The small cat, the shining, and the death
Kuipy ( Grand Duchy of Deheubarth)
They say that in Normandy every story begins with a meal. As he woke up from a short, dreamy sleep marshall Castore sent for scrambled eggs and baked apples, but when the page brought them he found he had no appetite. What if he was to die today ?
The Irishmen had not taken adavantage of the night to attack them, as he had feared. Could they be fool enough to really hope win the field ? The soaked panels of the tent dripped silently. Outside a cold wind was blowing, and a dull dawn shone over the puddles, chasing away the last dark cloud of autumn. Soon winter would come. He shivered.
Without a word he dressed in a warm wooly hose, a light tunic and a padded coat. His mail was a gift of the duke, the finest one could buy in the Isles, and over it he downed a fine silk doublet embroided with the lion of Wales, which the Normas called p’tit cat . After hesitating he chose a magnificent Saracen sword he had brought back from Africa, part of a sheik’s ransom, sharp and light. But he suspended it and his ivory horn to the same old cracked belt he had worn twenty years before on the dusty Lombard roads, and slid a second dagger under his cloak of fur. Now it was time to call on his liege ; Geoffroy was not a patient man in the best of times.
As his heavy boots splashed in the mud of the camp he try to shake away his sleepiness with little success. Nothing in this dark raining night had given him much cause to sleep soundly, although he had picked the sentinels himself and inspected them twice. The duke would take that as he joke, he knew. But for all his courage and skill at arms the duke needed a prudent man at his side to temper his recklessness.
The guards gave way to him with a look that meant trouble inside the royal pavilion, but he knew better than to defer. Behind a small table Geoffroy was eating with a sullen voracity, and drinking more cider than was probably prudent before riding into battle.
“ A traitor,” he said, “ Not you, Seagrave. Jordan.”
“ Your younger brother.”
“ Aye, the rumors were right. He turned over my towns to Sicily.”
Castore had a better look at the warrior seated before him. At near forty his hair was starting to recede, and his face was red and plum, but there was still something indomitable in it, and his shoulders stood strong and upright. He was still the conqueror, the man who had led an ever bigger army to Leon, Mauretania and Ireland. For all his faults he was a fierce warrior and a superb commander, much better than Castore would ever be ; a man to be both feared and loved.
Castore coughed nervously.
“ These are only too cities.”
“ You conquered them.” Geoffroy remembered. And indeed while the main Norman army was battling the king of Zirid, he has commanded a much smaller troop through the passes of the Atlas, to take the mountain fortresses of Hanyan and Tlemcen.
“ In your name, m’lord.”
“ Yes, in my name ! And I had entrusted him to rule them in my name, not to relinquish them to that poxy Sicilian without so much as a fight.”
“ At least technically” Castore cautiously answered “the Hauteville could take them from you. He is, after all, still your king.”
Geoffroy had a wolfish smile.
“ For a day” he answered. “Look what I mean to wear tonight”
By the brasero marshall Castore first recognized the heavy gold platter on which the king of Norway had given him Gustav av Munsö’s head, some twelve years ago, as a peace settlement. Where the head had once opened a bloodied mouth and wide vitreous eyes stood a small crown of bronze and silver adorned with little blue gems. It was fine and elegantly crafted, yet simple as befitted a crusader king.
“ You mean to proclaim yourself king of Ireland.”
“ King in Ireland. For a start. And it is not a crown I mean for my brother to have. I burnt my old will, mind you.”
For years the succession of the Duchy had been a bigger worry to Geoffroy than all the heathens in the world. His first wife, a crazy Hauteville, had given him nothing but girls, the elder of which he had married to his youngest brother Jordan with a dispendious papal dispensation. And the second one had not given him any son either, which left Jordan and Dirk vying for the position of heir apparent.
“ M’lord ? Will it be the bishop of Northampton, then ?”
The duke gave him an angry look.
“ I shall…”
 prounounce "ptee-cah" : a small cat