Friday, December 31, 2010

Here is the battle of Flodden....in a quick page. I was giggling while writing this.


Scottish Marches, Northumberland
            There was nothing akin in mundane life to the fire and fury of battle.          
   Under the formidable command of the Earl of the Surrey, Robert led the Earl of Northumberland’s contribution hither and yon. Surrey positioned the English on a hill, facing down the Scots. The Scottish held their pikes aloft, aimed to impale, but the English cannon roared. Cannon vs. pikes. Hmmm.          
  The men Robert and others led utilized their bills, curved, sharp lances, to hook teir prey and hurt them, dragging them off their horses. Archers sent arrows flying from longbows.         
    Through the confusion, Robert could see the banners of the Scots: Bothwell, Argyll, Lennox and most importantly, the King, James IV. As the important men of Scotland died, one by one, Robert heard yelling*. He fought hard, knocking a man off his horse with a good strong punch, hooking another though the shoulder with his bill.          
   “Yah!” Robert shouted to his horse, who carried him in full armor, over the heaving carcasses of other horses, over the bodies of dead men. The Scots rode and ran in confusion. When Robert turned back with his men toward the English lines, he realized why.       
      A bier had been brought to the field and a bloody body, a broken man, placed on it. The Earl of Surrey ordered the body carried off, but held onto the ripped coat. Robert saw that it had blood on it. An orderly held a staff with a banner hanging limply upon it.             Opening his helmet, catching his breath, Robert unfurled the banner in his mind and understood what he had just seen.           
  The King of Scots had died.           
  Surrey gave a nod. The orderly and the others around him roared, the roar spreading across the English lines. The orderly waved the banner in the air.            
 “Victory!”            
 Robert breathed. The English had won.  

Ahahahahahahahaha*I should think he heard yelling, you know?
Summer 1513
Scour, Yorkshire

            The stablehand led in a foaming horse, lungs still heaving from whatever hard ride he had been on. Tom came forward to take the horse and wipe him down. He walked the horse back and forth in front of the priory’s stables to cool him down.
“He’s been ridden hard,” Tom said. He disapproved of such business, for horses were essential, beautiful creatures and men often abused them.
            “Messenger came,” the stablehand said. “From Northumberland.”
            “Far journey,” Tom commented. “Wonder what it could be?”
            Inside, the messenger spoke to the prior and then rode off toward the village, to inform the men.
            The children did not hear the message until well the next day, after the nuns and monks heard the message for themselves in chapter that night.
            “A messenger rode from York today,” the prior said in his gravelly voice, projecting across the gathered nuns on one side and monks on the other. “The King of Scots has invaded Northumberland. Our King, may God honor him—“ The prior and the community crossed themselves. “Our King is fighting the French with under the Pope’s direction. Our blessed Queen Catherine is the Regent and in her wisdom, has sent north the Earl of Surrey and an army. That was the messenger’s tale. In his haste, he has not stayed in the guesthouse overnight, for he had to tell the nobleman and soliders of the area to gather at Pontefract.”
            In a rather grand manner, the prior looked around the dark, candlelit room, with its high, small windows and circular shape, its plain bench seating in tiers for more space.
            “Let us pray for England’s victory and for the life of our good King and Queen,” he said, bending his head. “In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.”

            The north of England was in some ways quite used to the invasion of the Scots, for it was a frequent tactic, so much so that the borderlands of both countries were rather porous in culture and language—those English who lived along the border with Scotland sounded Scottish.
            But with the King and the bulk of the army over the Channel putting paid to the French, it was urgent that the Scots not be allowed to penetrate deeper into England.
            Robert Collins learned of the proposed invasion, a month before it was supposed to take place, as he sloughed through the battlefields of northern France, trailing after his overlord, the Earl of Northumberland. The Battle of the Spurs had already passed, with a decisive English victory against the French, and Robert had acquitted himself well in the battle.
            “Collins,” Northumberland said. He was Henry Percy, the fifth Earl of Northumberland, and Robert had served him as a solider and member of his retinue since he was but a stripling.
            “Yes, my lord?” Robert said, inclining his head.
            Northumberland was a tall man, but not imposing of body. He was more imposing in manner, for he’d been born in his family’s ancient fortress of Alnwick and fought at Bosworth Field alongside his father, the fourth earl. That historic battle had been Robert’s introduction to warfare.
            “I’ve received a message from court,” Northumberland rumbled. “James of Scotland has given word that he will invade the north of England to honor the Auld Alliance.” Something resembling a crusty smile was visible through the earl’s thick brown beard. “When he says the north of England, of course, he means Northumberland and likely, Alnwick and Berwick. I can’t have that! I’m sending you and a contigent of men to England. Take ship from Dover to Hull and ride to Pontefract.”
            “There is an army gathering?”
            “By the grace of God, Queen Catherine has seen fit to send Surrey north with the remaining men to the north. I pledge a hundred and fifty of my retinue to his cause. You are in charge.”
            Robert sunk into a low bow. “Thank you, my lord. We shall beat back that scourge of Scots.”
            “I’ve no doubt of it,” the earl said. “He’s not, by any stretch, a brilliant strategist.”
            They shared a chuckle.
            So it was that not long after the messenger sent St. Osana’s priory into a rash of praying for the kingdom, Robert rode through Scour with the Earl’s men on the way to Pontefract Castle. He lodged some of the men in the priory’s guesthouse for a night, others in the village’s small tavern, while others, used to campaigning, pitched tents wherever they could and rolled into blankets and slept.
            Robert kneeled down in the church, bent his head, and prayed. He had returned to his home and been greeted by his remaining daughter Margaret, fourteen in a few weeks’ time, and his wife Mary. The house had been added on to and Mary had been left in charge of overseeing the construction and decoration. Much like the Queen was left as the Regent in the King’s absence.
            Mary had hollowed-out circles under her eyes and she seemed near-skeletal in appearance. She’d lost the child she’d been carrying before he left for France.
            The next morning, before dawn, he met with his sister. Benedicta was on her way to Prime when she saw her brother, careworn in appearance. Robert was not the tallest or the broadest man, but he knew how to move in an intimidating manner. He was out of armor, out of respect for being on Church lands, and his brown head was covered by a jaunty brown cap.
