By Barbara Weitbrecht
"Greetings!" Bo exclaimed, thrusting out his hand. "You must be Rory! I'm..."
"This be the foreign gent I was describin'," Shannon interrupted. "The one who beat me in a blessed drinkin' contest."
The O'Neill stood behind Rory, gesturing frantically to Bo to keep quiet. Bo raised an eyebrow. He saw no reason not to trust Rory with his secret, but Shannon was the local. He would follow the mistrel's lead.
"I'm Beauregard of Butler," he said after a thoughtful pause. "I am traveling through Christenlande, and require money and a change of clothing so as not to be conspicuous. I fear I have taken advantage of your friend's weakness. He was two and a half sheets to the wind when I met him, so it was no great feat to drink him under the table."
"Shannon's fault it was for taking ye on," Rory said, grinning. He pumped Bo's extended hand. "But where is this 'Butler'? 'Tis not a town I am knowing of."
"To the west, and somewhat to the south," said Bo, waving vaguely in the general direction of Cornwall. 'Tis a town most famous for its laundries, so some do know it as Washing-Town or Washington. We see much dirty linen there, I do assure thee."
"Indeed." Rory was examining Bo skeptically, his gaze lingering on his alien clothing. "But a very fine quality of linen it be, if I am not mistaken. And thou, sir... do I detect a bit of Moorish blood, if I may be so bold as to be asking?"
Bo was moderately surprised he had recognized it, but people did seem to get around even in these times. "Aye, that thou dost. Enough to have made me a slave during the dark years, and little enough to hide it. Thou hast a sharp eye, sir."
Rory nodded his thanks for the compliment, but he still looked skeptical. "And thou thinkest to be 'inconspicuous' merely by affecting a priest's cassock?"
"It worked for thee," Bo pointed out.
Rory rubbed the side of his neck in an absent gesture. "Thou hast a point. Sometimes the simplest disguises are the best. But, friend, I fear my old robes will not fit thee. 'Tis not only thy superior height. Thou art also a broad man, and the cassock is a moderate close-fitting garment."
"'Tis true," Bo acknowledged. "Perhaps thou knowest a seamstress or a tailor hereabouts who might fashion me a monkish outfit? I can leave my old garments in payment. They be of fine stuff, even my own own country."
"As for that," Shannon volunteered, "we have a friend at the monestary, Brother Seamus, who can sneak thee in to see their robe- maker, Brother Padraigh. If thou wishest a 'monkish outfit', 'tis best to go to the very source."
"Indeed," Bo agreed. "Then let us be off to meet this fellow. I take it there is a fair bit of conspiracy among the Irish here?"
"Among Celts in general," Rory confirmed. "We be no great lovers of the Saxons, however much loyalty we bear for our own dear, and currently deluded, King. Not to mention his lovely Queen." Rory sighed. Bo and Shannon exchanged glances. Together they walked north from the town, stopping briefly at the inn to drop off the minstrels' bundles.
* * *
The monastery was a low, rambling structure, built over an old Roman villa. A small stone church had been appended to one side, and the surrounding grounds were given over to goat pens and vegetable patches. Shannon and Rory located Brother Seamus in one of the latter, hoeing weeds from among the cabbages.
"Aye, Brother Padraigh can see ye," Brother Seamus stated, mopping the sweat from his tonsured head with a muddy sleeve. "In fact, he would be delighted at the company. Seems the Father Abbot has confined him to his workshop for the writin' of a naughty bit of verse in the margin of a manuscript he was copyin'."
"Truly?" Shannon marveled. "And dost thou know the verse?"
Brother Seamus smiled. Folding his arms, he recited:
Adam lay ybounden, Bounden in a bond; Four thousand winter Thought he not too long. And all was for an apple, An apple that he took, As clerkës finden written In their book. Nor had one apple taken been, The apple taken been, Then had never Our Lady A-been heaven's queen. Blessed be the time That apple taken was. Therefore we may singen Deo gratias!
"For that he gets confined to quarters?" Bo marveled.
"Well, 'tis not quite proper to be a-thankin' of Father Adam for sinnin', you see."
"Let us not meet the Father Abbot, then," Bo suggested. "I am sure he would find something about me to disapprove of."
* * *
Brother Padraigh was indeed glad of the company. He was a round man, short even by 8th-century standards, and the shining dome of his head was not due only to the razor. He measured Bo with his eyes and whistled. "Ye be a big man, s'truth! Well, let us see the garments ye have brought to be trading. I can make a fine warm robe with that coat, at the very least."
Bo stripped, handing each item to Padraigh for inspection. He set aside only his shoulder holster with its weapon, which he told the other men was a sort of cosh or club. They looked skeptical, but did not press him on the subject. Bo regretted losing his clothes. The suit was wool and silk, custom-tailored in Hong Kong. His shirt was Egyptian cotton, ordered from a bespoke tailor in Saville Row. He paused a moment before removing his boxers. They were yellow silk, printed with a pattern of tiny Martini glasses. But there was no way he could pretend they were of local manufacture.
Padraigh rubbed the smooth fabric between his fingers, marveling. The two minstrels stared openly at what the removal of the boxers had revealed.
"Well, I'm big all over," Bo said modestly. "Ye wouldn't want me to be out of proportion, would ye?"
"Sure and the women of thy land must be as wide as cart-horses," Rory marveled.
"And after thee like cats after cat-mint," Shannon opined.
"Cover thyself with this," Padraigh offered, handing Bo a length of fabric to wrap around his middle. "Faith, I can make a fine altar- cloth of thy nether-breeches! They being patterned with the image of the Holy Grail and all!"
Bo smiled, wrapping the cloth around himself and tucking it in like a towel. "So ye can make me a monk suit?" he asked.
"Aye, by this evening," Padraigh agreed. "Sure and ye come from the land o' Cockaigne itself, dressin' in sich garments! I fear ye will find our rough wool cloth a trial after these silken breeches of yours."
"I'll get used to it," said Bo.
Next: Juliana Throws a Fit
Before there was the novel, there were the stories...
by Nan Hawthorne, who also writes under Christopher Hawthorne Moss, Books and Stories b ChristopherHawthorne Moss at http://authorchristophermoss.vlogspot.com