Oh, The Places You'll Go

Out of the Darkeness More Brightly

Notes: So, when I went to Edinburgh the train journey was all snowy and beautiful and I saw Holy Island aka Lindisfarne (that's the 16th C castle you can see, btw) and suddenly I saw Wat there and Chaucer going to visit him. This is the result. I've taken a few liberties (but only a few) with English Benedictine life in the Middle Ages, so I hope any scholars will forgive me. It's A Knight's Tale, anachronisms are our friend!

Thank you to my darling mrs_laugh_track for beta and making me write MORE WORDS, omg. ♥ This is WAY the longest AKT fic I've ever written.


The winter snows come early this year and Geoff's hands are chafed red with cold as he signals with thighs, a gentle tug on the reins and a quiet, "Whoa, there, Sweet Nell."

The placid mare snorts, sending plumes of white into the frosty air and she stamps her hooves against the cast iron ground. They have travelled far since their journey began, and it has been hard going even on her sturdy legs. Geoff has reined her in on the crest of a hill just before the land gives way to the sea, the clear sky bending low to meet it at a sharp horizon. Here, finally, after the endless monotony of rolling hills and his own company, after the straight drabness of the old Roman roads and the knee-shaking ruts of the poor excuses for cart tracks, here is what he has come to seek at last. Geoff looks beyond the stone causeway to the island. The tide is in his favour.

"Just this last league, my fine girl, and then you shall rest." He pats her neck and brings his hand away damp and, if it were possible, colder still; even her honest sweat is chilled.

The sun dips low in the sky behind him, striking off the sand and stones to cast a strange orange-gold glow around Lindisfarne Priory. He does not know if it is God's welcome or God's warning, but there is little of the day left, the tide will soon turn and Geoff would like to be inside the gates without he or his horse lame or drowned or both. Something akin to fire flares in his stomach and, resisting the urge to push her into a canter, he presses Nell's flanks with his heels and they step carefully down the snow-covered track. There are no friendly footprints to mark the way--no one of sense is travelling today.

A gate stands open on the eastern wall and Geoff slows to a halt before it, sliding from his saddle with easy grace. He twines the reins around his hand and leads the mare through the open doorway, finding himself in a wide, open courtyard. There are neat, wooden buildings and lean-tos filling the space, all with snow dusting their roofs save for the two or three where smoke is cheerfully puffing out of low chimneys. After miles with no scents in his nose other than the sour smell of winter and the salt tang of the sea, Geoff is assailed with a whole multitude: the familiar malodour of the farmyard, a hide set to tan, wood smoke, hops and yeast among them. He can hear the raucous chime of metal striking against metal, the sharp scrape of shovel on stone, a quiet sucking sound that he cannot quite place and yet no cheerful voices are raised in idle conversation, argument or song. Were it not for the fact that there is a black-robed man barrelling towards him even now, Geoff might be quite convinced there is a miracle at work here; that all tasks are being tended to by the invisible hand of God.

"Welcome, brother," says the man, tall and heavyset, bowing his head. "God gi' you grace. It is a hard day to be abroad, even for a pilgrim."

"Less a pilgrim, more a visitor," says Geoff, "but yes, hard indeed. Could I trouble you for shelter and food for my mare, here? The fault is not hers that her master does not know when 'tis folly to stir from the hearth."

"Of course," says the man with a faint impression of a smile. "I shall see to it myself. And you look fair famished yourself, if you don't mind me saying. Let me call a brother to give you something to sustain you and when I've stabled your mare I'll announce you to the Prior. He'll want to pray with you, no doubt, and I’m sure you'd be happier with something in your belly, hey?" The smile splits into a full grin now, or as full as it can be with two or three teeth gone. Geoff finds himself smiling back.

"That sounds most welcome, Brother..." he leaves an expectant pause.

"Brother Martin," confirms the man. "And who will I be announcing?"

"Geoffrey Chaucer at your service," says Geoff, with a tight bow.

"More like at the Lord's, I'd hope," says Brother Martin and turns from Geoff to hail another hooded man who has appeared from a room at the south end of the courtyard, a leather jug gripped in one fist. He barely raises his voice but it carries the distance and the man looks up sharply and turns his face towards them.

How Geoff's legs do not slip from under him, he will never know. His fingers and toes, numb with cold, burst into painful, tingling life, and his heart beats wildly at the cage of his ribs like it would fly out of his chest and into the hands of the man who stands frozen, open-mouthed and pale.

It will not do. He wants Wat to come of his own accord, not because he is tossed out on his ear for sinning. Geoff drags his eyes--such reluctant eyes--away from the embodiment of every dream he has had if not for time immemorial then for quite long enough, thank you, and smiles at Brother Martin, handing over Nell's reins.

"Well met, Brother Wat," he says, folding his arms and accompanying it with a cocky slant of his head. "I had hoped to find you here, I vow. What? No friendly greeting for an old comrade in arms?"

Wat shakes himself to life, then, taking his cue from Geoff, for which Geoff sends up a wordless prayer of thanks.

"Long time no see."

"You know each other?" Brother Martin's expression is curious but open and Geoff trusts they can pass this off without discovery.

"Once, in another lifetime, we shared a mission," he says, "and then our pathways diverged. It seems that God had it in mind that we should see one another again."

"Yes, indeed," says Brother Martin who isn't privy to the glare Wat is sending Geoff over his shoulder. "Then you're in safe hands." He turns to lead Nell away, saying as he does, "Gi' the poor bugger some bread, Brother, or he'll be dead on his feet before the Prior's finished with him."

"Watch your language, Brother," says Wat and Geoff only just manages to stifle his surprised laugh.

"Give it a rest, Wat, lad, there's no Fathers here," says Brother Martin without turning back.

Geoff and Wat both watch him go and then Geoff watches Wat until he, with obvious reluctance, turns to him.

Geoff says, "Well, Wat, and have you washed away the sins of the world yet?"

And Wat says, "Getting there."

Geoff could stand here drinking his fill of Wat until the end of recorded time, but the light is beginning to die, fresh snow is beginning to fall and there are other men, some hooded, some soberly dressed, appearing from their workshops and rooms. They are not alone and Geoff cannot act as if they are. Wat jerks his head and Geoff follows him through a narrow gateway into the main Priory building. Wat takes a sharp turn to the left and lifts the latch on a plain wooden door. Heat roils out of the room and Geoff breathes it down, feeling the ice in his belly begin to melt.

It's a simple kitchen; a square stone table sits in the middle, swept and bare. There are two fireplaces, both lit, one with a large, black pot set over the flames, the other with three rabbits trussed and hung on hooks, lazily twisting in the smoke, scenting the air with a spicy brew. A rough-hewn sink stands in one corner and wooden shelves hold baskets and pots and pewter. It is clean, but not austere, and Geoff sinks gladly to a bench and watches Wat bustle about, lighting torches to ease the gloom and disappearing through another door.

"Baked it this morning myself," says Wat, returning, and the bread on the wooden trencher wobbles violently as he sets it down with a thump. He adds a clay cup full of water and steps back out of Geoff's reach, pushing his hood off his head. Geoff doesn't even bother to hide his shock at the shorn locks.

"Your hair!" he exclaims.

"Work of the Devil," shrugs Wat. "Better gone."

Wat's shoulders are still broad in his habit, but the bleak black against his pale skin combined with the close-cropped hair make him look as fragile as Geoff has ever seen him. Geoff grips the cup tightly with both hands and places one foot on top of the other to keep himself in place.

"What do you do here? Besides baking bread, of course." Geoff tries to keep his tone light, as if he's gentling his mare.

Wat shrugs again. "I cook, I mind stores, I do whatever the Fathers need me to do, I learn to read. Not your dirty poems. God's words."

"I see you haven't taken sacred orders," Geoff circles a finger round his own skull to indicate the lack of a tonsure and a small knot unwinds inside him. One less sin he's going to have to convince Wat to commit.

"Taken vows, though, haven't I?" And Wat's chin comes up, challenging. Lord, how Geoff has missed this.

"So it is priesthood for you, then, Wat?"

"Brother Wat to you. And no, I can't. There's the reading, see. I can't do it yet. And then there's this whole thing where I was a criminal for a while there. They don't like that. But it's all about working for God, innit? So I can do that."

"For the rest of your life, Wat? Will got years and I-" he swallows the words. "And God gets forever. That's how it works?"

Wat shrugs again and Geoff knows that he's never been garrulous at the best of times and that Benedictines are given to quiet contemplation, yet he is sorely tempted to surge to his feet and shake words out of him until they fall about his feet.

"Why've you come?"

Geoff takes a long draft of water and chews a mouthful of bread, considering his answer. Wat rolls his eyes and the sheer familiarity tugs at the corners of Geoff's lips.

"I was restless. Will and Jocelyn produce a succession of fat, healthy children and Will grows fat and solid alongside them. Kate? Why she strikes fear into the hearts of blacksmiths everywhere with her hammer and skill and spends whatever time she has left nimbly sidestepping proposals of marriage from greasy guildsmen and spotty enchanted youths both. Roland grows roots deep into the soil of Will's estate and peoples his own small family. I miss our merry band travelling through France with only hope and belief and a fallen knight's horse to drive us. I miss them, though I see them oft and on. 'Tis only you I do not see."

"Oh?" says Wat, with a sneering curl of his lip.

Geoff goes very still. He lowers his head and looks up at Wat through eyelashes that are wet with melted snow and nothing else. "You know why I'm really here."

Wat's face twists. "Don't," he says. "Geoff, don't." It's the first time Wat has used Geoff's name since their reunion and he wields it like a weapon. It cuts, opening up an old wound deep enough to bleed.

A bell rings and Wat's head jerks up. "Nones," he says. "I'd better..." But what he'd better do is never spoken as three brothers bustle through the door, two of them with sacks under their arms which they set down on the table before hastening about, pulling down copper pots and earthenware jars in a seeming random order. The third bows his head to Geoff and says,

"The Prior wishes to pray with you, good visitor, and invites you to share our service. We will sit to dinner once Nones is said and he bids you to his lodgings to dine and speak more privately."