            But there was something…off about him.
            She murmured a cursory, “Brother,” nearly passing him. Robert put his arm out and stopped her.
            “Mary has lost another child,” Robert said. “’Twas a boy.”
            “I am sorry,” Benedicta replied.
            “It’s the fifth child she’s lost or miscarried,” Robert said. “We’ll not try again.” Head down, he fiddled with a button on his doublet. “I’m off to Pontefract today.”
            “Yes. Godspeed you.”
            “Thank you,” Robert said heavily. 
This is when I stopped writing narrative altogether, apparently. 
1512
“Do you know the story of St. Osana?” Brother Clement asked Ignatius.
            “She was a princess and she struck down a priest’s mistress dead.”
            “Yes,” Clement nodded. “Because the clergy, of course, are to be devoted to God only and denounce the flesh.”
            “But not all do, do they?”
            “No, not all. But that is their sin and left to square with St. Peter at the gates.”
            Iggy cleared his throat. “What else did St. Osana do?”
            “She rose from her crypt and flagellated the mistress, who sat on Osana’s tomb,” Clement said. “Osana was a Northumbrian princess before the Conquest. She’s not been canonized, but we have her cloak and this church was dedicated before the Normans came, so it still stands.”
            “She’s not a real saint?”
            “Don’t say that,” Clement chuckled. “She might rise.’
            Iggy, though normally a fearless boy, shuddered at the thought. “Do you think she might rise again?”
            Clement spread his hands apart. “I don’t know, Iggy. Things that like are…unknowable. Like miracles, yes? They don’t work on a schedule of planting, threshing and harvest.”
            The bell tolled.
            “Ah,” Clement said. “Run off, then. Tomorrow.”
            “Yes, Brother.”
            And run off Iggy did. He saw Isabel standing outside the smokehouse near the kitchen and called out to her. She stopped, waited.
            “Done with lessons, Iggy?” She asked.
            “Yes,” Iggy replied. “Where are you going?”
            “The kitchen garden. Cook wanted rosemary.”
            “I’ll go with you.”
            “All right,” Isabel replied, stepping toward the back wall enclosing the priory buildings. A postern door in the wall led to the kitchen garden. Herbs and vegetables were sprouting up now that it was summertime. With nimble steps, the little girl found the correct herbs and bent to pick some. Isabel had grown taller in the three years she had lived at the priory, her body beginning to mature into a young woman’s, and she was quite happy not being at the old house in Routh, away from Eleanor’s nagging voice. Iggy had also grown, sprouted really, Sister Benedicta lamented, as he outgrew his clothes quickly. A head taller than Isabel, Iggy had gangly arms and legs that he couldn’t maneuver gracefully as yet.
            “You’re quiet,” Isabel said, tucking the green herbs into her apron. “Thinking about whatever axiom Brother Clement puzzled you with?”
            “Of a sort,” Iggy replied distantly. “We were talking about St. Osana.”
            “Oh, aye,” Isabel said. “Rose from her coffin to whip the woman, didn’t she?”
            “Exactly so,” Iggy nodded. “Do you think she could rise again? To punish?”
            Isabel frowned. “’Tis always possible, I suppose. But hasn’t she been dead for centuries now? She hasn’t risen since before the Conquest, right? And only the once?”
            Isabel was always good for a logical talking-to.
            “Right,” Iggy mumbled. “But you think she could punish? Brother Clement mentioned Limbo as well.”
            Isabel sighed, rising, knotting her apron around the rosemary sprigs. “What’s all this theology? Are you going to study and become a monk?”
            “What? No! At least, I hadn’t thought of it.” Iggy shook his head, then exhaling, said, “If I tell you a secret, Is, will ya keep it?”
            “Course I will. It can’t be that terrible.”
            “’Tis so.”
            “Pray tell, Iggy.”
            Leaning toward her, so close he could feel the heat radiating from her body, Iggy whispered, “I know who my parents are.”
            Isabel’s eyes widened. “Who?”
            “Brother Clement and Sister Benedicta,” Iggy said. “I’ve known for a few years now. At least about Sister Benedicta.”
            “What? How?”
            “Sister Agnes’ brother Hugh? You’ve seen him in the village.”
            “I think so.”
            “He told me two winters hence. He’s my first cousin. His mother told him, he said.”
            “And his mother is Sister Benedicta’s sister,” Isabel answered. “Oh, Iggy,” she said, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. Iggy stood stiffly, unsure of what to do with the physical contact, for he’d not been embraced much in his as-yet short life.
            “How do you know about Brother Clement?”
            “Sister Benedicta has lived in this priory most of her life,” he said, beginning to like the feeling of Isabel’s small hands on his back. “And my surname is FitzClement. Plus, do I not resemble Brother Clement a little?”
            Isabel pulled away and examined him. “I’ve not seen him much, I’ll confess. Or studied him well. But I suppose you have the general appearance of pale skin and blue eyes and light-colored hair.”
            “And thinness.”           
            “It’s hard to be a fat monk,” Isabel said. They both laughed. “I’d best return to the kitchen. Cook will be wondering where the rosemary got off to.”
            “Yes. Go on.”
            “What will you do? Will you tell someone? Perhaps you should confess it Saturday next, if it’s troubling you.”
            “Do you think I could be right?” Iggy said, biting his lower lip. “I don’t…I don’t want to bring it up with anyone else. It’s quite a serious…accusation.”
            “You’re not accusing anyone, really,” Isabel said, picking her way through the garden. “Everybody has got a mam and a pa somewhere. You think they may be yours is all. Brother Clement is your tutor. Ask him during your lessons, if you must.”
            They stepped back into the priory yard.
            “But St. Osana…”
            “Is not buried here, Iggy,” Isabel pointed out. “Don’t fear and don’t fret.” She left him with those words, running back toward the kitchens, her knotted apron bouncing with her steps.
            Upon Saturday next, Iggy crept into the church, where two confessionals were in use by the villagers and the residents of the priory. He knelt, crossed himself, and waited his turn. His eyes traveled over the columns in the aisle, a stormy dark gray, as it was cloudy and likely to thunder outside.
            The stained glass windows: the colors were muted because of the darkness out of doors, but still vibrant. The Passion of the Christ was illustrated on one side. The other side’s windows showed saints and apostles.
