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Authors: Margaret Frazer

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BOOK: The Hunter’s Tale
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Hugh, needing more time than that to gather himself, paused a moment longer on the threshold between the day’s sunlight and the hall’s shadows. Woodrim had never been more than a minor knight’s manor and then for forty years an aged and childless widow’s dower land until, after her death, Sir Ralph had bought it from a distant heir. But he had bought it for the hunting and never much bothered with anything else about it, keeping the hall as he had found it—plain, bare-raftered, not overlarge, with an open hearth in the middle and the smoke meant to escape through a penticed louver in the roof. There was not even a screen-wall here at its lower end to block the draughts when the outside door was opened and from where he stood in the doorway Hugh could see its length, past the servants clearing away the remains of the funeral feast from the long table set up along one side, in a hurry to have their own feasting in the kitchen, to the far end where the dais raised the master’s table a step above the rest of the hall for whoever sat there to see and be seen by the rest of the household.

 

The hall’s only window was there, looking out from one end of the dais onto the foreyard, tall and narrow and glassed at the top above the shutters so that even in winter or ill weather when the heavy wooden shutters were closed, there could be some light in the hall besides through the doorway or from candles or rushlights. Today in the warm afternoon the shutters stood open, letting the westering sunlight fall the dais’ length across Tom, Sir William, and Master Wyck standing together behind the table there, next to Sir Ralph’s tall-backed chair. Tom’s chair now, Hugh reminded himself; but neither Tom nor anyone else had sat there since Sir Ralph’s death. Tom would have to, sooner or later, there being only their mother’s smaller chair and the benches otherwise, but presently the men were all standing, talking, a cluster of blackness in their mourning gowns and doublets. At the dais’ farther end Elyn, Lucy, Ursula, and Philippa were gathered close together, Miles standing near them but somehow not with them, still in the silence that he had kept heavily around him this while since Sir Ralph’s death.

 

‘Since I can’t mourn and shouldn’t openly rejoice, best I just keep quiet,“ he’d said when Hugh had asked how he was.

 

Still wishing that Master Wyck would wait with whatever he wanted to say, Hugh followed his mother up the hall. Sir William and Master Wyck bowed to her as she joined them and Tom took her by the hand to bring her to her chair beside Sir Ralph’s. She sat and Sir William leaned over her, laying a hand on hers on the chair arm, saying something too low for Hugh to hear. She shook her head and said something back. At the dais’ other end Miles opened the door to the parlor and stepped aside for the girls and Elyn to go in. Lucy and Ursula did, but as Lady Anneys answered Sir William, Elyn and Philippa both paused and, with Miles, looked back toward them. Then Miles said something to Elyn and she nodded and went on, but Philippa paused a moment longer, looking from Miles to her father and back to Miles until from the parlor Elyn ordered loudly, sharply, “Philippa!”

 

Philippa winced. Miles ruefully shrugged at her and she ruefully shrugged back with a slight, uneven smile and followed Elyn into the parlor, Miles closing the door behind her. Hugh had sometimes wondered, in the two years since Elyn had married Sir William, how Philippa, only two years younger and often with Elyn while they were growing up, felt at having Elyn for a stepmother, wielding a stepmother’s authority over her. Hugh doubted Elyn troubled herself with wondering. Elyn had welcomed marriage, been glad to become Lady Elyn and free of anyone telling her what to do except her husband, nor had she yet shown any regrets; and since there was a great deal of their father in Elyn, Hugh well supposed she probably did not care what Philippa thought or felt about any of it so long as Philippa did what she was told and made no quarrel about it.

 

Sir William was still speaking to Lady Anneys, now sitting with her head bowed and her hands folded on her lap, seemingly making no answer. It was Tom, standing behind her with a hand on her shoulder, who interrupted whatever Sir William was saying, saying instead to Master Wyck, “I agree with Sir William. Why isn’t this something that can wait?”

 

Hugh joined Miles at the end of the table. Low-voiced he asked, “What’s the trouble?”

 

‘Master Wyck wants to talk of the will. Nobody else does.“

 

‘Maybe it’s better to have it over with?“ Hugh said.