"Marvellous," says Geoff, reflecting that the service will at least provide him time to gather his scattered wits. He rises and follows the Lay Brother into the church. He turns as he steps over the threshold of the kitchen, fixing Wat with a stare. "I will find you," he says and does not know if Wat hears it as a threat or a promise.

It isn't that Geoff does not see the hand of God in nature or in his fellow man, far from it. It's simply that he does not understand how God is supposed to be more present in monks mumbling arcane Latin rituals than in the peasant tending his sheep and lifting his voice in praise given in the common tongue, the only one he knows. Nor does he believe that any just God would condemn love out of hand for being unnatural. Geoff has done his duty, marrying and procreating both, what, therefore, is unnatural about wishing to spend his days at peace, sated in mind and body, warm to his soul long after the fire in the grate has died?

Chaucer stands and kneels and crosses himself as directed, the rhythm and plainchant of the service acting as a soporific strong enough that he pinches himself to stay awake. There are but five monks in the choir, none of them young men, presided over by the Prior. The congregation is sparse, Geoff himself and two lay brothers alone, but it is winter and not Sunday and the small island community must work even as the dark descends.

The monks begin a new Psalm and Geoff's mind drifts to Wat's face, stark and disbelieving as he set eyes on Geoff. Had there been joy there, hurriedly quashed, or is Geoff seeing things he wants to see? He'd rehearsed their meeting so many times, paring words away like skin from an apple until only the sweet flesh, the heart of it, remained. It had been nothing like that, of course, the practised words disappearing, washed away with the overwhelming remembrance of how it felt to hold Wat close, muttering fevered nonsense in his ear, to provoke Wat's merry bark of a laugh, to look up to find Wat's eyes roving over him, fierce and warm, as if to memorise every contour of Geoff's body. There were no words that were defence against such an assault.

The monks sing, "Sicut erat in princípio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculórum." As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Geoff rather suspects that to be true and it isn't comforting at all.

Nones over, the grey-haired, straight-backed Prior fixes Geoff with a beatific smile and bears him away to his lodgings. Narrow stairs give way to a broad, paved landing and a low, arched door. Geoff has to bend his head to enter the room and wonders if it had been designed that way to induce humility. He has used up his supply on the short service, however, and looks about him with a keen eye. The study is simply furnished, yet manages an air of subtle elegance as befits a man in such standing with God and mortals as the Prior. Geoff notes with approval the shelf of books, though he will take up his old gambling habit and stake his much-needed dinner that no copy of his own works stands upon it.

"Sit," says the Prior, indicating a small table against one wall. "One hopes that the Opus Dei has nourished your soul and now we must nourish your body, Master Chaucer."

Geoff thanks the Prior, sitting as directed, and, indeed, it is mere moments before food arrives, set down before them without preamble. The Prior says Grace and they settle to the task of eating the thick vegetable stew before it can get cold. Geoff thinks he recognises Wat's hand in the seasoning and he smiles around his spoon.

"And how came you here?" asks the Prior after the meal is over and done and more thanks given.

"Well, sir, I have been travelling the length of the country listening to tales from the people. Inspiration, you might say, for my next book." It's not entirely a lie, Geoff thinks, as he remembers bawdy evenings in taverns and castles alike.

"May God give your pen grace," says the Prior. "I know your writing of old, Chaucer, it has given me great pleasure."

Geoff's mouth drops open and the Prior laughs. "Do you think we must cleave only to the sacred texts? Oh no, Chaucer, for God's love for His creation can be found in many places and The Death of Blanche was a most moving treatise on mourning. Benedictum Nomen Sanctum eius."

"Benedictus Deus," agrees Geoff cheerfully, crossing himself. He likes the Prior, though not enough to sway him from his scheme to snatch away one of his flock from under his nose. "I must confess I came this way not for stories or love of fine monasteries alone, but to look up an old friend of mine."

"Truly?"

Geoff's leg jitters under the table. He clamps a hand down on it and hopes the Prior does not notice. "Brother Wat and I travelled together some years ago in France. It was a strange interlude in my life, I confess, but one I look on with much fondness."

"Ah, yes," says the Prior, tapping a finger against his lips. "Brother Wat spoke of those days when he first joined our own brotherhood. An intriguing life, if not an entirely honest one. I have never seen a joust--it sounds a mighty spectacle." He sounds a little wistful and Geoff sees in him the vibrant young man he must once have been.

"Oh, it is," he says, "but mighty precarious as a means to survive. We needed each other, all of us. Though, truth be told, Wat--Brother Wat--and I fought like cat and dog for the most part."

The Prior's eyes twinkle. "I can well believe it," he says, "though adventure and argument is as good a way to forge brotherhood as any."

"We were a tight-knit little family, yes." Though Geoff had never looked on Wat as a brother, not once. "That's why I thought I'd visit him here, bring news of the rest of our merry band, take...news back of him. Herald to the last, that's me."

"He has been a wonderful asset to our little community," says the Prior, "there is nothing to which he will not turn his hand. He works so hard that one might think he was atoning for the sins of a multitude. We usually do not permit conversation for no edifying purpose, but God will grant us permission on this occasion, I'm sure. It was a difficult journey for Brother Wat to learn to curb his tongue and his thoughts, I believe it will do him good to loosen them, just for a short time."

"Thank you, Father Superior," says Geoff, bowing his head. "You are very gracious."

"No, my son, it is God's grace, not my own." He stands, and as if it was a silent signal, Brother Martin appears in the room and clears the table. "Now, if you don't mind, I must spend some time in study before Vespers. Please, accompany Brother Martin and he will show you your lodging. Our house is as your house."

Geoff bows his head in thanks again, and follows Brother Martin out of the room. They pass down the stairs and cross through a wide room with a wooden trestle at its centre, the Refectory, and Brother Martin motions him to wait as he steps into the kitchen. When he comes out, he is empty-handed and beckons Geoff to continue following. They mount another flight of stairs and come to a narrow corridor with several rooms leading off, as well as a curtained enclave at the near end. Brother Martin opens the first door.

"I brought your saddlebags up," he says, "and made up the fire. Garderobe's just there," he jerks his thumb towards the curtained area. "We're in the Warming House if there's owt else you need. Toast our toes before we freeze 'em again in church."

Chaucer grins. Brother Martin's joviality gives him hope that Wat's is still there somewhere, even if he's buried it deep under his habit. "I give you thanks, Brother. And Wat's there, too?"

"Naw, not 'im. Hard at it, still, isn't he? Try the kitchen."

With that, he turns on his heel and Geoff is left alone. He hesitates on the threshold of his room, fingers flicking at the latch. He could go in, wrap himself in as many layers as he can find and huddle by the fire, planning his course of attack. Or he could risk the throw of the dice and find Wat now.

It's funny how he pretends it's a choice.

Wat has placed a row of balls of dough along the table and is kneading at one systematically. Press, fold, turn. Press, fold, turn. He doesn't stop even as he looks up and sees Geoff come in and settle on the bench. Geoff crosses his legs and rests his elbow on his knee, chin in hand, studying Wat in the torchlight. Wat is relentless, kneading and pinching and kneading again until he appears assured of perfection. The low ball in Geoff's stomach that could be unleavened bread, it is so solid and unmoving, is relentless, too. He has borne it since they parted last. It is a heavy burden and he longs to set it down. He still does not understand it, where this love came from, how powerful it is, but he has learned not to question, after all, he is still God's servant if he is not the most loyal or obedient. God works in a mysterious way, he thinks, and wonders if anyone has ever thought to set that down.

"You gonna keep your trap shut all night, then?" asks Wat when he reaches for the third lump of dough.

"Wasn't sure you wanted to talk to me, though the Prior has given us permission if that makes you feel better about your vows."

"Don't say it like that."

"What?" Geoff is perplexed.

"My vows. Just 'cos they don't mean nothing to you." Wat's chin comes up for the second time this day and Geoff uncrosses his legs and sits up.

"Wat, I didn't mean- Goodness, man, what do you take me for?"

Wat mutters something Geoff can't hear. It's probably just as well, but Geoff never did learn when to leave well enough alone.

"Come again?"

"I said you're a pervert, an over-educated one at that."

"'Zounds," says Geoff, with an insouciant bite of his lip and a hand to his heart, knowing full well it is not hatred of him that provoked Wat's words, "How your words do cut, Wat. Is this what happens when you only get to use a handful a day?"

A smile flashes across Wat's eyes and it's the warmest Geoff has felt all day. "Weren't never me that was the chatty one," he says.

"Not true." In Geoff's head the dice cup rattles and he throws. "I remember times when words poured from you, Wat. I remember them well."

The scowl is back and Geoff fears for tomorrow's bread. A foul throw, then.

"Wat," he tries, gently. "It isn't your fault. Love finds us; we do not choose it, look at Will and Jocelyn. Her father still calls him 'that boy', you know."

"Yeah, but we don't have to follow where it beckons, do we?"

Wat thumps even harder at the dough, which Geoff hadn't believed possible. He doesn't deny what they'd had, though, neither does he deny the embers are still there. Geoff can feel it, still, the tug between them that's been there since the beginning. Wat feels it, too. He must. Geoff is content to let matters alone for now.

"You're busy, I'll leave you," he says, watching the scowl lift from Wat's face as he relieves the pressure. "I'll go to my little cell and write and I promise nothing rude will escape my pen while I'm there."

"Vespers when the bell rings," says Wat. "I do that one. You should, too. You could stand to spend some time asking God's forgiveness for being born a git."

"Watch your language, Brother Wat!" says Geoff with a grin and escapes before Wat can heave a lump of dough at his head.

There is mead and a meagre fire in his cell to warm him. Chaucer wraps his coat tight around his body and, instead of writing, lies down on the narrow bed, closes his eyes and thinks of hot days travelling through France and hopes to warm himself another way.

