Pontigny, France, 1211 AD.
He saw the murder whenever he shut his eyes. He lived the dying, he saw it from every angle and in time he even smelt the blood. Every time his eyelids fell he was transported, he was there, fixed to the spot. His throat tightened and he could not breathe without gasping. He would have hidden behind a supporting pillar of the Cathedral had one been close enough to conceal him. Instead Stephen stood transfixed, in the open where all the players in the drama could see his horror stretched face, looking on as the deed was in the doing.
There was a man in long robes kneeling, being overwhelmed by rowdy drunken men who savagely struck at him until blood splattered both clothing and masonry. His last movement slumping to his right was intercepted by one final swipe from a flashing blade as it cut into the skull removing the crown of his head, both bone and brain. This was the fatal blow that left him bedraggled in pools of dark blood on the stone of Canterbury Cathedral. The outrage became the most imagined crime in Europe as millions of minds reconstructed the last moments of the Archbishop Thomas slain in his own church by King Henry’s own knights. However, nobody rich or poor imagined it every time they closed their eyes; they were occasional onlookers but not ever enslaved by the event. Only Stephen Langton ceaselessly reran the martyrdom and whatever came next. The sequel to the slaying always commenced the same way, regardless of the plethora of endings that might later develop.
Just as the slicing blow was about to sever the tip of Thomas Beckett’s skull another figure bejewelled with magnificent clothes jauntily emerged from the shadows. In response to his chilling presence the flashing blade juddered and froze in mid-air. In fact, every voice fell silent, all motion stilled. Even Beckett’s slumping body seized up at an unnatural and unsustainable angle, his eyes gazing heavenwards.
King John, a man of medium height, long straight brown hair, a trimmed beard and eyes that glistened with excitement looked on at the imminent murder and chuckled.
‘I’m oh so thrilled, reliving this,’ he enthused. ‘My father Henry had this arranged and got away with it, he did. True, he had to shuffle on his knees a bit, in a hair shirt while monks whipped him, but he was well padded. It was a simple gesture of remorse, a massage, a price well worth paying for the life of Beckett.’
John sighed. ‘All right, it’s a real pain that Beckett got made into a saint.’
Despite John’s presence, Langton’s vision tunnelled into the face of the dying man. To his dismay the saint’s face seemed to metamorphose into his own.
‘It’ll be me next,’ he uttered, almost immediately hoping the king had not heard him.
The king had an apple in his hand that he tossed in the air and caught again as he sauntered towards the frozen sword and as he did so he broke Langton’s line of vision. Now Langton’s eyes were on the king who was reaching forward to slice his apple in half on the cruel blade.
‘My, that is so, so sharp,’ he declared. ‘Don’t run your finger down the blade my beloved cardinal.’ He stood behind the sword and tilted its trajectory slightly downwards. ‘I always feel the blow was a bit of a glancing one, slightly disappointing. He really deserved to head off to the next world in a better way. A more full blooded blow crashing through his temple so that his eyes literally pop out and roll around the floor a bit….. Oh, and him still being able to see his own death, that would be my idea for a barefaced traitor’s exit.’ He looked at Langton in a querying way. ‘I’ll bear it in mind for you, I promise.’
‘You can’t reach me. I’m in France, how can you kill me,’ the Archbishop objected with a boldness that surprised himself. Immediately he wished he hadn’t asked such a stupid question.
‘Well, there’s the rub,’ said John and he began smiling and beckoning Stephen forward with his finger. ‘I may have to allow you to come into my kingdom to gain the prize of dispatching you from it. I’ll make that pleasure happen. But pity me one saint is too many, another by God’s teeth is just gut wrenching. If I get the chance…. well hang the consequences, I’m minded to do it, your family can go too. I might even be able to get to them first.’
He took two steps away and then suddenly lunged at Langton with an outstretched arm. Stephen saw it too late and was still raising his forearm to protect himself when John stopped short. There was no weapon in the royal hand. John laughed and wagged his finger at Stephen.
‘Caught with your defences down Cardinal? Only saved by me being empty handed. You’ll need to be luckier than that. When you least expect it that’s when I’ll strike.’
At this point in Stephen Langton’s imaginings, a very real commotion could be heard in the corridor outside the room where he was kneeling in prayer. A rising crescendo of the voices of two men began to drag Langton back into the present. The figure of King John began to fade from Stephen’s mind.
