Blood For Blood Chapter 2


Copyright © D S Allen 2014

Chapter 2 – Time Heals All Wounds

 

Hereford, September 1st, 1651

 

Manfred’s chestnut destrier, Smithy, stumbled into another pothole, and Manfred lurched forward in the saddle. His curse sounded like a pathetic whimper in the gale. He shook the water off his heavy riding coat, giving his cold, rigid body some freedom from the sodden material, and pulled the horse steady at the top of the hill, scrutinizing the steep track, leading down. He squinted through dawn’s half-light and the slick, dark rivulets of mud snaking down the path. He moved Smithy forward. The horse expertly shifted its weight back, testing each step until it reached the level ground. Why did it always seem to rain when he journeyed back to Glenview? If he had his way, he would have traveled directly to Worcester, but his elder brother, John, had insisted he meet him. Obviously, his unexpected transfer to Colonel Hacker had something to do with it.

Manfred patted the horse’s muscled neck, and Smithy snorted, sending droplets of vapor into the air. He peered into the trees, hoping to see the song birds, but even they hid from the deluge, leaving the wind’s shrieking whine and the beat of the spattering rain as it slapped through the trees.

“I should have left yesterday!” he shouted into the gale.

But the prospect of hearing his brother’s insufferable monologues on tactics, and his prowess in the saddle had been enough to dissuade Manfred from staying the extra day. Now, with the going slow, there was little enough time to reach Glenview and then later, their regiment by nightfall.

The path widened, and his horse balked when Blackford Bridge came into view. “Ssshh, be still, boy.”

After hours of continuous rain, the river ran deep and fast. Manfred dismounted. A jarring shock shot through him after hours in the saddle. He patted Smithy again and guided him over the bridge. Midway, Manfred stopped and leaned over the wooden rail. The white water roared below and sprayed the river banks with grey foam.  “That’s the quick way home,” he said to Smithy as the horse pulled away from him. “As you wish. I believe we’ll take the long way this time.”

By the time they left the track, the sun was high, and the fog had belatedly thinned out. Oak trees bordering John’s land came into view, and he straightened in the saddle. He removed his sagging felt hat and gave the sun a chance to dry his hair.

“Three years, Smithy. The trees have grown,” Manfred said.

 The lines of trees were soon replaced by an old stone wall, and five minutes later, they reached the lane to Glenview. Straight ahead, farther down about a hundred yards, John’s country estate loomed between the procession of magnificent oaks bordering the path. On the right, the familiar apple trees were shriveled without their fruit. Old memories gripped him, and he drove Smithy forward again.

A boy he didn’t recognize came running from the stables, bordering the west side of the house. Gangly and with wild brown hair, he stopped at Smithy’s shoulder and patted the horse.

“The master said you’d come, sir,” the boy said.

“What’s your name, boy?”

He lowered his head. “Larry, sir.”

 Not convinced the floppy-haired lad knew the back side of a horse from the front side, Manfred continued. “Where’s the stable hand, Larry?”

“William? He joined the militia, sir.”

“I’ll leave within the hour. Make sure the horse is fed and watered. And check his shoes.”

“Shoes, food, and water. Aye, sir,” he said, counting off with his fingers.

Manfred left Smithy with Larry and made for the house. His sister-in-law Sarah waited before the steps. His heart jumped into his mouth. Had it really been three years? Three years without seeing her. Old feelings, too long suppressed, rushed over him. Her eyes were heavy, even as her smile crinkled the edges of her eyes. Was it as difficult for her as it was for him?

She embraced him, and he held her for a second too long before releasing her.  “A smile? For me?” he teased.

Sarah closed her eyes as a sigh escaped her lips. “John and Francis are waiting for you.”

“It’s been years, Sarah,” he said stiffly, “have you nothing more to say?”

“I…No.” Sarah shook her head and bolted inside.

 Manfred traipsed behind her, ignoring the housekeeper’s greeting, and followed Sarah to the drawing room. In his haste, he had forgotten to remove his sword, and he held it close to prevent it from clattering against his leg. He stopped at the threshold as John fumbled with Francis’ sword belt.

“John, Manfred has arrived,” Sarah said.

John and Francis grinned. “Ah, the drowned rat is here at last.” John winked at Francis.

“The drowned rat with his perfectly fixed belt. If you need help, John, you have only to ask.” Manfred pointed to his own fixed belt.

John rose from his seat and opened his arms like two giant pincers.

Manfred prepared himself for the bear hug which never failed to impart some injury on his tired body. He clasped his brother in return and ran his hand over John’s beard. “It gives you the philosophical look.”

“Huh.” John frowned. “I will get rid of the damned thing then.”

Manfred smirked. “No, the beard suits you well enough.”

“Well, you always were the pretty one anyway. You know I’m all thumbs.” He wiggled his fingers.

Manfred embraced Francis, and then scrutinized the belt. “But it’s fixed perfectly?”

“I had help.” John gestured toward Sarah.

Francis straightened and removed his gleaming rapier from its scabbard. “Well, Uncle, how do I look?”

