Monday, July 28, 2014


After we ate full and plenty a high supper with Sire and Dame Carpenter, it was time to saddle Magdalene again, and ride for Upton. again when I arrived outside my old home, I was struck by both how little the scene had changed, and how different it all felt, to be long away. But my brother Simon met us and took us indoors. Davis, my father, lay back in his bed, complaining as that his back ached sore, each morning on many days, he barely moved from his bed, yet. Simon looked to me and shrugged.
“It is like this for him. The years wear upon him mercilessly.”
“Aye, my boy, that they do. And you do what you can, yes, but all I am is a burden to you.”
“You are not my burden, Father! More that it is my duty to pull the plow and bend to the scything!”
“But then you still do that, Simon, and you are strong yet.”
I looked from one to the other, not able really to tell what the issues were. I knew of Simon’s wound, and would fain he showed it to me soon, but as for Davis’ problem rising each day from his bed, I knew no cause, but perhaps, weary of living, he had taken to it out of torpor. For there was still spite in his voice and some vigor to his emphatic gestures. I decided not to speak, yet, and pulled the last gift of brandy from the pack. I set it beside Davis on the bed.
“What is this? You bring me an elixir?”
“Indeed, an elevating elixir,” I laughed. “This brandy came from Normandy, where it is cider, distilled from the best pressed apples, and a delicacy to the kind.”
“When have you been to France?” he asked, a skeptical cast now to his eye and tongue.
“Ah, but good father, we traveled there last year, as we were married here and then driven south by good Stephen of the manor...”
“Ah, him. I forgot. And so you had yourself many interesting journeys?”
“Just that it was, a few fortnights away from our home, yes.”
Simon bade Mary to sit at the table, where there were laid out on it towels, rags, and bandages for the old man.
“Every day I need wrap my legs in these, hot and damp, that it might sweat out the vile humors that occasion my mornings. If you think I like this...”
I waved my hand, and Davis was quiet.
“Simon, how have you fared? I left you and you were yet healing.”
“I still walk with a staff, Julian. And when I plow, I must lean with the force of it, yet that it takes me twice as long to pull what I did a year ago, it still can be done. it must be done! for who else have we to care for this? Most days he will not even arise, and at that, I must prepare the hot cloths.”
“And you have had no call for muster?”
“No, none at all. Of course I did go, when they called it out, but the men reviewed all and said I was not fair sturdy to soldier. I kept silent about my plowing and sheep-droving. But they would not have me, and for that, we are glad. I fain would not fight for this Prince Henry besides. I find him wretched, headstrong, and bellicose.”
“He is yet his father’s son.”
“Yes, he yet is, and apple fall not far from tree, does it now?”
We looked deeply to each other, Simon clapped me on my shoulder, and bade pay attention to our brandy.
“Let us then drink again, and a toast to good Julian and Mary! How kind they are to bless us with their presence.”
Simon poured each of us a cup. Now, just like yesterday, we had both had more of the brandy than those we had gifted of it! And were feeling it warmly, too, for all that.
Davis sipped it, and remarked, “This is indeed extraordinary. Made of cider, you say? By what process this?’
“Father, it is a chemist’s magic, with coils and kettles and flasks, I am sure. It is a magic all  right! A most good, beneficent magic...”
“Would that I had more food for you all, Julian. Tonight, we are eating the rest of our lamb stew...”
“It is fine, sire, whatever you serve us. We have supped, at Mary’.”
“But you are both welcome to sleep here, yes!”
“Oh that we had planned on. just lie our blankets out in the yard...”
“In the yard? No, I meant beneath my roof!”
“All the same, good Father, we would fain be close together, and under the sky will suit us both fine.”
“As you wish it, then. Simon, heat up the stew, if you would.”
The old man leaned back and swigged off his brandy cup. I could tell that the taste of it rang some far-off bell in his mind, for he smiled, quite satisfied, swigged again, then set the cup down, closed his eyes, and leaned back against his pillows.

