"Who's that? Open the door. Come in, so that I can see you." The Norman soldier tightened his grip on his sword and held his left hand out for better balance. He listened hard. The faint scuffling noise outside the door continued. Cautiously, he edged toward the closed door. "Cover me, Yves," he called to his companion. "Put those dammed dice away and get here, now." The other man-at-arms reluctantly stuffed the dice into a small velvet bag hanging from his belt and came over, unsheathing his sword as he walked. The first Norman nodded to Yves and threw the door open. Shock walked in, went straight over to Godfrew and started to lick his face. The two Norman men-at-arms on duty outside the stone storehouse burst out laughing.
"Very funny. Ha, ha!" The soldier slammed the door shut. "Pillocks, what are they trying to do? Give us heart attacks?" he asked Yves.
"You are getting jumpy, Ralf. I really think that you believe the story that this wretch," Yves stuck his foot under Godfrew's ribs and flicked him over onto his back, "does turn into a wolf at midnight." Yves kicked Shock out of the way, but the hound returned to his ministrations as soon as the Norman wandered back to the barrel he had been using as a seat.
Ralf joined Yves and was laying his weapon across a third barrel that they were using as a dice table when a voice asked: "Do you want some food?" Ralf dropped his sword with a clatter. Quickly scrabbling to grab the hilt, he turned and saw a tall figure standing in the doorway. "Do you want this food or not?" The man walked into room and at last Yves could see him properly. It was Red, the leader of Waltheof's hearth troop. The lamplight reflected dully on his bald head and gold wire bound the remains of his ginger hair into pigtails. "Well?" Red proffered one of the plates of food he held.
"What did he say?" Yves half stood, his hands on the edge of the temporary dice table.
"I don't know, but I think he is offering us some food." Ralf put down his sword and held out his hand. "Thank you, yes." He took the pewter plate Red offered him and put it on the barrel in front of him, pushing the dice to one side first. "Yves? Do you want some?"
"Don't ask stupid questions." Yves stood properly and held out his hand for a plate. "Do you have any women you could bring us as well?" he casually asked Red. Red stared back blankly. "No? I suppose if there were some, our lord and master would have grabbed them." Yves held the plate to his nose and appreciated the smell of the stew it contained. "They say the English can't cook, but this lot smells beautiful." He looked at Red. "Thank you. You go, now," he said in his best Flemish.
"First, I feed the wolf." Red knelt down and rested Godfrew's head on his thigh. Godfrew opened his eyes and looked at Red uncomprehendingly. "Do you want anything to eat, little wolf cub?" Red fiddled around at his back and produced a small wooden spoon. Godfrew tried to pull himself up, but failed and flopped down, whimpering. Shock made the most of Red's distraction and licked the edge of the plate.
While Red tried to spoon some stew into Godfrew's mouth, Ralf left his meal and came over. "You no feed. Him sick." he explained to Red.
"Sick?" asked Red, puzzlement crossing his scared face. "Hurt, yes. Not sick."
"Sick," insisted Ralf. He stomped on the stomach of the recumbent Godfrew, who rolled over and vomited over Red's leg wrappings. "Yes, sick. See?" Red pulled himself from under the retching Godfrew and walked to the door, shaking the contents of Godfrew's last meal from his leg and emptying the plate of stew on the ground as he went. Before he left, Red took a final look at the injured man's face and grunted.
"He's a strange man." Yves pointed his piece of black bread at the closed door. "If that had been me, I would have killed either you or that puking wolf on the floor. Yet, he took it ... despite the fact that to look at him you would think he ate babies boiled in their mother's milk for breakfast. He's a strange one, no?"
"Perhaps we have finally knocked the fight out of these Saxons." Ralf blew away the steam from the stew on his plate and cautiously edged some into his mouth with the piece of bread Red had left on the edge of the plate. "Oh, very nice. A bit hot," he sucked some air into his mouth to cool the food, "but very nice."
