The saga continues...
A Mother, a Manipulator, a Murderess.
Agnes Foxe sat silently on a chair beside her husbands bed. The Thrang of Rudston was dying, she knew he was, he had become increasingly ill with stomach cramps over the last half year.
Exactly the same period of time that she had been lacing his wine with poison. Just a little here and little there, enough for the drunken oaf to slowly deteriorate. Her twin sons Benedict and Luke sat opposite her on chairs placed at the other side of the bed. The boys were soon to turn sixteen years of age and were her pride and joy, Benedict, the elder by 30 minutes, would make an excellent thrang when the time came. Too young at present, he would have to wait a further two years, and those fools of the thrang host, her husbands most faithful knights, would debate who should be ward until that time.
What they didn't know was that she would be the boys ward and in effect would be the de facto thrang. Of course they would argue and grumble, but in the end would have no choice but to accept, she was after all the thrang's widow. She had to stop herself smiling, widow...it sounded so good. The younger twin, if her plans came to pass, would also find himself a thrang too, not of Rudston, but there were lots of dominions in Yolare ripe for the taking, especially along the Eastern side.
Her brother Ralph was the Thrang of Wheeldale, further up the coast and the two dominions combined would be by far the most powerful force in the land. Her father had betrothed her to join together the two families. The Foxe's in the South and the Lytton's in the North. Sadly her father had died of the plague soon after the wedding, she had loved him dearly and even forgave him for marrying her off to this pig!
But Agnes had schemed well, even the two boys sat opposite were not the sons of of the dying thrang, he didn't know of course, not that he took any interest in them. She had seduced Andrew Daye, one of her husband's thrang host soon after arriving at Rudston and it was he who was the father. Ironically, he had no idea either.
But Andrew was a very useful ally, trusted by her husband and high ranking in the host, she would need all his help and influence to achieve the position which she believed was hers by right, ward of the future thrang. Eventually of course the handsome and exciting Andrew would have to be disposed of, but for now he still had a purpose to serve... for now!
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A Taxing Problem.
Richard Pierrot watched the column move away down the Knapton Road, like a huge snake as it slithered here and there, searching for good footing in the fast melting snow. It was another glorious Spring day, At last this terrible Winter is surely now over, he thought. Looking around he noticed the house roofs were now virtually clear of snow, where before only tops of walls could be seen, the snow was now in decline and the countryside was once again beginning to show its normal features, that had been hidden for so long under a white blanket.
He had no spare supplies to give to Owen and Guy, times were hard for everyone, but his mind had been mulling over how he may be of help to the two young men. The snake was now almost out of view and he returned to his hall. He would gather his host and tell them of his idea and seek their views, after all a good thrang always consulted and rarely ever took a decision that would risk men's lives, without first listening to those very men.
One day later, Guy and Owen with the column in tow, turned South East, leaving the road to Knapton. The convoy would strike out across country before crossing into dominion of the Thrang of Knapton. They would still be passing through his dominion of course, and it would take another full day before they entered the dominion belonging to Owen's father. Both hoped their passage would be peaceful and unseen other than by the odd farmer or two. By leaving the road prior to entering Lovell's dominion they hoped to remain undetected by scouts and spies.
They were wrong!
At that very moment Godfrey Lovell was learning from spies that they had left Burn Howe the previous day and were indeed heading South toward Knapton. He dismissed the news bearer and smiled to himself. He knew they would be unlikely to actually pass through the town and take the road to Egton Low Moor, but just in case, he would leave a small garrison here to block entry to Knapton. He would take the rest of his force North East, as that was the obvious route the runts of Thorngarth and Egton would take, in an attempt to slip through his dominion unseen.
He had also learned that the escort had been increased by men of Thorngarth, no matter, the Egton men were simply shepherds with spears and longbows, no threat to his better trained men. If it came to a fight, which he very much doubted, his men would have little trouble crushing this invading army. He smiled again, yes invading army, it justified anything that happened out there in the snow. He had simply been defending his dominion from an unprovoked attack! Right was on his side no matter what happened. The day was getting better by the minute. He went off to look for Luke Brann his banner bearer, who should have the troops ready to move immediately. He would ride his horse, but sadly the snow prevented his host being able to charge into any battle that might ensue, simply too dangerous for man and horse in the melting snow. No they would have to dismount if needed and fight on foot.
Guy saw them first. He halted the column and rode a few paces forward, Owen beside him. He pointed to a line of moving shapes far in the distance, directly in their path.
'I am hoping that is a herd of cows, but somehow I doubt it.' At that moment, sunlight reflected off metal being carried by the tiny black dots.
'Not unless they are armed with bills and spears.' replied Owen. 'It seems Lovell was expecting us and intent on blocking our route, damn him!'
'That force is similar in size to our own,' said Guy, leaning over the neck of his horse and peering into the distance. 'If it comes to a fight we will at least be evenly matched.'