Simon took the pile of rags which Davis had been used to swaddling his legs for the night, and had heated some in boiling water, and Davis groaned mightily from the heat applied to his limbs. As he lay back, he pointed to a picture on the wall. This picture had been there, on that wall, for my entire life, and barely registered with me for many years. It was so commonly seen each day all that time, I never paid it much mind. It was a painting of a place not far, actually, from our farm in Upton, a place on the sea at the top edge of Wirral— probably, much closer to Roger’s first home, than it ever was to ours. It was a cove which was often used for smuggling, and had high cliffs, it was hidden from the upper ones by a small forest, and the painting was just that— cliffs, trees, shoreline, sea.
I leaned over so I could hear Davis trying to speak. His voice had sunk to the level of a whisper, for he was feeling for his sleep, and would soon be tapering off.
“There, Julian! There it was that I met your mother. It was so many years  ago... We were so much younger, and she so beautiful...”
But he said no more, and was soon in slumber. I would look longer at that picture, and in a much different fashion than I had before, but I was happy to know there still were thoughts my father held of her. For she was still in some way, ever always, a mystery yet to me.

And so, we turned in that night in blankets wrapped snug and tight around us both, while the weather was yet still pleasant, and we slept beneath the moon and stars, feeling good in that we had honored our parents all  in returning for this visit. We planned to stay another two days, with another day with my father, another evening and day with Alexandra and finally, another day with Stephen and Porcull. But that night, while I slept, I had the strangest of dreams, and it shook me through and through.
For I dreamed I was in the presence of my mother, whom the plague had taken when I was not yet four. And it was as if she were alive. This shocked me, and I spoke to her shade, crying out even: “But you are dead! How is this that you speak to me?” and even in my dream, my soul was darkly afraid, and I shuddered.
But she spoke to me calmly, that I might cast aside fear.
“I see now you are not ready yet, then Julian. farewell, until we will meet again. Bless you on your path, and your wife and child...” And then, she was gone, the spirit which had spoken to me was as if it were one with the trees and the stones and the music of the earth I had trained myself a year to hear and recognize, and I woke up, it was not yet light, and I pondered what all it was to mean, as Mary slept at my side.
“Not yet ready?” Whatever did this mean? Was she indeed telling me to have no fear of dying, that death was not an end to our lives and our minds’ hearts? “Not yet ready?” Did this mean she would be back again, at some point, to impart to me all which was implied in that? Was I wrong to reach out, panicked, in my dream state, crying to her return thence the shadow of which she manifested? What was I missing?
Surely the monks would have their own answer to this, but I was unsure that it might satisfy me, and I was left with these questions, lying by my wife. “My wife and child?” I had no child, yet! Was I to gain one? What manner of talk was this? Yet I had no plan for it, even if it might be a dream of Mary’s. We were still in the early phases of our tavern- we had not established ourselves to the degree we should, lest we found our family prematurely; and as she stirred beside me, I considered all that might mean too. A child? What, that I may have a son, who may yet grow up himself to stalk the hills and valleys for Owain Glyndwyr under the banner of the Prince and the King? That he might learn of taverns and minstrels and places spied from the bulwarks of boats, and dream of sunsets unknown, horizons I might never taste of? Or if I had a daughter, for whom I must provide a trousseau and dowry, and all things good and profitable, that it might all go to some young man whom I had not even a fraction of a fantasy of himself? That I might thereby hold to the land my fealty— to Baron Anselm or others— knowing that all must one day end in her taking my leave, and going her way, off on some strange fairground undreamt of?
All these things I reflected upon as I lie there. And then, Mary awoke, it was close yet to the dawn, but we began the very thing that might have been the start of the next generation of Plectrums.
After we breakfasted with dear old Father and Simon on eggs and chops, we had a tearful farewell. I had a feeling, and I knew this deep in my gut, it was the last I would see of the old man. He had tried to do well for me, only my place in the family had been set quite so much by fate, and not accident. He hugged me— such a thing that he might not have done in my younger years, but there was something in his eye that made me feel this time, after all which had transpired, and after the time I had spent living out on my own a free man, that he had some sincere regret of a sort he could not put in words.
I felt this, and yet I was silent.
Simon handed me a felt hat, with a long feather in it, and told me that it was for me to wear, now that I was a man of the town. I nearly protested, but yet, did not, that I did not live in the town, but this made no difference, really. Davis took Mary’s hand and she helped him walk to the door of the cottage.
“My son, I wish only one thing of you, and one thing for you. That is that you never forget this place, this house, this love which might have been so small, and yet, was the most I could do for you. Be you healthy, and happy, and God bless your little wife, for she is fair, and kind, and I know in my  heart now, so are you.”
