Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Ultima Thule

The men and dames took time to rest and eat upon the noontime. The sun today was very warm, and most the men decided then to put their feet into a little stream beside a meadow, home to sheep and also several palfreys. The water in the stream was very clear; both some soldiers and some monks walked up the bankment nearer to the Sarthe to take a drink. Others walked downstream a ways to let their bladders empty and their under-regions breathe.

Nesta and the monk named Guytonnet stood leaning on the wooden paling rail which held the livestock in. A pair of ewes came curiously up to them. Guy put his hand to them to sniff. One of the ewes took in his manalet and rand her tongue and teeth about it. He pulled it back away, enstartled, fearing that she’d bite, and Nesta laughed.  Guytonnet laughed too.

Sinalunga by Marc Dalessio

“You don’t sound like most any other person here around, m’lady,” Guytonnet observed. “Do you hail from far away?”

“Mmm. Le Mans. My papa is a man of some repute therein. And farther than that, if you care to know.”

“Farther than Le Mans?” Guytonnet could scarce imagine this. “Where father then?”

Nesta smiled with some mischief. “A land called Ultima Thule.[1] Where men wear pretty dresses and women have the tonsure shorn. And… we eat breakfast late at night and sup upon the morning crow!”

Guytonnet knew not this place. He stood dumb before her. “No wonder you wear trousers and you cover up your hear so strangely!” Then, “You raise up rabbits there? To eat?”

Nesta smiled and looked off to the distance then. “Oh, no. The rabbits there in Ultima Thule are far too large for men to raise! They’re bigger than a draft horse from Ardennes!”

“Then what would some ascetic monk like me take in for all his hassenpfeffer? Woulds’t thou have meat for men like me?”

“Of course we do. We dine on tiny horses. Also, tortoises in Thule are made of meat. It’s quite convenient, actually.” She couldn’t help but laugh a bit.

Guy caught on, “This is not true, is it? You’re joking! Very funny! Where could ever be a place where God might make a tortoise out of beef and rabbits bigger than a man! It makes no sense at all!” They laughed, and Nesta then appeared to bough her head a bit – but kept his gaze. She wished to win his fancy, mayhap did she then.

“Still,” said Guy, “I should rather like to see your Ultima Thule one day. Perhaps once we have gone to war and gotten back to Normandy.”

“Yes, after the war,” the dame agreed, in partly of a dream, reaching down to stroke the other ewe.

They stood in quiet for a lingering, and quite enjoyed it, both of them.

Guy asked, “What’s it like? To ride a courser, wearing armor, holding up your sword? To lowborn common folk it seems quite dreadful. I – I mean to say, it fills us up with dread to see the beasts, magnificent and horrible, and riders with such absolute control about them.

“But what does it feel like to be a knight?”

Nesta hadn’t thought about what commoners or monks might make of her; only nobles and the greater clergymen who orbited her uncle and her pa.

She shrugged. “Perhaps I’ll teach you how to ride. You have your armor now. We’ll make you colors and a crest and William can endow you up a knight.”

Again, Guy stood before her, dumb. “I have no palfrey, nor a courser.”

“I’ll get one for you.”


She dipped into her wee musette and pulled from it a golden coin.

“It’s quite dear,” he said. “What is it?”

“One livre caroligienne. 20 sous make up one livre, and twelve denier make up one sous.”

“That’s a lot of eggs,” said Guytonnet, impressed. “But will it trade in for a horse?”

Nesta laughed, “No! Not only one! I have enough though. I could buy a courser and the tack, and find a boy to mind it for you if I truly wanted to.”

Guytonnet could scarcely hold the thought to mind; it seemed to him far in excess of all the metal wealth he’d ever seen. “And do you have a lot of these in Thule?”

“Don’t you know nothing, monk? You foolish man! There ain’t no Thule! Not really! It’s all part the game we played! The land I come from is North Humberland, across the sea in England!

“I truly thought we done swack up[2] together, monk! Ain’t you ken me accent and me cheek, ye pretty to me? Me slurf,[3] me notches,[4] Ilka[5] dam meself like looking wacht’s from Umberland, in’t we?” She laughed. Guy scarcely understood her as she broke into her Anglish moot, but laughed he then along as well.

“Now let’s us pick you out a sturdy palfrey to take to you.”


“We can see some pretties in the meadow, non? Which trotter there will suit m’sieur to ride?”

Guyton could not tell if this was yet another poke at him. He was but a lowly monk, and never had a nobleman or woman spoke to him in such a manner. Nor had any in the Holy Church above him spoke to him like this in all his sixteen years. His lips involuntarily made up a little circle and he scratched his head. His tonsure had returned to Nature’s rule and covered up the top of him again.

Nesta pointed to a chestnut colt of thirteen hands and mane of black. “There. That one. You think?”

And then did Ludovi approach, and clucked at them. “It cannot be that one. For never shall a Benedictine, past or present, ride a horse of fauve.[6]

The horse just then bucked at its counterpart, and bit at it. In sport it seemed, but also there was some unrestfulness about this colt. Each of them could see.

Nesta turned to Ludovi and  said, “In Anglish we would call that color ‘fallow’ like the lonesome earth.”

Oui, mademoiselle chevalier.”

“Why won’t you ride a fallow colt?”

“For they are ferocious.  Les bête fauves is to say ferocity and wildness in animals.”

“One might wisheth for his mount to be thus, brother.”

Ludovi bowed before her in good deference to her station, for before he then explained to her the Norman view of horses of this gravid hue. “Of course, mademoiselle. One may wish for this. But also do we say about les chevaux fauves, or perhaps les chevaux ‘Fauvel’, that they betray their masters at the worst of times. They are, it is a little joke perhaps? They are sinful creatures, my dam.”

“That is a funny claim. How can a courser sin? It has no agency apart from what we lend to it. What kinds of sins are these that such a fallow horse should carry out?”

Flatterie, avarice, vilenie, variété, envie, et lâcheté.[7] Of these, the cowardice is damning most of all.”

Nesta well considered what the elder monk had said. “These do sound like the qualities a nag or hairy biter might he have. And these are qualities of every fallow steed?”

Non, mademoiselle. Only of those chevaux fauves that carry forth a Benedictine monk.”

“Then rather,” Nesta countered, “might those qualities endwell within the monk and not the beast?”

Ludovi was silent. Guytonnet was silent, too. They were astonished at this claim!

“Never mind,” said Nesta. “We shall claim a different-colored courser for you. Or perhaps we won’t!” She smiled as she said it with a star within her eye of black and turned and skipped away to join the fellows cooling off their feet.

[1] Latin: Metaphysical. A place beyond the known world.
[2] Swack up: to play a game together, to conspire.
[3] Torso.
[4] Cut of neck, chin and supper shoulders.
[5] Each, from ilk. In this case: “Each lady who looks like me is from Northumbria, isn’t she?”
[6] A color alternatively translated as chestnut, reddish-yellow, tawny or fawn.
[7] Flattery, avarice, depravity, fickleness, envy, cowardice.

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