Some research into our two mysterious friends...
Imagine the scene... an upper room in Clare college, in the mid 15th century. A student was trying to keep awake through the last supervision of a long day, brainlessly repeating what he needed to in order to keep his supervisor happy.
"Sum, es, est..." his mouth uttered while his brain was dwelling on the evening ahead. He had only recently arrived in Cambridge and was only beginning to understand what the possibilities were for evenings, now he was aware of the possibility of getting around the curfew restrictions...
"Chaney! Pay attention!" the supervisor's shout brought him back to the present moment.
"Sir?" he asked guardedly.
"I don't think you have been paying any attemtion to me this whole hour!" the learned fellow reprimanded him. "You must work harder in future. But the time is up now, and if we delay, we shall miss dinner. Go and prepare yourself." He gathered his affairs and strode from the room. More relaxed, the student sauntered off after him, heading down and across the court to dress himself for dinner. He threw his gown on and returned towards the hall. As he entered just before the door was shut, his supervisor spotted him from the high table and glared at him.
"What have you done to irritate the old man?" one of his peers whispered to him across the table. But at that moment everyone fell silent as they stood for grace. After 'amen' was uttered they sat down, and the conversation continued. "Hey, Kay, what did you do to irritate him so much?"
"Slept through his supervision, pretty much," the student replied.
"I guess he doesn't think much of you anyway," another boy further down said. "You don't look English, that always annoys him. Where are you from anyway, Kay?"
"Florence, originally," Kay replied. "I was an orphan. My parents were travelling through, returning from Rome. They adopted me."
"I guess that explains it," the enquirer replied. "But on to more important things. Who is going to be at the White Horse tonight? We still haven't found out who the guy with the mask is."
"What guy with a mask?" Kay asked.
"There's one of the students goes to the White Horse wearing a mask. He's paranoid the college will catch us all down there sometime and doesn't want them to recognise him when it happens. Not that it would work for just anyone - just a mask wouldn't hide you Kay - you'd have to cut your hair and paint your skin pale!"
Kay nodded - he had long since got over the fact that his skin was far darker than any of his peers' and he had always kept his hair long in spite of all his peers attempts to get him to cut it or, in one case had tried to do the job for him. That lad had had his leg quite severely nicked with Kay's sword in response, and everyone regarded his swordsmanship with respect.
"Anyway Percy," Kay said to the boy opposite, "when would they ever check that place out?"
"Well..." Percy began, but was interrupted by the arrival of the food, as everyone set to their meal all fell quiet.
After the meal, Kay, Percy and three other now gownless boys gathered at the gate, making sure that the porter was fast asleep before sneaking past and quietly turning a key in the gate lock before sneaking out and shutting the gate behind them. Legend among the students had it that the key they had just used had been copied from one taken from the porter once while he had been asleep. There were certainly plenty of people around out in the city who had the skill to cut such a key who would willingly sell this service to students with more money than sense. In any case, the key was now in Percy's hands.
They proceeded quickly to the White Horse and entered. The taproom contained a peculiar mixture of people - students who had escaped from their colleges for theevening somehow, townfolk, and those who looked like fellows of colleges trying to look like townsfolk. A fire was burning in order to ward off the autumn chill.
Percy tapped Kay on the shoulder and pointed over to a quiet corner where a young man with short blond hair and piercing blue eyes was sitting alone. The rest of his face was covered by a black cloth mask.
"That's the one," he whispered.
"How does he drink with that thing over his mouth?" Kay asked puzzledly.
"He lifts just the bottom part only while he's actually drinking," Percy replied. He smirked broadly. "Drinking's not really why he comes here anyway. Watch."
Kay did as directed. One of the serving maids with long brown hair and blue eyes had gone over to the table where the masked man was sitting. His order seemed to be taking an unusually long time. Kay grinned.
"I see. Does he like all of them then or is it just the one?" he asked.
"Seems to be just that one. Her name's Sal, she seems to quite like him. She..."
"Shhhh!!" one of the other boys hissed. The girl had finished with the masked man's order and had arrived at their table.
"What'll you be wanting then, boys?" she asked. She took an order consisting of quite a number of pints.
When she had gone, Kay said "Well, I see why the guy comes down here...".
"So do we all," Percy replied. "She's a wonderful girl. But she's very choosy, she doesn't seem to go for us. And in any case, that guy in the mask is a bit possessive about her, and he's hot with a sword."
"Ah well..." Kay replied. But he looked the girl in the eyes as she returned with the order, trying to elicit some response. To his surprise he seemed to get one - her eyes locked with his, her already rosy cheeks blushed slightly redder. The gaze held only an instant, but Kay knew that she had responded to him.
Most of the evening passed in a haze of alcohol fumes. It seemed to Kay that Sal lingered longer at their table every time she took an order or served them drinks. At the end of the evening, when he had difficulty rising at closing time, she lifted him off his stool and virtually carried him to the door. As all the other students staggered off back towards college, she towed Kay off in the opposite direction...