Simon led Magdalene down the road and walked with us.
“Where are you off to now, Julian?”
“We have business yet in Chester. We need to see Mary’s parents again, and to stop at the home of one of her friends, and we need to pay respects at the grave of a dear friend— Richard, who was the father of my friend Stephen, who was killed last year. And when we are done with all of it, by eveningtide we should be traveling south on our way again homeward. That is, if we are not waylaid, nor come up against any calumny.”
“I too wish you two well, Julian. Good it will be for father to know that you are up in the world, and you never ran afoul of the laws of our shire, nor took to arms like me. For my wound still pains me, especially on the days when the sky is grey and a storm is on the way. As though the bite of metal is a bite to tell me how the weather sits! And yet I limp, and ever shall. But enough of me! Good health to you, and fair journey!”
He shook his hand in a gentle wave, and as Magdalene began her lazy trot away, I looked back over my shoulder to see Simon, silhouetted on the short roadway against the cottage, with its pleasant trees, and I noticed only then that I was crying, too.

We got to Robert’s just as the Carpenters were finishing up their own late breakfast, and Mary put aside any thoughts of them forcing us to remain for their lunch. By now, the questions she had for Pamela’s mother had weighed upon her for weeks, and the closer we got to the time we could see her, the more antsy she became about getting on with that. So while she was not rude to her parents, now though she did seem to have preoccupation.
Alexandra took me aside and told me what a good thing it was that Mary had met me when she had.
“Otherwise, all the rogues of Chester would have come out, and given Roger and I no peace, being the Queen of the May, and all. But with you she has her destiny, and we will look forward to your visiting us again. I always have loved how you play the lute, Julian!”
When she said that, I had near half forgotten that Luisa (as she ever did when I was horseback) was yet strapped over my shoulder, and that I had not brooked to take her from my back when we entered the house and had climbed up the stairs. The table of their dining room was filled yet with the dirty plates and cups, and there was the ever present bowl of fruit there as well.
Alexandra forced on me a plum, which I took, and half heartedly munched on. It was a little bitter and had been pulled too soon.
“We have an interesting place, Alexandra. I had some help getting started a nobleman who is now away at war.”
“A nobleman! And he is your friend?”
“He is my patron, in as much as he is my friend. But he is off at war, as I said. In his place, some other people have come south from another shire, and are ruling his castle in ways we feel are most underserved by the people—like us! Who are the pledges of the baron who is gone. They are a troublesome sort.”
“And the war, it does not fail to touch us in other ways, as many of our people who eat there are miners, and they themselves... have resentments. I see us, however, as providing a place that allows tensions to blow off gently, for the better fed the people are, the less they do complain.”
“I think that is a fair estimate of much, Julian, But even the well-fed can find reasons to carp on these days...”
She got a rather dreamy look on her face, and then her attention passed back to Robert and Mary.
Robert held Mary as he must have done many times in her young life, sitting half on his knee, and with one arm around her. He drew on a piece of paper with a pencil, something I could not see, and Mary was watching him.
When he had finished he held it up. A map, showing us the path of his travels when he left Glyndwyr’s lair at Harlech.
“I rounded Llangwyllen and passed by Ruthin. Then after Denbigh, I came back by Flint. The road was heavy with mud and ice, it was midwinter. And there were few friendly faces on the road. I returned to find Alexandra struggling with the last few barrels. It was good I came back before they really suspected me. But the Glyndwyr paper, it’s behind the wall, there.”
He pointed to a picture of the philosopher Erasmus, hanging on the kitchen wall.
“And there it shall stay, lest I hear these things trouble our house again.” He got up, leaving Mary to somehow make her way as graceful as possible from his lap, and gave me a pear from his table.
“So when we see you again, Julian, I hope there will be progress in your own little world. We would love to come to se it, but alas, again, we have our contract, now with the Welshman, and that takes up a fair bit of time. We are using friends in the guild to ship things west, so as not to arouse any suspicion.”
When we left Mary’s we headed straightaway to the home of her friend Pamela. Her mother Kenwec had been widowed in the plague, herself, and Pamela and her brother Theodo had been her sole source of comfort, for as long as they had remained at  home. She welcomed us however, and we walked into a first floor home which had seemed to have seen better days, itself. There was indeed a spirit of emptiness there.
