The Royal Falconer
by Nosbert


Chapter Forty-Eight

Captain Osbald pulled his horse to a halt and looked to the sun. At most there was one hour of daylight left. He was in a valley that ran almost due north to south. To the west lay the ‘Long Mynd’, a long narrow whaleback ridge of high ground that ran almost the full length of the valley. To the east lay other hills, but these rose and fell with sharp peaks and dales. The Captain recognised the highest peak. He knew the name given to it by the locals. They called it the ‘Caer Caradoc’. Rumour had it, that it was here on this hill in 50 AD that the King of the Britons, ‘Caratacus’ fought and died in battle and in so doing ended any Briton resistance to Roman rule.

But stories of the past were far from the Captain’s mind as he surveyed his surroundings. His distance from Salopsbury and the time of day were the only two things on his mind. The unmistakable landmark however was of great use. On seeing the steep sided hill he knew that he was midway between Lodelowe and Salopsbury. He turned in the saddle and looked to the road he had just travelled. No one was following. He had left word at the abbey for his men to follow, but knew this unlikely to happen until the morrow. Knowing that he was on his own he returned his attention to the road ahead. This too was deserted, but the signs were good. Fresh horse droppings told him that a party of travellers had passed this way only an hour before. The trouble was; he was not sure whether they had been left by the Welsh marauders or by a group of innocent travellers.

He took heart from what had led him to this point and his reason for taking the road north to Salopsbury, and the reason for not turning west for the Welsh border at a junction in the road some five miles back. He was following a positive sighting of the Abbess by peasants working the fields. They gave an account of six horses being ridden strongly and in a line: And of the riders, five were men, the sixth a nun. Captain Osbald was no tracker, but six horses travelling in line left many clues and proved not too hard to follow.

He thought back to a junction in the road. It was here he decided to continue heading north, for the trail showed signs of the brigands taking the road to Salopsbury. This at the time he did not understand. By rights the brigands should have turned west and heading for the Welsh border. But for reasons unknown to him they had chosen to carry straight on, taking the road north and running parallel to the border some fifty miles to the west. Captain Osbald kicked at his horse and moved on. He was now deep in the estates of the Fitzgeralds and had no authority here, but neither had the Welsh brigands. However the Council of the Marches held sway over these borderlands and if challenged he would refer the matter to the overlords.

At a point some five hours ride short of Salopsbury, the Captain pulled up his horse. Darkness was almost upon him and there was a thicket of trees nearby. He moved for cover. Here in the thicket, out of sight from the road, he would rest for the night, but come first light he would be ready to continue with the chase. From the lead the brigands had over him, he reckoned they would be entering the woods at Longnor about now, and in all probability making their own camp for the night. He was a cautious man and recognised the folly of riding blindly on and entering the woods after nightfall. He considered it more prudent to wait until daylight before moving on, since there was no knowing what dangers awaited him.

As dawn broke he moved on, but at a more sedate pace. Wary of what may lie ahead he rode with caution; looking both to the front for impending danger and behind for signs of his own men, for they should surely be following by now.

Sometime around noon Captain Clarence, accompanied by five soldiers of Salopsbury, set off along the road that ran centrally through the woods at Longnor. They rode two abreast. There was only one thing on the Captain’s mind; Maredudd, the one remaining Welsh brigand, had to be caught before he reached the border with Wales. It was imperative that the Lord Llywelyn should never get to hear of the treachery that befell his men in the woods at Longnor even though the three deaths were none of his doing.

As the party rode south away from the woods and with wide open cultivated fields to either side of the road, Captain Clarence called a halt. A rider approached from the south. Even from a distance it was obvious this was a fighting man, and by his chainmail hood and by his red and blue uniform, a soldier of Lodelowe. They waited for the rider to come to them.

‘Halt and state your business,’ called Captain Clarence as the rider came within hailing distance.

The two men knew each other from a series of previous meetings. Both were Captains over their own separate armies; Clarence for Salopsbury; Osbald for Lodelowe, and for this reason they had met on several occasions when the two great estates were attending conference at the Council of the Marches.

Captain Clarence spoke once more as soon as the identity of the approaching rider became known to him. As the rider came to a halt, he said to him; ‘Osbald, what brings you here? These estates and surrounding lands belong to the Earldom of Salopsbury and you have no right to be here.’

Captain Osbald steadied his horse before explaining his presence. ‘I chase five Welsh marauders,’ he told Captain Clarence; ‘They have done a foul deed. They have broken into the abbey at Wistanstow and abducted the Abbess. I have followed their trail and they are heading this way. The Earl of Salopsbury must get to hear that his sister is in grave danger.’

Captain Clarence considered his position and the quandary he now faced. There were five men with him and all had heard the Captain of Lodelowe explain the reason for his presence. Up until now no mention of the Abbess had occurred. The only thing his men were aware of was the presence of a band of Welsh marauders somewhere in the area. They also knew that four were killed and their orders were to seek out and kill the one remaining brigand. No one other that their Captain was aware of the presence of the Earl’s sister. He decided to act ignorant of this fact and look surprised at the revelation.

Clarence told his fellow Captain; ‘The Abbess you say? We are aware of the Welsh marauders; that is why you find us travelling this road. There were five in all. Four are slain and a fifth has escaped us. I have men scouring the woods at Longnor and we head for the border with Wales in the hope of cutting him off if perchance he has fled the cover of the woods. But we have not seen or heard anything of the Abbess. This news is new to us.’

Captain Osbald could only go by what he had heard from peasants tending the fields. ‘I have been reliably informed that six horses came this way as the sun began to set last night,’ he explained and adding; ‘Five were men, the sixth dressed in a nun’s habit. I have followed their trail thus far, and they have not returned by this road. If you say there is still one brigand alive then it is my belief he will be holding the Abbess; for he will have no reason to let her go. He will be holding her captive as a safeguard for returning across the border.’

These were precisely the same thoughts held by Captain Clarence, but for a completely different reason. Captain Osbald was quite rightly concerned for the Abbess’s safety; whilst he preferred to see her dead. For there remained a chance that the Abbess would have learned from Maredudd, the one remaining brigand, that treachery was afoot and the Captain was the main instigator. He decided on the course of action that suited him best. If Maredudd had not come this way, then in all probability he remained in the woods. He had the authority to turn Captain Osbald away, since this was not his territory. He decided that he would do this and return to scour the woods along with the rest of his men. He nodded his head then hoped that this gesture was not seen.

‘Then we will go no further,’ he said. ‘We will turn around and head back to the woods at Longnor. But as for you Captain, you have no authority here. I demand that you turn your horse around and head back to the estates of Lodelowe. This is our problem. After all it is the Earl’s sister that has been abducted and no one from Lodelowe is in danger. We are quite capable of handling the situation without outside help. So turn around and go back across the border between our two estates.’

Captain Osbald considered the ultimatum. In a way his fellow Captain was right. This was none of his business, and now that someone from Salopsbury had been informed, then perhaps his job was done. After all, he had problems of his own. As he spoke he had all available men out scouring his own woods for the whore Madeline. His Baron demanded this, and this should be his top priority.

He conceded and agreed it best to turn around. ‘I will do as you command. I will turn around and return to Lodelowe,’ he responded. ‘But pray assure me that you will send one of your men forthwith to the Earl at Salopsbury with news of his sister’s abduction. He must get to know forthwith.’

Captain Clarence gave a wry smile and answered; ‘If what you say is true, then I will’st send one of my men to Salopsbury straightaway with the news. You are right; the Earl must get to know of this treacherous deed.’

Captain Osbald turned his horse and looking over one shoulder responded by saying; ‘Then goodbye fellow Captain. Perhaps we will meet again under more pleasant circumstances and that the Abbess is found safe and well.’

‘Goodbye fellow Captain,’ responded Captain Clarence as Osbald’s horse began to move away.

As the Captain disappeared into the distance, Captain Clarence turned his horse in the opposite direction. ‘Come, let us return to the woods at Longnor,’ he told his men. ‘Let us track down the one remaining brigand and slay him.’

Chapter Forty-Nine

Maredudd, sole survivor of the band of Welsh brigands, was no fool and refused to rush blindly from the woods at Longnor. He knew that by rights he should be dead. He had witnessed the death of all four of his comrades; his leader at the hands of Captain Clarence, and the other three by some mysterious night time visitor to their campsite. This man, whoever he might be, had somehow managed to creep behind his back inside the cave without being seen. He had held a sword to his back, but instead of striking him down had allowed him to go. This mysterious man demanded answers, and after relating all he knew Maredudd was let go on the pretence of conveying news of this treachery back to his Lord Llywelyn.

He considered this to be a trap however, and his astuteness told him not to rush headlong for the border. Daylight was only a couple of hours away and the last place he wanted to be was out on the open road with Captain Clarence and his men on his tail. Instead he bided his time, moving slowly, staying within the woods at Longnor and keeping himself hidden amongst the trees.

As dawn broke he found himself on the edge of the woods, close to the road, and looking out across open fields of ripening wheat. Some fifty miles west lay the border with Wales and safety. But even though the distance was easily reachable on horseback he realised that to travel in daylight was folly. His plan therefore was to spend the daylight hours concealed somewhere in these woods and only when darkness descended for a second night would he set off for home. The moon was full at present and hopefully he could see his way along what was a well trodden road.

Remaining thoughtful and not wanting to be found during daylight hours, he considered it dangerous to stay this close to the southern edge of the woods. It was here the search parties would most certainly be concentrating all their efforts. His other big problem was his lack of arms. He had no way of defending himself. Both his sword and dagger were gone: The dagger sunk deeply into the thigh of Sergeant Godfred; and his sword dropped to the floor of the cave. With all these thoughts weighing heavily on his mind he mounted his horse and set off back into the woods. He was looking for someplace to hide and he would only venture out once the sun went down.

