The Journey Begins – Warriors of the Cross

A Familiar Passage – An extract from Book II, Chapter One.

A tumult of noise hit me as I emerged from the darkness of the keep into the bright sunlight. Shocked, I stilled to take in the spectacle. My knights and men-at-arms were lined up to form an avenue of colour and movement, inviting me to process along it, on this, the beginning of our long journey to Jerusalem. At the bottom of the steps, waiting with grins as wide as the river Seine glinting in the distance, were my supporters: Ragenaus, a Saxon warrior of good blood, and the bearer of my banner, Payne Peverel. Payne had been one of those surprises which descend upon men from time to time. When news of my intention to go to the Holy Land had become public, he had come to me from England to ask for a position. I was astonished because he was the brother of the man who, rumour had it, was my natural half-brother by my father’s only known dalliance, William Peverel, Payne sharing with him a mother if not a father.

Payne appeared one morning in my great hall here in Rouen and shouldered his way through the crowd, by which I was beset with requests for information and guidance. Standing tall and soldierly, and with a great voice, he carried his greeting above the throng.

‘Prince Robert,’ he demanded my attention, and silence fell upon those seeking my ear, ‘is there room in your mesnie for a member of your family?’

I had never met him or his half-brother, but there was an air of familiarity about the man which sparked my curiosity and I bade him come near.

‘You are loud, fellow; what name do you have?’

‘I am Peverel, my lord, Payne Peverel. You have heard of me I believe.’

‘Approach, Payne Peverel. Let me see you.’

He was a big fellow, of that there was no doubt, and stood a full head taller than me, but he seemed respectful in front of me, so I took him into an alcove while the sudden noise of gossip followed us.

‘I nearly met your half-brother once, and I nearly had him killed for his involvement in my brother Henry’s dissembling nonsense.’

‘I am aware of my sibling’s ill-judged loyalties, my lord. But I have come here to declare for you and your cause; will you take me to Jerusalem, my lord?’

I did not hesitate for very long, there was such a strong and instant bond between us I could only assent.

‘I will take you, Payne Peverel, on one condition,’ I said holding out my hands.

He bowed and let me take his hands in mine. ‘Whatever you require, my lord, I shall give gladly.’

‘Then you must carry my standard all the way to the holy city.’

His hands tightened around mine; he had the grip of a blacksmith. Then he looked up at me and grinned.

‘I am to be the bearer of your own standard, my lord?’

‘All the way, Payne Peverel, all the way.’

Today my heart carried the self-same zeal being expressed by the throng, but it also held a cloying sadness. I mounted my horse, held by Ragenaus, and glanced back at the parapet of the keep, hoping from habit to see my beloved Tegwin – she was not there, only a ghost of a memory haunted the wooden rail. It was poor compensation to know that she and our children were safe in England, in the care of my brother, King William Rufus. She would lie in my arms only in dreams as long as this venture lasted and I could return to her caresses once more.

Long before we reached the gate of the outer bailey I could see others of my family and friends waiting astride their mounts, patiently, it seemed. Foremost among them, as befitted a mission of God, was my uncle Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and half-brother to my long dead father, William the Conqueror, and a fighter with him at the battle to wrest control of England from the Saxon upstart Harold in 1066.

Corpulent he was now, and well past his sixtieth year, but still a determined old sod. I hadn’t wanted to take him, but as this was likely to be his last adventure, and as it carried the promise of eternal life, I‘d been persuaded.

He called out as I approached.

‘Nephew: timely, as usual, I see. I have something for you.’

Ignoring his censure, my gaze went to a banner, held by a squire standing beside Uncle Odo. It had the cross of St Peter on it, and three points, the Holy Trinity, flapping in the breeze from the shaft of a lance.

I stayed my horse and stared at that most precious flag.

‘Is that the –?’ I asked, scarcely believing it.

‘Yes, nephew, this is the papal banner, given by Pope Alexander, as a token of his approval for your father’s invasion of England.’

