Authors: John Daines
“To Margaret, my wife, for her patience and help without which this story would not have been completed."
John stirred, he could feel the flickering light on his eyelids caused by the sun breaking through the leaves of the old oak tree under which he lay. His
head ached and his left shoulder felt as though it had been severed. Gradually his mind recalled the fight and the blow that felled him. He tried to sit up
but the ground whirled and he fell back, was he mortally wounded? His right hand explored his body and felt the cut on his shoulder. He remembered walking
through the wood with his friend Roger when four men appeared in front of them, John could see that they were armed with bows and swords. Roger confronted
them demanding to know what they were doing in his father’s wood and accused them of poaching. The leader of the group glared at Roger. “That will be
enough from you my lad, we are honest men and have no need to steal,” he said.
“Then what is in that bag your friend is carrying?” responded Roger.
The man’s reply was to draw his sword. “Methinks ’tis time you were taught some manners,” he said as he advanced on Roger. The other three also drew
weapons and a short melee ensued in which the two young men were easily defeated. John remembered a heavy blow to his shoulder and a shout from the leader,
“No deaths,” then a blow of a mailed fist to the side of his head followed by blackness.
Where was Roger? He managed to sit up at last and looked around, Roger lay six yards from him, on his back, not moving. “Roger!” John croaked. “Roger, are
you hurt?” There was no answer and John shivered, perhaps his friend was dead. How was he to explain this to his and Roger’s parents?
Jack Ivanson, the Smith of Dunston was wielding his hammer at the forge when four horsemen rode into the Village. They dismounted by the Village Cross and
the tallest walked over to the Smithy and asked the direction to the house of Sir Walter de Brehalle. Jack pointed out the towers of the Castle showing
above the tops of the trees.
“There, my lord, it is but a short ride, before you go can I offer any of my services for your animals?”
“No thank you, our horses were freshly shod before we left,” said the man as he looked into the Smithy.
Jack could see the man was of some wealth as shown by his richly embroidered blue cloak. The leader returned to his companions and the group mounted and
thanking Jack rode off in the direction of the Castle. “I wonder what they want with Sir Brehalle, no good I warrant. ‘Tilda has the lad come back yet?”
Matilda looked at her husband. “ No he has not, chasing wenches with that no good Roger I’ll warrant, but he is late, they should have been home by now.”
John stood up and held on to the trunk of the tree until the world stopped spinning. Looking around he could see his sword lying in the grass. Tentatively
he walked over to Roger who had begun to stir, he could see a large bruise and blood on the side of his head. “Can you hear me Roger, how do you feel?”
“Bloody awful,”moaned Roger. “I wish someone would stop banging on my head.”
With help from John he sat up and looked around. “They didn’t rob us. They could certainly fight, I will have to get more training.”
“Your stupid effort at trying to be the Lord of the Manor to everyone you meet, will be the death of us one day. Come on we must try and get cleaned up and
get home before they send out search parties.” John looked around and spotted both swords, there was no mistaking which blade belonged to which man.
Roger’s had a fine blade with spatulated quillions, leather over a wooden grip and a pommel with the family crest engraved, John’s blade however was dull
and notched with a plain handle and a small pommel.
“I wonder where they came from, not from ‘round here or we would have recognised them,” mused John. “Where were they going?”
“Come on let’s get down to that brook and get cleaned up, your shoulder looks a bit of a mess,” said Roger as they staggered down to the small woodland
stream and did the best they could to clean off the blood and mess. Roger’s face had begun to puff up and John’s shoulder was stiff and painful but not
deeply cut. Gathering up their swords the two friends made their way home.
A distraught Matilda was cleaning and bandaging her son’s wound while Jack questioned him as to how he got into the fight.
“That Roger will get you killed one of these days, its best if you break that friendship and concentrate on learning more of the business. I have several
cart wheels to finish and there are plenty of scythes to prepare for the harvest.”
“Perhaps he can learn to wield a scythe better than a sword.” The comment came from a slender girl, two years younger than her brother John.
“We were caught off guard by those men but I must admit they were fast”
“I expect Sir Walter de Brehalle will want an explanation for his son’s action.” Jack’s worried expression reflected the possible repercussions to his own
“Who were your visitors who went to the Castle?”
His father shrugged his shoulders and turned to go to the Smithy.
“Did they say who they were?” asked John.
Jack turned “No, they did not, and you would be wise not to be so inquisitive.”
“Was Roger badly hurt?” asked his sister.
“No but I bet his father is going to have something to say.”
“You had best stay away for a while lad,” cautioned Matilda. “Let your wound heal and then help your father.”
A month went past and John worked hard in his father’s Smithy and his wound healed. There had been no sign of Roger and John made no move towards the
Manor. He practiced with his sword under his fathers tuition, which surprised John to know his father was so accomplished. “In my youth,” explained Jack,
“I served Sir Walter’s father and at that time he had a very good swordsman who spent many an hour teaching me to fight, not only with the sword, I think
Sir Walter was expected to serve Thomas de Mowbray but it never came to pass.” John practiced hard, as he wanted to defend himself better than he had in
the woods. One afternoon while he was resting on an upturned barrel, Joan appeared with a jug of cider and sat with him.
“Have you seen Roger, Joan?”
Joan blushed and turned away, saying, “Why should I want to see that boy, who got you into trouble. He needs to come and apologise to you.”
