We rolled across land both flat and rolling, broken oft with streams sided by woods, or farmlands broken by lines of cypress and poplar and planes. Then we knew we were closer, when we began encountering more and more people headed on the roads in that direction. And then we espied the fair— a great field filled with tents, stalls, and tables, holding every conceivable manner of goods. Horses, cows, sheep, ducks, geese, chickens for sale, live or cooked. Many banners, flags, and much heraldry. A rather noisy and most rousting gathering place of humanity.
“It is like the Chester Fair, only larger,” exclaimed Mary.
“Yea, Mary, ‘tis at least twice that size,” affirmed Stephen. “And filled with people from around the world! I knew you both would think on it fair.”
Before we could draw closer though, there came from out of the town gates a great procession. Led by pipers, and flageolet players, and men in masks bearing banners, and a great dragon, (as Saint George killed!) and friar monks with sacristans and incense and icons, forward poured the poor and the ill-at-ease of Amiens.
The company watched from the wagon, and I on Magdalene, as they moved out from the city gate an towards the fairgrounds. Once there they all marched around it in a circle, with now and then some mischievous lad or lass running off toward the stalls to snatch some morsel off a grill. And then disappearing into the mass of thronging crowd. When they had completed their circumnavigation of the tents, stalls, and jousting grounds, the party dissolved into the greater profusion of shoppers and traders, and cooks and peddlers, cobblers, merchants, bakers and candle makers. And so it was, as we approached Amiens fair.
Stephen turned aside on the cart and spoke to me as I rode Magdalene alongside the cart and we began our way down the long track which was the main road into the town.
“Julian, we will find ourselves at the tavern where we are most accustomed to stay. They will feed and water and house the horses there, too. I will get rooms for us all— and then we shall come back to fair. I will take our goods out tomorrow but now we shall store them in my and Roger’s rooms, and after we have spoken to the taverner, we shall go to the Lords of the Fair, and we shall pay to set up the cart with all the goods there again tomorrow. I would be pleased if you could help with it as it will be work moving everything in and out of the rooms.”
He said this as though I might be afraid of the work, or that in some way I might find it demeaning, but feeling I owed pretty much everything to Stephen and his father’s kindness, I smiled, and assented.
And he did take us to a tavern, which was not so far into the town as to make it much of a bother, in the next morning’s early light, to get the goods back into the cart. Mary and I came into the tavern with Stephen and Roger, and it did, indeed seem that he had longstanding arrangements with that man. He paid him a small sum, which the innkeeper was all too happy to accept, and then the keeper led us up the stairs in the tall half-timbered building and opened three rooms, all next to each other, and all finely done up with basins, beds, and hooks for cloaks and hats. We set our traveling pouches and our travel chest down on the bare floor, and I hung Luisa up where otherwise I should have thought to place my own cloak. Mary flopped onto the bed.
“Tis fair. It has the faintest edge of the barnyard, but will do.” I noted there were two thick blankets set in a small pile near the window, and I plumped one, and laid it over her.
“And so you shall, my love, sleep warm and well! Now, let us go back to the hall. We must not lose track of Stephen.”
Stephen actually was not to be lost to us, although the rogue Theuderic made it his business to slip away unseen at the very moment we managed to pull into the courtyard of the inn, and was not seen again until late the afternoon of the next day.
“All is well,” smiled Stephen, and after a few minutes wait, Roger joined us, and we four all left, walking down and out of the inn, up the long street, west toward the fairground.
“We go now to the Lords of the Fair. These are guildsmen and traders of whom my father had long occasion both to do business and bear small grudges. Hopefully they will be kindly to me, when I give them news of his death.”
“What manner of men are they?”
“There are three men who run the cobbler’s, the candle maker’s, and the baker’s guilds, and then there is a grocer, and a butcher, and they are the two whom my father had hard words for. But let us play our innocence. They know me but little.”
At a stall which was sumptuously fitted out with velvet curtains, and set into its own private little corner of a long row of craft booths, we came to the council of the Fair Lords.
Stephen introduced us.
“Stephen Westchester, of Cheshire in England, importer-exporter of fine fabric and woolen cloths, here to gain my space in the stead of my father Richard, whom I am sorry to tell you all, cannot be here for your fair this year.”
