Saturday, January 1, 2011

I like writing Robert


He had left Scour as plain Master Robert Collins of Collins Hall. He returned as Sir Robert, knighted after the bloody battle in which most of the Scottish nobility perished. The bloody coat was sent to the Queen, who would send it on to her husband the King in France. And Sir Robert rode back to Scour with Northumberland’s men, who dispersed to their homes after a job well done.
            “Wife,” he announced in a whisper, for Mary was still recovering from the loss of the babe. He smoothed back her hair from her face, her pallor plainly frightening, and told her the great news: “I’ve been knighted. Sir Robert now and you are Lady Collins of Collins Hall.” More fiercely, he whispered: “We have made it. We have risen.”
            “Ascend,” she whispered, voice barely audible. “No son.”
            Swiftly, he kissed her forehead. “Hush, love. I’ve brothers.”
            “But no sons…” Tears leaked out of the corners of her eyes. “Only Margie.”
            “We will leave it all to one of our daughters’ husbands then,” Robert said, though he had misgivings about that eventuality. “Or a godson.”
            “Alice’s son,” Mary whispered. “He will have nothing. No name, no place. No money.”
            “Ignatius?” Robert frowned. “You’re correct, love, but…” He stopped. “I could make him my heir.”
            Mary did not reply, for she had fallen asleep. Leaving her to sleep and recover, Robert drank deeply of a draught of wine. Over the hearth, on the wall, hung a sword. The hilt was plain, but the blade was likely still sharp, though it had not been used in near a score of years.
            He had picked up that sword as his proof that he was present at a great battle, one of those battles that would always be remembered because of what had occurred there. Richard III had been killed and Henry Tudor become king by right of conquest. Robert, fighting under the Earl of Northumberland, nominally on Richard’s side, had wept at the news of the dead king. Richard had been Duke of York and much beloved in the shire.
            The sword had been lying on the grass, beside the body of one of Richard’s men.
            Robert sipped from his goblet. He had come of age in a time of uncertainty, Lancaster against York. The conflict did not concern men of his class much, unless their land was fought upon or their crops or livelihoods affected by battles or swarms of army men, their allegiances suddenly shifted to a different king.
            He had grown up warlike, eager to rise to control destiny as much as man could.
            His sister Alice had grown up in the confines of a priory. He kept her there, unsure what sort of fate awaited his otherwordly sister, who seemed ruled by ill humors. The girl had come of age in a stable time, the Tudor time, and knew little of the wars and conflicts that had gone before.
            And then she’d sinned and dropped a brat on the family. The brat had been christened quickly. Ignatius FitzClement, Alice had said. No Collins and no surname from the father. Just a made-up last name.
            Robert had stood as godfather. A friend of Alice’s, a woman sent to the priory by her late husband’s heir, Elizabeth Powers, had been godmother.
            Indeed, why not make the boy his heir?
            His sons by marriage were good lads, but he’d chosen them for their own prospects or their own eventual inheritances. Robert has risen as a common farmer’s son, the eldest of ten, for Christ’s sake, married off his sisters after his father’s death, buried his mother, sent his youngest sister to the Church and then risen by degrees in the world. All by the scruff of his neck.
            He'd not leave his land and his wealth to his daughters' husbands. Oh, no. Those lads had their brand of land and wealth and prestige. His brothers' children had their own futures to lead.
            But Ignatius would have none of it. All because of his birth. The world was harsh for an unconnected bastard child; it was harsher for an unconnected bastard born to a nun and a monk who had renounced worldly goods.
            The next morning, Robert visited with his wife, who was able to sit up in bed. Under the glare of a sunlit window, Mary's visage looked even worse. Her maid had helped her dress in a woolen nightgown and the stark white color of the garment brought out the waxiness of her skin. She hadn't looked like this the last time she'd lost the babe.
            She was older this time, though, he thought, gingerly sitting on a chair at the writing desk in the corner, though Mary, in truth, did very little writing. She was a terrible correspondent.
