29 March 2012 @ 06:50 pm
*Nano Project* Part the First - Section the Second - The Boy 945AD to 946AD  
The next time I met Caerleon the Younger was in the Main Hall of the castle, in front of the king himself! I don’t know what Father said to King Caerleon, but whatever it was convinced the King that there needed to be some sort of…meeting between his son and me.

I had never been in the Main Hall of the castle before, it was a huge cavernous room with windows high up in the walls and guards in front of the huge double doors that opened to it.

At the very end of the hall were the thrones, they weren’t very big, but they still drew your eyes to them right away. King Caerleon was sitting on one them and standing beside him was the prince.

I swallowed, as the guards who had opened the door gestured for me to approach. I didn’t want to, I’d much rather have turned and ran, but if there was anything that would have caused offense to the King that would have been it. So, I went, it seemed to take forever to walk the length of the hall, at one point I thought I'd never reach it! Finally though I arrived before the King and made what I hoped was a decent bow.

“You are Geoffrey, son of Galfridus I understand?” The King greeted me.

“Yes, sire,” it came out as a squeak and out the corner of my eye I saw his son smirking at me.

“Your father spoke to me the other day, young Geoffrey,” the King continued, his tone wasn’t gentle, but it was jovial enough, clearly I wasn’t about to be sent to the dungeons. “He informed me that you and my son have not being seeing eye to eye.”

That was an understatement! And my heart dropped when the King looked at his son with an indulgent smile. It seemed obvious how this was going to turn out, why then had the King called me here? Did he plan to humiliate me?

I didn’t know if I was supposed to reply to this or not, it didn’t seem to be a question, weren’t you only supposed to answer a King if he asked you a question?

So I waited.

“I have spoken to my son about this,” I thought I saw the King give his son an almost stern look, but that might have been wishful thinking. Cearleon the Younger certainly didn’t seem the least bit intimidated. “And he has assured me that he meant no harm, I don’t wish to dismiss the incident that occurred between you, but my son has been brought up in a rather rough and tumble atmosphere, watching the knights, and play fighting with their sons.” The young Prince looked like he was about to object to the term ‘play fighting’, but he kept his mouth shut. “I understand however that things are different in Monmouth,” the King continued, “so I fear that’s the reason you two got off on the wrong foot.”

I think King Caerleon was being rather too optimistic about things, the reason his son and I had got off on the wrong foot was because his son was a bully and had taken an instant dislike to me for reasons unknown.

The King was not finished however, he put an arm around his son’s shoulder and gave a squeeze. “That being the case, I believe it would be best for you two to mend fences.”

I swallowed and wondered exactly what that could mean…

“I have spoken to your father who indicated to me that you’ve never learnt to wield a sword or even fire an arrow,” the King shook his head and chuckled as if he’d never heard anything so unbelievable in his entire life. “Now, fortunately for you, my boy is well above his age in skill and ability in both those things. So, he has agreed to teach you.”

“Teach me, sire?” I somehow managed to keep my voice from squeaking this time.

“Yes, after all, a proper Cearleonian should know how to defend himself,” the King strokes his beard. “You and Caer can beginning training tomorrow.”

“Uh…” I was about to say, but then wisely remembered I was addressing the king so stopped myself.

The King hadn’t heard me, and spoke on. “Eight o’clock, don’t be late now.”

The Prince’s smirk became decidedly evil as he looked down at me, I swallowed hard and unconsciously took a step backward.

The King seemed to think I was leaving, which wasn’t too far from the truth I suppose, I certainly felt like running, but he gave a rather benevolent smile. “You should always wait to be dismissed before leaving, boy, but you may go.”

“Yes, sire,” I gave a quick bow and fought the urge to run at least until I cleared the double doors, then I did run all the way to Father to ask him what on Earth he said to the King because whatever it was it had just made my life a nightmare!

Father was never able to give me a satisifactory answer on that point, nor was there any way for me to escape a royal command, so the next morning I found myself in the courtyard awaiting the arrival of Prince Caerleon.

For a brief moment I considered leaving the city all together in order to escape what I was certain would be a horrible, horrible fate, but disobeying a King’s orders wasn’t a good idea, so there I was.

I was actually early and I began to pace nervously, waiting for my doom, the prince made me wait, I was early, but he was late, almost an hour late. He appeared with that evil smile on his face and his trainer in tow.

“Well, well, I didn’t think you’d actually show up, Mudmouth, you’re braver than I thought.” The Prince greeted me, but he didn’t sound particularly impressed by that.

“Your father ordered it, so I am here.” I answered with as much of my so-called bravery as I could.

