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Hunting

The

Wren

(based on a true story)

by

Geoff Boxell

Publications by Geoff Boxell:

Just for Kicks - a novel about Mods & Rockers

Woden's Wolf - a novel about the Norman Conquest

1066 & the Norman Conquest - CD-ROM

A Time of the Wolf & the Raven

Big Bold Beowulf - a Jamie & Grimm novel

Hard Hero Hengest - a Jamie & Grimm novel

Hunting the Wren

About the author:

At the age of seven Geoff asked his mother about King Richard the Lion Heart. Her response was to give him an historical text book she was reading on the subject and tell him to find out for himself! From then on Geoff has been addicted to English history. After leaving school, where the history topics he studied had been dictated by his need to pass exams, Geoff concentrated his efforts on the 17th century, with especial interest in the Civil War and Cromwell's Protectorate. However, in the mid '90's he changed direction and began studying Anglo-Saxon history.

Geoff regularly acts as a guest lecturer at Waikato University covering English history topics from the coming of the English to the Restoration.

Whilst Geoff spent most of his early career in telecommunications, he later joined the University of Waikato where he ran an experimental ‘virtual’ unit providing education in technology management and innovation. Since leaving the University he has been working on various technology related contracts.

In addition to the publications listed above Geoff had a regular column in Kiwi Rider motorcycle magazine for many years and has just completed a contract for a NZ syndicated column on technology forecasting.

Geoff can be contacted at: grboxell@xtra.co.nz

Hunting the Wren

A Wendlewulf Productions Book

 

 

PRINTING HISTORY

Wendlewulf Productions 2004

Copyright GR Boxell 2004

 

Printed by:

Gama Print, 10 Lorne Street, Auckland, New Zealand

Condition of Sale

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, or hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the purchaser.

Author's notes: The 1378 incident of the escaped prisoners who sought sanctuary in Westminster Abbey and the bungled attempt to re-capture them by the Constable of the Tower of London, Sir Alan de Buxhall KG, is true. So is the attempt to fudge the issue of sanctuary by laying charges against the Abbott at the Gloucester Parliament of obstructing the king's justice and the using of John Wycliffe to provide the case.

Whilst Sir Alan was a real person, Geoffrey Wulf and his companions are fiction, though they do have a basis in the persona of members of the SCA shire of Cluain.

Those who have read my novel, 'Woden's Wolf', may like to know that I have made a fictional link making Sir Alan Buxhall descended from Jaul, eldest son of Godfrew of Garrett (know as Wulf) and making Geoffrey Wulf descended from Moithar, Godfrew's middle son.

I think that there are only three phrases that some might not understand and I will explain them now.

Liripipe hood: This was a hood that terminates in a long tail or pipe of material (say two fingers thick). The length of the 'pipe' can vary, but often reached bellow the buttocks. When the hood is covering the head it is normal for the end of the 'pipe' to be tucked into the belt at the man's back. When the hood is not being used to cover the head the 'pipe' is often curled round the neck as with a comforter or scarf and the end tucked back into the coils around the neck.

Parti-colour: In the fourteenth century the wearing of garments of two colours, where the colours were contrasted vertically, was common. An example in the story is that of a Cheshire archer of King Richard's bodyguard. The hood would have had its left side green and its right side white. The shirt would have reversed the colours so that the left side would have been white and the right green, The hosen would have again reversed the two colours.

Frith Stool: This was a stone seat at the side of the High Altar and in Anglo-Saxon days anyone claiming sanctuary needed to sit on it to do so (the words are Old English and mean 'peace {as in well being or comfort} stool'). It could be taken to represent the 'mercy seat' of the Ark of the Covenant. Over time the conditions under which sanctuary could be claimed, the period thereof and the places within Church grounds sanctuary could be claimed, varied. As Robert Hauley, we are told, was killed whilst within touch of the High Altar, I have chosen to have him trying to reach it in order to reinforce his claims to protection from secular law enforcement. Many Cathedrals still have a Frith Stool.

Geoff Boxell

 

Hunting the Wren

By

Geoff Boxell

Sir Inigo Misagglia looked round the dark room and shuddered as he wondered how many others had stood there before awaiting an interview with the Constable of the Tower of London and just what their fate had been. He glanced longingly at the cushioned seat set into the wall under a now glazed arrow slot, then looked away as he was sure he could feel disapproval emanating from the man-at-arms standing by the inner door. In his younger days he knew that he could have taken the standing around for hours without any problem, as indeed the guard was doing, but the injuries he had collected over the past few years in war and tourney were catching up on him.

Sir Inigo walked a few paces towards the seat and then lent forward, pretending to look out of the glazed arrow slit. He hoped the guard would think he was admiring the view the window gave of the stinking waters of the green coloured moat without, rather than his easing his aching back.

'Sir Inigo: the Constable will see you now,' a loud voice boomed in the knight's ear.

Sir Inigo jumped up and spun round, his hand reaching for the hilt of his confiscated sword; for all his years in England the Italian still found the harsh barking that the English called language startling to his ears, especially when he was, what he considered, shouted at.

'Now, now, sir knight, no need to get defensive, I'm sure,' the big red-blond man assured Ingio in a voice that would have been better suited to a battlefield where its volume would have been needed to carry over the sounds of war than in a confined room.

Sir Inigo bowed his head. 'I apologise; you startled me, my reactions were instinctive.' The language, though slightly accented, was perfect, the result of having lived in England since childhood and then serving in England's armies as they had fought and ravaged France.

The big man smiled; 'No offence taken, I'm a man of war myself. It is hard to break the habits of a lifetime. This way if you please,' and he indicated a part open inner door.

Sir Inigo stepped into the other room, which, despite it being early August, was cool to the point of being cold. A table was at the far end and at it sat a bald man in his thirties writing, behind him stood a tall older man with unfashionable long moustaches of gold streaked with silver and a full head of flowing silver hair. The big blond man had followed him in and now stood to his left, his right hand playing lightly with the pommel of his sword. He waited until the tall standing man looked his way and raised an eyebrow.

'Sir In arh go Mis a gag ala, Lord Constable.'

'Inigo Misagglia' the Italian hissed at the big man.

'Sir In arh go asked for an audience with you and you have graciously agreed to it,' the man carried on, totally ignoring Inigo's correction to the pronunciation of his name.

Sir Alan de Buxhall, Lord Constable of the Tower, Knight of the Garter, raised his cynical eyebrow even higher. 'I did?'

'My Lord Constable.'

'Personally I suspect he slipped you coin and you agreed to bring him to me Fulk.'

'My Lord Constable!' Fulk managed to get the sound of hurt into his voice. 'Would I do such a thing?'

'Frequently,' Sir Alan rebutted. 'Oh don't look so hurt, Fulk de Cherburg. On what I pay you I don't expect otherwise.' He looked at the Italian. 'Inigo Misagglia, from the Misagglia family of Milan, armourers to who ever will pay them. Well normally it is I who summons people to see me, but you have paid to have the honour. You have something important to say or ask of me?'

Inigo nervously touched the sides of his mouth with his tongue. 'Yes, Sir Alan.'

'Well I hope you are not trying to sell me some armour. The past wars have provided an over supply of the stuff and the present peace has taken away the demand. You'd be better off shipping the gear across the channel as I understand the Swiss are revolting, well more revolting than they normally are, and the Duke of Burgundy may therefore have a need.'

'Well, I do have some very good quality second-hand gear available it is true…'

'And the arrow holes have been securely welded over? No cheap fixes?' interrupted the thin bald man at the table.

'Benedict,' Sir Alan asked, 'do we really need armour?'

The man shuffled some papers that lay to his right. 'Odd bits and pieces, at the right price.'

'You are sure?' asked the Constable.

'Benedict consulted his script again.' Yes, provided it is plain stuff. It would mean we could release some of the fancier gear onto the tournament market.'

'Right Sir Inigo, come back later and talk to Benedict. If your prices are right, the quality good, and the sizes general enough, we may take some of your surplus gear. Just remember: if the price is right!'

'Yes, Sir Alan, thank you.'

Sir Alan turned away, picked up some of Benedict's discarded papers, and started to run his eyes over them.

Fulk took Inigo's elbow to steer him towards the door. The Italian resisted and twisted round: 'Sir Alan?'

'Still here sir knight? I thought we had agreed to look at your goods,' Sir Alan said without looking up.

