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Volume XXVI

Tales of Yorr

(A Mediaeval Monk in need of a Chiropractor)

 

What if Richard III was not a hunchback…

 

What if one of his bastard sons was…

 

This is the tale of Yorrick, bastard son of Richard III, hunchback extraordinaire.  Scholar, poet, lover, husband, adventurer and warrior.  A dab hand at Latin, he has quite a way with words, usually in verse across a tawdry bar.

 

Not everyone agrees who wrote William’s work, perhaps he was inspired by a character such as this.  Alas, for poor Yorrick, we may never really know.

 

Book I of the Renaissance Series

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Home Books The Author Contact Gargoyles News Fellow Authors Tales of Yorr (A Mediaeval Monk in Need of a Chiropractor) D. J. Meyers Tales of Yorr
Copyright © 2014 D J Meyers
Author: D J Meyers
Publisher: Gargoyle Chronicles
Cover Design: D J Meyers
Cover Art: Lettering sampled from the Book of Kells
Copyright. D J Meyers asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. This book is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places and incidents either, are products of the author’s imagination, or they are used fictitiously. This book is sold and subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publishers prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. All rights reserved.
ISBN   For my family I suspect you have many successes in you.
Your task in this life is to find them before they pass you by.
Remember, deformity is in the eye of the beholder.
Being different is a blessing,
Ignoring your difference is a terrible waste. For editing, advice, and late night quarrels over the Internet, Yorrick and I would like to thank... My Mum
J. J. Kendrick
Sebnem Sanders
Norman Morrow …for if every word is in its correct place, Time will indeed make a writer of thee …and my love cries like an English summer for the rain to appear
but it’s like an English winter
discontent, a cripple in fear   Death Becomes Us All The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.
William Shakespeare 1550 A harvest moon rose in the ruined peak of a Gothic arch, as the funeral procession crept amidst the shadows it cast. Time could be so insidious, a third of it slipping away between sunset and sunrise.
There would be no sunrise for the leader here, his withered bones barely supporting the haggard cloth of his being. A shovel dangling from one hand scraped the lichen off the ancient monastic flagstones. His other cradled a goblet, well-worn, yet half full and dripping alarmingly. The will to hold it upright burned with the desire of a youth sampling his first tavern, but the flesh proved unwilling.
The choir of the disillusioned church marked the spot, the inscription on the stone slab familiar to few, despite the meagre passage of time it had witnessed. With a nod from his companions, the leader of the nocturnal procession, the sexton of a nearby graveyard, raised the goblet to his lips; the warmth of the turgid brew worth the effort.
Licking the last drop from the rim of the upended vessel, he smacked his pruned lips and dropped it to the grass, so lush between the shadows of the crumbling monastic walls. His task from here would be consumed by leverage, much as his life had been. The shovel slid beneath the grave slab and he pried it loose. His three companions lifted the stone with care and rested it on the grass nearby.
The grave cut beneath appeared clean and empty as expected, despite decades bereft of the roof of a church, yet it was uneven. The three companions dropped in to the plot and hacked away at the frozen earth without success, attempting to create a level resting place. The hunchback sexton raised his hand, realizing the futility of the exercise, and climbed into the awaiting void with the ease of a mud-encrusted crab. His manner of reclining did not please his companions, although it had served him well on many an occasion.
“Cannot you lay straight?”
“I never have, why should I now?”
“Just thought you would be more comfortable, like.”
“I am the last of my order. I am old, many years past the kings who fought over me, and if I lay here long enough I will find my deserved place in the afterlife quite soon. Do you think they will remember me? Do you think the men beyond my time will acknowledge my vast body of work?”
“Yes, brother, just as they have in your own time. Rest you now, your God awaits.”
The sexton closed his eyes to await death. He may have been robbed of an actual digging, but cutting a grave was no longer a performance his aged form enjoyed, so his disappointment did not linger beyond the shutting of his lids. Death seemed imminent and he awaited the scraping of the slab as his companions moved in to slide it above him.
The thud of the feet astride him disturbed his premature attempt at eternal slumber, forcing his eyelids to surrender to the moon one more time. The glint of it on the blade that sliced off his scalp brought forth a howl unbefitting this once hallowed turf. A dagger was wedged into his balding crown to silence him, but he was not dead yet, just numb with imminent expiration. The hatchet that released his brain matter, used so intensely, yet wasted through superstition, liberated him from the Earth as it delivered him unto it.
He had no memory of the final indignities served him; the binding of his hands and the wounds so well documented they would echo through time along with his agonized howl. The deliverers of the insults were far from done; tossing two leather-bound, calf-skin wrapped tomes into the grave, before assessing their work with nods of consensus and replacing the slab as they had promised.
“There you are, Yorrick, now you have a death fit for a king. You have been mocked in death as you were in life; deformed to the very last. And so your words come back to haunt you… if every word is in its correct place, Time will make a writer of thee… not that any man but a ghost shall know.” Chapter One
A Tavern Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have Immortal longings in me.
William Shakespeare 1534 The tavern’s bar, perfumed with stale ale, assorted meads and potent ciders, provided the perfect platform from which to launch a bawdy tale, but there had to be a willing audience. Leering over the regulars, whilst running his fingers through the dregs of his previous tankard, Yorrick assessed the mood of the room. They always eyed him a little suspiciously at first, and he always returned the look as crookedly as only he could, drawing them in, come one and come all, with his shoulder dipped, as if asking them a question.
He enquired of his ale one final sip before wiping his boyish face with the back of his hand. The charm of those youthful features often disarmed the uninitiated, and there were enough of those in tonight to draw an advantage.
“What shall it be tonight? You there, what is your pleasure?” He chose an unfamiliar face deliberately for effect. “Come now, you must have a particular pleasure.”
“I… a...”
“Spit it out, man, it cannot be enjoying itself there in the dregs of your mouth.”
“I choose… a song.”
“SONG, SONG, SONG, SONG...”
“Quiet, you lot… this fellow has obviously not heard me sing. What say you all, shall I sing you a song, as yet unnamed, or should I blow you a tune?” Turning his back on the tavern’s patrons, Yorrick grabbed his britches at the waist and feigned a full moon, much to the amusement of all gathered.
“DROP ‘EM!”
“BLOW US A FAVOURITE!”
“WHISTLE US A TUNE!”
“How tight do you consider me, that I could whistle you a rendition from the far side of the moon? Is this any way to initiate our virgin guzzler? I think I shall tell you a tale. What is the fashion this season?”
“WE’LL ‘AVE A COMEDY.”
“NO, A TRAGEDY, SOMETHING WE CAN DRINK TO ‘TIL LATE.”
“A HISTORY, GIVE US A HISTORY.”
A smile crept across Yorrick’s face as a rather inappropriate theme emerged from the depths of his id. “A history it is... charge your flagons and lower the lights, I require an atmosphere worthy of History’s blackest characters.”
Several of the taverns lanterns were extinguished. Each patron leant forward in their seats. Their newly appointed master of ceremonies crouched above the bar like a vengeful gargoyle and picked at his teeth, drawing each patron in with a salivating silence.
“Let me present to you a tale from 1482. Picture if you may, a man, royal of blood. Some may say he was not unlike me in visage and stature, yet missing the essential core of his very being.”
“Was he wont for a wife?”
Yorrick paused, the tone of the voice not the usual for this setting. Staring up at him from the foot of the bar he discovered a vision; a raven-haired beauty, rare in these depths, yet most essential.
“And what, pray tell, be thy name, gentle wench?”
The barmaid blushed to the crevice of her ample bosom before answering with a pout more sensual than she could comprehend.
“My name is Evangeline. Did John the Innkeeper not inform you of my position here at the Spraint Otter? I’m sure he mentioned you to me; you are the jester, are you not?”