The Prince made a sound that was somewhere between a snort and a laugh, then suddenly, somehow he grabbed a bow and arrow from…somewhere and before I even had time to think, fired off a shot. The arrow flew past my ear, so close I heard the sound of rushing air. I clapped my hand to my ear, wondering if it was still there. It was and even more than that, it wasn’t bleeding.

“That’s where hard training gets you, Mudmouth,” the Prince drawled as I turned back to look at him. “Aim and precision.”

I just stood there, gaping.

“Or perhaps you’d like to learn the fine art of sword play.” Prince Caerleon continued on, taking the sword his trainer offered to him. And then he was moving towards me, swinging and twirling it in front of him so fast I couldn’t even follow the movement.

He kept moving towards me, until I was forced to step back and keep stepping back until I tripped up landing flat on my rear.

He tossed the sword down next to me, and I moved my hand away to avoid getting sliced.

“Well go on,” The Prince ordered.

I looked at him confused.

“The sword, you idiot. Pick it up.”

I’d never held a sword before, and I was surprised at its heaviness, the Prince had made swinging it look so easy and he wasn’t much bigger than me. I managed to lift of course, but I had to hold it very tightly with two hands and it wobbled. I was so busy concentrating on keeping it upright that I didn’t even notice that the Prince had got hold of a staff and he swung it at me, knocking the sword easily from my hands.

He shook his head at me, his face twisted in disgust. “Or maybe we should forget it, you’re bloody hopeless.”

I wasn’t about to complain, but I must have looked far too relieved because the Prince’s lips twisted into even crueller smile. “But I do hate to disappoint my father.” He threw the staff against my chest, I suppose I was meant to catch it, but of course I didn’t, instead I just ended up winded.

While I was getting my breath back, the Prince strode away back to his trainer and began issuing sharp commands to the man who scurried to obey them.

“Someone as pathetic as you doesn’t deserve to know the arts of swordplay, so bow and arrow it is. Although I’m sure you’ll look just as pathetic trying to learn that.” The Prince gave a nasty laugh. “But then I’ve been looking for some entertainment, this time of year is really boring.”

I had only just managed to get my breath back when the Prince walked back over and shoved a bow at me.

“Well go on, draw it.”

I did my best, but the bow was strung ridiculously tight, I didn’t see how anyone could draw it. For a moment I assumed that the Prince was playing a trick on me, especially when he laughed derisively at my struggles.

“Mudmouth, you are the weakest thing I’ve ever met,” he came over and yanked the bow away from me, drawing the string back easily. “Maybe if you kept your nose out of books and skipping around like a girl you’d be less of an embarrassment to yourself and your family.”

An embarrassment to my family? I most certainly was not! I almost said so, but one look from the Prince was enough to silence me. I wasn’t about to antagonise him…at least not any further. I was in a bad enough spot all ready.

Bad and it got worse. For the next hour, the Prince ran me raggard, making me run laps around the courtyard with a heavy target on my back, followed by having to lie upon the hard stones and attempt to lift my body up by my arms. By the end of an hour and a half I could barely move and the whole time Prince Caerleon watched, arms folded, laughing and taunting me all the while.

Finally, the torture ended, the Prince walking over to where I’d collapsed on the ground and poked at me with his foot.

“That’ll do for today, Mudmouth, I’ve got real training to do. If you survive I’ll see you again same time tomorrow. Eight o’clock.”

Tomorrow? I didn’t think I could bear to undergo this again, but there was no arguing with the Prince, not that he gave me a chance to make any complaints. He snapped his fingers and all of sudden I felt myself being hauled off the ground by his trainer, who less than delicately deposited me in one of the corridors before retuning to his prince.

As I lay there, the Prince’s friends trooped past on the way to the courtyard and having spotted me, of course all had to have a very good laugh at my situation. At least they didn’t decide to nudge me with their feet or the staffs they were holding as the passed.

Soon enough they had all filed past and I could hear the Prince’s voice from the courtyard and then the sound of staffs banging together.

Eventually I was able to get to my feet, my entire body aching and make my way back to Father and my rooms where I was quickly flung into writing lessons, which of course went atrociously, since my arms felt ready to fall off.

“You really must do better, Geoffrey,” the old tutor tutted at me, shaking his head as he looked at my work. “Words are beautiful things, they should not be scribbled out in such an inferior manner.”

I considered bringing up the torment Prince Caerleon had put me through, but the old man was rather loyal to the royal family, at least he seemed to praise them a lot, when he wasn’t bemoaning Father’s handwriting or our slow progress generally. So instead, I gave the only answer I could give. “No sir.”