'Well, yes, but my reason for coming concerns another matter.'

'So,' Sir Alan gave the knight his full attention and a twisted smile, 'you don't want to sell us armour?'

'Well yes,' Inigo broke from Fulk's grasp and approached the table. 'Selling armour is a living, that made by my family ….'

'And that won on the tourney field and that dragged off of dead Frenchmen full of arrow holes and stinking of their vile perfume?' the constable asked.

'That too, given current market prices and the problems of getting Milanese armour past the French.' Inigo conceded.

'Yes, well we all have problems with the French. No doubt they will soon tire of annoying whichever Pope they are trying to depose at present, and whichever Italian Princedom they are trying to steal and take us on again. When that happens we will contact you and your family no doubt.'

'Thank you Sir Alan, but for the present…'

'Yes alright. I've agreed that Benedict will discuss your second-hand stock.' Sir Alan's voice had started to get an edge on it. 'Now, if you please, we do have a rather delicate problem to deal with.' The Constable's glance switched to Fulk. 'And, yes, de Cherburg, I will talk to you later about this interruption.'

The Italian coughed.

'Well?'

'Sir Alan. If I could just ask….'

'Get to the point man. You have a friend, contact, lover, mistress, or someone that you want a favour for? Special food or conditions for a detainee?'

'No Sir Alan', Inigo replied.

'They want their, lover, mistress, or someone to visit them for a comfort?

'No Sir Alan.'

'Well then, continued Sir Alan, tugging on his moustache ends, 'They want a whore or catamite to visit them?

Inigo's swart complexion gained a red under tinge. 'Certainly not!'

'Then what, my short swarthy ironmonger have you bribed that gullible and money hungry man-at-arms, Fulk de Cherburg to see me about, apart from off loading a load of rusty and low value dented plate?'

'Employment.'

Sir Alan's eyebrow dropped back to its normal position and the colour in his face started to return from bright red to its normal weather-beaten ruddiness. When he spoke again his voice was silky smooth and all pleasantness. 'Well why didn't you say so. I am looking for some one like you at present as it happens. Archers, men-at-arms, no problems, what I lack is a knight, for the purpose I have in mind.'

'At the right price,' Benedict whispered.

'At the right price of course, 'Sir Alan smiled. 'Fulk: a chair for my friend Sir Inigo.'

Fulk bobbed his head and picked up a stool from the corner of the room. As he did so the door opened noiselessly and a tall slim hooded figure entered and silently came to stand at Sir Alan's elbow. The masked head lent to the Constable's ear and whispered into it. Sir Alan turned away from Inigo and had a hushed conversation with the new comer, a conversation that deliberately excluded all others present.

Inigo watched especially when the hooded man turned to look in the direction of first Fulk, then Benedict and finally himself before carrying on his whispered exchange with Sir Alan. Even when looking directly at him, Inigo could not make out the man's face under the hood, the only thing he could determine was the man's status and possible employment as the man's well muscled, yet asymmetrical shoulders and chest indicated that he was an archer. He looked at the man's clothes and felt that the green and white parti-coloured liripipe hood, shirt complete with white hart badge and hosen he wore confirmed that, for they were the clothes of the King's bodyguard of Cheshire Archers. Finally Sir Alan and the hooded archer nodded heads in unison and ceased their whispering. The Constable pulled his high-backed chair out from under the table and sat in it, his elbows resting on the table and his pale blue eyes fixed on Inigo.

'Well, sir knight; I take it you love and obey the Pope?'

Again the Italian touched each corner of his mouth with his tongue before replying as he felt a trap opening up before him. 'Yes, as all good Christians should,' he said in a cautious voice that trembled slightly.

The hooded man leant over the back of the chair and whispered in the Constable's ear. Sir Alan smiled. 'There are those, such as him,' he inclined his head towards the hidden face of the archer, 'who would not agree with you.'

'He is a heretic?' Inigo fumbled at his chest for the protection to be gained from the toe bone of Saint Walpurges he kept on a leather thong around his neck.

'A Lollard and he thinks it is you who are the heretic!' The hooded man slowly nodded his head in agreement. 'The thing is,' Sir Alan continued as he watched Inigo's face closely, 'you and he will have to work closely if I do employ you. I can't have you handing him over to the Church authorities you see. He is too valuable.'

'And surly,' Benedict chipped in.

'And surly indeed,' Sir Alan confirmed. The hooded man made what sounded like a muffled snigger.

'And too closely related.' Benedict added.

'Watch you tongue Benedict, or Geoffrey here,' Sir Alan held up his fastidiously manicured hand in the archer's direction, 'may see a need to trim it for you.' Benedict snorted in seeming disbelief and went back to his scrivening. 'Oh, I'm sorry Sir Inigo, I am remiss: allow me to introduce you to my relation, a second, third or whatever cousin, Geoffrey Wulf.'

Inigo pushed his chair back with a scrape on the flagged floor and bowed, Geoffrey dipped his head then, as he stood upright, he pulled his liripipe hood back, thus exposing his face for the first time since he had come in. The shaven headed man had a leather patch over his left eye with a red scar that entered the patch at the top, and exited it at the bottom and carried on to the edge of his cheek bone. The archer's one eye stared at him unblinking.

'So, can you two work together I wonder?' Geoffrey leaned over and whispered in Sir Alan's ear. 'Ah, now that's a point.' The Constable leaned back in the chair and played with the ends of his moustache. 'You say that you love and obey the Pope. Which one?'

Inigo looked slightly confused. 'The one in Rome, the other is a French puppet!'

'Indeed,' Sir Alan agreed, 'and our beloved sovereign, King Richard II has the same opinion. But I have news that there is now a third one, or at least, the Holy Roman Emperor is calling for the two known Popes to abdicate and new elections to be held for a new Pope. If they don't abdicate and carry on fighting it out, as they are at present, Popes will soon be more common than that lice in a pauper's beard. Even putting that aside, I think the latest information I have has it that Milan in fact is recognising the Pope in Avignon at present, though that may change tomorrow, who knows. Given all this confusion, Geoffrey here thinks that you should lay your religious fealty to one side until such time as the Church established makes its mind up just who you should give that fealty to.'

'Well I, I...' Inigo stuttered.

'You are a practical man? You do need employment? The armoury trade is flat and in fact diving to rock bottom at the moment?' Sir Alan prompted.

'Yes, well,' Inigo, sighed. He thought of his wife and childer at home and the fact that there was very little food in the larder, even now that he had let his last servant go. He looked at the nails of his right hand and cleaned them with those of his left. He looked up to see Sir Alan and his cousin still watching him with their three steady eyes, he glanced at Benedict, who just shrugged at him and then carried on writing. Inigo looked to the ceiling for inspiration, but found none. He looked at Geoffrey Wulf, who had finally stopped staring at him and had taken to paring his fingernails with a long fine bladed knife that was displaying the quality of being very, very sharp. This was the inspiration the Italian needed. 'Yes, yes, Sir Alan, your arguments have won me over. I am happy to work with your cousin, though, of course he will need to remember that I am a knight, and he is but a yeoman.'

'When Adam delved, and Eve span: who was then the gentleman?' Geoffrey asked in a voice that carried, instead of the Cheshire accent Inigo had expected, the rather flat accent of North Surrey.

Sir Alan beamed. 'Take no notice of his Lollard cant, Geoffrey will remember his status, won't you Geoffrey?' The archer flicked his eyebrows up quickly in what could have been agreement or mockery. In the back of the room Fulk snorted, whilst at the table Benedict seemed to have caught a mote of dust in his throat for he gave a couple of short coughs. 'So,' Sir Alan continued, 'it's all settled. Come and see Benedict here say tomorrow afternoon,' he looked at the balding man who gave his assent by lifting his head without taking his eyes off the paper he was writing on, ' and you can discuss the sale of armour and payment of your fees for service.' Sir Alan waved his hand palm upward in dismissal.

Sir Inigo stood, bowed and left the room followed by the bulk of Fulk.

'Benedict,' Sir Alan turned to the scrivener as soon as the door closed, 'this idea of buying plain armour from the Wop and then selling our stock of fancy gear?'

'Sir Alan?'

'It can be done profitably?'

'You mean can we swop the gear over and pocket the cash difference without being caught?'

'I didn't say that!'

