The Norman Warrior
In the south west of Normandy,
the Lords of Bellême had always struggled to defend their estates against attacks by envious enemies.
These estates stretched from Domfront in the west,
to Le Mele-sur-Sarth in the east and into the Sonnois region of Maine in the south.
Within these lands violence and brutality were rife.
Duke William having restored peace to the Duchy
and to secure the southern borders, gained the allegiance
of William Talvas, Lord of Bellême, who
gave his daughter Mabile de Bellême in
marriage to the Duke's close adviser Roger de Montgomery.
From their union was born Robert de Bellême.
Region of Ouche, Normandy - 1056
Dawn had brought thirty mounted troops charging into the valley, spreading terror among the helpless peasants tending their fields.
From her thick backed warhorse, Mabile de Bellême stood in her iron stirrups and surveyed the scene. This petite, wiry woman was a virago, her beauty belying her strength. Dressed in a short sleeved metalled byrnie over a leather tunic, Mabile watched. She shook her head, her tightly plaited brown hair flailing out from beneath her conical helmet
“Fire the village,” she commanded.
The soldiers obeyed, throwing fire sticks onto the tinder dry thatched roofs.
From her vantage point she continued to watch, without revealing the bulk of her hidden forces, and wait.
Turning her head, she checked that her infant son was secure in the harness slung across her back. Robert, despite the action and noise, was fast asleep.
Crackling flames accompanied plumes of black smoke. Burnt strands of carbon floated into the air to muddy the sky. The village soon became an inferno.
Kicking her horse back into action, Mabile rode defiantly to within a bowshot of the enemy fortress. “Look at them, frightened to come out and defend their people.”
She had wanted to lure the Giroies and their troops out and into her trap; they had barred the gate like cowards and looked on from the safety of their stockade.
Her aim was to provoke but she still couldn't draw them out. In her rage she grabbed the reins with such force her knuckles protruded white and her nails dug into the palms of her hands drawing blood. “Withdraw! Withdraw!”
The lightening raid completed she led her warriors away east, towards Bellême. The terrified inhabitants, running screaming in their wake, thankful to be alive, rushed to rescue their few possessions. Defenceless against their attackers, their only crime was to be under the yoke of the Giroies, the old baronial enemy of the Bellêmes.
Mabile lay on her bed reflecting on the day's work. She ground her teeth in frustration, turned, and swore into the pillow.
After years of struggle, the Talvas lands were now under her control. Her father had been dispossessed and almost ruined by her elder brother Arnold who had sided with the Giroies.
“If it hadn't been for the Duke's favour, I would still be landless.”
There were times when she was tired of living her life constantly on the alert, fighting for her very existence.
“Even the church is against me.”
She remembered, shortly after Robert's birth, stopping at the monastery of Saint Évroul, seeking shelter from a raging storm and food for herself and her knights. Abbot Thierry had ordered her to leave, despite the torrential rain.
“Why do you come here with so many armed men? We are only poor monks struggling to survive.”
In the past she had sought his advice and had had a guarded respect for him but now she was angry. The monastery, she knew, was wealthy and well endowed with land, certainly capable of feeding them many times over.
“Next time old man,” she had said, discarding her rain soaked cape, “I'll bring even more knights with me and you will feed us, without your pathetic quibbling.”
Mabile grimaced at the memory of the monastery and of the terrible food she had been served. She had thrown the platter aside after only one mouthful, telling the old abbot how bad it was.
“Madam,” he had lectured, “if you don't curb your tongue and depart from your wicked ways, you will suffer for it more than you realise.”
She should have taken the warning seriously.
Mabile remembered feeling unwell soon afterwards and stopping at the first village they encountered, had sought help from a local family. Not only had she felt ill, her breasts had become swollen and painful. She had asked for their baby to suckle them for relief. The baby had died in her arms.
She shook the terrible memory away and looked at her own baby, sleeping peacefully by her side.
“That nasty old abbot would have poisoned you, my pet,” she murmured holding his tiny hand. “But you're a Talvas and we have to be on our guard. One day you'll be a proud knight in the service of the Duke, strong enough to protect us all.” She kissed Robert's milky cheeks then pulling the covers over herself, fell into a deep sleep.
A light morning breeze rattled through the window shutters. She opened her eyes, then closed them. Like a cat basking in the sun, planning its next meal, Mabile stretched her arms and legs and dreamily pondered on how to draw the Giroies out of their timbered fortress and finally put an end to them. A noise outside disturbed her thoughts.
Her husband's return to Bellême was unexpected. Roger de Montgomery entered the archway to the main hall and climbed the stairs to their private apartments, calling her name as he went. He was tall and imposing, with cropped russet hair, high forehead and bushy eyebrows that arched over two penetrating blue eyes.
“Mabile, are you out of your mind?” he shouted, throwing open the door.
“Calm down,” she replied.
“How can I be calm? I've just heard of your latest attack on the Giroies. It's got to stop. Why can't you leave them alone? They're no threat to us now.”
“Oh yes they are,” she replied, “they will always be a threat.”
Roger took a deep breath and threw up his hands.
“Those bastards owe their very existence to my father and they sold him out to Geoffrey de Mayenne. They call themselves Normans? Horse shit.”
“This feud of yours has to stop now, otherwise it will breed nothing but more hatred and bloodshed. There are enough problems on our borders without adding to them.”
“Roger, my father was cheated and you know old Rotrous was behind it.”
“I thought that was your brother, Arnold.”
“And who put that brainless idiot up to it?”
“Enough! I know what it's like having to constantly look over one's shoulder. I had it with the Duke years ago when he was still fighting for his life. And, talking about life, I hear you had our child strapped to your back. He could have been killed!”
“And what about me? Don't I count? Anyway, I kept him safe.”
“Safe! I'm getting tired of this. I need tranquillity.”
“Tranquillity! That's a laugh. How can you be friends with that murdering bastard, Thierry? He tried to poison me.”
“He said he didn't. It was a piece of bad meat. He has promised to make amends and says that you are always welcome.”
“No!” she said abruptly. “I know enough about poisons and their symptoms.”
“Yes, I think you do,” Roger said sarcastically. “You know, you're expecting a lot from the Duke if you want him to continue protecting us.”
“Come here,” she said with a smile.
She knew she could manipulate him whenever she liked.
“I need you. Now!” she whispered.
“I stink of horse sweat and I have my boots on?”
“Get your boots off and come here.”
Taking her in his arms, he murmured, “Mabile, I love you. But stop making trouble….”
Book two of the Bellême series