Saxon Story #1
Breya let the armful of empty tankards she had been carrying clatter down onto the scuffed oak work surface at the back of the mead hall. With thick, calloused hands she straightened out the creases on her bright woolen skirts.
The housecarl stood in the doorway, letting the brittle wooden boards slam closed behind him. His eyes roamed through the crowd of patrons. Grizzled men old and young bundled beneath hooded cloaks and thick tunics let the clamor of a few moments before lull into silence.
Their harsh, pockmarked faces stared up at the newcomer. They wore expressions which were sufficiently hostile to convey a sense that he was not welcome, without inviting open violence.
This was the crucial moment. If the bearded housecarl with the shield across his back and sword on his hip saw the emblem of a rival house or the face of a man with whom he had a blood feud, all shades of hell would break loose.
“Come inside, stranger. I’ll settle you by the fire.” Breya called.
Her voice was as warm and inviting as a flagon of warm ale. It had been known to melt the frowns from the faces of harder men than he who stood in the doorway. But the housecarl was satisfied anyway.
He gave a reassuring nod to the hall’s occupants and stepped carefully through the throng. A clumsy foot stepping on the wrong toe would be another reason for blood to fly. One old hand, a farmer with a brood of grandchildren to thank the Lord for and who had seen his share of wars, stepped into the warrior’s path.
“What news is there from the king, housecarl?” He asked.
Breya gasped. It was a treasonous, ungodly thing to say. The fact that it was one of King Harold’s own household knights who had said it made the words all the more appalling. She quite forgot her task of guiding him to his stool and stood in dumb, open-mouthed astonishment.
“What’s that, sir?” The farmer asked. “Isn’t there a king in England any more?”
“Aye, there is.” The housecarl replied as he pushed past the old man and dropped onto a stool at the fireside. “But he’s no English king, and no king of mine.”
The old hand shook his weathered head and shuffled back to his table. His friends immediately set their heads together and began to raise a hum of concerned muttering. Breya leaned over the housecarl’s shoulder and placed a warm flagon in his hand.
“Has their been a battle, sir?” She asked.
He looked at her, except that he did not. His eyes stared past her to something a hundred leagues away which haunted the core of his soul.
“There’s been a battle, aye. Harold’s killed and we’re all to serve a Norman king now. So fetch me a platter of pie and I’ll be on my way.”
“Where will you go?” Breya asked.
“Wherever there’s work for a sword and coin to pay for it. I’m a man without a master now, and that’s hardly a man at all.”
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Or you can read a similar story on John H. Loase’s blog.