In the morning after Anselm and his party rode away for Wales, I walked along the beach again with my dog Panoptes. Between my wife and I, all we had together, were the business of keeping the inn, her proceeds from alemaking (which were modest, and just enough over breaking even on the cost of the ales), what our tavern guests wanted to pay me for singing to their tables ,usually well into the night (which was hardly much, unless our guests were traveling nobles- and even then, of course, I had to watch the songs I sang). And of course we earned some money off the food we sold and the wine, but these too were, like the ale, something of as much a service to the neighborhood as much as they were a luxury for those other travelers. We made about four shillings in as many days, usually.
Panoptes was greatly pleased, of course, that he had me walking unhorsed and not riding Magdalene as I usually did, and when I would, he would spend a lot of time running to keep up with her. But on foot he could trot along at his normal pace, and stop and tarry with crabs in the sand or other amusements. And I would pause and wait for him before we continued on. I would usually walk a half mile or so then turn around, come back and today was no different that way. I watched a while as he danced around Scupper the pelican, and Scupper spread his wings wide, in return which scared Panoptes into running to the door.
Things again yet felt different when I went in to the tavern and stopped in the back where Pamela and Deprez were buy making the day’s preparations. They were talking among themselves so I went out into the tavern’s hall. There was a table and long bench we had set up along the far wall, and there was a party of some seven men now sitting at it, and they were drinking pitchers of ale, an awaiting their nones meal. Two of them wore hats with long plumes in them- I recognized the coats of arms on their tunics as that of the house of Hugh de Courtenay. De Courtenay being the Duke of Devon, his castles Tiverton and Powderham were his strongholds. He had also been at the Christmas feast Anselm had held over the last winter. But this was not him, only two of his men. Three of the others were soldiers, men at arms, of some rank if not knights- and they were here with their pages.
Now I had been warned of the De Courtenay house, and of their allegiances to Henry IV and their interests in keeping Cornish tin a growing concern of profit to them. I went to their table to greet them.
“Good sirs, I am the proprietor of this tavern, Julian Plectrum. Are you being well served?”
“Why, yes, kind innkeeper. We have made up our minds as for the food on which we shall sup, and that need not concern you.” The man who had replied was obviously the senior among them.
“Ah, but the happiness of each guest is my concern, good sirs. Tell me, what has brought you here?”
“We have heard how good the cooking is, Master Julian, and came to see for ourselves. We are here on our way to Trewidden. While Baron Anselm is off in Wales, the good Duke has assigned us with care of the tin carts and the import and exports.”
“It is a shame that Anselm cannot see to these things himself.”
“True that may be, but he owes his fief to our master, who in turn serves the king. And with this business in Wales being what it is, the King must of needs have his armories supplied. The Prince, you know cannot be everywhere. and our Duke Hugh has his assent in all these matters as need be refined.”
“Indeed.” I kept what I was thinking beneath my brow.
“Tell us, Master Julian, as you are a taverner, and this is your area of the land, what do people think here of this business with Wales?”
This was a question I had rather he not have asked! For whatever I said next I must take care not to bring my own feelings out.
“The people here? Well, of course, they are a bit surprised that Anselm rode off yesterday. There must be people at the castle who have a mind about this.”
“Yes, but we are not there yet, we were looking forward to finding out what the country people think.”
“I have not heard much, except for the talk there was last night.”
“Like I said. People were surprised Anselm had gone riding off with his hundred men. And nobody, of course wants a war.”
“It is the Welsh who want war, my lad. Or they would not be at such odds.”
Again I hardly knew what to say. Lest I betray my own sympathy, I said, “I’m sure that Henry will put a stop to it all.”
“Oh, that he will, lad, that he will! And we will make sure of that.”
The other men at the table with him made it clear that they were going to be taking up residence at Trewidden, and asked me if I were averse to sometimes sending some of my own cooking up on occasion.
“Baron Anselm has a stable of cooks, who I am sure are now at your service...”
‘Yes, sire Julian,” added the first, “But we desire your work.”
“Well actually, my cook was one of Anselm’s...”
“We will take what we like from whom we like to.”
I had no reply to this. I only asked next what they were having, so that I might return to the kitchen and be certain my cooks would deal well with these important guests.
