Misput Fealties: Prologue 2

…Continued from Prologue 1

… the Story goes on, in Another Time and Place

The young man looked plain enough.  He wore the same clothes as all the other folk and shifted unseen among them as they walked towards the Burg. Their feet boomed as they crossed the metal bridge over the dry ditch, and they slapped on the flat stones under the Westgate.  Two bored soldiers waved them through, but they paid him no heed.  The crowd pressed on towards the marquees set up on the lawn inside the walls, but the youth split off to the right and went to stand behind some bushes at the footing of the wall.  He truly did need to pee; his hand shook as he directed his stream.

When done, he buttoned up his breeches and looked about:  I am alone.  No one had seen him go, let alone hung about waiting for him.  Walking along the inside of the burg wall, he dragged a stick against the stones – he would act like a halfwit if challenged.  He nipped over the gap and slid down the grassy bank to get underneath the great windows, then he crept back towards the meaner openings, windows with bars.

“Teacher,” he hissed.  No answer.

He walked on and tried two more windows, and then the last one.  In answer to his call, bent fingers grasped the black metal bars at the opening; part of a known face came into sight.

“Carl, is that you, boy?”

“Yes, T-Teacher,” he replied, the words catching in his throat. “How are you? Have they treated you well?”

“Well, for now, that’s enough I guess.”

“Is there anything I can get you?”

He waited for an answer and was about to ask again when the old man started talking. His speech wasn’t frightened, only tired.

“Carl, listen to me.  There is no hope for me here and you must go – you must get away from Lincolnshire. The jarl wants me to be his thrall and will stop at nothing to get me, and if he can’t have me he’ll want you.”  The fingers pushed a black shape through the bars.  “Take my Stone boy, I know you haven’t graduated yet, but you can do everything that I can.  I hope you’re old enough to deal with it wisely.  Get out of here and find yourself a new spot to live.  My first learner, Burton Pedwardine, went to Norfolk – you could go to him. Or tell folk that you’ve graduated and set yourself up somewhere. Don’t come back here, whatever you do.”

“But what will they do to you, Teacher?”

“I no longer care,” said the old man. “But I won’t help the Jarl anymore, he’s gone too far.  It’s time for you to go, my son.  Say goodbye and don’t look back: that is my last word to you.”

Carl heard the sadness but also the wisdom of the words. If he stayed, the Jarl could make him help by threatening the old man. He could not let his Teacher down. 

“Goodbye, Teacher.”

The precious Stone went into his bag and he plodded back to the pathway, re-joining some others – punters, traders or pilgrims, he couldn’t tell through eyes filled with tears.  He pressed into the throng and furtively dried his eyes: he must not draw heed.  Carrying on through the crowd, he made it look as if he looked at the stalls and smelt the food, as he passed through. By the time he was outside the walls he knew what to do, even though it was the last thing in the world he wanted: get as far away as he could.

Through the Burg’s main gate, and into the cobbled square.  Down Steep Hill, the quickest way to the busy wharf and the fishing boats.  There, a coin got him on the floating bridge to the other side.  He trudged up the hill, and when he got to the top, turned about and looked back. From the top of the hill, he could see the Burg and the cathedral, all of Lincoln, with the Inland Seas to the east and west, and, below, the gap in the Lincolnshire ridge, where they met.  The city’s narrow finger of land stretched away north. It was all so fair and so unfair.

There was no way back for him now.  

The road headed south on the widening ridge towards Grantham.  He skirted his namesake spot, to keep away folk who knew him and would ask where his Teacher was, because they might soon be asked where he was by the jarl’s men. When he got to the borough, he had to gamble some Seeing – he was out of silver – to give for a bed and supper.  At dawn he was off, aiming to be long gone before any word of him got back to Lincoln.  They had come this way many times together, and he couldn’t believe that it would never happen again. 

He was his own man now, so he gave himself a stiff talking to and swore he would leave Lincolnshire forever – until he could get even with the Jarl for locking up his Teacher.  How the hell am I going to do that? he wondered.  Don’t try, said a voice.  He started.  It must have been the Stone, even though it was in the bag and not about his neck.  Did that mean don’t seek vengeance at all? Let the world unfold and take its way? 

Time would tell. 

The story continues … here.

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