Simon The Coldheart
by Georgette Heyer
March saw him in Wales at his brother's side, engaged in hard fighting and hard generalship. April brought him back to Shrewsbury unscathed, but May saw him marching south to Usk, one of the Prince's trusted officers, and the Prince's friend. And at Usk, where they fought the rebels fifteen hundred strong, he engaged with Glyndourdy's son Griffith, and fought him in single combat till he had him worsted from sheer fatigue. Then took he Griffith prisoner and surrendered him to the Prince.
Henry was enthusiastic over his prize, and smote Simon on the back.
"Ah, Beauvallet! Would that I had thee ever by my side! What wilt thou of thy prisoner?"
"His armour, sir," Simon answered. "His ransom, if ransomed he be, is yours. But, if it please your Highness, I would have his gilded armour."
"That is a strange wish!" Henry said. "Wherefore? Dost like the golden tint so much?"
"Ay, and the workmanship, sir."
"Thou shalt have it, then," Henry promised. "Simon of the Gilded Armour!" He laughed, linking his arm in Simon's. "Verily, I do believe it is a new title thou seekest! Already I have heard tell of Simon the Lynx-Eyed, Simon the Cold-Heart, Simon the Lion, Simon the Soft-Footed, and I know not what beside! Whence come these names, lad?"
"From foolish men's tongues, my lord," Simon answered.
"Then shall I be foolish," Henry said, "for I shall call thee Simon the Silent."
The middle of July saw Simon home again, with Geoffrey and Alan riding one on either side of him. Between these two enmity was dead, for when Geoffrey had clasped Simon's hand on his coming to Wales, Alan had stood aloof and ill-at-ease, seeing which Geoffrey had gone to him with his charming smile.
"Our sires dispute, Sir Alan, but what shall we do?"
"For my part I would we might agree!" Alan had answered instantly, and grasped Malvallet's hand.
When Simon rode into Beauvallet he found all quiet and in good order, and a glint of satisfaction came to his eyes. At the castle door his household stood to welcome him. But one there was who forgot decorum and ran forward, arms outstretched.
"My lord! my lord! Lift me? Oh, lift me!" Cedric cried, almost sobbing with excitement and heedless of his father's shocked protest.
Then Simon the Coldheart bent in his saddle and hoisted his page up with one strong hand, and held him against his shoulder. One little arm encircled his neck, the other plump hand gripped Simon's doublet tightly; Cedric gave a wriggle of content, and buried his face on Simon's shoulder.
Simon looked down at the curly head with a curious smile on his lips.
"Thou hast missed me, Cedric?"
The arm tightened about his neck; Cedric nodded.
"Methought thou'dst have forgot my lord."
Up came the dark head, indignant.
"I am not a babe - to forget thee so soon!"
"Cedric!" exclaimed Gountray, coming forward. "Thou must not speak so to my lord! To say `thee' thus pertly!"
"I will!" Cedric announced stoutly. "My lord cares not!"
"My lord, forgive his rudeness!" Gountray said in concern. "Indeed, I can do naught with him since ye are gone. He minds me not. I doubt I am too soft with him, but I have no other son, and - and perchance I spoil him with indulgence."
"Let be!" Simon said shortly. "Loose thy grip, little one; I would dismount." He handed Cedric to Gountray, and swung lightly down from the saddle. He had a word of greeting for all who stood there, and many were the inquiries after his welfare. He answered each man in kind, and passed into the castle, Cedric dancing at his side, and his other pages following him like a troop of puppies, so that when he stopped to speak with his secretary he stood in the midst of a small band of green and russet clad boys, towering above them, whilst they swarmed about him, relieving him of first this, and then that, and squabbling amongst themselves for the supreme honour of bearing his sword away. One flew to unbuckle it, three others laid hold of the scabbard, glaring at one another belligerently, and two more knelt to unfasten Simon's spurs. He seemed quite unaware of these somewhat noisy ministrations, but talked calmly over the pages' heads to his amused secretary. Being smaller by far than the rest, Cedric found himself with naught to carry away. Not to be outdone, he climbed upon a chair and removed Simon's cap from his head. He also tried to remove the surcoat from Simon's shoulders, and his fat little fingers tugged busily at the clasps until Simon became aware of his efforts. Then he put them all from him.