It is difficult to think of those times without remembering the solid shape of Wat in his arms, cursing him with one breath, kissing him with another. Horrified and laughingly bewildered both at loving a man the way he was supposed to love woman. He had never settled to it even then, but his body had thrown its lot in with Geoff's with all the fervour his mouth spent in forswearing them. Geoff's prick rises at the memories of Wat's hard, sweating body thrumming like a dulcimer underneath his fingers and he groans. A mortal sin seems so much greater here in this austere room, with Christ watching him from the simple, wooden cross on the wall, expression forever rueful.

He dare not touch himself for fear the very walls will call calumny. He thinks instead of the last time he had seen Wat, a mere se'nnight after Will's triumph in London. His lord had called and he'd had to go.

"Come with me, Wat," he'd said but Wat had shaken his head and replied, "My place is with Will, I won't leave him."

"I will come back for you," Geoff had said. "Don't dare to doubt it."

"Don't, Geoff," and Wat had warded him off with a hand. "Just let this thing die. It were never meant to be. It's unnatural and I can't burn in Hell, not for no gaudy herald."

Geoff, cut to the quick (for gaudy herald he may be but he loved deep and wide), had been unable to respond. Wat's face wasn’t even twisted in anger, it was still and calm and that made it worse somehow. And while he'd floundered, Wat had dropped his head and walked away.

He tosses and turns, unable to find comfort. Unable, too, to recapture happier memories of river bathing, of sharing Will's victories, of breaking into laughter at a shared glance. He's never been so grateful for the toll of the church bell in his life.

In the morning, Geoff wakes with the sun. Truth be told, it is his fourth waking as he sleeps but lightly and the bell calling the monks to their services wakes him every three hours without fail. Despite this, he feels rested enough and ready to start the day's campaigning. Rising, he makes his way to the kitchen; it is as good a place to start as any.

Wat is clattering away in the sink and Geoff wonders if it was the sun that woke him after all, or the terrible racket Wat is making. If any of the jars and jorums, pots and pans that he has in there survive the experience, Geoff is sure it will be entirely by accident.

"Good morning, Brother," he says, leaning against the doorjamb and folding his arms.

"Bothered to get up, did you?" says Wat without turning round. "And here you've only wasted half the day. Haven't you got some more time you could fritter somewhere?"

"It's winter, Wat. Cold and dark and unnecessary. We should wrap ourselves in furs and straw and go to sleep like dormice do. Nothing good comes of winter."

"Birth of Christ, you heathen," says Wat, and then makes a strangled noise as the sleeves of his habit slip down his arms as though inexorably drawn to the water.

Geoff mentally inserts the missing curse and darts forward, grabbing one of the escaping sleeves and rolling it up beyond Wat's elbow. Wat stands stock-still and mute until Geoff has finished with the habit. He doesn't lift his eyes even once. "You're welcome," says Geoff with a roll of his eyes and a light shove at Wat's shoulder and he retreats to the door again, watching Wat work.

He starts to make a count in his head to see how long it will take for Wat to fire up at Geoff's scrutiny and idleness, but he keeps being distracted by Wat's forearms, the skin shifting over the muscles and sinew beneath as he lifts, grips, washes and wipes, by the curve of his neck as he bends to his task and how the close-cropped hair reveals the shape of his skull, exposed and vulnerable yet strong as steel. How many knocks has it taken and Wat is still standing? He is starting the count for the fifth time when Wat whirls on his heel, the skirt of his habit skirling around his ankles, and jabs a finger at Geoff.

"You. The Devil makes work for idle hands and you've enough to be worried about." He pulls down two jars and a bottle from a shelf and puts them on the table with a bowl, spoon and a rag. "Here, make yourself useful, you great waste of space. The coppers want polishing."

Geoff considers that he's done quite well when Wat only sighs twice showing him how to mix up the salt, flour and vinegar, and sets to, if not with fervour, then at least with good intent. Wat is like the bottle of vinegar, he thinks, stoppered up and sour, and he'll never be sweetened unless Geoff reminds him of who they used to be. No, not between the sheets (or on top of the hay as was more like) either, but the unlikely friendship they'd shared, the two of them (the five of them).

"I passed by Alnwick on the way here," he says. "My Lord Gaunt gave me an introduction to the Earl. Anyway, imagine who was there but Germaine. You know, he of Adhemar's enormous manhood? He says Adhemar is now claiming he has a 'trick knee' and that's why Will beat him to flinders. First, I say, let it go, you miserable sore loser, you. It was over and done with years past. And second, what is this 'trick knee?' Does it conjure and juggle because that, my friend, I would pay to see. Well, not pay so much as point and mock, but you understand my drift."

Wat doesn't reply but the set of his shoulders seems a little less forbidding and Geoff starts up another anecdote. They carry on like this all day, between obligations to prayer, Geoff following Wat as he goes about his business, doing as he is bid, accompanying their work with chatter. The Prior is wrong; none of his words, many though they are, are without edifying purpose.

It is still before Nones when Geoff says to Brother Martin, who has joined them in the well house, "And that's when the beam swung back and this great lummox here, too busy laughing to pay attention, was knocked clean off his feet." Geoff's lips twitch. "His outrage could be heard in the Low Countries, no doubt, he yelled so loud."

Wat lifts his head, sharp, from where he's sealing a bucket with beeswax. "Geoffrey Chaucer, wash your mouth out, I did not. And if I did you couldn't have heard you were so busy clinging to Roland and pissing yourself laughing."

He grins and it's the first true glimpse of the old Wat--his Wat--that Geoff has seen. Hope flares, a thin flame licking up inside him. Geoff grins back and resists the urge to bump shoulders with him.

Brother Martin shakes his head in mock sorrow and says, "And if I went to France I'd find it still standing, would I? After the lot of you'd finished with it."

"I think we put it all back how we found it, didn't we?" says Geoff to Wat.

"Most of it. Except them tents. And all that wood."

"And those horses."

"And all them trophies."

"And a couple of the women."

"And the sausage."

They share an amused glance and, as one, chorus, "Maybe not."

Brother Martin shakes his head again, laughing this time. "What are you two like?" he says. "I could listen to you all day, but you'd have me in trouble with God and Father Superior, both."

"We make a good team," says Geoff softly, as the lay brother takes his buckets and leaves.

Wat doesn't reply, but neither does he move away. It will do for now.

The next morning Wat is not in the kitchen and Geoff is momentarily nonplussed until Brother Timon, another lay brother, points him in the direction of the brewhouse.

"Mead day," is all he says.

The brewhouse is but a short way down the corridor, past the bakehouse from which pours the heady scent of new bread, making Geoff's stomach grumble. Wat is feeding wood into a kiln, a large brass kettle sitting above it. A small, cheerful fire burns in a hearth in the middle of the floor and barrels are racked along one wall. Smaller casks stand in a higgledy-piggledy pyramid against another wall, one stands broken open at Wat's feet. Close by are several buckets full to the brim with water and shelves are lined with clay pots, bottles and other paraphernalia Geoff assumes have to do with brewing.

Wat closes the door of the kiln and spies Geoff. "Good," he says. "You can stir. Stirring's dull." Out of one sleeve he pulls a slotted spoon and out of the other he pulls a candle.

Geoff raises his eyebrows. "What else have you got up there? A white rabbit?"

"Eh?"

"Nothing." Geoff takes the spoon Wat's holding out for him and watches as Wat lights the candle from the fire in the hearth, drips a little wax onto the floor and sets the candle in it.

"Right," says Wat, picking up the cask and holding it over the kettle. "Stir. And don't go stopping before I tell you."

Geoff stirs as Wat pours golden brown honey into the heated water. It's a slow process and mesmerising as the thick liquid swirls and disperses in the water, but eventually the cask is empty and Wat puts it aside.

"Keep stirring," says Wat.

"I am, I am! My arm may be about to fall off with fatigue but I'm stirring."

"Good lad," says Wat, with a quick grin, "I'll make a brewer out of you yet. Now look." He points to the centre of the kettle where foam is beginning to rise. "We need to skim that off the must."

"Why?" asks Geoff, genuinely curious.

"Because I say so, that's why," snaps Wat. "What's this with the twenty questions?" He relents almost immediately, true to form, and explains. "The foam's how we get rid of bits that shouldn't be there. You don't want to be drinking bee legs now, do you? Or leaves, or hive?"

"I don't know, Wat, I heard bee legs are considered a delicacy among royalty these days. Try leaving them in and selling by royal appointment."

"I am not dignifying that with a response," says Wat. "'cept for how I just responded there. Now skim. Dump it in that sink behind you."

Geoff does as commanded. At least he attempts to, but he can't seem to get the foam to stay on the spoon.

"Oh for-" Wat comes round the kettle to stand at Geoff's right shoulder. He reaches for the spoon, hand closing over Geoff's and slides the spoon through the must at an angle catching and lifting the foam. He bends Geoff's arm with the pressure of his own, turning their bodies away from the kettle and flicks the foam into the sink. The pressure eases and they return, joined, to the kettle, repeating the process again and again until all the foam has gone.

"See?" says Wat. "Easy."

"Yes," replies Geoff in a strangled voice because Wat's hand is on his yet, Wat's body pressed against the length of him and it isn't just the sweet smell in the air that's making him weak.

Wat stills and it may be the motion of the steam off the must that's brushing so light against Geoff's thumb or it may not. Geoff tries not to move, not to startle Wat out of this shared moment, but just then there is a loud clatter from somewhere outside the room and Wat leaps away from him as if scalded. He doesn't order Geoff away or freeze him out, as Geoff fears he might. "Don't let it burn, idiot," he snaps, instead. "Keep stirring."

Geoff stirs, the constant swirl of the must a fair reflection of his state of mind. He is, however, jolted out of his trance when Wat pulls an egg out from one of his sleeves.

"What the-? How did you keep that up there without breaking it?"

Wat taps his nose. "Trick of the trade, innit?" He drops the egg in the kettle and it floats, more than half out of the must. "Good enough," he says and turns to Geoff. "Now can you get that out by yourself or is this whole spoon concept still beyond you?"

