I have something a little different for you today. A few people have asked if I have drawn any inspiration from past life regressions and wrote stories about them. The following story stems from a quick regression with my psychiatrist. All I saw in that life was my death in a cold, dim room. Dark wooden beams abounded, a huge stone fireplace with wet firewood did little to make me comfortable. I knew that I was an Abbott, that I had some wasting disease and my life hadn’t been one of piety and godliness. I was writing on parchment at the time my life ended in pain and a rush of diarrhoea. Probably a hundred years later than the story. So here it is, I know it’s a little long but it gives you an indication of how one can gain inspiration.
The Abbott of Harkness
If it were not for the ice-cold, wet wind blowing under the door I would have finished this manuscript by now. Excuses, excuses, I have uttered them all to myself but I need light to write. My remaining ox fat candles have sputtered their last. Now there is only the faint orange glow from my fireplace, and it is spluttering and hissing. The idiot oaf from the kitchen put wet oak logs on the fire. Now I am going to die of some fever, instead of the bloody flux that squirts from my bowels. At least I have managed to keep my sheepskin blankets and spun, woollen robes. Yes, I am dying but I am not going to freeze doing it. I have not stained them, yet. I can manage to reach my chamber pot. God help the lowly novice who attends me, his name? It escapes me, Roger, Roderick? I care little. I know they are waiting for me to breathe my last, so they can rob my corpse. It is pleasing that even as I prepare to meet my maker, they’re still petrified of me. I turn over on the cot and readjust my ink well and parchment. I have nearly finished the story of my life and the events that brought me to this place. My personal holdings are vast; my monetary wealth, if truly known would bring the wrath of the king down upon me. So I must dispense it to those who I trust.
I sent my scribe away, I do not trust him and it must be in my hand, so they all know what I think. Harkness Abbey, under my stewardship has become incredibly wealthy. The sale of dispensations has trebled since the plague. I have always said that there is nothing like pestilence and long, drawn out wars to bring the sinners back into the fold. The knighted and wealthy have come crawling to my door, begging me, me, for forgiveness. Of course I’ve forgiven them in the name of the Lord, for land, cattle and grain, and those without wealth? Well, I’ve taken their daughter’s. I can hear you laugh across the years, those of you who can read Latin. Of course I’ve taken their women. The poor have just as much right to sit in Heaven. God forgives all sinners. I just hope he remembers me.
A harsh gust of wind howls like tormented souls as it screams off the sea and up the valley. Someone else will have to worry about the devastation to the forest. It has done nothing to divert the wind as It gathers speed and races up the hillside, to rattle my oaken door on its iron hinges. The door crashes open and rain, like cold metal arrows slashes across the threshold. A small hooded figure stands there, bowed over with age or the force of the wind. I know not which.
“For the love of God, come in or go but shut the door. I do not want to die any quicker than is necessary.”
There is no answer, the door is gradually forced shut and the figure walks slowly towards me. A cowl hides the face; it carries something in its arms. I sit up slowly and shake my quill at them.
“Show yourself, what is your business?”
Stopping by the hearth they drop a bulging sack on the floor and turn towards the fire. Small, twisted hands pull charcoal and twigs from the sack and throw them on the fire. The sputtering logs slowly come to life. The figure turns and puts fresh candles on the mantle. These are large, fat votive candles. They only come from one place, and that is the convent, half a league away. A wax taper is lit in the fire and put to the wicks, death’s shadow retreats from the light. The hands pull back the hood to reveal a woman’s face, wrinkled and old. I do not recognise it. Wisps of grey straggly hair fall from the wimple; she pushes them away and coughs harshly before speaking.
“Father Abbott, do you not remember me? I am, was Lillian, your fletcher’s daughter. Surely, Sir William of Longspear the legendary slayer of those heathen Saracens cannot forget his first love?”
I peer at her face, youth and whatever beauty was there has long gone. The flickering light dances amongst the wrinkles, her eye sockets are like dark caves. I sit up now.
“In Christ’s name, what manner of demon are you, which comes unbidden into this Holy sanctuary?”
She pulls up a stool and sits next to me and then lights another candle. I see her face clearly now. Some memories stir of forty years past, the name means something, Lillian? Yes, the fairest and youngest daughter of one of my Bowmen. What was his name? Ah, yes Cedric the Fletcher. I stretch out a hand to touch her face. She grips my thick wrist with fingers like talons, and speaks in a surprisingly strong voice.
“Do not touch me, Sir William. You lost all rights to me, when you left me with a swollen belly.”
