The Prior, his monks in procession, stood before the Breton Captain bearing bell, book and candle. "That man is one of the brethren. If you do not let him go, I will excommunicate you!" He turned to the monk at his side, "Brother Heluin, you're French, tell him what I said."
Heluin stepped forward. As he did so, he rubbed the star-shaped scar on his cheek that had been made by a stone from an English slingshot as he had charged with the Norman cavalry up the hill at Senlac. "That man is one of the brethren. If you do not let him go, I will excommunicate you," he translated.
"Tell that upstart Saxon monk that I don't give a rat's arse what he says. The prisoner is wanted in four counties for treason and murder. He can do whatever he likes, but the prisoner is mine!" The Breton rubbed his weeping snout with a rag and glared balefully at the Prior with his good eye.
"What did he say?" asked the Prior leaning over Heluin's shoulder.
"He said 'no'."
"Tell him again that the man cannot be tried by any other than the Church, as he is a priest."
"Father?" asked Brother Heluin. "You know that he has not been consecrated. How can I tell this man that Godfrew is a priest?"
The Prior shrugged his shoulders. "Scripturally, all Christians are members of God's Royal Priesthood, but I doubt if our pig-faced friend here wishes to discuss doctrinal and theological niceties. Just tell him what I said and let it be on my conscience."
Heluin coughed into his hand and then readdressed the Breton: "The man you are holding is a priest. He bares a tonsure."
The Captain gave a strange, gurgling laugh."Him a priest?" He grabbed Heluin's habit and pulled him to a finger length from his fetid face."He had that tonsure when he murdered my men at Shrewsbury. He had it when he murdered more of them at Huntingdon. I even heard that he had it not so long ago when he murdered the reeve at Garratt. He is no priest. He is just a bald, rabid, old wolf who needs putting down." He let go of Heluin, who staggered back into the arms of the Prior.
"No?" inquired the Prior.
"No," confirmed Heluin.
"Then although I may not be able to help Godfrew, I can and will excommunicate this French excrement."
The Prior and his monks had just finished their act of excommunication when the door opened and a richly-dressed man came in. Although he wore his hair in the long, English style and had drooping moustaches, his dress was French. He waited for the Prior to finish and troop his monks out before going to the Breton Captain.
"What was that all about, Nigel?" asked Rualon. He spoke in Breton.
"Lord Rualon." The Captain dipped his head in salute to the king's councilor and friend. As his head angled down, watery snot fell on the rush-covered floor with a quiet plop. "Nothing important. The Prior was just expressing concern at the fact that I have arrested one of his servants."
"You did what?" Rualon's face went red and he swallowed hard. "You had better have a very good reason for having done so, Nigel, or I will personally see you nailed to the door. The king would be furious if we upset the Archbishop so near to his wedding."
"The man is wanted all over the country for murder and treason. I ... we, rather ... have been seeking him for years. I intend to take him back to Rochester to stand trial." The Captain dabbed his watery eye with the rag and then stuck it under his weeping snout to absorb the drips.
"For years, Nigel? How many years?" Rualon went to the table and poured a watery red wine into the plain wooden goblet that stood by the ewer.
"Since the battle of Hastings when Duke William of Normandy became King William the Conquer of England."
"Oh, no, Nigel. That will not do. The Conqueror's son, King William Rufus, issued an amnesty to those rebels who still stood condemned for their part in the English resistance."
"There is the murder of the reeve at Garratt!" the Captain insisted.
"And that was definitely him? Beyond any reasonable doubt? Enough witnesses to hang him?"
"Perhaps not, Lord Rualon," conceded the Captain, again dabbing his eye.
"Perhaps not! You know not. That place is not even in my jurisdiction. Even arresting him here for trial back in Kent will need some explaining. I suspect that this is a personal matter, Nigel. Is it?" Rualon tasted the wine and found it to his liking, so he quaffed it all and poured himself another.
The Captain shuffled his feet. "Nothing personal, I assure you. It is just that I have wanted him caught for so long, Lord Rualon."
"Is that so?" Rualon sat on the table edge. "Nigel, you are a thing of the past ... rather like your quarry. Two old men, still fighting the battles of the past. Hah!" He sipped his drink. "Our beloved king, King Henry, is English born. Next week he marries Edith of Scotland, who is of the old English royal family. Their union will at last legitimise the throne. Even those English who still hate the French for the invasion-and all that happened afterwards-will have to agree about that. And you want to stir it all up again? I really think, Nigel, that I will have to have you sent back to Brittany." After another sip of wine, he looked across the rim of the goblet. "Maybe I will recommend to the king that he should have you put in a monastery alongside this prisoner of yours. You could talk about old times together."
"But he is still wanted on existing warrants. I am sure that I can find them when we get back."
"I am sure you will ... warrants with the ink on them still wet, no doubt." Rualon put his now empty goblet down and headed for the door. "I know that you are the Sheriff of Kent's man and not mine, but you will only take this man prisoner at my displeasure. I personally will see King Henry and ask him to pardon the man as part of the benefits he issues on his wedding day. Earlier, you told me that the monks were here only to protest about you arresting one of the servants. You lied! I may not know my Latin as well as I should, but even I could tell that they were excommunicating you. If you ignore what they have done and if you take their servant and put him on trial, I can assure you that they will go to Archbishop 'Holier-Than-Thou' Anslem and cause no end of trouble. There is too much at stake here between King, country and church. With Henry so recent on the throne, I can assure you that I-and all of the King's friends and companions-will not see anyone put everything at risk. Especially, if it is all about a senile old fool who once thought he could reverse history. Rebellions have been caused by less."
The baron strode out.
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