St. Fulbert’s Day, in the eighth year of King Richard II
John of Gaunt, the duke of Lancaster. My lord and mentor. And for all intents and purposes…a father to me, though he is but ten years older than myself.
My own father died away at war when I was but seven. I do not remember him except for a tall man with brooding brows who looked sternly down upon me–I know not how old I was–and repremanded me for some failing that I do not now recall.
It was at that time I was fostered into the duke’s household as a page. He took to me instantly, my eagerness to please, my facilities with languages and the sciences. He took me hawking and hunting. He taught me the bow and how to hurl a javelin. I became part of his household a few years after he married his cousin Blanche of Lancaster and inherited her father’s title. He was, by far, the richest man in England, even wealthier than his father Edward III. His daughter Philippa was younger than myself, only a toddler when I came to live with my lord, but she was as dear to me as sister. I belonged to a family again and I thrived in it.
We spent time at court and often, I served at the high table, cutting meat for the king or Lancaster. I was grateful. I was honored to be there. My lord was proud of me for all that I was learning and how pleased the king was with me and my studies.
Even after Blanche died of the plague and he married again, this time to Constanza of Castille, I weathered the changes. He soon had a son–a legitmate one this time, for my lord was a lusty man and begot his first child before his marriage to Blanche with one of the queen’s ladies in waiting. Little John died when he was but three. Elizabeth was born and grew fast with her father’s love of hawking. There was much rejoicing when Edward was born…and much mourning three years later when he, too, died. A second little John was born…and died. And then Henry. He was a precocious child and he thought of me as an older brother I am sure. These were happy times. Geoffrey Chaucer was a friend and court poet to Lancaster, and he lived with us. Geoffrey and I became fast friends, too, and he was my equal in all but title.
When I reached my majority, my lord of Gaunt knighted me, and my barony, which the duke held for me, returned to my hands. I became busy with my own estates in Sheen but came swiftly to the aid of my lord when he traveled off to war where I fought at his side.
I did not know–how could I know?–that my loyalty would be my undoing. It is a foolish pastime to dwell on it. Gone are those days of fine feasts and celebrations. Gone is my friendship with Geoffrey; the carefree nights in the company of my lord and his children. I was orphaned again. Set upon the streets just as surely as young Jack Tucker. As a knight no more, I serve my lord in my own way. I make certain that stolen goods are recovered, that murderers are brought to justice, that wrongs are made right.
It is all that is left to me.