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“The Archer” extract from ASIN B00V2BNVES
It is a couple of minutes after I soap myself all over, the room growing dim in the early evening behind the bath curtain, despite the large glazed windows I espied earlier on two sides of the room, one to the street out front, the other towards the church atop the hill. I relax into the warm water and close my eyes. I open just one eye as another jug of hot water is quietly poured into the bath from behind my head, to maintain the comfortable tub temperature.
It must be the deaf and dumb old servant, come to minister to my aches and pains.
Then, surprisingly soft hands for such an old servant, begin to massage soap into my head, neck and shoulders, smoothing out the apprehensions, aches and pains that have built up during the long day on the road. I close both my eyes again and relax, giving myself up to the servant’s expert ministrations. Tomorrow, yes tomorrow I can confront Alwen and bluff my way through that we are but complete and utter strangers to one another. I can manage that, and thus still my beating heart, surely.
Then the old servant pads almost silently around to my front. My feet are gently pulled from the warm water one by one, first the right, then the left and the ache from the road through my worn out boots is rubbed out of my toes and the soles of my feet by a clearly
firm but gentle-handed old retainer.
I stifle a groan as he grasps my painful left big toe and I open my eyes lazily to murmur my thanks to the old servant.
I sit up in shock, splashing waves of bath water in all directions!
“Dame Alwen!” I yell.
“William Bowman,” she says quite calmly in reply and smiles with a nod. The smile crinkles around her sparkling clear blue eyes, that I remember so well from my nightly dreams, looking directly into my shocked face, “Were you not relaxing comfortable when I washed your hair and feet, my lord?”
“I- I’m no lord, Ma’am, merely a travelling longbow trader and arrow fletcher,” I stutter, “I thought you were my appointed manservant come help me wash and dress.”
“I believe I am indeed your servant, sir, but I am clearly no man,” her gentle smile full of warmth, one of her small hands now resting on my knee, my foot having been wrenched from her gentle grip by the violence of my evasive action. Her beautiful blue eyes alive in the dancing candlelight, locked onto mine own.
“To me, Will, you will always be my lord,” she whispers.
I look down at the water, fortunately scummed by soap and the soil of the road, but my mind imagines the murky liquid to be far more translucent than it is, even in the early gloom of the evening, despite the flickering candle and fire flames, the dying sunlight and the partial shade afforded by the curtains.
“I am at a severe disadvantage of apparel, my lady,” I say rather unnecessarily, returning my eyes to gaze upon her angelic face. She appears not to have altered the focus of her perception while I looked away, her lovely eyes still steadily resting upon mine, a smile playful on her ripe full lips.
“There’s no need for shyness between us, William Bowman, latterly Will Fletcher, surely?” she says, her voice both warm as midsummer and soft as settling snow.
“No, of course there should be no embarrassment between … husband and wife, should there, William Archer?”
The cat is out of the bag. She knows me.
She has certainly known me, I now realise, since she sent her son out to fetch me here. To lure me by resolve-weakening temptations, drawn deep into the sticky trap of her enveloping web. I should have recognised the signs, they were obvious enough.
Perhaps I hadn’t wanted to see them, maybe I welcomed the entrapment, seeking finality to my nightly dreams, my long lingering nightmares.
“I- I believe Robin said that his guardian was a widow, soon to be remarried next week, the sole reason for this joint archery competition and wedding celebration?” I stutter, “One that required my particular attendance as a competitor. So what is this trickery all about? Surely what can be my involvement, after all this time we cannot still be husband and wife?”
“Ah, this is where you come in, Will Bowman, the one and only William Archer that once was,” Alwen gently squeezes my knee as she speaks, to my clear discomfort, “The Shire Reeve is indeed courting my hand with a view to arranging his long-desired marriage to me and through that act wishes to secure this inn and other possessions, the likes of many of which he has but an inkling, for himself.”
“What of your son, Robin?” I manage to say in my discomfort at the intimacy of her soft touch.
“My son? Robin? Yes, of course, my son, he is our son, after all.” She pauses as she gathers her thoughts. “I assure you, Will, that Robin has absolutely no desire to run the inn for the foreseeable future. He has other ambitions in mind. He wishes to learn the art of making longbows and competing in competition with the best archers in the country.”
“So Robin in his youth may well be unconcerned for his future, but why would the Reeve desire to possess the tenancy of this inn, when he has a whole castle at his command?” I say, uncomfortable with this woman who I barely know, within touching distance so close in my bedchamber, while we freely, and seemingly quite casually on her part, discuss her near-future intended husband to be.
“Are you of the opinion, then, my lord William, that Sir Giles the Reeve would desire me in marriage only for the day to day value of the earnings from my hostelry establishment, and that I would otherwise be considered an unworthy spouse of a knight or any other titled gentleman?”
“Of course not, Madam, a more attractive and respectable woman I have yet to encounter, if I may be so bold,” I interject as swiftly as I am able, “I am certain that you are worthy of even the most discerning chevalier.”
“So kind of you to say, Will, although, as you are my present husband, you are surely free to be as bold in your compliments to me as you wish. Although it is some years since we have met, I hope I have not changed in appearance too severely to appear unpotable to you, while indeed, to me you appear to be as handsome a man as you ever were.”
She pauses, perhaps waiting for me to comment further in response, which I feel unable to do; platitudes being cheap and pointless. The woman is so bold and confident in her comely looks. In such a public establishment, where myriads of people come and go, compliments by strangers to unattached alewives are no doubt commonplace, whether they be true beauties or not. In Alwen’s case, any comments regarding the positivity of her comely appearance would be truths without denial.
