Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Short story: The Price of Treason

Just for fun, I'll share with you good folks a short story I whipped up for a creative writing class last year. I tried to fashion a story around one of my ancestors, and settled on my many-times-great grandfather from the 13th century, William Malet, one of the signers of Magna Carta. I don't claim much historical accuracy or innovation here. I wrote the bulk of it in the middle of class. Just be entertained.

The Price of Treason
By James Griffin

England, A.D. 1215

            Dusk had finally settled over the walls of Malet Castle.  Their shadows grew taller until they completely enveloped a man standing alone in the garden.  William was lost in thought when his seneschal, cautiously leaning out of the entrance to the keep, called out to him. “The guests are waiting, my lord.”  William gave no heed.  “My lord?”

            “I’ll be there straight away, Henry.  Keep them entertained.”  Waking from his trance, William took a great gasp of air and collected his resolve.  He had not been sure if he would carry out his plan when he woke this morning, but now he was certain.  The din of rowdy laughter and merriment grew louder with each step he took back to the keep.  It was the feast day of Saint Edward the Confessor, last of the Saxon kings, patron of England.  For the pious, it was an occasion to visit the churches, or perhaps even go on pilgrimage to London.  For the rest, it was as good an excuse as any to feast and drink their daily troubles away.  But for William, it was a painful reminder of every quality King John lacked: justice, mercy, wisdom, honor.  He crossed the threshold and the herald stood at attention.

            “William Malet, lord of Somerset, sheriff of—“
            “My guests know who I am,” William interrupted.  The herald bowed his head with understanding and receded into the shadows.  Though the tables in the great hall were already soaked by the ale flowing from spilled tankards, Henry’s fearsome build and bellowing voice quickly put the men in order.  William nodded in gratitude to his seneschal. Henry was his liege’s most loyal soldier, and had been so since their first foray into the Holy Land back in the days of the Lionheart’s rule.  With fifteen armed men of unproven loyalty, in varying states of drunkenness under his roof, William needed Henry’s services as much as ever.  He continued his speech, carefully recalling the words he composed in the garden.  

“And you know why I called you from your lands to break bread with me tonight.  We stand at a point of crisis.  Four months ago, our king fixed his seal upon Magna Carta, swearing to uphold our ancient rights.  To not raise taxes without the barons’ counsel.  To expel his foreign mercenaries from the realm.  To release our wives and children from captivity.”  

At that, a thunderous cry could be heard, as a hundred voices joined together to jeer at William’s indictment of the king.  He let them stir in their rage for a moment before continuing.  

“We returned to our homes, believing we were victorious.  And how does he repay us?  Last week, I received a message from our allies.  John has secretly been raising an army against us!  Forsaking his honor, he has declared every name on the Charter a traitor and is, even now, marching upon the countryside to put to the sword every man in England who stood up for God and our liberty.  What say you to the king’s justice?”

            From the back of the hall, a bearded man with ruddy complexion shouted, “I say he’s proven himself a whoreson and no king at all!”  Another man, a familiar face who served under William before, called out,
            “I say we raise arms put John’s head on a spike!”  An entire hall resounded with agreement and boasts of defiance.  Though William fancied himself too refined for such brutish sentiments, he could not help but smile to himself.  He had the beginnings of an army of his own.  Almost without thinking, he said,

“Gentlemen: if you are willing to put your words to action, then I will hear your oaths…”

            Some hours later, William climbed the stairs to his bedchamber.  As he prepared for bed, he noticed that his wife was absent.  “Alice?”  There was no answer.  Perhaps she went to check on the men’s sleeping arrangements, he thought to himself.  Laying down, William tried to let the cloud of sleep fall upon him, but it would not come.  There was simply too much to prepare, and not enough money, nor men, nor time.  In the darkness, he made out the figure of someone standing in the corner of the room.  “Alice,” he called again.  But it would not answer.  It stepped forward, and then William recognized the form of his seneschal and comrade in arms.  “Harry, it’s well past the last hour. What are you—“

            But it was too late. In an instant, William felt the surface of a pillow completely cover his face.  An overwhelming force sent him back into his bed, and everything went dark.

To be continued, of course!

1 comment:

  1. 13th October! This is an excellent story. I'm looking forward to the second part.