"Scornful dogs will eat dirty puddings." -
Iberia, in the year of our Lord, 1645
Rodrigo crawled through the underbrush on his belly, swatting mosquitoes and praying to God that he wouldn't die tonight with a brigand's blade in his back. He followed the shallow ditch full of brackish water and tried to move as silently as he could but briers tugged at his clothing while nettles stung his face and hands. He could see a pale window of moonlight through the brush and made for it. Here the ditch emptied into the river and would provide him with some means of escaping the bandits that had his ancestral home surrounded.
He eased himself into the cool waters of the river and tried very hard not to make a ripple as he made for the other side. The sound of the water dripping from his wet clothes seemed like a raging surf in his ears as he emerged on the other side and climbed the steep bank. As he crested the bank, he heard the unmistakable sound of a horse on the far side. At this, he threw all caution to the wind and bolted into the trees. His heart pounded in his throat and his legs pumped with all the fury of a charging bull. He ran as far and as fast as he could but with no moonlight to guide his way in the thick forest, his progress was arrested when he ran full speed into an unyielding tree.
How long he lay flat on his back unconscious, Rodrigo couldn't really say but the sun was dappling the forest floor as he rose on unsteady feet. He touched his sore, disjointed nose and looked around but every way was simply more trees. "God's eyes!" he swore, "I've gone and gotten myself lost!" and not knowing what else to do, he trudged on.
Rodrigo couldn't remember ever feeling more low. His fine clothes were now wet, muddy rags. One of his boots had lost it's heel and was raising a grape sized blister. His mouth was dry and his belly grumbled, not to mention the odd crunching noise his sore nose made when he touched it. "At this rate," he thought, "I'll be dead by nightfall. I would have been better to have stayed at the keep and face the bandits. At least I would have had an honorable death instead of perishing from hunger lost in the woods."
Rodrigo pushed through a thicket and entered a clearing and there was a log hut. At it's door stood a friar holding a leather tankard with a puzzled look on his face. "Please dear brother, some succor for a fellow Christian who has lost his way," Rodrigo pleaded. The friar shrugged and beckoned him inside. Rodrigo slumped on the only stool, took the mug the friar offered him and gulped it down. "I have seen some sights in my day boy," the friar began, "but I ain't never seen anything like you stumble out of the woods. I've seen beggars who were less the worse for wear. How came you to be in such a state?"
At this, Rodrigo poured forth his awful tale. He explained how his father, Count Alvarez, had taken the men of the valley and marched off to fight the King's war and had left him in charge of the family lands and keep. He told the friar about the brigands who had shown up the day before and how they had only managed to bolt the door in time to keep them from charging right in. With no way to get in, they simply set up camp around the keep and waited. Since the men of the valley were gone, the crops hadn't been harvested yet and the larder was nigh empty. So with no other recourse, Rodrigo slipped out through the waste water ditch and ran to find whatever help he could, only to break his nose in the dark. At the end of the tale, the friar nodded.
"You're not going to like this boy but you will thank me later. Now hold still a moment," the friar said, and with that his hand shot out and gave Rodrigo's nose a mighty tug. Rodrigo swore he heard an audible snap as his nose fell somewhat back into place.
"God's eyes, that hurts!" he exclaimed as he struggled to see through his own tears.
"Now don't touch it," the friar admonished. "I expect you will be wanting something to eat after your ordeal." Rodrigo smiled at the mention of food. "Well I was just sitting down to break my fast when I heard you rustling through the brush. Here, eat mine." The friar passed him a wooden trencher and a sea shell for a spoon. Rodrigo looked down at the mottled mash before him and his empty stomach turned.
"I can't eat this," he exclaimed, "It has got maggots in it!"
"Those are not maggots," the friar scowled, "Those are wood grubs and berries steeped in bark tea. It is perfectly healthy. I eat it all the time. Besides, even scornful dogs will eat dirty puddings if need be. Now eat up, we've a long walk ahead of us as I know how to save your keep." Rodrigo grimaced, closed his eyes and scooped some into his mouth. It had a sweet, earthy taste but it wasn't as unpleasant as it looked. After a couple more bites, Rodrigo was sorry that it was all gone.
"How are you going to save my keep? Do you know how to get a message to the army?" Rodrigo queried.
"Nothing of the sort. I just need my bag of herbs," the friar said with a knowing smile.
"You are going to drive off forty blood thirsty bandits with a bag of herbs?" Rodrigo asked incredulously but the friar ignored him, grabbed a little leather pouch from the bedpost of his pallet and set off at a brisk pace, out the door and into the woods. Rodrigo jogged to catch up.
In two hours time, they arrived at the edge of the woods and Rodrigo could see the bandits milling around their camp in front of his family keep. "You wait here in the trees and stay out of sight," the friar warned, and with that he strolled off as if he didn't have a care in the world. Rodrigo watched as the friar approached the bandits and one came to meet him. They spoke for a few moments. The friar seemed quite animated as he pointed towards the woods. He held up his little herb bag and then pointed to the keep. Soon all of the bandits were gathering around the friar and Rodrigo feared the worst. But then, miracle of miracles, they began to pack up their things, mount their horses and off they rode down the valley road. They crested the hill and never looked back.
When they had gone, the friar ambled back to the tree line. "It is all right now. You can come out. They've gone, and in quite a hurry too." the friar smiled.
"What did you say to them?" Rodrigo asked in wonder.
"Oh nothing really," the friar grinned sheepishly, "Only that I had come with some herbs and ointments for the nice people in the keep who were suffering from the plague!"