I – THE TRADE
So it was mentioned at the summer council of A.D. 1171 that Medigas of Florence had recently been approached by the peddler, Raibert Caird, with an interesting proposition. Raibert had asked him if he had an alchemical book that he might trade, and in exchange Raibert would offer him a copy of the Bestiary said to be from Aberdeen. When Medigas asked just who in Galloway might be interested in an alchemical book apart from a magus, Raibert simply said that he had been approached by a youth while in Monygof.
Medigas was interested in getting a hold of a copy of this Aberdeen Bestiary, but he was even more interested in learning who it was in the Monygof area who was interested in an alchemical book to begin with. So he decided to send his companion Éovan Auditore da Firenze to investigate, and of all the companions he could select to accompany him, Éovan picked Brother Erlend Svensson, a large but learned monk and infirmerer who frequented Ken Muir. Éovan’s plan was to travel posing as a monk and a junior scoloc; Éovan never did anything openly if he could help it.
But there was one knot in this thread of a plan: Ken Muir did not own any alchemical books to offer in trade. Medigas, being an honest fellow, did not much like the idea of sending Éovan without at least something to offer the peddler, even if it was not what Raibert had asked for, so he instructed Éovan to offer a copy of their medical text, instead. If it came down to it and the covenant did indeed want to go through with the trade, he would personally take the time to copy out their one medical text in order to complete the trade. It would take time to do this, but it was pretty much all they could offer.
The next day Medigas himself departed from Ken Muir with a group of grogs to attend to Lord Uchtred, their benefactor, at Castle Fergus. Éovan and Brother Erlend decided to accompany them as far as the toun of Kirkcudbright, where they had heard the peddler Raibert Caird lived.
II – RAIBERT CAIRD
Later that day Medigas the mage, his servants and companions strode southward along the path on the east side of the River Dee.
Éovan’s plan for dealing with the peddler Raibert Caird was simple: In order to preserve their anonymity, they decided to borrow the grog Corwynn mac Murchan and send him into town to make the first contact with Raibert Caird. The plan was to have Corwynn try to broker a deal with Caird for the book, and then when Caird ran off to speak the the mysterious person who was requesting an alchemy book, Éovan and Erlend could follow discretely, pretending to be itinerant monks, and suss out who he was.
As they approached the outskirts of Kirkcudbright, however, Erlend already began to test the strength of thread in Éovan’s plan. He stopped outside a hovel where a cotter stood gardening and, before Éovan could say anything, he marched over and spoke to the man.
ERLEND: ‘Good man, do you happen to know of a Raibert Caird?’
COTTER: (looking nervously at the large monk) ‘Aye. He’s wha sold me my lantern.’
ERLEND: ‘And do you know if he lives here in Kirkcudbright?’
COTTER: (not sure what to make of the giant monk’s tiny voice) ‘Aye…’
ERLEND: ‘Oh, that is good news. Do you hear that, Éovan? Can you show us to his house, or give us directions?’
COTTER: (hesitating, then deciding not to risk making the large monk angry) ‘Aye, he lives in the third house from the harbour road, to the south of the market square.’
ERLEND: ‘I see. And can you describe him so we will know him when we meet him.’
COTTER: ‘Aye – his hair’s the colour of sand, and waves much like the sea. He’s a scot and has one of their coarse accents, like.’
ERLEND: ’I see. Thank you and god bless.
Erlend left the man and walked back over to where Éovan was frowning.
ÉOVAN: (speaking in his accented gaelic) ‘I don’t explain the word ‘incognito’, no? Our plan is to look and listen, but no to speak and to announce! Capito?’
ERLEND: ‘Oh, I see. You think I’ll give us away by asking for help, is that it? I don’t think he’ll think anything of my questions. He’ll probably forget me by noon.’
ÉOVAN: ‘No, he no forget! You a giant man with a soft voice!’