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“Well that depends, Evangeline. Do you find me amusing?”

“I am not sure I know. Is there a wife in your story?”

“Indeed there is, but she is not essential to the tale.”

“Then I like your story not.”

“Perhaps if I added a dog and a pirate king?”

“Ooh, I do like those. Are they part of this core of which you speak?”

“Not ‘alf,” Yorrick, now in full jester mode, bent down low and swept the ring of daisies from Evangeline’s head, placing them atop his own before assuming a bolder pose; legs astride and hands on hips, “but this is what the hero of my story desired; this my friends is his crown.”

The patrons guffawed and slapped their thighs, yet the young barmaid was clearly not amused.

“Why do you strike a pose of such ridicule to our kings of yore?  A king does not slouch so!”

“The king in my tale does.”

“Why, what happened to him, and what happened to your back?

“My back, my back, what’s wrong with my back? Is it not there?  What the feck is holdin’ me up?” Yorrick toppled off the bar and crumbled to the floor. Evangeline squealed amidst howls of laughter. The jester in him feigned a faint before shaking out his head and smiling up at the young barmaid. “I have a hunch I know what you are alluding to, wench.  I am what you might call, and it sorrows me to say this… deformed.”

“NO, NEVER!”

“Yes, yes my friends, alas I am afraid it is true. I am deserving of a bell tower, watched over by the most garish of gargoyles. A pox be on my spine, yet I stand and I can dance.” Yorrick leapt to his feet and as nimble as a cat sprung back up onto the bar and performed a jig. “And I am renowned for my sword-play.” At which he drew his sword, despite the fable of his withered arm. With a deft parry and a daring thrust he lurched forward, sweeping his blade through a row of candles above the bar.

“You missed!” More laughter followed the barmaid’s exclamation.

“Did I now?” Yorrick squatted before the candles, his eyes rolling back in his boyish face, and let rip the most potent reveille he could muster. The candles toppled in a ball of flame. He stood majestically amidst the applause, head held high and arms outstretched, yet he did not bow. Noticing the smile Evangeline concealed behind the daintiest of hands, he held up his hand and the tavern became silent. “Do not laugh, my friends, I cannot but emulate the deeds of my dear old dad.”

