I awoke in my nest of straw with which I had stuffed my small shelter. At first I thought I would have no use for my mother’s things but I had bundled everything I could carry into the woods, where I built my shelter. It was just tree branches tied together with bits of hide and long grass, and thatched with reeds from the pond nearby. I could build a small fire in the center and boil water for barley mush when I could get the grain. My sleeping nest was a small tube like a spider might build with her silk. It was a loosely woven basket and stuffed with our sleeping skins and quite cozy on the coldest of nights. I crawled out and braced for the cold spring morning. I fed the coals and the dry wood caught quickly and rewarded me with a bit of warmth. I boiled my barley and broke off a bit of the goat cheese which I had spirited away from our small holding after my parents had died.
My mother died in childbirth as did the little girl she carried. We were too far from the village for the midwife and the clans were wintering elsewhere and there was much snow that year. After that our goats went dry. Papa began to drink more. He barely spoke to me. He just sat and cursed the monks and god. I had been sent to the village to summon a monk for mother’s funeral. They sent me back with a pimply faced cleric who was probably not ordained and he stammered through the burial rites and then drank as much of our beer and ate as much of our bread and cheese as he could hold and waddled back to the monastery. One night Father went out in a storm and froze to death. I chopped a hole in the ground and buried him next to my mother. I had the wit to remove his purse which contained two gold Ȯre and quite a bit of hacksilver.
There I was, eleven years in the world and now the master of my own house. I knew that boys as young as fifteen took brides, but they lived with one set of parents or the other. I had my own holding and I thought I was doing well.
I set out for the village one day to buy some grain and look around. I bought what I came for but hung around the stalls to listen to the gossip. I heard a horrible tale not much different than mine. A widower his son and two daughters were working their holding when the man suddenly died. The boy came to town and asked the monastery to send a monk for the funeral rite. But instead they sent a bunch of monks who ransacked the farm, and took everything of value back to the monastery. The girls were sent to a nunnery and the son was made a novice in the monastic order. He had been older than me and perfectly capable of running the place. I knew then that I had no chance. I went through our small dwelling bit by bit. I found mother’s dowery. Three gold coins and some jewelry. I herded all but one goat into town and sold them. They had all begun giving milk again after father died. I knew the price of healthy goats, so I started high and let myself be haggled down to a fair price. One of the buyers wanted to pay my father in person but I told him no money, no goats. I butchered the remaining goat and hung the meat to dry and cure.
After that I found a safe place in the forest and began constructing my shelter. Once I had the frame built I thatched the whole thing and then planted grasses in the thatch. The roots of the grass would hold the thatch together and give the hut strength during storms. With a small fire ring in the center I could cook inside if I kept the fire small. I knew about using dry wood. It made less smoke so I kept a large pile under cover. I slowly moved everything useful to my hut. Jars of grain. Blocks of cheese and butter. I brought buckets and just about everything of value that was in the house. I considered burning it but that would set the monks looking for me. After lugging all the fence rails and other heavy items to my lair, it occurred to me that I had been premature in butchering the last goat. One warm day I went to the pond to look at the ducks and geese and gather a few eggs. I decided to wash my clothes and myself and brought a cake of soap with me. It was something I had gotten away from. I was usually bathed twice a week when my mother was alive. She boiled water and added herbs and washed me top to toes. After she died I bathed less often because my father didn’t hold with the practice. Instead he took me to the fire house or sauna. It was a small stone shed that was full of steam and it made you sweat all the poison and dirt off your body. At least in theory, father smelled like a wolverine most of the time. Some people called it a sauna.
Mother had given me an understanding of worts and leaves that were edible or had medicinal value. I ate well and kept clean as she instructed. Leeks grew wild around the pond as did many other edible roots or worts. Meat was my biggest concern, and during the warm months I had duck and goose along with hare and other fowl. I was expert at rigging snares. I didn’t abandon them like some people. I only set two or three fairly close together and when I caught something I picked up the others.
I also hunted pigs, we had wild pigs that were descendants of domestic pigs that got away from farms. One day I caught a sow in a trap and her lone piglet stayed close by. I caught it and tied it up, then slung it on my back in a leather bucket.