            She was his first cousin on his father's side. Her father had become a fisherman in a tiny village on the coast. Mary was the only surviving child in that family. She should have been made of hardier stuff than this.
            She was the same age as his sister Alice, who was thirty and one. He only remembered the year of Alice's birth because that was the year that Berwick-upon-Tweed had been captured from the Scots. It was a different age then; Edward IV had been on the throne, that magnificant king, tall and golden-haired, the son of the Duke of York. There had been so much pride in Yorkshire when he became king, sending his younger brother up north. The House of York was on the ascendency. Even a simple farmer with few tenants and ten children boasted about the House of York to his children.
            "I've thought a great deal about Ignatius," Robert said. His voice filled the room. It was still set up for Mary's confinement and it was closed-in and dark. Spooky. "I would like to make him my heir."
            A ghost of a smile appeared on Mary's face.
            "More so, I'd like to foster him. If he's to be my heir, then he must understand the workings of my land and our business connections."
            "Will you take him out of the priory?" Mary asked, her voice weak. Robert felt a crawling sense of hatred for this dark, stuffy chamber.
            "Yes. I'll have to speak to the prior." Then he added, "And my sister, I suppose. When he grows older and more mature, we must think of a marriage for him."
            "We must think of a match for Margie."
            Shifting in his seat, Robert sat up straight. She looked awful, but it seemed that her mind was still as sharp as ever, his Mary. "Margie and Ignatius?"
            "The degree of affinity is the same as ours," Robert said, which was the truth. "They're first cousins as well. They're near enough in age."
            "She's older."
            "But not by much that it'll affect childbearing," Robert said, then winced. That was tactless. Mary's expression shuttered for a moment. He and she were near twenty years apart in age. Was that why God did not see fit to give them a living son, to make Mary suffer so? She had been an engaging and utterly unfit novice at the priory when she became pregnant with Margie. It had only been the once…
            "You're right. It shouldn't. She's a healthy girl. Her courses are regular. Is he healthy?"
            "Yes. And learned," Robert replied.
            He left Mary after a few moments and took his morning ride across his land, some of which had come to him after his mother's brother's death. Robert had been the heir. But he had not forgotten his brothers. Now he would not forget his nephew.
            He steered his horse toward the priory and stopped his horse for a moment before climbing the rise. St. Osana's Church was the crown jewel of Scour. The priory was the village's largest employer: its servants lived in the village, its lands were tended by local farmers. It owned several thousands of acres of land in the Holderness. Fertile land, too. His holdings were infinitesimal in comparison.
            He urged his horses up the gentle hill, eyeing up the carvings on the lintel above the church door. There were demons carved along the arches, then a benevolent figure with arms outstretched, welcoming. Robert rode toward the the wall that separated the priory from the rest of the world.
            The guesthouse and stables were toward the front, right near the entrance, the other buildings separated from them by the chapter house. A stable hand emerged to take the horse from Robert.
            "Is the prior here?" Robert inquired.
            "I believe so, sir," the stable hand said.
            Robert strode toward the prior's house, a modest building of only one story. It was barely three rooms and it was connnected to the chapter house by a covered walkway. He knocked the door. A serving man opened it.
            "Sir Robert Collins here to see the prior. I'm here regarding my ward, who lives in the orphanage."
            "The prior is busy with business," the man said. "You may return after Terce."
            "Terce is a good hour away, my man," Robert said. "He wil see me." He shooed the man away, the servant's nostrils flaring slightly in dislike. He returned in short order and led Robert to a clean, but small room with the noxious odor of heavy smoke. Though he was in riding clothes, Robert knew he cut an impressive figure.
            He heard footsteps, then saw the dour face of the prior, a man who hailed from the same sort of country Yorkshire background as Robert, but chose God instead of war. His name was Prior Reginald. He wore the Cistercian white habit with a black scapular on top, covering him from neck to toe. He wore a hood upon his head, which was undoubtedly maintained in the monkish fashion in a tonsure.
            Reginald was not much older than Robert, he reflected.