'No,' Geoffrey walked over to Benedict's papers and picked them up, holding them far in front of himself before striving to read them in the poor light. 'He didn't say it, but that's what he wants to know.'

Benedict gave a smile as he reclaimed the papers from the archer. 'Of course we can perform a non-recorded re-balancing of Crown assets which will in no way affect the efficiency of the Constable to provide the City of London and this nation with the means to both police and defend itself.'

'And make a profit?' Sir Alan asked.

'Trust me Sir Alan.'

'Oh I do, I do dear Benedict, I really do. I just get a little concerned at times at what you know and indeed may be tempted, under duress of course, to say.'

Geoffrey Wulf came behind Benedict and put his arm across his shoulder, 'Good Sir Alan, Benedict here can be trusted implicitly to always remain as silent as the grave.'

'All right Wulf by name, wolf by nature I get the drift,' Benedict shrugged the archer's encompassing arm from his shoulder.

Sir Alan got out of his chair and made for the door. 'Right cousin, let me and you go for a walk and talk about this and that….'

'And escaped prisoners?' queried Geoffrey as they left the chamber.

***

'So his Nibs is still wanting his money then?'

'You really are crude Geoffrey, do you know that?' Sir Alan raised his hand and wiped a smear of sweat off of his forehead; spending so much time in dark cool rooms often caused him to misjudge the outside weather and temperature. 'His Grace, Richard, King of England, France and Ireland, believes that the hostage was of sufficient rank to be justifiably held for the betterment of the Crown and any exchange of ransom to be His pejorative.' Geoffrey Wulf pulled a square of linen cloth from his pouch and offered it to Sir Alan who took it and mopped his brow.

'Despite the Prince of Wales, King Richard's father Edward, not objecting to a knight and his squire holding a hostage on behalf of the Count of Dene whom they had taken prisoner at the Battle of Najara?'

'The late Prince Edward, of beloved memory, had his mind was on other things at the time: such as paying his troops after that homicidal fool Pedro, well named the Cruel, didn't cough up the cash as promised.'

'Then,' the archer added, taking back the now wet cloth and starting to tie knots in each of its four corners, 'one would have thought he'd have been keener to claim the hostage as it would have helped his cash flow?'

'Would one? Indeed one would. Wouldn't one?' Sir Alan took back proffered knotted cloth. 'Honestly Master Wulf, this must look silly, I just can't see anyone wearing one of these, no matter how hot their head is.'

'You are!' Geoffrey smiled beneath the comfort of his drawn hood.

'Yes well; needs must.'

'And it is His Grace, King Richard, who is after the money, not his Grace, John, Duke of Lancaster?

'His Grace of Lancaster is out of grace with His Grace as you well know, and indeed with the Regents, as you also well know.'

'It has his smell about it.'

Sir Alan looked hard at the hooded profile alongside him before continuing. 'It is His Grace, King Richard, who is pushing the issue. Your comments then pray? I am sure you will give them to me whether I want them or no.'

'In that case Richard is a spoilt thirteen-year-old brat. He needs his hosen pulled down and his arse smacked. Does he know just what grief this escapade is causing?'

'His Grace would take ill if he heard you say that. You realise that I could have you thrown into the Tower's darkest and dampest cell, one that has stooping room only with plenty of rats for company and no food for speaking so of the King? Even being my second, third, fourth or whatever cousin wouldn't save you, especially if others were to want to curry favour and let it out that you were a Lollard with sympathy for those who do not respect rank.'

'Your testimony alone would not be enough for you to lay charges. A servant of the Crown cannot lay a charge on only his own word; there has to be two or more witnesses.'

'So you know Magna Carter as well as the scriptures, that are illegally translated into common English?' Sir Alan unlaced the top of his over shirt and pulled the garment in and out to get some air movement.

'Doesn't everyone? As for scripture, well I can tell you that ….'

'Stop right there. What I don't hear I can't be forced to pass on if put to the question later. While I might have sympathy with your beliefs, I am a practical man and have to live a practical life.' Sir Alan started to move towards the shadow offered by the curtain wall.

'You are just frightened of losing all that property you have gained by foul means and fair. "Store up not your treasure on Earth…."'

'You can't talk, you have made enough of our troubles in France to buy land and houses.'

'Which, within reason, I'm prepared to risk for what I believe to be true.'

Sir Alan stopped and turned. 'And that is?'

'That Richard is a spoilt brat who wants everything that he sees.'

'Hmm.' Sir Alan carried on towards the hoped for coolness of the shadow. 'Myself I prefer to think he may be over influenced by bad advisors.'

'Whom you will complain to? Just who are you going to complain to? The Regents about how they are advising the King?'

'I like being Constable of the Tower. I have no intention of being a prisoner of the Tower.' Having reached the shadow Sir Alan took off his makeshift hat and gave it back to his cousin. 'I know only too well what that can imply!'

'And will you make me a prisoner for my opinions?' Geoffrey commenced to undo the knots on his cloth.

'Have I in the past?'

'So, is that because I am your whatever relation? Is it because I am too useful?' Having freed the cloth of its knots Geoffrey folded it carefully before putting it back into his leather pouch that hung from the back of his belt.

'Let's say I've grown used to your ominous and brooding presence and I would miss it. That and your honesty.'

The sun caught Geoffrey's eye and he fished out his cloth just in time to sneeze into it.

Sir Alan screwed up his own eyes in disgust. 'Don't tell me that was what you had been using it for before you gave it to me to first wipe my face and then put on my head?'

'Now you did say you valued my honesty. Do you really want me to tell you?'

'No, in this case I don't want to know, instead tell me where our escaped friend Robert Hauley and his errant squire Shakell have hidden themselves.'

Geoffrey finished wiping his nose. 'They aren't hiding, they have sought and gained sanctuary.'

'Please, honest Geoff, please tell me it is at an obscure country church where we can pull them out before anyone other than the local poor, and therefore temptable with silver, curate knows about it. Don't confirm the rumour that they have sought it in a more estimable place.'

'They are in Westminster Abbey.'

'Shit!'

'Said the King,' intoned Geoffrey, 'and his loyal subjects strove in the noonday sun to fulfil his demand, for indeed the King's word is law!'

'Shut up,' Sir Alan spat. 'This is no joking matter.' The Constable started walking along in the shadow of the wall towards the recently built Cradle Tower. 'There are numerous financial advantages in being Constable of the Tower.'

'Charging for good food, comforts in the cells, more exercise, visits from loved ones, or hired one.'

'Etc, etc.' Sir Alan agreed. 'But there are disadvantageous ones.'

'Like being held financially and personally responsible for those that escape?'

'And as I said earlier, I like being the Constable, I do not want to be the prisoner. Hauley and Shakell were sent to me under the usual official formula of: "You are to guard them securely in the prison of Our said Tower in such a way that you shall answer for them body for body. Fail in no part of this on pain of forfeiture of life, limb and all property you hold in our realm".'

'So cuz, we must get Hauley and his errant squire Shakell back.'

'But they are in sanctuary at Westminster Abbey!' replied Sir Alan his voice giving off a hint a whine.

'You are not frightened of breaking sanctuary and thus gaining the displeasure of Holy Mother Church are you?'

'Less frightened of that than the displeasure of His petulant Grace the King, no doubt encouraged by his grasping Council of Regents.' The Constable stopped so suddenly that Geoffrey, who as a one eyed man tended to walk off line, almost bumped into him. 'No, I'll face the Church when I have to and pay whatever fine I need to pay in order to get them off my back. It is the worry of finding enough men who are not frightened of the Church to do the act that worries me.'

'You have me, and I can find other archers who follow my ways. The Church of Rome and its Bishop does not frighten us with its magic spells and juggler's tricks. Faithful Benedict will always be at your side and you have Fulk, who will do what he needs to do as long as he gets paid. Those pretend Welshmen Heylin and Lleywyn Lier, and there must be others who either don't care or won't care if their palms are greased.'

'And from today, it looks like I have a knight to lead them too!'

'I wondered why you were so keen on employing Sir Inigo.'

'Yes, thanks for helping me smooth over his religious queasiness.'

'Self interest cuz, plain self-interest. As a knight, if anything goes wrong he takes the blame, not a poor yeoman such as myself.'

'Poor? My arse! You have pillaged enough silver and goods out of France over the years to buy farm and houses. You should be at least an esquire by now, if not a knight, you have the money value.'

