02 March 2012 @ 08:56 pm
*NaNo Project* Part the First - Section the First - The Boy 935AD to 945AD  
I was born in the village of Monmouth almost a hundred years ago, and in those days it had very little to recommend it.

It lay in the kingdom of Caerleon, a small kingdom, but a valuable one in that it lay within a great bay, so there was not much land, but plenty of access by sea. The result was a rich kingdom, although a vulnerable one and every male, noble or not grew up knowing that one day they would have to join the ranks of the army to help in protecting the coasts and borders.

For most boys this was a rather exciting prospect, but for me not so much. I was a less than co-ordinated boy and more inclined to spending time in quiet contemplation and wishing that one day I would know how to read and write.

According to my mother I was never like the other boys, I was full of curiosity and rather than want to make up war games with other boys or collect bugs from the river, I wanted to know all about how things worked. The moment I learnt how to walk, Mother needed to keep a close eye on me because I was forever attempting to escapee our small cottage and go exploring in the village. Mother got very good at keeping an eye on me, but when I was four I managed to evade her and escape to town where I wandered about looking for something interesting to watch. Eventually I came upon the forge, where Rhys the Blacksmith worked every day making all sorts of metal objects for the people in the town and the farmers in the surrounding area as well.

The forge, of course, was off limits to children, actually it was probably off limits to anyone, but I was small and quiet so I managed to sneak in without attracting any attention. I hid behind a heavy oak chair and watched as Rhys worked. I probably could have stayed there for hours if not for the fact the blacksmith started hammering something, which lead to a lot of sparks flying every which way and one of them blew my way landing upon the sleeve of my tunic.

I immediately had visions of bursting into flame and let out the loudest yell I possibly could! Rhys almost dropped his hammer and tongs which probably would have set the workshop on fire, but he managed to drop them into the water bucket and he turned immediately in my direction where I was waving my arms about in the hope that that would prevent the spark from taking hold.

Rhys, an enormous man, was at my side in a single step and reaching out with a huge hand he extinguished the glowing spark between his thumb and forefinger, just like that!

I was so relieved that I immediately hugged Rhys around the legs and he was quite happy to let me stay and watch him at work in a more visible position, at least until my mother, who arrived in a complete state of alarm, fearing I had wandered off and fallen into the river.

On finding me, she immediately embraced me tightly, almost crying and telling me to never ever do that again.

But yes, even from a young age I wanted to broaden my horizons and something told me that being literate would be a very important step in that process.

For a long time that seemed like an impossible dream, my father was a low level deacon for the small Christian population in the area. And it was a small population, it was not for nothing that it was known as the new religion by most and it wasn’t a particular popular religion either, having come from the Romans all those centuries ago. Furthermore, because the population was so small, their deacon really didn’t need to know how to read, being well-versed in the Bible by rote was all that was expected of him.

Or at least that was the case before the king of Caerleon decided that the new religion was the one for him – I believe that had more to do with the trade possibilities that it opened – whatever the case my father suddenly found himself elevated to a bishopric, which had a whole new set of duties, chief among them the necessity of being able to read and write.

When my father was advised that he would need to learn it was the most exciting day of my young life and immediately set about, begging and pleading to be included in the lessons. I have to admit that I was an utter pest and nearly drove my poor father to despair, but in the end he relented and so at ten years of age I travelled with him to the capital, the Castle of Caerleon, which had been built with the funds of hundreds of years of trade bounty. It was quite a sight although there was general consent that the castle in the kingdom of Camelot was even more spectacular, but at that time I didn’t care which castle looked better, all I cared about was learning to read and write and Caerleon Castle was where I would do so.

Mother had remained in Monmouth and while I missed her, I think it helped me learn my lessons faster, because back at Monmouth I often spent a large part of the day with Mother, in the kitchens. Before she had married Father she had been a cook in a nobleman’s house and now as the wife of a deacon made big meals for the benefit of those in town who could not afford to eat every day. I would often pop into the kitchen of our house throughout the day and pester Mother to give me a taste of whatever she was making. She always said I was distracting her from her very important duties and making a pest of myself besides, but eventually she would relent and I’d get something delicious to tide me over until I felt the need to visit the kitchen again. I didn’t always go to the kitchen to get food however, I’d often go there just to talk with Mother, so not having her close by was unusual. But the knowledge that the sooner I learnt my lessons the sooner we would be able to return to Monmouth was a great incentive. Soon I was outstripping Father in them, a fact that left him quite amused.

“I do believe I’m going to have to make you my clerk, Geoffrey,” he would say, shaking his head with a laugh. “I don’t think I’ll ever figure out the writing.”

Father’s writing was indeed atrocious and he struggled to read. Our tutor, a dour, sour faced old man often remarked that it was easier for children to pick up such things. That didn’t stop him from bemoaning Father’s problems with learning. Father was a very intelligent man and this rankled him and in turn made his learning even more difficult. He never did get the hang of writing although he did eventually learn how to read quite well.