            There was one window showing a stone crypt and a woman sitting up in it, while another woman, arms outstretched, mouth open in panic, sat upon the tomb. There was  a fury in the risen-from-the-dead woman’s face. St. Osana, the righteous Northumbrian princess. St. Osana, punisher of priest’s concubines, had straight blond hair. The concubine wore a veil.
            No other saint story quite terrified him like St. Osana’s story. Most saints became saints because of a miracle, because of their devotion to Christ or martyrdom or such like. Osana was a frightening entity, rising from the dead.
            And she punished a woman for the same crime that Sister Benedicta committed. Except it was worse because Sister Benedicta was a nun, also pledged to chastity.
            It came his turn. Iggy stepped into the confessional booth and opened the grill between him and the priest. He knew from the voice that it was the prior hearing confession. Iggy recited Latin, then added in English, “It’s been one week since my last confession.”
            “What sins have you committed, my child?”
            “I have suspicions against someone of great importance in this community, Father. My thoughts could be poisonous and dangerous.”
            “Are they impure thoughts?”
            “No!” Iggy exclaimed. “I…I think two people in this order are my parents.”
            “You do?”
            “Yes. But I’m not sure what to do.”
            “Pray over it, my son. Anything else to confess?”
            Iggy confessed to sundry sings *lol I turned Spellcheck off during NaNo: taking the Lord’s name in vain, pride, and moodiness over his decision regarding his parents. His penance was light and he performed it, kneeling in the church.
            He had had his suspicions for the last several years. With the fire of adolescence upon him, it was now time to do something about it. He stood up after saying the Pater Nos four times. Whether St. Osana’s spirit roamed the earth or not, whether or not real problems would emerge, he had to confront one of his parents.
            Iggy headed toward the library, where Clement was most likely to be. He found the monk at a scarred table, engrossed in a book that looked like ancient Greek.
            “Oh, hello, Ignatius,” Clement said in his unflappable way.
            “I’ve something I need to talk about,” Iggy said.
            “Did you already give your Confession?” Clement asked.
            “Yes, yes. I…I know who my parents are.”
            Clement snapped his gaze away from the text, which had been written by hand, and to Iggy. The certainty grew within Iggy. He and Brother Clement did look much alike. And was that fear in the eyes of the learned, ever-calm monk?
            “How so, my boy?” Clement asked with forced patience and cheer.
            “Someone told me who my mother was,” Iggy said. “A village boy. His mother is my mother’s sister.”
            “Who did this boy say your mother was?” Clement’s voice sounded tight.
            “Sister Benedicta, Brother,” Iggy exhaled, then added, “I think you’re my father.”
            “That’s flattering, Iggy, but…”
            “You deny it, Brother? ‘FitzClement?’” His chest puffed out as his heart beat against its walls like a drum. Iggy was surprised it didn’t toll like the church bells. “We look much alike.”
            “Iggy, blue eyes and brown hair are common enough in English…”
            “Please don’t,” Iggy said. “You may not be my father then, since you won’t acknowledge me, but Sister Benedicta is my mother. What shall I do?”
            “What can you do?” Brother Clement said, his ears turning red. “Your mother is pledged to the church. She sinned by having you. ‘Tis a minor miracle she wasn’t disgraced and outright, bodily thrown out of the order!”
            “I understand,” Iggy said. “But…she’s my mother. I’ve been told my entire life that I have no parents. Why does the silversmith’s son know who my mother is and I don’t?”
            Clement breathed through his teeth. “Aye, the silversmith’s wife is Sister Benedicta’s sister.”
            “So you’re my father.”
            “Who told you that? Sister Benedicta?”
            “I’ve not told her anything, Brother.” Iggy bowed. “Good day. I shall have those statements of logic ready for lessons on Monday.”
           
            After Vespers, Clement strode off his tension in the cloisters. The boy knew. They boy had been told and guessed the other half of the truth. What to do, what to do? For indeed, there was nothing to be done. It was enough, more than enough, that Iggy lived at the priory under the care of his natural mother, tutored by his natural father. That long-ago mistake had been swept under the proverbial rug, had it not?
            It was an open secret, for most of the nuns and monks remembered when quiet Alice Collins had slipped off to live at her brother’s home not two miles away, what used to be a farmhouse and now called Collins Hall. Clement had taken a vow of silence for the remaining months of her pregnancy to contemplate his sins. Alice had given birth to the boy, whom she named Ignatius, before returning to take her full vows as a nun.
            The child had lived in Collins Hall before becoming part of the orphanage. And life went on at St. Osana’s, for Ignatius was not the only child born to a nun or a young unwed woman who entered the priory after the fact. What one did in the Yorkshire countryside could be easily hidden and forgotten from higher authorities. They often had bigger fish to fry.
            He walked a halfway around the cloisters and saw Sister Benedicta, slow in step, holding her rosary clasped in both hands. Clement quickened his step. She looked up in surprise.
            “Brother,” she murmured.
            “Did you tell Ignatius that I’m his father?” Clement hissed.
            Her eyes widened and her grip on the rosary tightened. “No!”
            “No?”
            “No!” She exclaimed, voice firm and absolute. She really had perfected the firm nun tone over the years. *snark giggle snark*
            “He came to me today after making his confession to say that he knew we were his parents. Your sister’s son told him!”
            “My sister’s—“ She stopped, hand going toward her throat. “Cecily’s son? Told him?”
            “Just so. I suppose it was a casual remark from one boy to another, but he knows, Alice.”
            She shut her eyes tightly. “I feared this.”
            “Did you insinuate that I am his father?”
            “No, of course not! I don’t want him to know about his parentage any more than you do! He’s better off thinking he’s an orphan with a chance than a miss-begotten bastard, a result of a grave sin!”
            “Calm yourself. What shall we do now?”
            “Pray to Our Lady of the Assumption for guidance and St. Osana for forgiveness,” Benedicta replied.
            “Alice, what shall we do in practical terms? In the here and now?” *Clement is delightfully practical for a monastic monk
            “You were always a peculiar monk,” she replied, as snappish as her serene nun’s tone ever became. “Should you wish to acknowledge him? He will gain nothing by it.”
            “We may confess our sin and impress upon him the gravity of it,” Clement said thoughtfully. “But that is all. We have no material goods to pass on.” He sighed. “He’s getting to that age, nearly a man.”
