Maelgwyn rode along the road, westwards of chillmark manor. A band of brigands had ridden past early in the morning just as the sun crested the hills of hillfort hundred, having crossed over from Birchford to the east in the night.
As a consequence, Methin had been roused at an ungodly hour to ready his lords’ arms, armour and horse while the lord himself was at breakfast and prayer. It was all very unfair, as evidenced by his own mostly empty stomach. Maelgwyn himself evidently thought it a stroke of luck that he had been granted furlough at home for early winter, and indeed, he looked grand as he rode clothed in all his newly knighted splendour. Most of that was down to Methins own efforts, the shine on that armour especially. He longed to wear such armour of his own, to ride on grand adventures, such as chasing these common thieves and bringing them to justice!
The band had split, half riding south at the crossroads by Sutton and half continuing west. It was this latter part that they were now pursuing. Maelgwyn had sent his sergeant riding hard with word to the southern Manors, at the very least Gamond would be at Ludwell, having gained his land upon paying the kings’ tax that autumn.
As the outskirts of Modrons’ forest closed in around the road, crowding in by the banks of the Nader River to the south, the hitherto clear trail gradually muddled and became hard to follow. As Methin watched upon his Rouncey, chewing a string of long bladed grass, Maelgwyn rode to and fro for the better part of an hour. Not very knightly, thought Methin. At length Maelgwyn swore and rested his horse, taking a bit to eat. Taking the blade of grass from his mouth, he’d chewed so many by now that his hunger had dulled, Methin suggested;
“P’raps sum ‘elp sire?”
Maelgwyn stated at him for a moment, then nodded. “Go, there will be skilled huntsmen at Tisbury”.
Typical, of course he’d have to do the work while Maelgwyn idled by the road. No doubt he had to prepare to be fit his knightly duties, or some such. Nonetheless, he rode as commanded, west, then south, passing into deeper reaches of Modron. He really didn’t like this place, hailing from open, hilly dovesfield himself. The forest was evil, he could feel it brooding and taking umbrage at his passing. He clung to the road closely, glad for it even as it slowly dwindled to a mere trail, finally revealing Tisbury nestled among the trees. It was no mean feat to persuade Old Cerys to part with her Huntsman for a day, worthy of a song at least, for old Corwyn was bedridden and Cadry still in service at Sarum.
Victorious Methin returned to the road, but received scant recognition for his deeds. The huntsman, a tongue tied fellow who communicated mostly in grunts and gestures with his chin quickly found the trail, but was under orders to return as soon as possible and could not accompany them into the northern outskirts of Modron, whence the trail led.
They rode in among the trees, thankfully of a sparser and less foreboding variety, following the trail pointed out to them. It was clear now, then most things were once they were pointed out, weren’t they?
The trail at length led them to an overgrown hillock, partly buried in a gully and covered on this side in mossy stone. A cave, the bandits had taken refuge in a cave.
“Hah, Bandits, they’ve trapped themselves!” jeered Maelgwyn.
Melthin wasn’t so sure. Surely they weren’t that stupid? But, perhaps they were.
“Well, let’s finish this” said Maelgwyn decisively, dismounting and gesturing for his arms. Melthin too, dismounted and carried them to him. “’ere y go sire, mind the strap, aye, wunt ‘t spear sire?”
“A knight wields a sword Melthin, the spear is for the horse!”_
Maelwgyn stamped off, leaving deep impressions in the soft ground and vanishing into the cave. The opening was barely broad enough to accommodate him, and Melthin wondered how he was going to swing that sword and use the shield effectively at the same time. He even enacted a possible tactic, trying to hold one of his lords’ shield in front and stabbing from above, the side and underneath with his own sword a couple of times. He frowned, trying to judge the height of the cave. It would probably be difficult.
“You there! Come out, give up and I’ll be merciful!” Maelgwyns voice rang strangely out of the cave, distorted by stone and distance. Melthin snorted. Merciful, not likely. Not with that hideous tree for all to see on chillmark.
The sound of weapons clashing echoed hollowly from a distance. A yell. More ruckus. Melthin pumped a fist in the air, imagining Maelgwyn improbably scything through bandits left and right in his shining chainmail.
What stumbled from the cave mouth was very different. The armour was dirty, two hours work at least by the look of it, and Maelgwyn bled from wound on the thigh. “Bastards” he swore.
“No luck sire?”
Maelgwyn stared at him for a long moment “No. They’re using long spears at a narrow point while they’re standing in an open cave. Bloody unsporting”.
Melthin thought it sounded like a pretty good idea on their part, but said nothing of it. “Whut now sire?”
Maelwgyn stared at the cave mouth, clearly frustrated. “Prayer Melthin, when in doubt, pray on it.”
Maelgwyn went to his knees before the cave and started loudly exclamating passages from the holy book. The theme was obvious, eternal damnation for unrepentant sinners, and salvations for those who repented and humbled themselves before the lord. Melthin, for his part, chewed hard waybread and drank water, listening with half an ear. He very much doubted the bandits were keen on repentance, seeing as such would likely come at the end of a noose. They most definitely wasn’t humble, for his lords’ efforts were regularly interrupted by rude noises, jeers and catcalls.
The praying went on for some time, his Lord Maelgwyn was nothing if not stubborn.
At length even his patience waned, and he stood with a curse. “Right. Those bastards will regret slandering the Lord! Melthin, gather firewood, wet firewood!”
“Yes, wet, we want lots of smoke”
Melthin, regardless of what he thought of the matter, did as he was bid. Oh the glorious work of the squire, gathering wet branches, but not too wet, battling stinging nettles and whiplash branches.
Eventually they had an impressive heap of damp firewood with a centre of dry kindling. It took some doing, but after some trying it lit and started smoking fiercely. “Hah” sneered Maelgwyn “That shut them up. Let them choke, or come running to face justice”. Indeed, the bandits had been quiet for some time.
They waited, and waited. Smoke flowed freely into the cave. And, noticed Melthin, emerged in a now visible pillar of black against the late afternoon sky just beyond the hillock. “Erm, sire?”
Maelgwyn tore his eyes from the cave opening, as if had been expecting the bandits to come stumbling at any moment, and followed his squires extended finger. He swore.
As evening fell the fire died down. The cave was, indeed, empty. They had found the back way the bandits had used some time earlier, but had to make sure. As they rode home Melthin could not but comment “t’least they was told of Christ sire”.
Maelgwyn glowered at him, and said not a word during the ride home.