Thursday 21 December 2017

Diamond Tales: Diamonds in the Mud by Anna Belfrage

This little story assumes that Edward II did not die in September of 1327 but instead was smuggled out of England to live out his life in Europe. Anna Belfrage is not the only person expressing doubts as to Edward II’s death – historian Ian Mortimer is of the same opinion. 

Diamonds in the Mud


Anna Belfrage

“Bruges? Why Bruges?”
“Why not?”
“Because it is in the wrong direction?” Egard said. “We’re supposed to go south. Italy you said, m’lord, not Bruges.”
“Ah.” Edward tapped his nose. “I changed my mind. Happens my dear friend the Pope  suggested I go to Bruges.”
“The Pope?” Egard slid his lord a look. Well, lord and lord: Egard had been given the lifelong task of ensuring Edward of Caernarvon, until recently King Edward II, never returned to England, which made him as much Edward’s jailer as his servant.
Edward grinned. “A man of a tender conscience, is our John. And as he can’t help me reclaim my throne, he offered to help me in another way.”
“You can’t reclaim your throne,” Egard said. “If you try, I must kill you.”
“If you can,” Edward replied. He held up his hand. “I have no desire to claim my throne. It would oblige me to punish my son – brutally – and I don’t want to do that. He’s his mother’s pawn in all this. Besides, the Pope’s compensation sounds interesting.”
“Gold?” Egard hoped so. Aye, they were travelling with heavy purses and had some further treasures in the safekeeping of a Lombard banker, but Edward was a man of expensive habits. Only the best wine, the softest linen for him. And as to horses… Egard eyed his companion’s mount and sighed. A horse like that attracted more attention than they needed. Not that anyone but a fool was out and about on a day like this. Egard sniffed the air: snow in the making and already the wind was rising, gathering speed over the flat landscape that surrounded them.
“I’d hazard we will find out soon enough.” Edward set spurs to his horse and set off in a burst of speed before bringing the beast to an abrupt halt. “Egard!” he yelled. “Come!”
Far less spirited, Egard’s mount had to be coaxed into a reluctant canter, the heavy hooves thudding against the ground.
“Look,” Edward said when Egard caught up with him. He pointed at several birds flying in circles some distance away.
“A dead sheep?” Egard suggested, narrowing his eyes. Crows and a couple of kites. Whatever it was, Egard would wager it was dead.
“I think not.” Edward was already guiding his horse towards the birds. “Can’t you see the cart?”
Egard wasn’t about to admit that his eyesight was far less keen than that of his lord, albeit Edward had at least a decade on him.
They halted their horses some distance away from the upended cart. A litter was lying on its side, spilling pillows and torn covers. Three dead men-at-arms lay staring at the grey sky, to the side a frail old man was moaning, his limbs churning the bloody mud in which he was lying. From beneath the cart came the sound of someone weeping and under a stand of shrubs was a woman. Dead, Egard reckoned, the wind lifting the thin, bloodstained material of her veil.
“Robbers?” Egard asked, dismounting. Edward was already moving from body to body.
“It would seem so.” Edward sounded grim. “May the good Lord receive these unfortunate souls into Heaven.” He closed the eyes of the dead men and knelt beside the old man. “Help me turn him over.”
Egard did as told and used a corner of his cloak to wipe some of the mud away from the man’s face.
Guiseppe! Dove รจ Guiseppe?” the old man said.
“It’s Italian,” Edward said. He spoke, a rapid collection of words that meant nothing to Egard. He left the old man in Edward’s care and went to inspect the cart. Trapped beneath it was a lad, his fine garments torn and muddied.
“Can you move?” Egard asked in French. In response the lad pointed at his leg, pinned to the ground by the cart.
“If you lift, I’ll pull him free,” Edward suggested, grimacing when his fine new boots sunk to their ankles in the mud.
It took several tries. Egard was sweating with exertion and out of breath by the time the lad was dragged free, squealing like a stuck pig. The old man crawled towards them, repeating the lad’s name over and over.
“His leg is broken,” Egard said, studying the lad’s misaligned leg.
“Aye.” Edward said something to the old man who chattered right back, all the while wringing his hands. Edward nodded. “We have to get the lad to a physician. Do you think we can use the litter?” he asked Egard. “Harness it to our horses perhaps? Those accursed robbers stole their horses as well—and all their valuables.”
“We can try.” Egard gestured at the dead. “What do we do with them?”
“What can we do? The ground’s frozen solid.” Edward pursed his lips. “Maybe we could cover them with the cart.”
“And the woman?”
Edward turned to the old man and received an earful of high-pitched sounds in return.
“His daughter,” he explained. “She must go with us.”
“Poor lad, to share the litter with his dead mother.”
“Sister, actually. And it can’t be helped.”
The old man insisted on wrapping his daughter alone, tucking the folds of her garments tight round her body. Only when she was entirely shrouded did he allow Egard to carry her to the litter.
An hour or so later they were finally on their way, Egard and Edward on foot. “How fortunate they were headed to Bruges,” Egard commented.
Edward snorted. “My dear Egard, every merchant in the world heads for Bruges. From the north come the members of the Hanseatic League, from Castile come the wool merchants and from Italy come those who deal with the luxuries of the far east.”
“So what luxuries did those robbers steal?”
“Silk, mostly.”
“Well, they have nothing to sell now. I hope they have friends in Bruges, otherwise they’ll likely starve.”
“Hmm,” Edward said, his bright blue eyes narrowing as he studied the old man, at present astride Egard’s horse. “For a man who has lost not only his daughter but also all his worldly goods, he remains quite composed.”

