The Untimely and Ill-Fated Travels of the 347th Pilgrimage to Canterbury

Prologue
It is rare in this day and age to find a historical manuscript that changes our perspective so much that it seems we need to rewrite history. Today, you are lucky to be able to view the original manuscript of my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother, Alexandra of Nottingham also known in medieval times as: Alexandra Queen of the Forest. It wasn’t until recently that this manuscript was found locked away in our family vault. It has now it has been carbon dated to the late 13th century.
Although it is true that the writings of Chaucer were probably the most influential for the English language, it seems that the manuscript of Alexandra of Nottingham could have been far more progressive. It may be that Alexandra invented the word “gurney” for the wooden stretchers sometimes used to carry bodies off of the battlefield. She even discusses such phenomena as rap and ‘cougars’.
I am proud to be a direct descendent of Alexandra of Nottingham whose skillful articulation, brilliant word formation and keen insight were lost for awhile in the sands of time. It is a shame that she was unable to propagate her story more in her time but there is evidence that being a self-taught learned woman along with her other various reputations precluded many from reading the manuscript and so it was tucked away among her other things and passed along through the family. What is even more astonishing are the songs sung along the journey that are seemingly identical to popular songs today.
Unfortunately, the manuscript was held by Uncle Bob for a period of time in the 1960’s which was when it seems to have been lost and somewhat damaged (you know, everyone has “that” uncle, well ours was Uncle Bob). Despite all this, along with historians, I was able to piece together the entire story. It is story I feel will be remembered in homes for many years from now. I hope that you enjoy this fascinating tale rich with colorful characters and situations.
Sincerely,
Alexandra Hemrick
“The Untimely and Ill-Fated Travels of the 347th Pilgrimage to Canterbury”
When in December the frost creepeth o’er the Earth
And people near and far come to gather round the hearth,
One traveler, downtrodden indeed, entered the local inn.
A young squire, he was tall in stature, yet very thin,
5 And with a course head of hair coloured fiery red.
At a young age he was given to a knight to be bred,
But soon, it was discovered that agile and strong
He was not, and to the ladies his words came out wrong.
When he meant to say, “Yes ma’am,” and “Thank you,”
10 It came sputtering out as, “Yes damn!” and “Spank you!”
The knight, of course, was quite obviously displeased
And the squire he named, ‘Rufus the Hapless’ and teased.
The poor boy tried to remedy his horrible plight
By practicing his training and chivalry through the night,
15 But hapless Rufus did not through this endeavor, better fare.
Instead, he slept though morning duties like a hibernating bear.
Rufus could stand to be such a disgrace no longer,
Thus he went in search of a brew to make him better and stronger.
Just then, a strange man entered, bowing so low his knee struck his chin.
20 As he did, a rank and odorous smell escaped from his person into the inn.
He wore the various clothes of a knight, a monk and an earl,
Which drew even more attention when he did a whirl
About the room introducing himself regally as Earl of Liveryorkburyshire.
Everyone in the inn went back to their business, everyone except Rufus the Squire.
25 At last, Rufus had found a soul as hapless as or more hapless than he
And he wondered with fierce curiosity who this eccentric earl might be.
Waving him over to his table, Rufus bowed and said, “My good Sir…?”
To which the Earl replied, “Thomas, Sir Thomas is what I rather prefer.”
“Ah, yes Sir Thomas, of course, what brings you to this inn tonight?”
30“It seems my people of Liveryorkburyshire have revolted so I had to take flight.”
Rufus knew no Liveryorkburyshire existed and that this man was not nobility,
But who was he to judge, being not presently a squire, with any hostility.
With some care of words and a large supply of ale, Rufus discovered the truth,
This man, known to all as, “Sir Thomas the Highly Peasant,” was quite uncouth.
35Unhappy with peasantry, he convinced himself to have been born of noble blood
And had been separated from his true family somehow long ago in a great flood.
The people of the town in which he resided threw him out for stealing clothes,
Which Thomas resiliently resisted until it started to come fatefully to blows.
Now Thomas is here in Yorkshire trying to find a way to prove his noble birth.
40 Rufus, having imbibed much ale, suggested they journey together with mirth.
In their foggy minds there was absolutely no time to waste,
And they began immediately on their journey with haste.
No need for a map or supplies, with the grace of God they’d find a way!
They might have waited for the next group of pilgrims, but they could not delay.
45 So began the untimely and ill-fated 347th pilgrimage to Canterbury,
That morning before the sun had creeped o’er the hills, with pilgrims unwary.
Rufus had overheard talk of the miracles occurring at Thomas Becket’s tomb
And would certainly find a brew waiting there for him, or else it was his doom.
Luckily, Thomas had convinced himself that in Canterbury was his lost family,
50 And so he joined Rufus on this valiant quest step for step quite cheerily.