“Who is your father, a good man no doubt, for he did not club you at birth?  Pray tell us, kind sir.” The tavern rippled with muffled laughter from all those in the know.

“Nay, quell your chortles; she is a mere bud yet to bloom, while most of you have seen the passing of several kings. I, my dear Evangeline, am the offspring of a turd.”

“A turd?” Evangeline blushed again while a chorus resembling a song filled the tavern’s fusty depths.

“A TURD HE SAYS, OF COURSE HE IS, HE IS OF COURSE A TURD.”

“A turd, indeed, indeed I am. I am the son of Richard the Third!” The tavern erupted around him as he leant down and whispered in the barmaid’s willing ear.  “See what I did?” He gave her a wink and paraded along the bar singing. “I am a bar steward, be careful of the word, did you say illegitimate, or the bastard son of Richard the Third.”

“TELL THE TALE. DO IT ALL IN RHYME, DO IT ALL IN SONG.”

Yorrick waved his hands at the heckler while staring down his angular nose at him. “You ask too much my good fellow. What say you wench that is called Evangeline, shall I attempt this thing, or do I risk the men dying of laughter? What say you?”

“Yes, good sir, tell your tale, let them die happy.”

With his most chivalrous bow he continued. “Then it shall be so,” yet Yorrick did not return to his former royal stance. He prowled along the bar with an exaggerated hunch, his arms flailing from side to side as if cow’s udders. “This is the winter of our discontent, as espoused by this son of York…

 

So it is the wise and young, never do live long

So it was the sons of my brother

One a bar steward, as was the other

 

Who was I to dabble in song?

Grim-visaged war had smoothed this wrinkled back

Yet am I despised and that’s a fact

 

I knew their ascension to God to be wrong

And amidst bunny ears and accusations of bacon rind

It was true that this crown of thorns be mine

 

Born of a look that could slay candles with a pong

I could but give a raspberry tart

Within my words I knew there was art

 

Stretched out with a butcher’s hook so strong

On a razor’s edge I set my cobbler’s awls

I required a distraction; a dish fit for these soils

 

To feed the masses, to side track the throng

I beseech thee trouble and strife along the Fosse

I have the pie, dead horse, dead horse,

My kingdom for some sauce

 

Bloody though art and bloody will be thy end

Dead horse, dead horse, my kingdom for some sauce…

 

…thus ends my good friends, another ‘orrible ‘istory from the Tales of Yorrick. Drink up, drink up, the day is almost done, have you done with this York of a son?”

“AYE!”

“Then drink up I say.” Yorrick scooped up his tankard and saluted the throng, who cheered and clapped as if he had paid them all in gold. “Best you go back to work, Evangeline. They have a mighty thirst and their tankards be toasted dry.”

The barmaid curtseyed to Yorrick’s bow and went about her serving. The innkeeper, John, returned a sly wink and Yorrick retired to the stairwell with his tankard as he did every night. Every man in the tavern knew him, yet he had no actual friends here. His deformed heritage and his hunched form had seen to that, and as was his wont, he twisted it further each night; mirth his only true friend, and loyal to the last drop.

 

* * *

 

“Why do you drink alone? That is not a state fit for a jester.”

“If but I were a jester, sweet Evangeline.”

“You are not a jester, yet John…”

“John the innkeeper would have me keep his patrons drinking and me in drink as recompense. This is the prison of my youthful face and my misshapen stance. It seems, because of these traits, my abilities have always been underplayed by those around me. But always remember, good wench, there is an advantage in the unusual, such as your name for instance. Where did you find such an angelic moniker, sweet, innocent Evangeline?”

“My ma was not English, yet she named me thus. My da had no teeth and could nary say the word, so he called me Little Eva instead.”

Yorrick ogled the wench sideways and lengthways, a look that seemed more angular to others. “If only he could see how you’ve blossomed.”

“You make me blush, jester.”

“That was my intention.”

“Aw, you… I am so much taller than I was back then. I would not fit into the dress I wore back then.”

“I would like to see you try, so would half the bar and the other half if their wits were drier.”

“You have a funny way about you, but what do you call yourself, seeing as you shudder each time I call you jester.”

Yorrick had been called many names and played many parts, yet there had only ever been one true name for him. “I am Yorrick, son of York.”

“Son of York? My, that is a title if I have ever heard one.” He could see the name burrowing a frown into Angeline’s tender face. It seemed to be the trouble with youth, attempting to hide one’s true feelings. “Are you really the King’s son?”

“Oh aye, but not the current one. My blood be of a different house, henceforth I jest with frivolity about my own; one must remain on the right side of the argument.”

“And your mother?”

“Was not his wife.” The confession cut his as it always had, bringing on a melancholy only a woman could appreciate. “She was a good mother until Death sweat the life out of her.”

“Oh dear, yet you survived and still find mirth in life.” Yorrick nodded and managed a grin for her sympathy. “Do you always speak in riddles, master jester?”

“If they know not what I say, they cannot hold my words against me. Although, there’s not much can be held against me without finding my wit and form too curvaceous.”