Getting away from the city was sounding more and more appealing by the second.

My torture by the Prince continued on, Father attempted to make me feel better about my daily torment by pointing out the fact that I was being ‘prepared’ for my future in Caerleon’s army one day.

“We all have to do it, my boy,” he said to me after one particular gruelling session, he was applying Arnica to the bruises and cuts I had sustained that day. “Even I.”

“I don’t want to be a soldier!” I protested shaking my head. “And they don’t want me to be one either, I’m hopeless at it!”

“I wouldn’t worry too much, son,” Father patted my arm. “It’s not as if there’s any great war going on these days. Most of it will be patrolling, perhaps a few bandits here and there.”

“Why should I be a solider if I’d be no good at it?” I asked once more. “If there’s no war they don’t need everyone pitching in, I’ll just make things worse.”

“That’s just the way things are.” Father finished with the Arnica and got up to put the bottle back. “It is not the worst thing in the world, it’ll only be a year of your life.”

“And now,” I grumbled.

“Surely you must be getting better with the bow and arrow now?” Father asked hopefully.

I grimaced. “I haven’t even been able to pull the string back yet.”

Father sighed and pat me gently on the shoulder again. “You’ll pick it up soon enough, Geoffrey, I’m sure of it.”

“When are we leaving for Monmouth? We’re not going to live in the city forever are we?”

“Of course not, but we are here at the King’s pleasure, so we are to stay until he says it’s time for us to leave. Also we have not yet completed our lessons, you wouldn’t want to leave it unfinished would you?” He gave me a smile.

I smiled back, he was right, it would be horrible to have done all this work only to give up now.

One day a few weeks into Prince Caerloen’s ‘training’ of me, the King himself came to the courtyard to check on my progress. Which was both welcome in that it meant the Prince was on his best behaviour and not having my slither across the courtyard stones on my stomach (I had asked him to explain what the point of that was, and how it would make me a better archer, but such a question had only earned me a boot between my shoulder blades) and unwelcome in that it meant the King was expecting me to show my progress.

And that progress was pathetic at best. I had managed to at least draw the bowstring back, but I had not yet loosened a single arrow.

At least not until that day, because in the presence of his father, the Prince decided now was the perfect time for me to begin.

As he shoved an arrow at me, he growled in a low voice. “Try not to hit anyone, Mudmouth.”

Well, that was helpful instruction, a competent and able teacher the Prince was most assuredly not.

He left me and went to his father’s side and glared at me, arms folded, waiting.

I had not even held the bow with the arrow in it, there was a notch at the end that was supposed to make setting it against the bowstring easier, but having never tried it before I didn’t rate my chances at getting it right. Unsurprisingly, the first time a tried to set the arrow it slipped, the result of which was an angry sound from the Prince, but when I took a quick look over he had schooled his face into a neutral expression. The King however had raised an eyebrow at me, making I quite obvious who would be blamed if I completely bungled this.

I took a deep breath and carefully fit the arrow nock into string and managed to draw the string back without it falling out.

On the other side of the courtyard was the target, which only yesterday I’d been forced to lug about on my back, I rather hated that target, it was heavy and the straps bit into my shoulders. Which I suppose served to make it easier to focus on it.

I raised the bow and somehow managed to keep the front end of the arrow balance on my forefinger, but all ready my arms were beginning to tremble, it was hard work keeping a bow drawn!

I really should have spent more time with aiming, but my arms just couldn’t keep holding it and the sound of the string twanging made me jump.

I can say, at least, that there was power behind it, it didn’t immediately fall to the ground.

However, it didn’t get anywhere near to reaching the target either.

There was dead silence in the courtyard, except for my beating heart, and I swallowed hard, turning slowly to face the King and the Prince.

Neither of them looked particularly pleased, the Prince was clenching his fists so tightly his knuckles were white. To my relief however, the King did not look nearly so angry, he looked completely bemused. He turned to his son and asked him something that I couldn’t hear, then he turned back to me.

“It seems you need more practice, lad,” he said in a loud booming voice. “But then we can’t all be natural warriors, I look forward to you improving soon enough.”

He gives his son a pat on the shoulder before moving off and less than a minute after he’d left the courtyard, the Prince stormed over to me and punched me in the jaw hard, I reeled back, stumbled and landed in a heap on the stones.

“You humiliated me, Mudmouth,” he snarled. “In front of my father, do it again and I’ll make you suffer.”

There was any number of things I could have said in response to that, but I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut, although that was probably more because my jaw was throbbing.