The door opened yet again. Ralf was about to yell abuse at the outside sentries when the Breton Captain came in and walked across to where he sat. The Captain smacked Ralf across the back of the head: "Guarding my wolf well, are we?" He took the plate from Ralf and, using a wedge of black bread, shovelled the remaining stew into his mouth. Yves stopped eating in sympathy with his mate. The Captain saw this and ate his portion too. "The trouble with being a Captain is always having to stand guard around the master. One never seems to get the time to eat," he snuffled. "I see he has been sick. He must have eaten too much rich food stolen from his better's table, no doubt." He stopped and peered with his good eye. "What's that thing? A giant rat?" Shock was cleaning up the stew that Red had thrown away, but looked up at the Captain's voice. "Get away." The captain stepped forward and aimed a kick at the hound, but Shock was too quick and scampered to safety behind some bales of wool. "Never mind the rat, let's have a look at our wolf." The Captain sidestepped the pool of vomit, went over to Godfrew and pushed him into it. Godfrew snorted and coughed before bringing up what little else his stomach still contained. "Messy dog, is he not?" The Breton studied his victim in detail, then stood back. "All right, get him up."
The two soldiers grabbed Godfrew's arms. "Just keep his filth away from me." The men put their arms under Godfrew's and lifted-trying, without success, to get him to stand.
Godfrew lifted his head as best he could. "My leg," he gurgled. His stomach went into a spasm and he tried to double up. "My leg. I can't stand."
The soldiers were having trouble holding Godfrew as he started dry retching. "Captain, there is something wrong with his left leg." Yves slipped in the vomit and had trouble regaining his feet. "Captain, we can't hold him up much longer."
"Then let him go." The men obeyed and dropped Godfrew into a crumpled, moaning heap. "Give the leg a pull." Yves did as he was told, but the moaning did not increase. "Move it." Yves followed instructions and again the moaning remained low. "Nothing broken, eh. Now, there's a pity. We could have had a lot of fun with a broken leg. I wonder ..." the Captain snuffled as he kicked Godfrew's bad leg. "... I wonder just what is wrong with the leg. Ah, I know. Twist it." Yves twisted the leg. Once it got past a certain point, Godfrew screamed and tried to reach out with his right hand, but seemed unable to support himself with his left arm. "Got you!" The Captain seemed delighted. "Torn muscles. I should have been a physician." He paced around his victim, hand on chin, thinking. "Well, if he can't stand on his own, then we will have to help him." The Captain looked around the store. "Yes, that's it." He went over near the door and glanced upwards "The pulley. They must use it to lift the bails of wool. What's good enough for sheep shearings is good enough for a wolf's screaming. Bring him over here."
To avoid the pool of sick, the soldiers grabbed Godfrew's feet and dragged him under the pulley. While they waited for instructions, Yves took the opportunity to discreetly pick his nose. The Breton Captain investigated the pulley before speaking again. "Shame, him not having the broken leg, but torn muscles may prove interesting enough. Tie his hands behind his back. Come on, look around for some rope. Otherwise, use your belt." Ralf found some coarse flax rope. When he pulled Godfrew's arms back to tie them he was rewarded with a scream. "Excellent, Ralf, excellent. We shall have our entertainment yet. Now, undo the rope on the pulley and stick the hook under his bindings." Ralf obeyed. "Now, the two of you pull him up-just far enough to make him stand on tip-toe." As the full weight of his body went onto his damaged shoulder, Godfrew's screaming became louder. "Excellent," commented the Captain. "Lower him and take the weight off of his arms. Now, twist his legs-one at a time." Ralf twisted Godfrew's right leg, but all he got in response was a moan. Then he twisted his left leg and got deafened as Godfrew gave a roar that increased in pitch as the angle of the leg increased. "Now, at least we know where to start." The Captain brought one of the barrels over and sat on it facing the dangling man. "My fine wolf, let's hear you howl. At first for pleasure, then for revenge." He took out his rag and wiped his snout. Seeing Yves picking his complete nose, the Captain glared at him. Yves embarrassedly stopped and wiped his tacky finger on his ring-mail coat. The Captain then continued: "Finally, for information. I am sure you know many things about that adder's nest infesting Ely."