For several hours Maredudd moved deeper into the woods, and all the time keeping a keen ear to the wind and listening for sounds of any activity. It was not long before he found himself completely lost. These woods were all new to him. He had never been here before. In fact he had never been out of Wales before; and only Idwal their leader had occasion to visit these woods on one previous visit. It was therefore by chance that he found himself on the edge of a clearing that looked all too familiar. Here were remains of a campfire and beneath an overhang of red sandstone rock there stood the mouth of a cave.

Immediately his thoughts turned to his sword. He had dropped it to the floor of the cave and a possibility remained that it was still there. He dismounted, tethered his horse to a tree and crept on hands and knees to the very edge of the clearing. From the cover of a low bush he looked out. This place had been his campsite the previous night, of this he was certain, but it was now deserted and there was evidence that someone had got here before him. Gone were the horses, as were the bodies of Ifor, Dewi and Daffyd. But these were all activities outside the cave and there remained a faint possibility that his sword still lay on the floor where he had dropped it. In his mind he just had to have a look to see if his sword was still there. There was also another possibility. There were still the bedrolls, and at least two of his comrades had swords and daggers which when sleeping were kept by their beds. It was in bed he had found two of them on his return to camp the previous night: So there was a chance, just a faint chance that a weapon of some sorts remained in the cave.

Seeing no sign of activity he broke cover and stepped into the clearing. Feeling vulnerable he made quickly for the cave. Disappointment followed immediately on entering. The cave floor was completely clear. Gone were the five bedrolls, and gone too was the crucifix that he recalled had been left propped against the rear wall. But biggest disappointment of all was his sword; it was no longer there. Everything the gang possessed had been taken away and not one single item remained.

Feeling downhearted he wandered back to the mouth of the cave. Suddenly he stopped and cocked an ear. He was sure he had heard a horse whinnying. He listened hard and on the wind he heard another whinny, and this quickly followed by another. This told him that there was more than one horse out there, and by the sound of it they were heading his way. He thought about going for his own horse, but he had left the animal at a considerable distance from the clearing. It was also in the direction of the approaching horses.

Maredudd was at a loss, unsure of what to do next? Initially his thoughts were to retreat to the back of the cave and hope he would not be seen. But the cave was bare and offered nowhere to hide. Furthermore once trapped inside there was no way of escape. Therefore in his mind there was only one feasible option left available to him; if he was to survive he had to get out of there fast, and on foot. He set off running, circling the sandstone outcrop and disappearing into the woods to the rear of the clearing.

Chapter Fifty

Bardolph, on delivering the despatches to the Earl and the partaking of a meal. set out south from Salopsbury Castle with the intention of at least reaching the Abbey at Wistanstow before night fall. He rode fast and hard until reaching the edge of the woods at Longnor; here he slowed to a steady walking pace. He knew there to be a hunting lodge and many soldiers of Salopsbury in these woods; and for the next five miles extreme caution was required.

It was not long before he heard the clatter of fast running hooves coming towards him. The sound told him that it was just one horse approaching but at great speed. Instinct told him to get out of the way and he moved to hide alongside the edge of the road. As he looked out from a thicket of trees he watched as a soldier of Salopsbury sped by. He could tell this from the pale blue coloured uniform and the three golden lion heads emblazoned upon the chest of the rider. Bardolph was not to know, but this was the messenger sent by Captain Clarence to inform the Earl that his sister Elizabeth was being held captive by brigands from across the border.

With the rider out of sight Bardolph rejoined the road and moved on. Eventually he came to the twentieth milestone marker. Here he stopped momentarily to survey the scene of the previous night. All looked very different in daylight. Here the road widened and for the first time since entering the woods clear blue skies were visible above the clearing. Opposite the milestone marker he identified the branch in the road that led to the hunting lodge.

Remaining seated upon his horse Bardolph looked to the ground. Gone was any evidence of a skirmish. The body of Idwal, the leader of the brigands, had been taken away and either buried someplace nearby, or taken to the hunting lodge. If there had been any blood spilled then Bardolph could see no evidence. The ground beneath the spot where Idwal had died, and the ground to the side of the road where the Sergeant had received a stab wound to the thigh, had both been swept clean by branches from a nearby bush. All this was evident to Bardolph’s trained eye.

Bardolph was about to move on when he heard a disturbance away in the woods. The noise was coming from the side of the road opposite the hunting lodge. His keen senses told him it was the sound of one man moving fast through the trees and breaking branches as he ran; and there was something else; behind him but at a distance there chased a number of horses. Sensing danger he moved quickly for cover and dismounted.

‘Move to cover Whitewind,’ he told his horse. ‘Keep well out sight. Do not come unless I call.’ Whitewind whinnied and moved away. Soon he was out of sight. With his horse gone, Bardolph crept to the road and to duck low behind a thicket of low bushes. He put an arrow to his bow and waited. It was not long before the runner burst onto the road and out into the open. He stopped, bent forward and put his hands to his knees. It was evident this was a man very much out of breath. He was dressed in the brown tartan plaid of Wales and his hair was long and plaited. After regaining his breath he set off again across the road. But the centre of the road was about as far as he got before being challenged.

‘Stop or I shoot,’ issued a command from the side of the road.

Maredudd pulled up immediately and looked around. The language spoken was that of the Welsh. The man had spoken in his own tongue; and there was something else; something about the voice that sounded familiar.

‘Who are you? Show yourself.’ said Maredudd much out of breath.

Bardolph remained cautious and out of sight. He had recognised the man the moment he burst into the open. This was Maredudd, the Welsh brigand he had released the previous night. But he could see the man was unarmed and without his horse, and by the sound of approaching hooves, about to get caught by soldiers of Salopsbury. He had a decision to make, and make it quickly. Should he remain under cover or step out into the open? Reluctantly he decided to reveal himself. If he was to save the Welshman then he saw no other option open to him other than to take a great risk. Somehow he had to stand between Maredudd and the men on horseback. Hopefully Captain Clarence was not one of them and he was able to talk his way out of this. Bardolph stepped from cover, his bow pulled taut and arrow primed and ready to shoot.

Maredudd watched as a man appeared from the side of the road. He had stepped out from a spot nowhere near where he had heard the voice, and marvelled as to how he had managed to move so far without being detected. Or perhaps he had not moved at all and had a trick of throwing his voice.

‘Stay where you are and do not move,’ ordered Bardolph.

The voice was the one he had heard in the cave, Maredudd was certain of this. ‘You’re the voice in the cave!’ he remarked on seeing the man appear. ‘You’re the man that let me go!’

Bardolph stepped closer, an arrow pointing at Maredudd’s heart. There was no time for pleasantries. ‘What brings you here? Where is your horse?’ he demanded. ‘You should be well on the way to Wales by now.’

Maredudd gave a look of despair and held out his arms. ‘I am parted with my horse,’ he said with a sigh; ‘and now I am chased by soldiers of Salopsbury.’

Bardolph could hear the soldier’s horses quite clearly now. They were very close and getting nearer by the minute. He counted five being ridden hard, and a riderless horse trailing behind. This set a problem. His express wish was for Maredudd to cross back over the border and explain to the Lord Llywelyn the events of the previous night, and why only one man managed to return.

He moved close to Maredudd and braced himself for the soldiers to appear. This was going to be a difficult situation and hopefully he could talk his way out of it. ‘Stay close to me,’ he told Maredudd in the language of the Welsh. ‘I will’st do the talking. You are my prisoner.’

Maredudd accepted this for had very little option other than to run. Both men stood to the middle of the road; both listening to the sound of breaking branches and clattering hooves getting ever closer through the trees to the front of them.

It was not long before the first rider appeared, and this quickly followed by another and then another. In total five soldiers all wearing the pale blue tunics of Salopsbury rode one by one into the clearing. At the head of the column rode Captain Clarence. To the rear and led by the fifth soldier there trailed a riderless horse. By the look of the tartan blanket saddle this was a brigand’s horse, and in all probability that of Maredudd’s.

On seeing the two men stood to the centre of the road the emerging soldiers formed a circle around them and drew their swords. Captain Clarence stepped down to confront the pair. He was well aware of the identity of the stranger. This was the Royal Falconer that had stood in judgement at the trail of the Lady Adela’s handmaiden. The Captain had been present at the trial along with Sergeant Godfrey. But he was not to reveal this fact, for this would give the game away. To him this man in green, stood next to the one remaining Welsh brigand, could quite easily be deemed to be an enemy of Salopsbury. With the slaying of Maredudd his one and only priority, he was quite willing to sacrifice this second man if he stood in his way. No doubt there would be repercussions, but he was sure he could talk his way out of it. Anyone shielding someone from across the border could quite easily be deemed a traitor. He would say he was only doing his duty. This was his reasoning as he moved to confront Bardolph.

‘Drop your bow. You are both under arrest,’ he said in the Saxon tongue.

Bardolph too recognised the Captain, for this was not their first encounter. He had observed him stood to the rear at the trial of the handmaiden. Furthermore he had broken a branch over his head in the Forest of Wyre when rescuing Madeline; overheard his conversation with his Sergeant at the top of the rise that led down to the hunting lodge; and observed from this very spot the Captain’s clandestine meeting with the leader of the Welsh brigands. So he knew a lot about this Captain of Salopsbury and knew him to be a man not to be trusted. But he, like the Captain, was not willing to reveal any of this. Reluctantly Bardolph placed his bow and arrow on the ground at his feet.