            "Master Collins," Reginald said in his phlegmy voice. "Pardon me, I meant Sir Robert. I heard of your recent elevation and your bravery in France and against the rampant Scots."            "We need not fear on that count any longer," Robert said with a slight, smug smile. "I fear I must pay for some masses to be said. My wife has had another stillbirth, far too early."
            "My condolences," Prior Reginald said, finally lowering himself to a chair, seeing that this was not going to be a quick meeting. "I pray that Lady Colins' health is not unduly affected?"
            "The midwife says that my wife will recover, but that she cannot go through something of this nature again," Robert said, laying his hands outward. "Thus, Prior, I come to speak to you about my ward."
            "Indeed, sir, which one? I believe we have at least four of your wards under our roof."
            The prior was correct. There was Agnes, Robert's niece by Cecily, who was his goddaughter. She was now a new nun. There was Thomas Harper, one of his tenants' sons, another godchild, and Thomas Harper's brother Robert. Then there was Ignatius.
            "My nephew," Robert answered. "Ignatius."
            "He's becoming quite learned," Prior Reginald said. "Brother Clement had educated him in Latin and Greek, logic and theology, French, mathematics. He is a bright boy, well-liked by the other children. What of him?"
            "I want to make him my heir. I want to take him out of the priory and have him at Collins Hall. To guide him."
            "Hmm. His education is not complete, yet, sir. Ignatius is but thirteen years old. I shall have to consult Brother Clement and of course, Sister Benedicta."
            "My sister should be most grateful that I take such an interest in her child."
            "Yes, I'm sure she will," Prior Reginald said. "'Tis most admirable. You could also make him your heir and leave him in the priory until you see fit. Of marriagable age, perhaps."
            "I've a marriage in mind. With my youngest daughter, Margaret."
            "Very close affinity."
            "The same as my wife and I." Robert replied. "And yet the Church permitted it. I will broach the topic with my esteemed sister. I take an interest in the boy, you see, because of his irregular birth, Prior."
            Prior Reginald seemed to snuffle a snort. "Ignatius is not the first boy born out of wedlock. Indeed, he is not the first one to be born out of wedlock to those pledged to chastity. Our late pope had a child."
            "Yes and so did the Borgia pope," Robert said crisply. "I bid thee a good day."
            "You bristle," Reginald said, with a nearly amused bow of the lips. "You may adopt him as your heir if you like, Sir Robert, and you may marry the boy to whomever you please. He is your ward and you are his guardian in earthly terms as well as the spiritual. Of course you wish to guide him and steer him as his father cannot do publicly."
            "Yes, Prior."
            "Benedicta should not have much protest."
            "My sister resents me greatly, Prior," Robert replied. "I shall go find her and speak to her."
            "Go in peace, my son," the prior said.

            Robert came upon Benedicta as she stood outside the small hut that served as an infirmary. She was listening to a small golden-haired girl, who was dressed in a plain dress and apron. After a moment, a weedy boy emerged from the hut. With a sheepish grin toward the nun, he held up a bandaged hand. Robert paused. The boy was Ignatius. Goodness, but the boy had grown tall! He was an inch or so taller than his mother, who smiled at him in an affectionate manner. The girl gestured toward the injured hand, but Ignatius waved whatever she said away with his good left hand.
            The boy looked like his father, true, but there was a look of the Collins clan upon him, too. He had a straight nose. In profile, Robert saw that there was no beak to it, no large point. That was a Collins nose. He also had ears that stuck out just the slightest. Robert's father, the elder Robert, had had ears of that sort. Even Alice did. Of course, now, one could not see her ears.
            Sister Benedicta put a hand on Ignatius' shoulder, having some words. Then she waved him on his way, the blond-haired girl walking with him. The children laughed.
            Robert strode up toward Sister Benedicta.
            "Sister," he said.
            Benedicta turned to him. In her black-and-white habit and voluminous skirts, she had an otherwordly quality—the girl had always been too quiet, too stubborn, for her own good. She was too interested in learning for a female. She drew herself up with undeniable dignity, exhaling from her wide nostrils. Whatever joy she'd felt speaking with the children disappeared, sunken low, and instead, her blue eyes took on the nun's gaze.
