The Accidental Mummers (short story)

Hastings

Saxon Story #4

The housecarl sat up sharply with the thick odor of blood and screams of dying men still whirling about him. He had dreamed he was on the field at Hastings, but in sleep his legs had not been swift enough to carry him away from the butchers’ work.

With a hand hard-calloused from a life of the sword, the warrior felt along the pounding side of his head. His fingers came away damp with crimson blood. The serving girl had battered him to sleep and now he would see neither her nor his horse again.

A soft neighing from the other side of the hill’s summit sent his hand reaching towards the scabbard at his belt. As though an apparition in some bard’s tall tale, Breya entered the clearing on the back of the pony, her straw-colored braid swinging across her back and his sword gleaming in her hand.

“That’s no kitchen knife you’re holding, church mouse.” The housecarl warned.

“I’m no church mouse, villain.” She retorted. “I came back to see if you were alive. Now that I know I’m not damned by your murder, I’ll carry on my journey.”

“Get away, wench.” The man hissed.

But his sharp eyes were not fixed on her. His face was turned towards a great figure emerging from the gloom beneath the trees. It was the shape of a man atop a horse, but both were so entirely covered in burnished armor that he could not tell where mount ended and rider began.

The knight dipped his lance towards the figure hunched on the ground and looked about him. Breya saw the housecarl’s eyes were swelling with unspoken horror and fear. She wondered what he had seen on the field at Hastings to put him in such terror of the foreign lord.

“What devilry is this?” The knight asked in halting Saxon, the words thickened by his Norman tongue. “A warrior on his knees and a maiden on a horse?”

Breya saw her chance. This was a sight no man ever thought to see, and the confusion it provoked might be her only shield.

“We’re mummers, my lord. Would you care to see our play?”

She dipped the housecarl’s sword in a half-mocking salute. Both men turned towards her with narrowed-eyed suspicion.

“For a woman to take up a sword she must be possessed of the devil.” The knight said in a severe tone.

Throwing all caution away, Breya kicked her pony towards the housecarl. She made a limp cut with the sword and its edge rang against the iron links across his breast.

“Come, sir,” She called in her best aristocratic sneer, affecting the knight’s French accent as best she could. “Will you surrender or shall I come again?”

“Charge me once more, wench, and I’ll take your skin for a cloak.” The housecarl snarled, only half his fury pretended.

Breya led her mount forwards again. This time she left the sword raised and as she passed the Saxon warrior, slipped from the saddle and delivered a kick to his rump. He turned on her with murder in his eyes.

The Norman lord began howling with laughter, clapping one iron gauntlet against his mailed thigh. His leg swung forward in imitation of her kick and Breya swept into a low curtsy. Behind her, the housecarl’s face twitched and he looked between them in angry confusion.

“Well-played, mummers.” The knight said. “But I shan’t have wenches with swords around my men. They’ve seen enough devilry these last days-“

“And caused enough.” The housecarl muttered under his breath.

“Be on your way and take the Lord’s blessings with you.” The Norman finished

He spurred his horse down the slope and Breya sighed. She was safe again. She heard a heavy boot squelch in the mud behind her. The housecarl’s mailed fist slammed into the back of Breya’s head and her vision turned black.

PART 5

You can read Saxon Story #1 here.

Keep an eye out for my historical novel Vikingravailable on Amazon Kindle.

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