The council all sat around a large table, the five men all relaxed, having servants to attend them, just as if they were Lords of Court, or much in the manner of Lord Baron Anselm , having men and women to wait on their every need and whim. There were charters and plans and notices all written out in fine calligraphy covering the top of the table. It seemed they were in some form of discussion about all that. But they stopped that to take note of Stephen.
“Squire Westchester! We welcome you. And give us news then, of why your father has not come to fair? He never missed one, these last twelve years.” said the one who looked from his togs to be the butcher.
“Aye. Tis not a fair tale to tell, but you should now, my father is dead.”
“Dead? But how?” The question was on the tongues of the other four, and the butcher was silent.
“He was killed by agents of our King Henry IV.” Stephen paused. Roger stood beside him, nodding, and kept his head low.
“And this came about because...?”
“This came about because my father’s farm was raided by king’s soldiers. They came to steal all our wool. I have come with what we could make of the leavings. This year we have other goods besides the wool and the cloth, we have work from a carpenter in Chester, some number of wooden stongboxes, and these you will see, on the morrow, are of exquisite craft. They are made by the father of the lady here at our side, the wife of our minstrel friend.”
I took a step forward, bowing slightly, and gesturing to Mary.
“Yes, I have brought work of my father, in hopes that there are gentlemen and ladies of Amiens who might wish such, to keep safe and sure their jewels and their hopes.”
“Very well. And you wish us to assign you a stall, correct?” The butcher was soft-spoken, and he apparently was not in a hurry.
“Correct. We plan to be here most of the week of the fair, and as I am now the head of my father’s company I have brought the payment.”
The two men who were the candle maker and baker nodded, and Stephen placed a small sack of coins on the table. The baker poured them out and counted them.
“This is fair, what we have usually asked is that all stall holders also bring us some small token of favor, also above the stallage payment. This shall be due us before the stall holder leaves the fair. You know what we mean, do you not?”
Stephen looked stumped. “No, Lords, I do not. I was never the one to manage this before.”
They all looked at him and laughed.
“Young man, all we mean is that you must return to us before you leave with some manner of food and drink, and that you give us some portion of that. We spend all our days here in this booth leaving only to sleep and crap, and so it is hard for us to take care of some of our more basic needs. Pourquoi here likes his wine, I like ale, and the others, well, they are fond of roast birds.”
They all laughed again, and Stephen finally saw what they were getting at.
“Think on it not! I shall return before we depart with something fine for each of you.”
The manner of bribery was less painful that that of coins, but Stephen felt relieved, I could see it in his walk once we had left. The lords had assigned him a stall which was on the westernmost side of the fair, which as it happened, was near the road we had come in on, and so, all the sights around were somewhat familiar.
Roger was keen to take Stephen to look for a certain Belgian merchant whom they both knew- Guelph de Grotemuren, a dealer in carpets, tapestries, and woven items of silk and damask.
“We will go together, Roger, all of us. I wish to introduce Julian to Guelph myself.”
And so we began a search of the fairgrounds for the stall of de Grotemuren. It took us a fair amount of wandering, but Roger was the first to find it, as if he had the sense of a homing dove.
The little booth was stacked high on every side of him. Grotemuren was not tall, but he was blond and blue-eyed and wore his hair styled cut jut above the shoulders, and did not appear to be a lot older, actually , than Roger, who was himself in his early thirties.
“Stephen! Roger! The English have come!” he laughed.
He sat atop a stack of the carpets, and sat before a small short table, and had a coin box with several compartments easily at hand, that he might make change for his customers. There was a dog lying in the dust by the edge of his stall, which he had built up using three tapestries for side and rear walls, and the dog was nursing a litter of puppies who did not seem to be much older than several weeks. Their eyes were open, but they were yet small and doddery.
“Stephen, so good to see you. Where is your father?”
“Alas, good Guelph, my father is dead.”
The expected silence and shock at the news was now become somewhat predictable. It would yet be repeated again and again as the friends of the popular Richard came into contact with the new esquire of cargo, the new master of the company, my friend Stephen. Guelph’s joyful expression faded, replaced by one of pain.
“Murdered, by English soldiers stealing our wool! The bastard Henry had come to war upon my country- which is Cheshire, and Wales, not England! And I watched them rob and stab him to the death with my own eyes! I will never be called Englishman again!”
