The Revenant, Part 1
The Revenant is a 5-part tale of vengeance: a veteran knight, robbed and left for dead, is driven to seek answers and, ultimately, revenge.
In the summer of 1462, a veteran knight, fearful that his wife would succumb to the feverous disease that had afflicted her for weeks, prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary, begging her to intercede and ask God to restore his wife to good health. In return, he swore that he would carry out a pilgrimage to the Lady Chapel in Glastonbury Abbey. When his wife soon recovered, honor compelled him to fulfill his holy vow.
CHAPTER 1. THE WHITE HART INN
SIR HENRIE WALSHYNGHAM looked out at the high summer sun. A gentle northern breeze pushed a thin canopy of woolen clouds across the pale blue sky. The view was worthy of an artist’s canvas, but Henrie was too annoyed to give it more than a cursory glance. “The day’s bloody well half-spent already,” he grumbled in a low voice. His eyes fell to the narrow lane below. It was empty except for an old skinner plodding alongside his ox cart; flies buzzed hungrily over its cargo of fresh hides. The knight recoiled from the stench and pulled shut the window. “Son, are you sure you told Dickon to saddle the horses? I see no sign of him.”
“Of course I did,” Stephain replied with a thin smirk. He twisted in his chair until one leg was dangling over the armrest before taking a long draw from his glass.
“And what did the physician say of Rauf?” the knight asked as he quickly buckled the row of leather straps down the front of his gestrone; the jacket’s green velvet exterior concealed a layer of steel maille. “Is he well enough to ride?”
Stephain shook his head. “They could only find a barber. I thought he was going to bleed the poor man dry, but he assured me it was only an ague.” He paused to nod his head. “Rauf will be right by morning.”
“Ballocks!” the knight cursed through clenched teeth. “We can’t lose an entire day. We should have been on the road first thing this morning.” Henrie’s annoyance was turning into anger. “The lad’s been more trouble than he’s worth,” the knight added as he picked up his pleated waistcoat and held it up expectantly to his son.
“I’m coming,” Stephain groaned as he slowly swung his legs around to stand, pausing to place his cup down on a side table before shuffling across the room.
Henrie knew better than to show the least bit of annoyance at his son’s lethargy as it would only encourage the lad to persist even more. He loved his son but was well aware of his penchant for laziness. “How much did the barber charge?” Henrie stuck his arms into the sleeves as Stephain pulled the coat onto his father’s shoulders.
“Twelve shillings 3 pence.”
“By the saints! I should’ve stuck him myself and saved the coin.” Henrie buckled a sword around his waist and adjusted the folds in the front of his coat. “Remind me again why I haven’t sent you to the university to study medicine? You should know it costs a fortune to feed you these days.”
“Someone has to dress you, Father.”
“Ah, so that’s it? You’re hoping to be promoted from well-wisher to varlet? I can tell you that Dickon is by far the better bargain. You’d best start showing me something more.” Henrie motioned toward the green fabric neatly folded atop a side table. “Why don’t you fetch me my hood?”
Stephain sauntered over to the table but instead picked up his glass. He swirled the dark liquid around for a moment before taking another long sip. It was only after his father exhaled loudly that Stephain returned the cup to the table and snatched up the hood. He balled it in his hands as he slowly walked back to his father.
“Son, has anyone ever told you that you’re about as worthless as teats on a boar?”
“Only you,” his son replied smugly. “Every day.”
“Well, someone has to tell you the truth.” Henrie took the hood from his son and smoothed it out against his chest. He carefully rolled its front edge tightly back several inches and placed it atop his head like a turban.
“Why do you insist on forming your own chaperon every day?” his son asked with a shake of his head. Stephain stepped directly in front of his father, arching an eyebrow as though carefully considering a portrait. The lad was almost a full hand taller than his father.
“Because that’s the way I like it, Stephain,” Henrie stated flatly, refusing to meet his son’s gaze. He cocked his head to the left as he folded the hood’s lower mantle into a stair-step pattern that he carefully draped over his temple. He ran his fingers through the folds to ensure they were even. “As I’ve told you countless times, appearance is everything. God help me, one day I hope it will finally get through that thick skull of yours.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to fold it before you put it on?”
