Sunday, November 24, 2013

Troubled Songs in London Town (excerpt, If I Should Live So Long, 11-13)

On the morrow when I rose it was yet early, and the woman on the nearby cot had ceased snoring. Neither were any of the beggars yet stirring. The bells of morning Prime began pealing, however, and I could hear monks and nuns scurrying through the empty halls. I decided I should try to find Vincebus, and inform him of my plan- that I would leave and go to London with haste.
I found Vincebus in a courtyard near to his cell, in a most indiscreet situation. He was holding a pigeon by its throat, and it were fair past dead. Its guts lay in a splat all about it of nearly a yard’s circle. While he yet held in his right hand the pigeon, and in his left, the knife which had killed it, he was on his knees, and taking the knife to spread the entrails of the bird about and picking through them.
“Here, here, what are you up to, Monk? What is this you mess about with that bird?”
“Ah, it is Master Julian of Chester. He would like to know of what I do! Out to catch me out to the abbot then, are you?”
I told him I had no need to do so, but was forthwith only curious. Such a bloody mess, and why?
“This is my auguring. You see I take this bird and disembowel it, and from the way in which the organs fall, I foretell many things.”
“I foretell only a roast squab for someone’s delight at supper.”
“Well said! Indeed! And such shall the Master Prior Abbot make of him. See here, how the liver fell in the southwest quadrant? And the heart, over here to the left? This is auspicious. It means that we are holding forth this autumn with great harvests, and great events of state!”
“You know these just by the falling of the guts of a bird? Why that is soothspeak. Thought me, silly one, that Monks and Nuns and Abbots and Priors were forbidden to prophesy!”
“You are really a silly ignorant bumpkin, aren’t you! Why, Saint Augustine himself told of his doing just such in his Confessio. So long as it is done as such, with none of the other monks awares, so shall I continue. For my prophecy I speak to the Prior often on Midsummer Day shall this year of course be full of good portent. It will mean high revenues to the Priory, and many many guest. Perhaps who knows, even the King?”
“What thou does alone is fit for none to know, aye I shall agree at that.”
“Then you will speak it not?”
“Indeed. But I came to tell you other things. I am going to London- walking, and straightaway.”
“You will not stay to break fast with our Brothers and Sisters?”
“I’ve me a hen’s leg left in my pouch, such it will do for my repast as I go. But tell me, who is this man you say I must see, and where do I find him? And also, where do I find the Inns of Court?”
“Ho ho, he fancies himself a man of the law, does he? The Inns of Court are near the center of the town. Go thou hence and you shall discover them. The man I want you so badly to see is called Songgemonger. He has his office near the Smithfield market. It is too early for Bartholomew Fair, but yet, there shall you find many such as yourself- all strugglers of talents, all poor as the day is long, suffering your art for its vanity against the teeming hordes! Go then! Tell Songgmonger Vincebus sends greetings and a blessing!”
Songgemonger? What and who forthwith was this man? I would soon learn.
I set me out then from the priory gates, and walked south along the Ebry Way to the London High Street, which became the Edgeware Road, and was walking the better part of all morning. It was fair an hour past noon when I arrived at the Inns of Court. There, I took about my letter, looking for Esquire Dover.
And had I not had the absolute luck of running straight into the man, perhaps I should still even be seeking him! And I asked if he knew where I might find the Esquire, and he gave a little concerted look about himself either side, as if, perhaps the Esquire were hiding someplace about. Then he looks to me and asks “And who is it wishes to seek him? For he is I!”
“Sire, sir, I am a minstrel in travel from the far west, from Chester. I have come to make something of the sights of the city briefly while I rest myself, and take off again for home before the change of moon. I was given a scroll to hand to you. It is from a rogue of the land named False Taffy.”
And with that I handed out the scroll.
“False Taffy, eh? Yes, we know him. What has he to say for himself?”
And he undid the seal, and took it up and read it. He gave a most pleased, but yet curious look to me.
“And how did you chance to meet this False Taffy? Did he recruit you as messenger? Did he recruit you to his business?”
“As messenger, yes, but to business, no. I spent fair time with him enough to know, such is the like of man I should keep no company with.”
“Well smart you are to do so! For he has a bounty ‘pon his head. Well sent, lad, though. I have enough to worry about. And False Taffy has little to complain for of my confidence in his case, for well I know it. Now, can you take a message back to him? From me?”
“I suppose, though I hope not to make his acquaintance a second time.”
“Very well. I shall hold you no ill should you not deliver it. It will only complicate matters should he think you are doing the work of the courts! But say this, should you find yourself so engaged- Esquire Dover knows the particulars of the case. He holds False Taffy innocent of the murder of Lew Grimspittle- the man who helped to rape his wife. Well met it is that False Taffy came out the winner in the contest, but only by a beating of a vein. For while he has that bounty upon him, the King himself would care to hear the case, and may well forbear in his favor, if he truly is unjustly put out by it all. But as for my advice to him, as well- bet to put down his thievery, it has won him no friends here in London! And he would do well to keep in hide! That’s all, m’lad.