‘Jesu! Where has it been, Uncle?’

‘In my possession, lad, safe in my possession. And now it is yours. Look upon it as God’s approval for this holy adventure we are bound on. Sadly, the papal ring also given to your father was lost upon his death; some scoundrel will have it now, no doubt. Here, give the banner to one of your knights.’

I beckoned Ragenaus forward and he took possession of the holy emblem.

‘If perchance we fall on this expedition, Ragenaus, that banner will be the last thing to strike God’s earth, so guard it well.’

‘With my life, my lord, to the last drop of my blood.’

I turned to find Peverel. He held the standard of Normandy, two golden lions on a red background. I had only the faintest idea of what a lion was, but it seemed fierce enough for our purpose.

‘Flank me, Payne, for now it begins.’

An odd pair, the Saxon Ragenaus and Payne. Payne had the height it was true, but Ragenaus, with a warbow in his hands since he was ten years old, had the width of shoulder. His legs were not like my tree trunks but they were strong enough to withstand the power he could release from his bow; few men could pull it back fully, and he won many a wager because of it.

Then I stood in the stirrups and made the signal that would cast us into the turbulence of our fate – into the very hands of God. We rode through Rouen accompanied by the blast of trumpets, banging of drums and the shouts of the crowd. With standards and banners proudly flying and the cavalcade behind me, we jingled with splendour and jangled with a grin as we made our haughty way south, no doubt a captivating sight.

As the noise faded behind us and we settled down to a gentle rhythm, I had time to look about and contemplate a little. This was not the only time I had ridden to Italy; the first occasion was when I met the formidable Matilda of Canossa, who ruled in the north, and some of the Normans ruling in the south. Sent by my father to marry Matilda, but then sent by her to tame her southern neighbours, my father’s plans went awry as Matilda and I came to a different accommodation, and the Normans in southern Italy descended into a family argument. I had not travelled further, certainly not as far as the famed city of Constantinople, last bastion of Christian rule in the East, and I wondered how we would fare beyond the shores of Italy.

  1. A Familiar Passage.

An extract from Book II, Chapter One.

A tumult of noise hit me as I emerged from the darkness of the keep into the bright sunlight. Shocked, I stilled to take in the spectacle. My knights and men-at-arms were lined up to form an avenue of colour and movement, inviting me to process along it, on this, the beginning of our long journey to Jerusalem. At the bottom of the steps, waiting with grins as wide as the river Seine glinting in the distance, were my supporters: Ragenaus, a Saxon warrior of good blood, and the bearer of my banner, Payne Peverel. Payne had been one of those surprises which descend upon men from time to time. When news of my intention to go to the Holy Land had become public, he had come to me from England to ask for a position. I was astonished because he was the brother of the man who, rumour had it, was my natural half-brother by my father’s only known dalliance, William Peverel, Payne sharing with him a mother if not a father.

Payne appeared one morning in my great hall here in Rouen and shouldered his way through the crowd, by which I was beset with requests for information and guidance. Standing tall and soldierly, and with a great voice, he carried his greeting above the throng.

‘Prince Robert,’ he demanded my attention, and silence fell upon those seeking my ear, ‘is there room in your mesnie for a member of your family?’

I had never met him or his half-brother, but there was an air of familiarity about the man which sparked my curiosity and I bade him come near.

‘You are loud, fellow; what name do you have?’

‘I am Peverel, my lord, Payne Peverel. You have heard of me I believe.’

‘Approach, Payne Peverel. Let me see you.’

He was a big fellow, of that there was no doubt, and stood a full head taller than me, but he seemed respectful in front of me, so I took him into an alcove while the sudden noise of gossip followed us.

‘I nearly met your half-brother once, and I nearly had him killed for his involvement in my brother Henry’s dissembling nonsense.’

‘I am aware of my sibling’s ill-judged loyalties, my lord. But I have come here to declare for you and your cause; will you take me to Jerusalem, my lord?’

I did not hesitate for very long, there was such a strong and instant bond between us I could only assent.