 

‘Or better to put off knowing the worst until later,“ Miles returned. There was laughter under his low-kept voice. Miles too often found laughter where no one else did, was sometimes reckless with it, and had brought Sir Ralph’s wrath down on himself more than once that way. These past few days Hugh had caught glints of it behind Miles’ few words and long silences that warned his outward seemliness was very thin and barely holding; but this wasn’t the time to give way and Hugh punched him just hard enough in the small of his back to remind him and said, keeping his voice low, ”Easy enough for you, anyway. You already know the worst for you.“

 

‘True,“ Miles returned. ”One badly neglected and diminished manor, complete with Sir Ralph’s curse because he couldn’t find a way to keep it from me.“

 

And Sir Ralph would have kept it from him if he could. About that, Sir Ralph had always been very clear. All else that he held was his to dispose of as he chose and he had more than once goaded Tom and Hugh with, “I can leave you no more than the clothes you stand in. You cross me once too often and that’s all I will leave you. I swear it.” But the manor of Goscote in Leicestershire had come to him by right of blood and was entailed by law to pass to the eldest male heir of the blood, meaning Miles, only son of his loathed eldest son. Bitterly grudging that, Sir Ralph had taken pains over the years to take as much from the manor as he could, do as little for it as possible, and make certain Miles knew it. “Still,” said Miles cheerfully now, “better a broken manor without Sir Ralph than Paradise with him. Not that any place with Sir Ralph would be Paradise.”

 

But the rest of them—except Lady Anneys with the dower land of her marriage agreement—were not assured of anything. Despite all his talking and threats, Sir Ralph had never told them for certain what was in his will; for all any of them knew, he might have left everything to the Church or a cousin they had never heard of or “a long-discarded mistress,” Miles had once speculated, “who’s become a nun and will pray forever for his soul.”

 

‘I doubt it,“ Tom had said. ”If he was going to do a thing like that, he’d tell us, to watch us writhe.“

 

With that Hugh fully agreed, so it was not to avoid something he feared to hear that Tom was delaying as he turned from Sir William and Master Wyck and said, “Hugh, help me here. Mother doesn’t need more today. She—”

 

Lady Anneys straightened, lifted her head, and quietly, firmly interrupted him. “I’ve said that I’m ready.” She looked at Master Wyck, waiting in front of her with papers in his hand. “If you think this time is good, then let’s be done with it. Go on.”

 

‘Lady Anneys,“ Sir William said kindly, ”this may not be wise.“

 

Lady Anneys looked past Master Wyck and Tom to Hugh and Miles. “Hugh. Miles. What do you say?”

 

Hugh hesitated. It was Miles who answered, “If you say now, then now it should be.”

 

Lady Anneys returned her quiet gaze to Master Wyck. “Now, sir, if you please.”

 

He made her a small bow and said to the rest of them, “If you would care to be seated, gentlemen?”

 

Miles promptly hitched a hip onto the edge of the table. Hugh and Sir William sat on the benches. Tom hesitated, looked at his mother, who understood what he was silently asking and nodded at Sir Ralph’s chair. “Now, for you, too,” she said with a smile. And he sat down in it.

 

‘Well done,“ Miles said, lightly mocking. ”You fit.“

 

Tom shifted a little uneasily, settling himself more firmly, and turned his heed to Master Wyck.

 

The attorney had stayed standing, his papers at the ready. With them settled, he briefly bowed his head to them all and said, “What I have here is Sir Ralph’s will, with his sign and seal upon it, witnessed by my clerk and Master Carrow. I think you are acquainted with Master Carrow, my lady?”

 

‘The saddler in Banbury. Yes.“

 

‘Another copy, likewise signed, sealed, and witnessed, is in my keeping in Banbury. The provisions of the will are much as you probably expect. If there’s no objection, I will summarize, rather than read them out at length?“ He paused and, when no one objected, went on, ”Of course to Master Miles Woderove goes the manor of Goscote in Leicestershire, as entailed.“

 

‘And be damned to Sir Ralph,“ Miles muttered, so low only Hugh heard him. Miles’ hands, clenched one around the other, eased. He had been waiting, Hugh realized, for one final bitterness from his grandfather.