“We would like to have two hens. We had heard you cook a good bird— that was the tale, anyway, and so that is what we have asked for.”
“Very well. I will see about getting it to you as soon as we can.”
Hurrying back to the kitchen, and Pamela was quite upset.
“Do you know who those men are, Julian?”
“I do now, yes.”
“What are we doing feeding those who are our enemies?”
“For now, as they will pay us, they are neither friend or foe. Just guests, and we must feed them.”
“Baron De Courtenay is one of the worst advocates against Wales and Glyndwyr! It galls me...”
“While it galls me too, let me remind you, please, we need to keep our opinions under our hats. Anselm has gone off to fight for Henry— I watched the retinue leave yesterday. Anselm also is beholden to protect Henry, but he is all for us. But he cannot say this aloud either way. I know, I spoke to him the night we opened, and later, of this very matter. He cannot afford to be seen arguing against the king, you know? Were we in Chester, we might grumble louder, but as we are in Cornwall, and the domain of Courtenay, we had best mind how we speak or act.”
“It is repelling to me. I do not like it. Yes, we are baking their hens! Let them beware I do not spit upon one...”
“Don’t you dare, Pamela! Hold all such thought aside. Reserve these things for what you should do— you should write a history, of we the Cheshires during these times! You can hold your tongue, but hold not your pen.”
“Who will read what I might say?”
“People of the future, whose who are not yet born. But the tale ought to be told, ought it not?”
Pamela nodded. I hoped I had planted a seed inside her mind, for I knew she was a well-schooled and clerked woman. And if the tale were told by a woman, no doubt, people of the future might have less reason to say that what she tell were tainted by some sense of loyalty- to someone other than Glyndwyr (or even Anselm.)
“So how are those birds doing?” I was determined they be free of Pamela’s spiteful spittle.
“They are near half-done, Julian.”
“Good. I will go and tell them.”
When I went back to their table, they were finishing one pitcher, and asking me to refill it. I nodded and bowed. Then the head of them asked me a question.
“Master Julian, are you familiar with a mine-master by the name of Aleuderis Burian?”
“I am. He has dined here once or twice.”
“Good. When you see him again, we would like more information about his current plans. Whom he is shipping to, when, and much else. We would like you to report to us at Trewidden with what you learn. Next time.”
I nodded. But being asked to carry tales back and forth, and to report on someone friendly with me (if not exactly friendly toward my friend Clarence!) was imposing. I was going to learn, however, more imposing things about these men of De Courtenay in the months to come.
“Your hens are baking, sires, and they shall be ready in about another quarter hour. We are taking care to make them sumptuous for you.”
“Tha’s great!” yelled one of the page. and he slogged own the last of his ale and slammed the goblet down on the table. “More ale!”
I nodded, bowed, and left again, as I had already promised them more.
In the back, now it was Deprez who had reasons to grumble. I told him what they had told me about cooking for them.
“If they want my cooking,” he said “then they can come here. Why should we send up to the castle? What is wrong with the castle’s cooks?”
“They said your reputation preceded you, Deprez. They had heard good things about us.”
“Fine. Second hand news, but they want to learn for themselves! Alright, I shall see fit to be sure these means gets the things they want. No questions, boss.”
That he was as eager to please me as he had been to please Anselm was in my mind a good commendation for Deprez. Whatever had led him to fall out with the castle’s other cooks, at least he knew with me he had a good chance, as seen by what we had just discussed, to make a name for himself and make the Lady a name spoken up and down Cornwall, from Penwith to the Lizard.
The time passed, and then Pamela pulled the steaming birds from the spit, and unspitted them onto two large platters. We heaped around about them with boiled carrots and peppered it all. Pamela took one of the platters and I took the other, and we placed them on the table. Immediately I ran back and refilled their pitchers with ale.
The nobles and their party were soon indulging in the pleasures of their repast. Knives were out, and hands hungrily gobbled hunks of the hot chicken meat. The pages went at it with gusto, the nobles themselves took their time.
Now that I had that situation in control, I went out to the stable to check on the boy Will and the horses.
“These are some fine horses,” he told me. “That party of nobles and knights have some fine horses.”
‘You are dealing with them properly? Hay and water? And all to their own stalls.”
“Yes, Sire Julian. I have walked Magdalene too, but I will ride her for an hour next just as soon as I complete this chore.”