ERLEND: (somewhat offended) ‘Oh well. What’s done is done, anyway.’
Erlend then gave Corwynn the description of the man they were looking for and directions to his house.
Corwynn then left immediately and fairly ran into town as he didn’t want to delay his mission with Medigas any longer than was necessary.
The toun was a bustling place and as grand a settlement as Corwynn have ever seen. Several large ships bobbed in the harbour and smaller boats were pulled up on the muddy bank of the river. The triangular town square was lined with thatch-roofed houses, a tavern, the tolbooth, and a small chapel dedicated to Saint Cuthbert.
Corwynn rushed through the square which, on this day, was alive with vendors selling everything from fish to fleece. He rushed to the house that the cotter had described and knocked on the door. There was no answer. He passerby if this was indeed Raibert’ Caird’s house, and the person acknowledged that it was, but that he suspected that Raibert was currently at the howf. Corwynn returned to the square and went straight to the tavern. From the outside it looked like a one-room affair with a wooden sign swaying in the breeze. The sign was painted with the image of a tonsured monk holding a mug in his hand and leaning on a large barrel. ‘The drunk monk?’ though Corwynn. Well, Kirkcudbright was known for its community of young scolocs.
Corwynn entered the tavern to find an assortment of people, but none that fit the description of Raibert. He wandered up to the bar and ordered a small beer, then asked if Raibert was about. The tavernkeeper said that he had been in a moment ago, but seemed to have left. When he was here, he had been speaking to two rather well-to-do looking men sitting at a table near the door. Corwynn approached the men, planning to ask them about Raibert, but when he approached he found he couldn’t understand them due to the foreign tongue they were speaking. He did, however, hear the name ‘Hugh de Morville’ spoken quite clearly by the man with the pointy face.
This was interesting, but Corwynn remembered he was in a rush. He spoke out loud to the room, asking ‘Has anyone here seen Raibert Caird? Does anyone know where he went?’ The two foreigners did not look at him, but another man pointed silently at the front door, indicating that Raibert had already left.
Corwynn ran outside and asked one of the local vegetable sellers in the square about Raibert, and she pointed toward the riverbank where the boats were moored. He rushed over and, surveying the harbour, noticed several men busily unloading a boat while a man with wavy, sandy-coloured hair watched and rubbed his hands together. Corwynn approached him.
CORWYNN: ‘Uh. Raibert Caird?’
RAIBERT: (brusquely) ‘Yes? What do you want?’
CORWYNN: ‘I come from Medigas?’
CORWYNN: ‘Medigas. Uh. He’s… uh…. a learned man. He has a beard, wears spectacles and comes from…um… from across the sea. You asked him if he had a book? A book about alchemy?’
RAIBERT: ‘Ah, yes. A book on the arts of alchemy. Now I recall. What about him?’
CORWYNN: ‘He bid me to tell you that he has no book on alchemy, but would be willing to offer a book on the medical arts instead, of you should be interested.’
The men unloading the boat meanwhile spoke thickly to one another in a foreign tongue.
RAIBERT: ‘Medicine? Hmmm….maybe. Do you have it with you?’
CORWYNN: ‘Uh… no.’
RAIBERT: ‘When can I get it?’
CORWYNN: ‘Um….I’m not sure. A season?’
RAIBERT: ‘But you’re sure he has one?’
CORWYNN: ‘Yes. I’m sure. But he also said that if you insist on an alchemical book, he would pen what he knows and give that to you.’
RAIBERT: ‘I see. Very well.’
CORWYNN: ‘Medigas said that you had another book to offer in exchange, one about beasts.’
RAIBERT: ‘Yes, yes. I’m willing to wait for your books, and it will take me some time to lay my hands on the bestiary anyway, so that’s fine, just so long as we have a deal. What is your name?’
CORWYNN: ‘Corwynn mac Murchan from Ken Muir. Medigas instructed me to tell you he would be interested in other books, too, if you should have them, or will offer a finder’s fee for any deals which you negotiate.’