            “He’s only twelve, Clement. That’s hardly a man.”
            “Perhaps not, but he thinks like a man, somewhat, and thinks he is a man. I fear boys become rather fraught at this age.”
            “I know. That’s why the elder boys are sent to be made apprentices,” she said. She shook her head. “I do not want that for our son. He’s clever, is he not?”
            “Very much so.”
            “And kind and gentle toward his friends and others. He dotes on little Isabel Routh.”
            “You’re his mother. You’ve reared him as near as a mother would. You must have hopes for him,” Clement said.
            “I do. The Church would be a good choice for him, as it has for you. Or perhaps he has a chance as a layman, to study at university and rise.”
            “Lofty ambitions.”
            “I am prideful in my son,” Benedicta replied. “He is a much better specimen than I thought when he left my womb. I was consumed by my sin then, the enormity of it.”
            For the first time in thirteen years, Clement reached out to touch Benedicta—Alice, always, in his mind—placing his hand on her hand.
            “We must confirm his suspicions. ‘Twould be a shame for him to be consumed by all this: a sin we committed.”
            She bowed her head. “You’re right. I will tell him tonight, before Compline." She stepped backward two steps, before turning her back on him to walk back to the nuns’ dormitory. “Good night, Clement. I trust you’ll sleep well.”
            Clement did not answer. He watched Benedicta step into the nuns’ door. He was alone in the cloisters and remembering. Oh, yes, he remembered what occurred that night. It had been after Compline, but before Matins in the middle of the night. It was summertime—the end of July, the beginning of August—and he and Alice had been close friends, for she was a volunteer in the library, one who read English quite well, and had bright blue eyes that made him smile.
            She had felt despair because she didn’t feel God when she prayed or performed service. This was not her calling, but her brother, her guardian, refused to take her out of the priory.
            It had been stupid to come out to meet her that night, but there had been a seductive warmth in the air and the cloisters had been peaceful and quiet. They had settled into one of the niches, behind the latticed black gates, and done the deed. What drove them to do that still eluded Clement.
            He turned back to return to his cell in the monks’ building. But whether he’d sleep well or at all, without the intrusion of impure memories, was still a mystery.
            The next day, before the children dispersed to chores, Sister Benedicta approached Ignatius. He was standing with Tom and Isabel.
            “Ignatius, may I speak to you?” She asked. The three children eyed each other. Tom clapped Iggy on the back and headed toward the door and most probably, the stables, while Isabel flashed Iggy a sweet smile and drifted off to speak to a group of girls.
            “Yes, Sister?” Iggy said. Benedicta wondered if she imagined it, but she swore the boy held his breath. He was already as tall as she was, Benedicta realized.
            “Come,” she said, gesturing into the now-empty study room. Iggy followed. “I’ve something I need to confess to you.”
            Eyes almost bulging in appearance, Iggy exhaled and interrupted, saying, “I apologize, Sister Benedicta, but…” His lips shook, but no sound escaped. “Are you…?”
            “Your natural mother? Yes, I am,” she said and surprised herself by feeling tears in her eyes. “You see, I have not completely abandoned you.”
            “Yes,” he said, sounding overcome with emotion. “And is Brother Clement my father?”
            “Yes,” she replied. “I knew he was most clever and entrusted your education to him. We have tried our best under the circumstances to be your parents, but it has not been easy. It will not be easy for you. We have no goods to leave you when we are gone.”
            “I’m a bastard,” Iggy said.
            “Aye,” Sister Benedicta said. “My dearest son, I fear I am not equipped to be your mother.”
            “No matter,” Iggy said. “I know you cannot be my mother as other boys have mothers.” He chuckled. “I feared that you’d be punished by St. Osana.”
            “I feared she’d punish me after death,” Benedicta said. “She might still. But I’m hardly the first nun to have a child out of wedlock.” Bowing her head as if in prayer, she said, “Is your curiosity satisfied?”
            “Yes. Thank you.” Something about "Yes, thank you" makes me laugh. 



Spring 1510
            “Wait for me, Tom!” Isabel called, untying her apron.
            Tom’s happy laughter teased her as he ran toward the paddock of sheep. Her fingers fumbled and knotted as she twisted her arms behind her to undo the garment before Isabel gave up and ran after Tom and Iggy.
            Isabel was now nine years old and flourishing under the care of the nuns of St. Osana. Her reading had much improved and her writing was a work of art, Sister Catherine declared. The children and some of the monks had rode on a wagon early this morning after Terce to a wide expanse of land owned and leased by the priory. Sheeps grazed this land. Today, a temperate, blue-skied spring day, was the day the sheeps woud lose their fleeces.
            It was something of a holiday in this part of Yorkshire. The various priories, cathedrals, and abbeys owned a great amount of land and on that great amount of land dwelled a great number of animals, from cows and horses to the more common sheep. The priory would keep a small amount of the wool for its own use, paying the village spinners to make it up into yarn for the nuns to spin into new habits for the priory’s inhabitants, but the rest of the wool was sold to several wool merchants.
            The wool merchants, too, had come to the creekside on this particular parcel of land to watch and help in the sheep shearing before they could buy their yield of wool from St. Osana.
            “They buy their wool from other abbeys and communities as well, you know. And the farmers, of course,” one of the brothers had explained on the wagon ride over. “Then they sell it to cloth makers in Hull or traders who take it and sell it raw to the Low Countries and such like.”
            The older lads, like Tom and Iggy, were to help the laborers and the younger monks in washing the sheep and then shearing them. Isabel and the girls had come along to watch and to help the cooking monk to serve the hungry, tired men their dinner and their supper.
            Isabel caught up to Tom and Iggy, both of whom stood along the fence of the paddock, teeming full of bah-ing sheep. Iggy threw a happy smile over his shoulder. In the spring, his freckles stood out more against his skin.
            “What’ll we do, Master Williams?” Tom asked.
            “Help shepard the sheep into the creek,” Williams replied. “The lads over there will get them clean and shear the fleeces. Then Ignatius here can help gather the coats into the sacks, eh?”
            Iggy nodded eagerly. Williams turned away to consult with his men. Isabel put her hands on her hips.
