This is a memoir of an assassin responsible for killing King William of England.
My name is James Alexander. Mine has been a life of comfort. I hail from Dorchester where my father, Harold, owns the largest trading company in southern England. This wealth gave me the opportunity to pursue more fulfilling, albeit less affordable, occupations.
I am a budding chronicler and have recently taken residence in London. My father, bless him, acquired a position for me to record the life and events of Henry Beauclerk, brother of none other than William Rufus, king of all England.
It is August, the third, the year of our lord 1100 and this is not the story of Henry Beauclerk.
* * *
It was a morning like any other. The sun shone, lazily breaking through large, puffy clouds. The breeze was light, cool and crisp. It heralded an autumn that was soon to arrive and reminded one of how short summer really was.
I made my way to Philip Stanley’s bakery for a few pastries, easily the best in London, to break my fast before continuing on to the castle. I did not have a session scheduled with Henry, however I was allowed access to the castle during daylight hours to gather information and observe daily castle life.
The Tower of London was a majestic sight to behold. No matter how many times I passed through the gates, the White Tower always inspired awe in me. The courtyard carried a peculiar scent in the mornings, bread and horse dung. It is strange that a smell can be both appetizing and revolting at the same time. There were several wooden structures within the courtyard supplying the castle with much-needed goods. Armorers, weapon smiths, bakers, stable hands all worked within the confines of the castle courtyard.
I nodded curtly to the guards as I passed into the main hall. Giant tapestries and multiple torch sconces adorned the walls. Two enormous curving marble staircases wound upwards meeting at the second floor mezzanine. The castle was surprisingly empty. I had just dined here with the king himself two nights prior. It was a ‘good luck’ dinner for the hunt that would follow in the morning. I had assumed there would be servants bustling about preparing for a king’s feast. Surely Sir Tyrell had bagged a magnificent stag on their hunt. He was arguably the greatest archer in all the land.
I continued down the endless halls looking for a familiar face or, at the very least, some inspiration. My muse had seemingly left me over the past weeks. Henry’s life was fairly dull and there was not much in the way of entertainment in the castle. It seemed many people had a distaste for King William II, so he didn’t tend to draw much of a following here in the Tower.
Having wandered for several minutes without encountering anyone or anything of interest, I made a turn toward the castle dungeon. Although damp and dreary, the dungeon tended to house residents with fascinating stories to tell. I tried to make a stop there any time I visited the Tower. I would not call it my favorite place in the castle, but I would fancy it the most intriguing.
“No visitors in the dungeon today,” grumbled a burly man in full chain armed with a highly polished halberd.
“Come now, Allan. What is so special about today that I cannot make my rounds with the villainy of London?”
“No visitors in the dungeon today,” repeated Allan.
Knowing well what Allan’s weakness was, I produced a sweet roll from my belt pouch and offered it to the massive jailer. “I even brought you one of Philip Stanley’s famous sweet rolls, Allan. How about letting me through? I promise I won’t do any harm.”
Allan stared longingly at the proffered treat and he smiled, looking up at me and taking the pastry. “Only because I like you, milord” he replied, taking a monstrous bite from the roll. He pulled a large ring of keys from his belt and the dungeon door’s tumblers clicked audibly with a twist of Allan’s wrist. “Don’t be too terribly long,” he requested, a hint of worry in his deep voice, “I don’t want to be getting into trouble now.”
“Fear not, my friend, I’ll make sure no trouble finds you,” I said soothingly, taking a step into the dimly lit dungeon. I removed a torch from a wall sconce and heard the clicking of the jailer’s keys, locking the door behind me, echo off the cold, stone walls.
The air was damp and cool, but it reeked of mildew, urine, and feces. My footsteps muted quietly under the crunch of straw and the slick stone walls were patched in moss. My nose wrinkled at the foul odors and I considered for a moment why I came here so often. I absent-mindedly reached into my pack and removed a leather-bound book, opened it to a page that had its corner folded, and stared at the last words scrawled on it, ‘This is the story of Henry Beauclerk.”
I shook my head in disappointment. I came to London over eight months ago and had written almost nothing about the life of Henry. I needed inspiration. I needed to find my muse. I closed the book and returned it to its resting place in my pack.
Surprisingly, the majority of the dungeon cells were empty. Normally they teemed with low-lives more than willing to share their tales of injustice and false accusation. Many of the stories were blatant lies and most of them were not even noteworthy. A few of the cells carried local vagrants and thieves, many of whom I recognized from previous visits.
I discovered on my many trips down here over the past months that the jailers tended to fill the cells closest to the door first. I assume it made feeding the prisoners easier for the guards. In fact, the dungeon was large enough that I had never seen the rear cells occupied, until now.
The cell at the far end of the prison had a solitary man in it, sitting silently in the corner. I slowly approached the isolated cell, curious as to why this criminal had been separated from the general populace.
He looked up at me as I neared and I froze upon seeing his face in the light of my torch. Struggling to find my voice, I stuttered, “S-sir Talbart?”
He smiled at the sound of my voice. Clearing his throat softly, he replied, “James Alexander, how thoughtful of you to come visit me in this horrid place.”
Still shocked to see a knight confined in the Tower’s dungeon, I stammered, “Wh-what are you doing here?”
“The answer to that is simple really,” he said, still smiling, “I killed the king.”