Egard shrugged. People reacted differently to tragedies. He glanced back to check on the lad and came to an abrupt halt. The lad was busy with his sister’s clothes, a small knife slashing the seams of her heavy kirtle. “What…” He broke off when one of the seams tore, spilling a multitude of glittering stones. The lad tried to stop them from falling to the ground, but several slipped through his fingers to land in the mud.
“Guiseppe!” The old man somehow made it off the horse and came tottering towards the litter. He spewed words, and this time Egard had no need of a translation. The old man was furious, whacking his son over his head repeatedly.
Egard collected the stones, one by one. A dozen or so lay in the palm of his hand and glittered like drops of ice on a winter morning.
“What are they?” he asked. In response, the old man grabbed his hand. “Mine!” he said in French. “Give them to me. They are mine!”
Egard was too tall and too big for the old man to hold. He shook off the old man as if he were an enervating flea and repeated his question.
“Glass?” Edward suggested, peering down at the little stones.
“Glass?” The old man laughed shrilly. “Yes, yes, it’s just glass. Venetian glass. So give them to me. Please. They’re mine.” He half-sobbed. “Mine.”
“Well, if they’re only glass you won’t mind us keeping these,” Edward said. “A small compensation for coming to your aid.” He smiled – one of those frosty smiles the erstwhile king excelled at, causing men’s bowels to cramp. Egard smothered a chuckle at the look on the old man’s face. Glass? Not likely.
A moan from the lad had all of them looking his way. He had paled, the makeshift bandage round his leg dark with blood.
“We’d best make haste,” Edward said. “The lad may well die unless we get some help.”
“Die?” The old man’s voice quavered. “My son?”
Egard inspected the bandage and covered the shivering boy with his cloak. “How far to Bruges?”
Edward looked north. “Two hours, I’d reckon.”
Egard shook his head slightly. The lad was not doing well.