“Mary Carpenter, oh so how good it is to see you! How is my daughter doing?”
“Well, Kenwec, she has come to stay with us...”
“Oh yes, she has written me letters, in fact I get one a week from her!”
“Then you know how”—
“I know only what she chooses to tell me. So how is she?”
“She works for us at our tavern, nightly, afternoon to about two...”
“Yes, this I know.”
”Then she walks, about near to half an hour, back to Penzance, where she keeps a room...”
“Yes, I know this too.”
“She reads a lot and she writes...”
“She does?”
“Well she writes you letters!”
“Yes, yes.”
“My husband Julian here has convinced her to begin a history.”
“Well, I am encouraging her. I have no idea what she may say in it.”
“A history of what?”
“About Cheshire. About us. About how things are, and how they ought to be, how they might become. About Henry. About the battle...”
“Oh!” We could hear her sharply intake her breath at the word ‘battle.’
“I’m sorry, Kenwec” said Mary. “I forgot.”
“Well, things are different now that Theodo has gone. Yes. We think it was the battle. For he never came back, after he ran off so fast and quick. “The usurper must be driven off!” he shouted, grabbing his long knife and his bow and things, and running off. A fair week or two or so before, it was. I could learn very little later, since there was really nothing to learn, and all the dead were piled into one big grave, who weren’t the nobles, those of the common folk. And even a church cannot make me forget it, this loss. They eventually told me they had found him and buried him, all without a word to me. And then Pamela took off! Left me here with nobody! I was sore, yes, I was upset. But when she wrote to me again it was to say she had found you, and I figured that if she were with you, then she might be fine. So far away from home, at her young age.”
“Well, it is something we all have in common this way,” I said, trying to be polite.
“You are all welcome then to stay with me the night should you choose to.”
“We are sorry to say but no we cannot, we have another errand this afternoon.”
“At least let me bring you a pot of ale, and please, speak to me of Pamela!”
She was off, turning her back, and returned with the promised cups of ale, which we drank as we sat on stools in her drafty big room.
“Now, she does say many things about you, sire, to be true. How you have given her a job and means of supporting herself, and that she fair likes it, and that your tavern is growing its business with good food and drink, and that mostly it is good people that come there.”
“Yes, mostly, they are.”
“And she says you yourself are a minstrel and entertain everyone, late nights, and that she has heard you play the songs of the forests and hillsides...”
“Such as they might come to me, I try, yes.”
“And she tells me that she has hardly had any time to feel sorry about Theodo but she oft thinks of him, and of me, and she misses me...”
“Indeed, you must miss her too, we know,” said Mary, considering the poor widow’s lack of company was bringing her to a point of clinging to what either of us had to tell.
“I believe Mary will eventually find someone in the town there. I do not think she feels quite safe returning here. She feels she must build up her fortune and will feel sure of it before she seeks someone to court her. By y considering, it would not take her long to find someone Many of our men guests pay her fair mind, but all of us feel a bit like outsiders down there, so we to keep our seeming fair distance when we can yet make it.”
“We did want to see you, and I wanted to keep you in my thoughts, and to share with you that yes, she really is doing well and fine with us.”
Mary sipped from her cup, set it on a small table near us, and folded her hands in her lap.
There was a silence, then and in that silence, you could nearly feel the presence, or the loss of the presence, perhaps, of her son Theodo and what it had meant. A full year had passed and the woman yet wore a black smock and wimple, and you could see that some of the lines in her face were care, worry, and grief-born.
As I finished my own cup I wished her good health, and Mary did as well, and we left the poor lady to what could be yet another year of her sorrows, and it felt a little cold, even with the warm summer day outside the house. Magdalene rose her hoof and stamped, and she seemed to be aware of the moment, herself! We mounted her and made our way to the church of Saint Stephen, where we had heard Richard lay buried.
Finding Richard’s grave was a bit difficult, since I had not been there when they buried him, and the business of our wedding had been enough to keep me really from thinking on visiting. Of course, Stephen’s trip to France had also occupied us, so there had been not a lot of thought given to paying respect to his father, when all was underway. But now, a year later, we had come to do just that. I broke off a flower from a branch of dogwood and held it between my fingers, thinking. Mary was the one who discovered it. It did have a stone, that had been placed by Roger, in the year past, and there we did also find it by not only the inscription “Richard Westchester, 8-7-1361—7-11-1403” and a cross of the old-fashioned kind, but the scallop pendant which Albertus had given Stephen that day at the harbor when we had parted from him, the day we had sailed back in from France.