Go thee well on thy way. And I wish you good luck at your minstrelry.”
And so I left the Inns of Court. My next stop then had to be Smithfield Market, and the Street of the Charter House, where I might find this Songgemonger man.
Twas not a long walk, in fact, only  a quarter hour’s stroll back the way I had come, when I found the Smithfield Market. There were plenty of livestock to be seen penned and unpenned, and many men attending to them, slaughtering, and hoisting sides of the beasts to scales for weighing.
That part I could do without, for I had seen enough of guts (I had thought) for the morning. The street of Charterhouse was full of many many people- wives out for market hauling great baskets of food, laundresses hauling great baskets of clothes, here and there there were players on flute, pipe, drum, and viol, and yet, none of these looked half to be the match of ones such as Ranulf and myself. For they were all ragged and thin and beggarly.
Somehow one of them pointed me to a doorway where said Songgemonger resided. I knocked on the door.
Presently it was answered by a crabbed old man, at least Porcull’s age, grey of hair, and fierce of eye. “Oh, it’s a minstrel, is it? Come in, then, come in. Up the stairs with you!”  He pressed me with the back of his walking stick up a tall flight of stairs, nudging me uncomfortably with it at every second step.
“So. Who are ye and what is your line? Yes, I see you play the lute. I get a lot of ye. I see also you are garbed quite well. New to town, then?”
“Wel l, it won’t take long to make a mess of ye, will it?” he laughed.
I stood full and addressed him.
 “I am Julian Plectrum of Chester, sir. I am a man of my own and no man is the boss of me!”
“Well, we’ll see about that. Are you any good?”
He sat down at a stool beside a writing desk. The room we were in was both parlor and study, and it was indeed gloomy. Outdoors there was yet overcast and rain had begun to fall. What light there was seeped in through tall windows, but diffused before it reached the carpet. Which was, I noted, of some Turkish make.
I took Luisa up and played. I played mostly some of the new dances, but also some older pieces. These he took rather well, but sat unmoved.
“You have unusual style, lad, I will note that. You play with the plectrum and the fingers? Whatever possessed you such?”
I was about to tell him, I had met a demon at the crossroad, but that was an old wive’s tale he would quickly recognize. “This just came to me. I note that few persons use a plectrum, but this one has magic, and was given me by the great Clarence of Mousehole.”
At that, he harrumphed. “The Great. And that is why I have never heard of him?”
“I had never heard of you, sire, until I came to seek out Abbot Vincebus.”
“That old fat dog of Bentlea Prior? Ha!” he scoffed. “Yes, he always sends you little naifs my way. I humor him by seeing each and every one of you. These were all fair pieces, lad, but have you any real songs?”
“Well, you asked if I was any good to play, and so, I gave you some of my favorite and finest. Of course, I know songs! I have some of my own, as well!”
“Then give me ear- let me hear one.”
I began my Lay of Robin Hood. I had made up several new verses while I rode with False Taffy and his Erstwhile Monks. These I laid out.
“Hmm. Robin Hood, eh? That’s not so original.”
“Sir each of those verses is my own. Not so original! Ha!” and now I was the one full of beans.
“Young sir, do you not know? I can make you or break you in this town! Humble thyself, you churl! For I could have better things to do than sit and suffer the like of you!”
I wondered just what those things could be, for he seemed to be a pretty idle old chap, and he did not look occupied with wife nor family, as well. He was probably some old scrivener, and he made his living by scraping the profits off what nitwits passed through. I could see clear through him from miles off.
And indeed, as it turned out, I was right!
He offered me then and there a groat- a groat! For the new verses of my Robin Hood Ballad. This he scribbled out on a piece of foolscap, from memory.
“Nay, sir, a groat is what I may make with my lute, on a poor night in Chester! No, no, you must offer more. Or Robin shall not fill your plate!”
“Two groats, then!”
“Nay, four! And no less shall ye have him. Robin shall well have ‘scaped the forest afore he sets at the Sheriff’s tables for a measly two-groat!”
“Alright, then, done!” says he, and waddled over to his desk, fetched me two more groats from a sack hid inside it, and bid me adieu. “Off, off with you!” he sped me with his walking stick, and down the stairs I went again.
Now I was out on the street, and London was dark, and wet, but I had my bedroll, and Luisa, and had not lost a thing. Only several verses to a song I could easily find again. Up the Charterhouse street I wandered. And then I heard a tune most kind.
There was a young girl singing. She sang a song about meeting her lover at a fair.
The words- felt to me just like what it was like to meet Mary! And spoke to me in my heart as to how I had met her... and “soon would be our wedding day!” Indeed! This melody inflamed me, and I stood nearby the girl and plucked at the lute until I had the chords.
“Please, sing once again! I shall accompany you.”
And this was the song she sang:

My young love said to me,
My mother won't mind
And my father won't slight you
For your lack of kine.
And she laid her hand on me
And this she did say:
It will not be long, Love,
Till our wedding day.