‘You will stand before God for judgement,’ Langton shouted unconvincingly after John as he retreated into nothingness.
John stopped for a moment coming back into focus, glared ‘and you as well cardinal, I will strive to give God an opportunity, soon.’
With this the noisy interruption John and the other players instantly vanished.
The door handle rattled as someone grasped it hurriedly. Then the door burst open swinging wildly back on its hinges, to and fro. Solitary footsteps clipped quickly across the square red and yellow patterned tiles. Stephen continued in prayer and carelessly did not glance back to see who the intruder was. The next moment something struck him between the shoulder blades and he was sent sprawling headlong onto the floor, his hood flying up so that he could see nothing at all.
The King John of Stephen’s imaginings was simply that, just a phantom, an imagined monarch. The real human John of warm pink flesh and cold blue blood was far more terrifying. The king of course had his favourites and they did relax with him and some may even have liked him or convinced themselves that they did. Such men owed everything to John, their castles, their wealth, power; it had all come to them through doing their master’s bidding. One such favourite was William de Braose who was richly rewarded for a most important piece of service. When John came to the throne the rightful heir was his nephew Arthur, a teenage boy. The rival claims to the throne were effectively settled when William de Braose captured the hapless youth.
Arthur’s existence remained something of a problem until one day during an escape, he carelessly fell to his death. John was happy, so happy that he rewarded William lavishly. Perhaps however, every time John saw William he was unsettled. It was not that John was developing a conscience, far from it; rather, William knew a bit too much. Many fingers privately pointed at Uncle John for the boy’s death. Whatever the truth, William De Braose and his wife Maud knew the detail of what had happened, but they were keeping their lips sealed tight.
Gradually a little difficulty began to open up between the King and William which became almost a rift. William tried to patch things up with John and it looked as if it had been achieved but for the problem that the King wanted William and Maud’s oldest son as a hostage. In the end, that too was agreed and it looked as if things might revert to being just as happy as they had previously been.
The day came for the king’s men to collect the young man but it seemed that Maud was not party to the arrangement. The castle courtyard was full of the king’s knights awaiting the guarantor of William De Braose’s loyalty, the heir himself, the oldest son. Suddenly Maud’s sealed lips began to quiver and then unravel as the truth disastrously seeped out into the air. She blurted out that she would never deliver her children into the hands of a king who had murdered his own nephew. The king’s men heard it, the household heard it and pretty soon everyone who had ears throughout the realm had heard it. The king’s knights hurriedly left without their captive and swiftly reported the non-compliance.
The end result of this was that whilst William de Braose managed to flee, his wife and eldest son, also a William, were captured by the king. John in problem solving mood devised a cunning solution which made sure that although Maud might talk as much and loudly as she liked, no one would hear the outrageous accusation again.
He walled-up mother and child in a high tower in Corfe Castle and there mother and son with nothing to eat or drink, slowly died of hunger and thirst. In such cases people desperately drink each other’s urine in order to survive. In this case it simply prolonged the agony as their lives dripped away.
In the complete darkness one day or night, for they could not tell which was which, one heard the other die. The next breath, although listened for simply didn’t come. Then on another night or day, or, perhaps the same night or day, whatever period of time later, the survivor succumbed to the same awful death. No one heard that there was no longer anything to hear.
Meanwhile John continued his reign of terror in the bright light of day, with wine, women and wonderful food including his favourite indulgence, preserved peaches. Church bells were silent as the Pope had placed the country under interdict because of the King’s refusal to allow Stephen Langton into the country. Maud and her son William were now dead and the months continued to roll on by with the Archbishop sitting in exile at Pontigny Cistercian Monastery. However, now he was neither sitting nor kneeling, having been rudely struck on the back by an assailant, he was sprawling face downwards on the patterned tiles.
Stephen expected some other blow to fall as he twisted to see who his assailant was. Behind him, standing, was a tall man in the prime of life, with dark straight hair and a course jet black beard. Well dressed, he stood impassive with his arms folded.
‘Why the hell did you do that, you idiot?’ Stephen demanded scrambling to his feet.
‘Because you deserved it,’ the man replied quietly.