Geoff narrows his eyes and scoops out the egg, holding the spoon towards Wat. "Soft-boiled," he says. "Not my favourite."

"Sink," says Wat and Geoff tosses it in with a satisfying wet crack. "Stir."

"Do I do this until I lose a limb?"

"Until the candle burns out," says Wat with a nod of his head. It is most way there.

Geoff stirs and stirs and watches as Wat sets a barrel in the holder, pulling a funnel off a shelf and placing it in a hole in the barrel lid before pouring the remaining buckets of water into it.

The candle gutters and flickers out, and as it does so, Wat is at the kettle, hands wrapped in rags. He picks it up, Geoff snatching the spoon away before it and his arm are taken with it, and lifts it over to the barrel, pouring carefully into the funnel. That done, he unwraps his hands, reaches for a clay pot and a mug, filling the mug from the pot, which he hastily restoppers, and adding the contents to the barrel. Finally, he fetches a plug and hammers it into the hole in the barrel lid. Done, he places his hands on his hips and grins at Geoff.

"Best mead this side of the Humber," he says. "I'd say in all England but it don't do to brag."

"You'd never do that," agrees Geoff solemnly, his lips quirking despite themselves.

Their work is not over yet, however, and Geoff helps Wat rack the barrel and set to on one that has been sitting for the space of a month. They taste the mead (or rather Wat does) and, it being declared good, draw it into a second barrel, draining the muck once that's done and stoppering it up in a new clay pot. Then they scrub the barrel clean and heave it back among its fellows. Lastly, they take yet another barrel, one Wat explains has been there two months, and taste this one, too. This time, Wat, who has given up pretending not to want to discuss his work and has been explaining each step as they make it, hands Geoff a mug. They slump to the floor, resting against the barrels, legs stretched out in front of them, feet barely missing the hearth.

"Cheers," Wat says, waving his mug in Geoff's general direction. "God's grace and all that."

It's hot in the brewhouse and Wat's red-faced and sweating, his scapular daubed with honey and dust, but he's happy and smiling and proud and for the first time Geoff wonders if he is playing fair.

"Cheers," he counters and swigs. Mead was the drink of the ancient gods, and it does not surprise Geoff that the more modern God stole it as his own. Gods, apparently, have very good taste. "Wat, you are a marvel," he says.

"God's the marvel," says Wat, so fast Geoff knows it is habit and not thought. "It's the bees, actually," he adds after a moment's quiet contemplation. "We've got good bees and Brother John is a grand beekeeper." He lets his head drop backwards, knocking against the barrel with a dull thud. "I had some bees back at Will's place. I wonder what became of 'em."

There are reasons--Good reasons. Sensible, thoughtful reasons--as to why Geoff should, for once, keep his mouth firmly closed, but he is helpless to resist. "Why did you leave him? Weren't you happy there? I thought...when I left...?" And this is why these days he usually writes things down first.

Wat sighs and puts down his mug. "I was happy." He stops and stares at the ceiling. "No, that's a lie. I thought I was. I'd sent you away all right and proper and I was going to be on the up with my Maker and help Will work his land and it'd be good. Didn't think I'd marry or anything, but I had Roland to darn me britches so it wasn't exactly top of my priorities anyway."

"Poor Roland. Do you think he darns Christiana's britches, too?"

Wat smiles faintly. "Could be. She wears 'em, after all. Quiet ones are the ones you need to watch. Anyway. Jocelyn fell pregnant and Will was overjoyed. So was Roland. Me? I was spitting jealous. Didn't I deserve that kind of happiness and how come I wasn't never going to get it? Not with my heart- Yeah. Well. That's how it came to me, that maybe I only got to be happy by serving God since I'd sinned so hard against Him. Maybe it was all my fault. I left the next day and God brought me here. That's it. Happy now?"

"No," says Geoff, and his heart aches. "It wasn't your fault."

"That's what the great Chaucer says, is it?" says Wat, getting to his feet. "You sure about that? 'Cos if it's not my fault, it's yours."

Geoff doesn't get another word out of him for the rest of the day. He sleeps poorly, unsettled by bad dreams when asleep and troubled by his conscience when awake. Wat is happy here, or at the very least, at peace. Geoff does not doubt that he could make Wat happy, too, if he'd let him, but in whose gift is happiness, anyway? It is less of a conundrum than he pretends in the full darkness of the night, but he's not ready to hear the answer. Not yet. Tomorrow he will try again.

Or at least he would try were he able to bring Wat to ground. The Priory is not overlarge and yet as he is entering one room, it seems that Wat has just left it, and between this unwanted game of cat and mouse and various brothers requesting Geoff's assistance--"If you're at a loose end, just now, Brother,"--most of the day is past before he can speak to Wat alone.

It is possible he's expected to see this as a sign.

"There you are," he says, finding Wat in the Parlour, sitting in candlelight with a book open on his knee, finger tracking the words and mouth moving with them. "Why do you not go into the Warming Room with the others? You must be freezing."

"Wanted to be on my own, didn't I?" says Wat, still tracking along each line.

"Always, Wat?" says Geoff, and because there is a time in every gambler's life--ex or no--when they needs must go all in. "I said I'd come back for you and here I am. Come with me."

Wat slams the book shut and Geoff sees dust motes flare and die in the candlelight. "And I said don't. You think you know so much about everything. About words and the world and how things work and about love and you don't. You don't get it at all. Love isn't selfish, Geoff. If you loved me, you'd leave me be."

And the weak flame of hope that Chaucer's been nursing since Wat's first true smile is snuffed out. He presses his lips together and shakes his head, not in refusal, but in resigned acceptance.

"You're right, of course," he says. "And I'm sorry, truly. I shouldn't have come. No matter, I'll leave at first light tomorrow and you shall have your peace back."

He doesn't stay to see Wat's reaction to his words; whatever it is can only cause him pain.

Brother Martin hands Nell's reins up to Geoff and says, "Peace be with you, Brother."

"And you," says Geoff. He's glad at least that he's leaving Wat in good hands.

"Maybe God will grant we'll meet again."

"In this world or the next," says Geoff. "Though there's no guarantees we'll end up in the same place, Brother."

Brother Martin laughs. "You'll do," he says and slaps Nell on the rump.

Geoff hauls her head round and they trot towards the gate. Wat is nowhere to be seen and, though Geoffrey hadn't exactly expected a moving farewell he'd hoped at least to see Wat's face one more time. He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, watching it hang in the air. There is snow lying still, the sky is iron grey and he has many miles to go. They pass through the gate and he faces Nell towards the causeway, breaking her into a gentle trot.

From behind him he hears a shout. No looking back, he tells himself. Then another shout. Is that his name? He slows Nell to a walk. And then a third shout and this one is clear as a church bell, "Oi! Clodpole! Hold up!"

It looks like Geoff is going to get his wish. He reins Nell in and turns her around to see Wat stumbling through the snow towards him. Geoff cannot help but grin. He folds his arms and waits.

"Here," says Wat, panting as if he's run to Marathon itself. "Didn't think I'd let you go without food, did you?" He holds up one hand with a cloth bag. "Bread--baked by me, o' course--and cheese." He holds up the other hand with a clay bottle in it. "Mead. Also by me. It'll help you stay warm at any rate."

"Thank you," says Geoff, and for a brief second considers throwing all caution to the wind and bending to kiss Wat on the tip of his cold-reddened nose. He has learned humility, though, and merely takes the gifts and stows them.

"So," says Wat.

"So," agrees Chaucer.

They grin at each other amiably, Wat hopping from one foot to the other in the snow.

"As charming and fun as this is," Geoff says, "I really need to go if I'm to beat the tide."

"Right," says Wat, clapping his hands together. He half turns to go and then turns back. "Oh, screw this," he says, pulling a bundle out of each sleeve. "D'you think she'll bear two?"

"How do you do that?" asks Geoff, leaning down to take a bundle and to help Wat swing up behind him. He tugs on the reins and they're off again, a shake of her head Nell's only complaint against the extra weight.

"Can't tell you. Trade secret."

"It's not like they'll kick you out if you told me. You kicked yourself."

"True enough. But you've got to leave me something to impress you with, Geoff, if 'n I'm leaving Brother Wat behind."

"You've always impressed me." Geoff pauses. 'Well, maybe not the farting. Always have something to strive to improve, that's what I say."

There's a sharp pain in Geoff's back that he can only attribute to Wat's finger. "Ow," he complains, mildly.

"Don't go making me regret this," says Wat, but his laughing breath is warm against Geoff's neck.

Geoff sings them across the causeway and soon enough they are over the crest of the hill, the snow still stamped down where he and Nell had come to rest. Wat fidgets against his back, once, twice, and then taps Geoff on the shoulder.

"Stop a moment," he says.

"Whoa there, Nell," says Geoff and twists to face Wat, who is already sliding off the mare's back. The Priory is out of sight for now and Geoff has a moment of fear that Wat is already feeling its loss, is regretting his choice and wishes to return. He gets out of the saddle, too, ready to remonstrate or capitulate if Wat walks away.

Instead, Wat wraps his arms around Geoff and buries his face in his neck, cold cheek pressed hard against fur-warmed skin.

"I missed you, Geoff," he says into Geoff's coat. "I missed you. It hurt too much the first time. I can't do it again."

"Hey, hey, hush," murmurs Geoff against the soft prickle of Wat's hair, rubbing his back, the friction of motion against the rough black wool warming his hand. "Don't fret, Wat. All will be well, I promise. We'll work it out. It'll just take a little subterfuge and that's my thing. A thing. One of my things."

And Wat pulls back, raising his head and looks at Geoff like the sun and stars and moon are in his eyes and then kisses him. Just once. And it's fierce and warm and Wat, and it lights Geoff on fire. He reaches out and tugs Wat's hood over his hair.

"Here," he says, "this'll keep you warm until your hair grows back."

"You can buy me a hat in the next town we reach," grins Wat. "And anyway, isn't it your job to keep me warm?"

And Geoff says, "Yes. Yes it is."