Will was working with shovel and pitchfork to move the morning’s stall manure into a handcart, and that he would take to the fields and spread among our growing rye and wheat.
“Be sure to leave a little for the garden,” I reminded him.
He seemed to be doing well with it, so I now turned my attention to the inner house, and Mary, and our own concerns.
Mary was sitting in my music room, and cutting new cloth for more poppets.
“Ah, my love how goes your day?”
“Disturbing. We have some riders eating at the tavern who are of the court of Duke De Courtenay. They want to enlist me as insurance against Anselm’s miner friends.”
“They would like me to report to them whatever passes for the topics of Aleuderis Burian and his conversation, should he come by our tavern for pleasure.”
“I wonder the reasons?”
“I do not. They are trying to assure the Duke, and by him, the King, that the Cornish tin interests do not slide over to side with Wales. The king, you see, needs armor for his knights, and Aleuderis has the biggest going concerns. I do not desire to be their spy.”
“Then what will you do?”
“Play along, of course! Do you know, that while Anselm is gone to the war, that they have taken his castle, and will run it in the place of him?”
“That can only mean discomfort.”
“Yes, it will, not only for us, for we are now ever yet closer to the ones who would have us lose. No, but it will also mean worse for our neighbors. The tithes and taxes will probably only increase now. Anselm was known for his generosity. De Courtenay is just as renowned ,for just the opposite. I would hope Anselm makes it back for this Christmas, of course. If he does not, it is likely there will be no work for us there, this year, anyway.”
“I think we should just stick to our own business. If this miner comes to dine with us, we should take care to be kindly with him. Perhaps you might even—“
“Yes, I thought of that. Perhaps I should tell him how they plan to use me. That will allow he and I to work around the problem they present.”
“In any case, I was suggesting, we should keep to our own business and not be meddling much with the affairs of the high minded.”
“Precisely. I hope to work on those upon whom we depend, and make The Lady my only real interest, over summer. And we have yet to return ourselves to Cheshire.”
“I hope that we will find things there to our liking”
“And likely we will not. But let us leave that aside. There are yet June and July to spend here before Stephen calls me to the harvest.”
“I do miss Father and Mother.”
“I too miss my brother— some. It is to his advantage I return to see how well he has healed. and my father— I do hope keeping his tongue has helped him keep his head! He would not do so well in these parts, as he does around Upton. He does have his opinions.”
“Well, it will be good for us to get a little break from here. We can trust our friends to run the Lady?”
“We can trust them for a fortnight or so, the time we will be gone, I am pretty sure. Although when I return there will be more work for me to fix whatever they let run riot.”
“I trust Pamela. She has a good head upon her shoulders. And the cook, he does well with us, and I have heard him compliment you on our fairness. The stable lad— he seems preoccupied, at times.”
“Do not forget we have Wilmot, Clarence, and Wilmot’s girl to help as well.”
“But they are not as accustomed to our practices nor our needs. If it were me, I would take Pamela first, then the cook, and then Clarence.”
“It does sound quite fair, to me then. Anyway. I must go back and be sure that Master Courtenay’s livery are getting their fill.”
“I shall come myself ere our own supper. I want to finish this.”
And so I left Mary working at her craft, and I went outside to the bowling lawn. The dog had now taken up a quarrel with Kerfel the cat, and had backed him up against the long benches.
The cat took off at a run when I distracted Panoptes. Panoptes and I went into the tavern, and he lay down near the hearth. The nobles were well into their birds now, and making raucous sounds that gave me hope they had indeed found what they were looking for. I did nothing to draw their attention, but had it anyway, for they hailed me from across the room, and I was quick to respond.
“This is magnificent, Sire Julian. Our compliments to your cook.”
“I am sure he will be glad to hear this.”
“We go now to Trewidden, to check up on all that Anselm has left in his place. You will call on us fortnightly with the results of your efforts.” This he spoke more as a command than a question, although the way it was spoken it could have been head as either. I got the drift of it, though.
“If Aleuderis comes, then yes, I would try to get his conversation, and try his mind, yes.”
“Splendid! And so, we are off!”
They gathered up all their gear and made for the door, and left me two shillings for their party. I could hardly speak. Whether it were generosity or just their usual way of throwing money about, I was not going to argue, was I?