After wandering for some time, Thomas claiming to have expert direction,
The two men found themselves in the forest in desperate need of protection.
The sun was just peeking its shiny face through the thick green forest
When along came a man of men who was the briskest, burliest, and bravest
55 Dressed in camouflaging green attire yelling, “You two stop there!”
Rufus and Thomas unfortunately were caught quite unaware.
“’Tis I, Robyn Hode here to steal from ye noblemen your gold!”
But in his haste Robyn Hode had been unable to properly behold
The sorry couple of drunken men ambling about the forest aimlessly.
60“’Tis I, Earl Thomas of Liveryorkburyshire,” Thomas replied shamelessly
To which Robyn Hode replied, “What a strange earl, indeed! Now I must know,
‘Tis a matter of importance whether or not I deliver you a flesh wound before I go,
Are you an earl of expert skill with a sword or a great big scaredy cat?”
Thinking himself more than he was, Thomas said, “Well, we can’t have that!”
65Valiently, or not quite valiantly, but enthusiastically Thomas drew his sheath,
Unfortunately, his sword was lost in a curious and tragic accident in the heath.
Robyn Hode charged with his signature skill and strength at great speed.
Rufus saw that this was about to end badly and hated to see anyone bleed,
He was quite distressed but suddenly melodious song burst out.
70 The sound of angels made Thomas and Robyn stop bustling about.
It took a long second for the group to realize that the lovely song was coming from
A very surprised Rufus and eventually the other two slowly joined in with a hum:
“We are young; heartache to heartache we stand,
No promises, no demands
75 Love is a battlefield
We are strong; no one can tell us we’re wrong
Searchin’ our hearts for so long
All of us knowing, love is a battlefield.”
Soon the trio was dancing with clasped hands about a large tree
80 And it seemed that from this potential crisis, they were free.
“You have won me over with your song, and I am a sucker for a good song,
One day you must come back and teach me some more, don’t be too long!”
Said Robyn and Rufus and Thomas began again on their journey
Greatly relieved that neither of them had ended up in a gurney.
85 It soon occurred to Rufus that he was starved for sustenance,
And being consulted, Thomas was quick to offer a plan and assurance.
“Not to worry my dear friend for I picked a couple of loaves of bread,
A jug of ale, some cheese and some pottage, no need for you to dread.”
Rufus replied in awe, “My dear Sir Thomas I am quite impressed,
90 Where have you been keeping all of this?” and Thomas confessed,
“To be quite honest, I believe I might have left it with Robyn back there”
“Shit Thomas! It’s too far to go!” said Rufus with a sigh of despair.
To which Thomas replied, “There, there Rufus, don’t cry all your tears,
You may need some later! We shall go for a hunt for rabbits it appears.”
95With Rufus still doubtful, they went in search of small game
But it soon seemed that that there might be another crisis to tame.
Ahead in the forest of the small city of Liverpool, was a great big…something
Neither men knew exactly what it was but it had scales and it was moving.
Confident after his triumphant glory against Robyn with his sheath before,
100 Thomas charged, yelling, “I’ll slay thee Dragon!” but it was probably only a boar.
Startlingly, the scaly mound arose and screamed, “Boogidy-boogidy-boogidy-boo!”
Before Thomas had reached it and Rufus realized that this boar was a man who
Would later explain himself to be Albin of St. Mary’s Abbey in Yorkshire.
He had fled the monastery after an indecent incident and his situation was dire.
105 Albin, realizing that these two sorry men posed him no legitimate threat
As a sheath was their only weapon, told them a story they wouldn’t soon forget.
“As you can see I am quite a dashing young gent
With skin like porcelain and hair like ebony,
The hearts of women I would easily ferment.
110 But as the youngest son I was not given a barony,
Instead I was sent away to live with a bunch of men.
Which was quite a sticky-wicket as you will see
Because women would flock to me again and again.
Having travelled for miles, I couldn’t turn them free
115 And so began my love affair with Adela, Joan,
Cecily, Tristana, Ysabel, Christabel and Claire.
Each of them I would carefully plan to see alone.
Between Lauds and Matins we would meet in my lair,
Which was carefully hidden away in the forest.
120 One day, Ysabel and Christabel arrived together
And at first their reactions were the chilliest.
But soon I convinced them this situation was better.
My lair was too small for three so we snuck into
The warmth of the dark and empty cathedral
125-140 **portion scratched out due to indecent material**
And then by the Abbot we were discovered
In the aforementioned indecent situation.
Quickly I was chased out and belaboured
And threatened with a ghastly castration
145 If I was ever seen around the abbey again.”
Thomas and Rufus were in awe and disbelief of Albin the Philandering Monk
Since when were Benedictine monks getting more action and looking like a hunk?
It wasn’t all good, Albin explained, his family had now heard the story
So he was banned from home in Yorkshire for life for being so whore-y.
150 He has been forced to hide out in the forest for fear of being found
By the abbot, his family, or any of his angry seven girlfriends abound.
It seemed that poor Albin was in need of a miracle as well
