"God gave me keen sight in the dark hours. A curse, I am, to the hares in winter," Robert replied as he walked up to Thomas. Then all brightness faded from his eyes."How fares my nephew?" he asked, his voice now hoarse with concern.
"All is well. Sister Anne says that God will spare the child. The crisis has passed, and the boy sleeps well."
Robert spun around. "Elwyn," he shouted to a portly man with the red face of one who spends much time sampling his own sauces. "Make sure the best portion of that boar is saved for my nephew." He gestured at Thomas. "Our good brother tells me Richard is recovering!" When Robert turned back to the monk, his smile was broad and joyous. "God be praised!"
"And Sister Anne. I've never known a more skilled hand in the healing arts." Thomas was about to say more when he noticed a servant tossing aside a branch that had been used to transport the boar. "I need that limb," he cried out, then turned back to Robert as the man brought him the bough. "Between the rich meat of a lusty boar and a stick sturdy enough for me to make your nephew a hobbyhorse for riding through the passageways at Wynethorpe, I do believe he will be both a healthy and a happy boy."
"You are a kind man to think of that."Robert slapped Thomas on the shoulder. "Although we may live to regret your gift. Richard will destroy any peace with his valiant joustings at such imaginary foes as his grandfather's shadow or my cloak. If you are so fortunate, he may even deem you a good replacement for the Welsh dragon. Your red hair might warrant such a conclusion." Robert's look was affectionate, but his gaze was distant. "Despite his youth, he has all the markings of his crusader father."
"Have you word of your elder brother?"
"Hugh may love his family with a whole heart, but he is not known for the diligence with which he sends us messages. We have heard that he is in good health, however, from those to whom he has given generouslyreturning soldiers, motley friars, and assorted beggars. We are most fortunate that they remember his kindness well and do bring us word of him. Nonetheless, he will not return home until the Lord Edward comes back to England."
Thomas wondered in silence about Robert's future when his elder brother did return. On the way from Tyndal, Prioress Eleanor told him that her father had put this second son in charge of the Wynethorpe lands in Hugh's absence. Robert had shown both inclination and even greater talent for the work, if a loving sister could be considered a fair judge. With the heir's return, however, Thomas knew well that a younger son must find another way to earn his meat.
As if he had read the monk's thoughts, Robert continued. "By the time he does come home, our lord father will have me married off to the Lady Juliana of Lavenham. She comes with enough lands to make me quite rich with her dowry, and those lands are close enough to my father's that I may continue to watch over his as well until Hugh is ready to choose his own steward." He clasped Thomas by the shoulder and shook him affectionately. "Fear not! I am not destined to become your new prior at Tyndal. I'd rather study Walter of Henley's Husbandry than the Venerable Bede's instructive writings on abbots and saints. Unlike you, neither Hugh nor I is inclined to a contemplative vocation, good monk. A sister already encloistered provides intercession with God and prayers enough on behalf of this family and its sins!"
Thomas smiled at Robert's assumption that he had entered a cloistered life prompted by any calling whatsoever, but there was no reason to shatter the man's illusion. "You are betrothed then?"
"Almost as we speak, or so I believe. The lady's father and Henry, her eldest brother, came to meet with my father on the contract not long after you, my sister, and her sub-infirmarian arrived to care for my nephew. The Lady Juliana accompanied them for a swift courtship and as companion to her father's wife. Have you not seen the family or passed them in the hall outside your quarters?"
From Tyrant of the Mind by Priscilla Royal. Copyright Priscilla Royal 2004. All rights reserved.
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