“Oh I know you have been seeing each other on the common, but has he said anything about what happened with his father and who were the visitors?” asked
Joan blushed and picking up her skirts and ran into the house leaving John smiling to himself. As evening fell John thoughts turned to Roger and what had
happened to him. Should he go to the Castle and wait in their secret place by the walled garden or maybe staying here will give Roger time to come to him,
another way would be to get a message to Roger through Joan? Tomorrow he would make up his mind.
“Don’t be frightened Joan, it’s only a woodland animal,” John tried to reassure her as they walked along the path towards the church.
“You don’t know what animal though, it could be a snake,” she said pulling up her long skirt.
“Just mind you don’t drop the basket, I’ve enough to carry with this barrel of cider,” exclaimed John.
They spotted the church through the trees and the rather round priest sitting by the door.
“ Hello my friends, come and sit with me.”
Joan handed over the basket but the priests eyes were on the barrel.
“You must be thirsty after your walk, let me fetch some jugs,” he said as John put the barrel down.
“Not for me Father,” replied Joan, who was not used to strong drink.
“All right Joan, but I am sure young John will join me.” After chatting with the priest for a while John asked him if he knew who the visitors were at the
Castle? “Yes, I know of them, they have gone now. They came to enlist Roger in the army they are putting together.”
“Do you know their names?” asked John.
“ One was Henri de Granville a close friend of Roger Bigod, he is forming a group to join an army.” “Who are they going to fight?” asked John.
Father Aldred shook his head, he did not know or was not telling. “I have no knowledge of his companions, but they were obviously soldiers by their dress
and bearing.” Joan and John talked about the information they had as they walked home. Was war coming to England or was this army going to fight abroad.
Roger sat in the Castle’s Hall waiting for his father. The large oak door was thrown open and two lurcher hunting dogs bounded in followed by a tall
“Well, boy have you finished your work in the stables?” Roger stood up from greeting the dogs and gazed at his father. Since arriving home after their
encounter in the woods, Roger told his father they had been set upon by brigands, but Sir Walter had already warned his son about his quick temper and
willingness to fight so had banned Roger from the family and sent him to work in the stables and gardens. He had not seen his father’s guests and only
caught a glimpse of them when they left.
“Go down and get our horses ready, Ralf and I are riding over to Stoke.” Roger left the room. “I don’t know what I am to do with that boy,” said the
Ralf and his father strode out to the stables where Roger had prepared their hunting horses. The destriers were left munching on the hay, would they be
needed soon? The destrier is a large horse capable of supporting a fully armoured knight into battle, de Brehalle had two in the stables. Roger watched
them ride out and sat on a bale of hay with his thoughts, life at the castle was unbearable in his view, outcast in his own home. One of his duties was to
exercise the destriers so putting a lead rein on one and a simple bridle on the other Roger led them out to the mounting block, jumped aboard the smallest
and set off for the village. Riding across the common Roger glimpsed two figures the other side of some bushes. Carefully he approached, he did not want an
encounter with strangers like the last time. Coming into full view were John and Joan picking blackberries.
“Ho, my good man, which way to the nearest Inn?”
John looked up in surprise and when recognising his friend let out a ‘Whoop’ and ran over to him. “Where have you been, what did your father say, who were
the men who came to visit, why……?”
“Hold up John, let me get down and explain” said Roger, stopping John in full flow.
Joan meanwhile stood at a distance and smiled at Roger. “Are you recovered from your wounds Roger?”
“Yes, I am feeling better especially now I have seen you.”
“Don’t mind me,” laughed John. “I would like to know what your father said?”
Roger told them of his banishment to the stables and gardens and not being allowed to meet the visitors. “Were you recruited into their army, and do they
know I was involved?”
“I don’t know, to both questions John, how did you know they were recruiting?” John explained what the priest had told them.
“I wouldn’t mind a fight, That is what I’ve been trained for, but it is where and for how long.” Roger had a glint in his eye as he said it.
“What about me?” came a sad voice from Joan.
“No, they don’t allow women to fight,” laughed John. “I will leave you two alone to sort it out.” He went off back to the Smithy. John saw his father
struggling with a large cart wheel and rushed over to help him. “Joan’s talking to Roger on the common she will be here soon.”
“What did Roger have to say for himself, did he say sorry for getting you into the fight?”
“No but he was punished by his father and is saying that he might join this army or whatever it is.”
Jack stopped work and looked at his son “Do you feel the same?”
John thought for a moment and looked at his father “No father I am your son and mean to be the village Smith when you get too old, and in the meantime you
had better teach me all you know.”
“I am not too old to give up yet,” Jack smiled as he spoke and grasped his son’s arm. “Thank you for that John.”
Several months went by and John worked hard in the Smithy. He saw Roger from time to time when he called to see Joan. One day Roger turned up dressed in
new doublet and hose and his sword at his side.
“My father has enlisted me with Elric Fletcher, in Norwich. I am to report to the Castle by Friday so I am here to say good bye, is Joan here?”
John thought Roger looked nervous as he made this announcement. Elric Fletcher was known as a bully, as when he was younger he terrorised the young people
in the surrounding countryside. His father had been killed in battle and his mother had died while giving birth so he had been brought up by the staff of
Norwich Castle and been left a lot to his own devises. His ambition was to be one of Roger Bigod’s lieutenants.
“I am sorry Roger, Joan has taken food over to the church and will no doubt stay a while with Father Aldred.” John felt a pang of sorrow for his friend as
he said this.