So together with Rufus and Thomas, into the fold he fell.
Three men now marched without a clue as to how to get to Canterbury,
155 Starved, sore and fatigued they had circled twice around Shrewsbury.
In their weakened state the men started to hallucinate,
False images of roast beef and pottage served to aggravate
Thomas and Albin and what was real they tried to discern
But Rufus saw a different illusion in the River Severn
160 It appeared to him that a young maiden was bathing there
With long brown hair, bright blue eyes and skin so fair.
Rufus feared he might say something awfully dreadful
Her being a lady and all, but instead came something beautiful.
Without thinking, Rufus again burst into song
165 It sounded so pretty that it really couldn’t be wrong:
“Lady, when you’re with me I’m smiling
Give me all your love
Your hands build me up with I’m sinking
Just touch me and my troubles all fade
170 Lady, from the moment I saw you
Standing all alone
You gave all the love that I needed
So shy, like a child who has grown.
You’re my lady of the morning
175 Love shines in your eyes
Sparkling, clear and lovely
You’re my lady
Lady…”
This is the crucial part of the story where I come in.
180 A hallucination I was not so I gave Rufus a big grin.
It was then that I fell in love with this goofy singer and him with me
Among this group I was bound to linger as you shall soon see.
After Rufus and I were introduced, I told the trio my tale
Doing my best not to leave out any important detail:
185 “I grew up as the only child of a widow.
Father taught me to ride and fight in the meadow.
The townspeople would watch through their window,
My short hair and skillful fighting they would shun.
Poor father wanted nothing more than to have a son,
190 Thus my preliminary training as a squire had begun.
So dressed as a boy to a knight I was given
From the start it was obvious that I was driven
My skills were better than the knight even!
But when he discovered one day that I was a girl
195 Through the door, my body and clothes, he would hurl
The world I knew so well started to quickly unfurl.
My father had passed away earlier that year
And his possessions passed to a male cousin I hear
Now my uncertain future seemed even more unclear.
200 I journeyed far trying to establish a reputation as a lady
But unfortunately they had heard about me already
And in heels, a dress and a corset I was quite unsteady.
Now I live as an outlaw having been refused by the convent
Because having a sword and a horse they wouldn’t consent.
205 This unusual outdoor life I have had, for myself, to invent.”
“Uh…great story and quite long, but we are starved can you cook us a meal?”
Said Thomas, the other two men, nodded in agreement that they could not conceal.
With my knowledge of the forest I was able to cook us a great feast
Of berries, soup and over a fire, on a spit we roasted a large beast.
210 With stomachs full and spirits merry the quartet was quite a gang.
While they walked along, with Thomas leading, many a song they sang.
I, knowing the way, had asked Thomas politely if I could lead
But he said that letting a woman direct would be a dangerous deed.
We headed to what Thomas thought was Canterbury which in
215 Reality was probably Wales, so I simply took it on the chin.
The god of wind, who seemed to punish the earth, we would curse
And the rain drizzled constantly, the situation could not be worse.
However the scenery was beautiful, not that anyone but I noticed,
The way we traveled by had no smoky towns, it had to be the remotest.
220 When each of us were ready to simply drop dead, we saw a small shack
And we thought perhaps we could get shelter and maybe a little snack.
At our knock, no one answered, even though we saw a light,
So we banged loudly on the door even harder out of spite.
Finally, from the inside of the shack came a man who looked like he might cry
225 He covered his mouth with some difficulty but soon he heaved a heavy sigh
Out of his mouth came what turned out to be a tortured song
But before we knew why he sang we bobbed our heads along:
“Oh my darling,
Knock three times on the ceiling if you want me,
230 Twice on the pipe if the answer is no
Oh my sweetness
Means you’ll meet me in the hallway
Twice on the pipe means you ain’t gonna show”
This man we later found out was Odgar the Last, Last Bard
235 Who was still hiding out from King Edward and life was hard.
After the “Last Bard” hopped off the cliff
He had thought himself to be a lucky stiff.
Though, he was so used to singing that it was now a compulsion.
If he dared to sing out loud it could be his life’s final expulsion.
240 So he hides like a hermit in hopes no one will hear,
Living his life perpetually in a state of fear.
Just as he finished explaining, out of the woods came a man
Holding a sword saying, “You better run as fast as you can!”
It was one of Edward’s men come to slay the poor bard
245 Once again Odgar had drawn quite an unlucky card
Thomas yelled, “Stop! I am Earl of Liveryorkburyshire!”
The man replied, “Who?!” So it’s a good thing I was almost a squire.
With skill I wielded my weapon proudly and the men even helped a little
And before long, we had rendered the man unconscious, drooling spittle.
250 The bard was so excited that he started to yell a strange song
And Rufus, unable to control his own singing, joined along:
“So Listen Up ‘Cause You Can’t Say Nothin’
You’ll Shut Me Down With A Push Of Your Button?
But Yo I’m Out And I’m Gone
255 I’ll Tell You Now I Keep It On And On