 As she stepped away from me
And she moved through the fair
And fondly I watched her
Move here and move there.
And then she made her way homeward,
With one star awake,
As the swan in the evening
Moved over the lake.

 The people all were saying
No two e'er were wed
But one had a sorrow
That never was said.
And I smiled as she passed
With her goods and her gear,
And that was the last
That I saw of my dear

 Last night she came to me,
My dead love came in.
So softly she came
That her feet made no din.
As she laid her hand on me,
And this she did say:
It will not be long, love,
'Til our wedding day.      

Of course, my Mary was not dead, and I was not fooled, but yet this melody itself haunted me.
I thanked the young girl who sang it, and gave her a farthing, and she bowed to me. I asked her did she know a cheap inn hereabout where I might stay the night?
I was pointed down the Poultry street. “The Lame Ox on Cock’s Lane is just three blocks on. Go there, and say you played with Susanna of Derby. The taverner is a kind soul. He will listen and perhaps pay you.”
“Thank you, Susanna Derby! This makes a fine end to a not-half bad eve!”
I wandered in that direction, and so I did come to the Lame Ox, its sign swinging above the Cock’s Lane. The picture upon the sign was of a man beating his Ox which was bent to the knee and not rising. Inside, there were a number of patrons, none of whom looked up from their pursuits. A fine fire roared in a brick fireplace, and several tables of men nearby were playing at chess. This would be a great place to stop! But first, I wanted to make it known to the keeper that I wanted sore of a bed.
I found the man behind his bar, drawing ale from a cask. This he would set out in great cups of wood and men would eagerly grab these, yell “Wassail, ho!” kiss each other on the cheek, and drink great gulps. Of course much ale was sloshed and splashed about the floors. They looked none the worse for it, as a number of dogs strolled between the table legs, lapping up what puddles there were.
“Sire tavern keeper!”
“Aye, that’s me. What will you have, lad?”
“A pitcher of perry and a bed for the night!”
“Aye, I’ve a bed, but just one left. 'Tis summer, a'comin’ in, you know, and we get the travelers here a lot”
“No matter for me- I am easily pleased. And may I play for you as well? I have just come from Susanna of Derby and played with her a bit.”
“Susanna? Oh, that one. Yes. Well. If you are as good as her then you will probably please this lot here. They are a fine set.”
I looked about at the tavern guests. The men in their great cloaks by the fire were deep in their chess. But nearer the bar there were one or two in lively talk with pretty young women.
One of them called out to me.
“Minstrel! Minstrel, I say, over here. Can you give us a song?”
“And what be your preference?”
“Sing us something of the country! Sing us something of love!”
and because the tune of it was so close in my mind, I played the melody I had only just learned. I gave it words of my own, however, to fit my suit with Mary!
O my true love you are so fair, my true love mine
And you are so much like me, indeed, you are so kind
And you will throw your arms about me
And swear to allus be there
Oh you know it will not be long now
Until we haste away

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Why ObamaCare Doesn't Work

     Americans are incorrigible and intractable. There are fewer guarantees than herding cats when it is put in front of them: Do something because you Must, not because you Choose to. The Individual Mandate of ObamaCare was a losing proposition from the start, prima facie. So is ANYTHING which the Government tells you you MUST do. Register for the draft. Pay us your withheld wages. “Serve” your country by killing whomever the government says this year is on its “out” list. Etc. They did not reckon on what has long been an ingrained piece of the American Character: knowing that just because the Government says it’s good for you, doesn’t necessarily make it so.

     If they had wanted to create a program that people would CHOOSE, then they could have crafted something attractive, something instinctively positive, so compelling that people would say “Now that makes sense! It’s cheaper than what I have now, and I can do this.” No! That is absolutely not what happened. What happened was, a herd of party hack backslappers threw together a document none of them read in full and passed it, over the (predictably) coarse objections of the loyal opposition. ObanaCare became, not something of personal health care choice, but something the Government decided needed to be rammed down everybody’s throat. Is it really any wonder so few people have signed up for it, after all?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Julian Travels to London (Excerpt, If I Should Live So Long; 11-13)