“To answer your question,” the lady continued, “The Shire Reeve was appointed long ago by the King, who is old and said to be no longer as hearty as he once was, aged by disappointment before his time. The Reeve too, is old and greedy, grown fat and lazy, reliably said to be creaming off for himself a large portion of the King’s taxes he is charged to collect. The King is understood to be aware of the shortfall in expected returns from this shire and may well feel it prudent to supplant the old with a new appointment. Also, the crown prince has his own younger man favoured to take up the post when the King dies, leaving the Reeve homeless and without an income to supplement what he has ferreted away for the comfort of his declining years.”
I nod, accepting that nobles in office are as likely as not to find their fortunes rise and fall as the tides of kings and princes come and go. If the Shire Reeve is as old as she intimates, surely as old as I, he may prove to be as small a burden upon her lifestyle as I have been throughout our own long tenure of matrimony.
She has clearly made enquiries far and wide which have confirmed that I was still alive and, on becoming aware that I was last here a few seasons ago and lately returned to the shire, has made her plans to have rid of me as a marriage partner by some annulment, so she can become the entitled Lady she wishes to be.
I have clearly been lured here to give her the opportunity to reason with me or, at last resort, to be bribed into departing with sufficient coin in my purse that will prevent me ever returning to darken her doorstep again. She is her mother’s daughter all right, expedient and resourceful in achieving the desired result she seeks. But what of her son Robin, where does he fit into this deceptive scheme?
“But surely, Madam,” I contend in as workmanlike manner as I can, considering my disadvantage of total nakedness in front of a lady, “The inn is in your charge under trust for but a short duration until Robin comes of age and inherits this tenancy from his father? How does this affect your desire to be free of me and our sham matrimony to remarry your … current admirer?”
“It is my hope that Robin will not inherit from his father for many more years to come, my lord.”
Alwen’s smile fades and she lifts her hand from my knee, joining the other one on the edge of my bath, as she changes her manner of address towards me to a more formal one. The water too, is cooling as fast as the dip in the temperature of the atmosphere now existing between us.
“I thought Robin said his father, the owner of this inn, died this last winter, Madam?” I ask, to clarify my understanding of the complications of the young alewife’s situation.
Our conversation becomes more formal as we hopefully move towards a better understanding between us and relieve us both of the burden of this impossible relationship, forged by a necessity which is now long past.
“We both know, Sir, that my father was not Robin’s father. My father, since his return from the wars, was never in the rudest of health, either physically nor in his mind. He passed on in peace during the last Advent, Will,” she explained, with furrowed brow and slumped shoulders, “entrusting the possession of the inn’s tenancy to me on one single proviso,” a small smile returns to play with the corners of her mouth as she pauses.
Two poems extracted from “Fifty Odd Shades of Monochrome” ASIN B00XM0WI7S
“Hey Ginny, Hinny, Josephine,
You’ll never guess where I’ve been!”
“To Bethlehem, we know you Ass,
It’s written on your travel pass,
We’re Donkeys hired for goods or folk,
Come on Ass, what was the joke?”
“No joking but the night was wild,
A girl I carried, full with child.
Inn too full, in a stable stayed,
Her man on his knees and prayed.
While shepherds flocked in with their sheep,
She birthed a babe who wouldn’t weep.
“He smiled and gurgled, charmed us all,
Playing there in that rude stall.
Then a heavenly choir began to sing,
It was crowded, there’s the thing,
Invaded like under attack,
They pushed poor me right to the back.
“Angels sang in harmony tight,
Stable flooded in starlight.
Three Wise Men came with four gifts piled,
Three brought specially for the child,
But wisest Magi of the three
Brought a carrot just for me.”
Pillow to post,
Then lover hangs up, that’s so odd,
It seems you’re toast
You’re toast, you’re toast.
Shirl’s in tears, “Missed my period!”
You’re toast, you’re toast.
Ain’t got a ghost,
A shotgun wedding’s on the cards!
Spin on a dime
Wedding bells chime,
You and Shirl go the whole nine yards.
Join the rat race
You find a place
Where Shirl can do birth exercise,
Sell bike, buy car,
Well, there you are:
Second-hand cot, free-ads surprise.
At dead of night
She has a fright
“Baby’s comin’ now!” hear her shout,
“If we don’t go,
“You’re toast, you know!”
It’s hours later, baby’s out.
The babe’s your girl
Image of Shirl.
In muslin wrap, she’s christened Gail.
Soul of party,
Wet babe’s head with jugs of ale!
Let yourself down,
Binge on the town,
Rozzers say, “Sleep it off in gaol!”
“Over the top,
You drunken sop!”
Shirley upset, won’t post your bail.
Rue for hours,
Your life bites, she ignores your hand.
Shirl wants to part,
“You broke my heart!”
And Shirl takes off her wedding band.
She gets the house,
You cannot grouse
Deal’s rough end: pay her rent and food!
As Shirl’s heart’s closed,
You’re toast, you’re hosed.
You miss both girls, you’re feeling screwed.
To where you hate.
In solit’ry, no-one to phone.
So make the most
Of beans on toast,
A feast for one at home alone.
But come one May,
Gail’s wedding day,
Aisle and after, You play your part,
You’re asked as host:
“Your toast, your toast.”
You rise, once more in your Gail’s heart.