While Father and I lived in the capital we stayed at the castle as guests of the king, who like most of his ancestors before him, was called Caerleon. He had a son, also called Caerleon, who was about my age and I can say with authority we were not playmates. Caerleon the Younger was a brutish boy, who longed for the day when he could begin his training and start running about with battle axes. The King was extremely proud of his son and as a result had commissioned a special all wooden battle axe for him. It was apparently not a dangerous weapon, the edges not being sharp, but I assure you it was more than capable of inflicted damage upon someone.

That someone turned out to be me.

It began on a fine day in spring, I had come to enjoy going on walks throughout the city, at first the place had been quite overwhelming, but there was much to see and hear that I quickly began to enjoy it.

I never interacted with other children all that much, however, which I suppose made me stand out and piqued Caerleon the Younger’s interest. And unfortunately, his interest was nothing a peaceful child like me wished to have.

I was walking towards the new church that was being built when he appeared in the middle of the road in front of me, hands on hips, the wooden axe hanging off his belt.

“Hey, Mudmouth,” that was as his extremely witty name for me, whenever he had his friends around there would be peals of laughter, forced if you ask me. “What do you think your doing?”

I gestured about me. “Walking down the street.” I found that it was best to keep things simple when it came to young brawlers like Caerleon.

“And why are you doing that, should you be squirming around like the worm you are?”

I honestly have no idea why I was so offensive to Caerleon, it was not as if I had done anything to him, I hadn’t even noticed him for the first few months I was in the city. Then one day we met in one of the corridors of the castle, and the young boy had taken an immediate dislike to me, asking me for my name with a snarl and when I told him, he immediately came up with the ‘Mudmouth’ epithet.

I had avoided him since then, but now here we were face to face and the road was narrow, it was more of an alleyway really, so there wasn’t much of a chance of me escaping the confrontation.

“I was merely going to visit the church,” I offered further explanation even though I didn’t really think it would make my situation any better.

“The church,” Cearleon sneered. “You would go there rather than the training grounds, Mudmouth, you’re a little whiny crybaby aren’t you?”

“If you say so,” I had decided that arguing wasn’t going to get me anywhere in this situation and I’d rather get out of it without bruising if possible. In the past I had indeed managed to escape from such scrapes unscathed, but today turned out differently.

Caerleon stepped forward, hand on the handle of his wooden axe. “You admit it? Don’t you have any pride?”

“I don’t wish to argue with you, if you would just let me –“

Cearleon’s face twisted angrily and the wooden axe was in hand almost as though by magic. “You’re not going anywhere Mudmouth, you’re going to stand here and fight, like a man.”

At that point I held my hands up in a placating gesture. “I have no issue with you, your highness, I really don’t think it –“

“You don’t, well that’s too bad, because I have a problem with you. Arm yourself.”

I blinked at him in utter confusion, arm myself? With what? I was in the middle of an alleyway! Not that arming myself would have done any good.

“I’ve never used a weapon, it would be grossly un-“

I was interrupted again, but this time it wasn’t by words, but a blow. A blow that seemed to come out of nowhere and brought me to my knees, clutching at my left temple, moaning.

My vision blurred and it took a moment before I could see anything at all and the first thing that appeared to me was the wooden axe, lying in front of me. Caerleon, the brute had thrown it at me!

I carefully raised my eyes expecting to see him at least looking horrified, but no, he had a huge smirk on his face. He looked proud of himself! Proud that he had thrown a wooden object at unarmed me!

“Well, is that it? You’re not going to get up.” Caerleon’s voice grated even more than usually. He bent down and retrieved the wooden axe, looking it over carefully. “There’s blood on it!”

I dropped my hands from my throbbing temple and stared at them, they were indeed bloodstained.

I wasn’t about to get an apology from Cearleon however, he was still smirking and he gave a nasty chuckle, stepping forward and grabbing at my cloak. I tried to pull away, but my throbbing head prevented any swift movement and suddenly there was a tearing noise and Caerleon stepped back he had a portion of my cloak – a present from my mother – in his hand.

Cearleon wiped off the head of his wooden axe with the material and then tossed it down in front of me.

“Do yourself a favour Mudmouth, go back to your hole, crybabies like you have no place here.”

He didn’t bother waiting for me to give a reply, not that there would have been one. He had decided to hate me and it was clear I would have to watch my step for the rest of my time in the city. If that was indeed possible, he was after all the prince.

It was some time before I was able to get to my feet however and even when I did I was still unsteady on my feet, leaning against the wall waiting for the spinning to stop.

Once it did I managed to pick up my discarded piece of cloak, which I used to dab at my temple. There was definitely a wound, but the blood wasn’t flowing freely.

