The peep-hole in the solid oak door slid open. "Yes?"
"I have business with Teodoric the goldsmith." Godfrew bent to catch the eye of the speaker.
"So 'ave many people. 'oo should I tell the Master is without?" the high voice hinted that the speaker was a young apprentice.
"Wulf, Aldred at The Bush's journeyman. It concerns a deposit he wishes to make. Please hurry, I don't feel safe on the street."
The peep hole closed abruptly and Godfrew could hear retreating footsteps. The rain kept up its persistent downpour. Yellow puddles formed around the horse dung in the street and little foul rivers ran through the cobbles to meet at a large, smelly midden heap at the end of a row of half-timbered stone houses that adjoined the wall of Teodoric's house. There was no cover at the wall, so Godfrew turned his back to the rain and pressed his face against the door. The rain dripped off the end of his cloak, ran down the back of his leg wrappings and into his shoes. He wriggled his cold wet feet and felt most miserable. The peep-hole opened again. "For mercy's sake let me in out of this weather."
"The Master will see you, but stand well back from the door." Godfrew stood back and the door opened outwards. In the yard stood the apprentice and two archers, bows drawn. "Can't be too sure these days, Master Wulf. Please ter follow me." The apprentice turned and ran toward the house. The archers unnotched their arrows and went about closing the door. Godfrew followed the boy, dodging puddles and muck as he went. "Your cloak, Master Wulf?" asked the boy, once they were inside.
Godfrew pulled back the hood of the sodden garment. "No, I doubt I'll be long. Now Teodoric?"
"Follow me, though yer really should let me look after your cloak, as Master Teodoric won't like yer dripping all over 'is polished wooden floor."
The apprentice climbed up a broad sweep of stairs, two at a time. Godfrew's back was all right at the present, but he took the stairs only one at a time, just in case. The boy knocked at a door. "Master Teodoric, Master Wulf of The Bush is 'ere." At the grunted response, the boy flicked the latch and open the door.
Inside sat Teodoric the goldsmith. At his feet--and either side of him--were ornate charcoal braziers. The heat eddied across the room. Teodoric was examining a gold arm band that had been damaged by what looked like a sword cut. "Come in, I'll not be long." Teodoric did not look up from his task, rolling the piece in his hands, first this way and then that. "Hmm." He put the piece on the table and looked up. "Now, Master Wulf, how much does our good friend Aldred want to deposit this time?"
"I don't know," replied Godfrew. "I want to make a withdrawal on behalf of someone else."
"A what? Now if you I know you, don't I? Your name is not Wulf at all, it's, it's ah, yes, I know now it's young Godfrew from Garratt. You have aged, boy, and not for the better." Teodoric moved his thin rump on the plump cushion that graced his stool. "What's all this Aldred nonsense?"
"I needed to get in. I thought you might be reluctant to open the door to the son of a dead man whose treasure you were holding."
"I see. That's the withdrawal part then?" Teodoric played with some nasal hair, tweaking it this way and that, then he leaned back and crossed his hands over his stomach. "Your father is dead. I am duty bound to hand the treasure, what little there is, to his heir. You, my friend, have been declared outlaw and a Wolfshead. You cannot inherit. There are, of course, other's who may now inherit. And they will no doubt put their cases to the Shire Moot, which, in the fullness of time, will come up with a decision. Until then, the treasure stays here."
Godfrew put his right hand inside the cloak and pulled his saxe from its hiding place behind his back. "I would like to take it with me now. I am sure you wish to keep your life."
"And if I say no and you kill me, do you think you will get out of here alive?" Teodoric's snake-like eyes were glued on the blade of the saxe.
"I'm sure it won't come to that. We are both reasonable men."
"Yes, you are a man now. Six months ago, you were a youth. All right, Master 'Wulf,' let's say that we talk about the problem."
"There is no problem. I want to withdraw what gold and coin you hold of my father's. The jewels can be kept for my relatives, if they want them. The coin will need to be in bags, the gold in travelling bars." Godfrew drew nearer to the goldsmith and felt the warmth from the braziers.
