Friday April 17th
Year of Our Lord 1220
I will be surprised if you ever read this letter, as George entrusted it to friends of his, and by their looks they are as vile a bunch of pirates as ever sailed the seas. Why am I not surprised? I expect Redcaps to have friends in low places, but it is clear that George has friends in the lowest of places, and there is more than whiff of brimstone about him. I can only assume your entrusting me to his tender care was your way of ensuring that my time in this miserable world was shortened, and that soon I can take my place among the communion of saints?
This morning I was awakened by softly falling rain, and for a moment thought I was back on that ghastly ship. Fortunately I was in fact safely asleep in the hayloft, with Erik close by to keep me safe. Bobbins had already got up, and headed up in to the pre-dawn mists to purchase fresh fish for today's meal (it being Friday), and at first I thought George attempting to make love to a cow, judging by the mournful sounds it was emitting, until I saw he was actually just completely failing to milk it,for he just tugged hard and seemed annoyed when the pail remained empty. Luckily Erik got up and was able to handle the task, and I watched spellbound as he delicately -- anyway Bobbins, returned, and Erik acquired some hens eggs and cheese, and two good loaves of some rye bread. We were ready to depart.
I remarked to Erik on the number of languages spoken in Wexford, and he told me the Charter of 1175 opens with the exhortation to the citizens ‘all present and future, French, English, Flemish, Welsh and Irish’. This is a most cosmopolitan little town, and I must say I am pleasantly surprised! We wanted to be out as soon as the gates open, well just after, as I needed to put my Parma up of course first. Just after dawn we approached the Cowgate, and passed by Selskar Abbey. It is built right up against the wall, and the tower actually forms part of the city wall. An impressive stone edifice, it looks more like a castle than a monastery, being highly defensible. One thing the Irish do very well is fortifications, that I must say. An Augustinian house, it was where Old King Henry did penance one lent for the murder of Thomas Becket, and also where the Bishops negotiated the surrender of the town to Strongbow and Diarmait Mac Murchada fifty years ago. I was curious to see what relics it contained, but time did not allow it today.
Originally my plan had been to head south to Bannow, a fine natural harbour and one of the busiest ports on the island, and the place where Strongbow first landed. I had heard tell of a small covenant where women were forbidden from George, and felt it was the natural place to begin my investigations, as so close to Wexford. What George had not revealed was said covenant is apparently on an island that is accessible only by boat, and apparently easily reached from Bannow. It might as well be right next door to the moon for all the chance there was of me going there in any thing that travelled on water. I therefore decided to strike inland, to where Bobbins assured me I could find a good road, to a town called New Ross.
Now New Ross is twenty miles from Wexford, and there are no real roads at all, barely even tracks, for much of the way. Given we would be crossing meadows and going through woods on rough paths, and that I can not abide the lurching motion of a cart or mule, even if the animal could abide me (which they can't - Erik minded me to say away from the cow lest the milk curdled) -- well I knew we had to set off as early as possible to arrive before the gates closed at sunset. Even then I frankly doubted we could make it.
Still we set off at a good paste, though a land wet with a soft rain, that seemed to sigh over the emerald green grass, like a lover weeping. I wished i was more skilled in Aquam, that I could safely cast Cloak of Duck's Feathers, but in the end decided I could face the rain and my mood, which has been surprisingly good for much of today, survived even the slow and persistent drenching. I noticed that Erik, and even Bobbins seemed not to notice the rain, so I decided to play the man and make no fuss. George was irritated by it, I could tell, and told me it "always bloody well rains here." I was not aware that Ireland was subject to droughts, but clearly it must be.
The countryside was unremarkable - in fact it reminded me of Kent, or perhaps Essex. I would say Norfolk or Suffolk, but there are more hills, and purple mountains loomed ahead of us - fortunately Ross is directly through a pass between two ranges. I was a little surprised to see Norse farmsteads, ringed by wooden palisades, for much of the journey. I had though they lived by the sea only, but no it seems they have settled some distance inland, and in fact I only saw a few Gael farms, each surprisingly built of stone and likewise defended by earthworks and palisades. Also along the way were a half dozen fortified manors of the English (who are nearly all Welsh), and we passed pleasantries with two of the knights riding their lands ensuring their cattle were safe from the depredations of Irish youths, for whom cattle rustling is no crime but a badge of honour. We saw one such unfortunates body, hanging from a tree; could not have been more than fifteen years of age, and clearly been there a while, the elements having turned his skin to leather. I explained to Bobbins who seemed as moved by I by this sight that the poor boy must have been caught in the act of stealing, as none of the local knights would possess the right of High Justice, but she just laughed in a rather unpleasant way. I considered conjuring his spirit forth to speak and prove my point, but then realised this may upset Bobbins even more, so I left the matter there.