“Hear lad, I meant not to offend you. Things must have changed up there where you live, if you take such offense at your king! But seeing your own father die, aye, I can see how that would turn a young man sour on his liege. Come, sit.”
He offered another seat on his carpet rolls to Stephen, who sat, as the rest of us stood about the tent. Mary occupied herself immediately with the mother dog and its pups. Roger and I stood back, and Roger, actually, seemed to be a bit preoccupied by some other matter. But we stood and listened although we knew well the tale by heart, now.
“The King was up to no good- there was a rebellion of Cheshire and Welsh and Scots, and the leaders lost a big battle- Julian here was there”— he pointed to me— “and knows more of that. But the king has vowed to bring down our Prince, Owyn, and he is supported now by many others who fear him more than they fear their own freedom from him. The army needs its wool, and grains, and every other kind of food, as the soldiers raided our manor, stole away the wool, many bushels of grain, and game. They stabbed him... he died in my arms, after defending me with his own sword...”
I spoke then.
“Yes, we did lose our revolt, but the matter is not over. What we lost was the leaders, the men who had been dishonored by Henry, those who were his keenest supporters! Thomas of Gloucester...”
“Thomas of Gloucester! My word!” Guelph was shocked at that.
“Aye. Who had helped John o’ Gaunt, Henry’s father, at the siege of Compostela, aye, chopped his head off in the Shrewsbury square. And Henry Percy the son, and the victor of Homildon, who himself had been fighting the Scots in the north, turned against Henry, and died in that battle. I was witness to the day if not the sight of that. ‘Twas dreadful. But the rebellion yet grows in the minds of the people of Cheshire and Wales! I know a larger war is coming. They prepare the borders of Cornwall and Cheshire, and Shropshire, and they glean from the peasants what they can, for the things they need to stock an army.”
Guelph was rather speechless. But when he spoke, it was with a sense of sympathy to Stephen.
“I shall miss your father, lad. He was honest, he did not cheat, he did things straight up. The kind of man who gains his good reputation and his friends by his good word and deed. Aye I am truly sorry, child. Yet tell me- now that you are here, of course, you have brought the customary goods Richard would have thought with me in mind?”
“Aye, Guelph, I have brought what we could. But because they raided everyone in the shire, we were left with little of our own raw stock. We had to buy some other things at Penzance to bring. And we did bring things that make up for the lack, for instance, we have chests crafted by the lady’s father. We will have everything set up in the morning. Seek us out! I will be happy to make you our usual good deals, and we shall make fair trades.”
Guelph nodded. He turned his attention now on Mary, who had taken fancy to one of the little dogs, who was gamboling now in her lap.
“You wish the little dog, deerntje? Well, you can have him if you wish. He is yet nursing, but the mother has a lot on her hands...”
“I find him quite dear. What manner of dog is this?”
“They are Dutch Barge Dogs. They have fur which grows out thick and long, and keeps them good and warm in the cold. You can have him, as I said.”
She looked at me and I knew I could not resist what I knew she would next ask me. I nodded my head so that she need not even mention it. And then she rushed to me with the pup in her arms, and kissed me, and I knew we had another addition to the company.
“Make him a gruel of oats, milk, and butter, and feed it to him four times a day, and he will not miss his mother long,” said Guelph.
Stephen looked to me, and to Roger, and indicated now would be the best time to depart.
“We will see you then tomorrow, at our booth, then, Mynheer Guelph. Bless you and keep you, and have you a good evening.” Stephen motioned, and we all moved off away into the hubub of the fair. As we headed back we passed the spot where they would be taking the cart in the morning, and Roger took a stick and scratched out a fair area where it would all be set up.
Mary walked with me, holding the puppy, and it licked at her face often.
“What should we name him?” she asked.
“I wish him to grow into a fine watchdog, so that we would not need to leave Clarence to mind our home the next time we need to travel afar!” I said. “I will name him Panoptes- or Many Eyes. For with such a name he for certes will become a most awesome watch of our house and lands.”
“Panoptes. That is Greek, is it not?”
“True. And what is Greek even less is the way you take to him, and he to you. This is good. We will take him to the tavern and we’ll make a meal for him, just as the good man said- we will make up a big pot of the stuff! And so we can ladle it out through the day. But what we should do is make him a leash, a cord? Something which you can tie to your own belt so as he will not run off astray.”