 

‘This manor of Woodrim,“ Master Wyck went on, ”goes to Master Thomas Woderove with all appurtenances and rights and so forth.“ He made a general gesture with one hand. ”You are already well acquainted with what those are, I’m sure, Master Woderove. Also all other of his properties except as are otherwise given elsewhere in this will. Master Hugh Woderove is to have the hounds, all that goes with them, and his horse and his father’s recommendation as a worthy and skilled huntsman and master of hounds, should he need or choose to seek other hire than with his brother.“ Master Wyck paused and looked at Hugh. ”I have that recommendation in my possession, written out in his own hand, signed and sealed, against such time as you may desire it.“

 

Hugh made an acknowledging nod, caught between surprised pleasure and complete relief. Until now he had not dared let himself think about what might happen with him now Sir Ralph was dead. Here and the hounds were all he knew and if he had lost them…

 

‘You are likewise to have such property as Sir Ralph held in Banbury and Northampton,“ Master Wyck went on. ”Also ten marks in coin or else property to that amount upon such time as you marry, so long as you marry with Lady Anneys’ approval and before you are thirty years of age.“

 

Miles insufficiently smothered a laugh. Hugh slapped the back of a hand against his leg and muttered, “Shut up.”

 

Tom was trying but failing to hold in a grin. Their mother was a little frowning but whether with displeasure or disquiet Hugh could not tell.

 

Master Wyck continued, “Lady Elyn, having already been provided with her dowry upon her marriage, has no further provision made for her. As is usual and as I think you knew?” he inquired of Lady Anneys and Sir William together. They both nodded that they did. Unless a daughter were also an heiress, her inheritance was usually considered complete upon her marriage. “For his other daughters, Sir Ralph has provided as much for their marriages as was given with Lady Elyn, so long as they marry with your approval, Lady Anneys, though if Ursula chooses to become a nun she shall have five marks more than otherwise.” Master Wyck cleared his throat. “There are a variety of other provisions made, mostly concerning Masses for his soul…”

 

Hugh kicked Miles’ foot and Miles choked his laughter into a smothered cough.

 

‘I’ll leave those to Master Woderove“—he nodded respectfully to Tom—”and the executors to read in detail. It is the matter of the executors, however, that I should like to directly address.“

 

Tom leaned forward. “Is this where the bastard twists us over?”

 

‘Tom,“ Lady Anneys said.

 

‘Three executors are appointed,“ Master Wyck said. ”Lady Anneys. Sir William Trensal. Master Hugh Woderove.“

 

Tom looked at Hugh, his surprise matching Hugh’s own, and Hugh let his discomfort and discomfiture show with a frown. He had neither expected nor wanted that duty. Tom shook his head, telling him that he didn’t care, and said to Master Wyck, “Sir William is to be main executor, I suppose?”

 

Master Wyck hesitated before admitting, somewhat uncomfortably, “In truth… no.”

 

‘No?“ Again Tom’s surprise matched Hugh’s. ”Then who is?“

 

Master Wyck bowed his head to their mother. “Lady Anneys.”

 

She drew in her breath and said, sharp with protest, “He would never have given me that!”

 

‘He did, my lady,“ Master Wyck assured her. He cleared his throat. ”With conditions, however.“

 

‘Ah. Conditions,“ Miles said.
”This
is where the bastard twists us over.“

 

Chapter 4

 

They are not so bad as that,“ Master Wyck said stiffly. ”There are, however, certain provisions that I thought best to make known as soon as possible, particularly concerning you, my lady.“

 

‘Please, then,“ Lady Anneys said. Her face was calm, her voice was even, but her hands were clasped tightly together in her lap. ”Continue.“

 

Master Wyck cleared his throat again. “It might be best if I read them out to you as they stand, so there can be no mistaking.”

 

‘We’re in for it,“ Miles said, for only Hugh to hear. Hugh jerked a fist sideways against his thigh to shut him up.

 

‘What Sir Ralph willed is this,“ Master Wyck said. ” ’To my wife Lady Anneys Woderove, besides her dower lands I leave ten marks yearly, such sum to be paid from such lands as our son Thomas inherits in his name and from such heirs as follow him, for the term of her life or until she fails in such provision as here follows, namely that she live chastely, virtuously, and unmarried. Likewise, she is to have full say and rule concerning our unmarried children’s marriages as given above but her rights therein to be utterly lost should she marry or prove, by the determination of her fellow executors, to have been unchaste or lived unvirtuously. Should such happen, the right and control of such of our children as are yet unmarried and the rights and profits of their marriages shall fall to my other executors, with Sir William Trensal to become chief executor with final say in all matters and the ten marks yearly that were hers to go to him in her stead. Likewise, should any child go against her wishes in the matter of their marrying or against Sir William Trensal’s wishes in like matter, should she fail in her duty as above stated and her rights fall to him, their inheritance is to be utterly and finally lost, to pass to their heir as hereafter given in this will.‘“

BOOK: The Hunter’s Tale
6.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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