“Has it been so long since you’ve been comforted?”

“Oh aye, and there is nothing worse than when a wench understands my pain and feigns a sad restraint. It is a miserable life, it is true.”

“Have I made your eyes water, dear Yorrick? Oh my!”

Beyond the sheen of Yorrick’s sweep of black hair a tear reflected his boyish charms, despite having passed his fiftieth year.

“Do not let it trouble you, Eva. I am beyond regret and there is no one to care if I did.”

“I will care, Yorrick.”

“I cannot ask that of you. To waste your thoughts on such a creature as sits before you is a waste of your youth.”

“I have kindness enough to share.”

“No, I cannot allow you such excess. Nor can I allow it of any other kindly wench. I am a blight on humanity, a pox on manhood.  Be done with it then, I shall climb these stairs and leap from the balcony beyond. Perhaps the fall will end my miserable existence and straighten my back for once and for all!”

Yorrick pulled himself up by the balustrade, placed a fatherly kiss on Eva’s forehead, turned with a sigh, and stormed up the stairs. Evangeline, wide-eyed and innocent, held her hands to her mouth, aghast at what she had caused, before tripping up the stairs behind the hunchback in hope of a miracle. She faltered at the landing, her words blurting out with accompanying tears…

“I thought you would…”

“I thought so too, but this seemed a much softer landing.  Come, sit and share my feathered, crestfallen nest.”

Yorrick lay in the folds of a four posted bed; a luxury afforded the Brothers for the money they had brought into this establishment over many years. He tapped his hand on the sheets; an invitation the wench found tempting, to say the least.

“So, you will not jump?”

“Not amongst company.”

“Then I shall keep you company until you rid yourself of the melancholy.”

“What of your work, Eva?”

“My work is done. I was wont to recline for the night myself.  Come, no more tears, good jester.” Evangeline slipped off her shoes and padded across the lumpy feather mattress, dropping herself down as if a parachute at the head of the bed. “Rest your head here a while and tell me of your ills. The soothing heartbeat of a good woman can cure all. This is something my mother taught me long ago.”

“I cannot believe it has been so long for you. How many summers have you seen?”

“I have seen sixteen!”

“Well then, I submit myself to a master of many years.”

Yorrick laid his head at the barmaid’s breast and sighed as if melancholy, while she ran her fingers thoughtfully through his hair.

“Tell me, Yorrick, how long is it since anyone comforted you?”

“Not since my own mother.”

“No, surely you jest.”

“I am known for it, I admit, but not in this moment. There is nothing quite like a mother’s love.”

“Are your… ills, so disturbing?”

“I cannot tell; I will not blight another’s eyes with the deformity. However, thanks to this gift I can see my own back with ease.”

“It is still God’s work, Yorrick. Come; show me this curvaceous form of yours, let me see what God has bestowed on you.”

“I cannot.”

“You can, I will not accept no for an answer.”

Fight as he may, the hunchback could not stop Evangeline from clawing at his shirt. She had it up and over his mutant form as she would a younger brother at his monthly bath time. At the end of the ordeal she dropped to her knees as he cowered before her; his right shoulder angling down a run to the point of his left. He turned in his shame and she witnessed the deformity of the hunchback. Eva knew few letters, yet she recognized this shape and her fingers snaked gently down the S as it slithered to his waistline.

“Am I so disfigured that you can no longer speak to me?”

“It is quite beautiful, Yorrick.”

“Is it not so unlike any other’s as to be devilish?”

“Has it been so long since you considered another’s curvature that you no longer know?”

“I only know what I feel on my own decrepit form.”

“Then we shall have to do something about this distortion.” Evangeline knelt, her back to the hunchback, and raised her skirts to her neck. “Come, I have studied yours, you should show me the same honour and review mine.”

“Have you no shame, wench?”

“It is only flesh. My shame remains concealed and you deserve the favour you afforded me returned.”

Yorrick crawled over the bed to where the barmaid knelt, her bare back a picture of perfection. He reached out to the subtle line of bumps that punctuated her flesh. Eva shuddered, ever so lightly, as their skin met, and as he traced her spine south, her flesh radiated a rash of pleasure.

“It is most beautiful, Eva.”

“No, it is I who am deformed; my S is shy, self centred, inward.  Yours is bold.” Yorrick leant in closer to study her as she spoke, his lips taking over where his fingers trailed off. “What do you do back there, jester?”

“I am but appreciating the perfection of your spine. Is this not pleasing?”

“Yes, but…”

“Then I will desist.”

“No, I will permit your lips to appreciate God’s work.”

“If it be God’s own work, then I shall appreciate each portion individually, beginning at the top.” Yorrick was true to his word, his tongue and lips tracing each vertebra from Eva’s neck down, until…

“Why do stop?”

“It is this damnation of a deformity. I cannot bend far enough to appreciate anymore.”

“What if I leant over like this and raised my hips to your lips?”

“Yes, that would do quite nicely.” The hunchback licked his lips and continued down the wench’s spine to her coccyx… and beyond.