I survived my first winter on what I had gleaned from the forest and when the snow began to withdraw I realized I was twelve years old. I had been born during winter so I scratched twelve marks on a pole in my hut. The piglet I had caught was good sized and ready for slaughter. She had grown fat on my foraging and left nothing for wolves or bears to come sniffing around for. Wolverines were another issue altogether. They were not content to just eat livestock, what they didn’t eat they pissed on and rendered inedible. Only the scavenging birds would eat their leavings. A week later I was butchering the pig and draining the blood for sausages. I heard what I first thought was a herd of deer approaching but the sound wasn’t right. My fire was only coals by that time so I didn’t have to put it out. I walked carefully in the direction of the sound. It could be a moose I thought until I caught a glimpse of grey through the trees. There was a narrow trail from the main track to the pond. People came from the village and caught ducks and geese, gathered eggs and splashed in the water.
I crouched beside the path and watched. Soon I saw a huge saddled horse of dappled grey without a rider. Then a shadow loomed over me from behind.
“Do you seek to waylay a poor traveler boy?”
“No my lord, I was only curious who might be passing through the wood. I feared it might be monks,” I admitted.
“Well, I am no monk and you are right to be scornful of them. Most I have encountered are merely brigands in a cowl,” The man told me.
“Tell me, what hospitality you can offer a man such as myself,” He asked.
I haven’t much but you are welcome. I have just butchered a pig and I still have salted pork in store. I will make my sausages from the blood and some soup. If you would care to follow me I will show you my home.
“No, you shall ride with me and give direction,” The man ordered.
He must have guessed that I’d be gone like a hare if I had the chance. The view from the back of the horse was impressive. We first backtracked up the trail and untied his two donkeys who followed along like puppies.
It didn’t take long to arrive at my hut. I hadn’t counted on visitors and my door was rather small. It was just barely large enough for the man to enter and look around.
“I am Karl of Ikast, I am the emissary of the Regent. My title is Lord Marshall. I have been tasked with visiting all the monasteries to give them the King’s edict. I must visit all tax collectors with instructions. Tell me boy, have you no family?”
“No my lord, my parents are dead and I moved here before the monks could take everything and drag me off to their monastery,” I told him. “There are new people on our land now.”
“Yes, that is one of the things I am here to stop. I am told the village has a magistrate, is he fair?”
“It’s hard to say, he seems like a kind man but he is under the Abbot’s thumb. The monastery demands a huge tithe and he seems to be powerless to stop them. 40 pfennings and more if you have more than four fields. If the landowner dies they come and take all the livestock and possessions and turn the family off the land. Then they sell it to someone new. Likely so they can do it again,” I recounted.
“That is what I am here to address. Haluken is the last village on my circuit and then I can return home. I would like you to come with me to the Monastery tomorrow, we might be able to put a few things right,” Karl requested.
“I fear that place, I know what they do to boys there. If they aren’t beating you or working you to death they are doing horrible things to you,” I cowered.
“Do you have letters?” Karl asked.
“Yes, mama taught me to read so I could follow along in the bible,” I told him.
“Good, read this.”
He handed me a scroll with very fancy writing and it identified him as an agent of the regent and listed all those subordinate to him in rank. The King was in Denmark but he had a regent for every territory he controlled in our land. Karl had ridden the entire district over the past two years. The scroll was his authority to give orders to village officials and monasteries and his powers were substantial. The regent’s signet was pressed into wax at the bottom and another blob of wax bore the signet that Karl wore on his hand.
“Have you always been the regent’s man?” I asked.
“No, I was a soldier, then a traveler, when I was very young I was a scholar. I made my name in the army and served in wars with the Poles and other easterners. After that I traveled as much of the world as I could in ten years and went home to Ikast. I bade my family goodbye and took myself to the northland. I made my home in Halla as a metal smith and wood worker. When the regent came to town I was asked to make a few things for him and his court. We became cordial and he enjoyed having someone educated to converse with. Eventually when the king sent the orders out concerning the monasteries, I was appointed and set about my duties. And now here I am on my way to Haluken. I will return home and report my success. Another envoy will be sent out accompanied by guard to make sure orders are followed,” Karl related at length.