‘I was at prayer,’ Stephen angrily asserted brushing down his left arm and then holding his right elbow.
‘You’re not hurt’ the man declared shaking his head and waving a hand dismissively. ‘It was only a gentle push from my foot, if you’re hurt, it’s you’re your pride that’s hurt. You need to do something about that.’
‘I’m going to do something about you,’ Stephen retorted, no longer holding his elbow but moving closer to the man’s face.
Unmoved, the man replied, in what seemed to be a rehearsed speech, ‘I hear you intend to become a monk, brother. You are dead to earthly passions such as anger, covetousness, lust, jealousy and brotherly hatred. I thought I’d do you a favour and test your sincerity out a bit.’
By now Stephen was really up close up to his brother, face to face with an expression of half suppressed rage.
‘So Simon, you’ve been told, that’s why you’re here? Talk me out of it, will you? Well it won’t work. I’m serious.’
At this point Stephen stepped back away from the confrontation.
‘And your excuse for this pitiful surrender to evil is what exactly, my brother?
‘I have no wish to die. I have given enough; I’ve trained people to carry on the work of God’s justice, even you, at Paris, although you’ll understand I’m largely relying on others, not you to any extent. Well, not at all. I have had a wife and my children are grown or almost; they do not need me anymore. That’s it!
‘And the rest of us can just go drown in a sea of sorrow, can we? Simon replied holding his nose in the air and haughtily looking down on Stephen. ‘While our relatives and friends suffer at the hands of that tyrant, you are going to spend your time praying with a gang of endangered monks in the tranquillity of France. You’re rubbish at prayer anyway, spend most of your time daydreaming I should think. You’re stuck in your rut, an eldest son telling everybody what to do. I can’t see you being able to stop. What are you going to do, become an Abbot? Will that fulfil you?
‘No but it will keep me alive. I don’t feel death will fulfil me either. The world is bigger than me. I have sat here for four years unable to get into England, an archbishop in name only,’ Stephen replied his voice quivering with emotion. ‘I could sit here another four years but what good would that do?’
‘Listen brother,’ Simon said pushing Stephen back a step by the shoulder. ‘We are all dependent on you.’
Stephen went to reply but as he did so his brother tapped him on the cheek.
‘Don’t do that,’ Stephen retorted.
‘Listen,’ Simon replied tapping his brother on the cheek again. ‘You are not dead to the earthly passions of this world. I have followed you half way up a mountain. Are you going to abandon me there?
‘Yes absolutely I will. I am not going to die like Beckett. I have no sainthood wish. I am afraid. No, not afraid just plain terrified. Don’t ask it of me.’
Despite the depth of feeling and its obvious sincerity, a harder slap now landed full on the archbishop’s face.
‘Have you thought if you step down they might agree on me as your replacement at Canterbury?’
‘Ah! Don’t be ridiculous.’ Stephen spluttered with a laugh. ‘Even I wouldn’t make you my successor, or promote you come to that. They certainly won’t.’ As Stephen replied another slap delivered with some feeling landed on his other cheek. He seized Simon’s clothing round his brother’s throat. Simon responded doing the same to Stephen. Their faces or at least their foreheads met.
‘Dead to the world are we brother?’
At some point in the ensuing tussle the two of them toppled over and they continued wrestling on the floor. Whenever possible, Simon continued provoking his brother.
Over and over they rolled with an occasional blow landing although most missed.
‘I’ve got a woman with me,’ Simon declared.
‘A new paramour?’
‘No, I thought I’d introduce you to her, Elowise a widow from the De Vere’s. We’re dining with her tonight.’
‘I’m not interested.’
‘You haven’t seen her.’
‘I’m not seeing her.’
‘You can’t snub De Vere.’
‘I won’t talk.’
‘Fascinating. No Children. Herbs, medicines, love potions. Told her you loved all that. She’s very keen to discuss with you.’
‘Know nothing about them.’
‘Well, find a monk who can teach you before supper.’
‘I’m finishing my days here.’
It was unclear how the struggle would have developed or ended but at that moment the two of them were rudely showered with cold water. The two wrestlers uttered cries of disgust and clumsily helped each other to their feet, although it might have been possible that they were hindering each other.
A young fair haired man of about eighteen stood before them with an empty water bottle.