Mary had then been my friend a full year, before she made clear to me she was falling in love with me. In love! The words seemed frantic and harsh. For I had yet to truly awaken inside. Yes, I had a love in my breast which I held for my Muse, and for the beauty of God and the Stars and Planets, but love for a woman? Nonetheless. She was certain she loved me. And how must I feel for her?
“You are my friend. You are maybe my only friend in this entire town, and I have friends here, and far, now. You speak of love. But such it is, that I fall quite late to this myself. You shake your head, you ask me why so? When it has not been obvious to you? You are the daughter of a guildsman. I am but the younger son of a poor crofter, and all that I have is what I have garned by my own hands and talents. Such it is that I have so little I might offer you but a life by the open road! And what must your father think, me and all that I am, some nothing, a jester and minstrel, a man of such low worth compared even to his modest merchant life!”
“But Julian, Julian,” she cried, “It matters not that to me. It is you and your mind and company I crave! All these days and months I have been working here in his shop, minding the time and the hours. Surely you must have noticed how kindly he takes to you? This is because he knows I do fancy you. And if he says nothing, it is perhaps because he seeks to know the intentions of your mind. Would you be serious with me? Otherwise, he is just making politeness. It comes easy enough to him.”
“And your mother? She sometimes scorns me, as though she knows my true place on earth.”
“What? She only wants for my happiness, and has her own hopes that I might find some landed squire. That is why she seems to despise you. But she takes me seriously. Whenever I am to tell her “Julian wants me and we shall make it our life to be together,” she will grudgingly agree. Whatever makes you happy, daughter!”
“This is no easy game, Mary. I do have a little something, but I have no land, nor even a horse to call my own! I am carried hither and yon such as my purse buys me passage. And I do have a fair dinkum of coin, but I have hidden it away, and when I make my travels, I save all that I can, and hide it as well. I am not so sure how much I DO have, though it reckons to be something far short of a thousand pounds... Smile! It is not much, but it buys me lodging when I travel, and the carriage from travelers, and my Luisa more often as not buys me my fare.”
“Julian, I want to share life with you! Do you understand me? I am in love with you, even if you are yet to silly to see it.”
“Mary I do not doubt this the least! But you must give me time to think these things through.”
“Time enough. But mind my words- should you wait too long, Father’s patience will run out before the sands.”
“Well met, dear. I shall leave for Porcull’s and I shall be back within the week. And let you know my heart. I plan to travel to London soon. It will be a hard journey, and I cannot take you, nor expose you to the dangers of the road, nor should I ever be so intemperate as suggest you take your leave of home. But I think so fondly of you.”
And she gave me a kiss, not the usual one she often gave, which was a brush to the cheek, but this was full passionate on the lips, and set my head to reeling. Indeed, I would have to go think this all over. I left her to her handiwork, which was, as we were sitting together outside the shop, another puppet. And I wandered my way back to the manor, playing a fine new tune.

And I lay awake most of the night in my meager bed on Porcull’s floor, thinking about her.
It was a difficult thing to think on- should I take her to wife? She, with whom I was not-just quite-yet-in-love? But there were again doubts- why not fall in love? What was it, that drew her to me if not natural affection? How rare could this be, that a woman of the town and a prenticed guilds worker might take me- me of all people- to heart and fancy and choice? the longer I thought the more kind fair things I thought of her. By the time I had finally fallen asleep, I could say I loved her. For such a fair friend comes at no given price, but that they gave themselves.
In the morning, over the morning mash, Porcull advised me, such as he could.
“I am hardly the one to offer you real sense on matters of the heart, Julian. I am nothing but an old scholar, aging now, and off my bloom. Were there to be a match for me, I am sure she might be some withering crone herself, and less comely to the eye than the girl you say you love. I only know the things of the scholar, little more. Had I been blessed by love at an age so young perhaps I should say there was little more important to living. Alas, I was not, and so I only hear tell of this from they who have married. Some are happy, many are not. But if you care to hazard the chance, you might come out ahead. I have full faith in you, Julian, you are a lad of resource and wise recourse. That you might NOT be the fool to rush in, I hope perhaps I have helped you but little.”
“I am leaving for London soon, Porcull. I must wait on any affairs with Mary until I return. I will go to see her today and let her know my choice- for her, but not just yet. Let me see the city, and make my return. All will be well, I am sure!”
Porcull gave me a short lesson in the forenoon on the stars aspects- the trines, squares, sextiles, semisextiles, oppositions and conjunctions. It was all enough to make my head swim! To remember which were fair and foul, and for which planets auspicious! But he told me I was coming along. He asked me to recite them back, and this I did fair, but I forgot about midheaven and the nodes. Oh Well. He said I would get more learned as time passed, but again, he had fair assessment of my possibility, and I was a good learner.
I left the cottage full confident, and now my heart sang. Walking along on the hedge that led to the road which took me to the High Street, I chattered after the birds who called to each other from the bush. There were only a few clouds, and yet so high away they could not mean rain. Sun glittered on the leaves of each tree, each leaf new, full of its sap, calling to me “live, young man! And live well!”
By the time I reached the Carpenter shop, my mind had only one thought- to sweeten the day with Mary’s kiss, and return her favor of the night before with a firm answer. Full confident I knocked on the door...
It was answered by Mrs. Carpenter, her eye was assuming, and not apprehensive.
“Julian, I see! Well! Sit yourself down, I shall bring you an ale. Have you been busy this morning?”
“Only with some thinking. I have come to give an answer for Mary.”
“I shall call her. She is upstairs sewing costumes. You wait. She’ll be down soon.”
And she returned with a mug of her small ale. Such it was that it was refreshing, and coming as it did with only porridge in my gut, was fair spirit. I sipped slowly the ale, knowing Mary would only fill the mug again once she appeared.
And she did! She skipped out the door and onto the porch and held me close.
“Julian, you have an answer for me?”
“Indeed, and I say, yes, Mary, let us be at one with the stars the trees the fish the birds the sea and the wheel of time. I shall love you, and while it lies yet small in my heart, it grows each hour. You are so fair. The song in my heart is thus”— I pulled Luisa up across my chest and set to singing.
“My Mary is the fairest lass, she cares so how it goeth
I only have a beginner’s heart, and that is all I knoweth
for she is wise in worldly craft, and in the things that showeth
I should be like the leaf from a tree, and blow whereof she bloweth.”

