Wednesday, January 5, 2011

This is where the journal entries started.


You become desperate, trying to hit word count every day :)

In Routh, in the priory's nuns' dormitory, Tom Winters sat across a table from his tutor Brother Bernard and his caretakers, Sisters Benedicta and Catherine. Now fifteen years of age, the lad was well into the higher five-foot range, his body rangy and thin but strong from years of mucking out stalls and exercising horses.
            "Did you have a trade in mind, Tom?" Sister Catherine asked.
            Tom's fifteenth birthday had passed in December. As a baby left at the orphanage, the experienced nuns had figured his age to be about six months. Thus, the prior at the time had assigned the new child the birthdate of December 22.
            Tom folded his fingers together and said, "I thought perhaps with the farrier."
            "A good option," Brother Bernard harrumphed.
            "You are very good with animals," Sister Benedicta said. "I know that there is a wool merchant south of here, in Thirlby, with strong connections to the priory and to Hull. He's looking for an apprentice."
            Tom shifted in his seat. "What sort of business is it, then?"           
            "This man owns some grazing land of his own and sells his own wool, in addition to buying the priory's wool. He also buys the wool from local farmers and transports it downriver to Hull, where he negotiates a good price for the wool to be shipped to the Low Countries," Brother Bernard said. "You already know about sheep shearing, lad, and you can have the care of the man's transport animals. 'Tis a thriving trade, sure enough, and you'll more than earn enough to keep yourself."
            "You could travel," Sister Benedicta pointed out. "You'd be negotiating with farmers for prices for the material and with the wool traders in Hull and the Low Countries."
            It did sound awfully appealing. Every spring, when it was time to shear the sheep, Tom went to the priory lands to help. He liked the process. He loved the horses, but had no need to learn anything more about the animals.
            The wool merchants he had met ranged in attitude and prosperity, but they were all rather well-off to a young orphan boy who now had to make his first adult decisions.
            Which trade?
            "I should like to meet this wool merchant you speak of, Sister," Tom said. "Then I shall make my decision. How long will the apprenticeship be for?"
            "Five to seven years, lad," Brother Bernard. "And it is most intelligent of you to see your potential master before you make a decision. Sound decision-making."
             Tom gave a quiet, tip-of-the-lips smile.
            He walked out of the meeting striding, intending to walk out of the postern wall, into the garden, and then down a path onto some of those many acres the priory owned. It had been raining earlier today, but the sun had peeked through thick, soupy clouds and it now felt even warm. Warm for April, that is.
            Tom wore several layers: his shirt, a quilted doublet, and his leather jerkin over thicken woolen hose. His blue hat lent a bit of color to him. It had quickly become a favorite accessory, for Tom was unfussy and had nearly no material objects.
            He stepped out of the postern, tramped through the garden, and onto the walking path. He would meet the wool merchant Sister Benedicta had mentioned. He would likely agree to be the man's apprentice if he seemed scrupulous and kind enough, if the man could actually teach Tom something. His apprenticeship would start very soon. Then, depending on the contract, five to seven years would be spent working and living with the merchant.
            It was a momentous decision and quite frankly, Tom realized, the one that could color and define the whole rest of his life, however many years God would choose to give him. Yet he was not of a nervous disposition.
            He decided to go see Iggy. Not Iggy his friend, unfortunately, but his rat. The rat lived in a box under Tom's bed, where the creature was fed scraps of cheese that Tom would smuggle away from the meals.
            Tom found Iggy scrabbling about in the box and gently lifted him into his palm, sitting on the cold floor of the boys' gallery. The rat's tail swished and tickled Tom's thumb.
            "Hello, lad," Tom cooed to the rat. "Enjoy the cheese from this morning, did you? Did you?"
            Iggy the rat made a sound of comfort.
            "Oh, lad, I love yo as well," Tom said in his quiet voice. "I was going for a walk down the path. Couldn't very well leave you here, eh?"
            He kept Iggy in his palm and walked downstairs, peeking his head into the study room to see some of the girls rounded about, sewing diligently. Isabel sat with a long piece of what looked like linen—a shirt, maybe?—but she was not sat there with head bent down, sewing, but reading a piece of paper.
