Roger the noble

by James

Hard as he squinted all Roger de Cecil could see were dark shadows through the sinewy fog. Cold was in his bones, and hazy through the gloom were echoes that formed words then became voices. John the mason, the low grunts of Ezra the miller, and this nasal whine that droned about the wheel of life which turned - where does it end, where does it begin, no one knows. Sam the wheelwright, of course. Man a bloody idiot, scarce better than a Frenchman, spouting the same night soil as when forester Will was laid out in the side parlour with an arrow through his right eye.

Marjorie, he needed his wife, his buffer against the village people. He could not call her name. He could not turn, he could not move. The fog was shifting, writhing into fingers of grey smoke feeling from the hearth to the rafters above. So he was laying in his bedchamber, but why then not alone?

The words faded and now he was aware of the soft sounds of a woman crying. Marjorie, it had to be. Tender affection swelled Roger's breast, he knew that sound, the quiet sob of thanks she always gave after he had once again quenched her woman's fire to his satisfaction. The sobbing was fading, but not into silence, the voice of his wife becoming richer and throatier.

Was that…laughter?

'Fools!' she said. 'Simple minded fools. Not one thought to wonder how the chimney came to fall!'

Roger surged with pride. The first chimney in the county, not even connected to any hearth, and what was higher status than a man with a useless chimney? It came back to him, stood there below with the priest and some of his richer vassals, telling them…something, and then.

And then nothing.

Roger was beginning to tremble. It started in his feet, creeping slowly ever higher, past his knees, then crowning the mighty summit of his belly and beginning to tingle in his chest. A sound was rising in the chamber, hints of cows in the field bellowing to be milked, but no, it was more, it was the same fell cry of the beast that stalked his wife whenever she went blackberry picking.

Roger bolted upright and a great whoosh flooded his ears.

He was sitting on a wooden trestle in a side chamber to the main hall. Marjorie was perched at the end of the trestle locked in embrace with the young steward of the house she had insisted they employ.

Something trickled into Roger's eyes. He touched his forehead finding wetness first, and then the ragged edge of bone and something soft beneath. There was no pain. Lots of blood, but no pain. He was not trembling. It was the trestle table shaking.

A great shrieking crescendo echoed around the chamber and the adulterous pair collapsed onto the legs of Roger. Marjorie was giggling.

'That was even better than doing it against his bloody chimney.'

She turned her gaze on her husband, look of mockery fading into one of horror.

Roger wanted to speak but the only sound to emerge was the chink of his teeth opening and closing.