            They were too different, an entire generation between them in age. Why had Mama and Father not stopped having children after his younger brother Thomas? The two born after him, John and Alice, had both been sent to the Church. Surplus children often were, unless one's family had the misfortune to be a farming family in need of children to pick and plant.
            Poor as they'd been, the Collins children had never been that bad off.
            Benedicta inclined her head.
            "Brother. What brings you to Church so early in the day? And not on the Lord's Day either."
            "I was riding. I spoke to the Prior about paying for some masses to be said. For the lost child's."
            She crossed herself. "Of course. How is Mary?"
            "Ill, still. She is abed. The midwife assures me she will live, but how strong she will be is uncertain."
            "Childbearing can be so dangerous," Benedicta said.
            "Yes. 'Tis a mystery, why some women bear fruit and others do not." Shaking his head, Robert went on. "I had thought to make Ignatius my heir."
            "Ignatius…? Why?" She demanded.
            "Our brothers have their paths in life. Their children will make do. My daughters' husbands were chosen for their own prospects and I've no desire to leave what I have done in this life to people outside of the family. Thus, Ignatius. He is my godson after all and my ward."
            "Upon my death!"
            "You're a woman, you have no rights to him beyond those God gave you for giving him life! And indeed, what sort of rights are they, as you are a nun and sworn to the Church before anything else."
            "I don't trust you," she said. "I pleaded with you to find me a husband, for I knew this life was not for me. I was but seventeen. You could've easily found someone to marry me."
            "I thought the best place for you was here, among conventual walls. Clearly, I was wrong on that count, but you seem to have found your place here." Continuing on, Robert said, "I want to make him my heir and I want him to live at Collins Hall." He put a hand up to forestall Benedicta's protests. "He must understand what he is inheriting. That includes the Hall, but the land around it. The tenants. The rents from the houses I own in York. The wool business in Hull that I finance for our brother Edward. The land in the North Riding. All of it will be his. You cannot even imagine it, Benedicta."
            "You will lead him astray. He is a good, pious, loving boy. You will warp him."
            "Tsk, tsk. You sound rather venoumous. Aren't nuns supposed to be serene creatures?"
            "He is receving a top-notch education. Will you have it interrupted?"
            "By God, no. I want my heir to be educated. No, the lessons may continue on. I only wish to be able to guide his future. And arrange a suitable marriage."
            "Mmm."
            "That blond girl I saw. Is he sweet on her?"
            "He's thirteen. He's not sweet on anybody."
            "With all due respect, sister, you were never a thirteen-year-old boy."
            Benedicta sighed. "No. Ignatius is friendly with all the children, but his particular friends are Tom Winters and Isabel Routh, the girl you saw."
            "Isabel Routh?" The name sounded familiar.
            "Youngest daughter of Old Squire Routh."
            "Richard's wife's sister! Oh, yes!" He shook his head. "I'd forgotten that she was here in the priory. You heard that Richard has another child?"
            "Cecily told me on one of her visits to see Agnes, yes. She insists on keeping me informed on family news, though I keep telling her that I am most detached from it."
            "You seem maternal enough toward your son," Robert said. "Does he know?"
            She nodded.
            "He does?"Robert said. "How?"
            "Cecily's Hugh told him, two winters ago, he said. Once he heard, he kept it to himself for a few years, then wondered about Clement being his father—logical, considering his surname."
            "I told you to christen him as a Collins."
            "I could hardly baptize him as a Dacre," Benedicta replied, for that was Brother Clement's family name. "He hasn’t a claim to the name."
            "I will give him a stake in the world, Alice," Robert said. "Let me do this for him."
            "Will it ease your conscience in some way?" Benedicta asked. "A mother only asks for the best chance for their child."