‘You’re as bad as each other. When are you going to behave like grown men and stop this?’
‘Elias,’ Stephen said moving to hug him.
‘No father,’ said Elias you are wet.
‘Well you did it,’ his father replied.
‘It was a private conversation we were having,’ said Simon shaking water off his hands.
‘Hmm. If John could see the two of you now he wouldn’t be worried at all,’ Elias asserted earnestly.
‘Alright we’re sorry, aren’t we Simon? We will behave very appropriately from now on.’
‘I doubt it,’ Elias replied.
‘I need to get changed for dinner,’ said Simon tugging at his wet clothing.
‘Wait, awhile Simon,’ said Elias motioning with his hand. ‘Father while you found it necessary to fight Simon, a beggar man arrived from England asking for you.’
‘A beggar man? What would an English beggar man be doing in France?’
‘Well you can ask him. I left him on the floor outside, smells pretty disgusting. I couldn’t hold my breath long enough. I had to breathe through the mouth’
‘Then, you should have thrown the water over him not us,’ suggested Simon.
Elias went back to the door and after some minutes had passed returned with a shambles of a man. His head was dirty, his clothes were filthy with rips and holes. His face was partly hidden by an unkempt dark grey beard. A foul smell announced his proximity before he got within touching distance. Elias supported the man as best he could, as the odd couple stumbled across the tiles. It was a close call as to whether Elias would succeed in keeping the man upright or if the dead weight of the man would manage to drag Elias down. As they got closer to the brothers, the man spoke for the first time.
‘Braose, it is you, isn’t it?’
Simon quickly drew up a chair and together they collapsed William de Braose into it.
‘What happened?’ Stephen asked, still shocked at the man’s dismal appearance.
‘I escaped…..like this. I’ve no money, I haven’t eaten in days,’ Braose replied in a gasping voice.
‘We’ll get food,’ said Stephen.
‘I must tell you, both of you. He killed my wife and son. He entombed them alive. May the Devil take the man. The king is a pestilence on the people of England. We are all going to die in our own way. My other children are still there waiting.’
With this said William dissolved into tears and groans becoming less and less coherent. At times he lapsed into a semi-conscious state with his arms hanging limp by his side.
‘He ordered me to blind Arthur but I wouldn’t do it. So he had him killed. At first he rewarded me for capturing him but after he kept asking me, “How can I trust you?”
Once again De Braose’s speech became obscure.
‘Every weapon be upon him,’ was the last utterance they could make out.
The brothers in the end decided it would be better for him to drink, eat nourishing food and retire to bed. His full story could wait until the morning when he had regained his senses. So once more, Elias breathing through his mouth with his head turned away to one side, had the pleasure of helping William from the room. He fed him and William ate greedily as only a starving man can, with the food washed down with gulps of very welcome beer. Admittedly it was poor quality beer as Elias reckoned that William was in too bad a state to notice what the beer was like. Indeed De Braose made no complaint. That done Elias put him to bed in a small room with a window. Elias opened it wide for air because William still hadn’t washed.
Either the shock of the water or the greater trauma of William de Braose’s appearance left the brothers in a less hostile mood towards each other.
‘I’ll have some dry clothes sent to you,’ said Stephen.
‘Good,’ said Simon. ‘You’ll join the lady Elowise and I for supper?
‘Of course, I wouldn’t miss it. I think they caught some pike earlier. Pike and Walnuts suit you?
‘Perhaps with a cream and cilantro sauce,’ suggested Simon beginning to relish the prospect of a tasty meal.
‘Yes with a little mustard, possibly accompanied by baked apples and fig. I’ll see what the kitchen can do.
The kitchen turned out to be very accomplished in both rich food and choice Burgundy red wine. It was about seven o’clock when the three of them sat down in a very comfortable room in the abbot’s house. The whitewashed walls were covered with patterns of climbing plants in bloom. Pale shades of white, yellow, brown and orange made the room bright.
Elowise was a tall slim woman in her mid-twenties with wavy brown shoulder length hair which gleamed as she moved and the candles flickered. She wore a green dress corded with gold braid around the waist and with lace around the neck. She was very beautiful. Being an unmarried widow she had no means of support, she was under pressure in England to marry quickly. If she failed to find a candidate promptly her relatives would require her to marry or get support from someone of their choosing. She was in a sad and difficult predicament.