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Out of the Darkness More Brightly: A Knight's Tale fic (Wat/Chaucer) Out of the Darkness More Brightly - A Knight's Tale fic by catwalksalone

Out of the Darkeness More Brightly

Notes: So, when I went to Edinburgh the train journey was all snowy and beautiful and I saw Holy Island aka Lindisfarne (that's the 16th C castle you can see, btw) and suddenly I saw Wat there and Chaucer going to visit him. This is the result. I've taken a few liberties (but only a few) with English Benedictine life in the Middle Ages, so I hope any scholars will forgive me. It's A Knight's Tale, anachronisms are our friend!

Thank you to my darling for beta and making me write MORE WORDS, omg. ♥ This is WAY the longest AKT fic I've ever written.


The winter snows come early this year and Geoff's hands are chafed red with cold as he signals with thighs, a gentle tug on the reins and a quiet, "Whoa, there, Sweet Nell."

The placid mare snorts, sending plumes of white into the frosty air and she stamps her hooves against the cast iron ground. They have travelled far since their journey began, and it has been hard going even on her sturdy legs. Geoff has reined her in on the crest of a hill just before the land gives way to the sea, the clear sky bending low to meet it at a sharp horizon. Here, finally, after the endless monotony of rolling hills and his own company, after the straight drabness of the old Roman roads and the knee-shaking ruts of the poor excuses for cart tracks, here is what he has come to seek at last. Geoff looks beyond the stone causeway to the island. The tide is in his favour.

"Just this last league, my fine girl, and then you shall rest." He pats her neck and brings his hand away damp and, if it were possible, colder still; even her honest sweat is chilled.

The sun dips low in the sky behind him, striking off the sand and stones to cast a strange orange-gold glow around Lindisfarne Priory. He does not know if it is God's welcome or God's warning, but there is little of the day left, the tide will soon turn and Geoff would like to be inside the gates without he or his horse lame or drowned or both. Something akin to fire flares in his stomach and, resisting the urge to push her into a canter, he presses Nell's flanks with his heels and they step carefully down the snow-covered track. There are no friendly footprints to mark the way--no one of sense is travelling today.

A gate stands open on the eastern wall and Geoff slows to a halt before it, sliding from his saddle with easy grace. He twines the reins around his hand and leads the mare through the open doorway, finding himself in a wide, open courtyard. There are neat, wooden buildings and lean-tos filling the space, all with snow dusting their roofs save for the two or three where smoke is cheerfully puffing out of low chimneys. After miles with no scents in his nose other than the sour smell of winter and the salt tang of the sea, Geoff is assailed with a whole multitude: the familiar malodour of the farmyard, a hide set to tan, wood smoke, hops and yeast among them. He can hear the raucous chime of metal striking against metal, the sharp scrape of shovel on stone, a quiet sucking sound that he cannot quite place and yet no cheerful voices are raised in idle conversation, argument or song. Were it not for the fact that there is a black-robed man barrelling towards him even now, Geoff might be quite convinced there is a miracle at work here; that all tasks are being tended to by the invisible hand of God.

"Welcome, brother," says the man, tall and heavyset, bowing his head. "God gi' you grace. It is a hard day to be abroad, even for a pilgrim."

"Less a pilgrim, more a visitor," says Geoff, "but yes, hard indeed. Could I trouble you for shelter and food for my mare, here? The fault is not hers that her master does not know when 'tis folly to stir from the hearth."

"Of course," says the man with a faint impression of a smile. "I shall see to it myself. And you look fair famished yourself, if you don't mind me saying. Let me call a brother to give you something to sustain you and when I've stabled your mare I'll announce you to the Prior. He'll want to pray with you, no doubt, and I’m sure you'd be happier with something in your belly, hey?" The smile splits into a full grin now, or as full as it can be with two or three teeth gone. Geoff finds himself smiling back.

"That sounds most welcome, Brother..." he leaves an expectant pause.

"Brother Martin," confirms the man. "And who will I be announcing?"

"Geoffrey Chaucer at your service," says Geoff, with a tight bow.

"More like at the Lord's, I'd hope," says Brother Martin and turns from Geoff to hail another hooded man who has appeared from a room at the south end of the courtyard, a leather jug gripped in one fist. He barely raises his voice but it carries the distance and the man looks up sharply and turns his face towards them.

How Geoff's legs do not slip from under him, he will never know. His fingers and toes, numb with cold, burst into painful, tingling life, and his heart beats wildly at the cage of his ribs like it would fly out of his chest and into the hands of the man who stands frozen, open-mouthed and pale.

It will not do. He wants Wat to come of his own accord, not because he is tossed out on his ear for sinning. Geoff drags his eyes--such reluctant eyes--away from the embodiment of every dream he has had if not for time immemorial then for quite long enough, thank you, and smiles at Brother Martin, handing over Nell's reins.

"Well met, Brother Wat," he says, folding his arms and accompanying it with a cocky slant of his head. "I had hoped to find you here, I vow. What? No friendly greeting for an old comrade in arms?"

Wat shakes himself to life, then, taking his cue from Geoff, for which Geoff sends up a wordless prayer of thanks.

"Long time no see."

"You know each other?" Brother Martin's expression is curious but open and Geoff trusts they can pass this off without discovery.

"Once, in another lifetime, we shared a mission," he says, "and then our pathways diverged. It seems that God had it in mind that we should see one another again."

"Yes, indeed," says Brother Martin who isn't privy to the glare Wat is sending Geoff over his shoulder. "Then you're in safe hands." He turns to lead Nell away, saying as he does, "Gi' the poor bugger some bread, Brother, or he'll be dead on his feet before the Prior's finished with him."

"Watch your language, Brother," says Wat and Geoff only just manages to stifle his surprised laugh.

"Give it a rest, Wat, lad, there's no Fathers here," says Brother Martin without turning back.

Geoff and Wat both watch him go and then Geoff watches Wat until he, with obvious reluctance, turns to him.

Geoff says, "Well, Wat, and have you washed away the sins of the world yet?"

And Wat says, "Getting there."

Geoff could stand here drinking his fill of Wat until the end of recorded time, but the light is beginning to die, fresh snow is beginning to fall and there are other men, some hooded, some soberly dressed, appearing from their workshops and rooms. They are not alone and Geoff cannot act as if they are. Wat jerks his head and Geoff follows him through a narrow gateway into the main Priory building. Wat takes a sharp turn to the left and lifts the latch on a plain wooden door. Heat roils out of the room and Geoff breathes it down, feeling the ice in his belly begin to melt.

It's a simple kitchen; a square stone table sits in the middle, swept and bare. There are two fireplaces, both lit, one with a large, black pot set over the flames, the other with three rabbits trussed and hung on hooks, lazily twisting in the smoke, scenting the air with a spicy brew. A rough-hewn sink stands in one corner and wooden shelves hold baskets and pots and pewter. It is clean, but not austere, and Geoff sinks gladly to a bench and watches Wat bustle about, lighting torches to ease the gloom and disappearing through another door.

"Baked it this morning myself," says Wat, returning, and the bread on the wooden trencher wobbles violently as he sets it down with a thump. He adds a clay cup full of water and steps back out of Geoff's reach, pushing his hood off his head. Geoff doesn't even bother to hide his shock at the shorn locks.

"Your hair!" he exclaims.

"Work of the Devil," shrugs Wat. "Better gone."

Wat's shoulders are still broad in his habit, but the bleak black against his pale skin combined with the close-cropped hair make him look as fragile as Geoff has ever seen him. Geoff grips the cup tightly with both hands and places one foot on top of the other to keep himself in place.

"What do you do here? Besides baking bread, of course." Geoff tries to keep his tone light, as if he's gentling his mare.

Wat shrugs again. "I cook, I mind stores, I do whatever the Fathers need me to do, I learn to read. Not your dirty poems. God's words."

"I see you haven't taken sacred orders," Geoff circles a finger round his own skull to indicate the lack of a tonsure and a small knot unwinds inside him. One less sin he's going to have to convince Wat to commit.

"Taken vows, though, haven't I?" And Wat's chin comes up, challenging. Lord, how Geoff has missed this.

"So it is priesthood for you, then, Wat?"

"Brother Wat to you. And no, I can't. There's the reading, see. I can't do it yet. And then there's this whole thing where I was a criminal for a while there. They don't like that. But it's all about working for God, innit? So I can do that."

"For the rest of your life, Wat? Will got years and I-" he swallows the words. "And God gets forever. That's how it works?"

Wat shrugs again and Geoff knows that he's never been garrulous at the best of times and that Benedictines are given to quiet contemplation, yet he is sorely tempted to surge to his feet and shake words out of him until they fall about his feet.

"Why've you come?"

Geoff takes a long draft of water and chews a mouthful of bread, considering his answer. Wat rolls his eyes and the sheer familiarity tugs at the corners of Geoff's lips.

"I was restless. Will and Jocelyn produce a succession of fat, healthy children and Will grows fat and solid alongside them. Kate? Why she strikes fear into the hearts of blacksmiths everywhere with her hammer and skill and spends whatever time she has left nimbly sidestepping proposals of marriage from greasy guildsmen and spotty enchanted youths both. Roland grows roots deep into the soil of Will's estate and peoples his own small family. I miss our merry band travelling through France with only hope and belief and a fallen knight's horse to drive us. I miss them, though I see them oft and on. 'Tis only you I do not see."

"Oh?" says Wat, with a sneering curl of his lip.

Geoff goes very still. He lowers his head and looks up at Wat through eyelashes that are wet with melted snow and nothing else. "You know why I'm really here."

Wat's face twists. "Don't," he says. "Geoff, don't." It's the first time Wat has used Geoff's name since their reunion and he wields it like a weapon. It cuts, opening up an old wound deep enough to bleed.

A bell rings and Wat's head jerks up. "Nones," he says. "I'd better..." But what he'd better do is never spoken as three brothers bustle through the door, two of them with sacks under their arms which they set down on the table before hastening about, pulling down copper pots and earthenware jars in a seeming random order. The third bows his head to Geoff and says,

"The Prior wishes to pray with you, good visitor, and invites you to share our service. We will sit to dinner once Nones is said and he bids you to his lodgings to dine and speak more privately."