Captain Clarence watched as the bow and arrow went down. The action brought back memories of something that occurred earlier that day. The flights of the arrow bore the distinctive feathers of the red kite. This set him thinking. Surely this was not the same man that had slain the three brigands at their campsite? But if he had, why was he protecting the life of the last remaining brigand? Did he really want him to go free and report back to the Lord Llywelyn? If so, this was really bad news and there was no way he was going to let this happen.

Bardolph on surrendering his bow stood upright to come face to face with the Captain. ‘You cannot arrest me for I travel under the command of a King’s warrant,’ he informed the Captain. ‘This Welsh brigand is my prisoner. I have arrested him under the powers invested in me by the King of England.’

‘Then show me this warrant,’ snapped the Captain.

The warrant was in Bardolph’s saddlebag and his horse had moved to cover some distance away. There was no way he could go for it, for if he did then surely they would slay Maredudd whilst he was away. He whistled. Whitewind would have to come to him. But strangely nothing happened. He could hear no sound of Whitewind responding to his call. He whistled again and still no response came. He decided to bluff his way out.

‘The warrant is in my saddlebag and my horse is too far away to hear my call,’ he informed the Captain. ‘Yet I need not show it to any soldier of Salopsbury, for I have already presented the King’s warrant to your Lord the Earl of Salopsbury and he has given me the authority to do as I will’st in all of his estates.’

‘But not to protect Welsh brigands of that I am sure,’ retorted the Captain and raising his sword towards Bardolph. ‘So stand aside and let us take this man prisoner. Else you too will be deemed a brigand, for I know not whether you speak the truth.’

Bardolph put a hand to his own sword held in his scabbard. ‘The prisoner is mine, by order of the King of England,’ he stated flatly.

Captain Clarence simply laughed. ‘Men, dismount,’ he called. ‘We take the Welshman prisoner. If either man resists, then slay them.’

For Bardolph everything was going wrong. None of his bluffing had worked and this man was determined to kill the Welsh brigand at all costs, and to kill him too should he get in the way. He felt helpless. All he could do was look on as the four soldiers on horseback dismounted, joined the Captain and formed a five man circle around both him and Maredudd.

With swords raised and pointing towards the two men at the centre, the Captain issued his final demand to Bardolph. ‘Hand over the prisoner to the authority of the Earl of Salopsbury, or die, for I shall deem that you too have resisted arrest,’ he said with a noticeable touch of venom to his voice. Bardolph moved his hand away from his sword and to a dagger he kept in his belt behind his back. If it was to come to a fight then he would attempt a strike at the Captain. But the man wore chainmail and he could not guarantee a fatal strike. And Maredudd was no help. He bore no weapon at all. He decided to have one more go at reasoning with the Captain.

‘By taking this action you and your men face the wrath of the King of England. I order you to put down your swords and let us go on our way,’ he said and speaking in a voice in authority.

However Captain Clarence was having none of it. He simply laughed and thrust his sword close to Bardolph’s throat. Bardolph’s hand moved further behind his back and to touch his dagger. It seemed there was no way out of this predicament other than to fight. But with five swords drawn and raised, he knew that the odds were stacked against him.

‘Move aside and hand over the Welshman,’ Captain Clarence demanded. ‘This is my final order. Resist and you will die along with the Welshman.’

Bardolph rested his hand upon the hilt of his dagger. At the same time swords moved closer to his and Maredudd’s throats. Bardolph was prepared for action, as were the soldiers of Salopsbury. A fight to the death was only seconds away. Bardolph said a little prayer, grabbed the hilt of his dagger and drew it from his belt. In the same instance Captain Clarence readied his sword, as did the other four soldiers.

But this was as far as anyone got as all eyes turned to the road south. The sound of thundering hooves were coming their way. Within seconds they appeared from around a bend in the road. The half blue and red tunics told Bardolph that these were soldiers of Lodelowe; but what was more surprising was the horse in the lead. It was white and riderless. It was Whitewind.

Within seconds the riders were upon them. Now Bardolph could identify them all. Captain Osbald was there along with another eight soldiers of Lodelowe. But these were not the normal guard under the Captain’s command. These were Baron Clancey’s elite riders for they wore no chainmail. These were his archers, eight men that accompanied him on hunting trips to the Forest of Wyre. With bows and arrows already primed and remaining upon the saddle, they quickly formed a circle around those stood to the centre of the road.

‘A welcome appearance,’ Bardolph called towards Captain Osbald as he dismounted. Then turning to Captain Clarence he added; ‘It seems we have a stand off. I suggest you put down your swords and surrender to the soldiers of Lodelowe.’

‘You have no authority here,’ stated Captain Clarence. ‘These woods belong to the Earl of Salopsbury and you have no right to be here.’

‘Perhaps not, but they are here, and by the authority invested upon me by the King of England, I give them the authority they require. So tell your men to put down their swords and surrender to the King’s men.’

The four soldiers under the Captain’s command looked to each other. They nodded to each other and agreed. This was no time to disobey an order from a servant of the King. They laid down their swords on the ground. Captain Clarence on seeing his men’s action did likewise and placed his sword at his feet.

‘The Earl shall hear of this wicked treachery,’ spat the Captain. ‘You have exceeded your authority here at Longnor.’

Captain Osbald stepped through the circle of soldiers to greet Bardolph and the two men embraced. ‘A timely appearance,’ remarked Bardolph; ‘but what Captain brings you to my aid? And why my horse? I thought him lost.’

‘We were travelling this road with the intention of going all the way to Salopsbury. I had encountered the Captain earlier before my men arrived, and I did not trust him to send word to Salopsbury. So when I was joined by the Baron’s archers, I turned around and came this way. As for your horse, he came to us. He was waiting in the middle of the road. I could see he was agitated and by his actions he wanted us to follow. He set off at a gallop, and we did’st follow at the same speed. And this is how we got here; and just in time by the look of it.’

Bardolph patted Osbald on the shoulder. ‘And a timely intervention at that,’ he said. ‘For without it I may well have been dead by now.’

Osbald laughed heartily. ‘Then my friend one good deed deserves another,’ he replied. ‘You saved my life at the ford at Marsh Brook. Now consider my debt repaid.’

Bardolph laughed too. ‘The debt has truly been repaid and I for that I thank you with all my heart,’ he confirmed.

With all the pleasantries over, Bardolph looked to Maredudd and then Captain Clarence’s horse. His saddlebag was there. He brushed past the soldiers of Salopsbury and moved to the horse.

‘Come join me Osbald,’ he called. ‘Let’s see what we have in here.’

He unfastened the straps to the saddlebag and felt inside. He found what he was looking for. It was a large purse. He tested the weight. It was heavy and he tossed it up and down in his hand. ‘I think here we will find one-hundred golden sovereigns destined for the Lord Llywelyn,’ he remarked, then pointing to Maredudd still stood to the centre, he added: ‘Osbald, my dear friend, will’st you do one more thing for me? Will’st you escort this Welshman safely to the border, and take this purse with him. For the money doth rightly belong to the Lord Llywelyn.’

Osbald looked to his circle of archers and then to the men stood at the centre. ‘I will’st do that gladly. I will escort the Welshman to the border and see him on his way,’ he replied. He then added; ‘But what of the soldiers of Salopsbury? What must be done with them?’

Bardolph managed a little smile. With the one-hundred golden sovereigns now in the hands of its intended recipient there was little the Captain of Salopsbury could do. He could now go back to the Earl and report that the money had been handed over. He could also blame the deaths of the brigands on the Royal Falconer. Well, at least three of them. How he got around the fourth would be tricky, but he was sure he would think of something.

‘Let them go,’ he told Osbald; ‘The track yonder leads to the lodge. Give them back their swords and send them on their way. I don’t think we’ll have any more trouble from them.’

Osbald turned to his men still seated upon their horses and with bows primed and ready to shoot. ‘See the soldiers of Salopsbury on their way. Let them take up their swords and remount their horses. Then send them back to their lodge down the track opposite. The Welshman’s horse remains here with us,’ he instructed.

As the soldiers of Salopsbury recovered their swords and moved to mount their horses, Osbald turned to Bardolph. ‘But what of you my dear friend? I now find you even further from Wessex and the King’s New Forest. Where next will’st you be going?’

Bardolph whistled Whitewind to come to him. He patted the white horse on the neck before responding to Osbald’s question. ‘My friend I have many plans, and it seems the King’s birds must wait a little longer. But on your return to Lodelowe there is something I want you to do. For I think I know where we can find the Baron’s stolen treasure.’

Osbald looked a little stunned by the revelation, but said nothing. At the time horses were being mounted and ridden away towards the lodge. As the last solder disappeared from view, he turned once more to Bardolph. ‘Then my friend, I assume you are planning to remain at Lodelowe for a while.’

Bardolph turned pensive. ‘It seems that fate dictates I remain until after the trial of the Lady Adela,’ he said solemnly; ‘I shall ask of the Baron that I be permitted to stand in judgement at the trial of the Lady Adela. After that, who knows? God willing I shall be free to return with my birds to Wessex and the King of England.’

Chapter Fifty-One

The day of the trial had arrived. The Great Hall of Lodelowe Castle was prepared and ready. The long table that normally ran lengthways down the centre of the hall had been moved to the rear and turned to run the full width. Because of the great size one end needed to be butted against a side wall, allowing a small gap at the other end to let people by.

Behind the table there stood eight chairs with their high backs to the far wall. In front of the table and to either side of the hall there stood many rows of chairs. Here the two families would sit; the de Clanceys to the left as you enter, the Fitzgeralds to the right. The centre of the floor was clear except for one solitary chair placed centrally and facing the table. It was here the defendant, Lady Adela Fitzgerald, would sit throughout her trial.