            "Hullo," Tom said to the room in general. Isabel glanced up and smiled. "Are you mending?"
            "Aye," she replied. She took the shirt off her lap and rose, letter in one hand. "Has it stopped raining?"
            "For now," Tom conceded. "Iggy and I were going to go on a walk. Join us?"
            The rat trembled in his hand, his soft fur a most comforting feeling. Tom's fingers felt sensitive as the fur brushed his skin. One of the lasses made a face at the sight of the rat. Isabel showed no such disdain and nodded, walking toward him.
            "Just let me get my cloak," she said and disappeared upstairs to the girls' gallery. She reappeared a few minutes later, the brown cloak tied securely around her shoulders. The paper was still in her hand.
            They walked out of the orphanage and past the other priory buildings, past the kitchen, through the postern door and through the kitchen garden. Tom led the way down the path, which was a steeper climb up and down than the front part of St. Osana's hill. Iggy went into his pocket, while Tom offered his hand to Isabel.
            "What's in your letter?" Tom asked.
            "It's from Iggy," Isabel replied in her sweet soprano voice. "He wrote it from my home in Routh. He stopped there on his journey. Writes that his uncle owns land there." She turned frowning blue eyes to Tom. "Apparently, Sir Robert gained it in a game of dice. Against my uncle. My father's younger brother, who owned that land because my father likely signed it over to him to given him some property." She quirked her mouth to the side. "My family has too many children per generation. Half of the East Riding are my relations."
            Tom laughed gently. She was not lying or exaggerating. The hamlet of Routh was verily small. The name of Routh, however, was rather common in this neck of the woods.
            "Iggy's uncle is the squire in Routh now," Isabel said, wistfully.
            "The Collins seem as numerous as the Rouths."
            "Nay," Isabel replied. "Only more ambitious. Richard Collins was my father's Master of the Horse. Largely ceremonial, you know, as our village and our home is—was—quite humble in comparison to others of our station. He became close to my father. Then he married Eleanor and naturally, with no other male heirs except my first cousins, Richard is the first non-Routh to become squire of the village."
            "You sound bitter about it, love."
            Isabel inhaled greatly, then exhaled. "Bitterness will get me nowhere. But it is rather galling!" She sighed. "My humors must be out of order. My emotions are most volatile."
            "What else does Iggy write?"
            "He saw the tower above the house—it's an ancient home and the tower used to be for defense—and he wondered how one gets up there and if I ever sewed there and such." That brought a pretty, gentle smile to Isabel's face. "How he guessed, I will not know, for I did exactly that in the tower when the weather was fine." She pulled a face. "My sisters are rather…of the bicking, squawking types."
            Tom did a fair impression of a squawking chicken. Isabel collapsed into laughter.
            "I just had a meeting with Brother Bernard and Sisters Benedicta and Catherine."
            "Oh, why?"
            Tom drew himself up straight. He felt, in the pit of his stomach, that Isabel would not take the news well. She was right; now thirteen years old, her emotions were volatile. Just yesterday, she had burst into tears at supper for no apparent reason.
            "I'm to be apprenticed out soon."
            "What?!" Isabel exclaimed. She stoppped walking and turned to him. "Apprenticed?" Under her breath, she said, "But of course." In a louder voice, she said, "Where then?"
            "Not sure yet," Tom said. "It may be with the farrier or with a wool merchant out of Thirlby."
            "That's not too far," Isabel murmured. "You a wool merchant?"
            "Won't be for a while," Tom forestalled her, puzzled by her sudden changes in mood. "But, aye, I'll meet with the merchant and see if we can work tolerably well together. I've no desire to stay under the thumb of someone that I despise for five years."
            Isabel gave a small smile.
            "Are you sad, Is?" Tom asked, reaching into his pocket for Iggy the rat. "You needn't be."
            "Iggy's left, you're leaving," Isabel replied. "I am bereft of my friends."
            "Your particular girl friends are still here."
