17 July 2012 @ 09:51 pm
*Nano Project* Part the First - Section the Fourth - The Boy 947AD  
I did learn to swim that summer, although I was not particularly good at it, I did however learn enough that if I was to ever fall into a body of water again I’d be able to get out of it. But I would certainly never go swimming for pleasure.

Just after my twelveth birthday, some very exciting news came.

Caerleon was not the only kingdom in Albion who had turned to the Christian religion, the largest kingdom in the country (except perhaps for Moray) had also embraced it, which meant that our two kingdoms were now allies at least in a religious sense.

As a result of this, there was to be a Bishops Conference between the Bishops in Caerleon and Mercia to take place in the capital of the latter, Tamworth.

This was my chance to travel to an entirely different kingdom and see what it was like! Or at least I hoped it would be, providing I could get Mother and Father to agree to let me go.

I decided to convince Mother first, primarily because I knew she would be the hardest to convince and secondly because if I actually managed to, Father would probably agree right away.

It did not however, get off to a very good start.

“Geoffrey, I don’t even think your father should be going there, I certainly don’t want you to.”

“But Mother,” I looked up at her with my most pleading look. “It can’t be that dangerous, we’re at peace with Mercia now.”

“Oh, yes, yes, there’s been a treaty signed, but what does that mean in practice, Geoffrey? The army in Mercia is probably the size of the entire population of Caerleon and it wasn’t so long ago that skirmishes between the kingdoms was a fact of life. An army doesn’t change its way of fighting overnight, so those men are wandering around, waiting for a fight, overeager for one.”

I opened my mouth to argue, but I didn’t know what to say, I was quite young after all.

It turned out that Father was the one who came to my rescue, he entered the house at about that point and Mother turned to him.

“Your son wants to accompany you into Mercia,” she said, shaking her head. “The very idea!”

“Really, Blodeuyn, there’s no need to worry so, we will be going under a religious banner –“

Mother raised her chin. “Banners can be misread, and in the end who are the ones who are maimed and even killed? The unarmed ones!”

“We shall have a guard as well, the King is not just blinding sending us into Mercia. In fact, I would quite like to have Geoffrey’s company on this trip. You want to come don’t you?” He looked over at me and I nodded so hard I almost made myself dizzy!

“We’ll be quite safe, my dear, that I assure you.”

Mother folded her arms. “Oh, you think so, do you? That being the case, you won’t mind if I come as well?”

I’m not sure what response Mother was expecting, but Father immediately took her hands in his. “I would rather enjoy it, my dear! Leaving family behind is the worst thing about such trips. So, no I wouldn’t mind.”

I couldn’t see Mother’s face, so I’m not sure if she struggled with her answer, but after a moment she agreed.

“After all, someone has to take care of both you.” She turned to look over her shoulder and smile at me.

I leapt to my feet and immediately came over to embrace them both, I couldn’t wait!

But wait I had to, because it was another month before the travelling party arrived, it had started in the capital and picked up Bishops enroute, Father was the second last to be collected and the only one who wished to bring his family. The King’s guards seemed rather bemused to see two extra people waiting to join the party, but they didn’t argue.

The guards were mounted, but the Bishops and Mother and I were in carts, which was a relief, because it would be a long trip – two days just to get out of Caerleon! – and I was quite certain I never would have been able to go had we needed to be on horseback.

I wasn’t sure what I expecting about visiting another kingdom, but I was certainly surprised when I discovered when we stopped at an inn on the third day that we were in fact in Mercia! I suppose I had expected a new kingdom to have different foliage and animals, or something of that nature, but everything looked the same.

Although, as I discovered the next morning, the people of Mercia were quite different from those in Caerleon.

I woke up first and Mother sent me down to ask for our breakfast to be prepared so we wouldn’t be delayed in leaving, since we were on a rather tight schedule.

When I got downstairs there were two knights in the main room, I knew they were knights because they were wearing armour, which was a surprise to me. We had knights in Caerleon of course, but they rarely if ever wore armour, our fighting force saw armour as more of a hindrance than help.

I wasn’t sure what to make of them and I suppose I rather rudely stared because one them turned in my direction.

