The hare started and ran a zigzag course across the meadow. Two hounds streaked after it-one long and rangy with a white and brown brindle, the other small and jet black. The hare straightened its course, then looped back the way it had come. Shock turned tightly and almost stuck his nose up the creature's bum before it changed tack again, leaving the lurch aiming off in the wrong direction. The bigger hound tried to take the hare head on, only to have the animal turn at the last moment, leaving the dog with no target in sight. The hounds met each other and started sniffing the hare out. In the meantime, the hare sat bolted upright on its hind legs, watching them, but never moving.
"Shock, you stupid thing. Look in front of you. It's staring you in the face! SHOCK." Godfrew gesticulated in the direction of the hare, but to no avail, Shock's eyes lifted no higher than his nose, which was just above ground level. "SHOCK!"
"Give it up, Master Wulf. Your hound is as stupid and useless as mine. At least, being smaller, it won't eat so much." The reeve of Westbury had a nature as sunny as his yellow hair.
"Don't believe it. My father had huge hounds-deer hounds that stood as high as my elbow. That little runt eats as much as the two of them together." Godfrew looked around for a stone to throw.
"Would you take a wager on which hound catches the hare? Just to make it interesting, of course." The reeve kicked a stone loose and picked it up.
"Gambling, Siward? What would the Earl think?" Godfrew's voice mocked.
"The Earl would only be thinking of what odds to offer me! Mind, if my hound won, he would want to buy it and would make me an offer that I couldn't refuse." Siward tossed the stone up and caught it.
"Have you been to the Earl's main holding at Lydbury North?"
"Once. That was enough. I saw plenty to convince me that I should never refuse Earl Edric anything he requested." Siward gave Godfrew an amused smile. "Yes?" He showed the stone.
"Why not?" Godfrew grinned. "An ale to the winner and another for the winner's owner,"
"I can almost taste it now." Siward threw the stone. It landed just in front of the hare and the hare took off. The hounds saw the movement and gave chase. Again, the creature ran an erratic course, allowing the smaller Shock to get close more often than his larger opponent. Shock turned tighter on the turns, but the chase went on too long. As Shock tired and slowly dropped behind, the big greyhound came alongside the hare, grabbed it by the neck and threw it into the air. The hare landed back on the ground with a thud, it's neck broken.
"Leave it, leave it." Siward with Godfrew in his wake ran across, trying to beat the hounds to the hare. "GET OFF IT, LEAVE, Sleipnir, LEAVE." By the time the men reached the hare, only the rear legs were salvageable. Godfrew pulled the body away from the hounds and cut the rear half away with his saxe. As the battered remains of the shredded carcass hit the ground Shock and Sleipnir, red muzzled, fought over it.
"Oh, well, Siward, at least we got the best part" Godfrew stuffed the legs into the coarse sack hanging from his waist.
"The best part will come, Master Wulf, when I and my hound down that ale you owe." Siward tried to get the bits of dead hare away from Sleipnir, but each time he got close the greyhound ran to a safe distance and continued chomping. "Stupid hound." Siward looked back to Godfrew and shrugged his shoulders "Well, that's it for today ... with a full belly he won't be doing any chasing. Perhaps we should head back to the manor."
"Huh, giving up before I can get the chance to gain revenge. Your hound may be full, but mine still has an empty gut." Shock stood at Godfrew's heel, licking the blood dripping from the bottom of the sack.
"Would I dare try and cheat you, Master Wulf? Not if I want to keep in the good Lord Edric's favour." At last, Sleipnir, having bolted the remains of the hare, came over to his master and stretched, putting a paw on each of Siward's shoulders and licking his face with gusto. "Yes, yes ... I know. Good boy. Now, get down. No, not my mouth, you filthy animal. You stink." Siward lifted the hound off of his shoulders and made it stand at his side. "Honestly, Master Wulf. His breath is worse than a house carl's after a Yuletide's drinking bout."
"No, you wouldn't cheat and you haven't cheated. I've studied the books, so I know." Godfrew laughed and Siward, the manor reeve, joined him.
"Well, Master Wulf, that is good news. Are the other holdings as honest? I know that several of your men have already reported back."
"So far, so good." Godfrew nudged Shock away from the sack. The hound waited until Godfrew bent down to wipe the blade of his saxe clean on the grass before licking the bloodied sack bottom again.
"The Earl must be concerned about something ... what with you here and the other house carl over at Minsterley. Mind, he would have an easier time ... with that being book land. The monks would ensure that they got their full tithe."
"Maybe the Earl is concerned that they might be getting more than their tenth part."
"Maybe the Earl has other things on his mind than the honesty of his reeves."
Godfrew looked seriously at Siward. "The last man I met who thought he knew the Earl's mind ended up with out one."
