From Day 1
One of my chores is to help carry all meals from the kitchen to the great hall. That night, I glanced around the castle yard from the kitchen doorway. I could not see any signs of attack, though I was not sure what the signs of attack would be.
As I entered the hall, the round stone fireplace in the center of the hall was giving the whole building light and heat. I was in the main room that ran the length of the hall and was where all of us servants and men-at-arms slept and ate. Ahead were the heavy, woven wall hangings along the back wall. Behind the hangings were three rooms. Off to my left, was the men’s dressing room where I never went. Off to my right was the women’s dressing room where I went twice a day. In front of me was the Earl’s bedroom where I was never to go.
I wondered, What is it like to have a bed chamber all to oneself. Is it too lonely? No, if it is lonely, a man as powerful as the Earl would order us to keep him company.
That night in the great hall, five tables were set up for supper. The head table was between the fireplace and the center wall hanging. Four other tables were on the other side of the fireplace facing the head table.
Rowena and I carried pitchers of weak ale for the head table and adult tables. Aethel carried the water pitcher for the children’s table where we always sat.
I started shivering from cold in the chilly, evening air. I heard a few adults at the servants’ table grumble about not being able to have an evening fire and how a fire was still necessary in early May. Despite being cold, I stayed where I was and did not fetch myself a cloak from the dressing room.
When most people had finished eating, Father stood up to speak. He was up at the head table where he sat with my mother and Sir Jehann. Standing in his blue tunic, everyone looked up from their plates and mugs.
“As you all heard this afternoon,” he began, “King Henry’s army has arrived. The King is not here. The army is led by Lord Roger de Montgomery. Sir Jehann and I have spoken to Lord Roger. He intends to take this castle. Whether he will attack or lay a siege, we do not yet know.”
“What we do know is that our sworn liege, Earl Robert of Belesme, told us to hold this castle. We do not surrender. He is even now in Shrewsbury where he is concluding his talks with the Welsh princes who supplied two hundred stone masons and laborers to build the castle walls this last year. The Earl has made plans with the Welsh princes to give him an army so that he can fight the army of King Henry of England. He will return from Shrewsbury with this large army of his own. The Earl will send the King’s knights running back to their mothers.”
My father paused while many of the Saxons laughed at the image of full-grown Norman knights running like babies.
“Yes,” he resumed, “you are used to fighting Welsh rebels and hunting their cowardly leaders. Yes, you are not used to siege warfare. But rest assured that Sir Jehann, William, Chrestian and I have learned our Norman tactics of sieges and battles well. Bridgnorth will hold until the Earl returns. As the Earl told you before he left, he should be back here within two weeks.”
As Father sat back down at the head table, Jehann leaned over to compliment him on the fine speech. Or at least that looked like what he was saying. I could not tell for sure from the other side of the hall.
Rowena leaned over Edric to me and whispered, “By our lady, am I glad that was your father speaking. Jehann might have jabbered all night in that thick accent of his.”
I nodded quickly in agreement.
I thought, Will the army keep Earl Robert away? Are we really in danger of dying? Images of my mother and father lying dead in the hall filled my mind. I shuddered. I could feel my heart start to beat faster.
I started to eat again to chase away the scary thoughts. It only worked for a minute. Then I was back to wondering what the army looked like and how many knights were there. I realized my mind would not be at ease until I saw them.
When I finished eating, I helped to clear the mugs off the tables. Clearing them after meals was another one of my chores. Some mugs I could carry two in a hand and others four in a hand. No one potter had made them, so they were in no one size. The sun had recently set, so I could not scan the castle yard for signs of attack. I simply walked as fast as I could to the kitchen and hoped.
As soon as the tables were cleared off, the men lifted the tables to the side of the hall at Father‘s command.
Rowena came up behind me and whispered, “I will not be able to sleep. I am far too fearful.”
What should I say? I feel fear too, but Father will not want me making her worse, I thought.
“It will be fine. The Earl will be back soon,” I said, hoping my voice shared my father’s confidence.