“Oh…”

“Shall I stop there?”

“No…”

Yorrick found the barmaid ripe to be pleasured, yet a concern grew within him.

“I think all God’s creatures should be appreciated as he designed them to be, do you not agree?”

“Yes, but…”

“Then let me show you.”

 

 

 

 

 

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“Oh… I see…”
He often wished at such a moment that his hands were equidistant from his shoulders, so as his purchase on a woman’s hips became balanced. His deformity had always lessoned his aim. However, his approach to this wench proved masterful. He slid inside like an arrow into a quiver… and she did rosin his bow… again and again and again…
Evangeline showed such enthusiasm the second time that she brought the innkeeper down on their progress, belting at the door in the early hours of the morning.
“What do you do in there, jester? Do you have my newest wench? What would you have her do?”
“She is but straightening my back.”
“An impossibility, I’m sure.”
“Aye, so did I, but she is quite determined.” * * * “Where go you, Yorrick? I have yet to make your S a T.”
“That would take many tonics and I am old and dried up for now.”
“Really? Are not odd numbers of the Devil? Will you not try for four?”
Tempting as she seemed, lying there, pale of skin, no longer blushing at the mere hint of attention, Yorrick was spent. He sat down beside her as she lay entwined with the sheets, concealing far less than she had when first she knelt before him. Yorrick placed the crown of daisies on her disheveled tangle of hair, which draped her back to the far reaches of a perfect spine.
“I think you should make the bed. As they say, hold tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.”
“You are funny, jester.”
“I am no jester, Evangeline.”
Yorrick stood, hunched with the expended effort of the night before, yet he managed one last kiss. He buckled his scabbard about his waist and donned his final piece of clothing.
“What do you wear over your shirt this morning, Yorrick?”
“What, this old woven brown rag? Just an old habit I picked up along the way.” Chapter Two
A Monastery When we are born we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools.
William Shakespeare 1538 Each scrape of the quill sent shivers up his spine. Yorrick needed no such reminder of his deformity, but the task had to be completed. Despite his years with the Order, he had discovered no doorway to God, there appeared to be but one direct path to Heaven, and he was unsure how much time remained. It was an age-old dilemma for every man, yet each man found the grave to be the same; frigid and eternal. He scratched at a spot where his Brothers had prematurely balded him and began scraping away at the vellum again.
The ink leeched beneath his nails, yet he could care less; he had lived a fortunate life. He had never wanted for a variety of food or drink. Besides his deformity only his eyes had suffered through his work. Yorrick blew the ink dry and sat back to admire his handiwork; he was not alone in the task.
“What happened to the wench in the tale, Brother Yorrick?”
The hunchback did not acknowledge the Prior, it wasn’t really required. Prior Ralph had proven to be a man who tolerated many curiosities and the current religious climate in England served him more headaches than Yorrick ever had or would.
“Evangeline… yes, she was a beauty and willing, as I discovered on numerous occasions. Who knew?”
“God could have guided you in this matter.”
“Perhaps, yet I did naught but open the door and poke my head inside. Who am I to say this was not the Lord’s intention?”
“It seems after all your years here you are now more knowledgeable than I in such matters. What, pray tell, do you think He intended, Brother Yorrick?”
“Exactly what He created, as always; Evangeline the Berkeley Hunt.”
“Berkeley Hunt… you mean to say she is a fox of some kind?”
“While I have heard the term used for the most fetching of women, what I had in mind is quite the opposite. Berkeley Hunt is rhyming slang for a term more befitting of the wench. Think about it, Brother; keep thinking… there you go… “Yorrick offered his companion a wink and continued. “Evangeline may have possessed an angelic face, but looks were made to deceive. Look at me. I would not hurt a fly; I always lose my balance when I strike out at one. Evangeline is what she was always meant to be, a foul-mouthed whore who swears at the drop of a flagon and bends over for the man who dropped it.”
“Is she not what you created that night at the tavern; should you not document this?”
Yorrick flipped the pages of the vellum he had been slaving over with due care. It was indeed a voluminous tome, but he had already lived a longer than usual life. The hunchback soon discovered the page he was searching for and tapped his quill on it thoughtfully.
“No, Brother, this is what I created at the tavern; rhyming slang and a tale fit for a king.”
“What are these books? They are not the words of our Lord as you are supposed to write, and writing these tales is not your purpose here.”
“No, yet I have fulfilled my pledge faithfully, producing dozens of illuminated pages and transcribing copious other texts. I think I have also doubled the usual amount of indulgences for the pious, who would be wicked on the odd occasion.” Yorrick thought the practice a sin in itself and he knew this opinion had spread amongst the Brothers. “These two books are my personal legacy; the story of my own wretched life in two volumes. I have named the first Tales of Yorrick, and the second volume, the story of my father, shall be known simply as Richard the Third.”
