While the year 1071 kept William of Normandy busy subduing rebellions on the continent and in south eastern England, most notably in a messy effort to capture the outlaw Hereward the Wake, his popularity as conqueror in the north continued its decline from quite slight to petite, in his own vernacular. Defiance by the noblemen of Northumbria and York, and their somewhat helpful attitude toward the excursions by Malcolm of Scotland once again into the Cumbria, led William to carry his own banner like the Caesars of old to the Wall of Hadrian, so to crush the malcontents.
And that was precisely the temper of William the Conqueror as he rode a brilliant white stallion into the ancient amphitheater at Chester, a horse provided by the stables of The Hoo’s of Kent, who had a venerable enterprise as the military supplier to whomever was coming or going from the shores near Dover. The campaign was successful, from the Norman perspective, and the non-compliant Earls were stripped of land, title and the occasional head. Waltheof was one of the unfortunates in the third category.
The stubbornness of the Scots persisted, and as William was lauding himself as the Prætorian of Deva with his troops clustered in the west near Chester, Malcolm raided the unguarded eastern stores and coffers of the New Northumberland, prompting more retaliatory strikes. Loyal supporters of the Norman King of England expected to be rewarded with great estates in return for their commitment, and many came north to assist, including the Norman knights d’Umfreville and Brochesheved.
Sir Guy Brochesheved ascended from a long line of seafaring traders, and himself possessed a fleet of twenty ships. His usefulness in military transport was rewarded by William with property both on the sea near Whitby, and inland with a sizable inland estate in York he christened Steyton.
Sir Robert d’Umfreville was given much of the Redeswood, land long held by the Redes of Morpeth and the family of Mildred mac Akman, their alliance with Malcolm evident. Thomas Rede retained some of his holdings due to his skillful negotiating prowess, and his personal connections with nearly everyone on both sides of the Channel, pulling in many markers. He also managed to marry off one of his daughters to an Umfreville, a parlay that kept his grandsons, albeit under a new name, in possession of the forested land of his founding fathers.
And the Hoo’s of Kent were also rewarded with Norman appreciations, although not until William’s son Rufus was in power and would prize his friendship with Robert Hoo of Kent. Just as Henry would have his Becket a generation later, so too did Rufus have his Saxon, and Hoo was given the strategic river’s head and all riparian rights at Luton, becoming the Lord Hoo’s of Luton Hoo for a very long time.
Scotland finally did come to terms with the Conqueror, including surrender of Malcolm’s little Donnie Boy as hostage in assurance of docility short of fealty, which landed the boy in London as the understudy of all things regal. Ironically this training as a Norman Knight prepared young Donnie Boy to become Duncan II, a King of Scotland.
As tradition mandated, Thomas Rede the Younger and his two apprentices took lodging, a meal and some merriment when they reached the Old Wall at the Tyne on their journey home to Morpeth. Generations of Rede’s before them had done the same after successful trips of counsel to Winchester or London, or as far away as Frisia. For years it had been The Spotted Cock which hosted the Redes of Morpeth, but those days were gone, and the Beekeepers Inn, another quarter-mile upriver from the Seven Arches Bridge, was the libation and lodging spot valued most by travelers and locals. It was also the only spot since Robert Curthose, son of the Conqueror, had chosen the old favorite as the foundation of his castlefort folly.
Thomas Rede was called the Younger in deference and respect of his late father of the same name, whose lawyering skills he absorbed and built upon through years of apprenticeship. The Younger’s protégés – a nephew by his sister Sybil called William the Umfreville of Morpeth, and his son also called William the Rede of Morpeth – were apt pupils of the law and, both being the same age of sixteen years, had together a combined eight years’ experience in the business. They even shared a birthday, which the entire Inn was celebrating that day in October, 1093.
“Raise y’cups to Will’em and Will’em, young men of letters and lawyers they be,” yelled a red-nosed man called Muttonface by his friends, all of whom seemed present that afternoon. “Hey-ho and skol,” came the response.
“When we were all young bucks of Northumbria like these,” began a local and frequent guest of the establishment –
“Northumberland they call it now,” said Thomas.
“The Norman villains! As you were sayin’,” replied Baconface.
“We gather’d to drink and brag when we was the young bucks of Northumbria – ,” the man continued.
“An’ yell at braggarts like you, Fat Bob!” yelled Muttonface.
Bob gave a fierce look at the guffaws, then, “And we all filled those hallowed walls, which many a day I m’self spent repairin’ holes and windy gaps.”
“To pay your tab for mead and stew,” said another local with a laugh, “And more the mead by a mill stone or two!”
Fat Bob ignored them all. Gesturing toward the east window, he needn’t say its name – all knew.
“Aye, the Cock’s Tow’r now stands on that venerable ground,” said Osmund the Innkeeper, in a respectful nod to his father’s rival establishment. The larger of the two towers was clearly visible from the window, and saplings and shrubbery were culled regularly so patrons could look out and curse the abomination regularly, followed diligently by another full mug of mead. Osmund brought up the subject often.