“Charming! and I do love thee, Julian. How much you shall only learn by time.”
“I have one other thing to tell, though, Mary. I decided I shall leave for London in a day.
I will do fine- I will take some money of my hoard, and it shall see me through the trip. There will be plenty left when I return, if I do not return with more! But it is something I need. What young man could live in England long and never want to see the capital! And I have someone to see and stay with, mayhap, some friend of Master Porcull, or so he says, an abbot. And I know I should like to go with you, only, these things are not yet meet. So I go alone.”
“Indeed, Julian. There are yet passes we must cross, least of which might be being married!”
Least of which. Least of which it was hardly the least matter!
“For I fear high the leirwite and the bailiffs. Should word get out we are consorting, the guildsmen too will place their knock on my father and his shop. So while we wait, I shall wait for you, and we- will one day be man and wife! I know it!”
Fair it may be it was her womanly intuition speaking there, but I knew this as well- I had no other fair chance at love, and if this be the biggest catch I might haul, then this would be my lot, no better. Still one could start out at a worse point, could no?
And then again she embraced and kissed me so full I took care not to fall back upon the doorstop. But I matched her blow for blow, and returned it this time full. She was highly pleased.
“I am finishing my poppets off with costume! I wonder how long shall you be gone, to London?”
“I reckon some weeks. And I will not be back to Chester ere I return. But take this-“
I handed to her as a token of faith my medallion of Saint James. This had been given to me in my youth by my mother, who had been a pilgrim to Spain. A half scallop. It hung about a leather thong attached by a small metal link.
“If I should live so long, Mary, we shall marry when I return.”
“Would you go with Godspeed, and god speed the day we are again united! For I love thee, Master Julian!”
No one, not even Porcull, had ever called me “Master Julian” before. This of itself told me I was getting someplace in the world.
I prepared for my trip, taking my usual small things along in my pouch. I would take Luisa, and Porcull as well gave me fair victuals as would see me to the next wayfare station. I would set off walking the Watling Street, through Stoke, Stafford, Oxford, and Saint Albans. I planned to make it in a fortnight, if not sooner, for I was taking a fair number of shillings to look for passage with some cartmaster, as I had become accustomed on journeys to Bristol and Penzance. There was spring in my step and all the world lay about me to conquer. For there was love blowing me at my back! With all good luck, I would do well in the big City, going less to get lost, than going to see to say I saw.

And so I began, walking southeast from the manor, to the London road. I played Luisa while I strolled. All things were possible. When I reached Stoke two days later, I  began my search for a cartman. I stayed at the inn of a Mr. Finchead, called the Rogue Boar. I was quite bored there, to be true! Because all who came to drink there were oafs and wenches. It was one of the more dismal stops along the road to London. However, there actually was a cartman. And he was headed down that way, although he would be turning off after Stafford, at least, it would be a lift to me.
The cartman’s name was Guilford, Gilbert Guilford. He was employed by the bailiff of Shropshire, and heading to Stafford in order to pick up a load of wine. He bade me to play the lute while we traveled, but was not one much for talk. That was fine- so long as I could go farther, and make time, so I would be satisfied. And I slept for some while in the back of the wagon on my blankets under stars so bright they thrilled me. Thoughts of Mary always cheered, me, for I knew that I went with blessings. I even thought some of my Mother and how she might be pleased to know I had found someone to live for. These things all came and passed through my head.