“Aye. I have something in the poppet box which will work for that. And he is so dear!”
As if on a cue, Panoptes gave a sharp high yelp, and licked out at her hand again. We laughed.
Stephen was now leading us to the tavern. And I knew then it would be poppets and lute strings for both of us! We were looking forward to that. And the meal that would come besides.
The fair was, for my thoughts, so much like scenes back in England, but for the different languages. On every side there were stalls with sellers of an amazing number of things ranging from food and Stephen’s specialty, cloth and wool, to everyday items (many of the people there sold combs, mirrors, purses, hats, there was clothing, and cobblers knocking soles to make strong boots.
The little dog ran along side us, keeping up, and only sometimes needed to be grabbed as he might nip at the heel of someone passing by, or chased some fascinating aroma to its source. Mary would then come after him, and take him in her arms for a whiles, but he would squirm his way into a brave leap to the ground, often as not. Until we could get that cord and tie him to it, he might well be a little nuisance! But a kindly one.
The Inn which Stephen had arranged for us all was called Les Inn Sans Poser de Questions. As it was, inside the town of Amiens, and as it was full of men who had come from countries all about to make the Fair, it was noisy and crowded, but our rooms up above were pleasant, and they were well off from the sound coming up from below. We set our things down in the room, and refreshed ourselves with a large pitcher of water.
And we took little Panoptes, and gave him a little bowl of mash we made, from oats which came out of the feed sack for Magdalene and the cart horses, and then, we brought him along with us down into the eating and drinking area, on his new long cord. He was about our feet the entire night, but one of us always had a full command of him, and when Mary set to her poppet show (tonight was her debut of the “Fool’s Play”) we left him tied to one of the chair legs, where he was a mild nuisance to Stephen and Roger. It was not so much minded by the Innkeeper.
This innkeeper, however, was not quite the easy touch which the man back in Harfleur had been! When we asked if we might give a performance, he shrugged, and there really was no place we might use for any formal sort of stage. So we stayed pretty much round the table where Roger and Stephen ate and tried to make ourselves heard, at least for the few tables nearby us. And there would be no question of our making any coin off the innkeeper. He had probably rather had us off the premises entirely, but for that Roger and Stephen knew this place, but Roger made sounds as though, he might think to find a different place when they made the trip next year.
“Just because you walk in your father’s shoes, Stephen, does not mean that all your father’s haunts will come so easily to you. You know not the walk of the town— as he had. And this is why our innkeeper is a tad more disagreeable. He has seen them come and go, and I doubt he remembers even your father’s face, though we often supped and slept here, time and again.”
“This is not so much unusual,” said Stephen, who dug into a large roast of beef, which had a large pile of carrots aside it, and was drinking a red wine— not the greatest, but hearty— Mary and I had both shared a large roast hen, which had been sauced in wine, soaked and cooked in it, and which melted off the bone like the hare I had eaten at Harfleur. We had a salad with it, and the salad was good. I gave a drumstick bone to Panoptes, who was therefore occupied all the rest of the evening worrying it.
And while we did play, there was really no room, as I mentioned. The Fool’s Play really needed a rapt audience, for there were sections where Mary, playing the Fool, had to bring her voice down to a whisper, and at these sections, my lute strained to be heard amongst all the roistering merchants talking shop, and taking stock of each other’s abilities to swill down and hold vast quantities of wine. Mary actually noticed that the French, being French, hardly noticed it at all when she stopped her act and broke off right in the middle of “the good part”, and motioned to me to take over with the lute.
And they barely noticed me, either, for they were all so loud, and turned not a head when I began my playing. This was more difficult than any other situation I had known, even that of Bristol, and even that of the London streets! For in the London streets, one had the echo of the alley to help lend one volume. Here all the sound was cushioned by the packed bodies, and lessened, of course, due to all the loud talk. It came to a point where I gave up too, and we took the poppets and the lutes back upstairs, and we returned to the table, and gave in to the late hours drinking with Roger and Stephen that would have to pass for a night’s fare. Nothing disturbed Panoptes, worrying his chicken bone, and he nibbled it down to nubs.
