- Author: Sarah Hawkswood
Book online «Blood Runs Thicker Sarah Hawkswood (great novels .TXT) 📖». Author Sarah Hawkswood
Blood Runs Thicker
A Medieval Mystery
For H. J. B.
About the Author
By Sarah Hawkswood
Harvest time 1144
‘Cease your whining, woman.’ Osbern de Lench snarled at his wife, pushed her roughly from him and strode out into the sunshine, which was at such odds with his mood. It had been a bad morning and his temper had long since frayed. Nobody did what he told them; everyone failed him. He yelled for his horse, and berated the man who brought it in a hurry for not having it ready. The groom cringed, expecting a blow, which he promptly received. It was one of those days. The man knew that he would have been chastised just the same had he been walking the lord Osbern’s horse up and down, since he would have been accused of daring to assume his lord would ride, even though he did so every day at the same hour before noon. He held the stirrup, studiously looking down at the dusty toe of the leather boot, which enabled him to step back smartly and avoid the half-hearted kick aimed at him. Osbern pulled his horse’s head to the right, and cantered away with imprecations upon his lips and the dry earth rising in little clouds behind him.
‘There are days, too many of ’em, when you would wish the lord Bishop of Worcester or the lord Sheriff held this manor themselves,’ grumbled a tall man, wiping a scrap of sacking across his heated brow as he came round the corner of the barn. He nodded towards the receding horse and rider. ‘What cause had he for ire today?’
‘Who knows, other than our lady?’ The groom shrugged.
The tall man glanced towards the hall and frowned.
‘Get you out to the Great Field. Since I will still be here, I will attend to his horse upon his return. We need every man we can with sickle in hand if we are to get the harvest in before the weather changes, and Old Athelstan swears it will within two days.’
The groom was about to ask why Fulk the Steward had himself returned, but thought better of it. The steward might not strike him as the lord Osbern would, but he had a sharp tongue in his head if aggravated, and he already looked less than delighted. Perhaps it was simply an inauspicious day. The groom hoped Fulk would be wary of the lord’s horse upon his return, lest it lash out. The old grey mare might have mellowed in temper a little with age, just as her coat had paled to the colour of snow, but horses might be as prone to ill-temper as men.
The steady rhythm of his horse’s hooves calmed Osbern, as did the very routine nature of his ride. Every day, unless the weather was so foggy as to make it ridiculous, or so inclement as to make it foolish, he rode up the hill that overlooked his manor and sat for a half hour, contented, surveying it. People could be difficult, and often were, but the land changed only by the seasons, and this was his land. ‘Lord of the Hill’ his villeins called him, always behind his back, but he knew of it and rather liked the appellation. It might be held of William de Beauchamp, the lord sheriff of the shire, who in turn held of the lord Bishop of Worcester, but Osbern’s sire and grandsire had lived here, been buried here, and this was his. He knew each ridge and furrow, every tree, and had taught Baldwin, his heir, to value it as he did. At noon the sun was on his back and the hill’s soft shadow cast upon the green-wooded slope to the fields below. His grandsire had cleared the very top when he first took seisin, thinking to create a motte and bailey to show how he was above the old ways and the old lord, the English Alfred. As the story had been handed down, however, he had got no further than felling the trees. His lady had so berated him for foolishness in wanting a breezy hilltop when he could keep a far better eye on his villagers down where the cluster of dwellings were focused about a little church and the stream, that he had changed his mind. Instead he had turned the Saxon hall into a barn, just to prove his Norman superiority, and built a grander hall. The barn still stood, and the new hall also, but the old church was nothing more than the footprint upon which Osbern had now overseen the erection of a new place of worship, adorned with fine carving from masons who had worked on far grander ecclesiastical buildings than a manor church. The building was roofed again, and within the week it would be fully decorated, the walls fresh and white, the arch above the chancel step chevroned in red and yellow ochre. It declared to all who entered that Osbern de Lench was a lord of means, and pious also. It would help his soul when the time came, just a little, he thought, for God alone knew how much there was for which to atone. He crossed himself and was thinking of the next world rather than this and was thus caught off balance when his horse jibbed and came up short as he was confronted.
‘How come you are here?’ he enquired, his brows drawn together. He was surprised, and a little annoyed, but not in any way frightened, which was not a bad state in which to die, all things considered.
The rider was in his middle twenties, well dressed, and with a serviceable sword at his side. He entered the village as though he owned it, and he might as well have, for this was Baldwin,