Monday, February 15, 2010

The Mistleberry - Part 4


Work resumed in the morning. Mark and Uncle James were getting out tools and setting the workshop fire when I came down for breakfast, and as Sarah began to clear the table, they and an unwilling Christopher went into the workshop and I heard the sounds that were beginning to be familiar, of tools, of the fire, the occasional hiss of hot metal being cast. My aunt went to visit her sister and took Harry with her, protesting in his best clothes, since he would far rather have hung around the workshop or gone out into the fields or the square with the other boys.  
Which left me with very little to do, other than resume my seat on the stairs, out of the way – which I would have done, save for Mark calling me as I slipped through the workshop.  
“Lyn? You don’t need to roost on the stairs alone, come and sit with us.”  
I found my way to him by the warmth of the hearthstone and perched on the high stool at his workbench, keeping my hands well back until he told me,

”There’s nothing hot or sharp in your reach, I’m finishing off an amulet- setting stones. These.”

I heard the rattle of the box and groped until I found them. All small, all cold, all different shapes and weights. I handled them carefully, scanning the individual faces of them.  
“Are these glass?”  
“Some are. The centre set ones will be gems.” Mark said absorbedly. I felt through them again, the weight and the shape of them.

Mark sounded surprised. “Yes. That’s all of them, how could you tell?”  
“They feel different.”

It was hard to explain. I heard a jingle from somewhere, then Mark put a leather pouch in my hand.  
“Try those. They’re old or clipped coins, we melt them down mostly. Something Master James is called to do sometimes, to confirm to the watch or to the guilds if someone suspects a coin has been clipped or is guilded, not true metal.”  
I sat for some time, working through that pouchful, and by the time Mark put aside the amulet he was working on I had them grouped.  
“Those are genuine.” I told him, pushing them across the desk. “Those are clipped- and if those are genuine then these just don’t feel right at all.”  
There was a minute’s silence, then I heard one of the older workmen laugh and Mark’s hand clapped my shoulder, making me jump.  
“You do it quicker with your fingers than I did with both eyes when I was Christopher’s age. And I still don’t think Chris would separate those as accurately. Keep your hands well back now, I’ll be soldering for a while here.”

”What about these.” One of the older workmen said on my left, and I felt a dish put into my lap. I found chain links inside, many of them, smooth and cold and open at one end.  
“They’re three different sizes.” The man told me. “You see if you can separate ‘em.”  
Used to handling the keys and playing my flute by touch, it wasn’t at all difficult to distinguish between the sizes. It took me some time but when Uncle James came into the workshop I had nearly finished, and Mark confirmed for me there was no more than one or two mistakes.  
“Well that’s saved me an hour,” the workman said, taking the dish. “Thank you lad.”

”He sorted the coins entirely by touch.” Mark said mildly as Uncle James stopped beside me. “And he could pick the gems out of the glass beads.”

”Well you’re a goldsmith by blood Lynden.” Master James‘s hand rested on my shoulder for a minute, a warm grasp and a warm voice above it. “Linnet had the neatest fingers I’d ever seen. Just stay well back from the fire and Mark, be careful for him. I don’t want to see him near solder or hot melt.”

”Most of the pouring and hammering out is on the other side of the workshop anyway.” I said without thinking, and again heard the silence. Then my uncle laughed and let go, moving past me.  
“Well if you’ve got that worked out then I won’t fret about you being down here.”  

Uncle James went out on business after lunch that day and took Christopher with him. Largely, I thought, to get him out from under the feet of the others, since his main interest was in what he could see and hear of what went on in the street, and he was gone into the shop on every pretext he could manufacture. I’d spent the rest of the morning sitting listening to the work going on around me and Mark quietly and with the skill of making the simplest of details seem interesting, told me what went on around me, the processes and actions that accompanied the sounds and the movements I was aware of. The light was beginning to go as the cathedral bells sounded three, and Mark racked the last of his tools, glancing back to the two workmen who I knew were working over the fire now in their heavy leather aprons with the hissing and the hot smell of metal that came from their melt and pour.  
“The amulet’s done. I’ll take it up to Mistress Berringar now.”