‘Cause What You See You Might Not Get
And We Can Bet So Don’t You Get Souped Yet
You’re Scheming On A Thing That’s A Mirage
I’m Trying To Tell You Now It’s Sabotage.”

260 Odgar told us after that he could no longer sing of the Welsh princes
So he had to come up with a new way to sing, and it had some differences
Instead of singing a song with a voice beautiful and clear
He would sing quickly and briskly almost like a cheer.
This new form of singing he would refer to as Rapping
265 And to the quick beat we found ourselves snapping.
But sadly, after a night of rapping and ale
We had to leave and get back to our trail
Odgar couldn’t risk being discovered again
So in his shack composing rap he would remain.
270 Two long weeks after parting with our dear friend Odgar
We finally reached our destination having traveled far.
It seems we made at least eight loops and 5 zig-zags.
Our bones were weary and our clothes were in rags,
But we were now finally at Becket’s Tomb
275 And now no one would have to fear their doom
Except to our dismay, a monk came out and told us we were the 347th pilgrimage
And they had run out of vials of Becket’s blood, but that he had some cabbage.
Well cabbage just wouldn’t do for this quartet and we left disheartened
Frustration ran amuck and that monk we wish we could have bludgeoned.
280 But we supposed that slaying a monk might worsen our position
And we struggled to think of a place we could go for our next mission.
After a moment, a widower came over to flirt with Albin like a cougar
Before long she had offered him a night’s shelter and was calling him sugar.
With Albin’s fate looking up and rather bright
285 It seemed we might not face such an awful plight.
Thomas had been speaking to a well dressed knight sitting nearby
Who was impressed with his uncanny courage and movements spry.
He offered Thomas some training and a place in the next crusade
And in the meantime he gave Thomas for his sheath a blade.
290 I feared for the knight who had to take on an armed Earl Thomas.
To keep in touch about his adventures Sir Thomas would promise
But now Rufus and I were left alone to ponder
Where next we would go, having no money to squander.
I suggested that we go back to Nottingham where we could begin
295 Traveling with Robyn Hode and his group of merry men.
He agreed and commented on what a crazy trip this had been.
We joked about what an interesting and curious tale we could spin
And it was then that I decided to figure out a way

To write down our story so that in history it would stay.

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2 responses to “The Untimely and Ill-Fated Travels of the 347th Pilgrimage to Canterbury

  1. It’s rare that you find a poem that pays homage to Chaucer, The Beastie Boys, Pat Benatar, Tony Orlando, etc. all in one.

    I’m sorry to have made it all the way back to the beginning now. I will have to wait for new posts to come out as you get to them!

    • Haha, that was a rough one to reread. I was not so much focused on style with this piece as I was just getting a story out in rhyme. This was my final project for my Medieval History class I took while studying abroad. It was the first thing writing-wise that I ever consistently worked on over a large stretch of time. I think it’s like 13 pages all typed out. Funny thing is that the dorm where I wrote this was actually a very, very, very old monastery so it felt very appropriate writing this piece there. I get nostalgic for those days often. If I ever get the chance to live in Oxford, UK, I will take it in a heartbeat.

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