Monday, 22 August 2011

Raymond's treasure - Part Two

Raymond was about to leave the small sack with his treasures on the table, and walk out of Lord Arnaul's hall, wholly crushed, when some laughing voice behind him cried: "Give the villein a drink, in the merciful name of the Blessed Virgin Mary!" A crescendo of laughter burst forth to support that suggestion. A large goblet, brim-full of a fine Lotharingian wine, was passed to Raymond; in his nervousness he gulped it down like water. It was the first noble alcohol he'd imbibed since he broke his homeward journey from Jerusalem at Malta; his usual drink was watery ale. The wine went straight to his head.

"Tell us about Antioch, brave soldier!" someone shouted. Emboldened by the alcohol, Raymond started rambling with increasing confidence of the Crusades, of his valour, of how he had fought at the side of Tancred of Hauteville himself, Lord Arnaul's uncle. Though not an educated man, he told his story well, full of convincing sound effects of clashing steel and dying infidels.

"Valiant fellow!" called out some knight seated close to him, passing Raymond another full goblet, this time with mead. A roast leg of piglet was thrust into his free hand, a chair found for him.

Bemused by the attention, befuddled by drink, Raymond was consciously still trying to work out the chances of getting home to his wife with his treasure; the sack was lying on the table within arm's reach, between him and Lord Arnaul. He decided then he'd drink no more; the content of the next goblet passed to him he poured discreetly into his lap. He ate more fatty pork; each subsequent goblet was disposed of in the same way.

As night fell and the candles burned out, the company of knights passed out, one by one. Lord Arnaul's head was slumped on his massive forearms. Raymond's hand moved forward slowly, reaching out for the small jute sack. No one observed him as he pulled it forth, placing it within his tunic, he made his way towards the doorway of the great hall.

That night, as he returned home, he recounted what had happened to his extremely worried wife. Before they retired to bed, Raymond and Mathilde went out to their back garden, and in the dark, moonless night, they buried the sack in the cabbage patch.

Mathilde had learned her lesson. She could see that turning Saracen treasure into a currency that could be readily spent would not be easy. She imagined passing it on to her eldest son on her death-bed, only to leave him with the self same problem.

But as it happened, fate had decided to give the couple a second prize. For Lord Arnaul, waking and finding the treasure - and half his retinue - gone, was convinced that one of his knights had pinched it. He felt intense guilt - guilt at what he'd said to a man who was essentially a good and faithful villein, a man who'd fought bravely with his uncle - and at the fact that the treasure had been stolen by some Christian knight whom he'd once considered trustworthy.

So Lord Arnaul, overcoming intense personal discomfort, in the company of his white-bearded Father Confessor, made his way to Raymond's cottage. Mathilde welcomed in the Lord of the Manor while Raymond, seeing them coming, fled to another room. But soon it became clear who was the petitioner and who was being petitioned; "Raymond; I have come to apologise to thee for the behaviour of my knights; one of whom must have behaved in a most unChristian manner. As their Lord, it behoves me to compensate you for your loss. I should like you to accept an offering of ten livres for your stolen treasures..." Raymond looked at Mathilde; neither's face betrayed any emotion. Raymond gladly accepted the purse held out by Lord Arnoul; this should be the end of the matter. Though the sum was not one half of what Isaac the Jew had offered, it would keep Raymond, his wife and their three sons fed through what would be a hungry winter.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A most excellent story, Michael – it manages to capture the consistent moral dilemma and inner struggles that lie at the core of these tales and it finely controls and succeeds with that sense of making it authentic without turning it into something too precious, self-conscious or hackneyed. The characters live and that frisson between guilt and avarice, casual commerce,nobility and goodwill are brought to life against the subtle backdrop of the trailing residue of savage war. It unfolds the simple things that become important to Raymond and Mathilde, realized through human frailty. It’s a story of behavior and manners as much as anything and is marbled with that fine sense of intelligent humanity that you are honing with each tale. There's a sense of the 'old' relationship there, between nobility and the people, brought to life on the page or in this case, the screen - that's a big achievement. E loved it.

JW