”You’re as bad as young Christopher wanting to see the mummers.” one of the men said genially.  
“And you don’t?” Mark teased, passing me to pull his cloak down off the nail. “Lyn are you coming?”  
“Aye, but I’ll see them later this evening in the Three Shires.” The man said chuckling. “Which, I’ll grant you, is not where Master James would want you to be. I’ll tell him you’ll be back when you’ve seen all you want to see.”  
I took my cloak from Mark and followed him out into the street, shivering as the door shut on the blasting heat of the workshop fire. Mark slipped his arm into mine and we made our way through the snow towards Bishops gate. More had fallen during the night: it was still thick and squeaking beneath our boots and even in the busy through way of Bishops gate Mark said it was no more than marked with many trails, not in the least melted. Music was playing in the square and I could hear near the cathedral steps, the cheers and laughter of what sounded like a large crowd.  
“The mummers play here several times through Christmas,” Mark told me, steering me right as we crossed the square. “This way, we’ll go down Drapers row. They stay all through the twelve days, moving between here and Petersbury, they’ll be staying at the Three Shires tonight and they do the evening play there.”

”And Uncle James wouldn’t let you go?” I said curiously. Mark drew me against a shop front as I heard a horse and cart go by in the narrow street.  
“Well. It gets raucous in there and a bit rough- very different to the one played in the square today. Uncle James wouldn’t go into the Three Shires anyway, it’s where the boatmen drink and it’s always what he’d call ‘rough company’. Down this way.”

We walked down a still narrower alley where I could feel the walls on either side and where there was a strong smell of bakers ovens and the fresh bread, then the walls opened out and Mark drew me left to a door which he rapped on.  
“I’m Master Armitage’s journeyman.” He said when a girl answered the door. “I’ve brought Mistress Berringar’s amulet.”  
There were a few more exchanges of Merry Christmas, then Mark steered me back through the alley to the baker’s ovens and dye smell of Drapers Row. The noise in the square was louder and we could hear laughter over by the cathedral.

”They’re doing St George and the Turkish knight,” Mark yelled to me above the crowd as we skirted it and came out on the cathedral steps. “St George fights the Turkish knight and kills him, and then there’s some strange doctor that cures him- they’re getting to the Morris dancing now.”

I could hear the bells as the music struck up and the clashing of sticks – I’d seen the Morris danced years ago in the villages near Hartford when I was very small: it was something Tom had loved to watch and he’d told me once in that short way of his, that as a boy and a young man in this town he’d been one of the Morrisers himself. The crowd were singing, loud and lively,
“I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas day, on Christmas day
I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas day in the morning  
And what was in those ships all three
On Christmas day, on Christmas day
And what was in those ships all three 
On Christmas day in the morning”
“Mark!” Harry’s voice yelled across the square and a minute later I felt him barrel up against us. “Did you see the mummers? Did you see the fight with St George?”  
“The last few minutes. Want to see the Morrisers?”  
I felt Mark stoop beside me and Harry’s yelp of delight as Mark swung him up to sit on his shoulders.

”Where’s Aunt Anne?”  
“She was starting home when I saw you, she said I could stay if I stayed with you.” Harry said cheerfully. The crowd were clapping now around us, in time with the clacking of the Morrisers’ sticks and I could feel Mark jigging beside me, Harry clutching his shoulders for support.
“And they sailed into Bethlehem
On Christmas day on Christmas day 
And they sailed into Bethlehem

On Christmas day in the morning”
There was a knocking on the door as we left the kitchen after the evening meal and Aunt Anne went to answer it, then I felt the draft of the shop door opened wide and she called into the house, “Harry! Bring me my purse please.”