‘I will take you, Payne Peverel, on one condition,’ I said holding out my hands.

He bowed and let me take his hands in mine. ‘Whatever you require, my lord, I shall give gladly.’

‘Then you must carry my standard all the way to the holy city.’

His hands tightened around mine; he had the grip of a blacksmith. Then he looked up at me and grinned.

‘I am to be the bearer of your own standard, my lord?’

‘All the way, Payne Peverel, all the way.’

 

Today my heart carried the self-same zeal being expressed by the throng, but it also held a cloying sadness. I mounted my horse, held by Ragenaus, and glanced back at the parapet of the keep, hoping from habit to see my beloved Tegwin – she was not there, only a ghost of a memory haunted the wooden rail. It was poor compensation to know that she and our children were safe in England, in the care of my brother, King William Rufus. She would lie in my arms only in dreams as long as this venture lasted and I could return to her caresses once more.

Long before we reached the gate of the outer bailey I could see others of my family and friends waiting astride their mounts, patiently, it seemed. Foremost among them, as befitted a mission of God, was my uncle Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and half-brother to my long dead father, William the Conqueror, and a fighter with him at the battle to wrest control of England from the Saxon upstart Harold in 1066.

Corpulent he was now, and well past his sixtieth year, but still a determined old sod. I hadn’t wanted to take him, but as this was likely to be his last adventure, and as it carried the promise of eternal life, I‘d been persuaded.

He called out as I approached.

‘Nephew: timely, as usual, I see. I have something for you.’

Ignoring his censure, my gaze went to a banner, held by a squire standing beside Uncle Odo. It had the cross of St Peter on it, and three points, the Holy Trinity, flapping in the breeze from the shaft of a lance.

I stayed my horse and stared at that most precious flag.

‘Is that the –?’ I asked, scarcely believing it.

‘Yes, nephew, this is the papal banner, given by Pope Alexander, as a token of his approval for your father’s invasion of England.’

‘Jesu! Where has it been, Uncle?’

‘In my possession, lad, safe in my possession. And now it is yours. Look upon it as God’s approval for this holy adventure we are bound on. Sadly, the papal ring also given to your father was lost upon his death; some scoundrel will have it now, no doubt. Here, give the banner to one of your knights.’

I beckoned Ragenaus forward and he took possession of the holy emblem.

‘If perchance we fall on this expedition, Ragenaus, that banner will be the last thing to strike God’s earth, so guard it well.’

‘With my life, my lord, to the last drop of my blood.’

I turned to find Peverel. He held the standard of Normandy, two golden lions on a red background. I had only the faintest idea of what a lion was, but it seemed fierce enough for our purpose.

‘Flank me, Payne, for now it begins.’

An odd pair, the Saxon Ragenaus and Payne. Payne had the height it was true, but Ragenaus, with a warbow in his hands since he was ten years old, had the width of shoulder. His legs were not like my tree trunks but they were strong enough to withstand the power he could release from his bow; few men could pull it back fully, and he won many a wager because of it.

Then I stood in the stirrups and made the signal that would cast us into the turbulence of our fate – into the very hands of God. We rode through Rouen accompanied by the blast of trumpets, banging of drums and the shouts of the crowd. With standards and banners proudly flying and the cavalcade behind me, we jingled with splendour and jangled with a grin as we made our haughty way south, no doubt a captivating sight.

As the noise faded behind us and we settled down to a gentle rhythm, I had time to look about and contemplate a little. This was not the only time I had ridden to Italy; the first occasion was when I met the formidable Matilda of Canossa, who ruled in the north, and some of the Normans ruling in the south. Sent by my father to marry Matilda, but then sent by her to tame her southern neighbours, my father’s plans went awry as Matilda and I came to a different accommodation, and the Normans in southern Italy descended into a family argument. I had not travelled further, certainly not as far as the famed city of Constantinople, last bastion of Christian rule in the East, and I wondered how we would fare beyond the shores of Italy.