“With child,” I say, shocked at the prospect of being a real father. I am sure there are many bastards from the hills of Harkness to the Holy Land, who would claim the name Longspear. But none have yet come forward. I look heavenwards and say a silent prayer. She takes a leather sack of wine and offers it to me. I drink it lustily, for it is sweet and leaves a clean taste in my mouth. Intrigued, I ask.
“This is not from these cold isles, hmm Sister?”
“Sarah,” she says, “I took the name Sarah, before my vow of silence.”
“Yet you speak now?” I ask, concerned for her vows.
“You took a vow of chastity, Father Abbott and yet your flock increases?”
I mutter and take another swallow of wine, smacking my lips with satisfaction. She takes it off me and drinks deeply herself before answering.
“It comes from Normandy, we have an ample supply.”
It settles my flux and I eat the cheese and bread the kitchen oaf left behind. The fire has begun to warm my room and the wine my insides. Feeling in a more forgiving frame of mind I ask.
“What brings you out on a night like this, Sister Sarah?”
She sips more wine and cackles for a moment.
“I have finished my years of silence and have talked with the other sisters. When they’re not working or praying they speak of you. Not in the hearing of Mother Superior, mind you.”
I grunt and struggle to my feet, it feels good to stand. Perhaps the wine has taken away the stiffness. The fire roars and the logs burn hot. I turn my rear to the flames and inquire.
“So, why are you here?”
“I thought you might want to know of your child, your son. He is a man of strength and stature, both in body and of the people.”
“An interesting thought, Sister but one I do not wish to ponder – too much. Is it because you have heard of my soon to be meeting with God Almighty? Or is it that he may have heard of my wealth?”
I raise my hand and show her a ring of heavy beaten gold, with a ruby the size of a pigeon egg.
“No,” she replies, shaking her head sadly, “He needs to reassure himself that he is not like you?”
I stumble forward, anger rises in my breast and stopping short of my cot I raise my hand. My reply is tinged with surprise.
“Not like me, how could he not want to be like me? I have served my God and my King for many years.”
She stands now and looks up at me, age has shrunk her body, and it is bent and bowed. But traces of the Lillian I am beginning to remember are coming through. Her temper, I remember that when I took her in the piggery. She lay there on the sacks of grain, her shift torn, face and breasts rubbed red-raw from my thick beard. Her black hair a tangled mess, blue eyes blazing, she sat up and said.
“What manner of man are you, Sir William? I am your bowman’s daughter, and yet you tup me in the manner of a swineherd?”
She squealed like a pig going to slaughter when I flung her across my thighs and flogged her rounded buttocks with a quirt.
“Insolent whore,” I screamed. “You are no better than a rutting sow, here; eat swill with your own kind.”
I must have looked a sight, my manhood swinging from my britches, as I flung her into the pen. It was when I saw the boar that I came to my senses. I leapt in and dragged her out. He rushed the wooden rails snorting and ripping the air with his tusks. I picked her up in my arms. She was terrified, half-naked, breasts heaving. I flung her once more to the sacks and tupped her harder than ever.
I must have wandered further in my thoughts, Sister Sarah pulled at my robes and I sit back on my cot. She pours more wine into a goblet and brings a hot iron from the fire. She sticks it in the wine, it hisses and bubbles, some ground herb or spice falls from a cloth in her sleeve and she offers me the wine.
“I have not tasted wine such as this since my last crusade. Oh so many years ago. On a night so cold it is a blessing.”
She smiles and nods, giving me more and says in her creaky voice.
“Yes, I remember how you took me. I was nothing more than a vessel to empty your seed into. Yet it took, you never noticed your son before you left. Your father, Stephen Longspear, took him as his own, although without the benefit of wealth or standing. Over the years he grew tall and strong. He became Stephen’s man and protected his land from brigands and such.”
Her voice began to fade; it was most likely the most she had spoken in years. I settle back under my covers and take up the quill once more. I wish to write my story. Sarah speaks again.
“Years went past and you never came back, William. Your father heard you were dead, slaughtered by some heathen. He took to his bed and died there two months later. You were his heir, he thought you dead. Therefore everything went to his brother, a bigger pig than you. He cast everyone off the land and brought in his own folk.” She began to cry, the tears crisscrossing her face as they navigated the wrinkles, she went on. “My father, who was too old to go with you, had to take service with some other knight and died in battle. My sisters were married off and I left with our son, Algar. Your uncle did not trust him. We ran away and found a village to settle in.”
Her story had taken me away from my writings, I asked none too lightly.
“So where is this mighty, Algar you speak of? Does he indeed exist?”