Harry ran through to the shop and I followed, hearing children’s voices on the doorstep, four or five of them, unsteady but singing the words carefully.
“Here we come a wassailing among the leaves so green,
Here we come a wassailing so merry to be seen,
Love and joy come to you, and to a wassail too
And God rest you and send you a happy New Year,
God send you a happy New Year.”
Uncle James came past me to the door, his own purse jingling, and I heard him laugh at the sight of the children.  
“We’re buying luck are we? How much to ransom the brats this year?”  
“A penny for Harry.” My aunt said, taking her purse from Harry as he brushed by me. “And I suppose another for Christopher, he’s still really a child when all’s said and done.”

”And then there’s Lyn and Mark.” My uncle said, shaking two more coins out of own his purse. “There you go, four brats ransomed.”

”I’m not a charge on your purse sir.” Mark protested as my aunt shut the door. I felt my uncle reach past me and the sound of a hand on a shoulder.    
“It’s a small price to pay for a good journeyman and a good nephew. I’d sooner sell Harry if we had to choose.” He added, and I heard Harry screech, then run upstairs as Uncle James chased him into the parlour.  
“Ransom from what?” I asked as we reached the top of the stairs. A hand slipped into mine- my aunt’s- and drew me down. I sat on the floor by the hearth near her and felt Harry crash to the floor nearby, leaning as he often did against his father’s legs. Mark would settle by the inglenook as he always did, and Christopher on the other side of the hearth where he could sprawl full length.  
“It’s the eve of Holy Innocents day.” My aunt said, leaning past me to take out the tapestry she often worked on in the evening. I knew it by the lavender smell of the material from the lavender bags she kept in her sewing box, and the steady sound of the needle working in and out of the frame. “The day when Herod’s men slew the innocents of Bethlehem . The children wassail door to door and people pay them per child in the household – it’s good luck now, but in memory of the innocents. Tomorrow there’s the Holy Innocents Mass at the cathedral, the Bishop blesses all the children born in the town since last Christmas.”

”I never saw that at Hartford .” I said thoughtfully, “Just the Mass at the chapel.”

”What was Hartford like?” Harry said cautiously. I knew from the changes in the direction of his voice he’d glanced at his father before he asked me, and it occurred to me for the first time, that most likely he’d been told not to ask me questions. No one ever had about what my life had been like before I lived here and having been brought up not to ask questions myself, it hadn’t seemed odd. For the first time I realised my aunt and uncle’s attempts to try and protect me; their awareness of what it was like to leave one home abruptly for one so different.  
“It was a long way from any towns or villages.” I said slowly, thinking about it. “Just the house- a big house and the gardens all the way down to the river. Tom and I lived mostly upstairs or out in the gardens and Sir John lived downstairs and was mostly in his study, I didn’t see him much. Sometimes he went to London , and sometimes guests came from London to see him. Important guests, Tom and I stayed out of the way when they were visiting. There were no other children there. Before I was blind I had tutors and Tom worked outside, but I still spent most of my time in the garden with him.”  
 “You weren’t always blind?” Christopher blurted out. I shook my head, aware of my aunt fixing Christopher with a warning glare- I didn’t need to see it to know it was there, any more than I needed to see to know she’d moved and who she looked at.  
“No, not until I was nine. I had scarlet fever, almost everyone at Hartford did except Sir John. After that Tom looked after me. We had three rooms upstairs by the side stairs so we could come and go without disturbing Sir John.”  
“And you never saw him?” Harry said curiously. I shook my head.  
“Hardly ever. I don’t think he liked children much.”  
“Do you know what Tom’s commission in London might have been for Sir John?” my uncle asked me gently. “We looked through all his saddle bags when he died, but other than your belongings and food there was nothing to say what he might have done there.”

