Magna carta, p.1

Magna Carta, page 1

 part  #4 of  Border Knight Series


Magna Carta

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Magna Carta

  Magna Carta

  Book 4

  in the

  Border Knight Series


  Griff Hosker

  Published by Sword Books Ltd 2018

  Copyright © Griff Hosker First Edition

  The author has asserted their moral right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.

  All Rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, copied, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written consent of the copyright holder, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

  A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.

  Dedicated to Isabelle May Hosker, my first granddaughter!


  King John had lost Normandy. The Empire which the two King Henrys had built was gone. My great grandfather and grandfather had led men to help secure that land for King John’s father, King Henry, and in a few short years his son had lost it. All the men who had died in those wars had died in vain. Had they not gone to war in Normandy how many of them would have returned home to England to father sons who might now be tilling fields? We owed a duty to our king. Kings owed a duty to the people they ruled. King John did not seem to see that.

  We had secured our northern borders. King John had not lost the north. He had made a good attempt to do so but thanks to the men I led, the knights of the north and of my valley, we had trounced King William at the Battle of Norham. The punitive reparations would keep him quiet for a little while. That did not mean we could relax our vigilance. There were still border raiders. Some were just brigands and bandits who thought to take from those who worked but others were more organised. Knights led men to terrorise and to take cattle. They crossed the wall and came south to take that which the farmers in the borderlands could not hold on to. It did not help that there was no Bishop of Durham. Philip of Poitou had died. As the Pope had excommunicated King John and there was an interdict on the clergy of England no replacement could be appointed. We were in limbo. Aimeric of Chartres, Philip of Poitou’s nephew had taken the opportunity to take over the reins of the Palatinate. He held Durham until a new appointment could be made. We did not like each other. I did not trust him and he resented the fact that I had the authority to command him. I was lucky that the knights of Durham preferred me and were loyal to the Earl of Cleveland. Knights like David of Stanhope and Stephen of Spennymoor would keep a wary eye on Aimeric.

  The one good thing which had come from the King’s visit was that I now had my title returned to me and I had been given permission to build a wall around my hall. I was not allowed to build a keep and so I used strong towers and a good barbican to keep my family safe. My castle was a bastion against enemies from the north. In the year since the war I had been able to give my attention to my valley and my family. I was enjoying the longest period of peace ever. From the time of the Battle of Arsuf to the Battle of Norham I had been fighting one enemy or another. The year of peace had allowed me to spend time with my wife and family. I had ridden my lands and visited my people. I had ensured that the lords who owed me fealty were also as secure as I was. We had peace but it would not last.

  King John had had to travel to Ireland. There the barons had risen in revolt. I had not been asked to follow him. Had he done so I would have declined. I was needed in the north. There were elements in the north who were unhappy about King John and they murmured rebellion. They did not do so in my presence. I did not like King John however his son was but a child. Until he grew we could not replace the tyrannical King John. We had had one period of anarchy in this land and the war had lasted for eighteen years. I would not, willingly, help to begin another. I also knew why the northern barons were unhappy. They were in debt to the King. They owed him money. King John was a greedy king and they knew that he would seek to have the money he had loaned them paid back. Rebellion was a cheaper way of avoiding payment.

  War would come. I might be caught in the middle of it and so, unlike many of the lords and barons in the heartland of England, I had retained all of the men at arms and archers who had fought the Scots. More, I had trained and recruited new ones. It was not an army I commanded but I led enough men to deter any foes, foreign or domestic. I had a fine line to tread between rebellion and loyalty. My family had always served the rightful King of England but King John was pushing that loyalty to the limits.

  Chapter 1

  The Boar Hunt

  My Aunt Ruth, who now lived with us, had seemed to become younger as the years went on. She had lived alone for so many years and I was her only family. Our letters, when I was in exile, had brought us close but it was since I had become lord of Stockton that she had become rejuvenated. Perhaps that was my children. I had four. Alfred, Rebekah, Isabelle and another son William who was now almost a year old. To my aunt this was a joy. Her husband, Sir Ralph, had been killed a few years after she had married. She had lost one child and never had another. My family became the family she never had and she spent as much time as my wife would allow with them.

  She came to me one evening after the children had been put to bed and my wife was telling the girls a story. “You know Thomas that I count myself the luckiest woman alive. I lost the only man I thought I could ever love and had given up on having my own family. Then you returned from the Holy Land and Sir William found me. He was a fine man. When you brought your family here then my world was complete. It was as near as I would get to a family of my own. I get to see bairns growing and developing into fine young people.”

  “You complete our world.”

  She smiled, “You are kind.” She hesitated as though she was about to stepover some invisible boundary into my privacy. “You have done well in the wars and brought in ransom but this castle costs coin to run. You are generous to your people and do not over tax them. Know you that I have a great deal of money. Sir William was not poor and I have been frugal. I know that our family lost much when King John came to the throne and I have ensured that we are prepared should the worst happen in the future.”