            “I’ve never seen so many sheep at the same time,” she said.
            “Have you ever seen a sheep shearing?” Tom asked in his kind way.
            “No!” She exclaimed. “Do you come every spring?”
            “Nearly,” Iggy said with an enthusiastic nod. Isabel smiled at him. Tom was quieter than Iggy, but they were both nice lads. “We weren’t allowed to help until this year, though.”
            “Well, suppose the sheep would’ve overrun us before,” Tom said. “Iggy was a bit of a runt. Now he won’t stop growing.”
            Iggy puffed his chest out in pride. He was ten years old now. He had grown a half inch or so since Isabel had come to live in the priory near Candlemas.
            “And this is priory land?” Wow...not making Isabel seem like a bright bulb here. 
            “Oh, aye,” Tom replied.
            Williams came back toward the paddock. “We’re going to start soon.”
            Isabel wished her friends luck and ran back toward the cooking monk, where a large pot was set up over a fire, along with a spit where a lamb joint was being spun by one of the other priory boys. She watched as Williams and his fellow tall, broad-shouldered laborers opened the paddock. Tom and other lads took their places as a human chain of a fence, where the sheep and lambs walked toward the creek.
            Bigger men stood in the creek, waiting to catch the sheep. Isabel gasped as the men flipped the sheep over and quickly sheared them, the coats coming off in one fell swoop.
            “Funny how it comes off like that, eh?” The cooking monk said, chopping some herbs.
            “Yes, Brother,” Isabel replied, eyes wide. The fleeces floated in the creek a few moments longer, the dirt being cleaned away. Then she saw Iggy’s coppery head grabbing the fleece and wringing the water out before stuffing it into burlap sacks.            
            The process kept going, the sound of sheep’s hooves running on the ground, then splashing into the creek. Soon, Isabel grew bored of watching and diced carrots and turnips to add to the pot.
            The process of shearing took several hours, through the morning. Under the high noon sun, the men and boys took a break to eat and drink ale. The bald sheep were sent to pasture, while the remaining ones were urged back into the paddock.
            “Them coats are heavy!” Iggy exclaimed, legs stretching to sit on a bench, squeezing between Tom and another lad, with Isabel sitting beside them.
            “They look it!” Isabel said. “Are you very tired?”
            “Only a mite,” Iggy said irrepresibly.
            In the afternoon, the men led the way back to work. The sheep shearing was finished two hours after noon.

            Benedicta and the other sisters stood in a semi-circle in the chancel, waiting. The prior was speaking, Agnes the focus of the semi-circle. Today, she took her novice vows. Already dressed in the novice habit of white, including her headdress, Agnes waited to hear the Latin words that woud create her a part of this community. The prioress stood with her. Prayers were said over her as Agnes knelt and gave herself up to God and the order.
            It was only a moment, but Agnes felt bathed in warmth. She felt suffused in it. God had shown her out of the sort of life her Mam led and she would do her utmost to give God her love in return. I have no idea how all these story threads are going to weave together...but that's what drafts are for, I guess. 

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Introducing Isabel!

In the small village of Routh, Yorkshire, five miles away from Scour, the Squire’s home was full.
            The squire of Routh was dead and his eldest daughter’s husband was now the new squire. The squirearchy of Routh was long, a position filled for centuries by a Routh; usually father to son or at least uncle to nephew, for the Rouths tended to have many daughters in their line and thus, often had a surfeit of children before a son arrived. The Old Squire, however, had had the misfortune to have five children, all girls, for his beloved wife died giving birth to their heir, who soon succumbed as well. Thus, the eldest daughter’s husband was now the squire.
Settled centuries ago—some said during the time of Henry II, others said it was already settled before the Conquest and then destroyed by the Conqueror’s vengeance upon the native English, causing the north to starve*—Routh was a tiny hamlet of farmers, with a small stone church called All Saints. The church held plaques and tombs of long-dead squires, while the faded stones outside in the yard marked where the squire’s wives and children died. Or were buried. Unless they all died in the churchyard lol
            Little Isabel Routh, youngest daughter of the now-late squire of Routh, sat on the frozen January ground in front of one such stone. Her father had been interred in the church’s crypt Tuesday last, but this was her mother’s stone and the little girl read the words slowly, for she’d not been taught to read well.
                                    Here lieth Elizabeth, wife of the squire, Sir James Routh,
                                    Who died in the Year of Our Lord 1503 of a Fever.
                                    Here also lieth the remains of James Routh, 3 days old.
She patted the top of the dirty stone, well weathered, and traced the letters. Isabel sniffled and buried herself further in her cloak, a hand-me-down from one of her sisters. She had no cause to be in the graveyard, but no wish to return home, for her sister’s husband Richard now ruled the roost and Isabel found herself itchingly uncomfortable in his presence.
            She pulled the hood over her head, her blond hair going wayward. But still she sat and waited.
            Her mother had died when Isabel was but two, leaving her and her four older sisters to the care of their father and several nursemaids. And then, rather suddenly, Father’s Master of the Horse, a man called Richard Collins, had become her sister Eleanor’s sweetheart. Now, they were married, he was the new squire and he wanted to send the younger girls away.
            Isabel, the youngest, was to leave first.
            The priest said that one had to pray to saints to intercede, so Isabel had prayed. She prayed in church, she prayed at home, she prayed while walking, to several saints—St. Agnes, St. Mary, St. Joseph—and now, though her mother was certainly not a saint, Isabel prayed to her soul, too.
            “Please, mother, do not let him send me too far away,” she said through numbing lips. “Eleanor says they need the house for their children and Joan says it’ll be an adventure, but I do not wish to leave home. I’ve never been more than seven miles from Routh, Mam, and I don’t want to leave. Joan and Cate are going to live with Aunt Marsh, but Eleanor says that I will not go there!”
            How awful that would be! Isabel had always lived in the bosom of her family, the petted-on child, but not knowing where she would go made her liable to sit at her mother’s graveside, even in the dead of winter.
            “My child!”
            Isabel glanced up to see kindly Father John on the other side of the row of gravestones.
            “What are you doing here? You’ll catch your death!”
            Isabel gave him a sad little smile in reply.
            “’Tis near midday, Isabel,” Father John said in his soothing voice. “Your sister will be missing you. Go home and get thee some food!”