“You must have loved him dearly to have expended so much energy on his life story.”
“So you would think, but I never knew him. I have only my mother’s words to give him flesh. Let me show you.”
Yorrick flipped the tome regarding his life closed and opened it at the first page. The date was 1483, yet what followed was a mere refection from 1488, when Yorrick was five years old. He had recalled on the pages how his mother had stood before him, in her dress of plain wool. He noted how she spent every penny on her only son, yet he did so as if a detached observer, a bard telling a tale…
“Why do I have such finery, mother, when you…?”
“You are the son of a king, and I must ensure you grow up with the privileges of one. This is a difficult thing when you bloom on the wrong side of the rose bush.”
“What of you, do you have no comforts?”
“I have you, my darling Yorrick. Besides, I have performed my task; I have given you life and others will see you educated more completely. This has already been arranged. What you do with your education is up to you, but you must remember every detail of the life I gave you and of your forebears. Remember, Yorrick, there are many who would speak against these truths or use your birthright against you.”
The graveness of her features aged her beyond her twenty-three years, yet the determination was all empowering. Yorrick would use this trait in later years, but for now he was a wide-eyed boy learning how he came to be… “He was a dashing figure of a man was Richard, your father; boyish in some ways, despite his three decades, with fine hands and small bones. Yet, he was a mighty warrior with many victories to his name. I met him at court in York, before he was King, when he was merely Gloucester. He secured me a position as one of his wife’s ladies. Lady Anne was most courteous. Had she known we shared her husband’s bed, she may have been otherwise.” Yorrick listened to all his mother’s stories most attentively, and this one most of all. She retold the legend of his birth almost every night, adding much needed character to their sparsely furnished rooms. There were no chairs here, just a number of bench seats built into the wattle and daub walls. Yorrick liked to listen while he lay back in his bed, stuffed with Lady’s Bedstraw to combat the fleas, the flowers used by his mother to colour their Double Gloucester cheese. He imagined faces in the knots of the exposed ceiling beams. Sometimes they were visages he recognized from those who passed his window, while others were pure imagination. Yorrick kept these to himself, for fear he would be accused of witchcraft.
He imagined the fishmonger’s wife, amongst others, the folds of her facial skin concealing the usual recognizable features. It amazed him that she knew every customer and heard each morsel of gossip. This face he had pointed out to his mother, who quipped it was fortunate the beams did not smell of rotten fish on a summer’s day. Yorrick detested fish, yet his mother fed it to him most days, as if he were a gull. Sometimes he would caw during dinner.
“Do not mock yourself, Yorrick. You were not born with the features to survive such ridicule. You will learn to be chivalrous and eloquent; you will learn to use your wit and your imagination… each skill will help protect you. The world is hard, as is life, and you were born in a form that some will not take kindly to.”
“I do not understand, Mother.”
“No, you wouldn’t, you are far too sweet.” She sat Yorrick up on the table and paced the kitchen. On a number of occasions she paused, the words on the tip of her tongue, but the slant of Yorrick’s shoulders were a torment. She loved her boy more than life itself. How could she do this to him… how could she not. “Yorrick, I loved your father.”
“You always speak of him.”
“I know, you are made in his image, from the neck up, but that is where the likeness ends. Your father was a great warrior. He was not a powerful man, yet he was nimble and clever.”
“Am I not clever, Mother?”
“The most clever boy, like your father, but he did not have your back.”
“I still do not understand.”
“When you were born, Richard was the first to come to my side. He defied his wife when he heard you were a boy. A son to a King is like a ship to a sailor; without it his name will wash out with the tide, with it he can command the tide of time. A King’s legacy is as important as his reign.”
“But he will not see it.”
“No, my clever boy, yet he saw you. I remember how he burst into the birthing chamber, his hair of flowing jet; the midwives totally aghast at his boldness. He swept you up in his arms, cradling you with the gentleness of a wet nurse. Richard studied your features, so akin to his own, before peeling back the linen and inspecting your manhood. ‘A fine boy,’ he attested, until your cry forced him to surrender you. Your blankets unraveled as I took you from him… I can still hear his words and feel their barbs, ‘Why do his shoulders stare down at me so? Lay the child out… there, woman… what is this that you cradle? Be this abomination of my loins?’ He never held you again, the distortion of your spine clearly not to his taste, nor was I, ever again.”