"Marvellous," says Geoff, reflecting that the service will at least provide him time to gather his scattered wits. He rises and follows the Lay Brother into the church. He turns as he steps over the threshold of the kitchen, fixing Wat with a stare. "I will find you," he says and does not know if Wat hears it as a threat or a promise.

It isn't that Geoff does not see the hand of God in nature or in his fellow man, far from it. It's simply that he does not understand how God is supposed to be more present in monks mumbling arcane Latin rituals than in the peasant tending his sheep and lifting his voice in praise given in the common tongue, the only one he knows. Nor does he believe that any just God would condemn love out of hand for being unnatural. Geoff has done his duty, marrying and procreating both, what, therefore, is unnatural about wishing to spend his days at peace, sated in mind and body, warm to his soul long after the fire in the grate has died?

Chaucer stands and kneels and crosses himself as directed, the rhythm and plainchant of the service acting as a soporific strong enough that he pinches himself to stay awake. There are but five monks in the choir, none of them young men, presided over by the Prior. The congregation is sparse, Geoff himself and two lay brothers alone, but it is winter and not Sunday and the small island community must work even as the dark descends.

The monks begin a new Psalm and Geoff's mind drifts to Wat's face, stark and disbelieving as he set eyes on Geoff. Had there been joy there, hurriedly quashed, or is Geoff seeing things he wants to see? He'd rehearsed their meeting so many times, paring words away like skin from an apple until only the sweet flesh, the heart of it, remained. It had been nothing like that, of course, the practised words disappearing, washed away with the overwhelming remembrance of how it felt to hold Wat close, muttering fevered nonsense in his ear, to provoke Wat's merry bark of a laugh, to look up to find Wat's eyes roving over him, fierce and warm, as if to memorise every contour of Geoff's body. There were no words that were defence against such an assault.

The monks sing, "Sicut erat in princípio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculórum." As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Geoff rather suspects that to be true and it isn't comforting at all.

Nones over, the grey-haired, straight-backed Prior fixes Geoff with a beatific smile and bears him away to his lodgings. Narrow stairs give way to a broad, paved landing and a low, arched door. Geoff has to bend his head to enter the room and wonders if it had been designed that way to induce humility. He has used up his supply on the short service, however, and looks about him with a keen eye. The study is simply furnished, yet manages an air of subtle elegance as befits a man in such standing with God and mortals as the Prior. Geoff notes with approval the shelf of books, though he will take up his old gambling habit and stake his much-needed dinner that no copy of his own works stands upon it.

"Sit," says the Prior, indicating a small table against one wall. "One hopes that the Opus Dei has nourished your soul and now we must nourish your body, Master Chaucer."

Geoff thanks the Prior, sitting as directed, and, indeed, it is mere moments before food arrives, set down before them without preamble. The Prior says Grace and they settle to the task of eating the thick vegetable stew before it can get cold. Geoff thinks he recognises Wat's hand in the seasoning and he smiles around his spoon.

"And how came you here?" asks the Prior after the meal is over and done and more thanks given.

"Well, sir, I have been travelling the length of the country listening to tales from the people. Inspiration, you might say, for my next book." It's not entirely a lie, Geoff thinks, as he remembers bawdy evenings in taverns and castles alike.

"May God give your pen grace," says the Prior. "I know your writing of old, Chaucer, it has given me great pleasure."

Geoff's mouth drops open and the Prior laughs. "Do you think we must cleave only to the sacred texts? Oh no, Chaucer, for God's love for His creation can be found in many places and The Death of Blanche was a most moving treatise on mourning. Benedictum Nomen Sanctum eius."

"Benedictus Deus," agrees Geoff cheerfully, crossing himself. He likes the Prior, though not enough to sway him from his scheme to snatch away one of his flock from under his nose. "I must confess I came this way not for stories or love of fine monasteries alone, but to look up an old friend of mine."

"Truly?"

Geoff's leg jitters under the table. He clamps a hand down on it and hopes the Prior does not notice. "Brother Wat and I travelled together some years ago in France. It was a strange interlude in my life, I confess, but one I look on with much fondness."

"Ah, yes," says the Prior, tapping a finger against his lips. "Brother Wat spoke of those days when he first joined our own brotherhood. An intriguing life, if not an entirely honest one. I have never seen a joust--it sounds a mighty spectacle." He sounds a little wistful and Geoff sees in him the vibrant young man he must once have been.

"Oh, it is," he says, "but mighty precarious as a means to survive. We needed each other, all of us. Though, truth be told, Wat--Brother Wat--and I fought like cat and dog for the most part."

The Prior's eyes twinkle. "I can well believe it," he says, "though adventure and argument is as good a way to forge brotherhood as any."

"We were a tight-knit little family, yes." Though Geoff had never looked on Wat as a brother, not once. "That's why I thought I'd visit him here, bring news of the rest of our merry band, take...news back of him. Herald to the last, that's me."

"He has been a wonderful asset to our little community," says the Prior, "there is nothing to which he will not turn his hand. He works so hard that one might think he was atoning for the sins of a multitude. We usually do not permit conversation for no edifying purpose, but God will grant us permission on this occasion, I'm sure. It was a difficult journey for Brother Wat to learn to curb his tongue and his thoughts, I believe it will do him good to loosen them, just for a short time."

"Thank you, Father Superior," says Geoff, bowing his head. "You are very gracious."

"No, my son, it is God's grace, not my own." He stands, and as if it was a silent signal, Brother Martin appears in the room and clears the table. "Now, if you don't mind, I must spend some time in study before Vespers. Please, accompany Brother Martin and he will show you your lodging. Our house is as your house."

Geoff bows his head in thanks again, and follows Brother Martin out of the room. They pass down the stairs and cross through a wide room with a wooden trestle at its centre, the Refectory, and Brother Martin motions him to wait as he steps into the kitchen. When he comes out, he is empty-handed and beckons Geoff to continue following. They mount another flight of stairs and come to a narrow corridor with several rooms leading off, as well as a curtained enclave at the near end. Brother Martin opens the first door.

"I brought your saddlebags up," he says, "and made up the fire. Garderobe's just there," he jerks his thumb towards the curtained area. "We're in the Warming House if there's owt else you need. Toast our toes before we freeze 'em again in church."

Chaucer grins. Brother Martin's joviality gives him hope that Wat's is still there somewhere, even if he's buried it deep under his habit. "I give you thanks, Brother. And Wat's there, too?"

"Naw, not 'im. Hard at it, still, isn't he? Try the kitchen."

With that, he turns on his heel and Geoff is left alone. He hesitates on the threshold of his room, fingers flicking at the latch. He could go in, wrap himself in as many layers as he can find and huddle by the fire, planning his course of attack. Or he could risk the throw of the dice and find Wat now.

It's funny how he pretends it's a choice.

Wat has placed a row of balls of dough along the table and is kneading at one systematically. Press, fold, turn. Press, fold, turn. He doesn't stop even as he looks up and sees Geoff come in and settle on the bench. Geoff crosses his legs and rests his elbow on his knee, chin in hand, studying Wat in the torchlight. Wat is relentless, kneading and pinching and kneading again until he appears assured of perfection. The low ball in Geoff's stomach that could be unleavened bread, it is so solid and unmoving, is relentless, too. He has borne it since they parted last. It is a heavy burden and he longs to set it down. He still does not understand it, where this love came from, how powerful it is, but he has learned not to question, after all, he is still God's servant if he is not the most loyal or obedient. God works in a mysterious way, he thinks, and wonders if anyone has ever thought to set that down.

"You gonna keep your trap shut all night, then?" asks Wat when he reaches for the third lump of dough.

"Wasn't sure you wanted to talk to me, though the Prior has given us permission if that makes you feel better about your vows."

"Don't say it like that."

"What?" Geoff is perplexed.

"My vows. Just 'cos they don't mean nothing to you." Wat's chin comes up for the second time this day and Geoff uncrosses his legs and sits up.

"Wat, I didn't mean- Goodness, man, what do you take me for?"

Wat mutters something Geoff can't hear. It's probably just as well, but Geoff never did learn when to leave well enough alone.

"Come again?"

"I said you're a pervert, an over-educated one at that."

"'Zounds," says Geoff, with an insouciant bite of his lip and a hand to his heart, knowing full well it is not hatred of him that provoked Wat's words, "How your words do cut, Wat. Is this what happens when you only get to use a handful a day?"

A smile flashes across Wat's eyes and it's the warmest Geoff has felt all day. "Weren't never me that was the chatty one," he says.

"Not true." In Geoff's head the dice cup rattles and he throws. "I remember times when words poured from you, Wat. I remember them well."

The scowl is back and Geoff fears for tomorrow's bread. A foul throw, then.

"Wat," he tries, gently. "It isn't your fault. Love finds us; we do not choose it, look at Will and Jocelyn. Her father still calls him 'that boy', you know."

"Yeah, but we don't have to follow where it beckons, do we?"

Wat thumps even harder at the dough, which Geoff hadn't believed possible. He doesn't deny what they'd had, though, neither does he deny the embers are still there. Geoff can feel it, still, the tug between them that's been there since the beginning. Wat feels it, too. He must. Geoff is content to let matters alone for now.

"You're busy, I'll leave you," he says, watching the scowl lift from Wat's face as he relieves the pressure. "I'll go to my little cell and write and I promise nothing rude will escape my pen while I'm there."

"Vespers when the bell rings," says Wat. "I do that one. You should, too. You could stand to spend some time asking God's forgiveness for being born a git."

"Watch your language, Brother Wat!" says Geoff with a grin and escapes before Wat can heave a lump of dough at his head.

There is mead and a meagre fire in his cell to warm him. Chaucer wraps his coat tight around his body and, instead of writing, lies down on the narrow bed, closes his eyes and thinks of hot days travelling through France and hopes to warm himself another way.