            "Aye, but as we get older, won't we all be married? Or become nuns. I've not much of a vocation for the order, so marriage is my fate." Isabel reached to pet Iggy's delicate fur with a finger. "Becoming an adult seems rather a lot of work."
            Tom laughed gently. "It is. But we've all been well-prepared here. Well taught."
            "Aye," Isabel said. "My sisters do not read well. Eleanor can read a bit better than the other three and her writing is servicable. 'Tis because of the accounts she must keep for the household. But you and Iggy are my dearest friends and you are both moving on—and I am ever left behind." Her voice sounded choked. Compassion ran deeply in Tom and it squeezed his heart now.
            "Oh, Is. You musn't think that. Iggy and I and indeed, even little Iggy here, are your brothers…in priory."
            The platitudes did not seem to help. Yet Isabel reached out her hand, palm up, to take the rat.
            "Would it help you some, Isabel, if I left little Iggy in your care when I become an apprentice?" Tom asked. "I love and adore him, but I'm not sure if I can play and care for him as I can here. I know how much you love him."
            "Truly, Tom?" Isabel replied. "Won't you miss him?"
            "Of course I will," Tom said. "But imagine that the farrier or the merchant doesn't like rats, even ones as docile as Iggy? Certainly any sheep won't like him. No, I'd rather know he was safe and loved here." He waved an arm about, indicating the landscape of the priory. "Will you keep him? I shall visit the both of you when I can."
            With her other hand, Isabel petted the small rat. Then she gave a nod. Then she rushed at him, locking her free arm around Tom's skinny frame and drawing him close. Standing on the tips of her toes, for Isabel was shorter than Tom by a head and a half, she pressed her lips against his.
            "Thank you," she said, so close he could feel her breath against his shocked, suddenly numb, lips.
            The wool merchant was named Thirlby—Edward Thirlby of Thirlby. His business dealt with not only the priory lands of St. Osana's, but the extensive lands of other monasteries and abbeys in the East Riding of Yorkshire and across the Humber in northern Lincolnshire.
            He presented himself to Tom and the sisters of St. Osana at precisely one o'clock in the afternoon.Thirlby dressed in a higher-quality nap of wool, his doublet sleeves slashed to reveal the rich linen shirt he wore underneath. He wore a red cap with a magnificant feather and his hose were decorated with subtly.
            Tom devoured the man's clothes visually. He tried to tamper down the feeling inside—greed, was it? Covetousness? But Tom longed for fine clothes and a jaunty hat and a prosperous, largely carefree life. Well, not entirely carefree, he supposed, but Thirlby seemed to have luxurious cares. The wool merchant had a fastidious look about him. His reddish hair was neat and short, his green eyes assessing and shrewd. He was clean-shaven.
            "So this is the lad you give forward to be my next apprentice," Thirlby said. "Your name?"
            "Tom Winters, sir."
            "Age?"
            "Fifteen."
            "Very good. Can you read? Write? Do sums?"
            "All," Tom replied. "I can also read and write some in Greek, but more in Latin."
            Thirlby nodded, a gleam in his eye, assessing, studying, analyzing. "Can you speak French? Dutch? Flemish?"
            "French, yes. Some French, anyhow," Tom answered. "Not so for the others."
            "That is no matter," Thirlby replied. "You'll learn soon enough. I've had two apprentices from this orphanage. One of them has moved on to become a cloth merchant's helper in Lincoln, while the other is nearing the end of his time with me. So, tell me." Thirlby leaned forward. "Do you have an interest in learning this business?"
            "I do, sir."
            "He's attended our sheep shearings every year since he was eleven," Sister Benedicta spoke up.
            "So you know sheep," Thirlby said with an approving measure in his voice. "Jolly good." Speaking to the nuns, he asked, "Is he dependable?"
            "Tom is very dependable and responsible," Sister Benedicta vouchsafed for him. "He's been taught to be both, of course, by the tenets of the Church and of this priory."
            "Of course," Thirlby responded with a flourish and bowing his head. "Discipline, too, I imagine. I'll need an apprentice ready to learn the trade but also to listen to what I am telling them, for their own sake."
            "I understand, sir," Tom replied. Silence reigned.
            Then Thirlby gave a nod. "I like this lad. I shall take him on. Has the Prior written out the contracts as of yet?"
            "He has, sir," Sister Catherine said.
            The contracts were signed and dated, a drip of wax with the Prior's signet—the cross—and Thirlby's signet—a stemmed rose and a quill—made the contract official. Tom would be under the man's care for the next seven years.

            Iggy held onto the rigging of the boat, growing slowly accustomed to the roiling of the waves beneath the ship.
            He, Uncle Robert, and the servants had boarded a skip earlier in the day from a small fishing village near Skipsea. They were headed north to Bridlington, where uncle Robert was the landlord of a block of homes and shops, then they would travel inland once again, to another chain of more manors and estates before taking another boat ride northwards to Northumberland.
            The skipper had said that the journey would be smooth, provided the North Sea waves were not terribly choppy. Iggy fervently prayed to St. Christopher for a smooth ride. This was his first time on a boat and the vessel and the water it sailed upon, did not seem as placid as the boats Iggy had seen on the River Hull, arriving with supplies, eager for some trade, at the tiny dock at Scour.
            Iggy felt his stomach lurch and he faced downward toward the ocean, praying that he would not puke. Uncle Robert, despite his age, seemed to be as perfectly comfortable upon a roiling boat as on a horse and though the man's biting tongue had calmed somewhat along their progress, he was still likely to comment if Iggy became ill.
            "Come away from there, Ignatius," Robert called. "Looking at the water will make your stomach ill! Come, have some mulled wine!"
            Iggy gave a nod and let go of the rigging, slowly making his way over to his uncle, who sat with a cup of mulled and spiced wine. Robert offered his heir a cup of the same and told him to drink slowly.
            "Wouldn't want to upset your belly. 'Tisn't used to waves, eh?"
            "No, sir."
            Robert clicked his tongue. "So many things you've yet to experience. Ah, to be that young and innocent again."
            It was not a long journey, for which Iggy was profoundly grateful, and they landed at a quay in Bridlington. Robert had lodgings arranged and as the servants unpacked and arranged the rooms, Iggy and Robert went to Bridlington Priory to attend a mass.
            Bridlington was the largest church Iggy had ever been inside of and he stood in awe at the entrance, tipping his so far backwards to see the top of the tower that his hat fell off. It was Gothic, the windows, some of which were filled with stained glass, coming to arched points and the great tower edged by buttresses. Gargoyles, mouths open in terrible horror, were visible in the elaborate carvings.
            How long did it take to make these buildings of God? Iggy wondered. He reminded himself to write that question out in his notebook, to take back to Brother Clement. In the meanwhile, he kneeled to hear Mass, made his appropriate responses in Latin, watched the miracle of bread and wine turning into the Body and the Blood of Christ, and took the Host into his mouth at Communion. Amen.
            When mass ended and as the congregation poured out of the service, Robert said to Iggy, "Have you heard of Agincourt?"
            "Of course, sir," Iggy replied.
            "This is the church where our illustrious Henry V came to give thanks for the victory. Our longbows won that battle. Then, of course, his son goes insane and loses to the House of York. The Yorks, of course, were popular here. When Richard III was killed, the City of York wrote into its records that it was saddened at the death of the king."
            "You were at Bosworth, were you not, sir?"
            "I was." Robert replied crisply. "Come, back to the lodgings. We'll tour my property on the morrow."
            In the room, Iggy opened his notebook, prepared his ink, pared down his quill pen, and then carefully wrote.
            Today I am in Bridlington, Yorks. We arrived by boat this afternoon. Bridlington is on the coast of the North Sea. We attended mass at Bridlington Priory, which was built a great many centures ago. Uncle said that after the victory of the Battle of Agincourt, King Henry V came to that priory to give thanks.
            Also, the order is Augustinian.
            I had wondered, however, how much time a builder would spend in planning and building a cathedral or a large priory as that at Bridlington. Such a massive building cannot be easily done, especially if the building is just younger than the Conquest or the Anarchy.

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