The old man rolled along the road at a stiff gait. He held the bridle of the horse, encouraging it through the muddy pot-holes in the road and through the Sussex Weald. His chest heaved and rattled with the physical effort. The horse gave a strong pull and the cart lurched forward, its load of sacks filled with charcoal crunching as they readjusted themselves. He let go of the bridle, walked alongside the horse and took off his broad-rimmed hat.
As he pulled out a dirty rag from his sleeve and wiped his sweat-covered bald head, he looked at the damp rag, then ran it over his face-the material catching on the sparse white whiskers that covered his chin like a light hoar frost.
The old man hawked and spat, then turned to check that his black hound was following. Ahead of him rumbled another cart with a figure walking alongside the horse. The other man was shorter than the old man, but more powerfully built and strode along with the vigour of youth.
"It's no good you rushing, Moithar. We will not get back home today. Why all the hurry?" Godfrew coughed up another piece of phlegm and spat it out. Shuck Shockson ran alongside his master and leered up at him, tongue lolling out of his gaping mouth. Fresh blood stained his flanks. Godfrew touched the hound's head with his hand. "Not you, too? Why is everyone in such a hurry these days?"
Shuck quickly moved away and faced the road from whence they had come and gave a sharp bark. Godfrew had just enough time to flatten himself against the cart to prevent himself from being trampled under foot by a pony being ridden hard. The rider had his hair cut short, but hanging on behind him was a young boy with his hair long in the English style. The pony overtook Moithar's cart and then swung around as the rider hauled on the reins.
"HALT! HALT!" The rider held out his hand." I said stop! STOP!"
Moithar called to his horse and it gladly stopped, pleased for the chance to rest.
"Who are you and what are you doing here? Who you, why here?" demanded the rider, sliding down from his saddle.
"We are the brewers. We are taking charcoal back." Moithar ran his hands down the back of his horse, causing it to shiver and stamp its back hooves.
"What these?" the rider picked hold of two blood-covered animals hanging from the cart's rail.
"Short-legged hares. The hound caught them back there. We are going to have them for supper." Moithar started to undo the animals. "Why? Do you want one?"
"Not hares." The rider took the proffered animal and examined it. "These rabbits."
"Rabbits? What are rabbits?" Moithar turned and called back to Godfrew. "Dad, what are rabbits?"
Godfrew came up and stood on the other side of the rider, leaning on an scarred old wooden staff. "Rabbits? No idea, son."
The rider screwed up his face in disgust at such ignorance. "Rabbits, these belong to lord. They kept only for him. You no take."
"If they belong to the Lord, then we can take them," Godfrew answered aggressively. "For does not scripture say that God told Noah after the flood that man can take all creatures for his own use?"
The rider turned his attention away from Moithar and gave it to Godfrew. "Not God-type Lord, dummy! Manor Lord."
Godfrew leaned more heavily on the staff he held in his hand. "This is common land. Even if these funny hares are called "rabbits" by you French, this is common land. No one holds the right of exclusive hunting here. We have held that right since the land was wrested from the Welsh. Generation after generation of English have hunted here without let or hindrance ... so don't tell me, Frenchman, what we can or can't do in our own land."
"Look, old fool, things different now. This land common, but you no hunt."
"Piss off, Frog."
"Dad!" Moithar called out in desperation.
"Old man, I take you back. We go Manor court. You in trouble."
"Me? In trouble? I think not." Godfrew edged back his old white wool cloak to reveal that the staff he held was attached to the head of his axe, Neckbiter.
"Dad, no!" Moithar's loud call disturbed his cart horse and he grabbed hold of its bridle to calm it.
The rider ignored what was happening behind him and kept his attention on Godfrew. "You silly old fool. What you think you do with that?"
Godfrew shucked the cloak off of his shoulder and took up a fighting stance.
"Dear God save me from imbeciles such as this!" The rider threw back his head and laughed. "You look very stupid, old man," he laughed again.
Godfrew lifted the axe as far as his damaged shoulder would let him. There was a sound of ripping linen as the shoulder muscle tore and freed itself. Neckbiter arced through the air and the Frenchman's laughter changed to a cry of fear, then stopped altogether.
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