“I have thought about it and I will go with you to the monastery,” I agreed.
“Do you write as well as read?”
“Yes lord, Mother taught me well,” I shared.
“Would you mind copying down a few sentences as I speak them?” Karl asked.
“Not at all lord, do you have pen and ink?” I asked.
Karl unpacked a satchel and laid out a few sheets of paper, a quill with a freshly cut nib and a pot of ink.
Karl began with “To the Abbot of Saint Olaf of Haluken, know you this. I am the emissary of the Regent Halkar of Halla. You are hereby ordered to give access to all records as I desire to conclude the regent’s business. I will speak to all novices to determine if the monastery is maintaining its responsibility to the people of Haluken and its surroundings,” Karl dictated.
I blotted the sheet of paper and handed it to him.
“Not the prettiest writing I’ve ever seen, but it’s clearly legible. I have found my scribe,” Karl smiled.
“May I show you something my mother made?” I asked.
“Certainly young man, but would you tell me your name first?”
“I am Edrich, son of Jan of the forest people,” I proclaimed.
“How do you wish to be addressed in public?” Karl smiled.
“My parents called me Peng, it’s short for Pengamon the goat boy. It is a legend of the clans people. I am a goatherd by trade.
“Yes, we have the same stories where I was raised,” Karl grinned cheerfully.
I showed him the nib holder my mother had fashioned. One only needed to insert a short length of the quill in the holder and then change the nib when it got worn.
Now then, let’s cook something and then we can prepare ourselves to visit the Abbot,” Karl suggested.
Karl brought in spices I had never smelled before and they truly made the pork taste wonderful. We were fully sated and I had to excuse myself to use my pit. My pit was rustic, a plank with a hole to sit on and a pit beneath. It was well behind the low shed I had built to house my tools and other things too big for the hut.
I wiped with what we called Goosenettle, a broad leaf with a hairy underside which did a nice job of cleaning and didn’t sting like some other leaves.. I washed my hands in the small trickle of a stream nearby and told Karl where my pit was if he needed it. I told him also about the Goosenettle.
When he returned he asked for soap and water. I had a one of the few wooden pails outside to catch water but there was a nice stream not far away and I walked to it with him and handed him the soap.
“Okay Peng, shed your clothes, if you’re going to be my scribe you have to be clean, this stream is cool but the air is warm and we will be warm enough as soon as we’re dry,” Karl directed.
I was a bit shy but he could have murdered me already if he was inclined, so I pulled off everything but my loincloth. Karl stripped completely and I was in awe. I had seen men naked in fire houses but Karl was two feet away and very well equipped. I tugged at the knot on my loin cloth and washed it with soap first, and hung it on a branch. I tossed the soap to Karl and he did the same. I became comfortable pretty soon and scrubbed myself nice and clean.
We walked back carrying our clothes and sat by the fire. I was well dry by then and reached for my loincloth.
“Let’s have a look at you first, I want to check you for ticks and other parasites and see if you have boils and such.
Aside from a couple large blackheads on my back that he dealt with, I was given a clean bill of health. He checked under my sack and between my legs for ticks but it wasn’t a problem where I was living. Karl had me look him over the same way but he was perfect. No skin problems or bugs. I couldn’t bring myself to touch his sack so he held it up so I could see. We put on our loincloths and Karl told me to sit between his legs while he dealt with my hair. I had my mother’s brush but didn’t use it much. Once he got it straightened out he proceeded to braid my hair in four thin ropes at what he called the corners of my head. Then he pulled out shears although they were smaller than mine and trimmed the remaining hair.
“You have to look the part Peng, have a look at yourself in this looking glass,” Karl instructed me.
“I look like a girl!” I cried out.
“No, you look like a boy of the correct class to be a scribe. The braids are a sign of rank and people will think twice before mistreating you. Now I would like you to try these on so I can see if they fit,” Karl requested.