'I like being a yeoman, as indeed I like being an archer. I am quite happy as I am. Besides, I am getting near retirement age, the last thing I want is to traipse around covered in plate armour overheating like crazy.'

'They'll catch up with you sooner or later and either yourself or one of your sons will have to become a knight.'

'No they won't.' Geoffrey started them back on their slow walk. 'I've put all the land and houses into the names of other family members. I personally only have enough to my name to be a yeoman.'

'So, we'll break them out of the Abbey. Can you find out just where they are and how things work, timetables and all that, the usual stuff. I'll sound out via Fulk just who I can have as men-at-arms for the raid. You'll find me, say, about thirty trustworthy archers? I am not sure if that will be enough: you choose how many as you will know the needs better than I. We'll have to have a staging post or two for the men to gather at. It won't do to have us all march down in procession as that will raise the birds before we are ready to throw the nets.'

'The house where my sons' families live is near enough. They run stables, which will be handy for this operation. The younger boys are both home from duty at present, so they will be in the party. I'll get there the day before and arrange things. You will need to get your men-at-arms there and arrange for the gear to be shipped over without causing a stir. Having the stables means that few questions get asked when they have numbers of strange people turning up.'

'You mean your Lollard friends?'

Geoffrey deliberately ignored the question. 'I'll have a chat to all involved before we go in. The archers will just drift by when the time comes, they are less conspicuous than men-at-arms are. I don't suppose there is any chance of a Royal Warrant to enact the arrest?'

'Dreams are free.' Sir Alan turned to walk back to his office. 'Give my regards to Matthew and Thomas and their wives. If all goes well I'll see that they aren't not forgotten.'

'And if it fails?' Geoffrey called after the Constable.

'I'll pray for them as I hope they will pray for me!' Sir Alan threw over his shoulder.

***

The two men rode their horses slowly along the path that shewed damp from the recent cloud burst, the horse's hooves breaking the thin crust and causing motes of dust to rise behind them. The jingling of the animal's harness hung as a higher note to the low hum of the bees busily working the flowing weeds on the path's edge. The big built rider of the bay horse swayed to the rhythm of his horse's plod and started to slump forward on his saddle as drowsiness overtook him.

'Fulk,' the other rider pointed over the low-lying field on the path's edge. 'Is that where we are headed?'

Fulk gave a start and stared ahead, gathering his thoughts. Slowly he turned his head to take in the short delicately built rider at his side. He blinked and then sighed. 'Sir Inigo?'

'There? Is that where we're headed? I have rarely been to London and its countryside, I am based at Bristol.'

Fulk squinted at the big building sitting proud of the flat land around it. He rubbed his eyes gently and looked again. 'The Abbey? Westminster Abbey? St Peter's? No, near there.'

'Hmm, it doesn't look to me as if there are any houses there. And where is the palace?'

'It is there: they are there, Sir Inigo, trust me. It is the way the land lies; it hides them when coming in from the north.'

'And our armour will already be there?'

'Yes, yes.' Fulk closed his eyes in the hope that he would be allowed to drift off again.

'Why could we not bring our own war gear? I do not like others taking it from me.'

'Discretion, we don't want others to know a band of armed men are gathering; it disturbs the game.' The sun came out from behind a big white cloud whose black bottom looked as if it had stood too long over the fire. Fulk eased his hood from off his head and slumped deeper into his saddle.

'Yes, but that is my personal armour, made by my father's second cousin's brother-in-law just for me. It cannot be replaced.' The Italian stood up in his stirrups, his back straight, looking towards the Abbey. 'You are sure it will be there? I do not like the thought of losing my armour.'

'I had noticed that at the last tourney I attended,' Fulk muttered.

'Tourney?'

Fulk groaned as he realised that the other man's hearing must be sharp. 'Yes, I have seen you fighting at the tourney. You always win and thereby gain armour rather than lose it.'

'You have seen me? I fight well don't I! But the armour I gain is often such poor stuff.' Inigo looked at his companion and took in the sun bleached red gold hair a-top the freckled covered broad face. 'If I am not mistaken, I have had your armour on at least one occasion.'

'Indeed sir knight.'

'It was good quality if I remember. I can't remember selling it though.'

'It was good quality: I made it myself. You let me keep it and only took my horse. You said you had won too much gear that day to be able to carry away.'

'I did? It must have been a good day. And it was only the once?'

'Yes.' Fulk closed his eyes and started to relive the nagging his wife had given him when he had arrived back home sitting on the tail of a carrier's cart.

'You fought in the tourney but you are not a knight?'

'Yes, and no,' groaned Fulk, wishing his personal ambition as the youngest son of the youngest son of an Esquire to win fame, fortune and the chance to crawl up the social order would not keep getting in the way of his domestic harmony.

Inigo sat back down. 'I wish I had kept it now, then perhaps I would not have had to hire my sword to Sir Alan Buxhall.' He turned his eyes again to the looming Abbey. 'I do not like the idea of church breaking, let alone sanctuary breaking.'

'Needs must, sir knight, needs must. There's more here than just Sir Alan's pocket, it could be his head if he fails.' The big man closed his eyes in the hope that the talkative Italian would take the hint and shut up.

'His head is not my concern; it is my soul I am worried about.'

'You are safe as long as you can shelter behind a revolving Pope or three.'

'And my armour will be there? At Westminster?'

'Yes, yes. The Wulf boys run stables there, behind the Abbey. The gear has been arriving there through the week. No one knows it is there but even if they did, all but the greatest fools would take the risk of stealing from the Wulfs.'

'The wolf boys? Wolfs not wolves?' Inigo screwed his delicate face for a second whilst he dug in his memory. 'Ah: Wulf boys! They are to do with the hooded man?'

'Geoffrey Wulf? They are his sons. Archers both.'

'He is Sir Alan's Captain of Archers?'

'Will Stoutheart is Captain.'

'Then what is Geoffrey?'

'Distant cousin or something, I don't know. He does not invite conversation on the matter, and Sir Alan is too far above me to be asked.'

'Sir Alan favours him I think?' Inigo took off his broad velvet hat with his right hand and wiped the sweat from his brow on the stained and threadbare silk sleeve of his shirt.

'I don't think; I know.' Fulk muttered in a resigned voice.

'Maybe this Geoffrey saved his life whilst they were fighting in France?' Inigo let the reins slip from his left hand in order to set his hat on at just the right angle.

'Not that I know of. Given his religious beliefs it is more likely that Sir Alan has saved his life by discouraging the Church from looking too closely at him.' Fulk nudged his horse closer to Inigo's. He looked around to ensure that the road was empty and no one stood in the fields either side of the path. 'Don't ever mention the Church to him;' he whispered. 'He is a hedge priest and once invited to speak will try and bring you over into his own beliefs. He claims to know the truth, but it can lead to great unpleasantness if you should be named heretic.'

The conversation now dead, the horsemen rode on, the path changing to hard causeway as they crossed the marshy ground to Thorney Island and the Abbey.

***

'Take your horse through into the yard,' called out the tall young man.

'See my wife Keziah for some food,' added his slightly blonder and shorter companion.

'Aye, aye boyo,' the first horseman replied in an atrocious imitation of a Welsh accent.

Once inside the yard the Lier brothers handed their horses over to the young knaves who were hovering around. They looked back towards the entrance of the yard where the Wulf brothers were engaged in a huddled conversation with a hooded friar who leant on his rough staff in support of his very bent back. Thomas, the taller Wulf, looked over at them and eased the hay fork resting on his shoulder before going back to talk first to his brother Mathew and then the friar.

'I wonder who is converting whom?' pondered Heylin to his brother Lleywyn, all trace of false Welshness gone.

'Friars, Lollards: they are all troublemakers,' returned his brother as he looked around for the promised food.

The old friar held up his right hand in blessing and hobbled off, using his staff to support him. Matthew came over to the Lier brothers. 'Yakky da, bach!' he threw at the Welshmen as he went past.

'Yakky what?' Lleywyn asked his brother.

'Remember your Welsh, idiot!'

'It was his accent; it didn't sound Welsh.'

'Ah, food; it's over there under the eves of that stable.' Heylin licked his dust encrusted lips in anticipation.

The brothers moved towards a long trestle that supported a well hacked haunch of beef, a scattering of broken loaves and well picked over raw onions, all standing in the split slops that seeped from discarded cups in thin streams of red and brown.

