Now it was before the coming of the Grand Sarrasin and his troop of the wild off-scouring of every sea, that settled in the midst of the isle and defied lord and squire, abbot and prior—it was before those days with which my chronicle has most to do—that to me, Nigel, sitting conning an old book of knightly exploits, which for a reward Brother Hugo let us read on summer days, came a summons to go and see no less a one than the abbot himself. Now, the abbot was a great man of holy and blameless life, that sat in his own chamber towards the west, and had much traffic in matters of State and Church with the duke, and messengers went often to and fro from him to Caen, Rouen, and Paris, and in that year, the year one thousand and fifty-seventh since the birth of the Saviour of men, ever adorable and blessed, there was much afoot, for William, with the young blood still in him, gaining to himself by force of will chief power upon the mainland, was already spreading his wings like a young falcon for another more terrible flight. And lately Maugher, his uncle, and his bitterest foe though out of his own household, he had banished, archbishop though he was, from Rouen, to our small Isle of Guernsey, where there was scarce footing for the tread of so great and dark a schemer in high matters. And already the Conqueror had himself appeared at Edward’s Court in England, and prepared his way thither.
I was near sixteen years old, and I stood tall for my years, some five foot and a half, and for a lad I was well made, if yet lacking my full strength and girth round the chest, such a lad as in two years more Geoffrey my grandson will grow to, if God will. Fair I should have been if I were not burnt black with the hot sun pouring through the salt air, and my fair hair clustered crisp and neat round my temples and neck. So stood I, no doubt a fair and honourable youth, at the entering in of the abbot’s inner chamber.
And the abbot, sitting in his carven chair amid his rolls of parchment and instruments of writing, raised me swiftly as I stooped to kiss his hand. Dark-eyed, hawk-nosed, with black hair not yet flecked with snow, there was an awe and stateliness in him whether he spoke to gentle or to simple. He was a Norman, and being such feared none, and had his will, and when it was possible mixed a rare gentleness with his acts and words.