"Did you say bags of coin? Bag, singular. I will show you the books if you have the time. You can calculate and read can't you? Oh, yes, you can! I remember how proud your father was of the fact. But the gold travelling bars, there is a worry. Your father is due two and a half at standard weight. I have only one and a half at present. You can either take that or return later tonight for the full payment." Teodoric had not moved nor taken his eyes off of the saxe.
"I'm not sure that I can trust your figures. With interest, there should be more." Steam drifted from the edges of Godfrew's cloak and the fumes from the charcoal was starting to make his eyes water.
"Interest is usury and usury is forbidden by Mother Church."
"True. Well what are you going to do?"
"I'll take what you have ready."
"Not the gold. I keep it in another place. Safe." Teodoric smiled, not very pleasantly.
"Then I shall be back for it later. Now the silver pennies." Godfrew brought the blade of the saxe to the end of Teodoric's nose and nicked it. Teodoric moved his stool back and got out of range. He knocked twice on the floor with the heel of his foot. A long minute passed, then the apprentice came in. "Twenty seven silver pennies, Tork, in a soft leather purse, if you please." Godfrew leaned forward menacingly. "No, make that a round thirty to cover interest. Master Wulf will come with you."
"A pleasure doing business with you. I'll return later to finish the matter."
"I'll look forward to that."
"I'm sure you will." Godfrew followed the boy, collected the purse and left.
Godfrew sat at the upstairs window in the house across the street and occasionally watched the street below. A Norman guarded the door to Teodoric's yard now. There were others inside. Getting lodging so close had been fortunate, though not deliberate. Soon after leaving, he had been stricken by stomach cramps and a strong need to use the privy. A serving maid had seen his distress and brought him into the house where he now lodged.
With so much uncertainty around, many were glad of an extra source of income and his host was amongst them. The room was small and musty, but it was dry. Only one leak in the thatch was troubling and even that was not a problem now he had moved his cot.
The rain had ceased after two days, together with Godfrew's need to constantly visit the privy. He had been able to get out and about the city of London watching, talking, buying things he needed. All was a-bustle with much coming and going to the king's hall by both English and Norman. The former were in their best clothes, the latter in mail-coats.
Godfrew had his cloak draped over his knees. He had purchased some thread and a needle and was making an adjustment to the hood. He had cut out the lining behind the wolf's eyes and was stitching the hide around the cut. The stitches were large, but tidy. The workmanship was not up to his mother's standards, but it was serviceable. His time with the army had convinced him that stitching leather was an essential skill. His time as a child watching his mother had not been a waste.
Hearing voices outside, he looked out. As he watched, Teodoric's door opened. A fresh Norman guard came out and, after a chat, the old one went in. The guard was changed thrice a day. The one who was on now would be there all night. The lack of cover made it a very uncomfortable job, standing in all weather. It also made it difficult to sleep, as the door into Teodoric's yard was in view of the whole street, but Godfrew had learnt the man's pattern: he would wait until the apprentice brought him food and drink prior to the house lights going out. The Norman would then eat, piss, and afterwards sit on the roadside with his back to the door. Godfrew was unsure whether the man slept or not. If he did, he didn't snore.
Godfrew looked at his handiwork and then tried the cloak on. It took a bit of pushing and pulling, but he got the eye-holes to line up with his own. He then pinched the wolf's mask and took the cloak off. Using the creases in the mask, he put in some more stitches to hold the shape, so that next time the eye-holes would line up automatically.
At sunset, the lights opposite came on and Godfrew went downstairs to eat with his hosts. The couple were both Londoners, though the man, like many Londoners, bore a Danish name. The man made his living as a hammer smith for the London monier. The dinner conversation, as it had every night Godfrew had been there, centred around the fact that there was a new and foreign king. As a result, there was much uncertainty as to whether he would continue the English practice of having a monier in each shire, or centralise it. If it was centralised, where would the mint be? In fact, where would the capital be? Winchester? London? Salisbury? York?
York would not have been a likely choice, as the north was still more Viking than English and more English than Norman. So where? The conversation had no end. As per every other night, it went around and around in a circle. Godfrew nodded his head at the appropriate times whilst his hosts continued to worry about the location of the mint.
