This story.. the end to be precise.. actually got my husband all teary eyed.
There the activity was noisy and bustling. Servants who had been awake for a fair time longer than the young Irish boy were rushing about putting loaves of bread onto shelves set into a large hearth and pulling others out. The smell was that of yeast everywhere, the leavened bread, the pitchers being filled with rich heady ale from barrels, all tinged with the smell of spices and herbs from thousands of long since eaten meals.
One of the cooks spotted Clancy as he entered and went to pick up a tray that had already been set out. It was covered with a cloth, but Clancy knew its contents from the hundreds of times he had borne identical trays so the King's fast could be broken: a hot fresh dark brown loaf, a plate with chunks of cheese and meat, sometimes fish, and a tankard of warm spiced ale. The only alteration in this custom had not been used in some months, and that was when the tray had contained enough food for both the King and the Queen.. or more recently, the courtesan Juliana. The fact made Clancy both wistful and glad, glad the courtesan was gone but longing that the King could again be found most mornings with the Queen in her chamber.
As he carried the tray up to the King's bedchamber to wake him and help him eat and dress, he glanced about the keep. In the Great Hall he could see the unmarried men clustered about the hearth on the floor, wrapped in blankets, furs and their own cloaks, many of them still snoring. He noted that his brother's tousled red head was not among them and smiled. No doubt Shannon had spent the night with some colleen in the city. He passed Percy and Jocelyn's chambers where he could hear little Jolie was awake and fussing, and Jocelyn was to be heard soothing the baby in a sweet tuneful voice.
The rest of the sounds he heard were more or less identifiable stirrings in various chambers and familiar sounds from outside in the courtyard. The stable hands were up and tending to the horses. Women could be heard calling to each other as they went back and forth to the brimming well. Children were being shushed as they chased each other and shrieked. Clancy thought he heard the cluck of chickens and other fowl as they were brought along with other foodstuffs from neighboring farms to be readied for the later meals of the day. He heard the church bell in Lawrencium tolling pimre.
In his bedchamber the King was already awake. He was wrapped in a robe and looking out the window. He turned as the boy entered. Good morrow, Clancy. "It seemeth the start of a fine day." The man's face reflected no pleasure at this cheerful thought..
"Aye, sire," the boy replied. "Did ye rest well?"
Lawrence's smile and nod clearly carried no conviction. "Aye, a little wakeful at first." He came over to where the boy was setting out the meal on a small table. "I thank thee."
Clancy bowed slightly. Finishing his task, he turned to take clothing out of a large chest that sat against a wall. He laid them on a bench at the foot of the King's small camp bed. He straightened its rumpled covers. He reached under it to retrieve the King's chamber pot. He swiftly nodded to the King, whose attention was on his breakfast, and took the pot to empty it through a drain built in an outer wall from which waste could be conveyed down to a middens. The odors in the castle always had a tinge of the foul smells of the middens, no matter how often servants dug the waste up and bore it away to be dumped away from the city.
Dressed, the King had gone to see his brother-in-law, the Duke, in his study. Lorin was already there and already had accomplished much work. He and Master Timothy were seated at separate desks going through papers and making notations. At another small table a scribe was scribbling in a large bound book. Lorin and the others stood and bowed to the King, who gestured lightly to them to sit again. Lawrence took a chair across from Lorin and the two started the more administrative tasks of the morning.
In the royal nursery Lorin's wife Larisa, her son John on her hip, was waking the King's and Queen's children, directing them to their own chamber pots and breakfast. Four year old Tavish was compliant and quiet as always. The twin girls were fussy and dragged their feet as they reluctantly shivered out of their little beds. A nursemaid had two year old Donalbain up and was cleaning him up while he yawned and tried to open his eyes. The older prince, Peter, slept in a room away from the nursery, being nine years old now and almost ready to move into Percy's chambers as a page. Larisa and the nursemaids fussed over and around the children, getting them dressed and ready for their day of play and, for the three elder, lessons. The children's priest came in to start their catechism.
By the toll of terce from St. Peter the Fisherman, the capitals main church and the King's own, the entire castle was awake and stirring. Prince Peter waited for his master of horse by the stable. He watched the servants and peasants from the countryside as they hurried around tending to whatever tasks they had. A woman carried a large basket of dirty clothing and bedclothes over to a trough set next to the well. A gardener could be heard raking and digging in the Queen's lonely little garden. Men at arms marched by in a small, tight group. A servant was arguing with a fishwife over the next day's order of North Sea fish. Two burly men were directing huge barrels from a cart down a length of board to roll to the kitchen. The whoosh of the bellows was shortly followed by the clank of a hammer on steel. Peter heard under the distant sound of wood being chopped a familiar whistle. The O'Neill was trailing in after a night's carousing. He winked at the boy, who responded irritably , being at an age where he felt he deserved to be treated with more dignity. He glared at Shannon, who chuckled, made a comic bow, and went on into the keep, his ever-present lute bobbing on his back.
