“I swear to God in the Heavens, Simon, should ye sing that tune again I will off with your head!”
“Ah, temper temper Earl, you know I must yet sing it. It’s part of me minstrel cycle!”
“Really? Art thou proud of thineself? Every minstrel I’ve ever had has made that joke, Simon, originality finds you not!”
“♫ The Fourth Earl of Cambridge, in aguish and peril, might seem so restrained but quite frankly he’s”
“Dare not finish it, minstrel. Thou has been warned.”
“♫ But quite frankly he’s f…”
“♫ But quite frankly he’s feral!”
“For the last time, I am not feral in appearance nor demeanor. I demand you tell me, from whom do these rumors come?”
“Eh eh Earl? That’s, that’s Sir Frederick to you!”
“Well Fred, the rumors come not from a person but from your actions. You have the largest castle north of London, yet you trot along on steed in the wilderness…”
“Wherein does the relevance lie?! And it’s not Fred! It’s Sir Fred-er-ick!”
“Seems like you are justifying it a bit, Freddy, that is all. ♫ Heeeeee has….”
“Don’t you start singing again! By, by all the power vested in me from the King, if you sing another song about me I’ll, I’ll, I’ll”
“♫ Heeee has trouble completing his poorly made threats, as he stutters, he fumes at the fact I don’t fret! His big pillars will compensate in his great hall, to make up for the fact that he lacks kingly balls!”
“Oh that is it! Guards! Cut off his head! Cut it o…oh by all that is good and green in this land, where’s he gone? Find him! Find him and and kill him, do as I say! I fucking hate bloody minstrels!”
“I might be on me minstrel cycle, Earl, but I am not bloody!”
After shouting his final comment from the nearby woods, Simon found himself in a familiar situation; on the run again. He was a revered minstrel for his voice and quick wit but was infamous for offending lords and ladies and others of importance. This was the most powerful person for whom he had ever accompanied, and in one journey he lost his title and nearly his head. His father, Roland, was a cook who was executed by the late King Theobald, for serving him food that did not appease him. Ever since he longed for the opportunity to get revenge on the lords and ladies of England, and it was his desire for revenge that kept him going as he ran away through the woods. With cittern slung over his maroon and evergreen garments and his pointy goatee leading the way like a needle on a compass, he trudged through the dense wilderness. Simon had been chased through the woods where he managed his way to hiding up in a tree. With most of the leaves having already fallen this autumn he has little to shield him from sight. He was soon spotted and pleaded fiercely for mercy.
“♫ The lot of you blindly will follow your orders, if lords were to tell you to beat or to torture. You know me, not slowly, does word get around, if my words don’t appease you, does surely my sound. Admirers, I am your friend not your foe, only him do I mock, you will reap what you sow! I avenge my late father, who cooked for the king, and for father I write, and for Roland I sing! Theobald, father of Oriel, king, is the reason I write, and the reason I sing!”
Simon knew most of these men adored him, some for his songs and some just for his reputation, yet they adored him nonetheless. Still, the proceeded to cut down the tree, wielding axes and saws, and watched as he tumbled from its branches.
“Watch it, you nearly broke my cittern, you have!” Simon was immature and foolish, but was also very clever, cunning, and well-spoken. He was dragged back out onto the dirt carriage road upon which the company marched, though they were currently halted.
“Bring me the singing buffoon’s head. Any last words, Simon?” Sir Frederick was several inches shorter than the average heighted Simon, and many pounds heavier. He sported a neatly maintained beard, for the standards of the time, and wore a small crown indicating his significance. He was intelligent and fearsome, while simultaneously easily frustrated.
“Yes actually, thank you for asking, my majesty.”
“That’s YOUR majesty, you fool.”
“Yes madame that’s what I said, MY majesty.” Simon rolled his eyes and exhaled passively. “I actually have quite a few last words if I may.”
“Oh e-nough! Make it quick ‘fore the sword swing shall fall.”
“Very well, my majesty, I have ever heard of your reputation for making things end shortly and of how you cannot last long, so I’ll get right to it.” At this point Sir Frederick’s face was as red as a ripe apple and it looked as though his head was about to explode. “Punish me as you will, but spare my life. It’s really in your best interest, you see? I’m just a poor bloke who was orphaned when he was young. Kill me sure, you’re rid of my insults, but you’re also rid of my talents, which care you to admit or not, I have many. Lock me up if you see fit, but if I am alive I can still write you poems and ballads and songs. I may sometimes insult you, but I am capable or writing ballads of your excellence that will stand the tests of time. Think of it, Frederick, songs about you sung hundreds of years after your passing. Your legacy will live on eternally; you’ll be immortal. Just me on the carriage where I will be locked up far behind you.”