“What’s the matter, boy, never seen knight before?”

“No,” I stammered out quickly. “I was just…um….”

Everyone spoke the same language in Albion (well, mostly) and there wasn’t really that much different in accents between those who lived in south, but if one had a good ear, it was possible to pick up on it. And these knights had a good ear.

“You’re not from around here, are you, boy?” The second knight interrupted me.

“A Caerleonian I’d say,” the first one sneered at me. “The mighty lion, if that was ever an misplaced emblem.”

“Um…boar actually,” I said in a small voice.

“What?” The first knight barked at me, almost making me jump.

“The emblem of Caerleon is a boar,” I said quickly.

“Is it?” The man turned to his friend. “That’s more like it then!” He remarked and they had a great laugh.

At about that point the inn owner appeared from the back rooms and rescued me.

“What can I get you two?”

“Ah, Pedur,” the first one said cheerfully, “the regular.”

The inn owner gave a nod, and directed them to take a seat and a serving woman would bring them their meals shortly.

Once the two of them were out of earshot, the inn owner turned to me. “Morning, lad.”

“Good morning,” I replied, relieved. “Um…my mother asked me to come down and ask for breakfast for our travelling party, the Bishops,” I added, probably unnecessarily, the inn was quite small and we were possibly the only guests at that time.

If it was stupid, though, the inn owner didn’t mock me for it. “Our famous breakfast, of course, lad, won’t be long, take a seat.”

I took a seat on the other side of the room from the knights, which may have been foolish, but I really didn’t want them to speak to me again. I may have been letting Mother’s suspicions get to me, but I couldn’t help seeing them as slightly blood thirsty, just looking for an excuse to start a fight.

They were more interested in their food however, their ‘regular’, a pile of food! I wondered if it was the same as the famous breakfast because I couldn’t possibly imagine anyone being able to eat so much. I suppose having to carry around all that armour kept the knights from becoming fat, but I doubt the same could be said for our party.

Needless to say, it was a very big breakfast…and there was no way we could eat it all, however considering the size of Mercia, that was a good thing, who knew if we’d pass another in and if that was the case, we would have to hunt for lunch.

And hunting was very unreliable I found, there was never a guarantee that we’d catch enough and sometimes…well I think calling it dinner was generous…So with the leftovers we'd at least get a good meal.

Despite Mother’s fears we did not encounter any large groups of soldiers, only knights in their twos or threes, who if they had any thought of trying to attack us, the presence of our guards put them off.

I soon came to realise that there was something that marked Mercia apart from Caerleon that wasn’t just in the people.

Mercia had roads...proper roads, like the ones that the Romans had made when they had been here. They had of course made them all over Albion, but since they had left most kingdoms had allowed them to fall into disrepair or had torn them up complete to use the stones for other buildings. Mercia however, being such a large kingdom, had quarries enough to supply them with stone so the roads had not only remained, but were cared for, stretching and winding through the forests and plains.

It was quite an experience, riding on roads, it was significantly smoother for one thing, although at certain points when the road was wet, it could be rather treacherous. All the same, I much preferred travelling on proper roads than not.

Our journey was very peaceful, something Mother remarked upon often, seeing as she could still remember a time when soldiers would have been everywhere. At one point she even remarked that perhaps she had worried for nothing, which might have been tempting fate, because the very next day, our sixth past the border of Merica when we were almost to Tamworth, we finally saw a glimpse of the mighty army of Mercia.

We were approaching a crossroads, heading north when we sighted them moving west, a huge coloumn of knights all on horseback, all armoured and all looking ready to fight should they be called upon.

And no sooner did we see them, then they saw us and their leader put up his hand and barked out. “Halt!”

And we did, I instinctively grabbed Mother’s hand as the head knight lifted his visor and looked our party over. “State your business, strangers.”

Our lead guard, a man called Stefan was, I believe a man without fear, because in the face of all that metal he merely lifted his chin and said. “The Bishops of Caerleon, here at the express permission of King Ocet.” Then he added breezily, gesturing to our carts. “Can’t you see out of those helmets of yours.”

I gulped, expecting a forest of swords or who knew what to be pointed in our direction, instead the head knight lifted his visor and peered at the carts which were marked with a cross and halo.