Even though the trial was to take place during daylight hours, and the windows permitted some light to enter, it was considered not enough, and as a result no expense had been spared. Candles burned everywhere. There were several candlesticks resting on the table, each holding six or more candles. There were also candles in their hundreds arranged in great chandeliers that hung from the high vaulted rafters; and many more in brackets against the side walls. It was true to say the Great Hall glowed with light.

Six of the chairs to the rear of the table were reserved for those that sit in judgement. The seventh and eighth chairs were for two scribes. For it was considered appropriate to have one recording in Anglo-Saxon, the other in the Norman tongue. This was to ensure that proceedings of the trial be available for the Duke d’Honfleur should he wish to know his daughter's fate. The Lodelowe scribe was to be one, the other provided by the Council of the Marches. It was agreed the two scribes were to take up their seats at the end of the table that abutted the wall.

Of the six remaining seats, three of those that sat in judgement over the trial of the handmaiden would sit again. These were Squire Henry Stokes; the Abbot of Wistanstow; and the young Edwin de Mortimer. The remaining three seats were for three newcomers; for it was deemed inappropriate for Baron de Clancey and Captain Osbald to officiate in what was considered a family matter. As for Bardolph of Wessex, he had been asked but declined, saying he would prefer to observe from the sidelines.

Of the three newcomers, one was a trader in wool; he was Raymond de Clees of Titterstone; for he was a man of immense wealth and well respected in the area. The second newcomer was also a well respected trader, this time in wheat and flour. He was Arthur Miller of Clungenford.

The six and final seat however was reserved for someone far more senior. He was the father of the young Edwin de Mortimer. He was Earl Simon de Mortimer, Lord of Powys and Overlord of the Council of the Marches, and it was he that would preside over the whole proceedings.

The seating was agreed as follows: From the scribes’ positions along, next to them would come Squire Henry Stokes; then Raymond de Clees; then Earl Simon de Mortimer; followed by his son Edwin de Mortimer; then Arthur Miller of Clungenford; and finally the Abbot of Wistanstow; for it was considered the Abbot should be free to move to the front should his blessings be required. It was hoped that enough space be afforded between wall and end of table for the Abbot to squeeze pass. But just to make sure in the case of difficulty, two servants would be placed on standby to assist should help be required.

There were also a few places available to the paying public. But they would not be in the Great Hall. For them it was to be the minstrel gallery. For the exorbitant price of one silver crown there would be a limited number of seats for thirty-six people: The high price being deliberately set to keep out the peasants. With twelve silver pennies to a silver shilling, and five silver shillings to a silver crown; and with earnings of most peasants no more than two silver pennies a week, then one silver crown was far beyond the means of most people in the area. However it was still expected all seats to be taken. One final thing had been agreed between the two parties. There were to be no knives, no daggers, no swords and no weapons of any sort allowed into the Great Hall whilst the trial was in session. A precaution deemed necessary should the proceedings become heated.

The trial was set for midday. Those members of the paying public lucky enough to obtain one of the thirty-six well sort-after entrance permits were allowed to climb to the minstrel gallery well before this time, most taking up their seats some one hour before the trial began.

Some half hour before midday the hall began to fill with the de Clanceys and the Fitzgeralds; both families taking their allotted places to either side of the hall. Noticeably on the Fitzgerald side there sat the Abbess of Wistanstow, and by her side sat Mary the handmaid that had cared for the Lady Adela for five years before her departure. Opposite sat Bardolph of Wessex.

With just a few minutes to go the two scribes entered and took their seats behind the long table: Their escritoires, ink and quills, along with a great number of scrolls and parchments already laid out and waiting.

The trial began with the call of the hunting horns announcing the entrance of the six that were to sit in judgement. Silence fell and everyone rose from their seats as the six men entered through the large double doors to the front of the hall. With Earl Simon de Mortimer at the head, they walked in line. The line being formal and in what was considered each individuals importance and position in society. Behind the Earl came his son Edwin de Mortimer, then the Abbot of Wistanstow, this was followed by Squire Henry Stokes, and then the wool merchant Raymond de Clees. At the end of the line came Arthur the Miller of Clungenford for he was considered the least senior of the six.

Each in turn moved around the table and took their seats in the order allocated; the Abbot being the last to sit down. As expected he needed assistance to squeeze past the end of the table.

On entering the hall, Earl Simon de Mortimer had carried with him three jewels; an emerald necklace, an emerald brooch, and a gold signet ring. He placed all three objects on the table before him, arranged them in a neat row then looked up to address all those assembled in the hall.

‘You may take your seats,’ he told everyone, ‘this Court is now in session.’

After the rumble of chairs had died down he spoke again. ‘Bring forward the accused,’ he said loudly so that those at the doors at the far end of the hall should hear his call.

A few uneasy minutes followed before Lady Adela Fitzgerald entered the hall accompanied by two guards. The guards were not armed and wore no chainmail, and they wore the claret and blue quartered tunic of the Council of the Marches. Lady Adela walked gracefully between them and took her seat at the centre of the hall. The two guards then bowed low, turned and marched out of the hall, leaving Lady Adela to sit all alone in the centre of the floor.

Once she had settled Earl Simon de Mortimer looked to the Abbot. ‘Let us pray,’ he said.

Having already struggled to get round the table, the Abbot rose from his chair and made no attempt to move to the front. He made the sign of a cross, recited a few prayers in Latin and immediately sat down.

On seeing the ending of the prayers, Earl Simon de Mortimer held out a hand towards the nearest scribe. Not a word was spoken as a scroll was passed down the line. He unfurled the scroll and looked to Lady Adela. He began to read in the language of the Saxons and not that of the Normans; the language having been previously agreed by all parties since the Lady Adela was known to be well versed in both languages.

He read: ‘Lady Adela Fitzgerald, Dowager to the late Earl William Fitzgerald of Salopsbury, you are brought before this court this day accused of robbery and murder, in so much that on the fifth day of August, in the Year of Our Lord Twelve Hundred and Thirty-five, you did aid and abet in the theft of property from his Lordship the Baron de Clancey and also aid and abet in the murder of Richard, son of Frederick, guard to the Baron de Clancey, and thereafter did wilfully partake in the concealment of property stolen from their rightful owner.’

Then looking up from the scroll and addressing the accused, he asked directly: ‘Lady Adela Fitzgerald, Dowager to the late Earl William Fitzgerald of Salopsbury, how do you plead to these charges, guilty or not guilty?’

Unlike her handmaiden before her, Lady Adela had been briefed as to proceedings and was well aware of the charges. Remaining seated with back straight and head held high, she gave her reply. ‘Not guilty my Lord,’ she said in a loud and clear voice with a hint of Norman accent.

Earl Simon de Mortimer waited for the plea to be duly recorded before continuing. ‘Your plea of not guilty has been recorded,’ he informed her. He then went on to ask; ‘Lady Adela, do you wish to speak in your own defence, or as is your right, you may nominate someone to speak on your behalf.’

Although well briefed, having someone to represent her had not been mentioned. It turned out the both Baron de Clancey and Earl Herbert Fitzgerald of Salopsbury had both agreed beforehand that the Lady Adela be left to defend herself. This suited both parties. Baron de Clancey was desperate to save face and for him only a guilty verdict would do. As for the Earl, he too desired a guilty verdict, but for more sinister reasons.

A silence fell whilst the hall waited for Lady Adela’s response. She was about to speak when up stood Bardolph of Wessex and took one step forward onto the floor. He turned to the table and with one hand across his stomach and the other out at his side, he bowed low. ‘I Bardolph of Wessex, Royal Falconer to King Henry, King of England, will’st speak for the Lady Adela if she does’t agree and this Court permits it to be so,’ he said whilst remaining stooped and looking upwards.

Earl Simon de Mortimer looked to all those seated in judgement, turning his head from side to side, and all in turn nodded a favourable response. It was clear no one held any objections. Satisfied he turned to Lady Adela. ‘Then Lady Adela, does’t you agree to this man, Bardolph of Wessex, to speak in your defence?’ he asked.

Lady Adela turned and looked to Bardolph before returning her gaze to the front. She was unsure as to what to answer. Memories of their first encounter at the ford at Marsh Brook came flooding back. It was here this man had shot an arrow and killed one of the guards protecting her. But then she recalled their second meeting at the stables at Onneyditch. It was here he had been kind to Gwyneth her handmaiden. He had cut her down, given her water to drink and laid her on the straw by her side.

After giving Earl Simon de Mortimer’s question much thought, she nodded her consent and gave her reply, saying; ‘Yes my Lord, I give my consent to this Court. I will’st allow this man, Bardolph of Wessex, to speak in my defence if he so desires’.

Earl Simon de Mortimer listened then turned to his scribes. He waited until they had both finished writing before returning his gaze to the front and to Bardolph in particular. ‘Then Bardolph of Wessex, Royal Falconer to King Henry, King of England, you have this courts permission to speak in Lady Adela’s defence.’

Bending slightly lower in an act of respect, Bardolph replied; ‘Then I thank this Court for the authority it has invested in me.’

‘Your thanks are received. I’m sure we that sit in judgement eagerly wait to hear what you have to say,’ responded Earl Simon de Mortimer. Bardolph rose and crossed to the lone chair placed centrally on the floor. He kissed the awaiting raised hand of Lady Adela.

‘Pray do put all your faith in me my Lady,’ he told her softly and from most ears in the hall. ‘If God permits, then I will’st have you freed of all charges levelled against you.’

Lady Adela smiled. ‘Then I put all my faith in you dear servant of the King,’ she replied. ‘For I know not what to answer this court other than to continuously declare my innocence.’

