Yarrow House

An Old Man's Tale

I still remember the day, though I was but a sprout.
A fire crackled on the hearth. The cat in the corner,
waiting for some fluff to fall from the maid’s spindle.
A sweet girl. Betimes, I’d hang on her lap and beg for a song.

I cantered my stick horse about the room. Loved horses even then,
a love that’s paid me well over the years. All manor houses
need a good horse man. So do soldiers and thieves, as I learned.

Then we heard a cry, “Bar the gates! Bar the gates!”
But already the brigands’ hooves clattered
on the courtyard cobbles. The gatehouse already on fire.
The smell of smoke, the cries of fear, lingered long in my mind.

A brigand snatched me up. Flung me across his saddle.
A prize of some kind, I suppose. To what end?
Even now I couldn’t say. They left me behind soon enough.

And thus began my wandering.
blankMany’s the year
I thought to seek out that old manor. I’d picture myself
riding up to the gate. Asking, “Do you remember me?”

I might have lived with the monks, but couldn’t bend myself
to the brothers’ rules. So I made my way in a market town.
Carried wood and water for food. Slept in haylofts.

Mucked out dung in tavern stables, learned how to calm
a skittish horse, treat the colic, heal an injured leg.
A passing knight had a fine bay mare. Liked
how I handled her. I followed him when he went on.

Time came, the knight left for a crusade. He took me along.
I learned to handle a sword. A good master, in his way.
A loss to his men when he died of an arrow wound.

Twenty or more years fighting in the Holy Lands.
Bad food. Fleas and lice. Hard beds. When you had a bed.
Not a bad life, truth be told.
blankBut the crusades ended.

Not all that well, no matter what they said.
I escaped from the infidels. Made my way back home.
Storm-tossed passage. Bad food. Wet bedding.

I didn’t take to the work I found. So, what’s a man to do?
Highway robbery. Ten years. One morning, I asked myself,
“God’s oath man, can’t you find a better way to fill your stomach?”
Asked myself, “Where is that old home you talk about?”

Packed my kit. Headed for the manor, remembering the sweet maid.
Still sweet in my memory. A crone or dead by then, no doubt.
And, more like, none left to remember me. Still, a direction to ride.

Along the way, a bright smile, a buxom widow tending geese.
I dallied with her for a day, and then another.
Warm bed, hot meals, stories by the fire. Found a post
in the stables of a local lord. A fine herd. Sturdy stock.

Fifteen years slid by. Five children. Five died.
The widow, too. And I ask myself, “Where is that old manor?
Does it will stand? Would I recognize it?”

© Judith Yarrow, 2012

Onetime reproduction for non-resale purposes permitted by the author with the following credit line: by J Yarrow