He turned back to us with a hard look. “Anyone can put a cross on a cart cover, wouldn’t take more than an hour.”

Mother grabbed Father’s sleeve.

Stefan however, remained cool headed. “They could, but you have my word we have not, you can attack us if you like –“ I think I almost fainted at that point – “But then you’d have to answer to your king and ours and kings I’ve found are a very ill tempered lot.”

There was the sound of murmurs and creaking metal from the huge group of knights and their leader stared at us and I trembled wondering what it would be like to be run through and wishing I would never have to find out when suddenly the leader threw his head back in a loud laugh.

Mother and I stared at each other in complete confusion and I quite sure a few of the other Bishops did too. Was that some sort of strange code for his men or -?

“You have balls, my friend.” The head knight shook his head. “Only a king’s man could be so cocky.”

Stefan grinned back, seeming to find it all a rather good joke. “Or an idiot, but I can assure you, sir, I am not. You need only look at this party to know we pose no threat. We’ve even got a woman and child with us.”

The head knight looked in the direction of Mother and me, and apparently satisfied gave a nod and the men behind him immediately fell back.

“You may pass, but I should warn you, for the sake of your party’s health you should be a bit more humble when so outnumbered, my friend, we wouldn’t want anyone to die of fright.”

Stefan laughed and tapped his forehead in a salute. “I’ll keep that in mind, sir.”

The head knight gave a nod and waved us through the intersection, once we had passed he gave the signal to his men to continued their westward march. I craned my neck to see them as they passed trying to count how many there were. I couldn’t give an accurate number, but there had to be at least a hundred and probably more.

Mother was still clinging to Father’s sleeve, seemingly at a loss for words, this did not last long and soon she was hissing. “Galfridus! What did our guard think he was doing? Is he mad, or simple? He almost got us killed!”

Father patted Mother’s hand and shook his head. “Stefan is one King Caerleon’s most trusted guards, my dear, he knows what he is doing. If there was one thing I learnt during my brief stint as a soldier, it was that they respect rough talking.”

“Oh really?” Mother looked more than a little cynical at this.

Father smiled. “Really.”

At that moment, I realised something, the whole time during the confrontation Father had been completely calm. I had never considered Father a coward, but at the same time, I’d never thought of him being particularly brave either, I had to ask. “Weren’t you scared, Father, of what might have happened?”

Father reached over to toussel my hair. “No, Geoffrey, I find it best to leave these things in the hands of the Almighty, He knows best.”

I suppose that was why Father had been selected to be a Bishop, he had complete trust in God. I have to say, I couldn’t be that certain about it myself. Still, we had got through that confrontation safely, so maybe there was something to Father’s words.

An hour after passing through the crossroads, the city of Tamworth came into view and it was my first look at a foreign kingdom’s capital.

It was clear, even from a distance that the roads were not the only things, the Mercians had kept of the Romans, Tamworth itself was a testament to Albion’s past occupiers.

There were columns on nearly every building and the market wasn’t just a square as it was in Caerleon, but something more like a forum. And most noticeable of all was the fact that marble and alabaster was everywhere! I felt like I had stepped back in time. I almost fell out of the cart, I was so busy trying to take everything in.

Soon we arrived at the mansion of the Bishop of Tamworth, a marble columned building that made the Bishop of Caerleon’s mansion pale in comparison.

We all alighted from our carts, grateful to be able to stretch our legs, almost as soon as we had our arrival was greeted by a slew of some forty bishops, Mercia being about four times the size of Caerleon. It was easy to identify the Bishop of Tamworth, he was the one wearing a gold tablard and carrying his staff of office.

“Welcome, brothers from Caerleon,” he greeted us, warmly, although he looked somewhat bemused by our guard, I suppose the lack of armour and shields would be confusing to a Mercian. “I am so pleased that His Majesty was able to guarantee your safe passage here so that we could have this conference. His Holiness is very much looking forward to our report.”

I turned to ask Mother if we could go to the market, seeing as we weren’t bishops and thus really had no business being welcomed, but she put her finger to her lips before I could even open my mouth. I suppressed a sigh and waited patiently as the Bishop of Tamworth continued his – as it turned out – very long greeting, which included shaking everyone’s hand, at least until he got to Mother and me.

