened his mouth closed it, paused, opened his mouth again and blew a burst of air in frustration. The seconds ticked by as Francis furrowed his brow appearing to be deep in thought.
He looked up, ‘Whose winning?’
Pat eagerly peered down, anything to escape the current conversation.
‘Dunno,’ Michael de Mortimer said.
He looked up at Sir Edward Montegue, Sir Edward was technically his bodyguard.
‘We could enter the fray?’ Michael asked, he wasn’t expecting a yes; but a polite no would be nice.
‘No fucking chance,’ Edward snarled, the last thing he needed was his liege lord’s only heir dying on Edward’s watch.
Michael kicked rocks, literally. The pebbles bounced against one of Edward’s boots, he looked down, looked at Michael and then away. Either Edward’s armour was rubbing together, or he was grinding his teeth, it’s hard to say.
They’re standing behind the battlelines and can only hear the orchestra; the players are obscured from their line of sight. The lines are broken suddenly, and a knight is dragged through the opening by a pair of squires, his armour has been pierced just above the waist and a crimson red river is flooding out from the opening.
Michael sat down and took his helmet off to reveal his sweaty pale face. Sir Edward rushed to the injured knight only to see he has already died. Edward snarled a curse towards all cowardly archers and ordered the squires to move the body. He then turned back in time to see Michael vomiting. Edward squinted up at a tree until the retching stopped. He patted Michael on the back, the gesture of kindness was a little too forceful and Michael fell into the puddle of vomit.
‘War has really spoiled my mood,’ Michael said, He eyed Edward spitefully and proceeded to use the knight’s livery to clean his armour.
‘War has that effect on the young and inexperienced,’ Edward said, as Michael handed the spoilt cloths back.
‘Drink?’ Edward said, begrudgingly as he held out a wineskin.
Michael grabbed the skin and took a long slurp.
‘Sour,’ Michael said, handing back the skin with a grimace, ‘I think the wine has gone bad.
‘It tastes fine to me,’ Edward said, surprised.
‘My palette is very refined, I can tell the year and area of harvest of any wine.’
‘So, what was the year and area of harvest of this vintage?’
Michael scratched under his eye, considering. ‘By the taste? The year would have been 644 and the area was somewhere in the depths of hell.’
Edward began to sneer in response, only to remember who he was talking to and attempt to change the sneer into a polite smile.
‘Are you ok Edward?’ Michael said, peering at the older man with some concern, ‘you look like you’re about to faint.’
Edward was unsure how to explain his peculiar expression to the young lord. So, he changed the subject.
Francis swatted a large fly that was buzzing lazily next to Pat’s shoulder. It left a very noticeable black mark on Pat’s plain habit.
‘Wot ahboot Lord Clay?’ Francis said, with a guilty look at the smear.
‘What about Lord Clay?’ Pat said, absently, he was watching a bee land on a daisy in front of him.
‘Well he took 7/10ths of our produce; but he gave tha young lads work.’
‘True, but the work was in his army. Lord Clay the Conscript Count.’
‘ah thought e was a knight? Did I miss the promotion?’
‘His army of conscripts took over a county and Clay convinced the king to let him keep it.’
‘I’ll have ta send him a congratulations present.’
Pat paused and took a deep breath in through his mouth and out through his nose. ‘Why would you send Clay, a congratulations present?’
‘It’s polite,’ Francis said, calmly.
‘He was made count six years ago.’ Pat said, not calmly.
‘If anything, that just makes the gift more important. He might think I forgot.’
‘You did forget,’ Pat said.
‘But he don’t know that, besides good manners don’t cost anything.’
Pat was beginning to look dazed, before he could point out the buying a gift literally costs something a man burst into view over the ridge. The man was breathing heavily and was dressed in a dappled green tunic and brown pants.
Pat, Francis and Sir Richard stared at the man for a moment, this was unexpected.
‘Hello,’ said Francis, with a bright smile, ‘Are you here to watch the battle as well?’
The man shook his head. Francis just stared, with his smile in place. After an awkward pause the man realised that Francis would require a verbal response.
‘I am, in a way, here to watch the battle as watching yonder conflict is vastly preferable to participating,’ the man said, cheerfully.
