SideQuest Adventures No.1(The Foreworld Saga)(5)
Author:Mark Teppo


    The imperial ambassadors, being prudent men who had no desire to be the object of every bandit and rogue nobleman across Christendom, agreed with the queen’s suggestion. Hubert immediately ordered the chests of silver beneath St. Paul’s to be emptied into smaller containers for transport. Each barrel required four men to lift it onto the bed of a wagon, and each wagon required double the team to pull it through the streets of London to the docks at Queenhithe. There, a half dozen ships waited to receive the thousands of pounds of silver.

    Hubert personally oversaw the transport of the silver from St. Paul’s, riding beside the lead wagon. The carts moved slowly through London, the wheels grinding against the stones of the streets. Even though Hubert had tried to maintain a level of secrecy over the course of the wagons, it was impossible to disguise the armed escort that accompanied the caravan. They had barely left the square near St. Paul’s before the streets became choked with Londoners who wanted to watch the historic procession.

    Hubert couldn’t blame them. The exchequer of ransom had levied a tax of more than a quarter of the total wealth of every individual in England. They felt they had a right to see where that money was going.

    He was more than a little relieved when the wagons reached Queenhithe. King Richard was a charismatic man—well loved by his subjects, for no reason other than the stories told by wandering minstrels were always entertaining and patriotic—but it had been many years since he had been back to England. Walter had wondered—to himself, but never to anyone else, especially the queen—if Londoners were going to realize they were paying many times over to get Richard back as they had paid to have him leave in the first place. Was he really worth that much to England?

    The leader of the imperial ambassadors was a reedy man named Willehalm Zenthffeer. He made little effort to disguise his derision in regard to English efficiency, and Hubert was looking forward to handing over the silver and wishing the imperial ambassador Godspeed and all the luck in the world in getting the weight of silver to Speyer in a timely fashion.

    Hubert was, in fact, looking forward to being done with this whole business of taxing the citizens of the English crown. He wished, not for the first time, that Richard had listened to him in Acre. That the king had come back with his army, instead of sneaking off like he had. That he had listened more readily to those around him during the campaigns in the Holy Land. That he weren’t as stubborn and arrogant as he was brilliant and manipulative. In a tiny corner of his heart, Hubert hated Richard, but he also knew he would always serve his king. Unreservedly and without complaint. Just as he knew Richard would reward such devotion and service.

    Get me out of here and you can name your position, Richard had told him the last time Hubert had seen him in Speyer, eight months ago.

    I am a bishop already, Hubert had argued, and I have gone on crusade with you. What else is there?

    It had been a foolish question, the answer to which both he and Richard already knew: archbishop of Canterbury.

    All he had to do was bring the king home.

    As the wagons rattled to a stop behind Hubert, Willehalm limped out of the cluster of imperial soldiers ranged across the docks. “Is this all there is?” the imperial ambassador sneered, idly glancing at the line of wagons.

    “It is,” Hubert sighed. Nearly ten thousand pounds of silver, he thought.





    THREE





    Feronantus was met at the gate of the Shield-Brethren chapter house by Rutger, one of the initiates he had met yesterday. Rutger clasped his forearm in the traditional greeting of the order; both men could feel the hardened edges of the initiation scars on the forearm of the other man.

    “Were we at Petraathen together?” he asked Feronantus as they walked across the yard toward the main house.

    Feronantus shook his head. “I don’t recall,” he said. Rutger appeared to be a few years younger, and those few years made quite a difference at the stage when the initiates were training for their trial.

    “It was too late for us to join the crusade,” Rutger said. “I went north, to Týrshammar, for a few years.”

    “Týrshammar,” Feronantus echoed. “Near Gotland?”

    “Aye,” Rutger said. “It’s on an inhospitable rock. The wind blows all the time, and the winters are even more miserable—and longer—than they are here.”

    “It sounds idyllic,” Feronantus said. “It is no wonder they raised a citadel there.”

    Rutger laughed briefly. “There are stories about the men who come from the North,” he said.

    “There are always stories,” Feronantus said.

    Rutger nodded, chewing on the inside of his cheek. “That there are, brother.” He smiled. “I enjoyed the one you told last night. I wish I had been able to join you in the Holy Land. How glorious that must have been, to be a part of King Richard’s return.”

    They reached the door to the main house, and Feronantus paused. “It rained a lot,” he said, “and we didn’t get much sleep. It wasn’t exactly glorious.”

    Rutger brushed past him and pulled the door open. “You haven’t been to Týrshammar,” he said. “You will look at everything differently after a winter there.”

    Inside, Geoffrey and the other knights from the previous day were waiting, along with a number of the other Shield-Brethren who were at the chapter house. The communal room was crowded and overly warm already.

    “Greetings, Feronantus,” Geoffrey said, clasping Feronantus’s hand in the same way that Rutger had. “I was surprised to discover this morning that you had not lodged with your brothers last night. Is there some explanation for this lack of civility?”

    “I was not alone last night,” Feronantus said bluntly, and his words drew reactions from a few of the assembled men.

    “Men of the order do not congress with whores,” Geoffrey said.

    “Nor was I,” Feronantus replied, fighting to hold his anger in check. It was highly irregular for him to spend the night in the same room as an unmarried woman of age, more so one who was a personal attendant of Queen Berengaria, but the common room had been overflowing with revelers and sleeping outside the door would have drawn too much attention to them. He had sat quietly in the dark until he had heard Maria’s breathing become slow and regular, and only then had he stretched out on the floor and gone to sleep. He had woken first this morning and had left the room as quickly and as quietly as he could imagine. No one saw him enter or leave the room, and other than their brief conversation when she had returned last night, there was little record of his ever having been in the room.

    Yes, it had been crude and unchivalrous behavior on his part, but one of the many things he had learned while in King Richard’s company over the past year was that proper decorum could get you killed. Every time they were discovered during Richard’s flight across Italy and the Alps, it was because the king had acted too much like a king and not an itinerant merchant or nameless knight returning to his homeland.

    Geoffrey cocked his head to one side, studying Feronantus intently. He had flatly denied Geoffrey’s insinuation without offering any other explanation, and he could tell the quartermaster was puzzled by his lack of exposition.

    The problem was there was no easy way to explain Maria. In many ways, he was glad she had departed earlier this morning. Traveling alone with her was a constant source of confusion; they needed to be able to focus on their respective duties without distraction. The Shield-Brethren might believe his plea for assistance, but they would have difficulty understanding why she would have been joining them.

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