RAIBERT: ‘Ah, good. You said it would take a season for Medigas to produce his book? Then we will meet again in one season, and I will have the Bestiary at that time. Then I’ll be sure to alert you to any new books that I find. What kind of books is he most interested in, anyway?
CORWYNN: (uncertain, but trying to look smart) ‘Um…I think he would be interested in any books on ancient lore. Can you find one of those?’
RAIBERT: (winking) ‘I like to think I can find anything for anyone, for the right price!’
Raibert extended his hand to the grog, and Corwynn shook it.
Corwynn then returned to where the others were waiting outside of toun and reported everything that had happened to him. Then he accompanied Medigas and the others toward Castle Fergus.
III – THE MONK’S REST
Éovan and Erlend then wandered into town, pretending to be itinerant scholar monks, and went straight for the inn which Corwynn had called ‘The Drunk Monk’ (but which was actually known locally as ‘The Monk’s Rest’ despite the fact that no monks had ever stayed there since the founding of St. Mary’s Isle Priory). They ordered a couple of beers and sat near to the two foreigners that Corwynn had mentioned and who were still speaking animatedly to each other. He tried to watch them discretely, figuring that if the two men were talking about Sir Hugh de Morville of Borg, then Thomas Magus, one of the principals of Ken Muir, might prize the information.
Both Erlend and Éovan listened closely, but neither could fully understand their speech. Éovan guessed they were speaking the Normand dialect, and also judged from their nice clothes that they might be knights. The one with the pointed face was trying, with some difficulty, to explain something to the one with the mean, round, face, while the second man looked on skeptically. The first man held up three fingers, and Éovan then made out the name of Hugh de Morville. The man dropped one finger, then said the name again. Then he dropped a second finger, and said the name again. Then he dropped his third finger, and spoke the name of Hugh de Morville one last time. Then he drew his finger across his throat to punctuate the statement. The round-faced man’s eyes widened, then narrowed again to a squint, and their voices dropped to a whisper.
ERLEND: ‘Perhaps they are knights looking for Sir Hugh de Morville of Westmorland on behalf of the King of England? They have that look about them.’
ÉOVAN: ‘Perhaps. Or perhaps they mean harm to Hugh de Morville of Borg. His lands are less than an hour from here, if one crosses the river by boat. Either way, we should probably report what we’ve seen here, and perhaps a bit more if we can learn more.
Éovan then left Erlend in the tavern with instructions to continue to watch the two knights while he himself wandered out into the town to scout around. He went to the harbour, but didn’t see anyone matching Raibert Caird’s description. He did see the small ship that Corwynn had reported, and the men unloading the contents of a skiff onto a tarp were there. Seeing little of interest, Éovan then went to the house that the cotters had said belonged to Raibert. There he found a gate leading into a close that led to the yard behind the house, and from that direction he heard the sound of someone cursing. Listening more closely, he hears someone say in gaelic ‘Will you stand still?! Damnation!’ This was followed by muttered cursing and then by a loud crash and the sound of metal clattering. ‘AAARGH!’ exclaimed the voice loudly.
Soon after a sandy-haired man stormed out of the front door of the house and marched off toward the toun square. Éovan followed him through the square and into the tavern, then watched as he approached the two knights. The peddler spoke to the knights for a moment and then all three of them departed out the back door of the tavern, which Erlend said led to both the garderobe and to the courtyard around which the private rooms could be found. They waited, and Raibert soon re-entered to main room of the tavern, looking somewhat shaken. He then left immediately through the front door again.
ERLEND: ‘So, Raibert knows these two, then?’
ÉOVAN: ‘Yes, so it seem to be.’
ERLEND: ‘Still, that doesn’t seem our concern….’
ÉOVAN: ‘Hmmmm….I am not sure. Let us take rooms here for the night. I have a plan.’