In another satchel were boots and a suit of clothes made for a boy well above my station. I pulled on the trousers and they were a decent fit. The shirt and jacket were a bit large but not baggy. Then the boots went on and they were rather loose.
“Wait, pull those off and put these on. Stockings will protect your feet from the fresh leather. We can wrap them with cloth to make them fit better. With your belt on you will look the part.
I took off the regal looking garb and dressed in my leathers. Karl pitched a tent outside and told me he couldn’t sleep in such a small space. It seemed roomy to me but I wasn’t a grown man. I was a rod and a half tall so to a man two rods tall it must have seemed cramped.
In the morning I made barley mush and warmed the last of my bread. I would bring my purse and visit the bakery I decided.
I still had all my goat money and a fair amount of the salt I bought on the last trip to Haluken.
“Is there secluded spot where we can change clothes just outside of the village?” Karl asked.
“Yes lord, there is a clearing with stumps to sit on and privacy to dress,” I shared.
“Lord is fine, but in the presence of the monks call me master. It is common practice amongst our class,” Karl instructed.
“Yes master, I think I can remember that. Do I call the monks by their rank?” I asked.
“If you know it, just don’t give them too much deference. I want them on edge,” Karl grinned.
“Ah yes, that outfit suits you, let’s get your boots on and make sure you can walk,” Karl chuckled.
Now before we mount up there are two more things. Hang this dagger and sheath on your belt. It’s purely ornamental and it would probably break if it ever hit anything hard. But it’s something for them to focus on. But this you will wear in your left sleeve,” Karl announced.
He held up a sheath with straps to fasten around my lower arm and attached it. Then he showed me the razor sharp dagger that fit it.
“Try that a few times, unbuttoning your sleeve will be the trickiest part but the buttons can be replaced. So rip the sleeve open if needs be so,” Karl told me.
I practiced a few times and it seemed simple enough.
With the stockings and a bit of cloth the boots fit well enough that they wouldn’t fall off as I rode the donkey. And so we set off for Haluken on a horse and two donkeys.
We stopped first at the inn which was just a glorified tavern with two rooms for rent above it.
Karl rented both rooms and gave some rather specific orders. When all the supplies were off the pack donkeys and in a room, Karl took all four keys to the rooms from the landlord and locked the doors.
“There is no reason for anyone to enter those rooms before we return. If I find otherwise, blood will be spilled. Now tell me where to find the Magistrate,” Karl demanded.
We followed the main road and came to the magistrate’s cottage. Karl knocked politely and an older woman opened the door and ushered us in with no fuss. I kept back a few paces partly as role playing and partly because I didn’t want to get smacked my his sword’s scabbard. It swung a bit when he walked.
“I am Abel Krommen magistrate of this village. What is your business here?” The man asked politely.
Karl unrolled his letter of warrant from the regent and the instructions printed on it.
“I see, have we been doing something that offends our Regent?”
That depends on whether you are conspiring with the monastery to bleed the citizens of this village dry. Karl placed another document on the magistrate’s desk. It was a decree from the King and undersigned by the Regent. The older man read and began to grin broadly.
“Marta, send for Jonas and tell the runner to hurry,” He instructed.
“This is wonderful, so the church can no longer demand tithes or other payments? Is this true?”
“It is true,” Karl told the man.
“Every time I try to reign them in, the Abbot tells me that god’s law trumps that of the Regent and even the King,” Abel growled.
“Well then, you’ll have no trouble finding able bodied men to serve on the watch as required in the edict. They will be paid with monies confiscated from the monastery,” Karl informed him.
“Will twenty men be enough to start?” Abel asked.
That should do nicely to start with. Once the arrests are made we will need more to do the guarding,” Karl indicated.
Twenty-two men accompanied us to the gates of the monastery. They took over the gate house and kept all the monks present outside the gates until further notice. It was suspected there were other entrances to the monastery so the monks were closely watched and kept in the compound outside the gate.
Karl, Myself, the Magistrate and four armed men went directly to the main hall where it was known that we would find the Abbot and the Prior in their offices. The Abbott demanded to know the meaning of this intrusion and changed his tone when he read the letter of warrant.