“I’ve been doing it the same way since long before you learned to prattle on like a woman.” Henrie paused and gave a sideways glance at his son. Although Henrie took great joy in antagonizing his son, he was proud of the man that Stephain was growing into.
“I know a tailor in Presston who could make you a new one from silk brocade,” the boy chuckled. “It would be far more fashionable.” Henrie tucked the end of the long liripipe into the front of his sword belt.
“Sir Henrie?” a muffled voice interrupted through the door.
“See what he wants now,” Henrie instructed. Stephain strolled over to the door and jerked it open. A round face immediately craned into the room.
“Your dinner’s getting cold, Sir Henrie,” the man said with a wide grin revealing a broken line of yellow teeth. “I’ve set a table for you and your men.” He glanced down at the knight’s hip and swallowed hard. “Also, with respect, sire, I couldn’t help but notice some of your men are wearing swords. I’m required to ask you to leave your swords in your rooms while in the city.”
“Thank you, master Perkyn, I’m well aware of city ordinances. It is time for us to take our leave. We will be departing within the hour. Would you be so kind as to bag everything up for us?”
“Surely you don’t still intend on leaving today?” the innkeeper replied as he stepped into the room. He wiped a pair of meaty palms on his ale-stained apron. “Wouldn’t it be better to depart first thing in the morning?”
“No,” Henrie said with a shake of the head. “I made an oath. I must be in Glastonbury by the Feast of Saint John the Baptist. I can’t afford to lose any more time.”
“But, Sir Henrie, you likely won’t reach Whicchurch until well after nightfall, and the roads around here are not safe after dark.” When the knight did not react to the warning, Perkyn drew a finger across his throat before sticking his tongue out one side of his mouth. “Travelers have reported seeing Welsh reavers lurking about.”
“Thank you for your concern, master Perkyn,” Henrie chuckled. “I can assure you that I’m not an easy man to kill. More than a few tried and failed at Blore, and they were far more determined than a band of tinkers. Besides, there are several market towns along the road. We should be able to find lodging if we don’t make it all the way into Shropshire.”
“But, sir,” Perkyn continued to protest. He looked back and forth between the knight and his son for a moment before casting his eyes to the floor with an odd smile. “Very well, I will prepare the food for your journey, Sir Henrie.” With a quick nod, the innkeeper turned and left the room.
“Do you believe him?” Stephain blurted out as soon as the door had shut. His usual smirk had been replaced by a wrinkled brow. “You told mother the roads would be safe all the way to Glastonbury.”
“If I’d told her the truth she would've never let you come along,” Henrie stated wryly.
“What?” Stephain gasped, his eyes wide with surprise.
“You should see the look on your face,” Henrie said with a hearty laugh. He immediately regretted the jest; he had gone too far. His son reddened with embarrassment that immediately turned to anger. “I’m sorry, Stephain. I couldn’t help myself.” He put a hand to his son’s shoulder that was quickly shrugged off.
“Would it really be so bad if we waited until the morning?”
“Son, the roads are safe enough. Yes, it's true that some men are desperate enough to risk the hangman’s noose by robbing merchants and pilgrims. But, they want silver, not steel.” Henrie set a hand on the hilt of his sword. “Besides, that’s why we always bring the lads with us.”
Stephain nodded in agreement, more to reassure himself than to affirm his father’s words.
“Now get your kit on while I go to make sure everyone is packed and ready to travel. When you come down, be sure to settle our account with the innkeeper.” Henrie once again placed a hand on his son’s shoulder. “We’ll be fine, Stephain. I promise. It’s perfectly normal to feel nervous from time to time, but when it happens, you have to bottle it up tight. One day you’ll be a leader. You must never let your men see any fear in your eyes.”
Henrie gave his son one last squeeze on his shoulder before heading to the door. He regretted how he had handled the situation. If only the innkeeper would have kept his mouth shut.