IV – A SNEAK AND A DRUNK
The two companions took one of the rooms at the inn, then spent the rest of the day either wandering about the toun, looking around, or in the tavern. After darkness fell, sometime between the hours of vespers and compline, Éovan stole away into the night, leaving big brother Erlend, by now somewhat drunk, by himself in the tavern.
Éovan slunk around to Raibert Caird’s house for the second time and listened at the door. He could hear the sound of snoring. He tried the door and found that it wasn’t locked, so he pried it open and crept inside. There were two rooms inside the house – the main living room and the bedroom. The earthen floor of both rooms was cluttered with boxes, bags, straps, articles of clothing, pieces of tin, and other assorted oddments. Éovan ignored these and crept into the bedroom and over to the straw bed that Caird was sleeping in. Then he snipped off a bit of the hair off the peddler’s head and slunk away as easily as he had entered. He closed the door behind himself and, after pausing to make sure he hadn’t been spotted, he made his way back to the inn.
Upon his return to the tavern Éovan peered in through the window to survey the scene before entering. Erlend still sitting as he had left him. The big monk held an empty mug in his hand and was mumbling away, still speaking to Éovan as if he had never left and was still sitting beside him. He seemed to be trying to convince his imaginary friend to consider taking up the cloth. Several of the people in the tavern were pointing in his direction snickering.
ERLEND: ‘No, it’s not so bad being a monk, you know. I really think you could do it. You get to read, and people give you stuff…’
TAVERN WENCH: ‘Er…can I get you another pint, master monk?’
ERLEND: ‘No, I don’t th…think I could drink another swig, th…thank you. We should be getting on, anyway, isn’t that right Éovan?’
The big monk made to stand up, but lost his balance and lurched forward heavily. He put his giant hand clumsily on the edge of the table to steady himself, but up-ended it and fell bodily to the floor with a heavy thud. The clay pot Erlend had been drinking fell beside him and broke into shards, while the table itself fell heavily to the floor, upside down behind him. The wench cried out in alarm and there was a mixture of concerned cooing and laughter from the other patrons. Éovan took this opportunity to slip back into the room. The wench tried to help him up but couldn’t lift the monk and implored for help from the other patrons, but Erlend waved them off. Éovan came over to help him up.
ERLEND: ‘Thank you, friend. I think it is time for bed, now.’
ÉOVAN: ‘Easy, brother Erlend, easy. The ale is good here, is it not?’
ERLEND: ‘Aye, we’ll have to bring a keg back with us to Ken Muir.’
Erlend smiled meekly at the tavernkeeper as Éovan led him off to their room. Back in the room, Éovan explained that he had gone over to Raibert Caird’s place so that he could get a snippet of hair. He had once overheard that Raderic or Medigas could employ their magic to listen to a distant conversation provided they had a personal connection to one of the participants. And with this lock of hair, they now had just such a connection to Raibert Caird. With luck, they might now overhear what he had to say to the mysterious purchaser of the alchemical book.
[GM NOTE: Because of this incident and his flaw ‘judged unfairly’ Brother Erlend gained a level-one reputation as a drunk in Kirkcudbright.]
V – THE MOTTE OF BORG
In the early hours of the morning Éovan was awoken by the sound of activity in the courtyard. The two Normans were saddling up their horses and preparing to leave. He followed them as they went and saw that they headed toward the harbour, and then followed the track by river toward the north of town.
Éovan then slipped back into town and past Raibert Caird’s place again. He could hear the sound of clanking and cursing from the back yard and the protest of a pack-pony. Raibert was clearly also getting ready to leave.
Éovan returned to the inn and, knowing Erlend’s reputation as a heavy sleeper, tried to wake him gently by sprinkling a little water on his face.
ERLEND: ‘Echhh, * cough *. Brrrrrr. Oh. Éovan. What did I do last night? I don’t remember anything.’
ÉOVAN: ’That’s what they all say. At least I managed to get the wenches outa here!’