Bardolph returned a knowing smile. ‘Of your innocence I am certain, and if God willing I will have you free of all charges levelled against you. In the meantime pray to God and hold faith my dear Lady, hold faith,’ he whispered.

He kissed her lightly once more on the back of her hand before moving to stand by her side and face the table. ‘Pray continue with the trial my Lord. We are ready to answer all charges,’ he told the Earl.

Earl Simon de Mortimer, having been briefed beforehand, recognised the one piece of damning evidence held against the Lady Adela to be the emerald necklace found in her possession. By all accounts this item of jewellery belonged to the Baron de Clancey and was stolen from his strongroom some three weeks earlier. He collected the necklace laid out on the table before him and held it high for all to see. He looked to Lady Adela.

‘My Lady, is this the necklace found in your possession at the ford at Marsh Brook?’ he asked. ‘And if so, then this Court requires an explanation as to how it came into your possession. For by rights this necklace does belong to the Baron de Clancey and is part of his father’s legacy.’

A short silence followed as Lady Adela collected her thoughts. As far as she was concerned she was given the necklace by her husband, the late Earl William Fitzgerald, shortly after their marriage, and that was some five years ago. She was about to relate this when Bardolph stepped forward. ‘If this Court does’t so agree, may I be allowed to inspect the necklace you hold before Lady Adela answers what has been asked of her?’ he requested of the Court.

Earl Simon de Mortimer looked back and forth along the table. Once again no objections were made. On seeing their response he turned to the front and held the necklace out for Bardolph to collect. ‘You may inspect the necklace. This Court holds no objections.’

Bardolph stepped up to the table and leaning across took the necklace from Earl Simon de Mortimer. He turned it over and inspected to the back. ‘Ah!’ he exclaimed. ’It is as I thought. These marks tell me this necklace was made by monks and craftsmen at Cluny, a monastery well to the south of the Norman’s lands. I have seen this jewellery before at the King’s Court at Winchester. It is in nearby mountains that the emerald stone is mined, and the gold would have come from Rome, for it is the Holy Roman Church that controls all the gold in these parts.’

Bardolph turned to the Abbot seated at one end of the table. ‘May I ask the Abbot,’ he said. ‘Of what Holy Order does’t your Abbey belong?’

The Abbot gave a look of surprise at being asked such a question. But he answered anyway. ‘It is true. We are of the Cluniac Order and belong to the Holy Order of Brethren of Cluny.’

‘Thank you Abbot,’ said Bardolph as he returned to stand before Earl Simon de Mortimer.

‘Where is this leading,’ asked a curious Earl Simon de Mortimer. ‘For it is not custom for a member of this Court to be asked to speak.’

‘Leading to the truth my Lord,’ Bardolph replied, and holding up the necklace went on to explain; ‘For it is my belief, that in establishing the origin of this jewel the truth will come out. If my Lord agrees, then might I continue on with my questioning; for I have more to ask of the Abbot.’

The Earl looked to the Abbot who responded with a shrug to his shoulders. ‘Let him ask, for like you I am curious as to where this is leading,’ answered the Abbot.

‘Bardolph of Wessex, you may continue,’ said Earl Simon de Mortimer who was also curious.

‘I thank you my Lord,’ replied Bardolph. He bowed, turned and walked the floor towards the Abbess of Wistanstow seated to the Fitzgeralds side of to the hall. She was awaiting him with a scroll in her hands.

She handed him the scroll, smiled and whispered; ‘Good luck my Angel Gabriel. Hopefully with what this scroll contains you will save the Lady Adela from the gallows.’

Bardolph bowed low, smiled and returned with the scroll to place before the Abbot. ‘This document is written in Latin. It is the language of the church and not understood by most assembled here. I therefore ask of you to read out the date,’ he said.

The Abbot unfurled the scroll a short way and read the date as asked. ‘This document is dated; Anno domini deciens centum quinquaginta quatuor,’ he said; then without being prompted he went on to translate by saying; ‘It reads; ‘In the year of our Lord Eleven Hundred and Fifty-Four.’.’

‘And the day and the month?’ asked Bardolph.

Diapente october, read the Abbot and adding; ‘The fifth of October.’

Bardolph was satisfied, but there was one more thing he needed the Abbot to verify before he could carry on. ‘Now can you tell us of the three seals on the document?’ he asked.

The Abbot unfurled the scroll completely and looked to the seals at the foot of the document. He checked them closely. ‘These are the seals of the Fitzgeralds, the de Clanceys and of the Abbey at Wistantow.’

‘And what of the document itself? Can you tell us of its purpose?’ asked Bardolph.

The Abbot read the contents in full and took his time before replying. ‘It is an agreement between the Fitzgeralds and the de Clanceys over a boundary dispute. Here all parties agree that the boundary be moved from the river Onney in the south to a stream in the north that runs through the ford at Marsh Brook,’

Bardolph acknowledged the Abbot’s contribution with a bow. ‘I thank you kind Abbot, for displaying your excellent knowledge of Latin, and explaining to this Court the nature of the agreement,’ said Bardolph and leaving the scroll in the Abbots hands. ‘The scroll that you now hold is the property of the Abbey at Wistanstow. May I ask that you retain it, let it be used in evidence if this Court so desires, and whence this trial is concluded, return it safely to your vaults?’

Bardolph stepped away and moved to a position where he could address the whole of the Court. ‘Gentlemen permit me to explain in more detail the agreement now in the Abbot’s hands,’ he said. ‘I’m sure he and the scribes will verify what I say next.’

He began to explain by saying: ‘My Lord, eighty-one years ago this coming October, the boundary dispute between the Fitzgeralds and the de Clanceys was resolved by direct arbitration from the Abbey. For it was also in the Abbey’s interest that the boundary be moved: The Abbey’s main commodities being both cider apples and wheat. Then as is now, both commodities being more marketable to the south: Cider being the drink preferred by those living to the south of the Onney, whilst Salopsbury retains the taste for good old English ale. Wheat on the other hand holds no boundaries, but the milling of flour always did. The watermill at Onneyditch being on the lands of the Fitzgeralds meant flour was under the control of Salopsbury. The agreement therefore was for the present Baron’s grandfather, Edwin de Clancey, to pay the sum of two-hundred gold sovereigns towards the construction of a new mill closer to Salopsbury. In return it was agreed that the boundary be moved north to the stream at Marsh Brook: And that, my Lord, is the basis of the agreement. With the boundary changed the Abbey moved to the estates of the De Clancey’s, and Salopsbury profited from having flour ground much closer to the city.’

Earl Simon de Mortimer intervened. ‘That’s all very well, but what did Lodelowe benefit from this agreement?’ he enquired.

Bardolph explained: ‘The benefit of Lodelowe’s markets, my Lord, for the market now thrives and people from miles around does’t flock to the town. And there was one more benefit gained. In recognition of the late Baron’s honourable gesture, a gift from the Abbey was presented to the family of the de Clanceys. That gift was in the form of items of jewellery. Jewellery made by the monks and craftsmen at Cluny and passed on to various Abbey’s of its Holy Order: One Holy Order in particular being that of the Abbey at Wistanstow.’

Earl Simon de Mortimer interrupted once more. ‘By saying gifts of jewellery, I assume you are referring the emerald necklace and brooch that now lie in evidence before this Court?’ he suggested, for he could see where all this was heading.

Bardolph acknowledged with a slight bow. ‘You are quite right to believe this my Lord,’ responded Bardolph, ‘but not just the two items laid before this Court, but other jewellery too.’

‘Other jewellery?’ quizzed Earl Simon de Mortimer.

Bardolph paused. The time was right to introduce his first witness. ‘My Lord, if I may be permitted, I would like to call upon someone who can enlighten this Court on the exactitude of this jewellery.’

Once again Earl Simon de Mortimer looked back and forth along the table and to all those seated in judgement, and once more no objections were raised. All were curious as to where all this was leading. ‘This Court holds no objections. You may bring forward your witness to stand before this Court,’ he said and giving his permission.

Bardolph signalled towards the large double doors away over on the far side of the hall. Whilst everyone waited anxiously to see who this mysterious witness would be there came a hubbub of noise from both sides of the floor, and this joined by further rumblings from the minstrel gallery above. Then suddenly the mutterings turned to great gasps of breath as the witness entered. Striding boldly into the hall marched John Smith the blacksmith of Onneyditch, and in his arms he carried his great-grandmother Agatha.

As John Smith came alongside Bardolph, the King’s Falconer turned to Earl Simon de Mortimer. ‘My Lord, my witness is Agatha of the inn at Onneyditch,’ he announced; ‘Sadly her advancing years make it difficult for her to walk so she is carried into this Court by her great-grandson John Smith of Onneyditch. I hope this Court holds no objections to his presence, as other than hold this lady firmly, he will take no part in the proceedings. As for this dear old lady’s recollections of events some eighty years past, her memories of the evening of the Fifth of October in the year of our Lord Eleven-Hundred and Fifty-Four remain sharp and clear, and this Court will find no difficulty in appreciating all she has to say.’

Earl Simon de Mortimer managed a compassionate smile. ‘You may continue,’ he said simply.

Bardolph turned to Agatha. ‘Agatha, before we begin will you kindly tell this Court your age,’ he said.

With a mouth displaying one single tooth, she replied saying; ‘I am in my ninety-third year; I’ll be ninety-four next month.’

Bardolph turned to Earl Simon de Mortimer. ‘My Lord, at the age of ninety-three this woman would have been born in the year Eleven-Hundred and Forty-Two. In Eleven-Hundred and Fifty-Four when the agreement to move the boundary was signed she would have been twelve years old. It is as a twelve year old girl that I now ask of her to give evidence. For events that unfolded on the evening of the Fifth of October of this year hold a vast significance to the outcome of this trial,’ he explained.