Stafford came, and the cartman left me at the road near a village called Flembucket. I headed into town and to the public house. It was half in riot as I arrived! There was some type of disturbance, and I slipped in with nobody really espying me. The men were all crowded round a table, where two of them were having at each other in an arm-wrestle.
“Come on, Flyswater! Don’t let Cooperman take your champion!”
“Aye, Cooperman, would you look at that coward Flyshitter! He can’t handle!”
“Put a brake on! Taverner, more ale!”
The men were so far into the wrestling match, none of them ever noticed me. I led myself to the bar and asked the taverner for a pull of his perry. A farthing but, for the good tall cup. I sat in the corner, off by myself, assured that I was no attraction. If I were to haul out the lute, however, things would be different.
But I did not want for coin, and only for the continued journey. So it was that, when the match had ended, and Cooperman had fair bested Flyswater  his two of three, and was the new town champion, the disgruntled patrons now turned their attention back to the surroundings, of which I was just another ear on the till. Yet one noticed.
This was a purser known as Wigley. He had a fair group of roustabouts with him, all traveling by horse. I offered him a shilling should he be heading to Oxford.
“A shilling? For a rider? Yea, we be headed to Oxford, then, matey!”
It was a deal I would come to regret.
For as we rambled, outside Birmingham, the gang overtook a rich lord and relieved him of all his coin and victuals. The being along for the riding could only hurt me, if the nobleman had seen my face, I might be languishing then later at gaol, or perhaps even swinging at the gallows tree. These were not the type of men you would have called friends, or even (had I had the sense to apprise them before foolishly coming along) to spend time at pub. All the same. They carted off their booty and retired to the woods to feast on his game sack, and count up each a share. I watched from the darkness near my horse. There was little on me they might avail themselves of, lest it be my own meager purse, but they showed absolutely no intention nor inclination to it. Perhaps it was Saint James protecting me after all. All I know is I did awake and the whole gang were gone! And they had taken my horse. Now I was back to square one. So I kept to the road, hoping for another cartman.
But none came that day, nor the next. I was outside the town of Peatspit when finally one did. This was an oysterman- an oysterman! So far from shore, and here in the Midlands! Whatever was he doing out here, and he asked me the same.
“What is a young lad not yet of majority doing out walking the roads so aloof? Why, had I a son like you, I would have him locked under key and table! To think! Get on, lad, get on. Where go you?”
“To London, Squire Oysterman.
“Ah! London, to see the King, I take it? Some foul branch of heaven has fallen on your lot, and you seek to make redress?”
“Nay, nay. I go to see the sights. And look for a certain monk. And conquer with my lute, the ears and hearts of many.”
“Well, bientot to you for that! What do I do, rolling my oyster barrels through the far country, where none might even know of such? Just as you like it, young sire. I bring oysters from the Thames to the interior, where such delights fetch fair penny. You might have the thought too, if you were a bright beam.”
The manner in which he said this was meant to insult, of course. I no bright beam! and yet, free, unshackled, on my way to more adventure than this man could yet account for, apparently!
I thought him jealous, and said so.
“Jealous? Of some young pup half off his cock and heading to the wicked city? For that she is, London. A fine, wicked, irredeemable city. Like Babylon she sleeps by the Thames, her ministers full of guile, her minstrels so full of bile...”
“But yea, or do you not know? They who to London go, as you, end up often at the bottom of a dog-pile.”
“Dog pile?”
“But yes! Silly ass. Nobody goes to London thinking not to make a name of themselves, most especially those who reek of song. Well, the king already has a jester. I should think you would end your time but busking in the street.”
“Busking the street is no bad end, for me. I could do well but to do better, but it suits me well.”
“And one might so well ask Neptune to throw you a dud, too. I suppose.”
He was a right obstinate character, this Oysterman. I did well just to suffer the stench of his barrels as we rolled by Bilge Ferry, Oxenham, and Duarte, on the way to Oxford. For three days I suffered this oysterman, and even caught him a few fish. So untalented for that, he seemed. He was one to scour the tides, not to bait a hook and line, I suppose. Three days it took to ride to Oxford, and I hated nearly every minute, for he never stopped his contention, he never ceased speaking ill of those back in Cheshire (“the country of the Cheese-heads” he called it) and of my own chosen path as minstrel. What I would do for better company than this!
And so in Oxford when I arrived there, I quickly made haste away from whatever place he had hitched his wagon, and off on my own. To the Bear Inn, where I made new friends.

It was said to be the oldest establishment in the town. And there was a kindly taverner, one Master Pope, who saw quickly to my needs- water, a shepherd’s pie, bread, ale, and perry. I could have relaxed there and snored at the fire, but I paid him for a bed, and slept deeply. When morning broke I was off again, and this time, I would have another fright for all my troubles.