Godfrew looked at the comfort of the house and appreciated that its standards told of happy and profitable times in the past. The double story suggested that perhaps some of the realm's silver coins had been diverted. There were five or six children. Godfrew wasn't sure if there was a set of twins or a set of triplets, as they all looked alike and never seemed to keep still. Either way, the good wife looked and acted as if she was permanently exhausted. Having a serving maid helped her. The maid was helpful-too helpful for Godfrew's liking in his present situation. The housewife made it clear that she found having a lodger just another burden that she would rather not have had. Not that she was rude. It was just in her tone and manner when she spoke to him.
After the meal, Godfrew returned to his room and watched the house opposite and its guard. As the evening lengthened, the lights went out one by one until only the kitchen and Teodoric's room remained lit. Godfrew eased the leather curtain to his room and listened. The host and his wife were getting ready to retire for the night, but he could not hear the maid. A clink, followed by a splash of water, told that she was in the yard-probably washing a bowl or dish.
He went back to the window. The Norman was still awaiting his supper. The host and his wife climbed the stairs and went to their chamber. Soon snores filled the upper story and the Norman stillawaited his supper.
Godfrew picked up his cloak and gear and moved silently down the stairs. He stopped before he got to the main room and looked for the maid. She was asleep, curled up like a cat by the fire. Godfrew left, checked to see if the pony was ready, then made his way to the street.
"Dog's shit, cat's balls and snails, your worship." The apprentice proffered a steaming plate to the Norman guard: "Good appetite."
"More pig's swill, I suppose, you Saxon dog. Thank you." The Norman took the plate and used a piece of hard acorn bread to shovel the stew into his mouth. Regardless of the quality of the food, it was hot. It took a while for the Norman to eat the meal, accompanying his mouthfuls with much sucking in of cold air. There was a small jug of watery ale. He took a swig of it between each mouthful. Eventually, he finished. Putting his utensils down, he walked a little way from the door in the wall, slackened his breeches, and started to piss against the stones. The walrus rope flicked over his neck and Godfrew pulled his victim close as he tightened the rope. His wrists crossed and locked. The Norman fought, kicking and struggling. Godfrew pushed him against the wall and the man's helmet tipped forward, levered by the nasal guard, then came off as his face rolled sideways. The struggles became less coordinated now and the man's efforts concentrated on a vain attempt to get some fingers under the rope to relieve the pressure on his windpipe. Blood flicked onto the stone wall as the Norman's fingernails cut and scratched his own throat. Slowly, the struggling ceased and the Norman shat himself. Godfrew checked the street and saw that nothing moved. He pulled the dead man to the front of the door and propped him up. The man squelched in his own excreta. Godfrew replaced the missing helmet and looked at his handiwork. The Norman looked no different tonight than he did at on any other night about this time. He just smelled a bit more.
Godfrew unwound more of the walrus hide rope and attached a small grappling hook. With two swings the hook caught on the top of the stone wall, Godfrew pulled the hood of his cloak back onto his head and quickly climbed the wall. It was only the height of two men, so it did not take much effort. Before letting himself down the other side, he flattened himself on the top and looked into the yard. The lights were still burning in the kitchens and he could see at least two men working in there. Otherwise, all was still. He lowered himself into the yard, leaving the rope in place.
"I just saw a wolf climb down the wall." The balding man in grease covered clothing picked up a piece of firewood and strode into the yard.
His companion continued his task of raking out the oven's fire box. "What was that, Erik? I've got me 'ead in the oven. For a minute there, I thought you said there was a wolf climbing down the wall. Erik?" The second scullion emerged from the oven's fire box with a face like a Black-a-Moor. He looked around the kitchen and then glimpsed his mate lying in the yard with a wolf worrying him. "ERIK!" He charged out, grabbing a cleaver as he ran. The wolf stood up and hit the scullion with Erik's firewood. Godfrew dragged Erik into the kitchen and trussed him up with strips cut from the man's own shirt. As it was cold, he left him near the fire. When he started to drag the second man, Godfrew's back gave a twinge - so, in spite of the cold, Godfrew trussed him up and left him where he had fallen in the yard.
The lamp in Teodoric's room was still alight and Godfrew made his way up there cautiously, sniffing the air like the wolf he had become. Outside Teodoric's door stood another Norman. He had a scored nasal guard on his helmet and a badly broken nose. Godfrew recognised him as the sergeant from Wimbledon.