Later in the morning the King customarily could be found in his privy council chamber in consultation with various ministers and chieftains. His general of the army, an Angle appropriately named Horsa, sat below the King's raised chair, explaining the need for a garrison of cavalry in the southeast. Lorin participated in this discussion as he had the reins of the privy purse and knew what could be found to pay for this establishment. The King negotiated a compromise so that Lorin could feel right about dispensing funds for something somewhat more modest than Horsa felt was needed. Then a delegation of ship's captains and boatwrights set forth their concerns about the lack of a crown navy. Lawrence ordered Lorin to meet with them and investigate but was not warm to the idea, Christenlande having no ambitions for a royal fleet. The morning's business ended with petitioners seeking redress of wrongs and various favors for themselves or family members. As the midday meal approached, the King assigned consideration of those petitions not yet heard to Lorin or, if the petitioners still wanted the King's ear specifically, the next day.
In the Great Hall the trestle tables were now set up and food and drink was carried in for the assembled courtiers and others living in or visiting the castle. Firelight from torches added to the light streaming in from high narrow windows. Sext had already been tolled and the midday meal was set to by the company. Sir Percy sat with Rory and Shannon and a small company of knights, including Ian, Tramtrist and Luculuus. Lady Jocelyn would not join him for the meal until the evening repast, staying in their chambers to feed Jolie instead.
The high table remained apart and leaning against a wall. In their own chambers, Lawrence in his, Lorin and his family in theirs, the royal family partook of the stuffed game birds, fish with aromatic sauce, bread, fresh strawberries, a cabbage stew and watered wine that was the day's menu. Lorin sat with John on his knee, feeding him small pieces from his own plate and letting him have a tiny sip of the wine while Larisa looked on with mock disapproval. Lorin listened with genuine interest as his wife talked about what games and tantrums had occurred in the nursery that morning.
Lawrence sat alone today, in his chamber, picking at his meal. He sat back and seemed to daydream. He left much of his meal untouched as he rose and made his way to the courtyard to speak to Peter's master of horse about his progress. After that, he went into the nursery, casting a brief glance at the Queen's closed bedchamber door as he passed it. In the nursery a nursemaid was clearing a tiny table of food scraps. These and the scraps of all the other meals would be taken to the castle dogs and the food they would not touch would be given to a monk from the nearby monastery for their pigs. Edible leftovers would be offered as alms.
Seeing their father, the four children jumped from their tiny chairs and flew to him. All four put their small arms around his legs and drew him to their table. He joined them, lowering his considerable height into a tiny chair whose seat came nowhere near to supporting the width of his muscular buttocks. He teetered a bit but steadied himself. Donalbain found the whole thing hilarious. Lawrence looked at the littlest boy's feet and then to the nursemaid with a frown on his face. He pointed at the little toes that poked out of torn stockings. The woman curtsied and apologized, "I beg thy pardon, your majesty. He still will not wear shoes and will not exchange those stockings for clean and mended ones."
Lawrence gave the toddler a stern look. "Aye, my little prince, we shall have to see about that." But he just reached over and wiped a smear of porridge off the boy's cheek with his thumb. He smiled.
Elaine looked up at her father, "Daddy?"
"Aye, my lady?" he replied.
"Pumpernickel!" The dark haired little girl fell into a cascade of crystal laughter. Her sister Caithness, as fair as their mother Josephine , rolled her eyes. Tavish put his little hand over his mouth and giggled.
After their midday meal the children were allowed to play with their father until time to nap. Lawrence fought a mock sword battle with Tavish as Donalbain dashed in and out of the mêlée shouting, "Haarrr!" The twins were on a fur on the floor playing with their long haired dolls. Caithness lifted hers to Lawrence and announced, "My dolly looks like Mommy!" Elaine chorused, "Mine too!" Their father agreed, reaching out to touch the long golden hair each doll had, silky and shining in the early afternoon light. When Larisa returned, he made elaborate bows to the children which were returned with as elaborate curtsies and bows from the girls and Tavish but were ignored by Donalbain. Lawrence chucked little John's chin as he passed and gave the boy's mother a warm smile.