'Food ya? You help selves eh?' asked the broad bodied young woman whose curly hair escaped from her wimple like wisps of brown steam. 'We also have beer or wine,' she kicked some small barrels under the trestle with her clogged foot. 'You want put water with wine though, very strong,' the woman's strong Flemish accent emphasised the ends of the words. She watched to ensure that the men had understood her before giving a dimpled smile and going across the straw strewn yard to put her arm through that of Matthew's and making what sounded like clucking noises in his ear. Matthew turned to look at the pseudo Welshmen and gave a sharp laugh that sounded like a dog fox's bark and caused the scavenging chickens to scatter in a flurry of dusty feathers.

With a groan, the stable door opened and Sir Alan Buxhall emerged in the company of a muscular tall young man, sharp eyed and with chestnut hair. 'So that is the task Sir William, just ensure that your men don't let any rascals into the Abbey tonight.'

'But also not let any one out? That is strange?' The knight caught Keziah's eye 'Is my horse fed and ready?' he called in their native Flemish; without asking, one of Keziah's sons walked to the opposite stable to retrieve the animal. 'I take it, Sir Alan, that I have nothing to worry about? This is the King's business?' he continued.

'Nothing to worry about, it is just that there are so many ways in and out of the Abbey and its grounds, one never knows if the mischief makers might not come in another way and then try and get out the front way if we are chasing them.' Sir Alan gave a fixed smile willing the Flemish knight to believe him.

'But as Constable your authority only extends to the City of London; isn't someone else responsible for Westminster?'

Sir Alan smiled even harder. 'It's the King's business we are about; we serve where we are asked to serve Sir William.'

'Your horse Sir Willihelm; fed, watered and groomed,' advised the boy holding the reins of the dappled silver horse, his Flemish perfectly accented.

'Thank you,' the Flem slipped a coin to the boy and took up the horse's reins before moving round to mount.

Sir Alan watched him anxiously and continued his reinforcing smile. 'Till tonight Sir William, you will bring two squires and I will have a party of archers to back you, should you need them. There may well be nothing happening as it is only a rumour you understand, but the King is anxious that the Abbey be protected.'

'It is the King's business? Then I will be there Sir Alan, at the sound of the Curfew Bell.' Sir William mounted and left the yard.

Sir Alan kept his brittle smile on his face and his hand in the air as a gesture of farewell until the rider had fully left the yard and started on his way to his house in London. 'Old woman,' Sir Alan whispered out the side of his mouth as he finally let his hand fall and his mouth slump back into its normal slightly disapproving shape. 'Too much chivalry and not enough common sense eh boy?' he asked as he ruffled the hair of one of Matthew and Keziah's sons who was sweeping horse shit into a pile. 'I see our Welshmen are here, stuffing their faces on free food as usual.' He knelt besides the boy. 'Tell your mother to count the cups and the platters after they have gone.'

'Taffy was a Welshman; Taffy was a thief Sir Alan?'

The Constable looked sternly at the boy: '"Speak English knave, the only word I caught was Welshman.'

'I said, Sir Alan …' the boy started, but Sir Alan had gone to greet Inigo and Fulk as they rode in.

'Sir Inigo, Fulk; let the boys take your horses and care for them.' Sir Alan walked past Heylin and his brother Lleywyn as they stuffed their faces with onions and bread, 'Derch yma!' he called to them over his shoulder.'

'Derch what?' Heylin asked Lleywyn.

'I think he wants us to follow him,' Lleywyn picked up another onion as he started to walk behind Sir Alan into the large stone barn that was used as the main stables.

'Oh,' Heylin picked up his cup of beer and drained it quickly before following Sir Alan. 'Aye, aye Boyo,' he called out to the Constable's back.

Sir Alan stopped dead, causing Lleywyn to almost crash into him. 'Boyo? Don't forget your place you imitation Welshman. Remember who I am, and what I am.'

'Sir Alan, sorry,' Heylin muttered.

'Just remember; you may forget who I am, and what I am, but I know who you really are and what you really are. I knew your father well, which is more than your mother did,' Sir Alan hissed. 'If you want to be Welsh knights, when following the ordinance of King Edward the First of blessed memory, such things stopped, that is up to you, as long as you fight for me and fight well, with no questions asked.' The Constable's flashing blue eyes fixed first on one crestfallen Welshman and then the other. 'You want others to think that you are knights, fine. But cross me, or forget your manners towards me just one more time and I will let the whole world know that all your father gave you was your christening name and later a sword to earn your living by and all he ever gave your mother was a piece of silver each time he swived her and a bad dose of the French pox!' Having run his withering look over the young men once more to ensure that his message had sunk in, Sir Alan turned and went into the stables.

Fulk looked at Sir Inigo and whispered 'No more than those two deserve with their made up airs and graces, just because their father was a Baron.'

'Sir Alan was quite upset at their lack of respect to him I think,' Inigo pulled off his velvet hat and slapped it against his thigh to remove the dust.

'Self made men are always very touchy about their standing.'

Inigo raised a quizzical eyebrow.

Fulk leaned close to the Italian's ear: 'The war in France made him, before that he was a knight of the shire and a poor one at that. Now he is a Knight of the Garter and his second wife is of noble birth.'

Inigo gave a small smile and mentally filed the information for future dealings with the Constable.

Inside the stables the stalls were empty, but the fresh smelling dung and its attendant flies shewed that it had been but recently occupied. Sir Alan strode over to a butt by the end wall where a slender man stood in the shadows cast between the light shafts from the ventilation openings under the eves. After a quick word Sir Alan sat down on the top of the butt and surveyed the four men in front of him. 'Right; tonight we are going into the Westminster Abbey to recover some lost property of mine. Due to the delicate nature of the matter, discretion is of the utmost. Those of tender conscience have been assigned tasks that will not cause them grief.' Sir Alan eased his buttocks to relieve them from the pain caused by the barrel's hoop.

'More like they have been told little of what is really involved,' Heylin muttered to Lleywyn.

'Something to say have you?' Sir Alan asked standing up abruptly to his full height.

Heylin swore quietly to himself as he had not thought he would have been heard; he smiled widely, 'I was just saying your Honour, that you would have briefed them fully I'm sure.'

'You sound more Irish than Welsh; maybe you should spend more time practising your accent than mumbling rude comments.' The Constable's hard blue eyes narrowed and fixed the Welshman in a stare that was meant to frighten, and succeeded. Having achieved what he felt to have been a reasonable level of fear, Sir Alan continued. 'As I was saying, others have other tasks, but you will have the important task of being with me whilst we enter that holy place to bring back that which is mine, namely two escaped prisoners whom the King has expressed a strong desire to have back within the warm comfort of the Tower of London.' He looked straight at Heylin 'And, yes, before you make the comment behind my back; I too want them back because if I don't get them the King has informed me I will be taking their place.' He sat down again, gently. 'You, gentlemen, have been chosen because of your skills with a blade, and because you are in need; of finance that is, and thus will be more willing to be flexible in your conscience at what we are to do.'

'But Sir Alan,' Inigo took a step forward, 'if they are in the Abbey, they surely have sought sanctuary.'

'That is an interesting point Sir Inigo, an interesting point.' Sir Alan pulled on his silvering moustache. 'You see they have, which is why I had to be careful on what I have told those who will be outside the building. If all goes well, then they will be whisked away without anyone noticing, and therefore no harm will have been done.'

'And if it does not go well?' Inigo ran this thumb round the rim of the hat he was holding till he found the spot where his constant pulling on and off had made the material bald.

'Then we will have to think about how to minimalise the problem whilst still detaining those whom we seek,' Sir Alan peaked his hands as if in prayer and sat contemplating, as the time went by the others started to fidget. Heylin nudged a pile of straw and a plump rat ran from its middle, disturbing the silence with its rustling run. Sir Alan broke from his mediation and looked at the men as if he had only just realised they were there. 'Oh, right, well, Brian,' he called to the shadowy figure in the nearby stall. 'Brian le Coque here,' the man in worn clothes came into the light from the nearest vent; his jet black hair, high cheek bones, yellow skin and strange eyes caused Inigo and both the Welshmen to catch their breath at his exotic appearance. 'Brian will have charge of the archers who will guard the many rabbit holes in and out of the Abbey that good Sir William doesn't know about and indeed will not be told about.' Brian turned his head to Sir Alan before giving the others an inscrutable smile. 'I think that is all for now, unless you have anything to add Geoffrey?'