People love to make jest of the green and the unworldly. So much so that those who creep the roads in guile are always waiting for a new sucker to come along. I am afraid I was never so betrayed as I was by the next gang I traveled with- “Esquire False Taffy and his Erstwhile Monks.”
The Erstwhile Monks were no monks! Not even close! They were cutpurses all, of hard mien and sour countenance, and rotten teeth, and snarling scowl. None of them had washed in several years, by the smell of them. And yet, they gave me saddle and mount, and for another shilling, promised to take me to Saint Albans, where they were to meet up with another gang of muckers-about, that of Iron Willy and his Demons Bright Shining.
I have no idea how I survived all of it but for the protection of my Saints and stars and by some fortunate cause of the Lord. For no sooner had I saddled up and was riding, than they were at me to take up Luisa and sing them songs. Of course, the Lay of Robin Hood was their first choice. I managed to make it last the fair part of an hour, and added many new verses made up on the spot. These kept them well entertained and guffawing, and somehow this sense of what pleased helped me to survive the entire time.
One of them fancied himself the likeness of Friar Tuck, and another that of Little John.
Obviously the leader False Taffy thought himself the spitting of Robin Hood. And they laughed carousing each time singing the refrain, “To rob the rich, and feed the poor, we riding go again! Three Cheers for Lord Robin, and we his Merry Men!”
But they were less likely to rob a truly rich man, many of which passed us, with train of knights and squires... most likely it were the knights and squires which drew down their pikes. For they were more likely to assault some poor wretch without wench beside, and take his full sack, for he was armed but with a dagger, or a bow, and in a fair fight quite outnumbered, for there were ten of them in all. Now when we arrived outside Blanch Hole they put it to me.
“Squire minstrel Julian, we have suffered thee with your songs, and fair well they are. We have given you mount and saddle and you have seen what we do and how we live. We can not fair allow you your leave, if you ought not to take up with us, knowing what you know...”
“Aye,” said the one self-styled Friar Tuck, “we’d as soon slit your throat as cut your purse, and leave you hanging for the shrikes at a yard post!”
Nods, and shakings of the head, and agreed murmur from all in the band.
“What then may I offer you? For I would soon as cut the throats of each and all of you should you choose to rob me of my lute, or deprive me my own purse!”
“Nay, Julian, we would not do THAT. You are a brave lad to ride along with such a fierce brigade. No, Julian, we ask of you the favor. Since you ride to London, where we can none of us ever return, we ask of you this one favor.”
False Taffy took me aside then and handed to me a small bill with a seal upon it.
“Take you this letter to Squire Dover at Inns of Court. I am pleading for pardon from all the King’s reeves between Oxford and the city. Half the things they mean to say about me are not true! I am no murderer!”
“But thou art indeed a thief!”
“Hmm, could be. But none so worse than they who rode before me, took my loving wife for rape, and held me down while forcing me to see - it all! And Squire Dover is in his debts to me as well. For I fully paid him to find those men who took my lady love and this he did most untimely, such that, now there be no other witnesses, and these men who ride with me would sooner slit HIS throat than allow this breach of the justice go on fair long.”
More murmurings.
“If I should meet this Squire Dover, and deliver your message, then what will you do for me?”
“We will grant you fair use of the roads, wither and hither you go!”
This sounded better than it looked, I must admit. But the friendship of a highwayman like False Taffy was suspect on all angles. Nonetheless if it meant relieving myself of their company sooner as later, I agreed to take the letter on to London with me.
False Taffy shook my hand, wished me well, and wheeled the whole group about back towards Oxford. Saint Albans was still miles off. I started on foot again, alone.
It was only one more day and night before I was in Saint Alban, and the next day, outside London itself! Or at least, I finally came to Bentlea Priory, where Porcull had told me I could find Vincebus.
The Priory was a shelter for Augustinians, of both genders. They kept a manor farm employing hundreds, and of these Vincebus was the sheeper. Vincebus had a collie-dog and also kept a small popinjay in his cell, which was yet small, but held everything he needed. What he did not need he did not fancy to own, either, so it was spare, and he had his Bible, his animals, his one cloak, and a writing desk there.
I must say it was a shock to him, however, when I gave of who I am, and why I had come.
“Porkle? Porkle is one of those... Lollygagging Lollards! He is a man unchurched and in so dire need of his soul astraightened he stinks of the sulfur of Hell itself! Yes, I know old Porkle. We taught together at Exeter College, Oxford, when we were young and stiff-necked.”
“He said you owe him a debt?” I inquired, my question trailing off, for who knows where that would lead.
“Hah!” he laughed. “Surely a drinking bet of thirty years on deserves to be forgot! What a sot! What an ass! Owe him a debt!” and he was then silent.
I looked him over. Monk Vincebus was old, yet, round about the waist, and his tonsure was falling out in patches. His skin was leathery and tanned, but also crinkled. He worked outside all year, and when he was not at that, he was writing at his desk by candle light. He was writing a history of the Priory, he said, and he hoped to be finished sometime by the end of the year. His collie dog was friendly, and he called it Rambeaux. The popinjay was a wiseacre, and filled the little cell with foul cursing.
“Silly bird! I am not his first owner- all those things he says, his owner before had taught him. He is a naughty one! Just the same. He is now in his twenties! And quite fond of me. When I get too old for caring of him, I will take him to a window and set him loose. Of course, he will probably just fly right back, so accustomed is he to his seeds and fruits.”
“What do you call it?”
“He is called Bitcher, because that is what he does best!” Laughing again, Vincebus set me down at the chair near his desk, and sat himself on the bed. Bitcher hopped over to his shoulder, where he sat for the rest of our talk.
“Now, Squire Julian, or such is your name, you say, why are you here, truly?” There was a sense in his question that I had not been fully forthcoming, and that he was one from whom nobody could keep their confession inside.
“I come to London to see the town. I am a minstrel and a fair one now. I bring my lute”— I nudged Luisa out between us— “and I sing for my supper. Or play, which I prefer, anyway. Tunes as such will you never find again, and tunes such as I have learned of others. And while I am here in London, but for a week at most, I hope, I hope to learn more songs. For I was also told by Porcull there are many singers in London!”
“Indeed there are, child. There are so many singers and players here that they all compete fair weather and foul for a tiny patch of space they shall call street, and for the crumbs off the nobles, for the king already has a jester.”
“Yes, yes, this is what they say. The king has a jester. But has he accomplished courtier players, those who can make their lutes ring as I can mine?”
I played a few passages from the new set of dances which were flitting about in mind.
He set his head on his arm while he listened.
“Ties fair, sure. Maybe you will find something of what you hope for down there. I can also refer you to someone...”