As the hour approached the time when St. Peter's bells would toll nones, some of the bustle in the outdoor parts of the castle was easing as people went inside to rest or to work on preparations for the evening. Others had long left to go back to their shops and farms and boats and other pursuits. Many of the castle's resident children would be napping, and certainly the royal children and Jocelyn's and Percy's baby were. If the Queen had been there the King most likely would have joined her now in her chambers where she would be with her ladies as they bent over needlework. Sometimes he would just sit and converse with her, sharing the ladies' conversations about this that and everything, and other times the two would spend companionable time alone. He would listen as she spoke animatedly about something. Then there would be the times she seemed distracted and moody. He often would try to divert her and if unsuccessful would go himself to the courtyard to practice sword skills.
Peter spent much of his afternoons closeted with a monk and later with Lorin to put his mind to less chivalric matters. He hated it but tried to be diligent and attentive. If the King was practicing with his sword in the courtyard, Lorin would reluctantly release the boy to watch and to receive pointers from his adept father. These occasional early lesson would melt into his regular lesson from his master of sword which was set for late afternoon, well after nones but also long before the bell tolling for vespers.
Some days Lawrence would spend some time with official court business, and of course on Sunday the entire day would be somewhat rearranged to accommodate mass. Lawrence was not known for his religious observance, much to the bishop's distress, but he did try to make an appearance on the Lord's Day if he could not find an excuse to be too busy. On weekdays and Saturday the King varied his plans between that official work and riding, talking with his friends, visiting the stables or armory, and occasionally retiring with the Queen to one of their own bedchambers. Sometimes some or all of the younger children would be with them, but other times the doors would be latched and no visitors welcome. On those occasions the King and Queen were always a little flushed and casting each other intimate smiles as they emerged individually to come to the evening meal. It had been a while since this had transpired.
Meanwhile the kitchens had been busier than ever. The evening meal, depending on the time of year near vespers or somewhat before, was traditionally an elaborate affair. Usually the big hearth in the kitchen would have a side of beef, pork or mutton roasting and more bread, used as trenchers in place of plates at the meal, sharing the crowded space above the coals. The cooks were working on various preparations of game, fish, vegetables, sweetmeats and other fine fare for the court's supper. Young kitchen maids and boys would be gathering pitchers, tankards, goblets, platters and the wooden shingles the bread trenchers would sit on. No tableware would be assemble, as each person who supped would use his or her own personal knife to eat, or just their fingers. The only exception was spoons for soup when it was served.
The aromas from the kitchen included the rich roasting meats, the tang of baking bread, the allure of spices and comfort of herbs, the sweet fragrances of mead and ale and unwatered wine, and the more subtle ones of the various sweet dishes, many of which contained rosewater and when they could get it from Iberia, orange water, The more homely scent of the cooking grains eaten alone or as a stuffing for meat underlay all the rest. When the wind was right, the rank and oppressive odors of the street and sea in Lawrencium would be displaced by the perfume of the royal supper.
In the Great Hall the tables had been cleared in the afternoon so that courtiers could gather to play at dice and other wagering games and the minstrels who practiced and worked on songs together could congregate before the hearth. Now they were set up again, in a T shape with the high table at the apex, draped in fine cloth with the ornate chairs set behind it. Long benches, the same used for the earlier meal, would be stretched along the perpendicular tables. The hearth fire was stoked an blazing no matter the time of year. Usually the servants would be poised for the entrance of the King and Queen as other courtiers and guests would gather and take their places on the benches.
At the high table the Queen's chair, now always empty, sat at the right hand of the King's taller more intricately carved chair. To her right the places were set for the Duke and Duchess. To the King's left sat Horsa and his lady wife. The outermost seats were filled by the occasional special guests.
Just below the high table but above the ornate salt cellar the benches customarily were filled with the respective posteriors of Percy and Jocelyn and other knights and their wives. Rory and Shannon sat there, both because of the long friendship with Lawrence and Josephine and for Shannon in recognition of his position as head of the O'Neill clan. Elerde had had a place here too when he was still welcome.
Below the salt came the various other officials of the court, the masters, the minor nobility, and on down to the odd merchant or other commoner who had earned his or her seat for one reason or another.
Once the King and Queen entered the Hall, usually with the lady on her lord's arm, and took their places, the feast would begin. Servants would stream in from the kitchen with the many courses, from highly spiced tidbits to fish to the meat that was the main course of the meal. Then other delicacies and treats, all courses accompanied by wine and ale and other drinks. As the hubbub of supping died down at the end of the meal and the sweets, nuts, cheeses, and fruit brought in and the bread trenchers were removed to be given to the dogs in the courtyard as well as those gathered in the hall, the minstrels would rise to sing, play music and tell tales. The group at the high table would stay or retire to their own chambers to finish out the evening until compline and bed.
This day the feasting, although still worthy of that name, was less elaborate. The high table was still set up and draped, but both the great chairs were empty. Lorin and Larisa were there, along with Horsa and others, but not the King and certainly not the Queen whose current whereabouts were no better than rumored. The King supped alone or with his children. Even Shannon and Rory were away at a tavern having their meal. Without the star minstrels the entertainment was of a less refined sort, jugglers, wrestling, feats of prowess of various kinds, and occasionally dancers. There were fewer courses and the wine and ale flowed a little more lightly, although only a little.
Suppers at the castle in Lawrencium had been like this for many months, since the King rarely brought the courtesan to eat with the court, as she was uncomfortable with the looks she received, as was he. Since he had set her aside the King had only supped in the Hall when he had important guests. The courtiers were not happy with the reduced pomp and feasting as well as the poor entertainment. But they could chatter and gossip freely, which more than made up for it.
In the kitchen and throughout the castle meanwhile servants dashed hither and thither, cleaning pots and kettles and tankards and goblets and getting chambers ready for their residents. Hearth fires were banked, bedwarmers placed near them for receipt of the coals to warm sheets in chilly chambers. Clean chamber pots were put under beds. Children, highborn and lowborn, were being fed, undressed and put to bed whether by servants or their parents. Horses in the stables were combed and given their own suppers. Chickens and other animals were shooed into pens for protection during the night. As the dusk grew bawds lingered near the castle gate before it was closed and the heavy board set in its braces.
Tonight Rory came in without his friend and headed to the Great hall to share its conviviality until time to put away the tables and lie down near the fire to sleep.
Oftimes in the evening when both the Queen and King had been in residence, and it had been more than a year since that was the case with Lawrence away in Derby, the couple would sit at wine and sometimes games in the King's private chamber. The minstrels would be there and perform. Lorin and Larisa, Percy and Jocelyn, and other especial friends of the King and Queen would gather for a companionable evening. They would sigh at Shannon's sadder ballads, thrill to Rory's tales of knights and dragons and daring do, laugh, the ladies blushing or not as the nature of the jest changed, at Shannon's many funny songs and comments. The reserved Lorin would generally be very quiet. Lawrence would laugh and boast with his friends, the Queen would talk with other lady's or smile at Lawrence and the other men as they had their boisterous fun.
Now however the King had only the occasional companion, usually just the Irishmen or Erik when he was in port. Not this night. He was alone with his work and his thoughts. The children were all already abed, so he could not go to them. His infatuation with the dark-eyed Juliana was long a memory now so he had no dalliance to surrender himself to. He could go to his own study and work, putting a solicitous Lorin off, insisting he go to his own wife and son. But tonight he was tired and low.
The King sat at his desk in his chamber, seeming to stare out the window across the room. The window, however , was draped against the chill, being unglazed. He was listening to the night sounds of the castle. Somewhere men burst into laughter at a ribald jest. Outside a horse whinnied and dogs barked. The sea waves could be heard softly lapping against the beach on docks. He could hear servants rustling by in the corridors, putting the castle to bed. Other sounds, harder to identify, lulled him to reverie. He thought of Josephine and wondered where she was, what she was doing, and tried not to let the inevitable images of her in the Breton's arms come to the forefront of his consciousness. He drank deeply of the wine Clancy had set before him before the King sent the boy off to bed, the page having made his bedchamber ready for the night. The somber King sat on, later hearing St. Peter's midnight bell. Then he got up, went into his bedchamber and undressed, stretched out on his camp bed and, his arms crossed behind his head on his pillow, gazed at the tapestry he had given the Queen which depicted five scenes of their life together. Josephine had had the tapestry put up on the wall in his chamber so they could lie together in his great curtained bed and look at it, in each other's arms. Now he stared, unable to drift to sleep easily, and shot glances in the dim firelight at the one unfinished panel, meant to be finished later with some scene of their future life together.
As silence nearly unbroken descended over the castle, the King finally fell asleep with a lump in his throat and dreamed of happier days.
In his own small bed, Clancy stirred and sighed, but did not wake.
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