Fulk turned and gave a start when he found the hooded archer standing at his shoulder. 'My heart!' he exclaimed, clutching his chest with shock of finding the archer so unexpectedly behind him.

Geoffrey Wulf looked down at the dark blue livery he was wearing and fingered the badge of a lion azure fretted with gold on his left breast. 'No, not today. The white hart is King Richard's badge; the lion is Sir Alan's.' He slipped through the others and stood behind Sir Alan where he leant his hooded head to the Constable's ear and whispered.

Sir Alan nodded in understanding. 'Geoffrey will brief Sir Inigo and Brian this evening when he has checked out a couple of matters. So that is it for now. Your armour and mail are in the stable opposite with your horses. Geoffrey here will seek Inigo and Brian out in his own good time, but the rest of you won't be needed until after dark, so I suggest you all take some food with you and go and get some rest or sleep.' He spotted Lleywyn looking at the hay piled in a nearby stall. 'Not here: with your horses. Off you go ' Sir Alan got up and watched their departure. 'And Heylin?' the Welshman turned. 'Cyach yr drws!'

Heylin looked quizzically and his brother came and stood by his side looking equally puzzled.

'Honestly you really must learn the language if you are to continue to claim to be Welsh knights. You are still after employment after tonight's work?

'Oh aye Sir Alan,' Heylin confirmed, his accent improving dramatically. 'Works what we are after.'

'Well there is some garrison work in Normandy going.' The brother's eyes light up. 'Unfortunately a lot of the archers you will be working with will be Welsh, seeing as they are cheaper than English ones and His Grace the King is short of cash at present. If they think you are impostors, your stay with them may, perforce, be short!' The brothers looked hard at each other eyes wide open. 'Now leave and, as I said: "Close the door".'

Walking across the yard to the other stables, avoiding careless chickens as he went, Inigo sidled up to Fulk. 'Brian, he is strange yes? Where is he from?'

'Scotland.'

'Do they all look like that there?' Inigo asked, being careful that Brian le Coque was ahead of them and thus could not overhear.

'Don't let him catch you looking, for they get upset, but they also have tails!'

***

Sir Inigo and Brian came out of the door of the house where the families of the Wulf brothers lived, having been briefed by Geoffrey the archer. In the stable yard was a crowd of motley dressed men who, by their stature and build were also archers. The men were collecting bows in leather cases that were stacked along the side of a hay wain. Having got their bow, the archers were going over to the trestles that had earlier born food, but now were covered with piles of clothing in the blue and buff coloured livery of Sir Alan de Buxhall KG. Each man stood tall whilst Keziah and her sister-in-law looked them over before giving them hosen, pourpoint, shirt, liripipe hood and padded jack that should fit. Inigo looked back at the men waiting at the wain to collect their bows and suddenly realised that, by looking at the archer's height, he could actually work out which bow belonged to whom. He saw they were all in proportion to their owner, being the archer's height plus a fist.

Geoffrey Wulf eased himself unheard behind Brian and Inigo and headed for the stable where Sir Alan had set himself up in residence. Silently he opened the door and went in.

The flash of daylight alerted Sir Alan to Geoffrey's entrance and he propped himself up on his elbow and waited on his blanket covered pile of straw for the archer to join him. 'So cuz, you think we can do it? Brian and the Italian will be all right?'

Geoffrey joined Sir Alan on the piled straw. For once he did not have his hood over his head and the liripipe was wrapped twice round his neck before being tucked back into itself. He eased off the patch over his destroyed left eye and carefully massaged the puckered red scar that covered the empty socket. 'God alone knows, but we do have a plan and we do have good men. Brian and I have campaigned together, know, and trust each other. Inigo? Apart from his insistence that I remember he is a knight and I a yeoman, will be fine as long as he doesn't think too much of the religious consequences. I would have preferred Brian to be with us in the Abbey.'

'He knows the rabbit warren of entrances to the Abbey; Inigo doesn't. Besides, I need a knight with me to make it look proper, a man-at-arms will not do.'

'And we daren't risk Sir William!'

'God forbid he ever gets wind of what we are up to, at least until it is too late. I like a man to be honest in his answers. Due to the fact that he knows naught of what we are really up to Sir William will be perfect if anyone asks him why a force of archers is guarding the Abbey's front door. He believes what I have told him and will have no reason not to keep a straight face whilst repeating it to others.'

Geoffrey replaced his patch carefully. 'I have got you 43 archers, just don't ask me whom they normally serve or what they do for a living. It is two short of what I wanted, but it will be enough. Sir William can have ten, which will make him feel good. We will take a dozen and a half in with us, including my two boys. The rest will be with Brian. Benedict will be with us?'

'Naturally,' Sir Alan confirmed. 'You are sure you know where the miscreants will be in the Abbey?' Sir Alan removed a stray straw that had become entangled in his flowing silver locks. 'And it is best to act tonight?' he dropped the sliver of straw and watched it spiral to the ground.

'They have a pattern to what they do each day. They may have sought sanctuary, but they are not religious. When the service of Matins starts they go to a side room to carry on with their sleeping, away from the noise of chanting. Tonight is our best chance as today is the feast of Saint Lawrence the Martyr; the Abbot is particularly devoted to him. He has decided to hold a High Mass to end the day; it should keep everyone tied up at that end of the Abbey rather than the other end where our partridges have their nest. Even if we don't catch them in that hidey-hole, they are a long way from the Altar and the Frith Stool.'

'And if they escape us and run loose?'

'It will be like hunting the wren on Saint Stephen's day.'

'I wish you hadn't made that connection.' Sir Alan stood up and offered Geoffrey his hand to help the archer stand too. 'I am only too familiar with the fate of that wretched bird after it is caught.'

'I've made it the password actually,' Geoffrey replied taking hold of the Constable's proffered hand.

'Dear God, that's tempting fate.' Sir Alan pulled the archer up.

'There is no such thing as fate, only the will of God.'

Sir Alan grunted and let go of Geoffrey's hand. 'So, we have laid our plans and can do no more.'

'Yes: it is in God's hands how it turns out.' Geoffrey brushed straw from his buff coloured hosen. 'Will you be staying for communion with us?'

The doors opened and archers started to file in. Thomas Wulf led the group carrying a platter covered with loaves of bread whilst his brother Matthew and another man rolled in a half tun barrel.

'Best not. My position does not allow me the freedoms you have.'

'Another good reason to remain a yeoman in this life with assurance of reward in the next.'

'Talking of material rewards,' Sir Alan appraised the barrel Matthew and others were now putting on wooden frames that normally held horse tackle. 'That looks familiar with that brand on it. I trust it is not one of the barrels of wine His Grace the King allows me as tax from the Thames wine shipping?'

Geoffrey smiled: 'From the same ships as your last lot, true, but not from your stock. Master Chaucer had a debt he was having problems collecting. The boys and I took the wine as payment for a job well done.'

Sir Alan patted his cousin's shoulder, 'Let us hope your prayers bring us luck tonight cuz.'

Geoffrey Wulf looked over the congregation of archers and family assembling at the end of the stables before replying. 'Scripture comforts us with the knowledge that nothing happens to us that is not for our benefit. Even if tonight all goes wrong, God will have a purpose in it.'

Sir Alan walked to the door with Geoffrey. 'I wish I had your faith.'

'Stay with us,' Geoffrey smiled as he lent on the solid wooden door to the stables, its edge smooth and shiny with much handling, 'maybe you will gain the faith you seek? John Ball,' he indicated an overweight man in a russet garb that imitated a friar's habit rushing through the yard towards them, 'is speaking to us tonight.'

Sir Alan patted Geoffrey on his shoulder again and left.

***

'Sir William has the front guarded then Benedict?' Brian asked, his voice muffled inside the dark blue hooded cloak that sported the gold fretted blue lion of the Buxhalls on its left shoulder.

'I hope so. He suspects something is not quite right with what is going on, but seems content not to ask just what.' Benedict eased his sword belt and made sure his sheathed blade didn't cause any noise as he moved.

'Ignorance is bliss,' Sir Alan Buxhall contributed. 'Brian your archers are in place? Bows strung?'

'Sir Alan, and they know to mark their target before loosing.'