  I looked around. Although I trusted all of my servants if one of King John’s spies heard my aunt he might deem it to be treasonous. “Do not fret, Aunt, I have also hidden coin. We will not have to be wanderers again.”

  She nodded, “Then you should know where my treasure is hidden, should … well I am no longer young.” I was about to speak and she held up her hand. “I am not a fool. God has taken everyone that I love save you and your family. One day he will take me.” She handed me a parchment. “William and I buried the chests so that King John’s tax collectors would not get all that we had saved. Here is the map. You could dig it up now for I will no longer need it but it is hidden and it is safe.”

  I took it. “Thank you but I pray we shall not need it.”

  “As do I but…” she patted my hand and then stared into the fire. She was remembering. We sat in silence until the memories had been burned away by the fire. She stood and kissed me on the forehead. “May God watch over you, Thomas.”

  Alfred was now old enough to be interested in all things military. That was not a surprise. He lived in a castle which was filled with warriors. My men trained every day and Alfred had grown up with the sound of clashing steel and neighing horses. Rebekah had seen other young boys begin to train as squires. After Aunt Ruth had retired she joined me.

  “Alfred, tonight, was asking when he could ride behind you with hauberk and helmet, shield and sword.”

  Alfred had been with me when I had gone to war. Petr was my squire but Alfred had come
to watch the horses. He now had a taste for it. I had been a squire when I had been younger than Alfred. It was natural that he should wish to emulate his father. He was the eldest. I nodded, “I know. He has been asking me for some time.” I smiled, “It is to be expected. He came with us on the last campaign. He was not a squire then but he was close to combat and he watched the others. He coped well. I think he could train to be a squire.”

  “We agreed that he was too young to train as a squire. The world is more dangerous now.”

  “I told him that.”

  “And you told him that it was my decision.” I nodded. She shook her head. “You are a brave man, Thomas; the world knows that yet you fear to tell a boy no and you put it upon my shoulders.”

  She was right but, in my heart, I wanted my son to ride behind me. My men would watch out for him. We would see that he came to no harm. “I know that you do not wish him to go to war yet. I respect those views. Yet he will become a knight one day and that means that he must train as a squire first. You cannot change that. You have your own view and I respect it.”

  “But you do not agree with me.” I said nothing. Whatever I said I would be in the wrong. “He has barely seen ten summers. Give him to me until he is twelve and then he can train. He is still my child.”

  She was making a mistake for all that Alfred had done last time was fetch food and groom horses. A servant could have done the same. He needed training but I conceded defeat. There was no war in the offing. “I will.”

  “Then you will tell him!” I nodded.

  I was not looking forward to that conversation. It would not be helped by the fact that the sons of my archers and men at arms who were the same age and younger than Alfred were already training. You could not begin training an archer’s body soon enough. My archers and men at arms also saw this as a way of giving their sons discipline. Training all day kept them out of mischief. It also made for good warriors.

  I went out to the inner ward and climbed the steps to the fighting platform. The sun was just setting in the west and we always had good sunsets at this time of year. I walked around my walls, looking first into my town and then, as I passed through the gateway, to the well of St. John. As I had expected some of my men at arms were gathered there. It was a place of peace and many believed that it was special. All that I knew was that they gathered there each night and talked.

  “Pleasant evening, lord.”

  I looked up as Henry Youngblood, who was captain of the guard that night, spoke. “Aye it is Henry and all the better for the peace.” I gestured to James Broadsword, Richard Red Leg and the others who were chatting at the well. “It is good see old warriors such as James enjoying the peace of their later years.”

  Henry laughed, “If there was war, lord then James would be the first with a sharpened sword. He is a warrior through and through.”

  “Aye well the King is in Ireland. The Scots are quiet and we can enjoy the valley. There is no war for the present. How are your sons?”

  “Tom and Sam are both getting to an age where they need something to occupy them. My wife is pulling her hair out. They climb everywhere and know how to find trouble even when there is none to be found!”

  I laughed. “I am lucky! My Aunt keeps a close eye on Alfred and William is too small yet.”

  “Alfred will be a fine warrior, lord. He has the build and I have seen him ride. It comes naturally to him. He and his pony are often to be seen riding with Tam Hawker. The two of them love ferreting around in the woods. He has skills with a sword too. My men now say that they no longer take it easy with him. They are watching for his tricks.”

  I nodded, Tam was more than a hawker, he was my gamekeeper. However, his hawks, or rather my hawks, were his pride and joy. I had allowed Alfred to ride with him as a way of keeping him out of trouble while giving him skills which would be useful when he became a man. I knew that Alfred would still have pursuits to occupy him but he would be upset when I told him that he would not be beginning his training as a squire. I had made no promises but there had been an understanding. “Well I will bid you goodnight and hope you have a peaceful watch.”