In the hall Henrie encountered an archer dressed in green livery waiting with crossed arms. “What is it, Morgan?” the knight sighed as he made for the stairs. The yeoman fell in immediately behind him.
“Sire, Rauf needs a few more days to rest.”
“Stephain said it wasn’t that serious.”
“With respect, your son is afraid of disappointing you. Rauf is as sick as a dog.”
Henrie paused and turned to address Morgan. He studied the archer’s face for a moment. It looked softer than usual; Henrie could see his concern. “Very well,” he replied, gesturing the man back up the stairs. “Lead the way.”
Morgan trudged up to the landing where he turned right and slung open the first door. “Rauf,” he called down at a body curled up on the nearest of three straw-filled mattresses. “Sir Henrie is here.”
Rauf groaned as he rolled over and pushed himself up onto an elbow. Beads of sweat glistened on his ashen brow. The smell of vomit stained the air.
“Don’t get up, lad,” Henrie said with a thin smile before covering his mouth to guard against foul vapors. “Rest easy, and we’ll have you home in no time.”
Rauf managed a shallow nod before flopping back onto the mattress.
Henrie pulled the door shut and turned to face Morgan.
“See?” One corner of the man’s mouth curled momentarily into a triumphant grin that quickly fell into a somber frown when Henrie did not smile back. “I can stay back with him, if you like. We can wait here until you return.”
“And let you drink the place dry? No, I’ll make arrangements with the innkeeper for Rauf to stay as long as he needs. Gil will remain with him until he can ride.” Henrie sighed before turning back to the stairs. “Now, make sure the rest of you are outside and ready to go in half an hour, or I’ll leave the lot of you here.”
Henrie was frustrated as he descended the stairs. He had already lost half a day’s travel waiting on Rauf, and now the lad couldn’t come any way. The longer the delay lasted, the more irritable he became.
The knight strode into the great hall where he noticed Perkyn talking to a cloaked figure standing next to him at a tall wooden counter.
“That’s your problem, not mine,” Perkyn said. His voice was low, but it reverberated across the wide room. “I’ve done my part. Now pay me what you owe me.”
“Mind yer tongue, Perkyn,” the wayfarer replied, his top lip curling into a sneer. “You’ve come too far to start having second thoughts. There’s no going back.” He slapped a handful of coins onto the counter and slid them towards the innkeeper.
“This isn’t enough anymore,” Perkyn protested despite greedily raking them into his palm and dropping them into his apron pocket. He did not notice that the wayfarer’s gaze had suddenly turned to the approaching knight. “I’m taking too big of a risk.” The man then pointed a finger in Henrie’s direction causing Perkyn to whirl around. The innkeeper looked back and forth between the wayfarer and the knight for a moment, his mouth open as if to speak but finding no words on his tongue.
“It turns out that one of my men is too ill to continue on,” Henrie broke the awkward silence.
“So you’ll be spending the night after all?” he asked, slipping a hand inside his apron pocket to wriggle his fingers through the coins inside. The innkeeper looked back to the wayfarer. The man had dark eyes set under thick black eyebrows. A long scar ran from the bridge of his nose down to the edge of his jawline.
“No, I still plan to leave at once, but two of the lads will need room and board for a couple more nights.” The knight counted out several pence that he handed to the innkeeper. “This should be enough to cover his expenses. If not, I will pay the rest when I return next week.”
“Of course. Of course.” Perkyn’s hand trembled slightly as he accepted the coins. He could not help but once again look back and forth between Henrie and the wayfarer.
“Do you have business with me?” Henrie asked, looking up and down the stranger. There was a slight bulge in the side of the man’s gray cloak. The knight guessed it to be a hanger sword.
The wayfarer did not respond, but his eyes fell to the golden pommel of the knight’s sword.
“Never you mind him, Sir Henrie.” Perkyn interjected. “This here’s—uh—Rabbie. He—er—does odd jobs for me from time to time.” He weakly pushed against the stranger. “And, he was just leaving.”