Yorrick felt the pinch of his right shoulder as his back pushed towards a particular knot in the ceiling beam; the one he imagined to be his father. The kindly knoll had always matched the man who was once the dashing King, the love of his mother’s life; no more.
“Do not speak to me of my father again.”
“I will continue, every night, for you must be aware who you are and how others may use that knowledge. The story of your birth will keep you alive, if used wisely.” * * * 1490 In the summer of his seventh year, Yorrick noticed a difference in his mother; her face, so flush and full for the most part, shadowed about the cheeks and beneath the eyes. She smiled, but only for him. He had not been a boy for larks; he had spent no time with the local lads. The boy made time only for thought. Buried in the books his mother fed him when she could get them. Yorrick did not notice the world pass him by and few noted his existence.
There were whispers in the streets of the creature that lived in his house, but his failure to appear meant he was ignorant to the Chinese in his neighbours. His seventh birthday appeared to be no different to any he previously remembered; a new book for a present, a day spent with his mother alone, and the usual round of odd knockings on the shutters, which were summarily ignored.
“Shall we not answer, Mother?”
“It is of no import. Besides, you have a new book to read to me. Will you not read a little while I sit? I think the heat of the day has affected me somewhat.”
Yorrick began his excursion through the characters of Chaucer, the book of tales he had just received. He sat high up on the bed, while his mother lay down beside him, resting her head on his shoulder. He did not complete the first tale; the situation was far too uncomfortable, the heat of his mother’s flesh burning through his shirt. Yorrick repositioned himself to finish the chapter, only to find a large sweat patch; the very image of his bloated mother, spreading out across his shoulder.
“Mother, you have befouled me!”
“Have I, oh… I am sorry, let me fetch you another shirt.”
Her feet connected with the floor, but seconds later her back joined them. Yorrick peered over his bed to find his mother writhing in pain. He cocked his head as only he could, yet the scene filled him with intrigue. Why would his mother act so? Did the floor provide a more comfortable bed or had the beast inhabited her?
“Is it the devil? Are you fighting him from within? Is he made of water… is that why they drown the witches?”
“No, my son, but I could do with some water.”
“I will fetch some from the barrel.”
Yorrick knew little about the town water supply; he knew his mother reviewed it daily, placing what she gathered in the shallow barrel kept by the door. He prized the lid open and unhooked the ladle that hung inside. Yorrick was not a tall boy. He barely scraped the bottom, yet he raised the ladle empty.
“I am sorry, Mother. The barrel has had a leak.”
“No, Yorrick… I have not… I did not refill it today.”
“I know what to do.”
“No, you cannot… you…”
Her voice trailed off as Yorrick bounded into the street, bucket in hand. The sun was warm as he shielded his eyes against it, but that did not stop him from marvelling at the street. Stepping back beneath the overhang of the thatch, the half shadow it cast across his face created a twin perspective; the sweet-faced boy and the mystery. A shriek echoed along the street.
“Monster! It’s the creature she hides come to torment us.”
Yorrick searched the street for the hideous beast. Unable to spy the creature he continued with his mission, swinging his bucket as he walked. The local well had been sunk a few houses along the street. It was the only thoroughfare in Windsor that Yorrick knew, having seen it through the window every day. Ordinarily his mother would walk him to church via the rear lane. They were always late and they only ever sat on the rear pew, if at all. He often dreamt of taking Holy Communion as his mother did. One day he would be man enough to participate and stay until the sermon ended.
Despite the importance of the well, the market cross held the honour of being the village square’s central feature. Yorrick peered over the edge before lowering his bucket. There was no skill involved; the hard work in the lifting. His feminine arms were skillful, but not powerful. He awaited the plop of the bucket and worked it as he had seen his mother manage once; just the right angle and it would immerse the lip and fill the void. Having judged the appropriate time, Yorrick pulled on the rope. The care required to balance the pail worked every muscle from his angular neck and tilted shoulders, to each crooked vertebrae along his back, yet he managed the task successfully.
“It’s the creature from the lane!”
Yorrick heeded the call. His eyes darted around the square to catch a glimpse of the fabled beast, while steadying the bucket.
“The beast has escaped!”
“Where?” Yorrick’s concern was as genuine as his naivety.
“It climbs from the well!”
“It does?” Yorrick failed to understand why he could not see the beast. The voices trebled and the barbs caught on his sunless flesh.
“Does it live there?”
“Would it not pull us in by our bucket?”
“Be gone foul beast. Drink not from our well!”
The first stone they cast missed its mark. The faeces that followed collected Yorrick in the ear, knocking his bucket back into the well.
“Hey!”