            That was, at best, the only bit of permissions Benedicta would give him. Not that he needed permission. That settled, Robert decided to wait an interval until his wife was feeling better to take the boy in. In the meanwhile, Robert more than doubled his tithes to the Church and spoke to Brother Clement, a rail-thin monk with a mouth that turned downwards at the corners and a tonsure shaved out of the center of his light brown hair. Robert wanted to arrange more tutoring for Iggy. He'd send the boy a few times a week to the priory for his lessons and also wanted to ensure that Clement would venture into mathematics and writing more than just the theoretical or the theological.
            Then, on Ignatius' name day in October, Robert asked to meet with the boy. Benedicta sent him to the stables, where Iggy and his friend Tom were helping with the horses.
            "That's a strong mare," Robert remarked, seeing Tom, a boy with very dark and very unruly hair, kneeling to see to the horse's hooves. Iggy lay a calming hand on the horse's neck, so his friend would not get kicked in the head.
            "Aye, sir," Iggy replied with a smile, revealing straight, white teeth. His hand stroked the brown horse's hide. "This is Magdalene."
            "The Prior named her, I presume?"
            "Yes, sir," Tom replied, coaxing the hoof up so he could see it. "Ah." He took up a hoofpick lying by his side on the ground and gently inserted it into the horse's hoof. The mare shifted, but Iggy hushed and patted and the mare relaxed.
            "I'm Sir Robert Collins. I live in Scour, at Collins Hall."
            "Pleased to make your acquaintance, sir," Tom said politely. "I'm Tom Winters."
            "I'm Ignatius FitzClement."
            "Are you two of the priory children?" Robert asked. The lads nodded. "My family has a deep connection with the priory. My sister and my niece are nuns here."
            Iggy's expression perked up. "Sister Benedicta and Sister Agnes?"
            "Yes," Robert said in a steady tone.
            "Ah, there we go!" Tom said from the ground. A small piece of pebble popped out from the hoof. He let the mare put her hoof on the ground. "Good girl." Tom stood. "I'll take her back to the stables." Iggy let go of the reins and handed them to Tom, who clicked his tongue and led Magadalene off.
            "You're my nephew," Robert told Iggy. "Benedicta's son. You were born in my house, in the blue bedchamber. Today is your name day, is it not?"
            Iggy grinned. "Yes, sir, it is."
            "I have auspicious news for you, then, my boy," Robert said. "You're going to be my heir."
            The lad blinked those disturbingly pale eyes. He twisted his hands together as well.
            "Your heir, sir?" Ignatius asked. Robert approved of his manners.
            "I have no sons," Robert said. "Four daughters, three of whom are married and well settled. I have brothers, many of them, but I have helped them make their various ways in the world and they have no need of my money or lands. Nor do their sons. But you, nephew, shall inherit it all upon my death. I've spoken to your mother about this already and she agrees."
            Iggy swallowed. "Thank you, sir."
            Robert kept his eyes on the boy and drawled, "You were born on St. Joseph's day. I always wondered why your mother named you after St. Ignatius. He was an Apostolic father, was he not?"
            "Yes. And Patriarch of Antioch and a student of John the apostle," Iggy said. "He was eaten by lions in the Coliseum in Rome."
            "A martyr, then."
            Iggy gave a solemn nod.
            "Didn't he write letters?" Robert asked, trying to remember Church doctrine.
            "Aye. His letters have set down Church doctrine," Iggy said. "Brother Clement has me reading the letters for lessons, along with translating the Gospels from the Latin."
            "Good, scholarly work," Robert said approvingly. "Ah! That's it! I remembered. St. Ignatius of Antioch is buried in Rome."
            Iggy looked interested.
            "In the Basillica of St. Clement. Something to ponder, eh?" Robert bowed. "Another time, Master FitzClement."
            After Iggy said his nighttime prayers, got into bed, joked a little with the lads and moved into a comfortable posture under the blankets, he closed his eyes and saw a panicked man, sweaty, on a hot day, under the sun. The man was bearded and wore a tunic. He ran, bolting toward the right. Where was he going?