He then turned to Agatha. ‘Dear lady tell this Court, as a girl of twelve, exactly where you were on the evening of the Fifth of October in the year of our Lord Eleven-Hundred and Fifty-Four?’

Agatha grinned, her one tooth showing. She knew exactly where she was that evening, for it was a tale she had told many times sat in her rocking-chair before the hearth at the inn at Onneyditch. ‘I was at my parents inn; the Golden Lion at Onneyditch,’ she said.

Bardolph cut her short for he considered a little explaining to the Court necessary before Agatha began to relate her tale. Quickly he said; ‘Thank you Agatha. There another tale was to be told first: A tale of events that took place earlier that day.'

He turned to the Court. ‘Before Agatha tells her tale of the events of the evening, I must explain to the Court the events of earlier that day,’ he said. He waited a while, and on seeing and hearing no objections he went on to explain; ‘A special ceremony took place earlier this day at the Abbey at Wistanstow. Baron Edwin de Clancey, his wife Lady Caroline and their two newly born children, the twins Edmund and Edward, travelled to the Abbey to receive a gift of gratitude. However, the Baron had all along insisted that no reward be given to him or his wife, but instead to his two sons. Once gifts had been presented, prayers said and the ceremony concluded they set off back to Lodelowe. But the hour was late and it was pre-arranged that the Baron and his entourage should stay that night at the inn at Onneyditch.’

He turned to Agatha. ‘Now Agatha, tell us what happened not long after the Baron and his party arrived at the inn.’

She grinned once more, for she loved telling this tale. She began: ‘The hour was late and it was getting dark when the party arrived. We had been warned in advance at what hour the Baron would be arriving and their rooms were prepared. I was at the door with my mother when the Baron and Lady Caroline arrived. They were accompanied by several guards who on seeing the Baron and his wife enter, moved on to stable their horses. My mother escorted them upstairs to their room and I followed on to help.’

At this point Bardolph interrupted and asked Agatha a question, saying; ‘But what about the twins? You make no mention of them. Were they not with their parents at this time?’

Agatha shook her head. ‘The Baron and his wife arrived first along with the guards,’ she explained. ‘The twins were to follow on behind in a carriage. It was some time later when the carriage arrived. The twins were sleeping in their cots. There were two guards driving the carriage, but that was all. One guard got down from the carriage, took up one of the cots and carried it into the inn. My mother and I were waiting inside to greet the babies. It was at this point a great commotion broke out with shouting and screaming coming from outside. It was raiders from across the boarder arriving on horseback. The guard with us, on seeing what was happening ran quickly out and by calling loudly to the stables he raised the alarm. He took up arms, but before help arrived the raiders had already attacked and killed the guard that remained with the carriage. On seeing the guards running towards them from the stables, the raiders quickly remounted their horses and rode away into the darkness. Then to everyone’s horror when the carriage was inspected, the second cot was gone. A splash in the river was heard as they rode away. The river was searched both that evening and the following day, but only the cot was ever found. Poor Edmund, for that was the twin that was lost; must have drowned that night, and all our prayers went with him.’

‘Thank you Agatha for that vivid account,’ said Bardolph. ‘Now will’st you answer just one more question. Edward, the twin that survived, how was he dressed that evening, and was he wearing jewellery of any kind?’

Agatha smiled again. She was enjoying all the attention she was receiving. ‘Edward was but eight months old, but all the same he was dressed in a small but regal suit, braided in gold and lined with ermine. And yes he was wearing jewellery. Around his neck was a gold chain and pendant, and on his suit there was pinned a brooch. Both jewels bore matching stones. They were large green stones in the shape of pear.’

Bardolph had earlier returned the necklace worn by the Lady Adela to the table. He collected it along with the brooch and presented them both to Agatha. ‘Tell me Agatha,’ he said, ‘were these those jewels?’

Agatha peered closely at the items, for her eyesight had seen better years. A toothless smile appeared. ‘Yes, those are they. Those are the jewels worn by Edward. How could I forget them?’

‘Thank you Agatha,’ said Bardolph. He then turned and placed the necklace and brooch back on the table in front of the Earl. ‘My Lord,’ he said, ‘a long tale has been told, but a very necessary tale: For it was not only Edward invested in jewellery that day, but also his twin brother Edmund. Not just one necklace and brooch were presented that day, but two necklaces and two brooches. At the ceremony at the Abbey at Wistanstow earlier that day, both Edmund and Edward were presented with a matching necklace and brooch.’

Earl Simon de Mortimer rubbed his chin. ‘Two sets you say? Have you evidence to substantiate this claim?’

Bardolph nodded. ‘Yes my Lord, I have the evidence.’

Bardolph turned to Mary the handmaid of Lady Adela who had been seated alongside the Abbess of Wistanstow throughout the trial. ‘Mary, will’st you bring forward your departing gift from Lady Adela and present it to the Court?’

Mary rose and walked towards the table. It was an unsteady walk and her chest wheezed as she ambled across the floor. On reaching Bardolph she placed a large emerald brooch in his hand.

Bardolph collected the second brooch from the table and held both brooches high, one in each hand. He showed them firstly to the Court and then turned to reveal the brooches to both sides of the hall. Immediately there came great gasps of amazement; firstly from those seated at the table, and afterwards from all those seated in the hall, as everyone found themselves staring at two identical brooches.

Bardolph waited for the hubbub to die down and for Mary to return to her seat before returning to the table and to stand before the Earl. He laid down the two brooches and then organised them so that the necklace and Mary’s brooch stood together and with the second brooch resting a short distance away.

‘My Lord,’ Bardolph began and pointing to both the necklace and brooch, ‘here we have the necklace found in the possession of Lady Adela and the brooch presented to this Court by Mary her handmaid.’

His hand moved across the table to the lone brooch a short distance away. He continued to explain: ‘And here we have the second brooch, this time found upon the dress of a whore plying her trade at the local tavern here in Lodelowe. So what is missing? It is the second necklace that is missing. But my Lord, I also have the answer to this. For earlier this day I asked the Captain of the Guard here at Lodelowe to search a certain room within this castle. I now ask permission of this Court for the Captain of the Guard of Lodelowe to enter and bring with him what he has found.’

Earl Simon de Mortimer full of curiosity replied without consulting the rest of the bench, saying: ‘You may bring the Captain of the Guard of Lodelowe before this Court. Let us all see what he hath found.’

Bardolph turned to the main doors at the far side of the hall. He signalled with a wave of his hand and waited. The doors opened and in marched Captain Osbald. He was dressed in the uniform of Lodelowe but wore no chainmail and carried no weapons. Behind him followed four servants each carrying a weighty sack. The four servants placed the sacks down before the table, bowed low then turned and departed the hall and leaving the Captain standing alongside Bardolph.

‘Captain, will you please tell this Court what you have been doing and were you have been,’ asked Bardolph.

Captain Osbald turned to the Court. ‘I have been searching the rooms of Sergeant Cuthbert, this castle’s Sergeant-at-Arms. Hidden beneath his bed were these four sacks and in one of those sacks I found this,’ he said and placing a single item of jewellery on the table before Earl Simon de Mortimer. He took up the offering, unravelled the gold chain and let a large pendant fall to the end of the chain. He held it high for all to see. He was holding a gold chain from which hung a large emerald stone mounted on a pendant of gold. Having shown everyone he placed it down on the table alongside the lone brooch. He then looked to Bardolph and awaited his explanation.

Bardolph moved closer to the table and pointed firstly to one set of jewellery and then the other. Addressing Earl Simon de Mortimer, he said: ‘My Lord, here we have the evidence. Here before this Court there now lies on the table two necklaces and two brooches. One pair presented to Edward, the other to his twin Edmund.’

Earl Simon de Mortimer rubbed his chin and for while remained in deep thought. ‘Then we have been deceived all along,’ he replied and speaking slowly, ‘there were indeed two of everything; two necklaces and two brooches; and I assume these four sacks contain the Baron’s stolen treasure? And can we assume it was this castle’s Sergeant-at-Arms that took the treasure?’

‘You are quite right on all counts my Lord,’ responded Bardolph: ‘It was indeed Sergeant Cuthred that alone did the robbery. I am told that he now resides in this castle’s dungeon, having been arrested and taken there once the treasure was uncovered.’

‘Alone you say? Has he confessed to this crime?’ asked Earl Simon de Mortimer. ‘And why would he do such a heinous crime? Surely a man of his position would not stoop to such a thing.’

Bardolph responded by attempting to answer all the Earl Simon de Mortimer’s questions in turn, saying: ‘My Lord, the Sergeant did indeed do this alone. However I know not whether he hath confessed. No doubt a separate trial will reveal all. As for why he would commit such a heinous crime, then I would say he needed the extra wealth to sustain his daughter Anne’s residence at the Abbey at Wistanstow: For she is a novice there and being schooled in the ways of this most Holy Order. I believe it was something she always wanted since her mother passed away some short while ago. But as you very well know my Lord, enrolment in the Holy Order doth come at a great cost and remains a place reserved for the daughters of the landed gentry. My Lord, I also have further proof of Sergeant Cuthred’s guilt. If this Court permits then I will’st present it as further evidence to the innocence of the accused.’

‘You may present this further evidence,’ agreed Earl Simon de Mortimer.

Bardolph turned to Captain Osbald and collected a folded piece of parchment paper. He then turned to Earl Simon de Mortimer. ‘My Lord here is final proof that it was indeed this castle’s Sergeant-at-Arms that did’st this heinous crime. This missive was found in his room along with the Baron’s missing treasure.’