ERLEND: (slightly shocked) ‘Noooo. Oh noooo.’
ELREND: ‘I have a pain in my side.’
ÉOVAN: ‘That would be from the table. You knock it a over. Anyway, I woke you because we must depart. The two Normans have left, and now I think Raibert Caird is leaving, too. I’d like to see where he’s going.’
ERLEND: ‘Very well. Give me some time to gather myself. I’m not my best in the mornings, you know.’
Less than an hour later they headed up the road, northward. They passed where the two Normans were still standing beside their horses. Now Raibert Caird was with them, holding the lead of a stout Galloway nag packed with goods. Éovan and Erlend continued on past them nonchalantly and proceeded up the road. When it because clear that Raibert and the two Normans, now travelling together, were coning up the road behind them, they paused to take a rest and allowed the three travellers to pass them by. The Norman with the pointy nose nodded to them as they passed. They allowed the Normans to get a small lead before taking to their feet again and following them.
They headed north to the first ford on the River Dee and crossed over, heading west. When the Normans and the peddler veered off toward Twignam, Erlend and Éovan decided to hurry on ahead to Borg, reasoning that the Normans would inevitable head there to speak to Sir Hugh de Morville of Borg.
When they arrived, they approached the gate of the bailey at Castle Borg and spoke to the soldier who stood at the gate.
ERLEND: ‘Hello. We come from Ken Muir. We’re monks.’
GUARD: ‘Eh wot? Ken Muir? Is that a place?’
ERLEND: ‘Yes, it’s a place on Loch Ken. You might know one of our colleagues, William of Furness? I believe he was employed here, once.’
GUARD: ‘Och, aye! William! And how de ye know hem?’
ERLEND: ‘Yes. He lives in our village.’
GUARD: ‘Och, is that where he’s gone. I thocht he was sent to babysit some ne’er-do-well nephew of good laird Hugh.’
ÉOVAN: ’He’s actually our commander.’
GUARD: ‘Eh? Our William? Commanding monks?!’
ERLEND: ‘Er, no. He means he commands the village militia.’
GUARD: ‘Oh, I see. Seems a step down. Anyway, what is it I can do for you brothers?’
ERLEND: ‘Well, we are merely passing by and requesting board from the castle.’
GUARD: ‘Oh, board is it? Aye, that’s a question for master Martin, that is. Martin de Kendall is the steward ‘ere. Well, come on it, then. No point standing out here in the dirt while we wait for an answer, is there? You might as well wait in the mess. What shall I say your names are?’
ERLEND: ’I’m brother Erlend Svensson.’
ERLEND: (giving Éovan a look) ‘Er, Novice Brother Éovan, that is.’
The guard left them at the mess hall in the bailey and turned to head up to the motte proper. Several other people were here and about, carrying out chores and what not. Eventually the guard came back and told them they could stay. He would arrange a private lodging for the two monks so they would not have to stay with the commoners. The guard arranged for them to have something eat (though Erlend himself abstained, his stomach not being quite up to it). Éovan tried to strike up a conversation with the guard.
ÉOVAN: (speaking in his Italian accent) ‘So, who is you commander?’
GUARD: ‘Yes, that’s right.’
ÉOVAN: ‘Eh – What?’
GUARD: ‘Hugh is our commander. Hugh de Morville, that is.’
ÉOVAN: ‘Yes. No, I mean who is a the commander of guard?’
GUARD: ‘Oh, that’d be Ercenbald. Ercenbald Armstrong.’
ÉOVAN: ‘I see. Is he around?’
GUARD: ‘Most likely. What do you need him for?’
ÉOVAN: ‘I would like to speaka with him.’
GUARD: ‘Oh, bloody… All right. Hey! Simon! Go and fetch his nibs, would ye.’
The young boy the guard was speaking to was all too happy to drop his scrub-brush and ran off to find Ercenbald Armstrong. He soon came back with a broad-faced, bald-headed, well-fed man with, yes, rather strong looking arms.