            Isabel pulled her cloak closer over her body. “I only came to pray over my mother’s grave, Father John.”
            With a grunt, Father John kneeled by her. “I’ve heard that you and your sisters are to leave the village, eh? Living with your mother’s family?”
            “Joan and Cate are going to live my aunt, but Eleanor says I will not,” Isabel sniffled. “Aunt Marsh hasn’t the space for me.”
            “Hasn’t the space? For you, you little bit of a thing?” He eyed her closely. “Do you know where you will go?”
            “Nay,” Isabel replied, shaking her head.
            “Is that why you’re sitting here, child, freezing in a churchyard?”
            She did not respond.
            “Go home, love,” Father John said kindly. “Pray to St. Mary. You needn’t be sitting here in the cold. Go.”
            Isabel nodded, rose, and walked home. The house she was born and grew up in was rather small, in reality, though it was the largest house in the village. The Squires Routh had built a square, stone home of one-story and a tower for defense, with a courtyard in the center for the household. Subsequent generations had extended and added, until there were outbuildings framing the main home, including a separate kitchen. The house had grown into a two-story building of more than one bedchamber, though the main hall still remained as the main hall.
            Isabel stepped into the large wooden front doors and saw that the trestles in the main hall were set up. Father John was right; the midday meal was about to be served.
            “Where have you been?” Eleanor said, swooping down the stairs from the upper floor. Eleanor was all of twenty-three, married for two years with two children to show for it. She moved quickly, but her appearance was always annoying correct. Her dress was plain and dark, as befitted a daughter officially in mourning. Eleanor’s dirty blond hair was covered by a hood, her hair plaited and snaking down her back.
            “I was looking for you to look after the children for a moment,” Eleanor went on. “Aunt Marsh will arriving and staying after supper. I must make preparations.”
            “I’m sorry, Eleanor,” Isabel said. “I’ll look after them now.”
            “No, no. Cate’s watching over them,” Eleanor said, still crossly. “Joan and Cate will be leaving to live with Aunt Marsh in her home.”           
            Averting her eyes from Eleanor’s face, Isabel asked, “Where will I go, sister? With Martha?”
            “No, of course not! Martha’s to start her married life. That’s mighty important.” Eleanor let out a great, exasperate sigh. “Truly. ‘Tis important to start off marriage right—responsibility for the house, to learn how to run it, how to look after one’s husband!”
            Surely, Martha’s new home on the outskirts of Routh had enough room for her, Little Isabel, the girl thought.
            “You’re going to get a privilege that most girls do not, so do be grateful,” Eleanor said, hands on her hips. “My husband Richard has decided to entrust you into the care of the nuns at the Priory of St. Osana in Scour. Richard’s youngest sister is a nun there, Sister Benedicta, and she helps to run to an orphanage on the grounds. ‘Tisn’t just for orphans, but also for those children whose parents or guardians wish them have an education. You will be one of those children.”
            Isabel thought about this, turning the idea around in her mind. She visited the village of Scour when Eleanor married her husband Richard, who was from there, and she remembered seeing the priory, for the marriage had been ordained at the church door. It was on the east boundary of Scour, on a small hillock. She also remembered Father saying the priory owned a great deal of land and a great library.
            “What will I learn there?” Isabel asked, whispering.
            “Sewing, weaving, spinning, cooking, household management, animal husbandry, religion, obedience, punctuality,” Eleanor listed, voice growing increasingly more firm and loud as she went down the list. Truly, her sister’s voice could peel the color off of the tapestries with its strident tones. Or so Father had said on more than one occasion. Once again, an irreverent sentence that really pleased me. 
            “Do not forget,” the woman heard a male voice said. Isabel flicked her eyes up and saw Richard Collins, the new squire, Eleanor’s husband. “In addition, she’ll learn how to read and write. Perhaps she’ll pick up French. My sister speaks it tolerably well.” He stopped beside his wife. “It will refine you, Isabel.”
            And that was that.
            These days, during mealtimes, it was Richard and Eleanor who sat in the center of the dais table, the servants bringing out trenchers of bread and meat, with jugs of wine. Their children were too small to sit at table with adults, but Father’s dearest servant, the overseer of the land the squire owned—the hamlet of Routh—sat at Richard’s right. Martha sat on Eleanor’s left, then Joan, Cate, and finally, Isabel.
            Her elevation to eating with the adults was quite recent. Isabel found herself unable to swallow very much of the heavily sauced meat. Her stomach may as well have been tied in knots.
            To be sent to a priory! Did they want her to become a nun, like Richard’s sister? What sort of children were sent to live in a priory? Bad children? Had she been bad?
            Isabel knew she hadn’t been bad. She was a quiet child, mostly, one who enjoyed stories and songs and admired the fine work of a beautiful tapestry. She was but nine years of age and her small nephew and baby niece were much smaller than she.
            No, she was being pushed out of house and home, not for her benefit, as claimed, but because of her sister’s husband.
            A husband at least twenty years Eleanor’s senior.
                       
            The priory buildings were plain, unadorned on the outside, and rather austere. Richard Collins urged Isabel forward toward a particular building and through a door. Isabel found herself in a rather plain parlor, with nothing on the walls except a dismal Jesus on the Cross, a very large crucifix.
            Out of another door came a nun, her habit black. The veil was also black and her face looked very smooth and very pale. Isabel unconsciously took a step backward. But the nun did not address the little girl at first. She looked at the man accompanying Isabel and pursed her lips in what looked like disapproval.
            “Richard,” the nun said.            
            “Sister Benedicta,” Richard inclined his head in a show of respect. Feigned, thought Isabel.
            “How do you fare? Your wife?”
            “My wife is well,” Richard replied. “And the children are growing, of course.” He gestured to Isabel. “This is my wife’s youngest sister, Isabel. She’s to turn nine on the day after Lady Day.”
            “Hello, Isabel,” Sister Benedicta said.
            “Hello,” Isabel replied.
            “Thank you, Richard,” Sister Benedicta said. “I’d like to speak to Isabel on her own, if you please.”
            “Of course,” Richard answered. “I’m to visit with Robert in the village.” He left with a bow.
            When the door was shut, the nun focused her glance on Isabel.