'Good, I don't like accidents. I have only once had to face English archers. It was a messy skirmish where we got mixed up with the French by accident. I didn't like it one bit, the noise alone was enough to put the fear of God up you. No the last thing I want is to come charging out after the quarry, only to become an instant hedgehog because some fool didn't recognise me!

'The Wren' prompted Brian.

'The what?' Sir Alan asked, his silvered eyebrows arching and catching the moonlight. 'Oh, the password: "The Wren!" I hope it works, my experience is that they get so carried away with the hunt they will shoot at anything and identify their target only when it is lying squirming in its own blood at their feet. Now where is that Wop?' The Constable turned to almost collide with Sir Inigo, 'Ah, Sir Inigo, there you are, the older I get the harder I find it to see at night.' Sir Alan stepped back and took in the fact that the Italian sported a tabard with the Buxhall device. 'Good, good, you look like one of us. Now get Fulk and ask him to round up the archers who are to come into the Abbey with us. Brian? Slink back into the shadows will you and make sure the conies don't bolt. Benedict? With me to yonder door and check my cousin has opened it for us.'

'All archers ready and armed Sir Inigo,' Fulk reassured the rather nervous knight as he approached him.

Sir Inigo looked over the body of men each with their liripipe hood pulled on, hiding their faces in darkness. A cloud covered the crescent moon and all but the men's buff coloured hosen and the heads of the arrows that they carried poked through their belts melted into the dark background of the sheds and outbuildings of the Abbey. 'Right, let us go then.' They moved towards the barely perceived shadows that were Sir Alan and Benedict at the opened side door into the Abbey. 'You lied to me Fulk!'

'I did?' the big man adjusted the oil blackened sallet helmet he wore. 'What about?'

'Scotsmen.'

'What Scotsmen?' having finished with his sallet, Fulk started tugging his tabard to get it to hang better over his mail.

'Brian le Coque.'

'He's not Scots.'

'You said he was from Scotland!'

'That's right, he is, but that's where he came from to get here. I never said he was Scots. I don't know what he is. I got on the drink with him one night and he started telling me this long and winding tale. It was something about as a child he had been an unclaimed hostage in Prussia and how the Teutonic Knights rescued him from the natives. The Knights raised him to be a blacksmith Sergeant-at-Arms and he later came over to Scotland with a Brother to raise funds. The problem was he managed to lose a week of his memory, as well as his purse, after a drinking binge and when he finally sobered up, the Brother gone back to Germany giving Brian up for dead in some brothel brawl that had happened at sometime when said Brian was out of it. There was lots more, but I remember the hangover more than the story.'

'Shhhhh!' Benedict hissed.

'What?' muttered Heylin and Lleywyn.

'The Wren.' A dozen archers hissed back.

'Oh God,' groaned Sir Alan.

'We'll get Brian on the wine when we get back and get the full story,' Fulk promised the Italian in a low voice that still carried though the small room they had all now entered.

'Shhhhh!' Benedict hissed, his voice sepulchral inside his visored sallet .

'What?' muttered Heylin and Lleywyn.

'The Wren.' A dozen archers hissed back.

'Oh God,' groaned Sir Alan.

Two of the archers came forward from the pack and approached Sir Alan. 'Dad told us where to go and we know the place quite well, so if you will follow us?' Matthew asked.

Sir Alan waved his hand for them to get on with it. Matthew opened the door carefully and then held it open for a while, allowing his eyes to adjust to the added light within the Abbey before slipping through, followed by his brother Thomas. One by one the archers moved out of the side room and slipped into the darkness, nocking their arrows as they went. Once sure that they had not been seen or heard Matthew gave a low owl hoot and Sir Alan with Sir Inigo and the men-at-arms followed, Fulk's sword scabbard making a rasping sound as he passed a stone column.

'Shhhhh!' Benedict hissed.

'What?' muttered Heylin and Lleywyn.

'The Wren.' A dozen archers hissed back.

'Oh God,' groaned Sir Alan. 'I feel I am in a mummers play,' he whispered to himself

'Shhhhh!' Benedict hissed.

'What?' muttered Heylin and Lleywyn.

'The Wren.' A dozen archers hissed back from various dark places.

'Oh God,' groaned Sir Alan. 'Not again.'

Silently dark archers flitted forward and, having secured the area, Matthew would call up the rest of the party. The nearer they got to the chancel, the louder was the chanting of the resident monks at their office. Judging his moment, Thomas crossed the nave. One by one a dozen archers joined him. Matthew slipped back to meet Sir Alan. 'Over there, that door in the corner. Dad says that they are in there.'

Sir Alan nodded and led his party across to the other side, hoping that the candle light around the high altar would blind those starting to celebrate High Mass as to what was going on at the other end of the nave. Once at the door Sir Alan drew his sword and the others followed suit, Heylin catching the pommel of his on a column.

'Shhhhh!' Benedict hissed.

'What?' muttered Heylin and Lleywyn inside their rusty bassinets.

'The Wren.' A dozen and a half archers hissed back from both sides of the nave.

'Oh God,' groaned Sir Alan.

Sir Alan opened the door with a hard pull, mentally noting that the hinge had been recently oiled and assuming that Geoffrey had done it. There, curled up on the fur-lined cloak he had stolen when fleeing the Tower of London, lay Robert Hauley bathed in dim moonlight coming through an opened window. Slumped in a corner, his back against the wall, was John Shakell, his squire.

Benedict spotted the men's swords conveniently stacked under the window and moved to cover both blades and window.

Sir Alan nodded approvingly and then looked to Inigo. The Italian stepped forward and kicked the foot of Hauley. The man slowly turned his head and opened sleepy eyes. Within an instant he was awake.

'Robert Hauley,' Sir Alan intoned. 'In the name of His Grace, Richard, King of England, France and Ireland, I am taking you back into custody on the charge of treason.'

'Sanctuary, I have claimed sanctuary!' Hauley wailed, awakening his companion Shakell who carefully eased himself up the wall till he was standing.

'No such thing for treason, Sir Alan informed him.

'Untrue!' Hauley insisted.

'Nor for being a debtor.' Sir Alan added for luck.

'Falsehood,' Hauley yelled.

'Keep your voice down,' Sir Alan insisted.

'Shhhhh!' Benedict hissed.

'What?' muttered Heylin and Lleywyn.

'The Wren.' A dozen archers hissed back from the main body of the Abbey.

Robert Hauley shoved his shoulder into Sir Alan and caused him to topple Fulk who was standing behind him. In the confusion John Shakell joined in the fracas, pulling the fur cloak from under the feet of the Lier brothers and casting it over the heads of Sir Inigo and Fulk and then pushing them onto Benedict as he stepped forward to intervene.

'Oh God,' groaned Sir Alan and he disentangled himself from the heap of men that clogged the doorway to the room.

As Shakell passed the old friar with the badly bent back, the friar thrust his rough staff between the fugitive's legs causing him to crash to the floor in a scattering of broken teeth. The friar pulled the man's liripipe hood back hard with his right hand and wound it round his victim's throat before pulling on it hard whilst at the same time jamming the man's throat into the crook of his left arm.

'Is he alive Geoffrey?' Sir Alan asked the friar.

Geoffrey Wulf waited until Shakell stopped struggling before releasing his hold. 'Just.'

'Fulk?' The man-at-arms came to Sir Alan's side. 'Take half a dozen archers and get him back to the Tower without delay and without attracting any more attention than you have to. Geoffrey?'

The friar stood up straight and adjusted his habit. 'Sir Alan? Where is Hauley?'

'Yes!'

'Sorry, it is hard to catch one man and watch another. The archers were watching the monks to make sure they hadn't noticed you and yours. If you missed him we don't know where he has gone. We shall just have to hunt the wren.'

'Oh God,' groaned Sir Alan.

Geoffrey gave a low whistle and signalled the remaining archers to start combing the Abbey for their quarry. All the noise had attracted attention, for although the Abbot and the other servers at the High Altar had their backs to the chancel and therefore were unawares of what was going on behind their backs, the monks in the quire were getting curious. First one or two monks turned to look and then, one at a time their companions, till in the end all were looking at Sir Alan and his men as they prodded and poked in their attempt to flush the hunted Robert Hauley out from his cover.

Suddenly the Abbot noticed the silence from his monks and the sound of knights, men-at-arms, and archers as they lifted, opened, or tipped over any thing that may have hidden their quarry. The Abbot turned and took in the intrusion of armed men into the house of God.