It is difficult to think of those times without remembering the solid shape of Wat in his arms, cursing him with one breath, kissing him with another. Horrified and laughingly bewildered both at loving a man the way he was supposed to love woman. He had never settled to it even then, but his body had thrown its lot in with Geoff's with all the fervour his mouth spent in forswearing them. Geoff's prick rises at the memories of Wat's hard, sweating body thrumming like a dulcimer underneath his fingers and he groans. A mortal sin seems so much greater here in this austere room, with Christ watching him from the simple, wooden cross on the wall, expression forever rueful.

He dare not touch himself for fear the very walls will call calumny. He thinks instead of the last time he had seen Wat, a mere se'nnight after Will's triumph in London. His lord had called and he'd had to go.

"Come with me, Wat," he'd said but Wat had shaken his head and replied, "My place is with Will, I won't leave him."

"I will come back for you," Geoff had said. "Don't dare to doubt it."

"Don't, Geoff," and Wat had warded him off with a hand. "Just let this thing die. It were never meant to be. It's unnatural and I can't burn in Hell, not for no gaudy herald."

Geoff, cut to the quick (for gaudy herald he may be but he loved deep and wide), had been unable to respond. Wat's face wasn’t even twisted in anger, it was still and calm and that made it worse somehow. And while he'd floundered, Wat had dropped his head and walked away.

He tosses and turns, unable to find comfort. Unable, too, to recapture happier memories of river bathing, of sharing Will's victories, of breaking into laughter at a shared glance. He's never been so grateful for the toll of the church bell in his life.

In the morning, Geoff wakes with the sun. Truth be told, it is his fourth waking as he sleeps but lightly and the bell calling the monks to their services wakes him every three hours without fail. Despite this, he feels rested enough and ready to start the day's campaigning. Rising, he makes his way to the kitchen; it is as good a place to start as any.

Wat is clattering away in the sink and Geoff wonders if it was the sun that woke him after all, or the terrible racket Wat is making. If any of the jars and jorums, pots and pans that he has in there survive the experience, Geoff is sure it will be entirely by accident.

"Good morning, Brother," he says, leaning against the doorjamb and folding his arms.

"Bothered to get up, did you?" says Wat without turning round. "And here you've only wasted half the day. Haven't you got some more time you could fritter somewhere?"

"It's winter, Wat. Cold and dark and unnecessary. We should wrap ourselves in furs and straw and go to sleep like dormice do. Nothing good comes of winter."

"Birth of Christ, you heathen," says Wat, and then makes a strangled noise as the sleeves of his habit slip down his arms as though inexorably drawn to the water.

Geoff mentally inserts the missing curse and darts forward, grabbing one of the escaping sleeves and rolling it up beyond Wat's elbow. Wat stands stock-still and mute until Geoff has finished with the habit. He doesn't lift his eyes even once. "You're welcome," says Geoff with a roll of his eyes and a light shove at Wat's shoulder and he retreats to the door again, watching Wat work.

He starts to make a count in his head to see how long it will take for Wat to fire up at Geoff's scrutiny and idleness, but he keeps being distracted by Wat's forearms, the skin shifting over the muscles and sinew beneath as he lifts, grips, washes and wipes, by the curve of his neck as he bends to his task and how the close-cropped hair reveals the shape of his skull, exposed and vulnerable yet strong as steel. How many knocks has it taken and Wat is still standing? He is starting the count for the fifth time when Wat whirls on his heel, the skirt of his habit skirling around his ankles, and jabs a finger at Geoff.

"You. The Devil makes work for idle hands and you've enough to be worried about." He pulls down two jars and a bottle from a shelf and puts them on the table with a bowl, spoon and a rag. "Here, make yourself useful, you great waste of space. The coppers want polishing."

Geoff considers that he's done quite well when Wat only sighs twice showing him how to mix up the salt, flour and vinegar, and sets to, if not with fervour, then at least with good intent. Wat is like the bottle of vinegar, he thinks, stoppered up and sour, and he'll never be sweetened unless Geoff reminds him of who they used to be. No, not between the sheets (or on top of the hay as was more like) either, but the unlikely friendship they'd shared, the two of them (the five of them).

"I passed by Alnwick on the way here," he says. "My Lord Gaunt gave me an introduction to the Earl. Anyway, imagine who was there but Germaine. You know, he of Adhemar's enormous manhood? He says Adhemar is now claiming he has a 'trick knee' and that's why Will beat him to flinders. First, I say, let it go, you miserable sore loser, you. It was over and done with years past. And second, what is this 'trick knee?' Does it conjure and juggle because that, my friend, I would pay to see. Well, not pay so much as point and mock, but you understand my drift."

Wat doesn't reply but the set of his shoulders seems a little less forbidding and Geoff starts up another anecdote. They carry on like this all day, between obligations to prayer, Geoff following Wat as he goes about his business, doing as he is bid, accompanying their work with chatter. The Prior is wrong; none of his words, many though they are, are without edifying purpose.

It is still before Nones when Geoff says to Brother Martin, who has joined them in the well house, "And that's when the beam swung back and this great lummox here, too busy laughing to pay attention, was knocked clean off his feet." Geoff's lips twitch. "His outrage could be heard in the Low Countries, no doubt, he yelled so loud."

Wat lifts his head, sharp, from where he's sealing a bucket with beeswax. "Geoffrey Chaucer, wash your mouth out, I did not. And if I did you couldn't have heard you were so busy clinging to Roland and pissing yourself laughing."

He grins and it's the first true glimpse of the old Wat--his Wat--that Geoff has seen. Hope flares, a thin flame licking up inside him. Geoff grins back and resists the urge to bump shoulders with him.

Brother Martin shakes his head in mock sorrow and says, "And if I went to France I'd find it still standing, would I? After the lot of you'd finished with it."

"I think we put it all back how we found it, didn't we?" says Geoff to Wat.

"Most of it. Except them tents. And all that wood."

"And those horses."

"And all them trophies."

"And a couple of the women."

"And the sausage."

They share an amused glance and, as one, chorus, "Maybe not."

Brother Martin shakes his head again, laughing this time. "What are you two like?" he says. "I could listen to you all day, but you'd have me in trouble with God and Father Superior, both."

"We make a good team," says Geoff softly, as the lay brother takes his buckets and leaves.

Wat doesn't reply, but neither does he move away. It will do for now.

The next morning Wat is not in the kitchen and Geoff is momentarily nonplussed until Brother Timon, another lay brother, points him in the direction of the brewhouse.

"Mead day," is all he says.

The brewhouse is but a short way down the corridor, past the bakehouse from which pours the heady scent of new bread, making Geoff's stomach grumble. Wat is feeding wood into a kiln, a large brass kettle sitting above it. A small, cheerful fire burns in a hearth in the middle of the floor and barrels are racked along one wall. Smaller casks stand in a higgledy-piggledy pyramid against another wall, one stands broken open at Wat's feet. Close by are several buckets full to the brim with water and shelves are lined with clay pots, bottles and other paraphernalia Geoff assumes have to do with brewing.

Wat closes the door of the kiln and spies Geoff. "Good," he says. "You can stir. Stirring's dull." Out of one sleeve he pulls a slotted spoon and out of the other he pulls a candle.

Geoff raises his eyebrows. "What else have you got up there? A white rabbit?"

"Eh?"

"Nothing." Geoff takes the spoon Wat's holding out for him and watches as Wat lights the candle from the fire in the hearth, drips a little wax onto the floor and sets the candle in it.

"Right," says Wat, picking up the cask and holding it over the kettle. "Stir. And don't go stopping before I tell you."

Geoff stirs as Wat pours golden brown honey into the heated water. It's a slow process and mesmerising as the thick liquid swirls and disperses in the water, but eventually the cask is empty and Wat puts it aside.

"Keep stirring," says Wat.

"I am, I am! My arm may be about to fall off with fatigue but I'm stirring."

"Good lad," says Wat, with a quick grin, "I'll make a brewer out of you yet. Now look." He points to the centre of the kettle where foam is beginning to rise. "We need to skim that off the must."

"Why?" asks Geoff, genuinely curious.

"Because I say so, that's why," snaps Wat. "What's this with the twenty questions?" He relents almost immediately, true to form, and explains. "The foam's how we get rid of bits that shouldn't be there. You don't want to be drinking bee legs now, do you? Or leaves, or hive?"

"I don't know, Wat, I heard bee legs are considered a delicacy among royalty these days. Try leaving them in and selling by royal appointment."

"I am not dignifying that with a response," says Wat. "'cept for how I just responded there. Now skim. Dump it in that sink behind you."

Geoff does as commanded. At least he attempts to, but he can't seem to get the foam to stay on the spoon.

"Oh for-" Wat comes round the kettle to stand at Geoff's right shoulder. He reaches for the spoon, hand closing over Geoff's and slides the spoon through the must at an angle catching and lifting the foam. He bends Geoff's arm with the pressure of his own, turning their bodies away from the kettle and flicks the foam into the sink. The pressure eases and they return, joined, to the kettle, repeating the process again and again until all the foam has gone.

"See?" says Wat. "Easy."

"Yes," replies Geoff in a strangled voice because Wat's hand is on his yet, Wat's body pressed against the length of him and it isn't just the sweet smell in the air that's making him weak.

Wat stills and it may be the motion of the steam off the must that's brushing so light against Geoff's thumb or it may not. Geoff tries not to move, not to startle Wat out of this shared moment, but just then there is a loud clatter from somewhere outside the room and Wat leaps away from him as if scalded. He doesn't order Geoff away or freeze him out, as Geoff fears he might. "Don't let it burn, idiot," he snaps, instead. "Keep stirring."

Geoff stirs, the constant swirl of the must a fair reflection of his state of mind. He is, however, jolted out of his trance when Wat pulls an egg out from one of his sleeves.

"What the-? How did you keep that up there without breaking it?"

Wat taps his nose. "Trick of the trade, innit?" He drops the egg in the kettle and it floats, more than half out of the must. "Good enough," he says and turns to Geoff. "Now can you get that out by yourself or is this whole spoon concept still beyond you?"