Manfred groped for words. He felt uncomfortable seeing his young nephew kitted-out for battle. Francis was as tall as John but built like a reed and needed filling out with a few good meals. There was also a tenderness in his eyes that didn’t fit with the uniform.

“You are a man!” John glared at Manfred. “Isn’t that right, Manfred?”

“Yes.” Manfred nodded. “A finer picture of a young gallant I have not seen.”

Francis waved away the words and sheepishly ran his gaze along the length of the sword, admiring the workmanship.

“Francis, I need to speak with your father and uncle.”

John’s eyes shifted to the blade. “Aye, that blade’s dull—sharpen it outside.”

With a nod, Francis sheathed the weapon and left the room.

Sarah paced until the back door closed. “He’s only sixteen, John. He’s not old enough to fight battles.”

John groaned, but his eyes never left her. “He’s a man. I wasn’t much older.”

 “Make him understand, Manfred,” she pleaded. “You know he’s too young!”

Manfred flinched as John’s stare bore into him. John knew as well as he how young men lost their innocence on the battlefield. “If you speak to the colonel, John, I know he will sympathize. Leave the boy here. He is too young for Worcester.”

John scowled and flicked the words away. “We’ll finish Charles this time. There’ll be no more war left after Worcester.”

“He’s my son!”

“He’s a soldier in the New Model Army. Besides—” John put his arm around Manfred’s shoulders “—he’ll have the two best soldiers in the field looking after him.”

Sarah took John’s hands. “Please, John.”

 John pulled his hands out of her grasp.

“Please, John, don’t have me beg you.”

 “No!” he thundered. “That’s my final word on the matter.”

Defeated, she stumbled out the door. Manfred had to stop himself from following her. He shook his head. Still the same boorish John. No reflection nor consideration. “You should go after her.”

 “She won’t understand.” John planted himself in his chair and glared at Manfred.  “Running after her will not change anything.” His eyes narrowed. “Maybe you should run after her?”

The question caught Manfred off guard. He broke from John’s stare. Does he suspect? The love he’d carried for her for sixteen years. That had made each journey to Glenview almost unbearable. “What do I know of marriage?”

“Exactly. Sixteen years—I’ve given her everything. My name. My son. She wants for nothing.”

“Her only son is going off to war, John. What do you expect?”

“He’s my son. He’s been mollycoddled enough with me being away.” John rose from the chair. “Come, let’s take a walk. I need some air.” He motioned for Manfred to follow.

Manfred followed outdoors and to the apple trees.  It was turning into a nice day, and he took in a deep breath of late summer air. “As I rode down, I saw the shadows of our childhood games. Here we defeated the Spanish, and Achilles would battle the noble Hector. Do you remember?”

John’s countenance clouded over as he regarded his brother. “You have questions? Don’t answer, I know you do.”

“Give me a bloody chance to answer them. I was going to leave it, but you had no right to transfer my troop.”

“Colonel Hacker transferred you, not I.”

“Hacker has dragoons, and you didn’t need mine.”

“One troop of dragoons is not enough. Anyway, Captain Price is a buffoon, and I want you there for my boy.”

Manfred shook his head. “I don’t understand. What has Francis got to do with this?”

“Francis will join your troop. Hacker owed me a favor, and now Francis is with the only man I trust.” John paused a moment. “I thought you’d be glad.”

 “I’m just surprised.” Manfred hesitated. “Just surprised. The troop is raw. I’ve only had a few weeks with them.”

“It doesn’t make sense to me either. You know I wanted him for the cavalry. But that can’t be changed now. I trust you. I trust you with the life of my boy.” John clasped Manfred’s shoulder and drew very close to him. “He’s going to make colonel one day, and Worcester is the first step.”

“Yes, a colonel commanding dragoons,” Manfred said to rile his brother. Francis was a sweet boy, with a good head on his shoulders. And John was right about Price, but the responsibility would be a burden nonetheless. 

“Yes.” John sneered. “Well, at least he didn’t choose infantry. Better he’s not in the thick of it this time. After Worcester, I’m going to join Cromwell’s army in Ireland. I want Francis with me.”

“Ireland? You’re not serious?” A graveyard of English soldiers, where the pestilence was as dangerous as the Irish—what was John thinking?

John stroked his beard. “I told you he’s going to make Colonel one day. He’s not going to do so by sitting behind a desk.”

“Well, you’re on your own. I won’t be volunteering for that hell-hole. ”

 “I know that.” John sneered again.  “But you can at least persuade Francis to join my troop.”

“Don’t risk everything you have, John.”

“I need money.”

“You have money.”

“I need more. I will need it when I run for Parliament.”

Manfred’s jaw dropped.

“There’s money and land in Ireland, Manfred. I will return and with Sarah and Francis leave this God forsaken place. London, Manfred. I will take them to London.”

Sarah in London? It would kill her. “And what of Glenview?”

“I will hand over the running to you. You’re the farming type.”

And you the selfish bastard type! “I will do what I can.” Manfred stroked the rough bark of the apple tree. Was this the tree they’d fished for apples when Sarah had first visited Glenview with her father seventeen years before? The announcement of the engagement to John had cut Manfred in two. Her father had been as proud as a peacock when their father had finally consented. John might be in Ireland for years. Sarah would be alone.