He unfolded the parchment and with a hand flattened it out on the table before Earl Simon de Mortimer. ‘My Lord, note the pale blue ink,’ he said, ‘this ink is that used by the Abbess in her missives to relatives of the Order’s Holy sisters. I’m sure if asked she will’st confirm this. This missive is addressed to Sergeant Cuthbert confirming Sister Anne’s acceptance into the Abbey’s Holy Order. Now please note that the bottom of this document hath been torn away and a piece is missing from the corner. Well here I can show the Court that missing piece.’

From a pouch on his belt Bardolph extracted a small piece of paper. ‘My Lord, I give you the missing piece,’ he said and placing the two pieces together to show that they matched along the tear. Taking up the gold signet ring that had lain on the table since the trial began, he went on to explain: ‘This gold signet ring is that of the Baron’s father and was reportedly found by Sergeant Cuthbert in the shoe of Lady Adela’s handmaiden. It was found wrapped in this very piece of paper, for it was I that retained it after the handmaiden’s trial. I put it to this Court that it was indeed Sergeant Cuthred who placed this ring, wrapped in this piece of parchment, inside the shoe of the handmaiden at the time of her search within her cell. I also put it to this Court that the brooch found upon the dress of the whore at the tavern in the town, was also put there by Sergeant Cuthred, for it was he that found it and brought it before the Baron. My Lord, it was Sergeant Cuthred, acting alone, that entered the Baron’s strongroom that night and did’st kill the guard on duty, and that both Gwyneth the handmaiden and the whore Margaret are innocent of all crimes. My Lord, they are due to hang tomorrow on the day of the market. It is within your power as Overlord of the Marches to pardon these prisoners and set them free. I pray that this will be done and the innocent not be punished.’

Earl Simon de Mortimer rubbed his chin in deep thought. He was not one for rushing into things without giving the subject much consideration. ‘I will’st consider what you say whence this trial is concluded,’ he said, ‘but first we must agree a verdict on the trial that now stands before this Court. But before we convene to consider our verdict there remains one thing that still troubles me. An explanation is surely needed as to how the necklace and brooch that once did’st belong to the twin Edmund end up in the possession of the Fitzgeralds of Salopsbury?’

Bardolph had a possible answer. It was however a topic he hoped would remain unquestioned, but now Earl Simon de Mortimer had asked he felt compelled to give an explanation. ‘My Lord, it is tale that can only be speculated upon,’ he replied. ‘It is quite possible the jewels found their way into the possession of the Fitzgeralds by fair not foul means, possibly by sale or gift, or even by a chance find of abandoned booty, for the exact means will’st by now be lost in the annals of time. But I can put forward one other possible explanation, for I have one further piece of evidence.’

He then turned to the Abbess of Wistanstow and called across the floor: ‘Holy Mother, please hand to this Court the second document in your possession.’

Bardolph crossed the floor to the Abbess and took a scroll from her hands. He then returned to the table and to address Earl Simon de Mortimer. ‘My Lord,’ he said, ‘this document was signed and sealed at the same time as the agreement reached over the boundaries dispute.’

He unfurled the scroll to show two seals at the bottom. He then went on to explain: ‘My Lord, this document is dated the same day; the Fifth of October in the year of our Lord Eleven-Hundred and Fifty-Four; and contains two seals; those of the de Clanceys and the Fitzgeralds. It is written in the language of the Normans, and not Latin as with the agreement with the church, for this is consent between the two families as required by law at the time. If I may my Lord, rather than read out this document in full, instead I will’st offer this Court a brief translation. For I am sure those schooled in the language of the Normans can confirm what I have to say.’

Earl Simon de Mortimer nodded. He agreed; it did seem simpler this way. ‘Go ahead, I will have the document verified once this session is concluded.’

Speaking slowly, Bardolph began his explanation, for the tale was long and complicated, and remained in some parts purely speculation on his part. ‘My Lord,’ he started and sounding deep in thought, ‘this further agreement, signed and sealed at the Abbey some eighty year past, covers the future appointments to the Abbey of both the Abbot and Abbess. With the Abbey moving from the lands of the Fitzgeralds to those of the de Clanceys, it was agreed the Abbot be appointed by Lodelowe and the Abbess by Salopsbury. And this agreement still applies to this day; for indeed Father Monticelli, the current Abbot of Wistanstow, and who sits with you in judgement this day, did’st get appointed by the grace and favour of Lodelowe; and likewise the Holy Mother, Lady Elizabeth Fitzgerald, the Abbess of Wistanstow was appointed by the grace and favour of Salopsbury. But let me read to you just one line from this document. It concerns the appointment of the Abbess by Salopsbury. This I will’st translate into our Anglo-Saxon tongue for the benefit of this Court.’

Bardolph unfurled the scroll and read one particular line: ‘By the grace of God the new baby daughter recently born to the Lady Joanna de Bohan, whence she becomes of age, will’st be the first of the Fitzgeralds to be appointed to this Holy Order.’

Bardolph held the document across the table so that Earl Simon de Mortimer could see the line he was reading and to one word in particular. ‘You see my Lord the word here reads ‘fille’.’ He said and pointing to the word. ‘This in the Norman tongue is the Saxon word for ‘daughter’, and with the agreement being for the appointment of the Abbess, there is no doubt in my mind that in the year Eleven-Hundred and Fifty-Four there was born a baby girl to the Fitzgeralds.’

Bardolph took a deep breath and waited for the hubbub to settle; for he was creating quite a stir amongst all those present in the hall. ‘My Lord,’ he continued, for he had a lot more explaining to do. ‘The year is important here. Eleven-Hundred and Fifty-Four also happens to be the year of the twin’s birth. It also happens to be the year of the birth of Sir Rupert Fitzgerald. This I find most curious. For how is it possible for Lady Joanna de Bohan to have both son and daughter in the same year that is barely ten months gone? Possibly they were twins, both boy and girl; but this was never recorded. In fact nothing about the baby girl was ever recorded, for it is my belief that this girl died shortly after birth. My Lord, in the chapel of the Fitzgeralds within the walls of the castle of Salopsbury, there does’t lie a gravestone. On this stone is written the solitary year; ‘eleven-hundred and fifty-four’ and beneath lies an inscription in Latin stating that whoever was buried there did’st not live beyond a year.’

Bardolph waited once more for the crowd to settle, for there was much talk amongst both families. ‘My Lord, I put it to this Court that Sir Rupert Fitzgerald, Knight of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, was in fact the lost twin Edmund. I put it to you that he did not die that night at Onneyditch, but was taken away to become the boy child of the Fitzgeralds. My Lord, this can then explain how Edmund’s jewellery came into the possession of Salopsbury. It remained with the child after his kidnap and was kept by the family.’

Bardolph moved along the table to stand before Squire Henry Stokes. ‘Squire,’ he said to him, ‘you did’st once serve Sir Rupert Fitzgerald in battle in the Holy Lands. And I believe that on a few occasions you did’st attend the company of the Baron’s late father Edward here at Lodelowe. Tell me, did’st you ever notice any similarities between Edward and Sir Rupert?’

Squire Henry gave the matter some thought. ‘Now that you come to mention it,’ he said. ‘There was a great similarity between the two men. Both had the same facial features and the same thick red hair. Yes, there were similarities, but it was something I never connected; for Sir Rupert was a brave Knight and fought alongside the good King Richard in the Holy lands, whilst Baron Edward de Clancey ignored the King’s call to arms. It was for this reason the Coat of Arms of the de Clanceys was frowned upon and considered ‘Craven’. But the more I think about it, you could very well be right. It is quite possible that Sir Rupert and the late Baron Edward de Clancey were indeed twins.’

Bardolph turned to Earl Simon de Mortimer. ‘My Lord, there you have it. It is my belief that Sir Rupert Fitzgerald was indeed Edmund de Clancey, taken from his cot at Onneyditch and handed to the Fitzgeralds at Salopsbury. My Lord, it is my belief also that the present Baron de Clancey and Salopsbury’s Earl Hubert Fitzgerald are both sons of the twins and are in fact cousins. With this my Lord I rest my case, and in so doing have proven beyond doubt that Lady Adela Fitzgerald is truly innocent of all charges held against her.’

And with that Bardolph stepped back and bowed low. He considered his job done. He could do no more. Now it was up to the Court to reach their verdict.

The verdict did not take long, for all that sat in judgement were of one mind. ‘Will everyone stand,’ said Earl Simon de Mortimer and standing himself. ‘This Court finds the accused, Lady Adela Fitzgerald innocent of all charges. She is free to go.’ A cheer went up from certain sections of the crowd. But others stood stony faced.

Bardolph walked up to Lady Adela seated alone in the centre of the hall. She was holding up her arm as he arrived. He kissed the back of her hand. ‘Dear servant of the King, how can I ever repay you?’ she said. ‘For without your intervention I would surely have faced the gallows. For what you did hypothesise was true. It was a family secret that Sir Rupert was indeed a de Clancey. One day I happened to overhear a conversation between my late husband and the current Earl. My husband came to hear that I had overheard and he made me swear on the Holy Bible that I reveal this secret to no one.’

Bardolph gave a little knowing smile. Now he saw the reason for wanting her killed. She held too many dark secrets and just had to go. But he kept this to himself. ‘So I was right,’ said Bardolph. ‘Perhaps now that your secret is out you will convey this knowledge to Earl Simon de Mortimer. There is no more I can do. My job here is done and I must be away. The King awaits his birds and I cannot tarry a day longer. Tomorrow, at the break of dawn I will be away. But for you my dear Lady, may your journey south continue, and that you become once again united with your family in Honfleur.’

And with that Bardolph kissed the back of her hand and retreated. He gave one final bow to the Court, turned and made for the doors. His plan was to retreat to his room, get a good night’s sleep and be away at the break of dawn.