“He makes a good point my majesty,” said one of Sir Frederick’s guardsmen.
“Silence, Bertram, or I’ll have your head as well! And it’s YOUR majesty, YOUR, not MY! This minstrel is toxic!”
“But he writes better than any minstrel in England, sire, and everyone knows it. He could make your timeless with his songs, he could. You’d get a bad reputation if you killed him, with all due respect.”
“Oh. Oh why yes Bertram, ever have I been so appeased to have someone’s respect, especially after you spoke when I ordered you to be silent. Thank you for your “all due respect”, my gratitude is yours…”
“You’re welcome, sire.”
“I was being sardonic, you fool!” The Earl closed his eyes and slowly and deeply inhaled through his flaring nostrils. “One more word, Bertram, and ye will die too. Now, Sir Brahms, come forth and swing swiftly.”
“Hey Sire, well how come it’s Brahms who gets to haveth all the fun and chop off all the heads? That’s rubbish, I want to serve some justice!”
“Sir Brahms has ever been the First Knight of my company, Hubert, upon which fall the duties of execution. I respect your desire to serve justice, nonetheless. Sir Brahms, what say you?”
“Aye, Sire,” said Sir Brahms, the Earl’s right hand man, who spoke deeply, slowly, and seldom. Although most men loved Simon, there were some to whom he never appealed. “Hubert can hack off the head of this singing fool. I care not, so long as he dies.”
“♫ The Earl, the brazen, the infinite lord, the shaper of shields and the swinger of swords. Behold, on his head, is a marvelous crown, made of jewels, made of gold, as a queen’s wedding gown.”
“Oh save your flattery you fool, it is far too late for that. Now, Hubert, lest I lose my patience and do it myself.”
“I, Hubert, Guard of the Company of Sir Frederick, The Fourth Earl of Cambridge, Under Authority of His Majesty King Oriel I, sentence you, Simon the miscreant fucking minstrel, to die.” He raised his steel shiny sword into the air with one hand, brought it down to his chest to meet his other hand, and with a loud shout and a clockwise rotation swung as hard as he could down towards Simon’s kneeling, helpless figure. Much commotion followed, for though hated by the Earl and his closest guardsman, he was cherished by the majority of the company. Hubert, who was much stronger than he was bright and who possessed a desire to prove himself, looked down with pride at the lifeless body of Simon. To his dismay, Simon’s head remained on his body. Hubert kicked him out of rage, to which Simon regained consciousness and stumbled to his feet, quite wearily.
“Why is your head still on your fucking body?” Barked Hubert, disgusted, enraged, and embarrassed. It was his first attempt at an execution and he failed to make his mark.
“The little shit is wearing chainmail under his cloak, running up to his neck. Your blow landed too low, it did.” Scolded Sir Brahms, in a quiet and belittling manner.
“Alright, then, Your Highness, Your Majesty. You…you have made your point clear. Your threats cometh across quite valid. Forgive me.”
“That is correct, Simon,” said Sir Frederick looking up at Simon as he grabbed him by the collar, “And if we ever have this problem again it will be Sir Brahms landing the blow, and he will not miss. Now get the bloody hell out of my sight before I changeth my mind.”
“♫ Sir Frederick, merciful, lord of the land, holds his strength in his fist and my fate in his hand. Remember this day all who witnessed good deeds, the reaper of rye and the sower of seeds. He spares life and spreads light in places he goes, the planter of hope is the reason it grows!”
“Yes, yes, very good. Write ballads of the like and I might keep you alive. Bertram, taketh the bard to the cage where out of my sight he can write more songs of my greatness.”
So Simon did a cocky bow, and escorted himself back to the prisoner carriage near the rear of the company, with Bertram following him to lock him in. He in fact was quite tired of walking anyways and wanted to be able to sit and ride along in the carriage. Sir Frederick, upon arrival for a conference in London with the king, was issued on a quest to travel to many of the castles and villages north of London to give their lords and ladies ordinances from the king. He traveled with a large banded company of nearly 1,000 people, mostly soldiers, some doctors, a few navigators, a few blacksmiths, his personal guardsmen, and even a minstrel. They were only just approaching their first of many stops, at Chelmsford, when Simon nearly lost his head. As soon as he sat in the carriage he began to sing again, despite the sharp pain in the back of his neck and in his ribs from where he was kicked, making all of the guardsmen laugh. They adored him and many had heard of him for years. In between songs they’d hound him with compliments and questions.
“♫ Oh Freddy was ready to kill me he thought, but forget it instead he put me in this spot. No more do I walk with my feet on the grass, I sing songs, ride along, and sit here on my ass.” A roar of laughter and applause came from the men, who were so far behind the Earl that he could hardly hear the commotion.
