The Abbot of Beaulieu was a stern judge, and the charges against Hordle John, the novice, were very severe. John had drunk all the ale from the firkin when he had the first turn; John had held a monk’s head down over the beans in protest against poor fare; worst of all, John had carried a woman across a stream. When she smiled at him, he did not keep his eyes on the ground.
At the trial, huge John seemed out of place in a monastery. He cheerfully admitted the charges and did not even have the grace to be ashamed; but when the monks advanced to punish him, he picked up an altar and threw it at them. Then he dived out of the window and was never seen again in Beaulieu.
The Abbot was greatly disturbed and retired to his study to meditate. There he received another visitor, Alleyne Edricson. It was Alleyne’s twentieth birthday, and according to his father’s will, the boy was to leave the abbey for a year. When he was twenty-one years old, he would choose either a monastic or a secular life. Alleyne had never known any other life than that of the abbey, and he was hesitant about entering a world of sin and lust. The Abbot solemnly warned Alleyne of the perils of the secular life; but true to his promise, he sent the youth forth with his blessing.
Alleyne started on foot for the estate of Minstead, where his older brother was the socman. Alleyne had never seen his brother, but from all reports, he was a rude and sinful man. On this, his first trip into the world, Alleyne was continually alarmed at the sin his eyes beheld on every hand. Two robbers who molested an old woman were summarily executed on the spot by the king’s bailiffs. Shaken by what he saw, Alleyne thankfully turned into the shelter of the Pied Merlin Inn to spend his first night away from the abbey.
There he found a rough company drinking and quarreling. Hordle John was there, making merry in his cups but kindly disposed toward the timid clerk. When a minstrel took up his harp and began to sing a bawdy song, Alleyne stood up and cried shame on the company for listening. The rough travelers shouted him down, and they would have done hurt to Alleyne if John had not risen to defend the clerk.
At that instant, Samkin Aylward burst in, bearing letters from France to Sir Nigel of nearby Christchurch. The White Company of English bowmen wanted Sir Nigel to lead them in the war against Spain. Samkin was trying to recruit other bowmen, and Hordle John agreed to go with him. Alleyne refused because he was intent on seeing his brother.
The next morning, Alleyne came to the park of the Socman of Minstead. There he saw a strange sight. A great, yellow-bearded man held a struggling girl and appeared determined to drag her into the house. Alleyne ran up to the rescue, armed with his iron-tipped staff. Only after Alleyne had threatened to run his staff through the yellow-beard was he informed that his adversary was his brother. Furious at being balked by clerkly Alleyne, the socman ran to the stables and whistled for his hunting dogs. Alleyne and the girl escaped into the woods.
The girl’s page soon found them, and she rode away with a brilliant, mocking smile of thanks. Alleyne resolved to join John and Aylward and take service with Sir Nigel. He hurried to catch up with them before they arrived at Christchurch.
Alleyne’s first view of Sir Nigel was disappointing. The lord was a slight, squinting, soft-spoken man, apparently the least warlike of nobles. Alleyne, however, changed his mind. A giant bear broke his chain and charged down the road, where he scattered all in front of him. Sir Nigel, however, merely looked in his nearsighted way to see the cause of the disturbance. Then, unarmed, he walked up to the maddened bear and flicked the animal across the snout with his silk handkerchief. Discomfited, the bear retired in confusion and was soon rechained by the bearward. Then Alleyne...
(The entire section contains 1352 words.)
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