As he walked from the hall he heard Earl Simon de Mortimer say; ‘Earl Hubert Fitzgerald, and you Baron de Clancey; come with me to my chambers; we have some important matters to discuss.’

Bardolph kept on walking and did not look back. Hopefully the two families would come to some amicable agreement.

Chapter Fifty-Two

On the morning following the trial Bardolph rose well before dawn. It was still dark outside and this suited him; for this is what he wanted. The previous night he had left instructions with the stables to saddle his horse and prepare his donkey in readiness for departure at first light. He was hoping he could just drift quietly away from Lodelowe whilst everyone was still asleep. But how wrong could he be?

As he entered the courtyard carrying his falcons in two separate cages he could see that his horse and donkey were prepared and awaiting his arrival. The two animals were stood to the centre, their reins held by stable lads. But there was something a little disconcerting about the rest of the sight that greeted him. Grouped in small huddles about the courtyard there stood gatherings of both men and women. And what was more alarming; they were all looking his way.

It was Ralph that greeted him first. He had stationed himself close to the door that opened out into the courtyard in readiness for the Falconer’s arrival. ‘Let me take the birds Sire,’ he said to Bardolph and holding out his hands. ‘I will’st tie them to your donkey whilst you say your fond farewells. For I am sure those gathered here at this early hour have a lot to thank you for after yesterday’s trial.’

Bardolph handed over the cages. Already he was feeling slightly embarrassed. ‘Ralph, you are a good lad,’ Bardolph said to him, and from his purse he took out a silver crown. ‘Here Ralph, this is for you. Accept it from the King of England, for it is his birds you have tended so well whilst I have been pre-occupied on business that did not concern the King.’

Ralph took the silver crown and touched his forelock. ‘Thank you kind Sire,’ he said. ‘I am honoured to have had the privilege to serve the King in such a small and humble way.’

‘Go, tie my birds to my donkey,’ said Bardolph. ‘It seems I have people awaiting my presence, and my departure could well be much delayed.’

Bardolph moved on. The first group awaiting him were three women. They were stood remote from the huddle gathered around the horse and donkey. They were the Lady Adela, the Abbess of Wistanstow and the ageing handmaid Mary. On reaching them Bardolph bowed politely and the three women curtsied. The Lady Adela held out her hand. Bardolph took her hand and kissed her lightly on the knuckles.

‘My Lady, this is not necessary,’ said Bardolph sounding apologetic. ‘You should not be out in the cold, and as for fond farewells surely these were all said on conclusion of your trial?’

Lady Adela shook her head and responded by saying; ‘Nay kind Sir, surely it is only right and proper that I be present at the departure of a man I hold dear. A man that hath spoken on my behalf and in so doing hath saved me from the gallows. Bardolph of Wessex, Royal Falconer to the King, I wish you safe journey and may St. Christopher go with you.’

Bardolph kissed her hand once more. ‘Then I too must wish you safe journey home, and may the winds be kind whence you cross the English Channel,’ he said and releasing the hand.

Bardolph moved along the short line. Mary was next in line. She was stood between the Lady Adela and the Abbess. Mary curtsied and stayed in that position; remained low and with head facing the ground, for she was only a serving wench and knew her true station. Bardolph bent low and spoke to Mary in that position. ‘Mary, I have nothing but praise for you. If it was not for you I would never have unlocked the key to all these riddles,’ he told her. ‘If you had not worn that brooch when you came to me in Salopsbury’s kitchens, then I would never have known that there were indeed two sets of jewellery. Mary, by bringing that brooch here to Lodelowe, it was you not I that did’st save your mistress’s life.’

Mary feeling embarrassed, he head remained low and facing the ground. In a quiet voice she said; ‘Thank you my Lord for your kind words. Have a safe journey, and may St. Christopher go with you.’

Bardolph straightened. ‘Thank you Mary.’

He moved on to greet the Abbess of Wistanstow who was stood to the end of the short row. Again a raised hand awaited him. He kissed her lightly on the knuckles, looked up and their eyes met. The Abbess was smiling. ‘Holy Mother,’ he said, ‘it seems more thanks are in order. The finding of the two scrolls in the Abbey’s vaults proved vital for the trial. Without them I would have no case to defend. If thanks were in order from the Lady Adela, then they should go to both you and Mary. Without your presence, and to do what you did, I could not have spoken in the Lady Adela’s defence.’

The Abbess’s smile broadened. ‘My sweet Angel Gabriel,’ she replied, ‘there was nothing I would have done without your guidance and blessing. I know where true thanks should lie and it is not with me. Go with God’s blessing. Ride safely to Wessex and may St. Christopher go with you.’

Bardolph kissed the hand for a final time. He returned the smile, bowed low and moved on. Another group awaited him, and this time gathered around his horse and donkey. He recognised them all except one woman, but it did not take much sorting out. This was the whore Margaret, for stood with her were John Smith the blacksmith, Madeline who he had rescued from the forest, Gwyneth the handmaiden, and Ralph, who on tying the cages had moved to join them.

If there was one person missing then it was Agatha, and this was Bardolph’s first question as he arrived to greet them. ‘Where’s Agatha?’ he queried, for if there was anyone that needed thanking, then it was this dear old lady.

‘She returned to Onneyditch yesterday whilst light remained,’ explained John Smith. ‘It proved to be a most tiring day and she does’t so like to sleep in her own bed. But she sends her best wishes, and hopes that one day you will’st return and talk with her besides the fire. For these are the fond memories she holds of you.’

‘Then give Agatha my best wishes,’ said Bardolph, ’for once again I could not possibly have achieved the verdict that did’st go our way.’ John Smith threw an arm about Madeline and drew her close to him.

‘We are to get married,’ he said, ‘and Madeline’s daughter Gwyneth is going to stay with us. She will be a good sister to Ralph. Once more the stables at Onneyditch will be run by a family, and you never know, perhaps one day we may hear again the patter of tiny feet.’

Bardolph laughed, as did John.

Madeline acknowledged John’s proposal by saying; ‘Yes John hath asked me to be his wife and I have accepted. He a good man, kind and gentle, but that is not why we are here today. We come as a family to give thanks to a man who did’st save me from a great beating, and possibly death, for who knows what those men were capable of?’

Having met those men, and witnessed their ruthlessness, Bardolph knew exactly what evil deeds they were capable of. But he said no more on the subject. Madeline was safe and this was all that mattered.

‘Then my best wishes to both you and John upon your forthcoming marriage,’ he told Madeline. ‘May God look favourably upon your Holy Union,’ then turning to Gwyneth and Ralph he added with a smile; ‘and of course to your ready made family.’

It was Gwyneth’s turn to greet Bardolph, for she was next in row, and she wanted to give her own thanks to the man that had saved her life. However, as a mere serving wench she knew her station and curtsied low before speaking. ‘Dear Sire, I must thank you for that you did for me. Without you I would have faced the gallows this very day. You dear Sire will always remain in my thoughts,’ she said.

‘It grieves me to see injustice done. I did what was necessary and asked pardon of the Earl, that was all,’ he told her.

With time pressing Bardolph really wanted to move on, but not before he had a final word with Margaret. The ravages of her torture remained. She remained thin and ashen faced, and stood with a stoop to her body. Gwyneth put an arm around her shoulders to hold her steady. ‘And you must be Margaret,’ said Bardolph, for they had never met.

‘Yes good Sire, I am Margaret,’ she confirmed, ‘and I could not see you go from here without thanking the man that did’st save my life. I thank you dear Sire for what you did for me, for without you intervention, this day, on the day of the market, would have been my last. From the bottom of my heart I thank you.’

Bardolph felt embarrassed. ‘Thank you for you kind words,’ he said, ‘departing Lodelowe in the knowledge that I did’st manage to save innocent lives, will’st remain with me forever.’

Bardolph smiled and moved on, for there was one more person awaiting his presence. He walked up to him and the two men embraced. ‘Captain Osbald,’ said Bardolph, ‘Of all the friends I have made during my brief stay here at Lodelowe, then you must truly be the one most indebted to my very existence. Your intervention in the woods at Longnor proved most timely, and without your appearance I would in all probability be dead by now.’

Captain Osbald laughed heartily. ‘It was not I but your horse you must thank for that timely intervention. But do not forget that it was you that also save my life at the ford at Marsh Brook. My dear friend there will always be a welcome here at Lodelowe for you. Now go, mount your horse and be away from here. Dawn breaks and you have a long ride ahead. May God and St. Christopher go with you.’

‘Thanks friend,’ said Bardolph and slapping Osbald on the shoulder. ‘But you are right on one thing. It is time for me to leave. And I go with a heavy heart at leaving all these folks behind. Perhaps one day I will return. Who knows what the future may bring?’

Having spoken in turn to all those awaiting his departure, Bardolph, with the help of the two stable lads, mounted his horse and tethered his donkey to his saddle. From the saddle he looked down upon the small crowd gathered to see him off. They were all stood together now. ‘Goodbye to every one of you,’ said Bardolph: ‘and goodbye my friends; goodbye Lodelowe. Goodbye the Marches. Perhaps one day I will return. But for now I must be away, for I have some urgent unfinished King’s business to attend to.’

And with that he kicked his heels and set off to pass beneath the portcullis and out into the streets of Lodelowe. He did not look back, for if the truth be told, there were a few small tears in the corner of each eye.

It was left to Captain Osbald to have the last word. ‘I wonder if we will ever see the ‘Return of the Royal Falconer’?’ he said as he and everyone else gathered around him in the courtyard waved goodbye.

The End

Copyright© 2012 by Nosbert. All rights reserved.