            “Sit, Isabel.” Isabel obeyed. “I hear that your father just died. I’m very sorry to hear that.”
            “Thank you, Sister.”
            “He was much respected in these parts. Your sisters are to live with your aunt?”
            “Yes. Except for Martha. She’s getting married.”
            “And you get ferried off to the priory,” Benedicta said in such a tone that Isabel stifled laughter. She didn’t want to seem—what was it that Eleanor called her? Impertinent—on the first day. “I’m the youngest of ten. My sisters and I were educated here, but I’m the only one who was told to stay. You needn’t worry. You will be educated, much more so than the usual Englishwoman. You will learn how to manage a household and be given the option of taking vows, if you like.”
            “Yes, madam.”
            “None of that, girl. You’ll call the nuns ‘Sister’, the monks ‘Brother’.” Benedicta rose. “Come. I’ll take you to the orphanage.”
            They stepped out, walking across a small, muddy yard to another stone building, two stories tall. Sister Benedicta pushed open a door and ushered Isabel in. It was a small vestibule, with sturdy oak stairs leading to the second floor.
            “We have fifteen boys and seventeen girls now,” Sister Benedicta said. Isabel warmed to her voice. It sounded lovely, rich and even. “The boys sleep in the west gallery, the girls in the east gallery. You’ll have a bed and a chest for your possessions. Studying outside of lesson times will be done in here.” The nun gestured to the right. Isabel glanced into a doorway to see a large room with wide windows and several strong tables. There was a hearth and several chairs scattered. “Across the corridor there is the children’s refectory.”
            Isabel heard footsteps and loud voices. She stood unmoving in the study room’s doorway. A few moments later, two boys, one brown-haired and tall, the other with gingery-brown hair and shorter, walked in, grinning and laughing about something.
            Sister Benedicta cleared her throat. The lads stopped immediately and inclined their heads in bows.
            “We have a new resident,” she said. “This is Isabel Routh of Routh. This is Tom Winters. He’s eleven years of age. This is Ignatius FitzClement. The children call him Iggy and I’m sure he’ll permit you to call him that as well.”
            “Hello. Pleased to meet you,” the one called Tom said. Isabel noticed that he had green eyes and they sparkled warmly. The boy called Iggy murmured a hello also. Perhaps he was nervous, for he kept darting his eyes toward the nun.
            “Hello,” she said shyly.
            Soon, Sister Benedicta had given Isabel a bed. It was much smaller than the trunkle bed Isabel had slept on in Joan and Cate’s room, but it was toward the door of the girls’ gallery. Her clothes and small possessions fit easily into the trunk at the foot of her bed. She met the two novices—both named Jane—and then she met, through the course of the day, other nuns. Sister Catherine was sitting with most of the girls in the study room, teaching the younger ones how to stitch while the older ones sewed shirts or repaired dresses. 
*Ummm....really confusing sentence
*This is what I meant by "introducing the lead female character will take up lots of words"
Chapter Three
The Feast of St. Agnes

            The orphan girls had special reason to pray on St. Agnes’ day. The feast day dawned cold and clear and the children, in their warmest woolen clothing and thicket-soled shoes, had tramped across the still-dark paths to the church to hear Prime.
            St. Agnes was the patron saint of girls. Iggy noticed the girls and the nuns praying with an earnestness today. Because nuns wouldn't be praying earnestly any other time? Huh?
            There were no lessons on feast days and regular mass was full, for the female population of Scour village in particular showed up in droves to pray and ask Agnes to interceded* on their behalf. *Intercede. Yes, I know.
            One of those girls, accompanied by her mother and younger siblings, was Agnes Johnson. Sister Benedicta gave Agnes a nod in passing, for Agnes was her niece. The girl had grown up in the village, her father the village silversmith and a one-time alderman of the hamlet.
            Sister Benedicta knew all of the villagers, not merely because of her work, which involved the villagers’ spiritual needs, but because she was Scour-born and Scour-reared. The reverse of it was that the villagers all knew her—and knew who the little brown-haired orphan boy named Ignatius belonged to.
            “Sister?”
            Benedicta turned to see her niece Agnes, who was about sixteen years old.
            “Yes, dear?”
            “I was wondering about joining the order.”
            Benedicta turned more fully to face Agnes, who was a slight girl, thin and very pale. She had freckles on her nose and cheeks and fine blond hair that was escaping away from her hood.
            “Do your parents agree, my child?” Benedicta breathed. She let her eyes wander to her sister, Cecily, Agnes’ mother. Cecily was leaning down, probably scolding one of her brood.
            “Does it matter?” Agnes replied. “God is calling me.”
            Benedicta pursed her lips. “Come see me after mass. Bring your mother. We shall talk then.”
            Agnes bowed her head. “Thank you, Sister.”

            Benedicta stood in the church porch, under the eaves that the builders had cleverly designed, knowing how rainy Yorkshire was, and watched the exiting parishoners. The orphans girls went off to their housing, in pairs, while the girls who belonged to the village visited with their families.
            The boys went off to run, burning their boisterousness. Burning off, I think. No lessons meant that the children were at liberty for the day. The nun smiled when she saw her son among the boys racing to return to the priory walls, probably to beg the cook for a crust of bread. Iggy’s particular friend, Tom, who had longer legs, led the race.
            “Sister,” a female voice said. Focusing on the face, Benedicta saw a well-dressed woman with a hood and veil, both black, and a fur-lined cloak. The woman ushered a girl in front of her, the girl small and bony.
            “Hello Mary,” Benedicta said, for the woman was her cousin Mary and the child Mary’s daughter Margaret.
            “We’re lately returned from Berwick,” Mary informed her. “Anne is well settled.”
            “I’m glad to hear it,” Benedicta replied.
            “Richard intends to bring the younger Routh girls here to be educated,” Mary said. Then with a slight curtsy, she said, “Good day to you.”
            “God bless thee and thine,” Benedicta replied. She watched Mary and Margaret carefully step down the hill to the village. Margaret was a year older than Ignatius. A few months before the child’s birth, Mary had married Robert Collins.
            It was a decision that was necessary, for Mary was disgraced by her pregnancy. She’d also been a novice at the priory. The difference between the cousins was that Mary had been taken out of the order and married. Alice, as she was known then, had not been, though she’d written to her elder brother, her guardian after her parents’ deaths, and asked for a husband to be considered. Robert denied her wishes, over and over.