They were soon heard outside, berating my stable boy for something, he told me later they had made up some line about their horses not being watered “when I actually saw to it that each one of them had been seen to.” I told him not to mind this. They were just finding something with which to make him feel small, and if it were as untrue as he claimed, then it was only to think themselves big.
The other surprise that day was that after only nine days, Wilmot was back from his trip to Exeter, Bristol, and Plymouth.
He must have stayed only hours in each place, for the speed of it! But I was curious about all of it, and so I took him aside and asked him as many questions as he could answer about what he had told people about The Lady, whom he had talked to, and how he had been received.
“I am surprised that your trip took only as long as it did! Wilmot, did you ride from town to town with nary a stop?”
“Almost,” he said with some pride. “I would play for a couple of hours in one of the inns, but I would not tarry. I traveled a lot at night, and in the day, would spend my time talking to people. You would not believe this but in Bristol there were many soldiers of the Prince and the King, and I did not feel welcome. I was afraid, actually, that I might be pressed to serve. So that was the reason I did not stay long.”
“In Exeter, I made friends with a couple of musicians, but again, I was not feeling a need to stay overnight. I would sleep out in the field but be on my way before sunrise. In that way I made it to Plymouth with a couple of days to spare.”
“You did, I hope, tell all you met about The Fallen Lady?”
“Of course, Sire Julian! But many were of the mind that they would not be traveling this way. They made excuses, of one or another. When I brought her up in the company of other taverners, of course, they did not wish to hear it, for their own interests were to deal with the people at hand.”
I also detected another reason Wilmot might have had for making his trip so quick. He was in love. His girl Claire whom he had met at our opening fete must have some strong hold on him. I would withhold judgment on this though, until I could get a chance to see them together again. But it was a lingering suspicion.
And it was Wilmot himself who blurted it out, anyway, with his next breath.
“I was also missing... Claire, the sweetest maiden of Penzance! Oh how her lamplit eyes make my heart strings sing! Oh how the thought of her sends me to the vielle and torments my fingers with melodies I but never heard before she came!”
“Stop, stop! I get it, Wilmot. I think you did well considering what we had tasked you with and that you had love on your mind all along. What I had hoped might not come to pass, anyway. Perhaps it is too much to expect that people would come from so far away to eat and drink in this far off corner of the kingdom. Maybe it is best, if we sent you about closer to home, though, to do the same?”
“What are you suggesting, Julian?”
“Well, what if we only sent you on a number of day trips, here in Cornwall. Say we just sent you off to speak to the people you meet on the way to Penwith or Saint Ives, for instance? Or if you would go to Mousehole and parade about braying of how fine the food is here? That way you might even be closer to Claire, and you could still have her company at evenings.”
“Why Julian that would be most welcome, sire.”
“So I thought. But do not be too hasty. We have wanted to speak with you about other needs we will have in a month or so.”
“What needs are these?”
“Mary and I have been planning to return to Chester in the summer to see our parents, our kin, and our friend Stephen. We will need helpers to mind the tavern. Are you up to this? I will need someone to go about to my vendors collecting the meat, the grain, the fish and the fruit. But I shall not be here to do it. So I might trust you?” My question was set with the idea also that Wilmot could actually manage some of these affairs, and perhaps if he were good at it, it could relieve me of some of the errands I had taken myself, yet even after I came back from Cheshire.
“I would feel proud to manage that for you, sire. So please you, you must introduce me to thee people.”
“And so I shall. Come with me when I go to Penzance in two days.”
In two days it would be time for my weekly trip and I would take Magdalene and the little two wheeled cart and see to the provisions. And Wilmot could help to load the cart and to dicker with my providers.
The real surprise of my afternoon was having Stephen show up again, and just when we were wondering about how we could live without honey! And he had two full barrels of it for us, which we rolled into the kitchen, and which we used that night to sweeten the salads. He also brought me several sprouts of pepper plants from Porcull— “a modest gift, he said, but perhaps they will make themselves useful!” was how Stephen related the giving.
Stephen was full of good cheer, but when I told him that Anselm had left, and to go to the war, his entire demeanor changed and he was down in the mouth for the rest of the day...
Roger was hoping to see Anselm too, but I regaled them both with food of their choice, and we drank several bowls of wine together, and Stephen let me know that the harvest was still planned for Lammas, as it had been the year before.