            A fiercesome roar. A lion, prowling, eyeing the man. The beast arched its back and roared again. The man—was Iggy now the man?—tensed. He could not run out of the bowl he was in, trapped with this beast.
            The lion sprang, looking exactly like the creature Iggy had seen in a book on natural history, a illustrated volume that Clement had shown him.
            It seemed to Iggy that his mother had been in ill humors after giving birth.
           
            The day after, Robert visited the priory again, this time asking to speak to Iggy. He was told that Ignatius was in lessons and Robert went off to the library, where there were small niche-sized rooms that the monks used to teach.
            He saw Ignatius carefully writing on paper, quill held perfectly balanced between the fingers of his right hand. An open book lay in front of him. Clement sat on Ignatius' right hand side, holding the book open. Clement glanced up as Robert hovered in the doorway.
            "Sir Robert," Clement greeted unsmilingly. "Our pupil is translating the Old Testament."
            "You teach him very well, Brother," Robert replied. "I shall engage you as his tutor, of course, even after Ignatius comes to live at Collins Hall."
            The scratching of the quill stopped for a moment. Iggy looked at Robert, puzzled.
            "You needn't be anxious, Ignatius," Robert assured him. "I shall wait until after Epiphany in the winter to take you in to Collins Hall." With a flourish, he bowed for the monk. "I am sorry to interrupt. I am merely reassuring myself of my heir's progress." Then he stepped away, calculating each step as he took it, passing the shelves and shelves of musty books and other tables and niches full of murmuring monks and their pupils.
            The boy was now his. He had his heir.
            "You know," Clement said when he finally saw the last of Robert Collins' interfering, arrogant back. "You are his heir, but you are my son. I have not been as a father should be, I know, but I pray you will not forget it."
            Iggy nodded, then tried to concentrate on the Latin book, struggled to find his place. He shook his head.
            "I am sorry, Brother Clement. I seem to have lost my place."
            "That is all right. In light of…" Clement gestured toward the door. "I feel like I should tell you a small part about your family, my family. 'Twill be a lesson in the English social system, which you will need to know about when you take up residence in Collins Hall."
            Iggy dropped the quill into its holder and wiped his inky fingers on the underside of his coarse shirt.
            "I come from a gentry family in Northumberland called Dacre. There are Dacres who are called Baron Dacre and there are Fiennes', who married Dacres, and became Baron Dacre. They are neatly divided as Baron Dacre of the North and Baron Dacre of the South."
            "I see."
            "My family are descended and related to those of the north. It's a cousinship, so my father isn't in line for the title or anything, but he does own a good deal of land in Northumberland, on which I was raised. The family seat is Gillesland, in Cumberland."
            "What was your father's name?"
            "Sir William Dacre. My mother's family were the Snapes of North Yorkshire. They come from the village of Snape. Both sides are from Normandy, down the line, come over with the Conqueror. My mother's name was the rather unusual Clemence."
            "Sounds French."
            "It is. I had a French grandmother. I'm the fourth in the family. I have two elder brothers and a sister."
            Iggy leaned forward eagerly. "Are they still living?"
            "Oh, yes. All still in Northumbria, far as I know. Is there anything else you'd like to know?"
            "Is your father a knight?"
            "Yes. He fought in many wars. You know about the Wars of the Roses, of course. Fought in those. He was deputy sheriff of the area for many years. Solid country gentleman."
            "Do you know about my mother's family?"
            Clement leaned back and thought. "Yes. Some. They're rather numerous. Your grandfather was also called Robert and he was a farmer. He had some tenants, but he farmed. His wife was called Anne—she's buried in the churchyard—Anne Lake Collins. She had ten children, all living."
            "And my mother is the youngest."
            "Yes. Sir Robert is the eldest. By most accounts, he has fought bravely in battle and served well as part of the Earl of Northumberland's entourage. He's bought land, inherited some, I believe. I'm not terribly sure. The Collins' have been in Scour for generations."
            

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you so much for your comments and thoughts. Check back soon. I reply to all comments. Happy reading!