The first in a Sword trilogy. Frank James introduces us to his characters and how they struggle to survive against the tyranny of standard beliefs and practicies in 15 century England. Heresy, not a thing to be suspected of!
Andre stomped his feet on the flat stones in vain attempt to stimulate warmth. Not a long ride brought him here but a sad one. His breath clouded before his face in the morning chill as he sighed softly. He rang the bell of the abbey and as he waited for the tardy response he glanced to his men, they sat in respectful silence on their mounts. After a few moments his summons gained response as a small flap in the thick oak door opened and a thin cowled face examined him severely. Recognized, he was admitted and followed sorrowfully after the thin black-garbed woman. Even in his grief or perhaps because of it the foreboding shadows of the cloister settled a despondent claim to his shoulders and they drooped to its demands. He hated this place, found it intimidating to life and joy. A place kept for female retirement and a resource for unwanted daughters. Hidng from the world of men and female responsibility to life, it irritated his very flesh. The woman of indeterminate age led him through a long low gallery and he studied her form from behind. He wondered if it it was the life they led or the calling to it that removed every vestige of femininity from their faces and form. And once more he wondered if his mother suffered winter blains for which, he sent many braziers and blankets over the years. Indeed over the years he sent many comforts, for her and the sisters but now he doubted that any of these occupants used them. More than likely they gave them away to any who begged. Well now they would be done with him and his annoying persistence to their care. Finally the short form ahead of him stopped and laid a hand to a small celldoor and pushe it open, and then standing back and bowing her head lowly, allowed him to enter alone. He was not an overly tall man but he was obliged to stoop to enter the cold stone room that once housed his lady mother for many years. He stopped short as the sense of death assailed him and the wealth of grief once again threatened an unmanly display. However he could not deny the other form in the room and his unwilling gaze shifted painfully to the prone figure on the bed. Sadly he took in the still slender form on the low rustic cot and felt a twinge of guilt he could not like. Already all that was needed to be done was done and completed in respectful obligation. His mother’s body layin peaceful rest in the tiny cell. Robed in the simple spun of the sister's garb a wimple hiding the wealth of hair he loved so dearly. She looked so young, so very vulnerable. Her hands crossed over her breast and a simple cross lay clutched in her death grasp. The hands looked thin and the knuckles knotted with the winter ache. He knelt to her and stretched out his hand to place it atop her gathered ones. How could time not ravage the features he loved so well? His grief was the more for she would never allow him to visit her in the fifteen years of her retreat and he felt now he would never know where she had secreted his brother. He smoothed her hands with his own and said softly, as he fought his tears. “Mother, my dear mother, it did never have to be thus.” His heart weighed heavy and sore and the guilt began to turn into deep bruising sorrow. Behind he heard movement and turned his head to its source. The mother of the abbey said nothing as she entered quietly but he heard her skirts swish dryly against the stone floor, he inclined his head slightly toward her and asked. “Was it peaceful?” “Yes, in her sleep.” The frigid response from her sober attitude, she reserved no time for dallying with such as he. He sighed again accepted her disdain then nodded and rose to his feet. Still quiet he stood for a moment in contemplation and then said quietly. “I will take her home now.” And he thought, now she will return home and stay forever. The mother looked at him coolly she made no response to his comment she could claim no right to deny him his dead. She said nothing more, even as he glanced to her, then he sighed and quit the room. His men followed after him and prepared to carry his dead away from the abbey. For the rest of the way home he did not speak to his men, they understood and kept their peace, allowing him his grief. Andre did grieve but not just for the dead, he mourned for the lost brother that he now may never see again. His mother took with her passing any way of finding him. She did never relent her decision to leave her home and taking with her the secret of his brother's whereabouts. Not one time did she receive him when he visited, even when he bore her the news of his marriage no, not even when he fetched her the news of her husband's death. She was never home to him, nor his father and kept her retreat in high sanctity. At home, at Bacala, his daughter waited and he felt the thought of that a soft balm to his heart. Estelle his sweet child, the remains of a love match to his long dead wife. Within five years of their marriage a fever had lost him a devotion he could not replace and left him with a small daughter to raise alone. A daughter who bore the most striking resemblance to the mother he was about to lay to rest. She was a sure comfort to him as she grew, seeing those features he loved so much develop before his eyes. Henri also favored his mother too but now he may never see his face again. He rode home his heart heavy with grief and loss, his mind dull with the knowledge that he not only lost his mother but with her passing, any possible hope of recovering his brother. He felt he not only failed himself but his father also and he wondered if the sore breach that had wounded their family would ever now be healed. A week later, somewhere in southern France. Henri watched the friar's slow progress over the stretch of meadow and along the narrow strip of pathway up to the abbey. Spring not yet filling the sky with its green lace concealment the rough road laid bare to the view, the road and any venturing upon it. The advancing friar held his attention and he stood riveted to the spot as he watched through his cell aperture. It was as if he knew that something pertaining to him was about to occur and he readied himself for the Prior's summons. QWhen it came he nodded slowly to the monk who brought it and breathing deeply in allowed a ragged exhalation to slowly leave his breast. Henri Bacala then walked his tall lithe body to the Prior's study. Outside the door he paused for only a moment then scratched lightly. He was summoned to enter and did so. Sure enough the traveling Friar was within his head bowed meekly as the prior finished his words to him, Henri stood quietly waiting observing with a calm much belying his inner tumult. The prior turned to him and perused him thoughtfully for a moment then with a smothered sigh he turned back to the friar. “We thank you brother Anselm for your hasty action in this matter. If you will make your way to the kitchen you will find refreshment there.” The prior said dismissing the friar who glancing once at Henri left them alone. Then the prior turned to appraise his best student thoughtfully again. As he spoke Henri steeled to hear what he half dreaded half hoped for. Finally after exhaling a long resigned breath the prior said. “Henri, I have here a written message for you, you may take it to your cell to read it privately.” And then he knew, and knew also that the Prior was fully aware of the contents of the letter......
"I am glad I was not born a woman, did you know there is an old Judean prayer that includes that phrase?" His one hand on her shoulder as he toyed with the threads.