I let the dogwood flower beside it, and considered, again, Richard’s place in my life.
I had come into his as a trespasser and a poacher, I suppose, sleeping in his barn, eating the fish I took from his stream, nibbling on the sparse gifts his son had brought to me from out of the manor in the little loft hidden from sight by all the hay. I thought of how magnanimous he had actually been toward me, but I recognized- I knew that he knew I was Stephen’s friend, and I suppose I had done them both the greatest favor in pulling Stephen from the river, although to me it had been nothing, I would have done that for anyone.
Then Mary called to me. She had found Theodo’s name on a gravestone! It was not far away from Richard’s, and shaded by a blooming aspen. I knelt and took the feather from the cap that Simon had given me that morning, and hoped it might be a small token, of course, for this brother of a friend, whom I had never met myself, but who Mary had known, and who had been as much a victim of the ugliness at Shrewsbury as my own brother. There is a sadness at attending the grave side of those whom one knows were taken before their rightful time, and when the sadness is considered, often, one is left thinking “well, how might have things had gone for them, had then been allowed to live so long?” And what of us whom they leave behind- they are freed from all the troubles and woes, but perhaps they are freed from any need to care about them too. Perhaps where they are is joy and light and infinite grace, and what we know here is the true taste of hell.
Remembering what we had promised Pamela, we went into the church. There was no mass being said, but instead, we sat in silence and together prayed. What all Mary had to say in her prayers, I knew not, but I prayed for the souls of Richard and Theodo and I prayed for our continued good fortune, and I prayed for free Cheshire and Wales, and an end to the Henrys, and I prayed that as any as who might fall yet in the wars were fast taken up to heaven and suffer not.
We emerged from the church into brighter sunlight. We had been inside near to a quarter hour, and were relieved to have turned our hearts back south at last...  Before we left, I felt one more duty to pay the mind of the dead.
I took Luisa to my breast and I kneeled and began to play. What came out was a feeling I could not have put into words, but melody n a minor key that was plaintive, and expressed the emotion of gratitude. For had I not meant Richard (even had I not met Stephen or Master Porcull!) I would yet be knocking about on the road, between Bristol and Penzance, probably I could have been robbed at Exeter, or even somehow, caught up in the battle myself!

Mary took my hand when I had stopped playing, and I set the lute back strapped over my back. We saddled Magdalene, and were off again. Our last stop would again be Westchester Manor, where Stephen took us in, fed us, and kept us for the night.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


In Book Three of the Julian Plectrum Series, Julian gets The Fallen Lady tavern up onto her feet. Royalist retainers down from Devonshire take over Baron Anselm’s Trewidden castle in his absence, and impose oppressive taxes and fines upon the locals. Julian finds and brings to play a number of traveling minstrels, is host to inquisitional monks, the usurper nobles, and is forced into his own confrontation with authority over the true authorship of his Lay of Hotspur.  Anselm’s untimely death ultimately forces Julian to consider the fate of the Welsh uprising in the face of the power of the Crown.


You may either continue reading the serialization here at Grand Jatte, over summer 2014, or download a sample (better yet- buy the book- or buy the whole trilogy!) today at

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


It was now early July, and Albertus and the Barcelona had returned to Penzance harbor. I was honored that of all the choices he might have made like, perhaps, the Pelican) he chose to stop first at The Fallen Lady. It had been something of a worrisome trip, he said, for the channel was full of privateers of all flags— English, French, Dutch, Spanish, and at each port he had made his landfall (Harfleur, Vennes, La Rochelle, Calais) he had had to head directly in and not linger, because the various lurking sea-wolves would have had his number. Each port he had made his call at however gave him what he said was the best of supply—in Harfleur, many bottles of brandy, at Vennes, the best Bordeaux wine, La Rochelle, even better Chablis. And, he said, it did seem to him that with the French raging on the Devon shore, and the English raging back in Brittany, the best thing he might do for himself at this point was to just shut down and lay at anchor here at Penzance, until the fall, and (again) the opportunity of carrying Stephen and Roger and their wool over to Amiens. But he felt there was far too much risk at this point, to even guarantee to Stephen that this was in his plans.