  “Thanks to your other lords we will be the last to discover trouble.”

  As I made my way back to my hall I knew that he was right. We had a ring of fortified halls and castles to the north east and west. My men kept a good watch. Life was good.

  The next morning, I braced myself for a confrontation with Alfred. My own mother had understood that I would go to war. She had thought she would have many more sons and daughters. She was fated to have just the one; me. My wife was more fortunate we had four.

  I watched Alfred take his sword and hurry towards the outer ward to practise with the other squires and boys. Petr, my squire and Ridley the Giant’s son, was supervising them. He was bigger and taller than all of them. My hauberk barely fitted him. He was a good teacher and he played no favourites. I watched as he organised the boys into pairs and handed out the wooden swords they used to practise with. Alfred was desperate to use the real sword he carried at his waist whenever he could. Petr knew the capabilities of each of the boys and youths because he paired them in order of ability rather than size.

  I watched as Alfred sparred with Brian, the son of Padraig the Wanderer. It soon became obvious that while Brian was bigger, Alfred had far more skill. Without being cruel or patronising, he played with Brian. I could see that he would be able to defeat him any time he chose. It was almost as though he heard my thoughts, or, perhaps he caught a glimpse of me for he quickly beat Brian’s guard and had his wooden sword at his opponent’s throat in a blur of wood.

  I clapped, “Well done you two. Come Alfred, I need to have a word with you.”

  As we wandered away from the others he asked, nervously, “This was not because I finished him quickly is it, lord?”

  “No, although I will have to speak with Petr. It is not fair on Brian to be toyed with like that. You need a better opponent.”

  He nodded, “And that can only be Petr.”

  It was confidence and not arrogance which made him speak thus. “You have skills.”

  “I will need them if I am to be a squire.”

  He had led me to the very point I wished to make, “And that will not be for a couple of years.”

  He stopped and stared at me. “But I am ready now. I came with you and the King to Norham!” I did not disappoint you, did I?”

  “No but then you were little more than a servant. Had you come close to combat then you would not have been ready. Spend more time training. It may be less. Just until you have seen twelve summers. You cannot have too much preparation to be a knight.”

  “But I am ready now! I can ride, use a sword and lance! I train each day with the other squires and men at arms.”

  I made my voice steelier. “You are ready when I say that you are ready. You can continue to train with Petr. When you are a couple of years older then you will have even more skills.”

  He stared at me. It was as though he was trying to read my thoughts. “This is my mother’s wish is it not?”

  My slight hesitation gave him the lie, “It matters not. Besides there is no war.”

  “Then if there is no war I cannot be in danger so I could become a squire. Or is it that you do not wish me to be your squire.”

  I held his shoulders, “That is not the reason.” I needed something to make up for this. I felt guilty. I could not help it and I felt disloyal to my wife. I tried to be a good father and husband but it was all too easy to make mistakes. I was surer in battle! “I will tell you what. My knights and I have not hunted for a while. I will see Tam the Hawker and he can find us some animals. You will be with my knights and their squires.”

  “Yet I will not be a squire. I will be the earl’s son clinging on to his surcoat.”

  I shook my head, “It is a chance to prove that you are the equal of the other squires but, if you are not confident…”

  “I will do it! I wil
l show my mother that I am almost a man!” He strode back with me to the castle keeping pace with me. He was showing me that he was becoming a man. As we went in I knew that King John was the way he was because his father had not spent as much time with him nor had his mother. He had grown up influenced by those who were not his family. I would not make that mistake. I was a father and knew my responsibilities.

  It was typical of my wife that I could not do right for doing wrong. When I told her she was not happy, as I hoped she might be, she erupted! “A hunt! That is more dangerous than war! Animals do not play by any rules!”

  I sighed, “Tam will be with him and you allow Tam to take him riding. What is the difference?”

  Mollified she nodded. “I suppose I will have this with William too?”

  I grinned, “Probably and more for he will see his big brother training with me. It is all your fault; you married a knight!”

  She laughed, “That was a wise decision. Would that I could wave a wand and make this land peaceful so that my men would not need to risk their lives.”

  When I spoke with Tam he told me of two places where we might hunt. “In the woods between the two becks at Hartburn is a large family of wild pigs. They have been unsettling Tom the Pig’s animals and damaging his fences. They need culling. If we can kill the old boar the others may move off. There is another large colony to the west of Elton. They may go there.”

  “Wild boar can be dangerous. And the other?”

  “Between Hartburn and Yarm there is a large herd of deer. They would be easier…. And safer.” I nodded. I was about to say we would hunt the deer when Tam scratched his beard and said, “If it is young master Alfred you worry about do not. He is the best rider in your castle and has a good eye. I have watched him throw a spear. He rarely misses and he never falls from a horse.”

  “But a wild boar, Tam!”

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