Do you know how hard it is to survive when you are a minstrel, and some aggrieved petty lord doesn’t like your song and chops your tongue out?
It took me a while to discover his tale – it’s a bit hard to talk without a tongue! But we met up as the last days of Autumn fell towards Winter and I managed to get shelter and work for us both at a manor house. You don’t need a tongue to shovel shit.
Most of the young men had been sent to fight and not so many had come home for the winter, so we found food and shelter in exchange for keeping the lord’s stables clean. I suppose we were lucky in not getting rounded up to fight for Stephen or Matilda, but I’m getting on in years (and can act lame if need be) and some considered the minstrel’s cawing as straight from the Devil himself!
It was, in its way, a good winter, It’s nice and warm snuggled up in the straw with hot horses keeping you company, and the kitchen didn’t do too badly either with the food! All in all a good place to pass a few cold months. We were often called to entertain his lordship and his family over their dinner. Well, I did the entertaining with my Stories, and the Minstrel played his lute in the background and grunted at the crowds.
It took me all of that winter to get his tale. Most of it was guesswork and he’d nod or shake his head, but I collect Stories and it made a change from shit shovelling. I won’t bore you with the blow-by-blow, bit-by-bit way I got to know his story, and there could be areas where I’ve embellished a little (come on, it needs to be entertaining), and if you choose to disbelieve any part well, that’s up to you.
I never did get his name. He couldn’t write, and even if he could, I can’t read.
So I called him Martin. That’s as good a name as any, and he seemed pleased with it. There was nothing wrong with his ears and he turned around anytime anyone yelled Martin so it worked.
From what I could work out – and I am a nosy man, determined to dig to the bottom of any Story – Martin didn’t have a mother or a father, but that’s not unusual. There’s hundreds of kids starving in the city slums or curled up under a hawthorn bush. Most don’t make it through the winter, so there’s always less of the brats when spring arrived. The strong ones survive, the others don’t. I was a street brat, I suspect Martin was too. If you can survive that life, you can survive anything. Just about.
Somewhere along the way he must have had a bit of luck. Maybe he stole something, found something, maybe doing a bit more than bundling. Whatever, he obviously got to pretend to a higher station, bought, was given or (most likely) stole a lute and from there he sang his way into the beds of the wife’s and daughters of the gentry. Maybe even the gentry too. He was probably a pretty man when he had his tongue.
Obviously I never heard his songs, and without his tongue his voice had no control. Mainly just noise. Maybe he had the voice of an angel, or maybe he was clever with putting local gossip into song much as I do with my Stories, but I think he had a good life until he was found to be entertaining a Lady and her husband took exception. I suppose he was lucky it was his tongue the lord had removed!
But all this is background to the story of how we met, and how we parted.
It was late autumn. That beautiful time when you can feel the coming cold season and the leaves turn hundred different shades of divine. Two days earlier I’d spent the night in the pillory in some easily forgotten village and someone had taken advantage of my helplessness and stolen my shoes. They weren’t very good shoes, but they were mine. I’d taken them off a dead man and they actually fit me. So I was not happy that I was barefoot again. Especially with winter drawing close.
So, there I was hobbling down the lane, muttering and cursing the thief and hoping he would develop gout when suddenly I was sure the devil had come for me at long last! A bush started to shiver and shake all by itself and the most unearthly wailing came from it. I almost took to my heels but I’m a nosy man – I’ve told you that – and, not really believing anymore devoutly in God and the devil than I need to (and just then the need was great) I decided to investigate.
Most of the time when you come across a nosy person you get annoyed, then angry. You wonder why this person is fixated on you, why they won’t leave you alone, what have you done to deserve this. You just want them to go away and leave you in peace. I rather suspect that none of these thoughts were Martin’s just then. Maybe later when I was being annoying in trying to understand his Story, but right then, my nosiness was probably life-saving.
I was missing my shoes. Martin was missing his clothes. All of them. And he was strung up like a sow ready for slaughter. It’s a wonder he was alive. He could have frozen, starved or, more quickly, choked on his blood from where they had cut his tongue out. Except he was upside down so that was unlikely. More likely to bleed to death. But he was probably a child of the slums like me. We are tough. We have to be. Survivors.
I cut him down. There wasn’t much more I could do. I only had the clothes on my back, no spares, but at least I had some clothes. So I gave him my coat and went foraging for food. At that time of year there are lots of berries which is just as well because Martin wouldn’t have been able to eat rabbit if I’d caught one. Not with his tongue cut out. So I mashed some berries and he did the best he could.
I’m a nosy man, but I’m also compassionate. There was no way that I could just carry on walking down the road and leave the poor man. And my curiosity was roused. I was about to become my most annoying self! Hahaha.
We bundled together for warmth that night and the following morning set off down the lane. I had nowhere in particular to go, but was concerned with the need for shelter for the winter months. I suspect Martin was just glad to be alive. Maybe.
We passed through a village, stealing some clothes (and shoes for me), living off the land, I snared a rabbit which was all fat and juicy after a good summer. Martin did the best he could. And a couple of days later we arrived at the manor house and found our winter lodging.
No-one is going to hire a man who has recently had his tongue removed. It’s pretty obvious that he’d got on the wrong side of someone! So Martin hid in the trees whilst I found myself a job. Then, later on when everyone had gone to bed, I bought him in and he shared the straw with me. The next day he started shovelling with me and everyone thought the Bailiff had hired us both.
And so we passed the early winter months. Until just after the winter solstice, when the lord of the manor had neighbours visit with him for Christmas Services. And the neighbours were none other than the cuckolded husband who had relieved Martin of his tongue. And he had brought his wife. Who was in the family way! Expecting a child. Well. Every nosy nerve in my entire body went on full alert.
It took a lot of ferreting to discover that the neighbouring lord and lady had been married for many years and never a sign of impending parenthood. It took a lot less work to realise that Martin was probably the child’s father. Which made Martin being here a little difficult, and one day the family came to the stables to inspect the horses and the cuckold and Martin came face to face.
What followed next was extremely entertaining – when you weren’t personally involved that is! Cuckold went very red in the face and started screaming and yelling. He was very inventive in what he wanted to do to Martin. Martin went very pale, started flapping his hands and squealing and trying to hide behind the horses. The horses, of course, were terrified and started pulling on tethers, and kicking out and generally adding to the ruckus. And into the middle of all this noise and commotion, our lord came into the stables just as his favourite horse kicked out behind him, straight into the cuckold who went flying backwards and landed on the hay fork which speared him through from back to front!
Suddenly it was really quiet except for a bubbling burbling noise as the cuckold struggled for his last breath.
The quiet didn’t last long. The lady started screaming…..not for her husband, but for Martin! He was standing in a state of shock, not knowing what to do. I suspect he was thinking that all inventiveness of the cuckold would be nothing compared to his upcoming reality. It was all in the hands of our lord.
And so, we now arrive at that part of the tale where Martin and I parted company. And it wasn’t how you are probably thinking.
It turned out that our lord really detested the cuckold, who was a wife beater and adulterer. So he struggled a little bit about his Christian Duty, but very soon overcame it and called in some men to remove the body to a wagon for transporting home.
Then he looked at the wife, by now a sobbing mess wrapped up in Martin’s arms, and he understood the situation very quickly. Our lord is a compassionate man and understood the life the lady had suffered. He made a decision that she needed to return home and that she needed an escort. Martin got that job and was told to remain with the lady.
And off they all went. That was the last I saw of Martin, but three months later, just as I was about to set off down the lane again, a package was brought to me by the local peddler. It was a pair of shoes.
Storyteller – Manifest your Bliss