Kay woke early the next morning and thought immediately that his bed was very hard and that his curtains seemed to be open unusually wide. Further investigation proved that this was because he was lying in the street not far from Clare front gate. After several attempts he managed to stand, and staggered off to the side of college where his room was located. He had never attempted to climb up to his window before, but he somehow managed it.
He also managed, somehow, to get through the day. By the evening meal, he was able to face the idea of food. What he wasn't sure he could face were the knowing grins on the faces of his peers at the dining table.
"Are you coming with us again tonight?" Percy asked him, getting a round of laughter from the lads all round the table - the events of the previous night had obviously already got round far more than just his four companions in the previous night's outing. Kay glared at them. All through the meal, the subtle and not so subtle comments continued. But afterwards, he found he couldn't face the idea of staying in college while she was out there in the White Horse. He crept with the others past the sleeping porter and out to the tavern. Sal appeared very quickly to take the orders, and lingered somewhat when she returned with the drinks.
As before, the evening passed in quite a haze. But when closing time came around, Kay's companions hustled him out of the building and started pulling him erratically home.
"Excuse me," came a calm voice from an alley. The lads staggered to a halt and turned to the alley.
"Excuse me, but I'm extremely upset," the voice came again, and the masked man stepped out of the alley. "You have been taking my place, you with the long hair and the blue cape," he indicated Kay with a nod of the head. "Now, you leave my Sal alone, or I'll separate your head from your body."
Percy grabbed Kay's cloak and tried to drag him away. "Remember, he's hot with a sword," he hissed.
"So am I," Kay shouted, his voice echoing up the street. "I'll not give her up just for your threat!" But as he tried to draw his sword, his friends dragged him away.
The next night found Kay once again in the White Horse. This time he kept feeling the glare of the masked man's blue eyes on his back, but he ignored the man. When Kay's friends had all become quite drunk, Sal came over and took his arm.
"Let's go," she hissed with a glance at the masked man. "He will do you an injury if you wait around till we close." He left with her through the back entrance and headed up the road out of town to the west, arms linked, under a bright moon, and with the frost starting to form on the grass around them.
As they came to the river bridge, Kay heard a light footfall behind him - far too close. He pushed Sal sideways and the two of them fell sideways as a light sword swept over where their heads had just been. Kay rolled up and drew his own light sword while Sal turned and fled back to town.
"Now I have you," the masked man breathed, his anger dripping from his voice. He swung his blade again. Kay parried and lunged back. The masked man's blade flicked towards him, and he clumsily pushed it away, leaving blood trailing from a cut down his arm. Not in a long time had he allowed any opponent such a chance. He lunged back, and nicked his enemy's ear.
The two swung back and forward for many minutes on the bridge. Each landed further minor cuts, but no more. Suddenly the masked man drove forwards and Kay was forced to retreat almost off the bridge. His foot suddenly slipped from under him as he stepped on a frozen puddle and the last thing he felt was a blinding pain as his head connected violently with the stone of the bridge...
Back at the White Horse, Sal waited apprehensively, unable to concentrate on her work, almost in tears as she tried to serve the customers. Her worst fears were confirmed when the masked man enetered, his face streaked with blood and tears. Before she could escape to the privacy of the back of the inn, he found her.
"I didn't mean to kill him!" he whispered desperately. "I was only going to force him to yield, but he fell and cracked his skull! I threw him in the river! Give me a drink!"
She backed off as quickly as she could get away. Going to barrels, she pulled a pint. But the very thought of facing him... She ran upstairs to the landlord's rooms and searched for the medicine chest she knew his wife possessed. There were pots and bags of many herbs, but she searched for the one which she knew contained a herb for bringing sleep. The whole packet went into the pint before she brought it through to the masked man in the taproom. He drank the whole pint down at once, then collapsed onto the table in tears which gradually subsided as he drifted off to sleep...
Sal stood crying by the side of the mill race by the bridge where the duel had been. No amount of crying could erase her grief for Kay or her guilt for the masked one. And she had liked him, before, but in the heat of that moment...
She had waited until the inn closed, when the masked man was discovered, cold and lifeless, by one of the other serving girls. She had almost screamed the place down, for all the landlord knew that men sometimes drank enough to kill themselves. She hadn't had the courage to wait for the discovery that the herbs had gone, she had left, weeping, to come out to find if any trace could be seen of Kay, in spite of the masked man's assurance he had thrown the corpse into the river. Why shouldn't she follow him? she thought. He was gone, and all she could see in her future was a gallows. What was to stop her? Resolved, she stood, and leapt into the white water at the foot of the weir. The water was not deep, but it was icy cold. She didn't try to fight, she just let the cold sweep over her and into oblivion...
And so there are three unquiet ghosts haunting the city of Cambridge, all looking for ways to settle old scores. From time to time, they manifest themselves in some form or other, looking for a chance to put themselves to rest...
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