Will walked half the night, sometimes following trails through the woods, sometimes along the river. Finally he felt safe on the main road that led toward the city. He was hungry, tired, and worried when he finally sank down in a clearing at the side of the road and lay down under a tree.
He had no idea what was going on at home. Were his father and Bridget all right? What had happened to the money?
He didn’t even know the name of the man he had helped. He realized now that he had been foolish to even think of trusting the man without at least more information.
He crawled further into the woods, trying to get away from the road. The king’s soldiers traveled this way, he was sure. He didn’t want to wake suddenly to swords aimed at him. It was quite unfortunate that the merchant had seen and recognized him.
He flopped down in a smaller clearing. Though the moon was out, it was half hidden by tree branches.
“Oof! Get off! Why it’s a boy!”
“This spot’s taken!” came another voice. “Get your own!”
“Oh, now, now. There’s room enough. Come on in, boy.” The first voice was gruff but kind. “You woke us up though!”
“Oh ho,” laughed the other. “Sir! Peter, how long since you been called sir?”
“Never,” replied the gruff one, cheerfully. “You hungry, boy?”
“Now you giving away our food? “
“Just a little. How much can a boy eat?”
“How much, indeed? We only have little. I’m going back to sleep. And you can figure out how we’re going to get something for breakfast!”
In the light of the moon, Will saw a figure cover himself in his cloak again, head and all. The other rose up and reached for his bag.
“What’s your name, boy?”
“Will. Thank you, sir.” This as the man handed him a chunk of bread.
He ate it hungrily, and drank from a skin of water that the man offered.
The man lay down again and Will did as well, some distance away. He was afraid that Peter would ask a lot of questions, but the man was soon snoring. Relieved, Will fell asleep, too.
Will woke to sun streaming down into their little haven. Brush and tall trees hid him from the road and that made him feel safe. His two companions were stirring. As soon as each spoke, he knew which was Peter.
Peter was a chubby man, and much more talkative this morning. But Will realized that he needed to be careful what he said. He had a feeling this man would want to know everything about him.
“I’m a troubadour!” announced Peter.
The other fellow, tall and skinny was introduced as Ruben. He raised his eyebrows and sneered a bit at that.
“All right, I’ve been a minstrel…but I’m a troubadour at heart. A beautiful, sweet lassie I had as my wife and now that she’s gone, I remember her with poetry and song….” he said loftily, raising his hand and waving it about.
Now Will raised his eyebrows and Ruben, irritable as he was, laughed at his expression.
“Pardon, sir,” Will said, “but I’m not sure I know what either one is.”
“Where have you been, lad?” chuckled Peter. “How can you not know what a troubadour or a minstrel is?”
Being raised by Separatists, Will was not familiar with much except the little village he’d grown up in-and being poor. He understood that this all had something to do with music. But he knew nothing about that either, except the choir and majestic organ music that came from the large cathedral on the corner of the square at home.
“I’ve been a lot of things,” Peter continued cheerfully. “I was a monk for a while when I was young and wrote lots of church music—then I had the urge to try secular music—which is often quite as glorifying to our wonderful God, as well.”
“That’s not what most people think,” interrupted Ruben, sarcastically.
Peter ignored him. “And then I became a minstrel. I was employed by a rich man who had been in many battles. My job was to write songs that told of his great bravery and valor. It was a good life there with my wife. She was one of the cooks. But he was not a great man. Minstrel’s are allowed to do Parody if they don’t agree with the master—poking fun, a bit. However my master was not amused and my wife and I were out on the street that very night.”
Will’s eyes were wide at this stroke of bad luck.
“But my wife has died of illness since then and I create love songs in honor of her—and our God.”
Will shook his head, totally confused. And at the same time, Ruben complained, “Do let’s get on. The sun is well on its way and we should be, as well.”
Peter was cheery as ever as he picked up his pack, and Will saw that he carried several instruments as well.
One was a lute, which he carried over his shoulder by its strap. Another was a small harp.
“I daresay you’re hungry again, Will. Well. we will be on our way and if the good Lord provides, my daughter will meet us with food enough for us all. Then Ruben shall be leaving us, for he has an old aunt and uncle in another direction that he hasn’t seen in many a day. Ruben, you should show our young friend your God-given talent before we start our morning’s journey!”
“I have no time for that. Let’s just get on.”
“Well, all right then, said Peter, still cheerfully. “He’s a juggler and quite a good one. Performed for the king himself, until he fell out of favor. And here we both are—traveling on this beautiful morning, poor, but praising our Lord. Let’s commit our journey to Him before we go.”
And before either of them could complain about it, the man raised his hands toward heaven and beseeched the Almighty for good travel and food for the day. And perhaps some generous patrons, for Ruben needed a new pair of shoes badly.
