Wolf Wood (Part One) (Chapter 9 - Matins, page 1 of 4)

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Richard Vowell pulled his hood over his ears and tried to stay awake. It was the middle of the night and a brazier of glowing coals was burning in All Hallows. Betty had put it there. She'd found a group of homeless people, camping on the green, and taken pity on them.

As assistant suffragan, it was Richard's job to expel sleepers. But that duty didn't begin until he'd unlocked the church in the morning. Whatever the abbey might think, All Hallows was more than a chapel of ease. In the absence of a community hall, it provided a variety of social services and one was to care for the poor and needy.

'I'm going home now.' Betty gave him a kiss. 'I'll have a hot gruel waiting for you when you get back.'

She left and Thomas Draper emerged from the shadows.

Richard opened an eye. What you got to report, squire?'

'John Tucker and Wat Paskuly are here and the monks have begun the matins service. You can hear the holy sods droning away.'

Richard settled into a more comfortable position and theorised on the different levels of sleep. There was deep sleep and shallow sleep. Awakening from shallow sleep did little to jar the nerves. But, if you were deeply asleep and a sudden noise disturbed your dreams, that could be very bad for your constitution.

Deep sleep happened about half-an-hour after you put your head on the pillow. Richard listened to the distant sound of chanting and followed the service from the rise and fall of the monks' voices. He knew when it was drawing to a close and formed a mental picture of black-robed figures leaving the cold of their chapel for the windswept passage outside. One by one, they would mount the stairs to their dormitory. One by one, they would kick off their sandals, snuff out their candles and slump down onto their cots fully dressed.

Richard started to count. It was something he'd done in France. After his second injury, he'd surrendered his bow and turned his mind to cannons. The advantage of gunpowder over muscle power was that a gunnery sergeant didn't have to be as agile as an archer. Good training and an ability to command counted more than fleet of foot. And so did cunning. Firing cannons wasn't only about knocking down walls. It was about demoralising the enemy. You didn't just shoot off your balls when the mood took you. You timed your bombardment for when the other side was most vulnerable ... just like you timed your bells.

After a measured time, he rose from his bench and looked around. Most of the monks would be snoring and the rest counting sheep, or whatever monks did when they couldn't sleep.

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