'What in God's name are you doing?' he asked in a voice that after years of practice, carried throughout the whole building.

'In the King's name we seek a traitor!' Sir Alan asserted.

'I am no traitor! I seek sanctuary.' Robert Hauley appeared from a darkened corner and made for the High Altar at a run.

'Stop him!' Sir Alan cried as he and his men ran forward.

'Haloo!' cried Benedict.

'Where away?' asked Heylin and Lleywyn.

'Hunt the Wren,' cried the excited archers.

'Oh God,' groaned Sir Alan.

'You shall not have him; he shall be protected by Mother Church,' insisted the young Sacrist, as he run to fill the tracks where Hauley had been, the priest's arms outspread to protect the sanctuary seeker's back. An arrow from Thomas' war bow caught the young man full in the chest and he was thrown to the floor by the force with half a yard of arrow protruding from his back, the point making a squealing noise as the dying man slid along the flagstones until the momentum broke the arrow's shaft.

'Oh God,' groaned Sir Alan.

'Don't let him reach the Frith Stool' cried Fulk as he came at the trot. 'He'll, he'll….' Lleywyn caught up with Hauley just as the fugitive got to the edge of the Frith Stool and dived, taking away his target's legs. Robert Hauley went down with a crash, hit his head on the edge of the stone Stool and lay in a thickening pool of his own blood. 'He'll get sanctuary otherwise,' Fulk looked down at the fallen man. Oh,' he finished lamely.

'Oh God,' groaned Sir Alan.

'Get him up and out of here quickly,' Geoffrey instructed his archers and before the Abbot or his monks realised fully what had happened, Sir Alan and his men had gone, taking the dead body of Hauley with them.

***

'He didn't mean to kill the Sacrist you know.' Geoffrey Wulf, wearing a shirt and hood in the Duke of Lancaster's colours of burberry and mulberry, sat forward in his chair and poured out some wine into a beautiful glass, which he then offered to Sir Alan Buxhall. 'He had aimed to take out Hauley's leg, that other fool leapt in the way.'

'The Sacrist isn't the problem, they are two a penny.' Sir Alan held the glass to the light admiring the red glow from the wine. 'As for Hauley; well the man must have had a head made of egg shell. No, the problem is more the matter of desecration of the Abbey, two violent killings, and all that.'

'Excommunication?'

'For certain, though it will be fought. At the Regents' behest, Sir Simon Burley and Sir Thomas Percy have been working on an idea of charging Nicholas Litlington the Abbot with obstructing the king's justice by harbouring a traitor and debtor who had no right to sanctuary in the first place. They have suggested calling him before Parliament at Gloucester. Apparently they have been talking to your Lollard friend John Wycliffe about the legal case. It is expected he will have to pay a fine. Anyway, it should all should cloud the waters a little.' He took an appreciative sip of the wine. 'Even if I avoid excommunication, which I doubt, at least in the short term, I'll not be able to avoid having to pay . old Archbishop Sudbury of Canterbury for the cost of re-consecrating the Abbey.'

'The cost of which may well equal the fine Abbot Litlington is up for?'

Sir Alan looked hurt: 'Tish Geoffrey, what a perverted mind you have.' The Constable then allowed himself a knowing smile.

'I thought so cuz. That is you looked after, but what of us? The rest of us I mean?' Geoffrey nodded to acknowledge the entrance of his daughters-in-law, Keziah and Edith into the room. Keziah came and kissed her father-in-law's head that was now starting to sport a white haze of stubble that matched that on his chin. Geoffrey looked up at her and she pulled his hood over his head in jest.

'Well,' Sir Alan turned to see the young women and smiled, 'Thomas and Matthew are due back on garrison duty at Bordeaux, so they will be safe. Benedict, Fulk, Lleywyn, and Heylin have more than one name, which is handy. Benedict can visit his family "oop North" for a while; till it quietens down. Despite what southerners say; they are not all hairy barbarians. Many are not hairy at all. Yes, Benedict can visit his border reeving kin and take some of my surplus supplies of Burgundy with him for they have a surprisingly discerning palate and are willing to pay good coin to satisfy it.' He took another sip of his own good Burgundy before continuing. 'The other three need a paying living, so they can be moved to a garrison in France for the duration of a contract. Fulk will like that, it will give him a chance to speak his mother's native French. Inigo, I think, needs to Anglicise his name and then we can send him to Brittany to check our armoury stores in the garrison towns. Any pronounced excommunication will be in their other names, so it shouldn't be a problem. Besides, who knows which Pope we will be following in a year's time, quite possibly not the one under whose auspices they were excommunicated. As for yourself: a few months away checking on my stewards and their book keeping at Morhall and Burwash should see things right.'

'Sir William?'

'Sir William Fleming? He's dammed for sure. But Sir Willihelm von Tannenburg,' Sir Alan allowed a cynical smile to cross his face. 'He was sent to Ghent to talk to our Flemish allies even before he managed to get back to the Tower that night to report that no one had tried to enter Westminster Abbey whilst he was on guard. To my knowledge he isn't aware of any mishaps inside the place.'

'Clever. And the King's feelings in this?'

Sir Alan leant across and helped himself to more wine. 'Very happy. With Hauley out of the way, young Shakell had been sufficiently frightened to agree to very good terms with His Grace regarding the Spanish hostage. He has even hinted that he would not be averse to helping me cover some of my expenses in the matter.'

'You trust his word?'

'He is the King, I am not allowed not to!'

'But all this still leaves us yeoman archers vulnerable. Are questions being asked?' Geoffrey accepted some cheese that Edith offered him on a wooden platter and smiled his thanks.

'Naturally. His grace of Canterbury, who thinks he knows the names of the Knights and men-at-arms involved, is also asking after the archers, only those inside the Abbey of course.' Sir Alan also took a platter with cheese from Edith. 'I don't suppose you know their names do you?'

'Tom Pierce, Jan Stewer, Harry Hawkins, Hugh Davies,' said Thomas as he joined the others in the room.

'Billy Inkpot, John Parsey, Dick Wilson,' contributed the newly arrived Matthew.

'And Uncle Tom Cobley?' asked Sir Alan.

'There were others of course,' added Geoffrey Wulf.

'Jack o' the Green, Wilikin Wightwood?' suggested Edith

'Johnny Hazelgreen and Robin Goodfellow?' put in Keziah.

'Will Doe?' asked Edith.

'And also Will Don't I suppose' asked Sir Alan with a genial smile.

'No Sir Alan,' Geoffrey corrected. 'He was out side with Brian's party.'

'For sure,' Thomas chipped in. 'And then there were others. What was it I heard?'

'We'll hunt the wren said Robin the Bobbin,' sang Matthew.

'We'll hunt the wren said Richard the Robin,' joined in Thomas.

'We'll hunt the wren said Jack o' the Land.' Edith & Keziah's soprano voices came in.

'We'll hunt the wren said everyone,' the whole family sang in harmony.

Sir Alan, mellow with wine, allowed Keziah to refill his glass. The Constable of the Tower of London sipped the Bordeaux red and closed his eyes. With them still closed he turned his head towards his whatever cousin, Geoffrey Wulf. In a soft voice he asked 'The leader of the archers? The one disguised as a friar? I don't suppose you know who that might have been?'

'Sir Alan? How would I know? Even if I did would I give you his name so that he could be the sacrificial Robin?'

Sir Alan gave a barking laugh.

'What?' asked Geoffrey, his face hidden within his hood.

'I've just thought of a name: Robin in the Hood!'

***

Hunting the Wren

(traditional)

We'll hunt the wren, says Robin the Bobin

We'll hunt the wren, says Richard the Robin

We'll hunt the wren, says Jack of the land

We'll hunt the wren says everyone

Where, oh where? says Robin the Bobin

says Richard the Robin

says Jack of the land

says everyone

In yonder green bush etc

How get him down? etc

With sticks and stones etc

How get him home? etc

The brewer's big cart etc

How'll we eat him? etc

With knives and forks etc

Who'll come to the dinner? etc

The king and the queen etc

Eyes to the blind, says Robin the Bobbin

Legs to the lame, says Richard the Robin

Pluck to the poor, says Jack of the land

Bones to the dogs, says everyone

The wren, the wren is king of the birds

On St. Stephen's Day he's caught in the furze

Although he is little, his family is great

We pray you, good people to give us a treat