The door flew open and a man’s form filled the entry. The candles spluttered as they fought against the gale and lost. He turned and forced the door shut. Sarah hobbled over and lit the candles again, and I was looking up into the face of a fair-haired version of myself. He didn’t look his forty years. Taking off his thick, black leather cape he shook the ice from it. A leather hood covered his heavy woollen cap. He removed them and hung them from the mantelpiece, and then stood in front of the fire. His boots were covered in mud and he scraped the soles on the flagstone hearth, as steam began to lift off of his woollen coat and britches. I couldn’t help but notice the long sword that hung at his side, with its shark skin grip and jewel encrusted pommel. It had been my father’s, and had served him well in many battles. Now it adorned the hip of my bastard son.
“By what right do you wear the sword of a knight?” I demanded angrily, “That, by birth-right is mine.”
He took the goblet of hot wine from his mother, gulped it down and sneered.
“You were right, Mother he is greedy.” He turned his bearded face to me, “So, Father, we meet at last. By the smell of bloody effluent that lingers in this room, I am just in time.”
Pulling a long dagger from his belt he strides towards me. I gulp and sit up. Stopping by my cot he stuck the sharp point into the round of cheese sat on the platter and put it to his mouth. Then bread and more cheese, another wine and he sits on the stool. He notices my parchment, picks it up and begins reading out loud. I listen in amazement and ask.
“You, you read Latin?”
He smiles and his face shines, his cheeks are red and chapped from the cold. The fire reflects off his greying beard. His response has a mocking tone I do not like.
“Does it surprise you, Father that the bastard son of a fletcher’s daughter can read? Not only Latin but Greek also, I can write too. My hand is as good as any scribes.”
Angry now, I try to stand. I cannot. My lower body betrays me. I cry out.
“What do you want of me? Can a man not die in peace?”
“Well,” he said on his way to the door, he rummages through a large bag, which he must have dropped there, “peace is a subjective thing, Father. What peace have you brought to your flock, your brothers?”
He pulls out a long white surplice and puts it on over his head. His back is to me as he buckles his sword belt over it. Sarah hobbles over to him and helps straighten the fabric. His voice takes on an ominous tone when he says.
“It has been said that you have robbed the people for as long as you have served them. And speaking of serving, you have brought in your fair share of bastards.”
He turns and I feel the wine come into my throat, he wears the surplice of the Knights Templar.
“What is this?” I ask, fear loosening my bowels. “You, a Templar, I thought they were all put to the sword or burnt by the frog eaters? What right do you have to criticise me?”
He drew his sword, the blade screeched against the metal guard on the scabbard, he put the point on the other parchment that lay on my table, and announced.
“Now, Father it is time for you to buy your own dispensation. I know that the Abbey and five hides of land belong to the church, and that there is enough grain and cattle to sustain your brothers for a year. The remainder of the land and holdings around Harkness will go to me as your only son and heir.”
“Never,” I cry, “I will yield nothing to you, get out.” I begin to cough; large gobs of phlegm choke me. I spit them on the straw that litters the slate floor, “Never by God, not as long as I live.”
I feel the cold tip of his sword prodding against my throat. His voice takes on a gleeful note as he declares.
“That can easily be brought about. Mother, he is distressed, please, more wine for him. God knows there will be none for him in hell.”
I drink greedily for his words have made me think. Then I dip the point of my quill in the inkwell and scratch slowly at the parchment. By the time I have finished, the cock crows down in the garden. His morning call is short-lived. The wind roars again and drowns his voice. Sarah stokes the fire and adds more logs, while Algar sips another goblet of wine. I sign my name in the bottom corner of my decree, Brother Alwyn, Abbott of Harkness. Sarah gives me another wine and makes her mark. Algar takes it to the fire and reads it carefully.
“You have done well Father. I will have another man make his mark. Oh, my men will be here shortly to gather my moneyed inheritance from your cellar. When the weather clears they will drive off the herds, we don’t want to lose any.”
“What are you saying? I’m not dead yet, the Brother’s will not let this happen.”
“You will be dead before the cock crows again Father. Your last drink of wine was indeed your last drink.”
I watch as he throws his now warm cloak over his shoulders, settles the cap and hood on his head and strides to the door, he turns and says softly.
“Stay here Mother. That is if you wish to make sure he does indeed die. I will take the sad news to the Brothers.”
He puts the parchment under his cloak, smiles at his mother and slams the door behind him. The clatter of iron shod hooves fades into the dawn. Silence hangs heavy in the room, I can feel death. He comes from the four corners of the room and creeps up my legs, numbing them further. My arms do not want to work. I open my mouth but nothing comes out. The darkness is almost complete. The fire seems to go out. I can sense Sarah leaning over me. I hear the wind, it is dropping. The rooster crows and Sarah’s breath is hot against my ear when she whispers.
“Oh, William if only you hadn’t chosen the pig pen.”
L.W.SMITH © 2011