Teodoric sat in his room counting out money. The silver pennies winked at him in the lamp light, returning the affection that Teodoric obviously felt for them. There was a knock at the door. "What is it, Charles-Who-Once-Was-a-Sergeant? Oh, blast! I forgot." He switched to French. "What do you want Charles?" There was no response. "Come in! Come in!" The door swung open and Charles the ex-Sergeant stood there. "Well WELL? Oh, goodness me well."
A wolf peered over Charles' shoulder. "Good evening, Teodoric," said the wolf.
Charles the ex-sergeant bowed his knees, then slowly lay prone as a priest before the altar. Teodoric screamed and piddled himself. In the dim glimmering light of the doorway, the wolf stepped forward and changed into a man--a man with one eye, a young face, silver-streaked hair, and the stance of an old man. "Wolf shape-changer Woden." Teodoric stood up sharply, catching the edge of the bench with his knees and setting the coins jangling and dancing onto the floor.
"You owe someone some money, I believe, Teodoric."
"A few outstanding debits, all accounted for " He waived his hand over the bench and the books piled on one side.
"I am thinking of one person in particular," said the one-eyed man. "Someone you feared enough to bring in the Normans."
"I am acting as banker for the new king. He set the guard. I owe no one. See here!" He pointed to a chest against the wall behind him, "I have the gold ready for your friend ... both travelling bars." A look of disbelief crossed the shape-changer's face. "Oh, dear God, was it you, Lord Woden. Was it you yourself?" Teodoric sank to his knees. The urine was dripping from his breeches onto the polished wooden floor of which he was so proud.
"It was I. You needed to be put to the test " the man's voice rose in pitch, " and you failed. The gold, Teodoric."
"You are welcome to it-and more besides. Take it! Please!" Teodoric's voice took on a whining edge. He lowered his head and started to cry.
"I asked for what was owed. You offered two and a half bars. How much do you really owe? And remember, I know all."
"Four. And another ten silver pennies. Oh, Lord Woden, take it and leave leave!" Teodoric's voice had thickened from the crying and snot ran down his nose, mixing with the tears.
"And what shall I do with you, my greedy friend?"
"Master! Woden! What ever. I just don't want to die! Please, don't kill me." Teodoric grovelled and fawned. He started to shuffle on his knees toward the one-eyed man.
"Stay put, you smelly thief. Lay on your belly like the snake that you are!" As Teodoric rolled over, Godfrew stepped forward and laced ankles, wrists, and neck together. He finished his work off with a rag gag, then went to the chest and took out the four travelling bars of gold that were due to him. As he collected the silver coins from the floor, he said, "I have my reward, but what reward shall I find for you? Perhaps a reminder that you should always lend a sympathetic ear to those in need."
Godfrew pulled out his saxe and sliced off one of Teodoric's ears.
Teodoric opened his eyes in shock and saw the man turn back into a wolf as he left. Teodoric started crying again, though whether from relief, fear, pain, frustration, or anger, not even he knew.
Godfrew made his way downstairs as quietly as he could, keeping his ears well open for any sound of movement, but all he could catch was the laboured breathing of the trussed and gagged men in the kitchen. As he drew near them, they averted their eyes and rolled out of his way. As best he could with his restricted right hand, Erik made a sign to ward off the evil one. Erik rolled back and watched through the open doorway. He saw the wolf silently climb the wall and disappear, then breathed easier.
Godfrew went around the rear of his host's house and found the dark pony. He slipped the gold travelling bars into the narrow pouches he had sewn under the saddle skirt. As he looked and listened, there was no movement and no sounds.
Taking a chance, he entered the house. The fire had died down and the maid had curled into a tighter ball. She snuffled in her sleep, but did not wake, so Godfrew made his way up the stairs. The host and his wife were still snoring. Godfrew left the monies he owed on the cot in his own room and made his way downstairs again. The maid had thrown an arm out. Godfrew bent down, put a cut half silver penny in the palm of her hand and folded her fingers over it. She had been helpful and kind when he had been unwell and in need of a roof.
If Godfrew had wanted, she would have been helpful and kind in other ways, too. That thought amused Godfrew. He left and rode out of the small yard on the dark pony, his mind again on a maid, but this time he was thinking of the one from Kent.
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