Geoff narrows his eyes and scoops out the egg, holding the spoon towards Wat. "Soft-boiled," he says. "Not my favourite."

"Sink," says Wat and Geoff tosses it in with a satisfying wet crack. "Stir."

"Do I do this until I lose a limb?"

"Until the candle burns out," says Wat with a nod of his head. It is most way there.

Geoff stirs and stirs and watches as Wat sets a barrel in the holder, pulling a funnel off a shelf and placing it in a hole in the barrel lid before pouring the remaining buckets of water into it.

The candle gutters and flickers out, and as it does so, Wat is at the kettle, hands wrapped in rags. He picks it up, Geoff snatching the spoon away before it and his arm are taken with it, and lifts it over to the barrel, pouring carefully into the funnel. That done, he unwraps his hands, reaches for a clay pot and a mug, filling the mug from the pot, which he hastily restoppers, and adding the contents to the barrel. Finally, he fetches a plug and hammers it into the hole in the barrel lid. Done, he places his hands on his hips and grins at Geoff.

"Best mead this side of the Humber," he says. "I'd say in all England but it don't do to brag."

"You'd never do that," agrees Geoff solemnly, his lips quirking despite themselves.

Their work is not over yet, however, and Geoff helps Wat rack the barrel and set to on one that has been sitting for the space of a month. They taste the mead (or rather Wat does) and, it being declared good, draw it into a second barrel, draining the muck once that's done and stoppering it up in a new clay pot. Then they scrub the barrel clean and heave it back among its fellows. Lastly, they take yet another barrel, one Wat explains has been there two months, and taste this one, too. This time, Wat, who has given up pretending not to want to discuss his work and has been explaining each step as they make it, hands Geoff a mug. They slump to the floor, resting against the barrels, legs stretched out in front of them, feet barely missing the hearth.

"Cheers," Wat says, waving his mug in Geoff's general direction. "God's grace and all that."

It's hot in the brewhouse and Wat's red-faced and sweating, his scapular daubed with honey and dust, but he's happy and smiling and proud and for the first time Geoff wonders if he is playing fair.

"Cheers," he counters and swigs. Mead was the drink of the ancient gods, and it does not surprise Geoff that the more modern God stole it as his own. Gods, apparently, have very good taste. "Wat, you are a marvel," he says.

"God's the marvel," says Wat, so fast Geoff knows it is habit and not thought. "It's the bees, actually," he adds after a moment's quiet contemplation. "We've got good bees and Brother John is a grand beekeeper." He lets his head drop backwards, knocking against the barrel with a dull thud. "I had some bees back at Will's place. I wonder what became of 'em."

There are reasons--Good reasons. Sensible, thoughtful reasons--as to why Geoff should, for once, keep his mouth firmly closed, but he is helpless to resist. "Why did you leave him? Weren't you happy there? I thought...when I left...?" And this is why these days he usually writes things down first.

Wat sighs and puts down his mug. "I was happy." He stops and stares at the ceiling. "No, that's a lie. I thought I was. I'd sent you away all right and proper and I was going to be on the up with my Maker and help Will work his land and it'd be good. Didn't think I'd marry or anything, but I had Roland to darn me britches so it wasn't exactly top of my priorities anyway."

"Poor Roland. Do you think he darns Christiana's britches, too?"

Wat smiles faintly. "Could be. She wears 'em, after all. Quiet ones are the ones you need to watch. Anyway. Jocelyn fell pregnant and Will was overjoyed. So was Roland. Me? I was spitting jealous. Didn't I deserve that kind of happiness and how come I wasn't never going to get it? Not with my heart- Yeah. Well. That's how it came to me, that maybe I only got to be happy by serving God since I'd sinned so hard against Him. Maybe it was all my fault. I left the next day and God brought me here. That's it. Happy now?"

"No," says Geoff, and his heart aches. "It wasn't your fault."

"That's what the great Chaucer says, is it?" says Wat, getting to his feet. "You sure about that? 'Cos if it's not my fault, it's yours."

Geoff doesn't get another word out of him for the rest of the day. He sleeps poorly, unsettled by bad dreams when asleep and troubled by his conscience when awake. Wat is happy here, or at the very least, at peace. Geoff does not doubt that he could make Wat happy, too, if he'd let him, but in whose gift is happiness, anyway? It is less of a conundrum than he pretends in the full darkness of the night, but he's not ready to hear the answer. Not yet. Tomorrow he will try again.

Or at least he would try were he able to bring Wat to ground. The Priory is not overlarge and yet as he is entering one room, it seems that Wat has just left it, and between this unwanted game of cat and mouse and various brothers requesting Geoff's assistance--"If you're at a loose end, just now, Brother,"--most of the day is past before he can speak to Wat alone.

It is possible he's expected to see this as a sign.

"There you are," he says, finding Wat in the Parlour, sitting in candlelight with a book open on his knee, finger tracking the words and mouth moving with them. "Why do you not go into the Warming Room with the others? You must be freezing."

"Wanted to be on my own, didn't I?" says Wat, still tracking along each line.

"Always, Wat?" says Geoff, and because there is a time in every gambler's life--ex or no--when they needs must go all in. "I said I'd come back for you and here I am. Come with me."

Wat slams the book shut and Geoff sees dust motes flare and die in the candlelight. "And I said don't. You think you know so much about everything. About words and the world and how things work and about love and you don't. You don't get it at all. Love isn't selfish, Geoff. If you loved me, you'd leave me be."

And the weak flame of hope that Chaucer's been nursing since Wat's first true smile is snuffed out. He presses his lips together and shakes his head, not in refusal, but in resigned acceptance.

"You're right, of course," he says. "And I'm sorry, truly. I shouldn't have come. No matter, I'll leave at first light tomorrow and you shall have your peace back."

He doesn't stay to see Wat's reaction to his words; whatever it is can only cause him pain.

Brother Martin hands Nell's reins up to Geoff and says, "Peace be with you, Brother."

"And you," says Geoff. He's glad at least that he's leaving Wat in good hands.

"Maybe God will grant we'll meet again."

"In this world or the next," says Geoff. "Though there's no guarantees we'll end up in the same place, Brother."

Brother Martin laughs. "You'll do," he says and slaps Nell on the rump.

Geoff hauls her head round and they trot towards the gate. Wat is nowhere to be seen and, though Geoffrey hadn't exactly expected a moving farewell he'd hoped at least to see Wat's face one more time. He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, watching it hang in the air. There is snow lying still, the sky is iron grey and he has many miles to go. They pass through the gate and he faces Nell towards the causeway, breaking her into a gentle trot.

From behind him he hears a shout. No looking back, he tells himself. Then another shout. Is that his name? He slows Nell to a walk. And then a third shout and this one is clear as a church bell, "Oi! Clodpole! Hold up!"

It looks like Geoff is going to get his wish. He reins Nell in and turns her around to see Wat stumbling through the snow towards him. Geoff cannot help but grin. He folds his arms and waits.

"Here," says Wat, panting as if he's run to Marathon itself. "Didn't think I'd let you go without food, did you?" He holds up one hand with a cloth bag. "Bread--baked by me, o' course--and cheese." He holds up the other hand with a clay bottle in it. "Mead. Also by me. It'll help you stay warm at any rate."

"Thank you," says Geoff, and for a brief second considers throwing all caution to the wind and bending to kiss Wat on the tip of his cold-reddened nose. He has learned humility, though, and merely takes the gifts and stows them.

"So," says Wat.

"So," agrees Chaucer.

They grin at each other amiably, Wat hopping from one foot to the other in the snow.

"As charming and fun as this is," Geoff says, "I really need to go if I'm to beat the tide."

"Right," says Wat, clapping his hands together. He half turns to go and then turns back. "Oh, screw this," he says, pulling a bundle out of each sleeve. "D'you think she'll bear two?"

"How do you do that?" asks Geoff, leaning down to take a bundle and to help Wat swing up behind him. He tugs on the reins and they're off again, a shake of her head Nell's only complaint against the extra weight.

"Can't tell you. Trade secret."

"It's not like they'll kick you out if you told me. You kicked yourself."

"True enough. But you've got to leave me something to impress you with, Geoff, if 'n I'm leaving Brother Wat behind."

"You've always impressed me." Geoff pauses. 'Well, maybe not the farting. Always have something to strive to improve, that's what I say."

There's a sharp pain in Geoff's back that he can only attribute to Wat's finger. "Ow," he complains, mildly.

"Don't go making me regret this," says Wat, but his laughing breath is warm against Geoff's neck.

Geoff sings them across the causeway and soon enough they are over the crest of the hill, the snow still stamped down where he and Nell had come to rest. Wat fidgets against his back, once, twice, and then taps Geoff on the shoulder.

"Stop a moment," he says.

"Whoa there, Nell," says Geoff and twists to face Wat, who is already sliding off the mare's back. The Priory is out of sight for now and Geoff has a moment of fear that Wat is already feeling its loss, is regretting his choice and wishes to return. He gets out of the saddle, too, ready to remonstrate or capitulate if Wat walks away.

Instead, Wat wraps his arms around Geoff and buries his face in his neck, cold cheek pressed hard against fur-warmed skin.

"I missed you, Geoff," he says into Geoff's coat. "I missed you. It hurt too much the first time. I can't do it again."

"Hey, hey, hush," murmurs Geoff against the soft prickle of Wat's hair, rubbing his back, the friction of motion against the rough black wool warming his hand. "Don't fret, Wat. All will be well, I promise. We'll work it out. It'll just take a little subterfuge and that's my thing. A thing. One of my things."

And Wat pulls back, raising his head and looks at Geoff like the sun and stars and moon are in his eyes and then kisses him. Just once. And it's fierce and warm and Wat, and it lights Geoff on fire. He reaches out and tugs Wat's hood over his hair.

"Here," he says, "this'll keep you warm until your hair grows back."

"You can buy me a hat in the next town we reach," grins Wat. "And anyway, isn't it your job to keep me warm?"

And Geoff says, "Yes. Yes it is."


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