“This is your family, brother Galfridus?” He looked at Father.

“Indeed, brother, this is Bloudeyun, my wife and our son, Geoffrey.”

The Bishop of Tamworth, a tall and rather imposing man looked down on us with a kind smile and then made the sign of the cross over our foreheads, blessing us.

“Please feel free to treat my home as your own,” he spoke to my mother. “If you need to rest while the rest of us beginning our long discussions, just speak to the houseman.”

“Thank you, Your Grace,” My mother inclined her head and smiled.

Having greeted everyone, the Bishop of Tamworth made his way to the front doors of the mansion and invited all the bishops in and at last I was able to turn to Mother and ask about the market.

“You don’t wish to rest?” I thought I saw a gleam of jest in her eye as she asked.

I shook my head emphatically, jest or not because I really wanted to get my point across. “No, I definitely want to see the marketplace, I bet it’s five times bigger than the one at Caerleon.”

Mother laughed and took my hand. “Not as much as that, but quite a bit larger all the same. All right then, we’ll go, but stay close.”

“I will, Mother.”

And I did, for the walk to the market, but on our arrival my eye immediately caught sight of what I had been hoping to see since I’d heard of our journey to Tamworth.

A book stall!

At the same time, Mother saw a shop full of silks and other fabrics, in the opposite direction, so that we both stepped away from each other to go where our interest lay.

“It’s a book stall, Mother, please can I go look?” I knew that if I had to follow her into the fabric shop I’d be in there for ages.

Mother, could of course, accompany me to the book stall, but I was quite sure she’d rather not. She looked from the shop to the stall, which were just across the way from each other and came to a decision.

“All right, you can go look at the books, but don’t wander away, all right?”

“I won’t!”

With that she let go of my hand and I rushed over to the stall, where rows of books were lined up, some of them new, with the gold ink on their spines reflecting the sun.

I didn’t know what to look at first! Before I had a chance to so much as touch one of the books though, the stall owner came over.

“Can I help you, lad?” He seemed somewhat gruff, and suspicious, as if he didn’t trust me. I suppose that wasn’t a surprise, most boys probably wouldn’t be well behaved around books. But I was not most boys and I gave the man my most serious look.

“I was hoping to look at some of your books.”

“I see,” the man raised an eyebrow and folded his arms. “And how much money do you have with you?”

My face fell at this question. “None, sir.”

The man continued to look at me with a frown, but then the corner of his mouth turned up. “These are very expensive books, lad, I hope you understand I don’t want everyone handling them, especially if they can’t afford to buy one. But there’s no need to look like that, the library’s just up the road so-“

“The library?” He had spoken the magic words! “A public library?”

“That’s right, it’s just a few blocks up that way,” he pointed. “You can’t miss it, it’s got columns with scrolls carved into the base.”

“I...thank you!” I barely knew what to say and I almost ran off up the street! Fortunately I remembered Mother and instead dashed across the street into the fabric shop.

The owner of the shop was showing Mother some gauzy purple fabric when I entered.

“Geoffrey?” Mother turned to me in surprise. “I thought you’d still be looking at books.”

“I will be, Mother, there’s a library here! A public one, open to everyone! It’s just up the street, can I go and see it? Please?”

Mother looked uncertain for a minute, she gave the owner a quick look and at the woman’s nod looked at me with a smile. “Of course, you may, I’ll walk you there.”

I could barely keep myself from running, I couldn’t wait to see the library! I’d heard of public libraries, big buildings kept by monks who took care of the books and let anyone who wanted inside.

I wasn’t sure what sort of building I was expecting, but what I saw surpassed anything I could have imagined it. It was enormous! I saw the columns that the book stall owner had spoken of, but they were wider than me!

I couldn’t gape at them for long though, because the inside of the library was wating! Turning back to Mother we headed up the stairs into the wide, cool, high foyer. I was overcome with awe at the feeling of knowledge that radiated from the walls and the silence was almost loud in its quietness.

I looked about me at the statues that stood in the foyer, all of them towering about Mother and me. As I looked left I saw a huge desk , a man with long white hair bent over his work.