They arrived in Bruges just as the last of the daylight faded away. Fortunately, the city gate still stood open and they hurried across the narrow bridge over the double moat. Inside the city walls was a network of cobbled streets, of canals and imposing stone buildings rising several storeys in the air. To the distance, a tower rose towards the sky and just as they rode through an arch, bells began to ring, a right cacophony of sounds.
“A huge belfry,” Edward exclaimed, stopping for a moment to gaze at the tower.
Si, si,” the old man said. It was the first thing he’d said since the incident with the glass pebbles. “Rings too often,” he muttered.
“You have been here before?” Egard asked.
Si. Usually, I come by ship.” He waved his hand in a vague westerly direction. “This time by land…” he crossed himself. “More fool I.”
They followed the old man’s directions to a house situated right by the main square.
“Ah, he’s Venetian,” Edward murmured after studying the embellished signs over the closed shop shutters.
“Whatever he is, let us hope his countrymen have access to a good healer.” Egard was already lifting the lad out of the litter. Some moments later, Edward and Egard were left standing in the street with their horses, the stout door to the house shut in their face.
“Well,” Edward said. “Not the politest way of expressing your gratitude.”
“No matter. I need food and a bed.”
“You always need food.” Edward mock punched him. “You eat like a horse, Egard.”
“Best make the best of things. Lent is soon upon us.”
While Egard arranged for stabling, Edward arranged for a room. He had the inn’s pretty maid bring them ale, food and extra wood for the hearth. Egard sat on a stool and leaned back against the wall, extending his feet towards the meagre warmth of the fire. He’d washed hands and face in a bucket of cold water, but blood still rimmed his finger nails.
“Will he survive?” he asked.
“The lad? In God’s hands.” Edward poured them both some ale. “But at least they have the wherewithal with which to pay for excellent treatment.” He pointed at Egard’s pouch. “Give it to me.”
Egard handed it over. Edward carefully shook out the little stones and lined them up on the table. The light from the candles caused them to sparkle.
“These,” Edward said, “are diamonds. Precious stones come all the way from India.”
“Diamonds,” Egard repeated. “Who told you?”
“I asked around while you were seeing to the horses.” He grinned. “The Venetians bring them to Europe and sell them at exorbitant prices.  The Romans believed them to be the tears of God, some say they are remnants of stars that have fallen to earth.” He picked one up and tilted it this way and that, causing the reflected light to set it ablaze. “Beautiful.”
“Aye.” Egard reached for some more bread. “What will you do with them?”
“Sell some, keep some.” He tapped a finger on the table. “And one I aim to send to my son. A constant reminder of the fact that his deposed father still lives.”
“He already knows that, m’lord.”
“I know.” Edward sighed. “Can’t say I envy him, having to cope with dear Isabella and that hell spawn Mortimer.”
“He’s too young to rule on his own.” Egard had long given up on protesting when Edward spoke ill of Mortimer, a man Egard held in very high regard.
“For now.” Edward grinned. “But soon…” He raised his mug. “To my son. May he prevail.”

Author’s note: For more about my take on Edward II, Edward III, Roger Mortimer and Isabella, I suggest you read my series The King’s Greatest Enemy featuring Adam de Guirande, a knight torn apart by his loyalties to his king and his first lord, Roger Mortimer. And yes, Egard plays a part too!

© Anna Belfrage

About Anna:
I was always going to be a writer - well in between being an Arctic explorer, a crusader or Richard Lionheart's favourite page (no double entendre intended - I was far too innocent at the time.) Anyway, not for me the world of nine to five, of mortgages and salary cheques. Oh no; I was going to be a free spirit, an impoverished but happy writer, slaving away in a garret room.

Life happened. (It does, doesn't it?) I found myself the bemused holder of a degree in Business Admin, and a couple of years later I was juggling a challenging career, four kids, a husband (or was he juggling me?) a jungle of a garden, a dog, a house ... Not much time for writing there, let me tell you. At most, I stole a moment here or there.

Fortunately, kids grow up. My stolen moments became hours, became days, weeks, months... (I still work. I no longer garden - one must prioritise) It is an obsession, this writing thing. It is a joy and a miracle, a constant itch and an inroad to new people, new places, new times.

find out more:
Twitter handle: @abelfrageauthor

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  1. A magnificent piece. I wanted to read more.

    1. Thank you! I am developing quite the fondness for Edward and toying with the idea of writing about his adventures in Europe.

  2. I love the idea of him running off to a peaceful life in Europe. And his character - fabulously venal. And I love this line:
    “Sell some, keep some.” He tapped a finger on the table. “And one I aim to send to my son. A constant reminder of the fact that his deposed father still lives.”

    1. He blows hot and cold re his son. I suspect the older Edward III gets, the less forgiving his father :)But I do feel he deserves some happy years

  3. I'm very intrigued about the boy's actions in revealing the diamonds. I'll sip my coffee slowly and ponder it for a bit longer. Thanks for an enticing read, Anna. :-)

  4. Great story - I loved the book and it was lovely to be reminded of it again. A great addition to our Tales. Thank you, Anna

  5. Well, my first early comment fell into the mud. Unlike the diamonds, it can't be retrieved.
    Great writing, Anna. Loved this line: "Egard slid his lord a look." So descriptive.

    1. Egard doesn't have it easy with his lord...err, prisoner. Glad you enjoyed it!

  6. Wonderful - it's great to be plunged straight into a story and to feel that you already know the characters. Enjoyed it immensely.

  7. Well, I just fell for Edward all over again. Great story, Anna! I know what just moved to the top of my holiday reading pile.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Wicked heroes - you can't help but love them.

  10. I'm discovering loads of diamonds in these stories. Yours is brilliant, Anna.


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