But this someone, as you will learn soon, was again, not the best of persons I might have hoped to have met. I shall tell of him a bit later. Yet it was that I was to spend my first night in the Priory sleeping on a cot in the larger hall, where some other beggars and widows spent the night as well. One of them snored, but she was also not so bad to look at, so I was not irritated. When I slept, it was as if I were back in Penzance, happy to be thinking that Providence might soon reach me.

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Monday, November 4, 2013

It’s Always Something

"All Presidents must go to a diamond hell"- Allen Ginsberg

     Hardly a week nor a day goes by anymore   without new “astonishing” revelations of outright brigandry undertaken by the U.S. Government on behalf and in the name of its citizenry.Today, it’s the CIA using doctors in direct deviation from their Hippocratic oaths as agents of torture and interrogation of terror suspects. Since when were Gestapo tactics welcome to the White House? Well, say many (an I am among them) the paper trail leads back to legal advisor to John Ashcroft, John Yoo, who drew up a legal brief during the regime of G.W. Bush. Approval of these tactics against “rendered suspects” would under normal circumstances earn such criminals an outright dismissal of any charges, due to government misconduct.
     “But these are different times,” apologists would like us to understand. These are indeed. When the USA can forego its once believable moral authority as champion of human rights and dignity in order to become as low as the terrorist they seek to destroy, now they’ve sunk to a grossly debased acceptance of the worst and most evil maxim of Macchiavelli’s: that the ends justify the means.
     “It was necessary to kill the patient,” (Ms. Liberty) “in order to save her,” one can well imagine Barack Obama telling us all at one of his courtly, staged “press rehearsals.”
     The current administration has done nothing less than to continue the war crimes of the former one. The man we elected in the name of peace murders and lies and acts as if there’s nobody else in the entire country who might pose any challenge to his intellectual and political conceits. He’s wrong.
     Of course, he could always just send his Seal Team Death Squad into Russia, to “get” Mr. Snowden just as he did Osama bin Laden. After all, what are sovereign borders and target locations deep inside a nation’s heartland to them? If Mathias Rust could do it, so could they! Although one imagines the new Russian government might have somewhat altered their aerial security technology and capacity  by this time. (Or, if the President of the United States is so good at killing people as he says, why doesn’t he just go over there and do it himself?)
     But Ed Snowden just happened to be in the right place at the right time and with the right approach to authority. Authority must ALWAYS be questioned, because Authority is ALWAYS seeking no less than the continuance of its power, and absolute totalitarian power is no less than tyranny- in their case now, a tyranny that they would hope would enshroud and enshadow the entire world.
     I did not elect Barack Obama to brag about his murders. I elected him to bring culpable authority into account for their crimes against national and international law and recognized values of human rights. And to bring figures such as Osama bin Laden to a justice worthy of the word, not lynch mob law. He’s been a total failure at such on every level in these regards. Nor did I elect him to be the Democratic Party’s version of the man he replaced, or the ringleader of the most notorious secret police spy ring in history.
     No, I elected him to be something which he never was, and never can be- a humane, just, fair, honest man devoted to upholding the nation’s Constitution and by so doing, keeping the esteem and good reputation of the USA in the eyes of the world community..
Being President of the United States of America means never having to say you're sorry: