Sunday, January 2, 2011

All Saints' Day dawned cold and cloudy, stormy cloud visible for miles from the church porch. The children awoke early and other than the small chores of carrying wood to the kitchens and fireplaces around the priory and caring for the chickens, they were given a day of rest from work. Even the monks and nuns, who regularly worked, observing St. Benedict's Rule of peace and prayer and work, entered into All Saints' Day with zeal.
            Everyone was obligated to attend church and St. Osana's was packed throughout the day, every mass full of umoving bodies observing the raising of the host, hearing the Latin rites chanted though they did not understand anything beyond "In the Name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost." They watched the priest wave incense about, staring at the smoke as if the Holy Ghost would emerge.
            To Iggy, attending his second mass of the day, for All Saints' was a particularly important holiday, who understood the Latin, he heard and saw the beauty of the ceremony with new eyes. He sent his prayers to St. Ignatius of Antioch. He eyed the stained glass representation of St. Osana, though not truly a saint, and remembered her, too. Today was the day to remember and honor the saints and as everyone had a saints' name or a favorite saint, the heads in the church were bowed with particular fervency.
            The priest, in his carrying, sonorous voice, recited the Litany of Saints. "Lord have mercy on us. Christ have mercy on us."
            The priest went on, listing the saints, from St. Mary the Blessed Virgin to the Archangels Gabriel, Michael, Raphael. The congregation murmured a garbled version of "Pray for us" in Latin. Apostles. Patriarchs and Prophets. Hermits. Bishops. Martyrs. Virgins.
            All of them prayed over.
            Dinner that midday was the greatest feast, five courses of mouth-watering dishes. There were boiled and mashed radishes, venison in a fresh, spicy sauce, stew, warm, fresh bread. Tom took a slice of the pork pie spiced with onions and threw his head back as he bit into the crusty crust. Iggy ate the carrot-and-turnip dish with his venison and sighed in happiness. He loved the All Saints' feast.
            When everyone had their fill of the meal, of course, came the sweets. The children were often restricted from having many sweets, for the priory adhered to austere rules for their charges' meals. But All Saints' Day and other feasts were a different matter and Iggy and Tom ate their tarts sweetened with honey with relish.
            "I must tell you both something rather important," Iggy said as the children lounged around the study room after the feast, after a supper of bread and cheese with ale had been served. Tom glanced at Iggy, green eyes watchful, while Isabel looked up from her stitching.
            "Sir Robert, my uncle," Iggy said in an undertone. "My uncle has decided to make me his heir."
            Tom blinked in surprise. "That's a great deal, isn’t it?"           
            "Yes. But more immediately, he wants to take me out of the priory and have me live at his home."
            Isabel gasped. Iggy grinned in her direction.
            "You needn't worry. I won't be out of here until January. And not far away either."
            Isabel looked hurt. "But not here."
            Iggy repeated, "You needn't worry."
             The children were sent to bed. Tom, Iggy and Isabel clustered in the corridor, the girls' gallery on one side, the boys on the other and said their goodnights. As she watched the boys walk to their chamber, Isabel caught herself wondering about what the lads looked like in their nightshirts. Her nightgown was long and as she rolled over in bed through the night, the skirt became tangled between her thighs. Did that ever happen to lads?
            Isabel knelt by her bedside to say her prayers. She prayed extra hard to her particular favorite, St. Agnes, to cleanse her mind of impurities and also, as always, to look out for the inhabitants of St. Osana's Priory, for the souls of her dead parents, for her dear friends Tom and Iggy, and for her family.
            Iggy awoke on All Souls' Day to the solemn sound of monks' voices, singing a Latin hymn as they passed toward the church. It was ebony-dark outside. When the Prime bells rang, Iggy and the others rose, sleepily, pulling on clothes and shoes, washing hands and faces, and shuffled downstairs. The girls came downstairs a few minutes later, hair covered neatly by hoods and caps, dresses smoothed down and in place.
            Sister Agnes and Sister Catherine led the children in to Prime. Yesterday's Feast had been about the saints. All Souls' Day was about those in heaven and thus, the mood was hushed and respectful in the sanctuary. Once again, the villagers came to mass, to liturgical hours to hear the psalms and prayer for their departed dead.
            November was a cloudy, temperamental month in Yorkshire, the winds and rain picking up to make it thoroughly miserable most of the time. After hearing mass, Iggy wandered into the church's burial ground, a plot that lay on the bottom of the rise where St. Osana's Church stood. The stones were worn down, some of them sunken into the ground. Then Iggy found the stone he sought.
Robert Collins, a farmer of Scour, a quiet, soft-spoken, godly man, died anno domini 1495. And his wife, Anne nee Lake of Scour, virtuous woman, died 1498. To Jesus Christ we commend their souls.
He bowed his head and as this was All Souls' Day and one was told to pray for the souls of those who had passed on and may not have passed to Heaven right away; he hoped his grandparents were in Paradise and had not gone to Purgatory.
            Bowing her head in church, Isabel Routh prayed for the soul of her mother, the shining light of her life until the woman's death.