Stephen pulled out the chair furthest from his for Elowise to sit on.
‘Thank you brother,’ said Simon, promptly sitting in the chair. ‘Elowise do come and sit here between us,’ and he pulled out the neighbouring chair. The three of them sat opposite an open log fire, the light of the flames flickering against the lightness of the decorated walls. The aroma of freshly baked coarse bread was the first to fill the air.
After some initial introductions and comments about the plates of food, Elowise attempted to draw Stephen into conversation.
‘I understand, my Lord Archbishop that you are greatly interested in medicines, and herbs,’ she enquired in a very precise voice.
‘I regret my Lady I am going to be a sad disappointment to you this evening, for I know nothing of those things and I haven’t anything at all to say on that subject. Sometimes my brother has difficulty in expressing himself clearly and he may have inadvertently misinformed you,’ said Stephen rather dismissively and he turned his eyes downward meeting the eyes of the pike staring back.
‘I’m so relieved,’ said Elowise effusively, ‘for I know very little about them either.’
At this point Simon coughed on his wine and Stephen thought his brother was laughing.
‘I wish to talk about more serious matters,’ Elowise continued. ‘My late husband…well obviously it wasn’t a regular marriage for he was a priest…..we had no children and he would talk tirelessly to me. We lived by the great lakes, very remote, beyond Westmorland and that was just as well because he would express his opinions too freely. Some people kept well clear of him not because they didn’t agree with him but because they always expected my husband to be in trouble with the king’s men.’
Stephen nodded but didn’t respond, not wishing to enter into the conversation, so Elowise continued her monologue.
‘Unlike him I was very discreet; I never repeated anything he said. He knew about you. He would say, “your relative, the Canon from York, he says things and people listen.”’
Stephen looked surprised at this revelation but she continued.
‘I’d say to him, “He’s a very distant relative, probably doesn’t even know that I exist.” I think he was always expecting Earl de Vere to turn up on our doorstep but I am only a natural child of the De Veres.’
‘A bastard,’ Stephen said.
‘Yes just that my Lord Archbishop,’ replied Elowise with annoyance in her voice. ‘As you say, a bastard. Look, I really can’t keep calling you my Lord Archbishop all night. As you are about to become a monk and everyone will get to call you Brother Stephen, can I just call you Stephen?
‘If you must my Lady’, Stephen replied with mixed feelings. To his consternation he was beginning to enjoy listening to her, seeing her lips move, watching her body move with the rhythm of its breathing. He resolved not to enjoy being with her, in fact he resolved this, a number of times. He was distracted every time she tossed her head and her hair moved. She must have had a crick in her neck to keep moving it so often, he thought to himself. He rarely looked directly at her but his peripheral vision responded to every movement she made.
‘My husband would say, “I’d ask that, de Langton two questions: if an evil man seizes the throne and has himself declared king, should his people overthrow him?” What answer would you have given to him my….. Stephen.’ She looked at him full with eyes that seemed to burn.
Stephen was startled by this question but his face was fully towards her and he kept it there, gazing back at her. It was all the more shocking that the question came from a woman.
‘I would have told him,’ said Stephen, ‘that to talk of deposing kings is a very dangerous thing to contemplate and in any case a last resort. He should be careful who he speaks to.’
‘Oh,’ said Elowise pursing her lips, ‘What a pity I think he would have been very disappointed with that answer.’
Stephen’s left hand was resting on the table and she brought her right hand down firmly onto his, as a kind of smack, but it wasn’t really a smack. She left it lingering there for some moments. He thought to move his hand away in response to this unwarranted contact, but he delayed and she pulled her hand back first.
‘Maybe he would have fared better with the second question?’ suggested Simon unhelpfully.
‘He wanted to say, “Master Langton I understand in the scriptures at one time the Israelites had no kings. Should we submit to these Angevin kings, have different kings or no kings at all?”’
This led to a very awkward silence.
‘You can speak freely Archbishop, after all if I repeated anything, people would say she’s only a woman, we can’t rely on foolish talk.’
‘It’s a difficult matter,’ Stephen began.
‘She interrupted, ‘It’s alright Stephen, you are allowed to disappointment me with your reply, even if it is a second time.