The Prince yanked me to my feet and grabbed up the bow and shoved it in my hands. “Practice and if I you can’t hold this fully drawn for ten minutes by the end of this week, everything I’ve made you do before will seem like luxury.”

And with that he stormed out the courtyard, his trainer following.

I had no other choice, but to practice drawing the bow string and setting the arrow and trying to actually get some distance in my shots – it was too much to hope I’d be able to hit anything.

I wasn’t sure how long I was out there, but eventually Father came and found me, telling me I was going to be late for our lesson.

He looked at the bow with some bemusement.

“The Prince decided to train me on this,” I explained with a rueful look. “He thought I didn’t deserve to learn how to use a sword.”

Father patted my shoulder. “Don’t worry, Geoffrey, I’m sure you’ll pick it up, you’re a smart boy.”

“I don’t think this has anything to do with smarts,” I gave the bow and arrow a look and tossed them aside.

I picked them up before I left though, and returned them to the armoury, since some servant would probably get into trouble for it and that was hardly fair.

Prince Caerleon might not care about fairness and decency, but I did!

Father and I ended up being in the city for an entire year, much longer than I thought we would, every so often word would come from Monmouth, including news from Mother, who was taking care of things at home. A new deacon had come to take Father’s place so the chapel was no longer her concern, but we had some farmland that needed overseeing. Although at one point she complained that the new deacon didn’t seem to be keeping the chapel up in the manner she had kept it. I took that to mean that he wasn’t keeping freshly cut flowers or having the pews polished weekly anymore.

But the King had sent a building crew down to Monmouth to construct a church, a far smaller one than what was being built in the city, but still it would be the largest building in Monmouth. Once Father and I returned, he would be in charge of that church or rather Mother would be, at least in so far as the upkeep of the building. Mother was very good at such things, so this would no doubt make her very happy indeed.

I, for one began to lose my fascination with the city, mostly due to Prince Caerleon who did the best he could to make everything I did a nightmare! Whenever I tried to go into the city to see the markets or how the new church was going, he’d somehow find out and plan to all but ambush me. Sometimes I’d manage to escape, but it made it difficult to have any enjoyment in such things as I was constantly looking over my shoulder.

However, sometimes I did get a few small joys, like the woman who assisted me that first day would sometimes offer me sweetmeats and other treats from her stall when she saw me passing by. Unless I was bruised or bleeding, in which case she would tut at me, but she would always bring some warm water to wipe down any blood or dirt.

To say nothing of that horrible training, I would never be an archer, I eventually managed to loose an arrow and hit the general area of the target. I actually thought that was quite an achievement, but the Prince practically spat on me.

The next time the King came to see my progress, the Prince made quite a show of telling him how impossible I was to train, how I lacked the ability to learn or the willingness to practice. The last statement at the very least was a complete lie, I practiced daily, but I could hardly speak up I my defence, I could only hope that the Prince’s comments would not make the King angry at me, I didn’t want to be put into a dungeon!

The King, though, seemed to be more amused by his son’s displeasure than anything else, he patted him on the shoulder than called over to me to fire at will.

I did at the very least not drop the arrow this time as I set the nock and drew the bow string, I even had time to aim before taking my shot.

The arrow flew through the air, but I obviously didn’t aim quite as well as I thought I had, because it went up in a huge arc and instead of hitting the target, it dove into the stones of the courtyard, bounced off and landed rather pathetically on the ground.

I swallowed hard, staring at the arrow just lying there, it was in front of the target, at least, but I really didn’t know if that was good enough.

There was silence, complete silence.

And then footsteps and a shadow fell over me.

“You’ve definitely improved, boy,” the King’s voice sounded and my head shot up in surprise, I hadn’t been expecting him to come over at all! Out the corner of my eye I could see the Prince, glowering at me, arms folded across his chest.

“But I don’t believe you’ll have enough time to learn how to better your technique, you and your father will soon be returning to Monmouth.” He paused and gave a chuckle. “You might want to keep up the practice, however, you never know when I may go on progress and stop by.”

I looked up at him and blinked a few times, before finally realising he was expecting an answer. I quickly ducked my head and bowed. “Of course, sire, yes sire.”

“Good lad.”

With that he turned and strode back to his son and to my relief he put his arm about his son’s shoulders and lead him away, meaning there was no opportunity for him to punch me and berate me. I made a quick get away and went to see Father about what the King had said.

“It is quite true, Old Theolus has finally declared me able to read and write at an appropriate level so as not to humiliate myself and the kingdom.” He told me.