Then he exuberantly led the way out of the grove and joined a hurrying, motley crowd on the main road.
“My daughter and I are heading for the city. You’re welcome to join us. Ah, I see you’re reluctant to be on the road. Are you looking back and forth for soldiers or some such thing? Don’t fear. They pay little attention to us common folk unless we don’t get out of their way fast enough.
“Common folk,” muttered Ruben. “We’re so far below common folk—penniless, you should say.”
Peter ignored him and continued on. “So what brought you to this road in the middle of the night, Will? I perceive that you still are fearful.”
“We all have things to hide,” said Ruben, “leave the boy alone with his secrets.”
“It’s all right,” put in Will. “I am running away. I put my family in danger and cannot return. I was foolish.” He ended there, not wanting to tell anymore.
“Hush,” said Ruben. “You want to know everyone’s story—every little bit of it!”
“But do you know God, boy?”
“I….” Will was very uncomfortable with the question. Perhaps he should just go his own way. Though he was very hungry and the vague talk of breakfast had sounded good. “No,” he finally said. “But my family does.”
“Well, that’s good, that’s a start….”
A shout from somewhere ahead interrupted the man and Will was relieved.
“My daughter….” Peter called, waving happily. “Good morning!”
“I have lots of provisions, Father.”
“She was staying with friends for the night—who have little room in their tiny cottage, but lots of food for they work a small farm.”
The young woman that hurried toward them was lugging a large burlap sack.
“Here’s my sweet Angelina.” Peter took the heavy bag and exchanged it for the instrument. “Your lute, dear. This is Will and he’ll be traveling with us for a while. Let’s all sit down and enjoy our breakfast. Doesn’t God always provide?”
They enjoyed bread and fruit and cheese, along with fresh milk from a skin bag.
Then they moved on into a small town.
Ruben was about to leave them at a crossroad, but some rich people were out shopping and Peter persuaded him to entertain them before he left.
Will stood aside and watched as the father and daughter sang and recited, and Ruben juggled balls and sticks and all manner of things. The girl had quite a beautiful voice and she accompanied them all on her lute
They all were really very talented. He was not surprised at the money that was handed over to them at the end of their performance.
“God’s provision again!” exclaimed Peter, taking several coins and giving them to a poor sickly woman nearby. Her face lit up, but Ruben shook his head in disgust even as he took his share.
“You would be able to have a wee cottage perhaps if you wouldn’t give away everything you earn.”
Peter slapped the man on the back. “Good bye, Ruben. We shall meet again and entertain together, I’m sure. Safe travel to your kinfolk.”
They passed on through the town and on toward the big city. Will wondered what he’d do in the city, but as he had no other plans, he went along.
“You’re welcome to stay with us a while, Will. We’ll be entertaining and visiting a friend. We have plenty to share with you just now.”
“Thank you,” he said quietly. He had time to think a while as the man, friendly as ever, engaged in conversation with their fellow travelers on the road. Most ignored him, whether business men or poor, everyone was intent on their own affairs. But some walked along and enjoyed the comradeship.
Angelina walked up beside Will and grinned. “My father takes people by surprise sometimes. He’s a good man and quite amusing, as well.”
“I can see that,” said Will, thoughtfully. “But I don’t understand. The way he talks about God. He was a monk. Now he performs in ways the Church probably doesn’t think is—at all….”
“He is quite unusual in his ideas. He feels that if he loves and serves God, jolly music and amusing stories can glorify Him, too.”
Will shook his head. He’d never heard of such a thing.
She grinned and reached out for her father’s sleeve. “Father, get out your pipe and play for us as we walk.”
And he did—the most frolicking music Will had ever heard.
“We shall stop for the noon meal soon,” said Peter finally. “I daresay you’re hungry again, boy. We’ll thank the Almighty that we have a noon meal, thanks to our good friends.”
He had been sharing the food with people here and there, a small boy and girl, an old man…. A whole family who had been on the road a day and a night without eating anything. Will wondered how much was really left.
Angelina didn’t seem to mind his sharing. Her peaceful, joyful countenance was much like her father, though she was much quieter. They both seemed rather like his own father, though a much different personality. But his father was very kind like Peter.
Will was lagging behind a bit. He was weary, not used to such a long journey. Suddenly he noticed movement in the trees. A shadow—an animal, perhaps. Deer this close to the road?
A man burst out of the forest! A tall man. And even as he grabbed Will, the boy realized who he was!
He gripped the boy’s shoulders in a vicelike grip. “Where is it, boy! Where’s that gold. Give it here, now!”
It was the thief he had helped! The man had followed him? And what was he to do now?
To be continued….