"If we can get good information on that outlaw Hereward, there could be a decent reward in it for us, eh, Captain." Yves let the rope go slack and Ralf found himself struggling to keep Godfrew hanging at the right angle.
"Us? Us?" yelled the Captain. "What is this 'us'? If you let that creature fall to the ground, your only reward will be to take his place!" Yves quickly grabbed the rope and pulled hard on it. Godfrew screamed. "That's a good idea, jiggle him up and down a bit. Not too hard, mind. I don't want his shoulder dislocated. That can wait until last." With each jiggle, the pitch of Godfrew's scream changed. The higher he went, the higher the pitch. The Breton Captain gave a snuffling, snorting giggle and wiped his eye with the rag.
Suddenly the door swung open and one of the sentries popped his head in. "Captain, you must have disturbed his Lordship. He is hanging out of the window and looking this way."
"And his mass priest has just come out of the door and is headed toward us" added the other sentry, who was hidden from view.
The Captain got up and stuffed his snot rag into Godfrew's mouth. "Shit." He chucked Godfrew under the chin. "You will keep until morning. All right, you two," he said, "take him up on tip-toe and leave him there for the night."
Red went through the open door of the stone storehouse holding the plates of food in his hands. As he entered, the stench hit him. It was the smell of a human confined in his own filth. He stopped breathing through his scared and broken nose and held the plates nearer his face to let the odour of the food cover the stink within. "Food. Goose in blackberry sauce together with peas and fresh beans." He went to where the soldiers were playing dice to while away the evening. As he passed the suspended Godfrew, he gave him a casual glance. "He's still alive after four days in your hands?"
"What? Goose and berries with beans? I right?" enquired Ralf in halting English. "You come here four days? Yes, four days." He turned to Yves, "I suppose I will get the hang of their language in time. At least, I try, even if you don't."
"Flemish is near enough. Let them make the effort." Yves looked at Red questioningly, "Where is the wine? You've brought us wine for the last two nights." He screwed up his face mimicked drinking. "Wine."
"Ah," said a repentant Red, "I forgot your wine."
"Yes, that's it: W-I-N-E." Yves smiled encouragement to Red. "W-I-N-E."
"Wine," Red agreed. "I'll get it." He turned and headed for the door.
"Where's he going. I asked him for the wine." Yves used his eating knife to prod the goose flesh and see if it was cooked. The flesh fell from the bone.
"I think he said he was going to get it." Ralf turned from Yves and called out to the retreating back of the hearth troop leader: "Don't close the door, we need some fresh air. You no close door." The door slammed shut as Red went out. "Never mind." Ralf picked up the leg of goose and licked off some of the tart blackberry sauce. "You can open the door again, Yves, after we've polished off this lot."
It was quite some time before Red returned with a flagon of wine. Accompanying him was a monk, hands in his sleeves, his hood over his head. The sentries crossed their spears as he approached the door. "You, yes. Who him?" the senior sentry asked in a passable accent.
Red surreptitiously passed the sentry a silver penny. "The wolf: dying. Father get confession."
"Yes, well ..." the man discretely examined the coin. "... if it was left to me, he could spend the rest of eternity in Hell." He glanced at his fellow sentry who was watching and flashed him the coin. The other man raised his eyebrows in agreement. "I suppose so. A man's got to live and fat Odo's wages are poor. Yes, you go. Quick. No take long."