”I don’t know.” I said honestly. “Sir John hardly ever saw us, I don’t think he spoke to Tom often at all.”  
My aunt was anxious and ready to change the subject, I could feel her ready to speak and cut in quickly before I could change my mind.  
“Did Tom run away with Linnet? With my mother?”  
There was a few seconds of silence, then my aunt spoke, warmly. “No, Lyn. Tom was a craftsman in the workshop with your grandfather when your mother and your uncle were children, he was part of their family. When Linnet went to London Tom went with her for protection- I imagine he stayed with you for the same reason. That he loved this family and you were Linnet’s child.”  
“He never spoke about my mother.” I said aloud. My aunt’s hand touched my hair, combing it away from my face.  
“He must have grieved for her very much. Mark, trim that candle for me please, it’s spattering. What story would you like before bed tonight? What Christmas ones hasn’t Lyn yet heard?”  
I didn’t hear much of the one she told that evening, and I was still thinking when we went up to bed. Christopher was sleepy and fell into bed as soon as he was undressed. I had sat down to take off my boots when Mark said, softly,  
“Lyn- shall we go and watch the mummers?”  
“At the Three Shires?” I stopped, startled, keeping my voice low enough not to reach Christopher. “Now?”  
“They’ll play until very late tonight.” Mark moved over to sit on my bed, “If we’re quiet and leave the door on the latch….?”  
I thought about it for a moment, then stifled the urge to laugh and pulled my boots back on.  
I had to show him where the stairs creaked, since I listened to them a lot more carefully than he did. We were both trying not to laugh by the time we reached the workshop and Mark went ahead of me to unlock and unlatch the heavy shop door. It was bitterly cold outside and the wind was high enough to sting my face and hands. I waited while Mark softly latched the door again and then caught my arm, pulling me with him towards Bishops gate fast enough for us to be out of earshot before we lost the battle to laugh quietly. I don’t think either of us were sure as to what was so funny.

The Three Shires was busy, and the mummers performed in the stable yard where several fires burned and enough people lined the cobbles and the galleries above the yard that it was bearable to stand outside. Mark was right: the mummers version of St George and the Turkish Knight to this audience at this hour of the night was a good deal louder and with details to it that made me blush and the audience roar with laughter. Mark took me upstairs to the gallery and we sat with our legs hanging over the yard and our arms on the lowest rail while Mark described to me what went on below and we drank the flat ale being bailed into tankards from the barrels in the yard.  
When the St George play was over, the mummers changed costume, took a few minutes to drink and rest and Mark told me one man below was a tumbler who entertained the crowd while the rest of the company regathered their strength. They would walk back to Petersford at dawn, seven miles, to perform all afternoon and evening there. The musicians began to play and the people in the yard below to dance, and we stayed long enough to finish the ale, but the cathedral clock was chiming eleven and many were making their way home.  
“When Master James’s great grandfather was the goldsmith here,” Mark told me as we crossed the now silent square, “All the guilds in the towns used to do the mystery plays- the holy plays- at festivals all through the year. The boatmen and the carpenters did the story of the ark, and the bakers performed the last supper- the craftsmen with the talent to make a good show and to show off their wares through the play. The goldsmiths always did Christmas, and the play of the three Kings- the crowns, and sceptres and ornaments. Some real, some made with all the ingenuity the craftsmen had, out of wood and paint and gilt.”  
 “What will you make for your journeyman piece?” I asked him. Mark laughed.  
“I don’t know. One day I’ll have the idea and I’ll make a start on it.”  
We turned into Gold street and Mark let go of my arm, putting my hand out to touch the door.  
“It’s quieter if I unlatch the door from the inside- I’ll go round the back and climb the courtyard wall, the kitchen door isn’t locked. Wait here.”

I stood, blowing on my hands, hearing his feet on the snow move out of earshot. The wind was picking up and blowing the snow to brush against my cheeks and hair, and I heard the bells and the lanterns in the street begin to chime as the wind stirred them where they hung.

”Where are you going?” Tom’s voice said from the doorway, so sharply and so quietly, I jumped. The door was still tight shut, and there were no footsteps, no one moving in the street.  
“Go inside Tom.” A girl’s voice said softly. I felt her cloak brush me as she came out of the shop, and the swirl as she clutched it around herself. “Go inside and say nothing, you never saw me.”