"Ah, no offence meant. I did not mean to pry. Of course, the Earl needs to ensure that his holdings are being run properly and efficiently." Siward's voice had gone very quiet.
Godfrew broke the silence. "Now, Master Siward ... that ale. My throat feels it has been cut, if you will excuse the expression."
"Indeed, Master Wulf." Siward cheered up, but as they walked back across the meadows toward the manor, he pondered on Godfrew's words and decided that he had better be more careful with what he said in future.
The pair walked in silence to the old Roman road that headed in the direction of Shrewsbury, but they turned the other way toward Westbury, nestled under its wooded hill. As the manor came in sight, so did a boy running toward them.
"HO, MASTER SIWARD, HO." The boy was all arms and legs, trying to run and catch the reeve's eye at the same time. Siward looked across at Godfrew, who looked back.
"I wonder what this is all about, Master Wulf?" Siward called out to the boy: "Slow down, wait till you get here, slow down." Siward then stepped out to close the distance between himself and the runner. As they got nearer, he called out again: "Aldrich, what is it you want?"
"Trouble Master, trouble. We're calling the 'Hue and Cry'." The boy bent, holding his knees and drawing lungsfull of air. "Gesta, the goose-girl ..." again the lungs full of air. "... someone tried to rape her ..." the boy now stood up, his breath still coming unevenly, "... a short, dark, smelly man. He headed for the hill."
"Clunn," muttered Godfrew.
"What was that, Master Wulf?" enquired Siward.
"I said, 'Hmm'. I hadn't expected you to have that sort of problem here ... not unless there was raiding going on."
"Nor did I. But we must get back. As the reeve, they will be waiting for me to get things organised." Siward patted the boy on the shoulder: "Aldrich, get your breath back and follow us as best you can." Siward inclined his head toward Godfrew. "Shall we run, Master Wulf?"
"If you insist, Siward, but I regret I am not as fast my hound." Godfrew set off with Siward at a steady jog, the two hounds playing and bouncing around at their heels, finding the whole process fun.
The manor was in an uproar. Women with their children stood in huddles, talking and looking worried. Men gathered together in knots, waving their farm implements and shouting. Gesta was nowhere to be seen, but her geese waddled and hissed in front of the priest's small cottage. Siward rushed over to the well and called his men together. Godfrew hung by the gap in the hedge, unsure what his role should be.
"Master Wulf," the voice came from behind Godfrew's left side.
"Tosti. What in the name of all the saints possessed that little black rat to rape the goose-girl of the very manor he was supposed to met me at?" Godfrew hissed, anger showing in his voice.
"It's not quite as it seems, Master Wulf" Tosti continued in Godfrew's ear. "He didn't rape her." Godfrew started to turn around. "No, wait. We were on the way back from Shrewsbury. We saw this comely wench on the road ahead of us ... and you know Clunn."
"Don't waste my time, Tosti. I know Clunn very well ... and his disgusting habits. Get on with the story." Shock joined Godfrew and amused himself by sticking his nose into Tosti's crotch and sniffing. Tosti pushed the dog out of the way.
"She looked very comely and Clunn only wanted to chat her up ... get himself into her good book and set himself up for tonight, as it were," Tosti wheedled.
"And? And?" Shock reattached himself to Tosti's crotch. This time Tosti gave up trying to dissuade the animal and took to playing with Shock's ears.
"She was comely from the back, but not from the front. Goose-girl? Thirty years ago perhaps. More moles on her face than in a meadow ... wrinkled like a ploughed field ... hair like straw and little more than two peas rattling around inside her head. She is a girl only in her mind."
"And? And?" Godfrew watched as the men finally got themselves sorted out and headed toward the hedge, the hounds at their heels.
"She had heard what he was saying as he caught up with her and liked what he suggested in her ear. She didn't like it when he changed his mind, after seeing her face. There was no rape. Perhaps that is what she is complaining about. Fortunately, she didn't see me. Perhaps she only had eyes for the handsome Clunn." Tosti started to laugh. Shock sat on his haunches and stared up at the young warrior.
"I don't find it funny. Where is Clunn now?"
"Headed back to Shrewsbury. He said he would see you there later."
"If he beats the hounds." Godfrew patted his thigh. Shock left Tosti and sat by his master.
"He should. He covered himself in horse shit to cover his scent."
"That would be an improvement." Godfrew's tone lightened. "I only hope he has enough of a head start. I need him to get away, just so that I can get my hands on him."
"I think he will make it. He is still as cunning as a rat."
"Hmm. I hope the information you have gathered is well worth all this aggravation, Tosti."
"Oh, it is, Master Wulf. It is pure gold."
"So is horse shit." Godfrew and Tosti joined the Hue and Cry as it set off for the hill at the back of Westbury.
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