"Have done, have done! Would ye have me quite unrobed? Go put my cap away, Cedric! Roger, take my sword from that babe; he will fall over it. Edmund, fight not over my spurs! Thou'lt scratch thyself. Take heed! And be ye all gone till I send for you, turbulent brats!" He nodded to Gountray. "I will speak with thee after supper, Maurice, and thee also Bernard." He strode away to the staircase, and went swiftly to his chamber, followed only by Malcolm, his squire.
Walter of Santoy cast a laughing glance at Gountray.
"This place will soon be over-run with pages," he remarked. "Surely I did see three more than when we left Beauvallet?"
"Ay," Gountray replied. "My lord had given orders they were to be enrolled. One falls over them at every step, but it is my lord's pleasure. And since my lord did strike Patrick of Kildare senseless for beating little Edmund, two days before he set out on his travels, never have children been more indulged in this land! As for mine own son, he is grown so defiant and mischievous that only my lord can check him."
"Things have come to a pretty pass," the steward sighed, for he was weak with children and they plagued him unmercifully.
"Pretty indeed," Bernard said softly. "Methinks it is a sweet thing to see the iron lord with these babes about him like flies around a honey-jar."
"They are very importunate," Roger complained. "They cluster about my lord so that there is naught for us poor squires to do. And he will not say them nay. And - and when I did push Donald so that he fell - I meant not that he should, but I was angered - he would not have me near him for three whole days! So that Malcolm waited upon him!" At the thought of this past injury his eyes flashed, and he withdrew to dwell upon it darkly.
After supper, Maurice of Gountray came to Simon's room to render an account of his stewardship. Simon listened intently to all that he said, and read over the accounts. Maurice spoke hesitantly, anxious lest he should have failed to satisfy his lord. Just at the end of his recital he looked at Simon almost shyly.
"There - there is one other matter, my lord, in which ye may perhaps think I have exceeded my duty. In your absence I - I did what seemed best to me." He paused, unaccountable nervous before this man who was full fifteen years his junior. Simon said nothing so Maurice continued, squaring his shoulders: "I did discover three lewd fellows, sir, amongst your guard, who were friends of Nicholas. They were set upon stirring the men to rebellion in your absence, the which Basil reported to me. So I did summon them to - to judgment, sir, and Edwin of Palmer, whom I saw to be the leader, I banished in your name. The other two I did punish - and they are quiet now." He looked up again, diffident, and in his eyes was suck a look of fidelity such as is seen in the eyes of a dog.
"Thou hast done well," Simon said. "In all things thou hast acted as I should have acted had I been here."
At the sound of that cool voice, Gountray sat straighter in his chair, and one or two worried lines upon his brow were smoothed away.
"If - if I have pleased you, sir, I - can be easier in mine own mind."
"I am pleased, but it is no less than I expected."
"My lord - I have but one ambition in life, and that is to merit your trust, so that I may - in time - wipe out the black memory of what I - sought to do to you."
Simon brought his fist down upon the table between them.
"A year ago I said three words to thee, Maurice of Gountray: `I have forgotten.'"
"Ye have not yet said: `I have - forgiven,' my lord," Gountray answered low.
"Then I say it now. I have forgiven. Though why thou shouldst want forgiveness from any man, I know not. The past is dead."
"My lord, I - I thank you! And for all that you have down for me, upholding mine authority, and permitting my son to tease you, I thank you."
"Thank me not for pleasing myself," Simon answered. He rose, and Maurice with him, and as Gountray would have left the room, he spoke again, more lightly. "Thou wilt think me careless, Maurice. Before I went to supper I walked out to cast a look at my lands, and Cedric followed me. He ran a sharp thorn into his hand, and it bled grievously before he showed me what had happened." Then as Maurice looked rather anxious: "I pulled the thorn out and bound his hand. I think it will be well to-morrow."
"Sir, it is kind indeed of you to take such pains with Cedric! I will go look to him." His hand was on the latch of the door when Simon spoke again.
"I could not but hurt him, but he shed not one tear."