The manors we passed, and even the Irish and Norse farms are remarkable fertile Erik remarked, and yield fine crops. Certainly there was every sign of prosperity, but I must note that almost farm and manor being fortified and so defensible was beginning to play upon my nerves a little. What were they so keen to defend against exactly? I even saw a tower, which I took for that of a covenant, but no, Erik and Bobbins both assured me there are hundreds of stone towers across the island, often built as defensive positions. I would have gone and investigated, but it was a few miles off our route, and time allowed for no idle poking at petty mysteries. Eventually we reached a hamlet, the first village I had seen so far, called in the local tongue Baile Uí Choileáin. It now occurred to me that people in this region live spread out, and with strong walls defending their homes and open fields between them and their neighbours, not clustered together like in England. There are villages here -- I saw them in the distance from time to time -- but far less than in East Anglia.
A little further we came across peasants toiling in the field under the watchful eye of a English (so actually Welsh, yet again) knight. These serfs are according to Bobbins despised by many of their countrymen, for being enslaved, but they seemed quite jolly working in the fields. They are called betaghs, and feudal property, but they were noticeably plumper and better dressed than any of the English peasants I have ever noted -- not that I look on them much. Yet everyone here seemed prosperous, and I realised this is indeed a rich country, where even serfs wear finery and eat well! Bobbins was cynical, and said there were never enough betaghs because who wanted to serve a master when you could be a free man, and so they had to be well treated; that girl really has pease porridge for brains. Apparently the villages lie mainly to the south, towards Bannow, and the small town and strong castle at Clonmines, where a great amount of silver is mined from the earth. I would have liked to have seen that, but it was simply too far off our route.
Instead we trudged on through the persistent drizzle, until we passed between the mountains, and saw Ross ahead, golden in the light of the setting sun. It looks like a fair town, but curiously enough is not walled at all, and lies the other side of a significant river. Fortunately for us, there is a good stone bridge of modern design crossing over to the town, built apparently by William Marshal, the Greatest Knight in the World, now sadly two years dead. His son is lord over all these lands, and presumably the strong motte and bailey castle that dominates the town was another legacy of his father rules. As we approached it became clear there was also an Irish town - we can call it Old Ross, just across from New Ross, with a great circular earthwork surrounding it. Erik told me it was once the monastery of St. Abban, the patron saint of New Ross and nephew of St. Ibar (and whose stats can be found in The Contested Isle).
We paused so I could put up my Parma, and proceeded as swiftly as possible towards the town, but even though darkness had fallen on our arrival the bridge was open and the town lay before us, with no walls or gates to keep us out. As we mounted a small rise, just before the town, the pale moonlight picked out a most bizarre sight, still etched on my memory. I saw before me a knight, a venerable knight slightly bowed as if by great age, standing regarding the town, his back turned towards us. He wore full armour, and the trappings of wealth -- and yet his helmet was dented more than nay I had ever seen. And then suddenly, walking up from the river mists came a beautiful lady, clearly a great heiress, of perhaps fifty years of age. As she reached her knight they embraced with great affection, and then turned and looked out at the town and castle. And then I swear, they vanished, as suddenly as they appeared...
I was filled with fear and excitement, and rushed forward to where the spirits were moments before, but George and Erik appeared to have seen nothing, and pulled me towards the bridge. Erik holding me tight to stop my ravings. He carried me to a hostelry in the town, and just as we approached I feared my end was upon me when twenty of the roughest looking men I have ever seen, dressed as sailors, came charging down the road yelling and waving clubs. I realised at once they were pirates and murderers, and Erik threw me behind him and drew his awe, but even he could only sell his life dear against so many. Just then George leapt forward, yelled out a greeting, and the scene changed to one of great joy. It seems these men know George well, and hold him as their nearest and dearest, and judging by the terms of affection and offers of drink they lavished upon us all, we were friends by association. George seemed delighted to see them, and after entrusting Bobbin to Erik and I, and finding us secure in the inn, he went off to carouse with his old friends, to Bobbins clear annoyance. Still at least he promised this gang of cut throats could get a letter to you, and I guess I have no choice but to attempt it. I will explore New Ross in the morning, and try and learn the import of the vision I saw.
Have you heard anything of Titus yet? Do not trust anything he says; it will be pure lies, motivated entirely by spite.
Your cold and shivering sodalus,