“What about me?”

“Theolus rates your handwriting far above mine and probably your reading skill as well.” Father pats me on the shoulder. “You’ll have quite a career ahead of you as my scribe.”

“Well, I’ll be a better scribe than an archer, I bet,” I couldn’t help looking sour faced.

“I wouldn’t say that, Geoffrey, you got quite a bit of distance.”

I looked at him quizzically. “How do you know?”

“Because I watched you from the window, you didn’t think I would miss such a thing, did you?”

I was surprised and a little embarrassed, even thought Father seemed to think I had done well.

“The King send he might go on a progress one day and come to Monmouth, do you really think I should practice?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry too much,” Father gave my shoulder a pat. “I dare say the King won’t remember speaking to you, he meets so many people after all.”

I wasn’t sure if I was relieved or not at that, Father seemed comfortable enough with the idea that the King would always need an introduction whenever they met. He was at heart a very modest man, despite his bishopric.

As the King had indicated to me, it was not long after that that Father and I packed up, taking with us a new Bible that would be the centrepiece of the new church in Monmouth, which was due to be finished within a week of our return. It was strange leaving the city, despite my growing distaste for the place I had grown used to living there in amongst the hustle and bustle of so many people and the neighing of horses from the stables and the way the castle bells rang out the hours. It took two days for our party to return to Monmouth and the first night I had trouble getting to sleep in our encampment just off the edge of the old Roman road that linked many places in Albion. They were breaking down after many years of disrepair, mostly dust tracks than paved now, but it did make it easier to move from place to place.

It was so quiet out in the forests, I didn’t recall at the time, but when Father and I had first arrived in the city all the noise had kept me awake, now I was having trouble sleeping for the exact opposite reason. I tossed and turned all night long, I finally got to sleep, but it was probably in the early hours of the morning because when Father woke me up I felt like hadn’t got much rest at all! Fortunately we weren’t on horse back but in a cart, I had ridden a horse only a few times before in my life and it was enough for me to know that I would never be a good rider.

We made good time the rest of the way back to Monmouth and arrived that afternoon as the sun was starting to set. The town looked even smaller than before after a year in the city, however, it was home and the fact Mother was waiting for us certainly made homecoming even better.

“Geoffrey, look how you’ve grown!” She greeted me, shaking her head and hugging me tight. “I barely even recongnise you.”

I laughed. “Well, you look just the same.”

She gave me a big kiss on the cheek. “I missed you, the kitchen wasn’t the same without you there hassling me for off cuts.”

“Don’t worry, Mother, they didn’t manage to cure me of that habit.”

Mother made a show of shaking her head before patting my cheek and welcoming me home again.

Mother greeted Father with a hug as well, giving him a good natured poke in the chest. “Did you know I even started to miss your babble after a while?”

Father laughed and looked quite pleased with this information. “Distance can work many miracles it would appear.”

We didn’t stay to unpack our belongings, because we had to visit the church first, which was an easy walk from our house. Although we were a bit slower than usual because Father had to carry the new Bible along.

“They’ve been working feverishly to finish it up in time for Christmas,” Mother told us as we walked along, “originally it was going to be for Easter…then for your arrival back, but you know how workman are.”

I knew at least, the church in the capital continued to be built slowly, so slowly in fact that the official ceremony of Father and the other bishops had to be postponed because of it. The last thing the King said before our departure was to expect a missive from him one day soon recalling us to the capital so the ceremony could be performed.

The small church in Monmouth though was almost finished, the only thing it was lacking was a complete spire, but the workmen were working on it as we arrived. They waved from their perches and called down welcoming us back and asking what the capital was like. Father and I told them a few stories about our time there before the supervisor appeared from somewhere and told them to return to work and they could all visit the capital if they so wished once they had finished up here.

Mother, Father and I entered the church and it seemed a whole different world, quiet and peaceful, with pews evenly spaced along two rows up to an altar behind which hung a large cross, the symbol of the new religion.

Father immediately bowed deeply and Mother and I followed suit, although perhaps with not as much reverence before we continued along the aisle.

Mother and I waited while Father went up to the altar and lay the new Bible at the centre of it, taking a few minutes to position it just right before coming back down the steps to us, a large smile on his face.

“There we go, now it’s a proper church.” He declared with a firm nod.

“The pews are much nicer here than the chapel,” Mother answered with a sly smile. “They might not even need to polish them for a few years yet.”

Father attempted to look serious, if not dour at Mother’s teasing, but his lips quirked in a laugh instead.

It was good to be home.
Current Mood: thoughtful