            “Sister,” a quiet voice said. Benedicta steeled herself to look at her sister Cecily. Cecily was eight years older than Benedicta, but looked much older. She’d had two husbands and six children and years of rule under the thumb of her silversmith husband. He was an acknowledged wizard at his craft, for he’d made the small silver crosses that were often the orphan girls’ only adornment, but he was a drunkard and a cruel man. There has to be one alcoholic in a historical fiction, right?
            “Cecily,” Benedicta replied. Her vision widened to include Cecily’s brood, from the determined Agnes, the only child of Cecily’s first husband, a sailor, to the other five, who lent a bright spot to the dreary day.
            The children’s hair were varying shades of blond, from yellow to white-blond to
 strawberry blond.
            “Follow me,” Benedicta said, leading them away from the church porch. She led them to the nuns’ parlor, saying to her sister, “Perhaps the children would like to play with the other children?” She indictated indicated the boys, including Iggy and Tom, watching the monks and stablehands exercise the horses.
            “Oh, aye,” Cecily replied, voice now strong with no hint of timidity. “Off you go, then. You girls, too. Only Agnes stays.”
            The younger five walked and toddled off to the ring.
            “Now,” Agnes said, turning to the door of the nuns’ dorm. The parlor was empty. She sank onto a hard chair. Cecily and Agnes did the same. The mother and daughter shared features, the same bowed lips and the same blue eyes, but there, the similarities ended. Cecily’s eyes had once been bright and mischevious—Benedicta remembered an incident involving grease from the kitchen and one of the pigs behind the outer priory wall—but now they were surrounded by smudges under the eyes and heavy-lidded. Agnes’ eyes were bright, but her eyeslashes and eyebrows were so transparent that it gave her eyes a disturbing quality.
            “You said you want to join the order, Agnes?”
            “Yes, aunt,” Agnes said.
            “Have you spoken to your mother and father?”
            “I think it may be the best for her,” Cecily spoke. “Robert agrees. As her godfather, he is pleased to have a godchild who wants to join the Church.”
            Benedicta estimated that her brother Robert had something like ten godchildren.
            “You’ll have to speak to the prior about joining officially. Our last novices here came last year.”
            “Of course she’ll speak to the prior,” Cecily said. “Who is in charge of the novices now?”
            “It’s still Sister Catherine, though I help,” Benedicta said. “You must think of what this entails, Agnes. You would take novice vows and those vows last for two years. You may renew your vows for full vows or leave the priory.” She softened her voice. “Truly. It takes more than wanting to be a nun to be one.”
            “I understand,” Agnes said stiffly. “I wish it above all else, aunt. God has called upon me. I feel that today is auspicious, as it is my name day.” She spoke in a certain voice. Benedicta did not remember being quite so certain about her vocation at that age.
            “So it is. Very well. Should you like to speak to the prior now?”
            Cecily worried her lip. “Yes. Yes, now, sister.”
            Benedicta rose smoothly, her habit rustling with movement.
           
            “Look at Equus go,” Tom remarked, hanging on the fence of the exercise circle outside of the stable. Though it was cold outside, the children watching the stablehands ride and lead the horses did not feel the chill. From solemn church, they emerged to watch the glossy creatures run freely in the contained circle.
            Iggy gave a breathy laugh, his breath coming out in white puffs. Through the sharp cold, the smell of horse wafted toward him. It attracted the other lads, many of them hanging off of the fence as well. More children crowded toward the horses to watch.
            “Ooh, look at that one, Bess!” One boy said to his younger sister. The two siblings squeezed in beside Iggy on the fence. The boy looked older than his sister, but they were undeniably related, for they shared the same blue eyes and the same composition of features: a short nose, thin upper lip, and round cheeks. They even had light brown hair, the same color.
            “His name’s Equus,” Iggy told the boy. “He’s the prior’s horse.”
            “He’s a beauty,” the boy chirped happily. “A gelding?”
            “Aye,” Tom called over the top of Iggy’s head. “You live in the village?”
            “Yes. Name’s Hugh. This is my sister Bess.”
            “Tom.”
            “Ignatius,” Iggy introduced himself. “Iggy.”
            Hugh nodded, then blurted out, “You’re my cousin.” Kids say the darndest things...
            Iggy blinked. He held onto the fence to avoid falling off backward and embarrassing himself.
            “Pardon?”
            “Oh, aye. We’ve never met, formal-like, but you’re my cousin.” Hugh added, “My first cousin.”
            “No...no…” Iggy said, shaking his head. “I’m an orphan. I live in the priory orphanage. Have since birth. I don’t know who my family is.” Perhaps this was a cruel joke. He’d been teased before for his odd first name, though Sister Benedicta always firmly told him that he was likely named for Ignatius of Antioch, and his strange surname, FitzClement, was a fine surname. A Norman name. ‘Fitz’ from the French fils, meaning son.
            “Mam told me you were my cousin,” Hugh said with a lifting of the shoulder. “Said her sister is your mam.”
            “Who is your mother’s sister?” Iggy said, insatiably curious.
            “Oh, Mam has three sisters. Aunt Anne lives in Hull and Aunt Catherine lives in Lincolnshire and Sister Benedicta is our aunt, too.”
            Sister Benedicta. His earliest memories were of her, the youngest nun in the priory, a woman of suppressed energy, who walked quickly in the cloisters and through the priory yards. She supervised the orphan children a great deal of the time, disciplining them, leading them in prayers, instilling manners.
            “I-I didn’t know Sister Benedicta was from Scour,” Iggy said. His throat felt dry.
            “Oh, aye,” Hugh said, disinterested. “There’s a load of us family about.”
            “Do you know which of your aunts is my mother?” Iggy asked.
            “Yes,” Hugh said. “Bess, find the others. Make sure the babbies are all right.” The sister ran off to do her brother’s bidding. Then the boy leaned in. Iggy smelled ale on his breath** as Hugh whispered, “Sister Benedicta.”
            Iggy felt his eyes widen. “Are you certain? She’s a nun.”
            “That’s what me Mam says,” Hugh said. 
** I love how I managed to make this sound sinister. Water was undrinkable in Tudor England, so everybody drank ale.