As it grew darker at earlier times and the priory hunkered down for the winter, fires becoming larger and more necessary, the girls' sewing switching from light cambric shirts to heavier scarves and embroidery, Isabel found herself in the study room or on her bed often, a piece of needlework in hand. She decided to make and embroider hats for both Tom and Iggy as a New Year's present. For Tom, she chose a blue material, for it would match his green eyes and compliment his lustrous dark hair. With a little coin, Isabel convinced the village milliner to shape the hats, but she would sew the cloth and embroider the hats herself.
Isabel was choosier with Iggy's hat. His hair had hints of red in it, so she decided to buy a brown material. Yes, that would go quite well with his hair, she thought, and constrast nicely with his pale skin and light eyes. A blue hat would have done well for him, as well, for Iggy's eyes were blue in color.
Then she spent her days cutting and shaping the cloth, then stitching the cloth onto the hat's frames. She stole goose feathers for Iggy's hat. Squinting under candlelight, Isabel decided that she would embroider running horses onto Tom's hat for a fanciful touch. Iggy's would receive Spanish blackwork. It was a new skill Isabel had been practicing under the careful eye of one of the older girls, a true genius and artist at needlepoint. Blackwork was delicate and detailed. 'Twas a challenge.
The hats were flat caps and with every stitch Isabel made to cover the frames with cloth, she imagined that the horses on Tom's hat would prance across the broad brim, while the feathers on Iggy's hat would look rather jaunty.
She was careful to keep her projects away from the lads.
The twelve days of Christmastide were a busy time for the priory, though not with work, but prayer and celebration. There was fasting to be observed, masses to attend, alms to give to the village poor. The girls helped Cook make the small pouches of nuts and dried fruit that would be the childrens' treat at the feasts.
New Year's Day was the day when presents were exchanged. The nuns and monk did not give or receive gifts, but the children and boarders were permitted to. Tom gave Iggy a small knife, sharp enough to cut fruit but small enough to conceal.
"Thank you, mate," Iggy said with pleasure. He gave Isabel a small book, handwritten. Isabel opened it and tipping it slightly to better catch the light. He read the first page aloud.
"'To my friend and sister Isabel Routh in health and best wishes for the upcoming year. This simple volume contains essays from St. Augustine and other Spiritual Doctors as well as a small selection of favorite fables from Aesop, philosophy from Plato and Cicero and many an essay about improving the femal mind. For her friend and brother in priory, Ignatius FitzClement, knows how much Isabel enjoys learning all that he learns in lessons.
Translated and bestowed in the Year of Our Lord Fifteen Hundred and Fourteen, in the fourth year of the reign of Henry the Eighth.'" Isabel closed the book. "This must have been a goodly amount of work. Thank you, Iggy. Much thanks, truly."
Iggy grinned sheepishly.
"Now," Tom announced, digging into a pocket in his jerkin. "This is for you, Isabel." He handed her a small object, wrapped in his fist, and deposited it in hers. "'Tisn't much."
            Isabel opened her fist and studied the slinky chain in her palm. It was silver, the link so small yet strong, and at the end of it was a cross. She'd seen the other girls wearing them and admired it.
            "Oh! Thank you!" She threw her arms around Tom. "Thank you! Can I give you my presents now?"
            Iggy laughed heartily, waiting. She reached into a bag and retrieved the perfectly sewn blue hat for Tom and brown hat for Iggy.
            "Did you embroider this?" Tom asked, fingering the horses on the brim.
            "Yes. I did."
            Iggy put the hat on. Isabel smiled, tucking some of his flyaway hair in on the sides.
            "That looks quite dashing!" Isabel said, clasping her hands together. She saw Tom put his hat on, settle it on his head.
            "I wish we had a looking glass so I could see," Tom said. "Thank you, Is."
            "Yes, thank you, Is," Iggy said. "I feel dashing now!"
            She giggled.
            "Now," Iggy said, looking at Tom. "I've your present. I doubt the nuns will like it."
            "What is it?" Tom asked, intrigued.
            From behind his back, Iggy produced a box. Leaning over the open top to look, Isabel and Tom saw a tiny, gray rat. It was whiskered, but very small and glanced up at the children with limpid eyes. Isabel, who hated rats, even thought it was rather cute.
            "I know you wanted a small pet of your own. 'Twas the best I could do," Iggy said.
            "Thank you," Tom said. "He's a baby critter, ain't he?"
            "He is."
            "What should I name him?" Tom asked. Mischeviously, he said, "May I call him Iggy?"
            Iggy laughed, revealing straight, white teeth. He gave permission gracefully. 

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