”I saw you my girl and I’ll take you straight back inside unless you tell me right now what you’re doing and where you’re going.” Tom said bluntly. I heard the footsteps as he passed me and the girl’s hiss like an angry cat as he took her arm.  
“Linnet. I’ll be waking your father in a minute, what are you doing out here at this hour of the night!”  
“Going away.” She was struggling, I could hear the shake of her clothes and the catch of her breathing, then suddenly her breathing changed and I knew she was crying, hard and silently, and I knew too that Tom had pulled her close and was holding her tightly.  
“Oh Tom. I can’t tell you, I can’t, but you mustn’t stop me.”  
“You can’t walk in this snow.” Tom said quietly to her. “Which way are you going? By which road?”  
“I can’t tell you.” She was weeping, softly, sounding despairing. There was a long quiet, then I heard Tom’s voice again, low and sure.  
“Stand here. Quietly, don’t make a sound. I’ll get Bailey saddled and bring him round, and then you’ll tell me as we walk, where we’re going and why.”

”You can’t come with me!” Linnet wailed, and I heard the decision of his footsteps moving away towards the stables.  
“You stand still there girl. I swear to God I won’t let an Armitage wander alone and their own kin not know where they are.”  
The click of the door unlatching made me jump, and as it eased open, from towards the river I heard several, clear blasts of a hunting horn. Mark’s hand caught my wrist and pulled me inside, then he stood with me to listen.  
“Did you hear that?”  
I’d heard a good deal more than that. Somewhere out in the darkness, Tom and my mother were preparing for a journey- one that she intended to make and that Tom intended on taking with her. And yet I knew that truly they weren’t there- no people to touch, nothing to see- only voices and sounds to hear.  
“There’s no hunting at this hour,” Mark said, gripping my arm as we listened. “No one would be out near midnight-“

The hunting horns sounded again, closer now as though coming over the bridge.  
“It’s the wild hunt.” I said, shaking. Mark didn’t answer, but I could feel the clench of his hand on my arm. Then he put me to one side and hurriedly locked and barred the door.  
I guided Mark through the shop and the workshop to the stairs, not needing light to know my way, and keen for the safety of the loft. We climbed silently up the first flight of stairs to the hall by the parlour, and there I heard my uncle’s voice, dry and polite on the stairs above us.  
“Mark and Lynden. There you are. Would you like to share with me at all just where it is you’ve seen fit to be instead of in your beds?”  
“At the Three Shires, watching the mummers sir.” Mark said beside me, politely. “I asked Lyn to come with me.”  
“At the Three Shires.” Uncle James repeated. “An establishment you know full well I do not in the least approve of.”

”We didn’t go inside sir. Just sat on the gallery in the yard.”  
“And drank there I suppose.” Uncle James went on conversationally. Mark didn’t hesitate.  
“Yes sir. That was my doing too, Lyn wouldn’t have thought of it.”  
“I wanted to go as much as you did.” I objected.  
“And to do this, you crept out of the house and left the door on the latch?” Uncle James continued. Mark coughed.  
“Yes sir. Although I did make sure it was well latched, I came in through the courtyard to open it.”

”Climbing the courtyard wall.”

”Yes sir.”  
There was a long and portentous moment where no one said anything at all, and then my uncle said reflectively,  
“Well it’s disgraceful. Absolutely disgraceful. Go to bed the pair of you.”  
I bumped into Mark trying to hurry on upstairs, since Mark was standing stock still on the stair above me. Then he came to life and we went on silently up into the loft where Christopher was sleeping peacefully and noisily.  
“I didn’t think he’d say much to you,” Mark said under his breath as we got undressed. “And I suppose I’m getting too old- but when Sam did that, and I swear he was OLDER than I am now, I still remember the thrashing he got!”  
“He won’t in the morning…?” I said, somewhat apprehensively. Mark sounded definite.  
“No. If he was going to, he would have done it there and then, he never makes anyone wait.”

My hands were still trembling as I pulled my nightshirt on. And that was when I remembered why. The wild hunt. I went to the window and opened it, leaning out to listen. The streets below were silent, the wind had dropped, there was nothing at all to hear out there now.   
~ * ~
Continue on to Part 5 of The Mistleberry
Copyright Ranger 2010

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