Honour and the Sword Online - A. L. Berridge

One

Jacques Gilbert

From his interviews with the Abbé Fleuriot, 1669

You can trust me.

No one knew him like I did. Not that bastard Stefan for a start, you don’t want to believe a word he says. You don’t need him, you don’t need any of them, except maybe Anne later on. I’m the only one who really knows.

I knew him from when he was tiny. My Mother was his nurse up at the Manor, and sometimes she’d take me with her so I saw a lot of him even then. They had all kinds of interesting stuff there, like a real clock in the hall and a tapestry with all pictures of stags on it, and a great big gong on the landing. Sometimes we’d see the Seigneur himself, and he was always kind, he used to give me sugared nuts which he carried round in a little silver box, and sometimes he’d ruffle my hair and call me a fine boy. More often it was just me and Mother in the boy’s room, and sometimes she’d sing to us, which was nice, and sometimes she’d make me play with him, which wasn’t. He wasn’t really André back then, he was just a baby that cried a lot, because I was jealous of him for taking my mother away and sometimes used to pinch him when she wasn’t looking.

I saw more of him when he was older, because he was the Seigneur’s son and I had to be nice to him and trot him around the paddock and answer all his stupid questions beginning ‘Jacques, why …?’ It was always ‘why’ in those days. It was only much later he started asking the really hard questions, the ones that begin with ‘if’.

But it wasn’t a proper kind of knowing in those days, just sort of knowing the shape of him and the things he did and said. I was only the stable-master’s son and he was André de Roland, he’d be Comte de Vallon when his uncle finally got on and died. But I did use to watch him, because if your own life’s a bit crap you can get a lot of entertainment out of watching people with better ones, and anyway I thought he was funny. He had this awful temper back then, he’d shout and wave his arms about, and sometimes even stamp. He never did it with me, of course, he was always polite with servants, it was only being ordered about he couldn’t stand, or people telling him things he couldn’t do.

What I liked best was watching him fence. I know peasants don’t have anything to do with swords, but there was no harm in looking, it’s like there was a bit of glass between him and me like a window and I was always safely on the other side. I think he knew I watched him, but I don’t believe he minded. He hadn’t anyone of his own kind to play with, his mother just used to drift round looking beautiful and never having any more children, and Colin’s dad said it was a black disgrace, they ought to have a spare in case anything happened. He didn’t say what ‘anything’ meant, but I knew, my own little sister Clare had died that year.

It was a pity for the boy, though, and I think it made him lonely. That makes me feel bad now, him being lonely and me just watching him being it, but that’s as much as I wanted in those days. I remember one time when he sort of reached out and smashed the window between us, and it got me one of the worst beatings I ever had.

It was one afternoon when they were looking for him all over the estate. That happened a lot actually, most days you’d hear someone yelling ‘André!’ round the place, he was never where he was meant to be, that boy, just never. But this time it was important because the new Baron de Verdâme had brought his children to meet the Rolands, and there wasn’t a sign of André anywhere. I just went on mucking out the stables, then I dug the fork back in the straw and there he was, curled up at the bottom trying to hide. I gaped at him, but he got his finger up to his lips, and I heard César, the Second Coachman, go by calling him, and I didn’t say a word.

It’s natural, isn’t it, it’s instinct. You stick