Albertus, however, came to The Lady with a number of presents for me. It included some seven good bottles of the best Beaujolais, and eight of Calvados brandy. This warmed my heart. he also said there were three large tuns of the Bordeaux yet aboard Barcelona, and that Chelmswadd would be bringing them to us on the morrow by oxcart. I laid out two pounds to him, and he said it was fine for a deposit, and that he would soon collect his balance, but as he meant to remain in Penzance, it could be an open debt for a time.
I told him of my plan to return to Chester with Mary soon, just to visit our people there, and he seemed happy when told that Stephen had done the best he could in honoring his father’s memory, by leaving Albertus’ trinket of pilgrimage at his grave. Thus he had fulfilled Albertus’ wish.
“And yet while I may never see Chester again myself, nor stand beside the grave of Richard, I am pleased that there, at least, a piece of my heart has been left to him. He was the dearest of friends.”
I considered telling him of the dream I had had of Richard, then thought best of it, and kept my thoughts to myself. I knew not how Albertus conceived our relations to the world of spirit, and did not want to risk the alienation of him possibly considering me ‘necromantic.” It was something which would keep me wondering for the rest of the year, however... how we do relate to those who have crossed over the bridge of life’s waters to the other shore. And there would be even more troubling dreams than the one of Richard in my future, as well. As soon, I shall tell you, but not just yet.
And when I was all ready to pack our things for the trip to Chester, I heard Moselles calling to me, from atop the roof! Whatever could he be doing up there? A long, tall ladder had been leaned up against the side wall on his landing, and he was walking about on the thatch.
“Ah, Julian! I am lookink for holes! Eh, it is summair! But soon enough, eet weel be winter, non? So I am looking for holes, and I will patch them! Thangustella is making me wattle.”
I could see Thangustella (or at least, I could see her blue dress as it flashed at the corner of his doorway, and saw her chubby hand give a friendly wave.) Soon she pulled out onto the landing from her baking kitchen a large tin pot, and I could see it was full of mud and sticks, all mixed together.
“We will have evairy hole all patched when you and Mary come back, non?”
“That is nice,” I called. “Don’t you think  you should be careful?”
“Aw, carefool, what is? Hohn? I am good strong man. Thangustella, pass me up some of that.”
Thangustella was seen ladling the wattle mix into a small hand bucket, then, she crawled up the ladder, and passed it up to him, and he wandered over to a certain spot that looked like it needed help, and began to smear it in, using a mason’s trowel.
“Just the same, Julian, you are lucky, you do not get the leaks, non? But eet happens to us, yes it will, evairy year. So now I fix the beeg ones. I guess that feenishes them.”
When he had completed this task, he drew himself down the slope of the roof, handed back the little bucket with the trowel, and carefully eased himself onto the ladder, as Thangustella kept it steady.
“I am sure Anselm will thank you for keeping up the roof,” I yelled.
“Oh, the baron, what will he care? Eet is always the chore for me, but I am happy to do eet!”

We prepared ourselves for the journey by packing a good number of things into the blankets which we strapped over Magdalene’s rear. This all included some loaves of bread, and butter, to large flask sacks for water, one for each of us, some jerked beef and chicken and cheese (I  hoped to fish at times as well, for each of my trips north and south had seen some good results, and it would save us trouble, a skillet we could fry the fish in, candles such that we might both have a light or a source of renewed fire when we slept neath the stars, and a pair of new clothing more for us both.)
I also put in four bottles of the good French brandy, one each to give as gifts for Stephen, Porcull, Davis, and Robert, and a pair of bottles of wine as had all come to us by way of Albertus,  which I planned to share with Robert and my father. We set out early in the morning leaving Clarence, Pamela, Will, Wilmot, and Deprez (as well as Moselles) to care for our establishment, and hoped we might be returning by the end of a month.
So we began our journey, two days into July, heading north on the now familiar road. With only a stop each in Exeter, Bristol, and Kidderminster, I passed up Shrewsbury, and felt some sickness in my heart at the thought of the place. Just the year before my brother Simon and I had been at peril for our lives there. We had seen brutal fighting, retribution, and good men sent to the block. The people had begun building back their homes on the edges of the town, however, but it was still said to be a stronghold of the crown Prince, whose arms fluttered from a pole on the parapet of the castle.