Red opened the door for himself and the monk and went inside, gently closing the door after them. He crept over to Ralf and Yves. They were sleeping quietly with their heads on the barrel top they used for their table. Red tickled Ralf's nasal hairs, but got no response. He turned to the monk with a smile that showed he had his two front teeth missing. "Like babies. The bag?" The monk pulled out a leather bag from his voluminous sleeves and threw it over. Red opened the bag and took out two cooked geese legs, which he used to replace those on the sleeping soldier's plates, first taking a bite from each. Then he pulled a small flask from the bag and doused the legs with blackberry sauce. After second thoughts, he removed one of the legs and put it by the blackberry stained muzzle of the sleeping Shock. "Whoever wakes first gets the goose!" He went and stood by the monk's side. "Shall I lower him down? I know he can't stand." The monk nodded his assent. Red untied the rope and eased it through the pulley until Godfrew was laying face down on the floor. The monk threw back his hood and eased Godfrew onto his side. Taking the flask of wine that Red had brought in, he trickled some into Godfrew's mouth. After coughing and spluttering a little, Godfrew drank. Slowly, he gathered his strength until he felt able to open his eyes. When he did, he looked confused, for there in front of him was Waltheof, the Earl of Huntingdon.
"So, it is you, young thane of Garratt," Waltheof said, as he proffered some more of the watered wine. He looked up at the leader of his hearth troops. "You were right, Red."
"I know. I told you so, Waltheof. I may be getting old, but I am not getting daft. At least, not yet." Red sat on the floor beside Godfrew. "Careful with the wine, Waltheof. Don't give him too much."
Godfrew sipped the wine while he could, never taking his eye off of the earl. "Yes, young thane, I wondered if it was you when they brought you in the other night, but you have changed somewhat. Your hair? Where has it gone? That's why I got Red to come and take a look at your eye. That eye of yours certainly marks you." He chuckled "No, you are not dreaming, young man, nor is your nightmare over." Waltheof put the now empty wine flask down. "You have caused me some embarrassment. I wish you had come for your horses before the odious Odo arrived. I had told my staller to help you and the others when you came back and asked for them, so there should not have been any trouble. I may have been forced to make my peace with the Normans, but it doesn't mean I like them any the more. Bad timing though, young thane ... bad timing." He tapped Red on the knee. "Shall I risk feeding him, Red?"
The hearth troop leader thought for a while before shaking his head. "Too risky. If he vomits, those Breton buggers will add two and two together and know that it wasn't just tiredness that made them sleep. Just get some fluid into him and hopefully he will last a while."
"You don't know Red, do you, young thane?" Waltheof asked Godfrew, not expecting an answer. "When I was eight summer's old, my father took me away from my nurses and the priests and gave me to a young house carl to foster." He turned his attention to Red. "You were a lot better looking in those days, Fostri ... and you had more hair."
"I lost them both looking after you, you young bugger." Red fingered the remaining top half of his left ear lobe. "That escapade of yours at Stamford Bridge almost finished me off for good."
"Do you like his new beauty mark, young thane?" Waltheof asked Godfrew. "Show him, Red." The old hearth trooper smirked and tipped his bald pate down for Godfrew to see. There was a red scar that ran around the back of his skull from ear to ear and ended at the jagged end of the reduced left ear lobe. "Some Viking with an axe decided to have a look and see if old Red had any brains!"
"He didn't find many, Waltheof" Red chuckled.
"What to do with you, young thane. What to do. I don't think you should be left to the Norman's tender mercy, but I can't set you free either. Red and I will ponder the problem. Meantime, I'm afraid you will have to stand up with help from the pulley, though I'm sure Red will let you keep both feet on the ground." Earl Waltheof got up and wandered over to where the soldiers lay sleeping. Casting around the back, he found the wolf-skin cloak and Godfrew's axe and saxe. He rolled the saxe in the cloak, undid the rope belt at his waist and shoved it up his habit. The axe, he threw to Red-who had re-hoisted Godfrew. Red slipped the weapon under his cloak and tied it across his back by its leather thong.
"If we meet again, young thane, I trust it will be in happier circumstances." Waltheof pulled the hood over his head and waited at the door for Red to open it. "Benedicti," he said, before going back outside.
Ralf opened an eye and looked at the snoring Yves opposite him. Relieved that he had not been caught out sleeping on duty, Ralf stretched and then resumed eating his meal.
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