TWO ROUTES TO VOLUNTAS
You can, if you choose to, come to the covenant over the ocean, perhaps on one of the trading vessels that come to England for the wool trade. What does it bring to England? Luxury goods mostly, silk and incense from the east, glass from Italy or Bohemia: all to be sold to the wealthier nobles and merchants now that England is settling down a little after the recent unpleasantness between the late King John and his barons. The proceeds will be used to buy English wool, the product of the moors and the monasteries which in turn will be fed to the spinners, weavers, fullers and dyers of Northern Europe.
The journey over from Antwerp, down the estuary and out into the North Sea was lively enough to upset the stomachs of landlubber passengers but the crew were happy to assure them that if they thought this bad they should have tried crossing during the winter! Nonetheless the passengers were weaving when they finally put their feet on shore at the harbour of Scarborough under the limestone cliffs and the lowering castle on top of them. One traveller threw himself down on the first patch of grassy earth he found, kissed the ground and swore he would never be unfaithful to solid earth again.
In the small town above the harbour you found a merchant party heading west in the direction you needed and a small donation earned you a place with them, though some of you may have been looked at suspiciously. The local area wasn’t too unsafe, you were assured though there are bandits in The Forest. “There are always bandits in The Forest,” seemed to be a local saying.
And The Forest is always there, just on the horizon to the north as you take the road out of Scarborough that will eventually reach the Vale of Pickering and points beyond.
It’s only twelve miles as the crow flies from Scarborough to Wilton but you are not crows. The road takes you through half a dozen settlements, none of them big enough to be called towns and some of them straining to achieve the dignity of ‘hamlet’ Ayton, Hutton Buscet, Ruston, Brompton, Snainton, Ebberston, Allerston and then finally you are told “This is Wilton!” It’s taken you the better part of a day to get here from Scarborough and the caravan will have to push on hard to make Pickering before darkness begins to fall.
Wilton doesn’t differ much from the others, being a few houses, the surrounding fields all arranged around the central cross road. It takes a few moments to realise that there is one noticeable difference: there is no church here though many smaller places along the road could boast one.
And then one of the locals comes up, tugging his forelock and asking some question or other in the local dialect of… well, presumably that’s English of some sort… and repeating it in rather basic but comprehensible Latin (!) a moment later.
“You’re here for the Hall, masters? Come to visit the learned folk hereabouts? Take that road there up to the North and you’ll be there in few shakes of a lamb’s tail as we says hereabouts.” He tugs his forelock again and looks as if he’s hoping for a coin or two.
You have a shorter distance to travel, having started your journey in another part of Britain or you have been able to afford the silver and vis House Mercere will charge you to open the portals from the continent to the Mercer House at Coventry.
In either event, if you ask the Redcaps how to get to Voluntas they tell you to meet one of their number, Little William, at an inn in the city of York on a specific saints day and he will take you to Voluntas on his normal rounds of the covenants. He will want a ‘gift’ for this service.
Little William is a doughty looking man in his thirties, six foot tall and stoutly built. He wears chainmail even in the city and carries a sword and shield when out of it. He is willing to spread the local gossip like any Redcap (have you heard of the trouble that the new Primus of Ex Miscellania is having?) and will add historical anecdotes (like the massacre of the city’s Jews thirty years before) as you travel but his real delight is the telling of tales of fighting and warfare. He especially reminisces about Maud the lady ‘knight’ who is the commander of the turb of Voluntas who he had the ‘honour and the pleasure’ of fighting beside.
“It’s two days travel to Voluntas from here. We’ll go tomorrow at dawn and travel via Stamford Bridge and the Augustinian Priory at Kirkham. The guest house there is comfortable and you get fewer questions than you do at an inn if you can find one.”
Crossing the Derwent river at Stamford Bridge the next morning led to Little William regaling you all about the battle there between King Harold Godwinson and the Norwegian invaders just three weeks before the more famous battle at Hastings.
And at Kirkham Priory the talk at table is all about the continued trouble between Robert de Roos, lord of Helmsley and the High Sherriff of Yorkshire. The Priory was established by the de Roos family so the lay brother who served your supper (and provided the gossip) was all on the local baron’s side but noted that the Sheriff had established a new Constable at Pickering to keep the peace or failing that to put Robert de Roos in his place.
At Pickering the next day, after a morning spent crisscrossing the country through a web of lanes joining tiny villages, there was no sign of the new constable but the town was bustling with his household knights, workers and craftsmen refurbishing the castle’s walls and gates. Little William resolved to skirt the town and brought you into the village of Wilton in the late afternoon. He did not bother to linger in the village (though he said that many of the covenant’s companions had quarters there) but took you up the road that led north and up to the gate of Voluntas…