'A fight!' Owen looked shocked, 'He wouldn't dare to attack us surely?'
'Why not? We are in his dominion with a large number of armed men, he would claim to be in the right and was simply defending his land. Though I believe he will avoid battle and just demand a portion of our supply train as payment for a free passage.'
'That makes him no better than a common thief or robber! Owen was furious, 'These supplies are for my father's people to survive, he is having none of it.'
'Well we will find out soon enough,' said Guy, ' two horsemen have left the group and are heading this way. I suggest we ride forward to err...greet them.'
Owen and Guy rode forward to a low stone wall, its top now free of snow but the sides still hidden in a drift. Godfrey Lovell and Luke Bann sat upon their horses at the other side of the wall.
'I am Godfrey Lovell, Thrang of Knapton.' Godfrey swung an arm in a sweeping gesture about him. 'Why have you brought an army into my dominion?'
'It is hardly and army, my lord. Just an escort for a cargo of food and fodder that is to be delivered to the Thrang of Egton Low Moor.' replied Guy. 'In a few hours we will be out of your dominion.'
'Ah, you must be the son of Walter de Cobham, you look very much like him, from what I remember. It is a number of years since I last saw him. Did he send you here with this invasion force?' Godfrey nodded in the direction of the column, now stationary.
'My lord, the words almost choked Owen, we are not invading your land, merely passing through a small part of it to allow us a speedy journey to my home. My father's people are starving as are what remains of our sheep, we are in desperate need of these supplies, which accounts for our haste.'
'You must be Wadham's runt,' sneered Godfrey, looking Owen up and down. 'I would have thought your father and his miserable little dominion hardly warranted such an effort.'
Owen's hand moved to the handle of his sword, but before he could say or do anything, Luke Brann moved closer to the wall, his hand also resting on his sword.
'Not a very good idea young sir,' Luke said quietly, for you would be dead before that fine sword of yours left its scabbard.'
Godfrey shook his head in mock disdain, 'Oh dear, first you bring an invading army into my dominion and then you threaten to draw your sword on its thrang. Now I may be mistaken, but so far your actions appear to be, shall we say, less than peaceful.'
'My lord,' Guy spoke up before the situation worsened any further. 'We have explained our reason for being here, why the escort, not an army is with us, and you have insulted my companion, his family and his people. You have brought a force out here with the intention of intercepting us and preventing our progress, you must have a reason for going to all that trouble. So sir, what is it you actually want?'
'That is what I like to hear, a man who understands the position in which we find ourselves. The problem is, and the reason I have had to travel out here, is to collect the taxes due for transiting my dominion. The last two Winters have been harsh, why my people too are starving and a little of what you are carrying would greatly help them in their need.'
Guy had expected this and if the demand was reasonable, he would convince Owen to part with a small part of the load to allow them a trouble free passage out of Lovell's dominion.
'Exactly what would be the cost of this tax my lord?' he asked.
'I am not a greedy man,' Lovell gave an unconvincing smile, 'so I think a payment of three out of every five mules a fair price, for entering my lands with armed men and threatening violence on my person.'
Even Guy was shocked at the price Lovell was demanding, he wasn't prepared to pay such a high cost, never mind Owen!
'That my lord would make our journey pointless, with the majority of the supplies never to reach their intended destination.' Guy kept his voice low and controlled, his eyes never leaving those of Godfrey Lovell. 'The price is too high and you must lower it substantially if a deal is to be struck.'
'What if I refuse to lower my demand?' Lovell replied, though he was becoming increasingly wary of this boy, who may just be confident enough to challenge him and his assembled force.
Guy looked at Owen, the latter gave the merest of nods, no words were needed.
'Then my lord, we will forced to push our way through both you and your assembled troops, by force of arms if necessary. These supplies will get through!'
Godfrey was taken aback by the young man's words. He had intended to drop his price to two out of every five mules, which he thought they would grudgingly accept to continue their journey, he had badly underestimated the determination of de Cobham's boy. Damn him! He could not drop the price now after that threat, it would be seen as weakness on his part and that could not be allowed to happen. The boy would probably demand that he accept just one in five! Lovell cursed under his breath, he had now backed himself into a corner in which he would have to give battle, something he had not intended. The forces were fairly evenly matched in numbers of men, but surely his troops were better trained and more experienced than the contingent from Egton, though he knew the men of Thorngarth would be the equal of his own.
Godfrey let nothing of his worried thoughts show on his face.
'Your heads will be the only items delivered to Egton Low Moor, they will not eat a grain of the wheat that you carry and when this snow clears, I shall march into that wretched little dominion and put Wadham to the sword! Your path is blocked, I will await your attempt to clear it.' he almost spat the words out before he and his banner bearer trotted off back to their own troops.
Guy and Owen silently watched them go, each contemplating their first ever taste of action, then they too turned their mounts and moved off to form up their men for battle.
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