“We did pretty well with the sheep this winter, too! When I went back we had brought some ten full woolsacks with us to the fullers at Bristol. And we did earn a good few shillings on the trade. Luckily for us, this time, I had no problem with the king’s soldiers coming to take what we had. But- but, I say, Julian, the prince is consolidating his power in Shrewsbury and Chester both. He is mustering up all those who will fight for him with bribes, just like his father did with your wife’s father. But many of those who fought at Shrewsbury are still gone, and away with Glyndwyr making the sieges I am sure you heard about. And there are divisions, of course, even in Cheshire, between the loyalists who still insist King Richard is alive, and that Glyndwyr should leave Cheshire be, and the ones who are siding with prince Henry and his father. As for me, I try to stay on the sidelines, but, if I had my way, we would go over to Wales at the first opportunity. The prince is only a little better than his father, but he too is insisting he needs to raise taxes to fight the war on the Marcher lords. All of it is more than I want to take part in.”
“Here too we have problems. I learned that while Anselm, who has gone to fight for the king now, is gone away, our Devonshire overlord Duke Courtenay is taking over the castle. He has sent men down here from Powderham, and they are not going to be as good to the subjects. In fact they are trying to get me on their team, by spying on Anselm’s tin merchant Burian. I have yet to decide if I shall tell him of the plan or not, although it would be my desire to inform him since the whole peninsula is full of tin men like Burian, and the king has eyes on them all.”
“So, Anselm is gone, and I cannot merch with him?”
“Then, half the reasons for my coming south to be with you are also gone. This is not a good thing, for either of us.”
“But Mary and I still plan to come north for the harvest. If not a little sooner.”
“Let us hope then, that the prince will spare my other men from the fields. My gut says he will not. Shaftley and Blightson could very well be marching for him come the summer, lest they desert me also, and go to Glyndwyr. It’s troubling because we never had, really, these kinds of problems before.”
“That, Stephen, is the full size of it.”
They left the next dawn for Chester. I would see them again in summer, I was sure. But for now it was back to running my tavern. I had to call on the candle maker, the butcher, and the others. I brought Wilmot with me, who was so eager to go along, he was sitting on the bowling bench when I returned from running Panoptes. We took the horse, girded the way-cart, and our first stop was Cocklenburg and his stinky candle shop. I had the need to buy several pounds of them and I was the first to tell him that Anselm had left for Wales.
“That’s uncomfortable...” Was all he could say. His brow was furrowed and he seemed more worried than I had expected him to be, but he kept anything of his own mind on it to himself. We parted, and Wilmot helped me load the new candles into the cart.
Then it was to the costerman in Penzance who kept many roots and some fruit always. Until we could pull up our garden in June we were still dependent on that, and we probably would need to see him for our pears and apples anyway.
Odo the butcher was even more upset than the candle maker, but he at least put his anxieties into speech.
“So we are to be looked over now by the ever petulant de Courtenay?”
“Nay not he, but those of his court.’
“Then that is even worse. We will get no goods from them. No, all I know of Courtenay and his clan are that they want tax, tax, tax. Tax for this, tax for that. Fines for those who will not comply or heed his never ending desire for new additions to his castles. It is not surprising to me he has his eyes on Trewidden. Anselm is a thorn in his side. But with Anselm preoccupied, he can make the moves as he needs. Hopefully more of Anselm’s own court who have remained behind have instructions from Anselm...”
“But even they will be overridden by the new overseers. I met a few of them myself, they were at the Lady just yesterday.”
“Well, perhaps it be best for we who are in trades to remain within our own bailiwick. The powers that be will be prone to mess with us, anyway, and the less we deal with them, perhaps the less they will think on us.”
It was not a really convincing point of view but it seemed to be the only one I had left.
Wilmot helped me load the new side of beef, two whole hogs, and a lamb into the cart. I took care of the pullets- some nine of them- that we could expect to serve up for the week.
We rode back to The Lady with the haul, and laid in the supplies with Deprez. I looked forward to another week of cooking and drinking.
The above is Chapter One of Oh What Will You Give Me (Julian Plectrum Book 3) which will run fortnightly here in serial format, and published in eformat later this summer at Smashwords.Com.