I wondered if I should continue on to the church, who knew where Caerleon the Younger had gone, I certainly didn’t want a second run in.

I had heard that the sight of the church being built was quite spectacular so I decided to continue on that way. I liked to study all things and architecture was something I hadn’t had a chance to do living in a small village like Monmouth.

So, I continued on my way, the fresh air did my head good, although I ended up attracting attention as I headed through the market square, although I didn’t realise it until an elderly lady came over with a tray of sweetmeats in her hands.

“Young man, you’re bleeding!” She looked at me worry creasing her brows. “What happened? Your cloak… Were you set upon by bandits?”

That made me smile a little, I was quite certain that had that being the case I would have been in far worse shape. I went to shake my head, then thought better of it and said no.

“Brawling with another boy?” She immediately looked at me reproachfully. “You youngsters, always so ready to come to blows. Look where it’s gotten you.”

“I didn’t actually do any fighting,” I told her, but I don’t think she believed me.

All the same, she very kindly offered me one of the sweetmeats and then went and got a wet cloth for me to wipe my face with.

“Well, it’s nothing serious at least,” she said as I handed the cloth back. “But let me tell you something, little one, using your fists and butting heads may seem like the easiest way to settle an argument, but often it isn’t the right way. Use your brains and you’ll get much further in life.”

So, evidentently she didn’t believe, but I did at least get a sweetmeat out of the deal.

And I would perhaps go so far as to say that the wound to my temple was worth it to see the church under construction. I even managed to speak to the head workman who explained to me how arches worked. Or at least he attempted to, I didn’t quite understand it, but I was only young at the time, plus after a while there my head began throbbing. I had wanted to do more walking, but instead I decided to chance my luck and return to the castle where father and my tiny rooms were located.

I didn’t run into Caerleon again, but as I walked through the door my father looked up from where he was sitting and was immediately on his feet.

“Geoffrey, what happened to you?” He hurried to my side and bent slightly so he could look more closely at the wound. “When did this happen?”

“A few hours ago,” I didn’t really feel like being fussed over, I’d much rather lie down. Once Father got onto something however...

“A few hours? Why didn’t you return here immediately? It might get infected. Come over here, I’ll put some rosewater on it.”

I started making excuses. “I’m all right, Fa-“

But it was too late for that, Father has all ready pulled me across the room to the table, where he all but forced me to sit down.

“Who did this to you?” He wanted to know as he went hunting about for the rosewater.

I considered my options. Father wasn’t a very imposing man as far as stature went, actually, he was rather short, but he was more than capable of being stubborn. And nothing made him more stubborn than the idea of an injustice being committed and really what the prince had down to me was completely unjust. However, it was the prince and I certainly didn’t want to get my father in trouble with the king, Father’s tenacity impressed people in Monmouth well enough, but I didn’t think King Caerleon would appreciate a subject lecturing him.

On the other hand, I wasn’t a liar by nature. In fact, I was pretty much useless at it. On the few occasions I had attempted to lie outright and not just by omission I had been caught out almost immediately. And once I was found out I’d have to confess and that would cause even more trouble.

“It was Prince Caerleon,” I got straight to the point.

Father almost dropped the bottle of rosewater over my head. “The Prince? You fought the prince, Geoffrey –“

“I didn’t do anything!” I protested. “I was just walking down to see the new church. He’s been picking on me since I met him. He threw an axe at me.”

“An axe?” Father looked utterly horrified.

“That stupid wooden axe he carries around all the time,” I grumbled.

Father set the bottle of rosewater down and sat in the chair across from me. “Geoffrey, you can’t antagonise the heir to throne.”

“I didn’t!” I said in annoyance again. “I was just minding my own business. He doesn’t like me, Father, I don’t know why.”

Father rubbed his forehead then spoke the words I dreaded hearing. “Well, obviously we need to speak to the King about this.”

“No,” I shook my head. “That’ll just make things worse and the king will be angry at you.”

Father raised his eyebrows. “Why would he be angry with me?”

“For speaking against his son and telling him what to do, kings don’t like that.”

Father chuckled. “Well, maybe not in the bedtime stories Mother and I tell you, but real kings swear an oath to judge fairly and impartially.”

“But Caerleon…the younger one is always talking about all the praise his father gives him, I think he’s about to be made a general in the army –“

Father reached out and patted my hand. “Geoffrey, the prince is merely boasting. I will of course make sure not to criticise the way the heir to the throne is being brought up, but he should at least be made aware of the situation.”

I did my best to try and get Father to change his mind, but it was a hopeless case. I could only hope that Father was right and that the King wouldn’t decide to have us both set to the stocks or maybe even thrown out of the city, we were still doing our lessons, if we had to leave now we’d never be literate! And that was far worse than getting a wooden axe thrown at me, at least in my opinion.
 
 
Current Mood: nostalgic