ARMSTRONG: (eyeing the brothers) ‘What can I do for you brothers?’
ÉOVAN: ’I’m told you are the man who trained William di Furness…?’
ARMSTRONG: ‘Aye. You know ’im do you?’
ÉOVAN: ‘He is now attempting to train me.’
ARMSTRONG: (skeptically) ‘Wot. Train you?! A monk!? That’s a laugh!’
ÉOVAN: ‘But I’m not a monk.’
AMRSTRONG: (getting more suspicious) ‘Not a monk? Who are you, then?’
ÉOVAN: ’I’m a messenger, travelling with Brother Erlend.’
ARMSTRONG: ‘Aye? And you have a message for me, then, I suppose? Is that it?’
ÉOVAN: ‘Yes. That is, we ’ave some news that might be of interest to you. We are on a mission to, eh, Monygof and we were recently passing througha Kirkcudbright. While we there, we overhear a pair of Normans talking about Sir High de Morville.’
ARMSTRONG: ‘Aye, well, Hugh is keeping some strange company these days. I don’t suppose you have a token do ye? To prove you are who ye say ye are? Else how can I trust ye.’
ÉOVAN: ‘No, I don’t. To be sure, you don’t now if you can trust me.’
ARMSTRONG: (sniffing loudly) ‘Well, that’s not too good now, is it. I’m supposed to be in charge of security around here, and yet here you come, dressed like a monk and yet not a monk, then saying you expect me to trust only that I can’t trust you. So what am I supposed to believe?’
ÉOVAN: ‘Well, you can believa that there are two Normans ina Kirkcudbright on their way here now and looking for Ser Hugh. Whether they mean ill or no, I cana say.’
ARMSTRONG: ‘So. Well. What are their names, then?’
ÉOVAN: ‘I cannot say, but they are travelling with a peddler named Raibert Caird.’
ARMSTRONG: ‘Raider Caird?! Mister sticky-fingers?! Cor…. Well, what do they look like?’
ÉOVAN: ‘One has a pointy face, brown hair and blue jerkin. The other a wide, round, mean face with black combed hair and a tan coloured jerkin. Each rides a large horse.’
ARMSTRONG: ‘Right. Well, I’ll keep me eye out for ‘em. What is you think I should be concerned about, exactly?’
ÉOVAN: ‘I feel you Ser Hugh should not be left alone with them.’
ARMSTRONG: ‘I see. Why’s that? Have they given you any cause for concern?’
ÉOVAN: ‘Call it instinct. It is my job at Ken Muir to keep my eyes open for anything unusual, and my sense is that something isn’t right, here. And also I donna think that Raibert Caird would be involved in anything innocent.’
ARMSTRONG: (nodding) ‘Fair Point. Fair point. Very well, if they show up at the gates I’ll keep a very close eye on them. Now – are you two really here for the evening? Is there anything else I should know about you two? (nodding to Erlend) I have to admit that if I was to guess which of you wasn’t a monk it would be ‘im!’
ERLEND: (surprised) ‘Oh! No! I am most definitely a monk!’
ÉOVAN: (nodding) ‘E is as he seems.’
ERLEND: ‘If we could perhaps rest for an hour, we’ll be on our way. There is admittedly no reason to stay now that we have delivered our message. I would perhaps like to say a prayer in the chapel’
ARMSTRONG: ‘Fair enough. I’ve got other duties, but Bertram here will see to anything you need, and show you out when you’re done.
ERLEND: ‘Thank you, sarjeant. You’re most kind.’
Erlend and Éovan left after an hour as they said they would. They felt that they had accomplished all they could for the time being and returned to Ken Muir. There would be much discussion upon their return speculating as to who exactly the Normans might be and what their mission was, and whether Raibert Caird might indeed be a useful contact, but these are matters for another chapter.