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The next rock struck him in the back, the severity of his scoliosis preventing a fracture.

Yorrick ran.

The path to his home was barred by the villagers, who waved fruit and rocks with menace. There was also a boy with a shovel and it had been re-loaded. This time the faeces caught Yorrick in the stomach. The jeers that accompanied the bulls-eye brought instant recognition. The hate seemed as palpable as the fear. Yorrick no longer fled the creature from the well.

He knew how he appeared to them.

Yorrick fled in the opposite direction.

The villagers did not follow, superstition providing respite, for the nearby wood was occupied only by woodsmen and hunters… and creatures like Yorrick.

Darkness would be his only friend now, as his mother laboured beneath the sweating sickness, alone in their home. Yorrick hid behind a great oak, imagining the faces of the villagers in its bark. He realized what he had to do and he understood his place here. His form echoed in the twisted branches reaching down to him on the breeze.

Dusk allowed him to escape his haven, his crippled body straightened in the shadows of failing light, the village square vacated to the demons of the night. Yorrick settled into the world where he belonged with little fear; for if he took the form of a demon, then such creatures must be friendly. He certainly was.

Yorrick discovered his mother’s bucket discarded by the well.  It served its purpose well for a second time, without interruption, and he skulked down the street to his home. Each wood-framed house laid eyes on him, suspicious of his body, yet comfortable with his elongated shadow; an anomaly in the night. He feared the neighbours within would smell his putrid form, yet he walked on, finding the stones of the passers-by littered beneath the windows of his mother’s house.

Yorrick slipped inside, discovering his mother where he had abandoned her so hastily. The sweat now formed a pool about her turgid form. He ignored this and propped his mother up on his lap. Her eyes fluttered briefly to life.

“My son.”

“I have water.”

“Save it for yourself. You need your strength.”

“You are my strength and by your side I can be strong enough for both of us. I know the secret you have hidden from me. I think you tried to tell me many times.”

“No, you cannot.”

“It is quite alright, Mother. I used my wit as you have often taught me and I managed the water from the well. Here, drink.”

Yorrick convinced his mother to sip at first, before taking of larger gulps, which she eventually coughed up. He found her a pillow and mopped up the floor. He managed to wrap her tightly in a blanket, before swinging the soup she had prepared for his dinner over the hearth.

“I will not take it.”

“Then neither shall I and we will die here together tonight.”

The threat proved sufficient, as she was far too weak to argue, and by morning Yorrick managed to escort her to bed.

“You have done well, Yorrick. Perhaps we will make a physician of you.”

“Who would seek assistance from a man who cannot cure his own crooked back?”

“There is that, but you must not let superstition rule your world as it does many of the villagers here in Windsor. Yet you must always remember to blend in. Today is Sunday. You must prepare for church.”

“I will not be missed. I know why we are always late, why we sit at the back, in the dark, beneath the arches, the forest of the church where beasts cower before God.”

“The Lord does not judge you by your increasing curvature; He only sees the truth of the path you will tread.”

“What does the priest see?”

“He sees your potential, as I do. He does not bar your entry into his church; there is always a place for you there. He will note your absence.”

“Shall I be sent to Purgatory for it?”

“No, God sees the duty you perform.”

“Then I will stay and you will drink and eat more than I, for I have had my fill and you are ill.”

The morning knocks at the window shutters did not surprise Yorrick, yet his mother’s recovery did. He had heard of this sweating sickness. Like the Black Death, its whispers echoed along the streets and forest paths, in the stocky half-timbered dwellings of the village, as well as the great stone edifices of the Church and the mighty noble castles.

His mother remained weak, yet she had improved as the final peals of the local church bells vibrated into solemnity. Yorrick washed his mother’s arms, neck and face as she had so often for him. He fed her the last of the broth and ignored the return of the rapping on the window shutters. His mother had taught him to ignore the menial side of the villagers well. She smiled at his recognition. This was the sweetest her face had appeared for some time. Perhaps he had only ever actually dreamt of her in this state.

The thud on the front door disrupted the serenity.

“Ignore it, my son.  They know not what they do.”

“Have they not just been to church?”

“It can take many years for the word of God to permeate a man’s prejudice.”

The door gave way beneath the persistence of the interloper, and Father Schorn fell upon them.

 “What is the meaning of this? Why do you bar your door against the hand of God? Do I not provide you with protection where others would cast their stones?”

“Yes, you do… and the Church is paid handsomely in return.”

“Ten pound a year will not always be enough. What if our King were to discover you?”

“Then you would have less in your coffers.”

“You should mind your tongue, Lady Katherine; you are in no position… and why do you not stand when I enter the room… as your boy does, so poorly? Why are you still in bed? What ails you?” The priest did not wait for an answer. He grabbed Yorrick by the wrist and yanked him towards the door. “Come with me, boy. You cannot stay here with… with that in the house.”

“What is that but my mother?”

The priest clipped Yorrick behind the ear, knocking him to the floor.

“That, you foolish cripple, is the sweating sickness. None but have it a day survive to see the next.”

“She is better than she was yesterday.”

“You may think so, but you are just a boy. Now come with me.”

The priest grappled with Yorrick again, but this time the boy was aware, and with a nimbleness not considered the realm of a cripple, he leapt to his feet. The knife he snatched up cemented his warning and Father Schorn backed away, through the door and out onto the street.

“DEVIL, IT IS THE DEVIL THAT HAS THROWN THE FATHER OUT INTO THE STREET!”

Yorrick did not smile as might be expected; he shook, anticipating an attack.  It did not come.

“You did well, my Yorrick, but there will be hell to pay.”

He did not understand the gravity of his mother’s statement. The realization stormed through the door minutes later in the form of a man dressed primarily in black. His robe reminded Yorrick of the crow that stalked the rear lane, any human scrap its territory. His eyes were fierce and beady, yet his lip did not curl in anger, concern dwelt there.

“You, Yorrick of the Plantagenet blood, the time has come to begin your education.”

“I have already begun my education.”

“Not under my tutelage.”

The crow swept Yorrick over his shoulder, his presence in the room no more than a breeze.

“No, you cannot take me… my Mother.”

The priest, who had delivered the crow to the house, clutched the latch and swung the door, the thud of its closure echoing along the village street with finality.

 

 

 

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