Stephen looked at her with a mixture of annoyance and admiration. He began again.
‘Too often you mean the opposite of what you say,’ he accusingly remonstrated with her. ‘Kings will oppress you. They will demand your sons fight in their armies and spill blood. A King will make your sons toil in his fields. A king will take your daughters for his pleasure and make them work in the kitchens. You will complain bitterly.’
‘Samuel chapter six,’ Simon stated. ‘My brother has divided the Bible into chapters, so that you know where to look.’
‘Chapter eight,’ Stephen corrected him.
‘Chapters was my idea,’ said Simon convincingly.
Stephen didn’t reply.
‘This pike is really good,’ said Simon.
Stephen now began to speak with authority and passion, ‘Whoever the rulers are, be they kings, emperors or men with other titles they must rule under the anointing of God, do justice and uphold the law. If this is not the case then their rule is not of God and is conceived in sin. We need to rid ourselves of these Angevins their dynasty is not of God. We may get a different king or no king but we must have the law of the land maintained. We cannot endure arbitrary rule. Without the law there is no freedom. The king is subject to the law, or he is no king and we shall withdraw allegiance to him.’
At this point Simon broke into long applause, ‘And replace him, you forgot the last bit as usual.’
Stephen glanced at his brother who nodded his head in response.
‘Who is going to make the king obey the laws of the land? Who will lead us?’ Simon demanded bringing his fist down onto the table.
The two of them both looked at Stephen
‘No,’ Stephen replied.
‘Oh by the blood of angels,’ Simon spoke through gritted teeth. ‘Will you look William de Braoise full in the face and tell him you will not help him or the people of England?’ Simon rose to his feet emphasising the challenge. ‘Will you promise that he will hear it from your own lips, that he won’t hear it from somebody else?’
‘I will,’ said Stephen half rising from his seat but sitting down again.
‘If you can’t bring yourself to say it, will you fight on until we win?’ Simon pressed.
‘Yes,’ Stephen replied lingering over the word, ‘but that won’t happen, he will hear it from my lips tomorrow morning.’
‘That is a terrible commitment, you have made. Be minded that I know you brother better than you know yourself; what you are capable of and what you are not capable of.’
The conversation mellowed but lasted long into the night as long as the wine held out. At some point Eloise left the two men who had begun to reminisce about England and their childhood near Horncastle, Lincolnshire. It was late when the brothers finally went to their beds.
Despite the lengthy business of the previous day the brothers still rose in time for breakfast. Having eaten some bread and cheese they went to the room where William de Braose was sleeping. When they entered the room he was still asleep with his face towards the window. Stephen had entered the room first, followed by Simon. Stephen felt very uncomfortable; he gently clasped William by the shoulder and shook him before taking a step backwards. He began speak in an awkward loud voice which belied his lack of confidence.
William, I am greatly saddened by your loss and the suffering of so many of our people. The King thrusts me away with his hands. There comes a point where we have to recognise that there is nothing that we can do. I have after wrestling with myself, reached that point. I know what you are going to say, so don’t say it. I beg for your understanding, I am going to resign as archbishop, I’m not coming back.
William made no response to this appeal keeping his back turned on Stephen.
‘For heaven’s sake William,’ said Stephen grabbing him by the shoulder again and pulling him round to face them. As Stephen did this William’s expressionless face came into view.
He was dead.
‘Oh, no,’ said Stephen
‘Surely you must have realised he was dead when you touched him before?’ Simon said in astonishment.
‘Of course not. Do you suppose I enjoy giving an account of myself to a corpse? He couldn’t hear a word I said.’
‘He didn’t hear it from your lips and you promised that he would,’ Simon said quickly.
‘This is no time to…’ Stephen began with a dismayed expression on his face but he was instantly interrupted by his brother.
‘This is precisely the time,’ said Simon seizing the opportunity. Braose has delivered his message to you. You gave an undertaking. Are you going to break faith with your own words? Are you going to cheat the dead and blame them into the bargain?’
‘You’re enjoying this too much Simon’, said his brother. ‘Alright,’ Stephen said throwing his arms in the air and then bringing them down to clasp his own face. I see I have no choice, we will fight on, no turning back whatever the cost. May God deliver me from the king’s hand. May he deliver us both. What a terrible day, it seems my life will be squeezed dry.’ He shook his head. ‘I suppose things can’t get any worse.’