“I’ll be seeing you, Perkyn,” Rabbie said with a forced grin, never taking his eyes off the knight. He had greasy hair that hung in clumps from the hood of his cloak. With a nod, the man turned and walked slowly to the door.
“Who was that man?” Henrie asked once the wayfarer had exited.
The innkeeper shook his head forcefully before wiping his brow with a cuff. “He’s—uh—just a frequent guest that owed me a bit of coin.”
“From the look of it, he didn’t appear to be the kind of man who could pay back such a debt. Frankly, I’m surprised you would’ve trusted him to do so.”
“He can be rather convincing.” Perkyn’s eyes darted between the knight and the door. “And I never ask where the coin comes from. Nature of the business, you know, sire?”
“If you say so.” Henrie studied the innkeeper’s face and the fake smile painted across it. He knew the man was lying; he simply couldn’t figure out to what end. Just pay the man, be done with him, and be on your way.
Perkyn licked his lips as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “I still need to get your food bundled up,” he finally blurted, taking a couple of measured steps to the side. “My man should already have your horses saddled and waiting out front. I’ll be out with the food directly.”
Henrie snatched his reins from a leather-faced groom, tossed them over the head of Abbot, his dappled gray stallion, and then pulled himself up into the saddle. Shifting his weight from one stirrup to the other, he double-checked the tightness of the girth. Satisfied, he wheeled his mount around to survey the line of other men on horseback.
“Ballocks,” he grumbled under his breath. The corners of his mouth drew back into a frown. He normally preferred to travel with more men. Nothing to be done about it now. The roads will be fine.
Stephain had positioned himself at the head of the column. He was mounted atop one of Henrie’s best chargers who tossed its head impatiently and stamped a hoof against the ground. Though Stephain sat tall in the saddle, he was nervously rubbing the silver crucifix of his rosary between a thumb and forefinger.
Behind him were James and Lynard. James was short and wiry; his oversized waistcoat made him look as though he had shriveled in the sun. Lynard had a doughy face and wide, round eyes that gave him the appearance of an altar boy caught with a mouthful of the holy bread. They both carried bows and had bags of arrows tied to their saddles.
Dickon, the young varlet, came next. He was a year or two younger than Stephain but had the same teenage bravado. He kept one hand on the pommel of his dagger. Next to him was Morgan. As the only other man to have actually swung a sword in anger, the yeoman’s presence gave Henrie a measure of comfort.
“Are you wearing your maille?” the knight asked his son as he reined his horse alongside him. He reached out to pat a hand against his son’s back.
“Yes, Father,” Stephain replied, his voice rising in exasperation. He quickly pressed his calf into his horse’s side, forcing the stallion to create distance between him and his father. Stephain looked back to see if the others had been watching.
“Stephain,” Henrie began, intending to press the issue, but he relented. Seeing his son’s reddened cheeks made him pull back his hand. He wanted to apologize, but pride got in the way. Instead, he reached into a worn leather bag strapped to his saddle and pulled out a skull cap. There were several deep scratches in its polished steel surface. Old habits die hard, he thought to himself as he carefully slid it under the brim of his chaperone and wriggled it into place. It’s probably time to have one made for Stephain.
“Let’s go, boy,” Stephain said as he spurred his horse into a trot. Abbot gave a short nicker before bolting off after him.
“By the Virgin,” the old knight swore as he put a hand atop his headgear to keep it in place. “Come on, lads,” he called back over his shoulder with a chuckle. “Best hurry if we want to reach Whicchurch before nightfall.” Within a few moments, they had slipped through Bridge Gate, passed the water mill on Dee Bridge, and were back on the road to Glastonbury.
Who was the wayfarer? What evil scheme has he devised with the innkeeper? Will Sir Henrie and his retinue reach their destination safely, or will they fall into an unexpected trap?
The story continues with The Revenant, Part 2: The Road to Whicchurch.
About the author
I'm a weekend novelist & backyard daredevil. A lifelong medieval history buff, I enjoy the knightly pursuits of jousting, hunting & sword fighting.