“Now, go and talk to her. She won’t listen to me, but maybe you can convince her that Francis will be safe with his uncle. Don’t mention Ireland.”

Manfred nodded. He would be sure to mention it.

“I’ll make sure your nephew is ready, Captain!” John bellowed to Manfred as he reached the steps.

“You do that!” Manfred called back as he felt for the locket in his waist pocket. It was all he had left of Sarah and their time together: a reminder that all other women were second best to her, just as he was second best to John.

He returned to the house, let himself inside, and knocked on Sarah’s bedroom door. “It’s me, Sarah.”

No reply came, but he heard soft footsteps approach. The door opened, and she regarded him with a pained stare.

 “May I come in?”

“No, of course not!” Sarah’s eyes darted to the stairs.

“He’s outside with Francis,” Manfred whispered. “Would you rather we talk on the landing?”

Sarah stood back and creaked the door closed behind him. “What more is there to say, Manfred? You were quiet enough when John humiliated me. You barely opened your mouth when he ordered my son off to war.”

 The cold words stung. She was desperate. “Francis will be by my side, Sarah. God as my witness, I will let nothing happen to him. I will keep him by my side. Believe me, it’s better he’s with me.”

Sarah wiped her eyes. “You should have said more, insisted Francis remain here.”

“It would have made no difference. He’s not my son. You married John, not me.”

“Why must we go over this again? You can still stop this.”

“If it was my decision,” Manfred said bitterly, “Francis would never leave your side. But it is not my decision. You saw to that, Sarah.” Even before her engagement to John had been announced, she had met Manfred in secret. Cold and severe, she had told him that she no longer loved him. Then she walked away, leaving him with only memories and a locket. But Manfred had known her words were hollow lies—as much for her benefit as his.

“Yes, my father consented, and I followed. You know I had no choice. He’s your nephew, Manfred. Stop this!” 

“I have no influence over John. And, anyway, Francis wants to fight.”

“Only because he listens to John’s lies. He knows nothing of the reality of war.”

Manfred shook his head and headed for the door.

“Wait!”

Manfred stopped.

 “I loved you!” Sarah cried out. “I broke my vows for you! Adultery is a sin, Manfred. A sin for you.”

 “A sin?” Manfred clasped her shoulders. “No, marrying him was the sin. He never loved you, and you never loved him.” He banged a fist against the wall. “True love can never be a sin, Sarah.”

“I loved you,” Sarah cried out, “and I broke my vows.”

“And then you broke love’s vows by staying with a man who’s married to the army.”

Sarah hid her face in her hands. “You don’t see the truth. What I’ve lived with all these years.”

“That you alone have suffered?” Did she know nothing of his feelings? Of his years of sacrifice and what it meant to cut her from his life.

“No, you don’t understand…its Francis…he’s…”

Manfred lifted her chin. “What?”

Her troubled eyes held his.  “Francis is your son.”

Manfred stumbled back as his chest constricted. His head whirled. It had to be a lie. She would say anything to stop Francis leaving her. “No.”

“He is your son,” she insisted.

“You can’t be certain,” Manfred gasped. He swayed as the blood throbbed in his temple.

“A mother knows. He’s nothing like John. He’s a gentle soul.”

He takes after you! He can’t be mine.”

“He is your son. But one son was never enough for John. He tried for years. Believe me, I know. Listen to your feelings. Seek the truth—look into his eyes.”

Manfred flopped down on the bed. His wiped his damp forehead. Memories of Francis’ childhood flashed through his mind. He had seen so little of the boy. “John would know if it were true.”

Trembling, Sarah sat down beside him. “John? He is the last person who would suspect. No, he gave up with me a long time ago when he realized I was barren. It would never have occurred that it was him.” Sarah grabbed his hand. “He would have killed me if he’d known.”

“Why did you not tell me?” Manfred asked, groaning.

“What would it have accomplished? What would have changed?” she asked, pleading. “He would have murdered us all, Manfred. I’m sorry. I would never have told you, but now you need to know you will lead your son into war.”

Ireland! Manfred’s eyes widened as John’s plan pushed back into his memory.

“What is it?”

“He’s taking him to Ireland, Sarah.”

Sarah gasped. Her hand covered her mouth. “No.”

“We have to stop it, Sarah.”

Sarah jumped up from the bed. She rubbed her forehead as she circled the floor. “I must confront him!”

“No!” Manfred clasped his arms around her. He brought his mouth to her ear and whispered, “No, Sarah. It will change nothing. You’re right, Francis is no soldier. I will speak to him at Worcester, when I have him alone. Francis will listen to me. He will never leave for Ireland.”

“John will force him!”

“John is reckless. Perhaps he won’t make it make it back from Worcester,” he whispered.

Sarah’s eyes widened, and a deathly paleness overcame her. “Bring Francis back. Bring him back to me!”

He wiped her tears from her cheeks. “I promise you I will bring our son back. We will start again, my beloved.”