“Let’s all go find a comfortable place to talk,” Karl suggested.
We sat at a long table which was the Abbot’s private dining table.
“Summon your clerk and your scribe,” Karl instructed.
The Abbot pulled a velvet rope three times which brought a runner.
“Go and find the Prior and my cleric and have them report here,” the Abbot instructed.
When he returns I wish to see the Steward, Cellarer and the Master of Novices.
Ten minutes later the Prior arrived and looked immediately nervous. The Steward and the Cellarer arrived shortly after and finally the Master of Novices.
“Be seated brothers,” the Abbot instructed.
“The King’s Regent has sent me to inspect this abbey and its operation. I will be considering the effect you have on the village and surrounding country. I am also here to make it clear you are all answerable under Danish law.
“By what right to you come into our holy sanctum bearing arms?” The Prior demanded.
By the right of the Regent and by extension the King. You have displeased the Regent with your treatment of the people who you are meant to be shepherding and I will know how deep this corruption lies!” Karl growled in answer.
“Master of the novices what is your name?”
“I am brother William sir. How may I assist you?”
“How many novices do you currently have in this place?” Karl asked.
“Sixteen my lord.”
“Of those how many are over sixteen years.
“Two, my lord”.
“And the next youngest?” Karl asked.
“Thirteen, my lord.”
“And how old is the youngest?”
“Ten, my lord.”
“Guards, escort brother William to find all of the novices under sixteen and bring them here. They are not to speak to one another or anyone else along the way,”
“Yes sir,” the two guards saluted.
“Now Abbot shall we discuss finances?”
“The monasteries finances are subject only to papal inspection,” The Prior interrupted.
“I do wish you would pay attention Prior, in the face of the King’s edict the Pope has no authority here, no force of law, do you understand?” Karl tormented the man.
I dutifully wrote all of this down while their scribe did the same. I had suspicions that he was not following the conversation verbatim as I was.
“This will not be allowed to stand!” the Prior roared.
“You hold your position too dear, Prior. Now as I was saying about finance. Abbot, who holds the records for the spending of this monastery?”
That would be me sir, brother Thomas Jorin. Do you wish to see them?” the skinny monk inquired.
“Yes but we’ll wait until the guards return with the Master of novices and his charges,” Karl told him graciously.
“The Abbot and Prior stared daggers at the Steward, was it possible that at least one monk took his oath and duties serious?
“And Cellarer, how are you called?”
“I am father Michael, lord. I am an ordained priest and I am ready to assist you with your inquiries,”
“Thank you father Michael, can you tell me how much salt is on hand in your cellars?” Karl asked.
“At least one hundred barrels, we keep a good supply on hand for cooking and industry,” the priest answered.
“And how heavy are these barrels?” Karl followed up.
“Two hundred weight each lord.”
“Doesn’t twenty thousand weight of salt seem a bit much?” Karl asked.
“I’m afraid that’s not my decision to make, I order as I am directed. The Prior passes the orders down from the Abbot as I understand it.
“Well perhaps the Abbot or Prior can tell me why the price of salt is so high in this village and the surrounding area. Father Michael what do you pay per hundred weight ?” Karl asked.
“One and a half gold Ori, I don’t know what the local merchants pay for it,” The older man said vacantly.
“Seven and a half Ori per hundred weight. That’s what they pay. You claim to have no knowledge of this?”
“Oh no, the Prior oversees incoming monies. I only receive an invoice to provide a merchant a certain amount of anything but I never see what they pay. I can show you my lord, I keep very good records. I have to send the completed invoices back to the prior’s office but I keep a ledger of everything that passes through my hands,” the priest said absently.
The Prior and Abbot both looked desperate. I noted that before the Abbot growled at the man to shut up.
“I cannot be silent, he has a warrant from the Regent, he’s the kings voice in this province!” Michael snapped back.
We were interrupted by the return of the guards, the novices and their master.
Karl leaned over and said something to Abel and he went to the window opened it and held up four fingers. Ten minutes later there were four more members of the watch in the room