“Do you want me to come with you?” Mother asked.

I shook my head. “You can go back and look at all the fabrics, there’s probably lots of bargains to be had.”

Mother laughed and shook her head, leaning down to kiss my cheek. “You know me well, Geoffrey, I’ll come and collect when the castle bell rings the fifteenth hour.”

I nodded. “Yes, Mother.”

Once she had left the foyer I headed over to the great desk, it was even bigger than I thought it was and I had to stand on tip toes to get my face above the top of it. I waited to be noticed, but the white haired man kept working away, the quill in his hand rushing across the parchment in front of him.

Finally, I had no choice but to cough in order to get his attention.

The man finally looked up, and at the sight of me, his brow creased. “May I help you?”

“I was hoping I could see the books, please?” I very excited I cold barely keep my voice from quivering.

The man’s brows only furrowed further. “This is not a play house, boy, this is a place of learning.”

“Oh, I know,” I said quickly, beginning to worry that I might not be allowed in. “I want to read them.”

“Read?” The man’s left eyebrow shot up in a sceptical look.

“I know how,” I promised earnestly.

The man leaned back in his seat and then reached for a scrap of parchment beside his elbow. “Can you now? Well, then, read this.”

I found the request more than little strange, but I wad determined to see the books so I reached out and took the paper. It was hand written, and the writing was very messy, even worse than Father’s! However, I had practice reading Father’s less than neat writing, so I began to read aloud slowly at first, but the writing seemed to become more and more decipherable and soon I was reading fluently.

The man’s eyes widened as I did and after a moment he held up his hand. “Knock me down, you can read,” he looked rather impressed, then he got to his feet and stepped down from behind the desk, coming around it and revealing that he was hardly taller than me.

“I’m not used to young boys having any real interest in reading, lad, so one gets to be suspicious.”

“I promise I’m not here to cause any damage,” I told him, I almost put my hand over my heart. “It’s only I’ve never had the chance to see a library like this.”

The man peered at me closely again. “You’re not from Mercia are you lad?”

“You can tell?” I asked in surprise.

“Of course I can, language is my life’s work. You sound….like a Caerleonian.”

“I am,” I nodded. “I’m here with my mother and father. Father is a bishop.”

“Ah, the Bishop’s Conference,” the man nodded. “I heard about that, well, lad, I’m Bede, the Librarian here and you are?”

“Geoffrey, sir, from Monmouth.”

“Welcome to the Library of Tamworth, Geoffrey from Monmouth,” Bede seemed rather amused, his eyes twinkling.

And with that he lead me through what surely must have been the most amazing building in the kingdom. There were entire rooms devoted to certain subjects, the library was run by monks, so there was a very large religious collection, but there was also an entire room devoted to military strategy and another one to sea vessels and there was a small room devoted entirely to the architecture of Tamworth from its very earliest day.

I asked Bede if I might spend time in this particular part of the library because I still wanted to learn all I could about building.

“Of course, lad,” Bede gave me a nod and patted me on the shoulder. “I have to return to my work, but I’m sure I can trust you. Enjoy.”

And enjoy I did! Many of the books were too big for me to lift and carry to the nearest table, but there were more than enough that I was able to lift and soon I was seated at the table, poring over numerous volumes.

Unsurprisingly, I lost track of time, I didn’t even hear the fifteenth hour bell, nor the half hour bell either. I didn’t sense anything at all outside of myself until a felt a hand on my shoulder, which made me jump!

“Sorry, Geoffrey, dear, I hate to interrupt you,” it was Mother. “But as tonight’s the welcoming dinner for all the bishops I think we should be there.”

I nodded. “Of course, Mother, sorry you had to come and get me.”

Mother laughed. “Its fine, now, let’s put these books back, you wouldn’t want the librarian to refuse you entry when you come back, would you?”

No indeed!

So with Mother’s help we replaced all the books in their proper place and then left the library, I waved to Bede as I left and he gave me a nod and a smile.

As soon as we had left the building, I wished I could go back, I couldn’t wait until the next day when I could!

It was the beginning of a lifelong passion.
Current Mood: cheerful