Stephen asked me if I would help with the creating of their stall, and of course, I agreed to that. When morning came (and Mary complained that it came to early, she had had a bit too much of the wine) we went for the cart horses, and Magdalene, and the cart, and we moved all the goods into it, and we rode out to the fair, with the poppets and my lute again riding as baggage.
The stall we set up used Albertus’ sail as a canopy. We turned our cart on its side, the better to create a back wall, and stacked all the sacks of wool, the rolls of wool and felt, and the chests all in neat piles, and Stephen took down the seat of the cart, and set it up as a table, using two chests to prop it. There were still some seven more chests, but they were mainly small dresser-top coffers made for jewelry, and when it came time to sell one of the larger ones, Stephen moved the seat so that it now was propped on one. But that was a day or two later. For now, he had a good seat, and he sat at the table with a pen and paper to write up notes, and his money sack sat on the tabletop too, and Roger and I went out scouting, with Mary, for some repast we might furnish Stephen with. The beggarman Theuderic had not been seen by us for the time since we came to town, and his absence was still mysterious. I kept an eye out looking for him for most of that day, but still, I did not happen into him, and Roger looked scornfully toward me.
“That beggarman is really just a sponger, Julian. He took Stephen for his good will, and the clothes he bought him, and he is probably rousting it up in some other tavern inside the town. I have a feeling he is none so poor as he makes out to be. I think Stephen was cozzened! For how should we get by, not having any in our party who speak French, and as he promised us he would translate well, and smooth our way, well, he has taken to fly. Just like a cozzener! Now Stephen must make sales, to gain back what he had lost.”
“I think you may be right,” I said, as we happened into a stall which had marvelous piles of fresh fruits, and also vegetables, all staked up in big baskets and bright with the colors of summer. Mary picked herself some fine big oranges and we shared those, and Roger brought back pears to Stephen.
It had actually begun well. Stephen sold his first wool sack, and this was to a man whom he had met the year before. But strangers passed him by. Roger took him aside.
“You know, Stephen, Richard always had a hue and cry. “Fresh Wools From England!” he would cry, “Fresh, Fresh Felt for Your Hats! Good Cloth for Your Gowns, Ladies and Gents!” —Don’t you remember?”
“Oh... yes, of course! I am sorry, Roger. All the bustle of getting here, and I had not remembered the first thing! Yes, a merchant must merch!” And so it was, that Stephen remembered what he was there to do, and he began to get a bit more interest. Of course, I thought, had he the French words for these things, he might do better for sales. And Mary, eventually, had some words from our Innkeeper, so that before we had quit the fair, she was able to say “Mon Pere c’est un tonnelliere, et fabrique son coffres.” This did get her some business, actually, and we would not need to return to England with any of Robert’s good craft still held upon us.
I spent a good part of that afternoon wandering the fair with my lute on back, at times, might stop, and play a bit, and sometimes people would stop, listen, and even pay me, and other times they might not. And look for him though I might, I never saw hide nor hair of the beggar Theuderic. Instead, I wandered from stall to stall, sampling foods and drinks. There was a marvelous perry stall- and I bought a keg of it to share with Mary and Stephen. There were many excellent pastry foods, brought out fresh from morning ovens in the town. Almond biscuits and cheese tarts, leek pie and “macarons d’Amiens.” I filled my pouch with a number of these, and went back to see Mary and Stephen, and passed them around while we all drank cups of perry.
Theuderic actually did turn up on that day but not until the sun was already high, and not yet but after Roger had gone fruitlessly looking for him. All of a sudden he was there at the stall and quite startled Mary, slinking up as he did, with nary a sound. Roger hailed him as if there were no distrust nor blame in his mind, although I knew and so did Roger that Theuderic, perhaps, was not but a true knave, and that he would be useless to us anyway, in terms of translating for us, on our behalf. For what was it to say he would hold the interest of some French merchant over ours? We only met him on the road. Here he would be more in his element. But Roger took him to the Inn with him, when we had finished for the day, and plied him with drink enough that his loutishness drew uncouth words from those of more gentle estate, and even Roger had enough of him, once he had cadged another meal off him.
So after that evening at the Inn, he made himself even more scarce, until a number of days later, and I shall get to that in a bit, as well. But I have someone I met then, of much more interest to speak of, and shall give that to you now.