Another Tale, Another Tournament
Chapter One: Introductions, Interjections and New Words
"O, what infinite ecstasy rings in mine own ears! Look upon my face, witness how joy writes itself in my very skin! Hear my euphoric cries as they bound across clouds toward the heavens! Another tournament! Another bout of inspiration to liven my ink, enlighten my quill, set alight my parchment with tales of valiant courage, of love and rivalry and-OOF!"
Geoffrey Chaucer was knocked from his precarious seat atop a fence by Wat's ever-clenched fist.
"Tales of 'unger, more like," he said with his teeth bared, "Aw, Will…I'm so 'ungry, I could eat Chaucer, 'ere."
"Oi!" exclaimed the aforementioned man, brushing dirt off his coat, all previous eloquence abandoned.
"What?" Wat shot back, "T'tell you the truth, s'better you than me."
Sir William Thatcher, mounted atop his mighty steed, rolled his eyes exasperatedly at his new wife, Jocelyn, who sat behind him. The two had been arguing like this ever since they had left London. He nodded to Roland, who was walking calmly by the horse's side. The stout man promptly took hold of the squabblers' heads and bashed them together.
Two anguished cries sounded over the broad field and ricocheted between the fences bordering the dirt road. Chaucer fell behind the supply cart, smarting and wincing. Wat, however, turned red as his hair and raised his fists once more. As he swung, Roland placed a palm against his head, keeping him at arm's length. He, Will and Jocelyn laughed as Wat threw punch after fruitless punch.
"We're nearly in Rouen, my friend," Will said, "Be patient."
Wat hung his head in exhaustion and took his place on Will's other side, chanting his own personal mantra.
"Tansy cakes with peppermint cream, tansy cakes with peppermint cream…"
In Rouen, where our band of not-so-merry men was headed, a certifiable ruckus was taking place. Grooms led strapping horses through the streets. Children carrying small flags and wooden swords weaved between their legs, shrieking the praise of many a knight.
Priests blessed the arenas, smiths sharpened swords and carpenters sanded lances. Men stood in circles placing bets, throwing silver into pots. Neighs, shouts, metallic clashes and laughter sounded throughout the streets of Rouen, all in anticipation of the grand tournament. Along with the noise, a broad host of goods crowded the city. Carts laden with bloody carcasses made their way to the butchers, iron to the armories, bolts of rich fabric to the tailors and sack upon sack of flour and sugar to the bakeries. Unfortunately, the camaraderie of the busy crowd was marred by a commotion inside such a bakery. A foul-smelling smoke streamed out of the only window of the building, closely followed by a rainbow of colorful curses.
"Idiot girl!" cried a woman in an apron, glaring condemningly at a small, pretty waif.
"It wasn't…w-wasn't… I –"sputtered the terrified girl, kneeling before an oven spewing dark gray smoke. When interrupted, she shrank pitifully into the wall, her clear blue eyes wide with panic.
"You've been apprenticing 'ere for near 3 years! You're lucky there're enough able apprentices to mend your careless mistakes!" cried the woman. She seemed to calm herself a little after that.
"Now, go on and start over." The girl nodded and stood shakily, then hurried past the older woman.
"And Alice?" the woman said over her shoulder.
"Y-yes," replied the girl anxiously.
"This time, no mistakes."
"Yes, miss," the girl gathered her shabby skirts and escaped from the oven-room. Alone, the other woman sighed wearily and sat on a stool, staring at the smoking oven and the burnt cake inside. Wiping a flour-covered hand across her flour-streaked face, she made to retrieve the ruined confection when –
"Beatrice," said a matronly woman with a ruddy face, standing in the doorway. The kneeling woman turned, then stood.
"Madam," she said. The mistress baker stepped into the room and laid a hand on Beatrice's shoulder.
"Don't be too 'ard on zem. You are steell an apprentice yourself, regardless of 'ow long you 'ave been 'ere."
"10 years," answered Beatrice, "'Fye was a donkey, I'd be near dead by now."
Ma'am sighed, gazing absently at the oven.
"You might as well be one, seeing as you are so stubborn" she said. She fingered her chin, making thoughtful sounds.
"For so long I've 'eard you talking about what eez out zere. I know you are not happy 'ere –don't you dare deny zis- I can see eet in your eyes," Madam's heavy French accent had its usual pacifying effect on Beatrice's nerves, "What would you say eef I told you…eef I told you I'd null your apprenticeship?"
Beatrice's eyes grew wide. She had no idea what to say.
"Beatrice," interjected Madam, holding Beatrice's upper arms tightly, "Mon Dieu, I 'ave never seen you speechless, eet eez very disconcerting. I know what I am doing. You are a very smart girl, perhaps too smart for your own good, but even so. You 'ave your wits about you. You 'ave your youth, your whole life ahead of you. Go."
Beatrice glanced indecisively at her employer of 10 years. After a moment of silence, Madam scoffed.
"Now, girl," she motioned sharply toward the door with a small smile, "Out of my sight."
Beatrice inclined her head, knowing there was no argument to be had here. She was silent as she left the room; she'd seen the water in Madam's eye.
"Finally! Where's the bread cart?" said Wat as the group approached the city of Rouen.
"Perhaps the vendor heard you were coming," Chaucer smiled maliciously, "and escaped for fear you'd eat him out of house and –OOF!"
Wat glared forward as Chaucer dropped like a stone behind his fist. No one paused in their stride as Chaucer struggled to rise.
"That's it," he breathed heavily, "That's all well and good, my friend, but don't expect to bully me any further."
Everyone finally stopped to watch incredulously as Chaucer raised his fists and held them before his face. A beat passed as all eyes transferred to Wat, anticipating his next move. All tension, however, was broken when Wat and Roland broke into raucous laughter. Roland put his arm round Chaucer's shoulders, pushing him forward and then giving him two wind-knocking pats on the back. Chaucer glared darkly at the beaten dirt path and muttered to himself.
"You laugh at me, oh yes…but when I'm through with you, your foibles will be immortalized in ink…you wait, oh, you wait…"
But his bad temper was short-lived, as soon enough they came upon the grand gates of Rouen.
Meanwhile, at the bakery, sniffles and whispers could be heard following Beatrice's departing back. Though she was short-tempered and sometimes quite harsh, she was still part of their family. A few of the younger girls followed her out to the still-busy street, presenting her with small tokens; flowers, little burnt pastries, drawings carved in scraps of wood. Beatrice took each on with a watery smile and a choked out "thank you".
She kept walking until the last girl waved goodbye and disappeared in the Rouen crowd. She came to a standstill, stood in the middle of the road, completely lost. Where would she go? Back to London? No. What would she do? Oh, if only she'd thought things through before she'd left.
And so there she stood, at last with a foot outside the door, but with no idea how to go any further.
Will and his entourage arrived in Rouen just in time: by the time Sir William Thatcher was registered, the jousts had begun. The match schedule read:
Ryttare Arnbjörg Rudfeldt of Sweden vs. Chevalier Jaqcues Le Gris of France
Ritter Moritz von Sickingen of Germany vs. Sir William Wallace of England
Sir Lawrence Canterbury of England vs. Caballero Juan de Borbon of Spain
Sir William Thatcher of England vs. Count Léon Adhemar of France
"Adhemar!" Will exclaimed, exchanging shocked looks with Jocelyn, who was attached to his side. Wat's hands hardened into fists.
"Right," his teeth grinded together, "Right…WHERE IS THAT GOOD-FOR-NOTHING MANKY GIT! I'LL – I'LL – I'LL TEAR HIM UP, I WILL..."
Roland held him by the back of his shirt, ignoring his hollered threats.
"Go see to the horse, Wat, take your anger out on the loose nail in his shoe."
Wat stalked away to the tall chestnut stallion, fuming as her went. Roland turned to Will and Jocelyn.
"Not to worry, Will. Yeh beat 'im before, yeh can do it again."
Will set his jaw and nodded.
"I plan to."
Chaucer paced beneath the seats of the jousting arena, rehearsing his introduction.
"Allow my introduction some mercy, as words alone cannot illustrate his full…his complete….er…Christ, man, think! The…um, his –"
"Illustriousness?" Geoffrey turned, shaken, to see a peasant woman half-hidden behind a support-beam.
"I…well, thank you," he said cautiously, eyebrows drawn together in curiosity, "but I'm afraid that's not a word."
"Well, yeh said that no words could illustrate 'im, so why not make up ones that can?"
Geoffrey thought for a moment, a small smile gracing his features.
"You make a good point. Alright then, illustriousness."
"Illustriousness," the woman echoed. Geoffrey's forehead creased bemusedly, and he began his introduction again.
Wat and Roland rolled their eyes simultaneously as Will and Jocelyn kissed in earnest.
"I swear," muttered Roland, "it's as if they'll never see each other again. She's only going to the nobles' box."
Wat replied with a nod and a childish "Yeugh."
When the couple broke apart ("at long last," Kate teased), Jocelyn turned to the redheaded man.
"Oh, Wat, you act as though you've never had a girl before."
"Actually," Roland chuckled, "that wouldn't surprise me."
Wat reddened as the company laughed, too embarrassed to raise a hand.
"Well, just t'tell yeh," he raised his chin defiantly, "I 'ave."
"Oh! Really?" Roland choked out between laughs, " 'ow blind was she?"
Will added, "I believe the question is: how many hits could she take?"
And Wat fell silent as a new spell of laughter shook the rest.
Another set of laughs resounded under the seats of the nobles' box as Geoffrey and his new acquaintance exchanged stories. As the noise died down, he looked at her.
"What is your name?"
She quieted also, and replied, "Beatrice."
"Beatrice," he repeated, "Well, Beatrice, will you be adding to the tournament's illustriousness by attending said event?"
"Nay," she chuckled at his bad joke, but quickly sobered, "Nay. As I've told yeh, my apprenticeship's been nulled and while it's a right gift from God, it 'as left me wiv'out room and board. My first quest in this new, free life will be to find both."
Chaucer pulled a thoughtful face and answered slowly, "Well. I see no reason why you can't come along with us….we travel, and you told me you'd like to see new places."
"Well, I could never-"
"Ah, but I think you'll find you can," he interrupted, "We're a small band, with two other women. And one of our company particularly loves food, which means that you won't be without purpose."
Beatrice frowned, "I don't know…exactly how many of you are there?" The herald lifted his back off the wall and turned to face her fully.
"Naught but six, friendly faces. Well, alright; five friendly faces…one absolute tosser."
Geoffrey had hoped that this would make her laugh, but she was too busy pondering. How would she join their band? Surely knights didn't just let whoever into their entourage? Geoffrey, seeming to read her mind, gave quick reassurance.
"Sir Thatcher should be easy to persuade, as long as he thinks it's his idea."
This seemed to persuade her, as she nodded a moment later. Chaucer smiled triumphantly.
"Alright, now that's settled, are you coming to the joust or not?"
Jocelyn sat with her former lady-in-waiting, Christiana, in the nobles' box. Christiana's new mistress, Lady Lydia of Sussex who Jocelyn knew quite well, was entranced by stories of the company Jocelyn was currently keeping.
"And this…Wat, you say, is he truly as you describe him?"
"Yes!" Jocelyn giggled, "Completely bull-headed and of the most violent temper you've ever seen!"
"I remember," Christiana agreed, "How about that other fellow? Roland?"
"Still with us, not to worry. Shall I give him your love?" the two noblewomen giggled good-naturedly as Christiana blushed. Before they could compose themselves, the trumpets blared to signal the start of the joust.
"Where's the horse," Will's impatient voice was muffled under his helmet. He felt as though his head was baking. Roland ran up to him, the stallion's reins gripped in his hand.
"'ere, milord," Roland said. On Will's order, he always referred to the knight in a formal manner while amongst other knights.
Will felt the heat trapped in his armor stifling him. He could scarcely wait for his turn. When he felt his horse galloping beneath him, his lance heavy in his arm and his heart hammering beneath his skin, nothing pained him but the aching anticipation before the impact of wood against metal. He tried to be patient, tried to count the droplets of salty sweat sliding slowly down his forehead.
Beatrice stood among the throngs of peasants, reveling in the rare scent of excitement. For many of these people, the tournament was the only escape they had from regular, toiling monotony. The metallic clank of a knight's armor grew to sound like bells, and the reek of horse's flanks suddenly became the smell of triumph.
She caught the eyes of a few familiar faces: Yves the blacksmith with Hubert the potter with blind Gabrielle the seamstress. Here with her friends, her kind, she felt a grin alight upon her tired face. This marked her first reprieve in 10 years, the beginning of a new life. And by God, she was going to enjoy it.
Will's turn. It was not until her mounted his steed that he remembered his opponent. Adhemar. Will didn't think he'd ever see the Count again; the rumor was that he'd quit jousting out of shame. But there he was, sitting astride his own mount, watching Will with narrowed eyes. Now that he was once-beaten he would be stronger, for a vengeful man is far more worth fearing than a victorious one.
"So…allow my introduction some mercy, as my words alone cannot illustrate fully his illustriousness: his courage, sensitivity and inhuman strength of character. An hour of speech would not suffice to list his merits or his daring exploits. All I can say to you now is that you would do well to learn him now, for long after we're gone, his victories will ring strong and true. Now, as my speech has grown too long and my breath too short, witness the man him-self: SIR WILLIAM THATCHER!"
Will's horse snorted and pawed the ground.
Adhemar's horse pawed the ground and snorted.
Jocelyn eyed the two opponents, fear choking her heart.
Chaucer eyed the two opponents, his mind searching blindly for the perfect word to describe this moment.
Roland tried to eye the two opponents while repeatedly pounding Wat's back with a fist, trying to dislodge the whole bun that Wat had shoved into his face a moment earlier.
"Thatcher! William! Thatcher!"
"Adhemar! Léon! Adhemar!"
Eight hooves were kicked into action, pounding the ground, propelling both knights forward. Two lances were poised at two frantic hearts. Four eyes were trained on each other. One body collided with the lance opposite, stopped in its momentum. As the horse galloped onward, its rider slouched to the side, falling off the horse with limbs splayed every which-way. Cheers masked the steely thud of his landing.
Will allowed triumph and relief to course through his veins as he slowed to a trot.
Leaping and embracing, the figures inside the arena were just as exuberant as those around it.
"Yes!" yelled Roland, punching the air with a meaty fist. Will smiled as he pulled off his helmet. Wat and Kate linked arms and sang:
"Weeeee are the champions, my frieeeeeends!"
"Had you any doubts," Will laughed as his posse surrounded him. But where was Chaucer? Before he could ask, he felt a heavy grip on his shoulder turn him around roughly. Before them stood Adhemar, eyes dark with fury and reckless vengeance.
"God only knows how you've come to beat me twice. But I shall see it does not happen again. You, too, shall know what it tastes to have something ripped from you. Mark my words…mark them well." And with that, Adhemar stalked away to his cowering herald. Jocelyn glared at him defiantly before running into Will's arms, ignoring the count's eyes as they followed her.
"What did he say, Will?" she asked. Will shook his head and pulled her to him.
"Nothing. Just a load of rubbish." He led his friends, still whooping gleefully, back to their tent.
I was nearly dark when they were finally packed and ready to go. The only thing missing was –
"Chaucer!" cried Roland, very obviously vexed, "Where yeh been?"
"Oh, here and there," came his cryptic reply, "Where's Will? I've something to tell him."
Roland sighed and threw his thumb behind him, pointing to where Will and Jocelyn stood.
"Will!" Geoffrey clapped Roland on the shoulder as he passed, "Will!"
"Chaucer," Will turned to face him, his tone irate, "Where've you been?"
"Never you mind, milord? What I came to tell you is…I met a girl."
"…but I thought you were married?"
"Wha-? Oh no, no, no, no, I didn't meet her," Chaucer raised his eyebrows suggestively, "I just…met her."
"Ah, I see. So what?"
Beatrice hid behind a tent, listening to Chaucer's story, punctuated by Sir William's "mhmms" and "yeps". Her dry, chapped hands were clasped in silent prayer. Oh, to leave this place…
All of a sudden, she was jerked out of her reverie by Chaucer shouting her name. Biting her thin lip, she stepped into view. Will, Jocelyn and Roland looked her over. She felt their gaze linger on the burns and stains that besieged her threadbare skirt. She smirked and raised her chin defiantly, her eyes trained on Roland's own mud-crusted shoes. He followed her gaze and cleared his throat, forcing his own eyes to inspect his fingernails.
"Beatrice," Chaucer continued as he crossed to her side, "May I present my liege, Sir William, and his beloved lady Jocelyn, and my friend Roland."
Beatrice smiled somewhat smugly at Roland and curtsied to the noble couple, who did the same. Kate appeared behind them, carving a piece of bark.
"Our resident blacksmith, Kate. Kate, Beatrice." She saluted Beatrice with her knife. Beatrice forced down a dubious eyebrow. A female blacksmith?
"Well," Geoffrey sighed and adopted an unquestionably dramatic tone, "Now that that's finished, I'm afraid you'll have to return to that hovel of a bakery, alone without a friend in the world…except perhaps cholera and dysentery."
Seeing that his friends' sympathy was gained, Chaucer finished by beginning to push Beatrice away. Will made a sudden movement with his arm.
"Wait, Geoff," Will said. He paused to think for a moment.
"Yes, my liege?"
"Would it…" Jocelyn nudged him encouragingly, "well, how about she come along with us? You said she's without work or shelter, we can't just…leave her…"
"Ah, what a fine idea, Sir William," Chaucer said graciously, "I'm sure Beatrice would be obliged to accept that invitation, now wouldn't you?"
Beatrice smiled at his little act and nodded enthusiastically. Jocelyn smiled and led everyone else in saying 'welcome'. Chaucer clasped his hands together and looked around where their horses and wagon were situated.
"Wait…it's oddly tranquil for some reason. Where is our raving ginger lunatic?"
He was answered by a clatter as a stack of logs was knocked to the ground by a lanky, stumbling figure.
"Ah," Chaucer's face fell, "there he is now."
Wat turned to Chaucer, nostrils flared and white around the rim.
"You…" he hissed, "you left me to do all the packin'! Hours of…of…"
Wat fell dumb as he finally noticed the shocked woman standing rigidly at Chaucer's side. One shared glance and his eyes were wide as hers.
"Y-…you…" he whispered hoarsely, all thoughts of fonging nowhere to be found. Just those stammered syllables managed to slap the alarm from Beatrice's face. Her mouth opened at once.
"Wat," she spat, "Whassa matter? Ain't yeh missed me?"
As Wat struggled for an eloquent comeback, poor Chaucer looked between the two, apparently at a complete loss.
"Do…you….know each other?"
Beatrice muttered something and turned to leave. Chaucer shot one questioning glance at Wat before reaching out to grab her arm.
"Woah, woah, my friend, what's going on here?"
"Yes, a' right? Yes, I know 'im. And I'm sorry, but I refused to stand the likes of 'im a long time ago!"
"Oh, the likes o' me?" Wat's eyebrows shot up, "You…you…"
"Harpy?" suggested Chaucer.
"Oi!" exclaimed an affronted Beatrice.
"Er…yeah, that," Wat continued, "Well, yeh…that thing…yeh think ye're better than me? Last time I 'eard, you was back in London livin' off alms! So don't you come over 'ere all 'igh and mighty!"
"I never said I were better, I thought that was too obvious! Street dogs are 'igher than you, you pigheaded, cowardly –"
"Cowardly? Oh, yeah, I'm a coward! If you wasn't a girl I'd fong you right 'ere…"
"Oh-ho-ho, you 'aven't changed a bit. Still willing to sell your soul for a hot cross bun?"
"Still a frigid, mouthy –"
"Ye're last three insults meant the same thing! Yeh can't even argue properly?!" Beatrice sneered, thoroughly enraged.
"Listen, you two," Chaucer interrupted hesitantly. The rest of the company looked on as Wat and Beatrice hurled insults at each other.
"Git!" Beatrice cried.
"Work-'ouse bint!" Wat retorted.
"Oh that's a good one," Beatrice drawled sarcastically, "Last time I heard that one, it was someone complimenting yer mother!"
A collective gasp was released from the small crown which had gathered around the quarreling pair. Wat was incensed further than the any of them had ever seen. Before he could utter one more slandering word, Chaucer stepped between them.
"Both of you, be quiet." He looked to the crowd, "Now, now, nothing to see, move along."
Wat and Beatrice kept themselves calm, but resorted instead to shooting nasty glares at each other when Chaucer wasn't looking. As Wat threw his special "crazy eyes" look at Beatrice, Chaucer whirled around to look at them.
"Beatrice," he grasped her arm in an attempt to soothe her, "I don't know what's happened between you too, but if you want to get out of here, you have to play nice."
"No," she said, "No. I can't come wiv' yeh, not if I 'ave to deal wiv' 'im."
"Oh, look, she's chickenin' out, what a surprise!"
"Wait…what's going on?" asked Jocelyn. She and the others still had no inkling of the situation.
Beatrice stopped in her tracks and faced Wat. Her eyes were shining, with fury or tears no one knew.
" 'ow dare yeh," her voice was low and heavy with venom, " 'ow dare yeh try to bring all this back t'that?!"
"Okay, I thought I was beginnin' t'understand, but now I'm completely lost," Roland whispered to Kate.
"This ain't got nuffin' to do wiv' anythin' 'cept you bein' a lowlife coward!"
Beatrice's fists balled up into themselves, her fingernails cutting crescents into her palms.
"You was the coward, Wat. You was the coward, just think abou' that."
Wat's jaw set stubbornly as he snorted flippantly and walked away. Chaucer laid a hand on her heaving shoulder.
"Are you coming?" Beatrice bit her lip, and slowly shook her head. He let out a breath through his nose.
"Right," he nodded unhappily, "Right. Well…I hope we meet again."
"Told yeh!" Came a cry from behind their wagon. Beatrice's regretful tears blocked her witty retort from escaping her mouth. Chaucer shrugged at his friends in defeat. They all looked at her, sympathy in their eyes.
As they got ready to leave, Beatrice sat down dejectedly on a boulder; her whole body slumped with exhaustion. Her throat hurt from yelling, her head hurt from yelling. She'd been so close…
A sudden creak of a wagon wheel and a clattering of hooves galvanized her into action. She sprang up and made for the moving company.
"Wait!" They turned around, surprised. She caught up to them and began to walk beside Chaucer.
"Make up yer mind, yeh bloody twit," she heard Wat hiss venomously under his breath. She opened her mouth to retort, but closed it again when Chaucer elbowed her lightly. She fell silent for a moment, but then came her quiet answer.
"If I'm stupid, then we'll have to make up a whole new word for you."
Everyone let out a chuckle, except Wat who only rambled to himself.
"Pain...lots of pain…"
"Finally," Kate whispered to Geoffrey, "someone who can put 'im in 'is place."
"That is," he murmured back, "if he doesn't give in and fong her first."