‘You were in the battle?’ Pat asked softly, Sir Richard’s eyes were wearily darting over the man’s belt and hands.
The man held his hands up slowly and spun on the spot, no weapons. Richard relaxed marginally, Francis copied the man’s movements.
‘you’re from the battle?’ Francis said, mid spin, ‘ose winning?’
‘Dunno,’ The man said, as he began to move towards the small group at a measured pace.
‘Dunno,’ The soldier said, he presented his hand to shake.
Francis took the hand and shook with gusto, ‘I’m Francis and this is Brother Pat and Sir Richard,’ Francis indicated his peers with his other hand, ‘We are hoping Lord Mortimer wins. e only takes 6/10ths produce.’
The soldier nodded, ‘I’m Daniel de Andle’
Pat moved forward and examined Daniel. ‘Conscript?’
Daniel peered back at him ruefully, ‘something like that, my lord sent me as a diplomat between those two down there.’
Pat looked down at the valley, ‘I’m guessing diplomacy broke down?’
‘Something like that.’
‘Your Lord won’t be happy with you.’
‘No; but I’m not sticking around to find out how unhappy he is.’
Pat looked at Richard and the two men had a silent conversation, ‘you can claim asylum at our monastery if you need,’ Pat said.
Daniel’s face lit up, ‘I would enjoy that thank you.’ He looked at from Pat to Richard, ‘Thank you Sir knight.’
‘Don’t yah worry bout him, e says nothin.’ Francis interjected.
‘Sir Richard has taken a vow of silence for a year.’ Pat explained.
‘I somehow believe he would have done a better job than I did at getting those two to reconcile.’ Daniel said, looking down at the valley in disgust.
Francis made an apologetic face, ‘I’m sorry ta say but e wouldn’t as a vow of silence means dat e don’t talk.’
Daniel blinked, ‘Are you an idiot?’
‘No, I am a blacksmith.’
‘At least you’d be happy with this battle then, all that armour that will need fixing.’
‘Aye this war of deres as spoiled me.’
'You are the only person happy about this,’ Pat said, a little pompously and he gestured towards the valley, ‘Any loss of life is a mockery of it and should only be undertaken in the direst circumstance, we should not be fighting amongst one another, instead we should be banding together and strengthening our personal connections. Francis what are you doing?’
Francis had been attempting to rub the black smear off Pat’s habit while Pat had been distracted by his ethical argument. Despite Francis’ best attempts the smear appeared to be there to stay.
‘Oh, err you squashed a fly on your habit nd ah was just trying to clean the mess before it stained,’ Francis said, nobly.
‘Thanks Francis,’ Pat said, in a surprised tone, he turned to Daniel and gestured towards the battle, ‘Why are those two fighting anyway?’
‘Well they are both defending their honour,’ Daniel said, the back of his neck was suddenly very itchy and as he rubbed it he squinted down at Pat’s shoes, ‘You see they got into an argument because Lord Mortimer claimed that his wife was the most beautiful women in existence. Lord Belfort disputed the claim as it is his wife who is the most stunning lady on earth. Neither man could back down without losing their honour, so now they are at war with each other,’ he said, to Pat’s right foot.
Sir Richard shifted in contempt and Pat rolled his eyes, ‘Well as long as they don’t lose their honour.’
Francis smiled triumphantly, he had managed to clean the stain from Pat’s shirt and patted himself on the shoulder. This immediately transferred the black matter from his hand onto his tunic.
‘They are both wasting their time because mah wife is da prettiest woman. Dats er there.’ Francis nudged Pat with his shoulder while indicating with his head and another smear appeared on Pat’s tunic.
‘I thought that woman was the blacksmith,’ Daniel said. ‘But beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ he added, hastily.
Francis shot his hand out and caught a bee, ‘And now beauty is in my eye and I say my wife is beautiful.’
Pat looked at Francis’ solemn face, Pat looked at Richard, who was shrugged, the confusion was mutual, Pat looked at the battle.
‘Whose winning?’ Pat asked.
‘Dunno,’ Daniel quickly answered
‘Whose losing?’ Pat asked.
Francis opened his hand and the bee flew out.