"It's a good thrashing I should be giving you, young Godfrew, not a horse!" The old man's speech had a tinge of an Icelandic accent. He carried on grooming, refusing to look at the speaker.
"Snorrie, the horse!" the voice was curt now.
"It's funny when you were but a boy I always commented on how polite you were and thoughtful too. I used to tell your father that I thought you would be better suited to be a churchman than a warrior. And here you are, rudely demanding I sell you-and I did say sell-sell you a horse." He turned quickly and pointed the horse brush straight at Godfrew, despite the fact that the warrior believed himself invisible in the dark stable corner. Anger blazed in the Icelander's eyes. "You left bodies in my stable-dead bodies! One was but a small wench, little more than a child, but the other two ... the other two, my short-tempered friend ... were Norman soldiers." He lowered the brush, then thrust it toward Godfrew again. "And don't tell me you didn't do it! Oh, I knew it was you that did it! When you hear of a young man inquiring about Drogo's boys-men who had been killing folk at Garratt-and then find two of them in a compromising state with a certain young warrior's hand-fast wife and them all dead to boot, you can easily put two and two together. You nearly got me hanged!"
"I never meant to put you at risk, Snorrie. It was fate that I found them in your stable." Godfrew's voice had softened. "But the horse! I need a horse!"
"Yes, they wanted to hang me, the Normans did. There and then, in my own stable, from my own roof beam." Snorrie's voice was now a shout. He waved the brush at Godfrew. "Would have done it, too, if it wasn't for one of their masters being present, reminding them that 'King' William insisted that they followed the English laws. They still held me! I spent a week chained to the tail of a cart at Brixton awaiting the gathering of the Hundred Moot . Have you ever laid in your own piss and shit, boy? All inside your breeches, sticking, stinging, burning? Nor had I, till then! It is not a nice experience." The voice dropped in volume and Snorrie went back to grooming the horse. "Naturally, when they brought me before the Hundred Moot, I was let off. In addition to my twelve sworn men, I had witnesses that told the Moot I was with Abbot Helm at Mortlake all that morning-now there is a shrewd buyer and seller of horse flesh." He glanced back at Godfrew, who had now moved into the light being given off by the torch. "My still being alive is no thanks to you. And you want a horse from me?" The mare moved and Snorrie quieted her. "Why didn't you steal one from Wimbledon manor when you killed Drogo? I assume it was you that killed him?" He looked for confirmation, but did not get it. "They raised the hue and cry here to find the killer. Swein's place would have been quicker, though I doubt that old Viking would help. He would think twice about helping his own mother, that one. As soon as I heard it was Drogo, I knew it was you. So why didn't you steal a horse?"
"You forgot?" A note of resignation entered Snorrie's voice. "You haven't changed much. Always forgetting things, the important things like not killing people in someone else's stable." The brush stokes became firmer than the voice and the mare jittered. Snorrie stopped brushing and turned again to Godfrew. "You want a horse? For your dead father's sake, I will sell you one. Just never come back here again!"
"I want a fast one with good lungs and plenty of stamina."
"You will get what I sell you. You do not want a fast one. You want a plain horse-one that has no distinguishing features, does not stand out. You are very distinctive Godfrew ... one eye with a white lens, always screwed up in the light, your long legs, your stiff walk. People remember you. You were named at the Hundred Moot in relation to an incident at Tooting. No doubt people will link you with what happened here and at Wimbledon. Only the simple folk think it's all down to Woden. You will be called to the Shire Moot. You won't go, but you will be called. There, no doubt, you will be made outlaw and declared a Wolfshead probably." Snorrie glanced at the wolf cloak and pointed. "Very appropriate, but it will get you hanged. If you must wear it, turn it inside out. If you wish to avoid being hanged, you will need to be very discrete in all things." The ostler walked further into the stable and brought out a small dark pony to the waiting Godfrew. "What are you going to pay for her with?"
"A gold ring." Godfrew pulled out a simple band.
"And the rest?" Snorrie tilted his head and raised his eyebrows.
"That nag is not worth even this."
"That plain, unnoticeable, but very strong nag is worth whatever I ask for to someone in your position. And don't even think about trying to steal her from me. I may not be young, but I can still drop you, boy. I need no weapons." Snorrie folded his still muscular arms across his barrel chest.
"Any more rings?"
Godfrew rummaged in his purse and pulled out another. This one was embossed in a heavy Flemish pattern. He proffered it to Snorrie. The older man took it and went to stand under the torch. First, he held it to the light, then he bit it to gauge its softness. The torchlight glinted off of his bald head. "This one and half the other."
"I have a choice?"
"No! Try and haggle and I'll take the other half as well."
"A saddle comes with it, of course?"
"It's an extra that will cost you the other half of the plain ring. It would be a pity to cut it up." The ostler pocketed both rings. "I must admit though, boy it was funny them three all stuck together." He glanced across, but Godfrew wasn't laughing. "Come on, lad! It was funny! The look on those Normans' faces." He shook his head from side to side and then snuck another glance at Godfrew. "Still not smiling? No well I suppose ... it was your hand-fast wife. It was funny, though." He looked at Godfrew again. "Don't try and work out why she did it, boy. You'll be at it for years and still end up with the wrong answer. I came here oh many summers ago in mighty Knute's time-years before the sainted Edward had come to the throne, so that will tell how long ago it was. I only stopped to water my horse saw this young girl-a skinny thing about fourteen or fifteen years of age. And I've been here ever since. You wouldn't think my missus was skinny once, would you? All those years we've been together and I still don't understand her-let alone her logic. She broke down crying when they took me away after finding your little piece of work. She didn't stop till I got home again. Go, boy, before I change my mind about letting you have the horse."
Hundred Moot: Hundred: divisional unit of the shire consisting of 100 hides. Moot: meeting, usually of freemen, but at the lower level could include all folk. Back
Woden (Oðin to the Norse) was the supreme Germanic god. Usually regarded as the god of war, he was also regarded as being a somewhat benign god, despite the fact that the slain of battle were his and human sacrifices were sometimes offered to him. His wisdom came when he drank from the magic cauldron, Oðrerir, in exchange for one of his eyes. To learn the runes, as a young man he hung for nine days on a gallows tree pierced through with a spear which he had dedicated to himself. Always associated with wolves, he was also connected with ravens, two of whom-Huginn, thought and Munnin, memory-came to him each night and told him all the news they had gathered from flying over the earth all day. Woden often travelled the earth disguised as an old man. The number nine is significant to Woden and his worship. Back
Wolfshead the Saxon name for a rebel. The price paid for proof of killing a rebel being the same as that for proof of killing a wolf: 50 silver pennies. Back
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