“Oh bravo, Simon! Tell me, where do you come from?” Asked Bertram, the guardsman who adored him who had escorted him back to the carriage.
“Here and there, really. London, I suppose. I was born in London and traveled around with me father ‘til he passed. My home is wherever the road taketh me.”
“How was that grumpy ol’ Earl lucky enough to snag you up for his company, then? He never did say.”
“I was in London and the king knew who I was, apparently. I was working for some lord at the time, but ever did he despise me, I dare say I’ve forgotten the bloke’s name. But the king came and had me escorted to Freddy since the king was the one who was ordering the quest. I wasn’t fond of Freddy at first, he used to grovel to me, big fan I suppose, but alas I inspired him to hate me without much difficulty and so he thusly grew on me. I’ve only known him a month or so, since the start of the quest. Mean bastard almost took me bloody life today…and I’ve never fancied him more.”
“That maketh no sense, Simon. He tries to kill you, right, and you fancy him for it?”
“I hate these high and mighty lords and ladies, so the more they hate me back the more I like them. For years I have been singing songs about the worst parts of them to embarrass and anger them. Foolishly, they all assume that they are greater than my previous patrons, that I will only sing praises of them, and so ever quick are they to have me and with such a respect do they greet me. Yet always I treat them all the same, and they change their minds about me. Idiots. Best part is how easy it is, people get offended so easily which makes it all the more fun to offend them. I hope one day to accompany the bloody king himself!
“I mean the ol’ Earl is a grump, and no mistaking it, but not all lords are so deplorable. What are you on about?”
“Well, Bertram, I disagree. My mother died ‘fore I was old enough for memories, right? And I have no siblings. It was always just me and my father, Roland. He was a cook for the king, Oriel’s father, King Theobald. Theo didn’t like a meal he made one time, said it was undercooked, so he took my father’s head. Would have taken mine too if I didn’t hide and run away. Orphaned, on the run, alone, I just started writing poems and songs about the people around me. It distracted me from, life, see, doing that. I was a bard in the slums of London until I got picked up by a passing lord and became an official minstrel of the crown.”
“So you just want vengeance then?”
“Well sure I do. The joking around and writing humorous songs is what keeps my spirits up, making people laugh. But underlying resentment for the lords and ladies is still there for what Theo did to my father. I’d like to accompany his son, King Oriel, since he’s dead now. Tell Oriel to his face what scum his father was for killing mine.”
“Well knowing your reputation you could easily get to the king one day. But why then, Simon, would you risk your life by pushing Sir Frederick’s buttons as you did?”
“To be honest, Bertram, I thought that Frederick had not the anger or temper to sentence me to die, I thought the little fucker was a pushover. Looks like I was wrong, that was a close one. Had me up in a tree and then on my knees. I’d have kept my mouth shut if I thought he would actually snap.
“Oh I could have warned you, there. Sir Frederick might be slow to act and easy for you to get a reaction out of, but he’s not afraid to chop your head off, he’s not.”
“Apparently,” Simon replied giving Bertram a humorous look.
“Suppose you learned that by now then,” said Bertram very seriously.
“You, you; you’re not very bright, Bertram. Not at all. But you’re alright.” Bertram looked at Simon and smiled, seeming to have missed the fact that he was just insulted. A man on a horse came riding quickly past the company, heading forward towards the earl. Minutes later he and Sir Brahms, also on a steed, came riding back to the rear of the company with news for Bertram.
“Bertram! This is Sir Paige, official messenger of King Oriel, he has just arrived from London. We will be turning and heading back to London to meet with the king as he has business to discuss with Sir Frederick. Inform the men back here.” Sir Brahms and Sir Paige rode away hastily back to the earl.”
“Looks like I might get my chance to meet the king after all,” said Simon to Bertram.
“What will you say to him, do you suppose?”
“♫ Your father was Theodore, weak and not noble, he sat in his throne cowardly and immobile. He sentenced poor Roland to die out the blue, to avenge his cruel death now I’m here to kill you…Then, hopefully, I’ll be in a position to kill the bastard.”
“Seems awfully risky,” said Bertram, “But I suppose if it will maketh you feel better.”
“It shall,” replied Simon with a smile. The company of men changed course onto a crossroad and headed south for London, where Simon hoped he would find his way to the king. The Earl, who had heard much of the commotion caused by the soldiers’ interest in Simon, had made his way back to cage, angrily.
“I leave for two minutes and you’re already distracting half of my company! Knock it off or you’re done. Two times in five minutes I’ve wanted your head. You, Simon, are the worst.”
“Why thank you my majesty! ♫ Heeeee!”
“I swear to God in the Heavens, Simon, should ye sing that tune again I will off with your head!”