Stephen went over to William’s body and began to lay it out straight. As he did so he glanced out the window, but this quickly became a stare.
‘Things just got worse,’ he said and pushing past Simon he started rushing down the stairs. He moved so fast that his boots were clipping the edges of the steps and it was an accomplishment that he managed to stay on his feet at all. A friendly wall that he bounced off was of great assistance. From the stairs he rushed into the courtyard where two figures were mounted on horseback. There was a man in front on a rather careworn horse and on a much more impressive animal behind was Elowise seated side saddle. Stephen shouted:
‘Wait,’ and rushing forward grabbed the reigns of the horse.
‘What’s the matter?’ said Elowise.
‘You can’t leave,’ said Stephen.
‘What? Why can’t I go?’
‘Because I don’t want you to go,’ said Stephen.
To Elowise things didn’t seem to be becoming any clearer. The impassioned man before her was an archbishop about to transfer to a simple monastic life. It seemed very surreal and it was certainly confusing.
‘My Lord you are about to become a monk, are you not?’ She questioned.
‘Ridiculous! Merciful God you didn’t believe that did you? That was just the wine talking,’ Stephen explained.
‘I’ve a lot of experience of wine talking both with myself and others, no one says I’m going to do something really outrageous. I know, this is really wild, I’ll become a monk and shave my hair off’.
‘My Lady are you coming or not?’ Stephen demanded
‘I want a full explanation,’ Elowise retorted, ‘but I haven’t got time to tarry for one.’
‘There’s no time for a full explanation,’ Stephen said and being the side of the horse where both her legs were he simply pulled her off the horse and started carrying her back into the abbots house.
‘Put me down now,’ she protested.
‘Very well,’ he replied releasing her to the ground
‘I’m used to making up my own mind. I don’t need you to tell me what to do. I shall make a decision myself.’
‘Maybe this will help you,’ said Stephen and taking her in his arms, he kissed her at some length. When the kiss finally finished and their faces parted, she looked at him for a moment and then she kissed him back.
In that way her journey was abandoned and the two of them went happily back into the Abbots house. It was becoming a better day for Stephen and a better day for the careworn horse that no longer had to be ridden for someone’s convenience.
Later that day Stephen, Eloise, Simon and Elias met up with the Abbot. The Abbot explained that when people have been starved of food you must introduce food back to them gradually. If they eat too much too soon they simply drop dead. This is why William had died. Elias was distressed about this as he was the one who had fed William.
Simon observed that the irony was that whereas Maud and young William had died from having no food, William by contrast had died from having too much. They had all in their own way been victims of King John.
William de Braose was buried by Stephen in the Abbey of St Victor in Paris. More and more people fleeing from John gathered around Stephen at Pontigny both bishops and knights.
While Stephen and Simon plotted their next move King John was struggling with weighty matters. The only coin in circulation with which to pay taxes was the penny. There were two hundred and forty pennies in each pound and a thousand pounds was almost a quarter of a million pennies. John had millions of pennies but still nowhere near enough. John had an awful lot of foreign soldiers to pay with pennies because he really couldn’t trust native Englishmen. He sat brooding about his problems. He gnawed his fingers, he fidgeted, then he rose up and kicked over a table, next he ripped a tapestry off the wall and threw it on the floor.
‘Faulkes,’ he bellowed, ‘Faulkes here, now!
‘A well-dressed young man rushed into the room with a sword belted to his side. Faulkes was an illegitimate son of a Norman knight. He was very effective in John’s service. He was prepared to be brutal when he needed to be and he was equally brutal when he didn’t need to be.
‘My lord,’ Faulkes called obediently.
‘Faulkes, why haven’t I got enough money? The more I spend the less I have.’
‘Your barons and the church are hiding coin from you,’ my Lord.
‘Then they must pay more, mustn’t they? But they don’t pay do they? Do they?’
‘I will try again and make them pay my Lord,’ said Faulkes with a rising sense of righteous anger against any of those who withheld what they had from their king.
‘They won’t pay. I have had enough. I am the king. Everything they have comes from me and is mine, said John punching himself in the chest. ‘I will take their land, I will take their castles, their wives, their children. We will see if they pay then.’
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