The next morning the William’s, both nursing sore heads fit for grown men, were routed from their bunks by Thomas to begin the final leg on the road home. Crossing under the old pons ælius wallsgate, the three let their horses follow the well-trod Roman road north through the thick morning fog at a casual pace for the hour it took to reach the fork, where another solid road veered westerly into the Redeswood. To the right was a stone marker that indicated a concealed trail, once a wider avenue, now losing its battle with the wood. Called the Old Corpse Road, it ran through a graveyard and its empty chapel where some long forgotten village met a cruel end. They chose the seldom used path to Morpeth, through elder and wild clematis, past hickory and carpets of blue.
After another hour of single file advancement, they came to a broken bridge, its moss covered timbers sagging into the lazy burn. Walking the horses down the bank, the trio stood for a while and let the animals drink as they talked of politics.
“I count four castle forts built by the Norman’s in recent years, William,” said the Umfreville to his near-twin.
“No, William, I count three. The tower at Carlisle built by Rufus. The Cock’s Tower. And the structure at Durham, begun by Waltheof and still under scaffold now,” replied William the Rede.
“Aye, but William, y’forget the grand stone hall my father completes on the hill at Tay,” said the Umfreville with a smile.
“That d’no count William,” replied the Rede with a wave. “’Tis clearly a Scottish Fort built by the Don Bane wot merely takes repairs by y’good faeder,” said the Rede.
Just then the sound of approaching hooves at a mild gallop ended the argument. A single horse, no rider or saddle, emerged from the mist and leapt clean over the timbers above them and proceeded north without slowing. The three men said nothing as they contemplated the meaning of such an omen.
“How pleasant the sound of an unbridled horse running by and by,” said Thomas after a spell, making light of such an unearthly event.
“Aye, the rhythm of freedom,” said William the Rede. The Umfreville agreed, shaking his head at the unusual sight.
As they walked their horses back up the stream bank to the trail, they were again startled to see an old man sitting on an old Roman milepost, just twenty paces up from the bridge. The hooded figure patted a large wolf hound at his side and held an old gnarled staff. Thomas led the approach on foot, letting his horses graze on sweet grass a while longer.
“Ho, good hermit, we d’no’ see y’there. How does your day?” asked Thomas.
“Why would one Church crusade ‘gainst t’other?” quizzed the old man, his eyes yet covered by the hood of a cloak that looked as old as the trees.
The Williams looked at one other and shrugged nervously at the puzzling events. Thomas considered this question and posed another. “Why should one church covet the gold of another?” he asked.
“Ahh,” said the hermit, “And cross the sea to profit. Foolish, when diplomacy brings far greater profits, do’it not?”
“I am…” began Thomas.
“You are Prince Reda. I remember well,” answered the old sage. Thomas squinted his eyes in thought at this odd statement, then was cut off from question by his son.
“How long ha’you been sittin’ here?” asked the Rede.
“How old would y’be?” added the Umfreville, surprising his uncle with the impolite utterance. “What? He looks at least an’undred,” added the young man.
“An’undred, ha! Tis good jest indeed. A Centurion am I,” said the old man with a laugh and a cough.
Thinking it was the monk Flandabra, defrocked and left to wandering decades before, Thomas said, “I heard my father speak of you. You are Flandabra of Iona, are y’no? You met my father an‘is cousin Baldwine at the Footstep of Fealty when they were the age o’these two green horns.” The old man said nothing, but patted the dog who whined, head on his knee and dark brown eyes darting back and forth at the two Williams in turn.
Thomas surmised that the old man was talking about rumors of a great crusade to come, a war of the Holy Roman Empire against the Caliphate of the East. He listened as the old man spoke again.
“A man once used his sword to kill a biting fly. He lost his own arm, and the fly got away. Better to use a stick or spoon, or offer some small morsel and give the sword a rest,” said the old man.
“You see,” said the old man with a chort, “You were not to be the sire of kings. It was the other one. Even an empress in his line there is. Your destiny was to be counsellor of kings, and to save the lives of some, and well rewarded.”
“This one is truly mad, William,” said the Rede, low under his breath.
“William, I believe we are of like mind,” replied the Umfreville.
“Only through personal experience does one fathom life,” continued the sage. “Pain and loss ca’no’ be fully understood through stories and suggestions o’them who ha’been there. The majesty o’the mountain ca’no’ be realized by listening to words or comparisons wi’ greatness’s already known. ‘I ha’seen the vastness o’the sea, therefore I know the ‘normity o’the mountain’s peak.’ NO! One ca’no’ know the unknown – the unknowns remain unknown ‘til uncovered again by a new man.”
The two boys looked at Thomas, who merely shrugged and looked back at the old man, captured by his words. The old man went on, “And wit’ each new discovery comes knowing another unknown. And then the vast ocean or mountain range counts a new acquaintance like another grain o’sand. But he who adds to ‘is own understanding o’this world must take ta’added sorrow t’at comes wi’this new vision.”
This cryptic speech was thought on for many years thereafter by the three, and thoughts of diplomacy over military force would forge steely into the minds of the young men.
As the fog lifted and the sun’s rays broke through to light the trees they walked their horses up the path. Thomas Rede the Younger turned and looked back. The trail was dark beyond the broken bridge, but he could clearly see the rock, and no old monk, no dog.
Just as the fog had run its course, the old man and his dog vanished into the ethereal mists of time, leaving only wise advice for future generations to ponder.
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