Friday, December 31, 2010

Summer 1513
Scour, Yorkshire

            The stablehand led in a foaming horse, lungs still heaving from whatever hard ride he had been on. Tom came forward to take the horse and wipe him down. He walked the horse back and forth in front of the priory’s stables to cool him down.
“He’s been ridden hard,” Tom said. He disapproved of such business, for horses were essential, beautiful creatures and men often abused them.
            “Messenger came,” the stablehand said. “From Northumberland.”
            “Far journey,” Tom commented. “Wonder what it could be?”
            Inside, the messenger spoke to the prior and then rode off toward the village, to inform the men.
            The children did not hear the message until well the next day, after the nuns and monks heard the message for themselves in chapter that night.
            “A messenger rode from York today,” the prior said in his gravelly voice, projecting across the gathered nuns on one side and monks on the other. “The King of Scots has invaded Northumberland. Our King, may God honor him—“ The prior and the community crossed themselves. “Our King is fighting the French with under the Pope’s direction. Our blessed Queen Catherine is the Regent and in her wisdom, has sent north the Earl of Surrey and an army. That was the messenger’s tale. In his haste, he has not stayed in the guesthouse overnight, for he had to tell the nobleman and soliders of the area to gather at Pontefract.”
            In a rather grand manner, the prior looked around the dark, candlelit room, with its high, small windows and circular shape, its plain bench seating in tiers for more space.
            “Let us pray for England’s victory and for the life of our good King and Queen,” he said, bending his head. “In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.”

            The north of England was in some ways quite used to the invasion of the Scots, for it was a frequent tactic, so much so that the borderlands of both countries were rather porous in culture and language—those English who lived along the border with Scotland sounded Scottish.
            But with the King and the bulk of the army over the Channel putting paid to the French, it was urgent that the Scots not be allowed to penetrate deeper into England.
            Robert Collins learned of the proposed invasion, a month before it was supposed to take place, as he sloughed through the battlefields of northern France, trailing after his overlord, the Earl of Northumberland. The Battle of the Spurs had already passed, with a decisive English victory against the French, and Robert had acquitted himself well in the battle.
            “Collins,” Northumberland said. He was Henry Percy, the fifth Earl of Northumberland, and Robert had served him as a solider and member of his retinue since he was but a stripling.
            “Yes, my lord?” Robert said, inclining his head.
            Northumberland was a tall man, but not imposing of body. He was more imposing in manner, for he’d been born in his family’s ancient fortress of Alnwick and fought at Bosworth Field alongside his father, the fourth earl. That historic battle had been Robert’s introduction to warfare.
            “I’ve received a message from court,” Northumberland rumbled. “James of Scotland has given word that he will invade the north of England to honor the Auld Alliance.” Something resembling a crusty smile was visible through the earl’s thick brown beard. “When he says the north of England, of course, he means Northumberland and likely, Alnwick and Berwick. I can’t have that! I’m sending you and a contigent of men to England. Take ship from Dover to Hull and ride to Pontefract.”
            “There is an army gathering?”
            “By the grace of God, Queen Catherine has seen fit to send Surrey north with the remaining men to the north. I pledge a hundred and fifty of my retinue to his cause. You are in charge.”
            Robert sunk into a low bow. “Thank you, my lord. We shall beat back that scourge of Scots.”
            “I’ve no doubt of it,” the earl said. “He’s not, by any stretch, a brilliant strategist.”
            They shared a chuckle.
            So it was that not long after the messenger sent St. Osana’s priory into a rash of praying for the kingdom, Robert rode through Scour with the Earl’s men on the way to Pontefract Castle. He lodged some of the men in the priory’s guesthouse for a night, others in the village’s small tavern, while others, used to campaigning, pitched tents wherever they could and rolled into blankets and slept.
            Robert kneeled down in the church, bent his head, and prayed. He had returned to his home and been greeted by his remaining daughter Margaret, fourteen in a few weeks’ time, and his wife Mary. The house had been added on to and Mary had been left in charge of overseeing the construction and decoration. Much like the Queen was left as the Regent in the King’s absence.
            Mary had hollowed-out circles under her eyes and she seemed near-skeletal in appearance. She’d lost the child she’d been carrying before he left for France.
            The next morning, before dawn, he met with his sister. Benedicta was on her way to Prime when she saw her brother, careworn in appearance. Robert was not the tallest or the broadest man, but he knew how to move in an intimidating manner. He was out of armor, out of respect for being on Church lands, and his brown head was covered by a jaunty brown cap.
            But there was something…off about him.
            She murmured a cursory, “Brother,” nearly passing him. Robert put his arm out and stopped her.
            “Mary has lost another child,” Robert said. “’Twas a boy.”
            “I am sorry,” Benedicta replied.
            “It’s the fifth child she’s lost or miscarried,” Robert said. “We’ll not try again.” Head down, he fiddled with a button on his doublet. “I’m off to Pontefract today.”
            “Yes. Godspeed you.”
            “Thank you,” Robert said heavily. 

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