Tuesday, August 8

part 2: William the Hero

Shortly thereafter, William's father left with a small retinue of men and did not return for several months; the next message that came to the castle emptied it of fighting men. His father's chair remained empty for the better part of a decade, and William grew to be a man while he waited for the return of his father. It was an eerie time for William when Adam left to be a squire for a knight that served along his father, replacing a man who had died from battle wounds. The day was darker when word came on a slip of parchment wrapped in oilskin, that William's father wished him to be knighted and sent to battle within the fortnight.

A knighting ceremony typically involved a long night of prayer and fasting, several councils of elders and more experienced knights who had known the man about to be knighted, and a ceremony that usually ended in happy feasting.

The council on behalf of William was held in a small room with a low fire; the few older men that stayed behind because they could not fight were surprised to find that William's mother was in attendance.

"It isn't right for a woman to be here!" growled one of them from a chair that had been cushioned for him to save his bruising bones.

"I don't see what we have to say that must needs be said without her," muttered another, bald and smiling into a hundred wrinkles. "There aren't any lads to make fun or lords to offend, unless ye've a mind to bring them out of that cloak."

Wiliam's lady mother closed the door behind herself. "His horse, his weapons, and provisions for his men . . . all this I have tried to make ready before I came. Is there anything I have neglected?" One of her damsels brought forth a sheet of parchment with figures on it, denoting amounts and numbers and a few stewards' marks of approval. The darkness in the room would have made it difficult to read even had the men been sufficiently literate or their eyes been young enough.

Such a message from a quivering and feminine voice struck them to solemnity for a moment, and then to pity.

"Lady, go to thy son," said kindly by the man who was no longer smiling; "my lord is done well by with thee for a wife."

"I cannot." She said, sinking down by the hearth and spreading her hands before the glowing coals. "He is in prayer."

His night of prayer and fasting was lonely and anguished as he lay on the cold stone before the empty altar. How the wind howled! But to prayer: he could hardly find words to say, beyond chanting the familiar prayers said every day at morning masses since his childhood. The priest who was supposed to support him in prayer was dozing against the far wall; when the wind abated, William could hear gentle snoring.

He felt strange to be clothed all in white, pure and holy before the darkness of the altar and the dimly outlined crucifix. Such suffering he felt he endured already. Fatherless! I am fatherless, he thought. A small voice whispered and I have no heir, but was silenced by the wind, or the priest snoring, or William sighing. So cold, it was so cold. He cleared his throat and heard it echo against the unprotected stones in the empty chapel.

For a fleeting moment, he thought he heard something else, and then a moment later he was sure of it--somewhere close, someone was playing a lute, playing a tune he didn't know. He was distracted by the delicate strains of melody and harmony that wove through the darkness and the howling wind to his lonely vigil in the empty chapel. Without being able to track the passing time, William thought he could hear the lute playing until the twilight. Comforted and yet still afraid, William knelt to pray and offered up no words.

Te next day, he was knighted--a friend of his father was sent back wounded, to his own hall, and it was merely in luck that he happened to pass by and offer his sword and nominal authority. William's celebratory feast was little more than a hurried meal in a half-empty hall--less than the farewell they would have given his father's friend had he come in happier time.

In preparing to farewell his mother and his household, he found himself ashamed at having to leave them with patched clothing, withered vegetables and thinning cattle. He hated himself for being powerless to stop the driving force of battle that left behind so little provision, so many blackened doorways, so many orphans, so many widows. The anger at his powerlessness became a driving force that hid away his fears and allowed him to ride away from home without looking back. He lead a group of men scavenged from the countryside and mercenaries, most of them dejected and a few of them wearing their hauberks with an air of decided unfamiliarity.

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