Friday, December 31, 2010

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. 

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