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Part two in the 1066 trilogy, Riennes and Haralde arrive in their fiefdoms of Neury and Wym. Rhys of Gent, the best archer in northern Wales, refuses to pay Haralde taxes to acknoledge him as his lord.
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Though educated in some of the sciences, philosophies and medicine of Chinese, Indus and Islamic cultures and trained also as men of horse in desert fighting, Riennes de Montford and Haralde Longshield discover their toughest enemies are ignorance, fear and slavery as they thread their way across backward England to claim a fiefdom in the highlands of Wales. KNIGHT HARALDE, second novel in the 1066 trilogy.
A light musical air peeped from Riennes’s pipe as he rode, enjoying the leisure, slow clop, clop of his iron-shod horse. He had a leg across the saddle. Before and below him, Polcher, his guide, led along the broad roadway between two fields.
Polcher had stopped in his tracks when Riennes had first pulled out his pipe and played. Polcher had grinned, swayed his head from side to side, stomped a dance on his buckled legs and told his lord he had never heard anything like that before.
Then, to Riennes’s amazement, Polcher hummed the very tune he had just played. The musical notes were random, simply reflecting his master’s mood. Yet, the humble man hummed it perfectly.
Riennes piped a sailor’s song. Polcher hummed it perfectly. Riennes stopped. “Thee say thee have not heard this before. Yet, thee know the tunes. How?”
“Master. I just do.”
Riennes grinned, played other tunes and Polcher echoed back. Riennes had seen this before among idiots. A dumb wise, is how his medical experience had concluded. It was a wonder of wonders, and he had great respect for such as one. He wondered what would happen if Polcher had a pipe of his own. He would make him one.
Riennes played tunes he knew, from the mountain tribes of the Hindu Kush to songs sung by sailors aboard ship. Polcher embraced each note of Riennes’s offerings. Riennes marked Polcher as a singular intellect, thus a resource. He marked the bent man for some future use.
After awhile, Riennes’s musicality collapsed, and he stopped..
When Polcher, disappointed, asked him to keep playing, Riennes shook his head and put the pipe away. He did not tell him the lightness of his soul had left him, replaced by a sad mood.
As they headed west towards Neury, the forests began to close in. Both were enjoying the late spring warmth and the messages of the wind talk in the trees.
Polcher sniffed the broad pathway like a dog as he jogged ahead, watching the ground under his feet, telling Riennes a deer had crossed here and watered, a wagon had been by just a day before, and there, the first summer bug of a type he knew had now come out.
At one point, Polcher stopped, tore a leaf from a low bush and munched on it. When Riennes asked him why he did that, Polcher answered it was good for when he was bunged up, that it helped his ‘poop’.
Riennes halted at that, dropped from his beast, examined the plant and gathered a batch to add to his apothecary. He sniffed at it as he rode, even chewed a bit.
Thus he spoke under his breath over this discovery: “The desert is indeed a wonder.”
Polcher, still on the move, asked over his shoulder: “Desert? Not know desert. Is it good?”
His hearing is better than most. “No my friend. It is a harsh place, but magical at times.”
“Something nice. A surprise that is nice and makes thee feel good in a hard place where there is little good.”
Riennes turned his attention back to his surroundings and realized they were on a turf road. “Why is this pathway so wide and straight?” Riennes asked at one point.
“Old road,” the uncle answered simply. The bent man prowled around for a moment, found what he was looking for, reached down and tore up some turf, and there under was a cobblestone pattern of stones.
Roman, judged Riennes. He had seen this pattern before. A powerful empire had once built these now overgrown networks of roads. Trade and goods flowed along these byways, bringing prosperity and wealth to its towns and villages.
“Where does this go?”
“Neury,” Polcher pointed to the west. He turned and pointed to the northeast. “Chester.”
“Is Chester a big city? A Roman city? Have you been there?”
“No me. Killed I would be in such a place,” Polcher grumbled his answer.