I steered us past the town, and somewhere in the forty or so miles that lie between there and Westchester Manor, we fished and feasted upon shad which were good and tasty, and slept the night out under the stars, which beckoned to us so kindly in the warm evening.
I was quite relieved we encountered none too many outlanders and riders, those whose business it might be to bother the people on the road, be they knight or blackguard. We did however come upon a score of monks, who told us they were transferring their abbey to  just north of Upton. I told them that was where I was from, and they laughed, clapped me on the shoulder, and kept traveling. One or two of them may have seemed to smirk as hey took in Mary, but she fair ignored them all. Sometimes it is more well meet to keep within one’s self, lest there be odd words which lead to harder ones.
Now and then I pulled Luisa up across my chest and played. It did feel good to be headed once more to familiar places— not a lot had changed, for the lay of the land rarely does, and the trees might be a bit taller than they were a year before, and the summer fields yet a bit greener, but all felt to me much blessed in charm, and nature’s kind music was everywhere about us.
Mary and I, riding on Magdalene, approached the vale of Westchester Manor then from the same road I had always taken, veering off from the main Roman street leading to Chester, wending our way along the path that ran along the little stream which ran behind the humble cottage of Master Porcull. The wind was up, and it was a strange sky, with portents of rain on the way, yet over the manor itself, bright sun still shone through clouds like it were Bible times.
I unhorsed Mary leading her off by taking my arm, and she dusted off her gown and we undid the several packs which Magdalene carried on her rump behind us. I strode to the little door and knocked upon it.
A voice from within greeted me— somewhat frail, weary, and yet most obviously Porcull’s. In a moment the door cracked open, and then wider.
“Julian! Julian my boy! So, so good to see you!’
Looking out on his little lawn he saw Mary and the horse, and bade us enter.
I tied Magdalene to a little stead over his pathway, and she made herself comfortable eating off the tops of the water cresses growing there. Mary and I entered the little cottage.
The light was dimmer than I could recall it had been, and the room seemed more cramped, but he offered us both a stool, and made his own seat on his bed.
“Yes, yes, it is marvelous to see you. And you, mistress Mary! So fine! I am afraid though that my own health has not been what it was. I barely make it out of doors many days— in part, as I am wrapped up in my work, but also, that my bones do ache and I fear it may be my age in years calling upon Friend Grim at last. But I will welcome you! Things here are different, of course, this past year without Squire Richard. The young master, I fear, is not quite as the elder was, in terms of his command of the tenants. But he is yet good to me, anyway. That Roger man of his, he’s been here and there, sometimes he brings me baskets of food from the young squire himself, and other times, he is disappeared weeks on end. So I try to get by. Oh, say, without you here, Julian, who will harvest my pepper for me? I fear I might not be up to it this time round.”
“Firstly, Sire Porcull, thank you for everything you did for me. I am ever in your gratitude. and for your good grace and wisdom, I should be yet an ignorant bumpkin. I did, however, think to bring something for you, which might I hope, help with your joints, today?’
I reached into the pack and brought out the bottle of apple brandy I had brought as a gift for him.
“This, Porcull, is something of blithe spirits to give you courage! Brandy from Normandy, made from fine cider press apples, and a tonic for your health!’
“Oh, oh yes, very good, lad! There are some cups upon the shelf there. Do get down three, we shall all drink to the day!’
“And to your health, good master!” added Mary.
I reached up onto the shelf on which Porcull had stacked plates and cups and his trusty skillet.
“Porcull, what about asking the haywains of Westchester to help in gathering your pepper? you know them— Shaftley, Blightson, Garthson? They were good help to me in laying out and building my tavern.”
“A tavern, you say?’
“Yes, a tavern! The Fallen Lady! We attached it to our house in Penzance. It has been open three months now, since May Fair.  We are not an inn- no guests overnight. but we take in travelers to give them succor, and it is also good that I have somewhere I can make music for those who come. It is taxing, but we earn enough to keep it going. And Mary makes us ale each month, and we earn pennies of that as well.”
“My you are surely still a busy one, my boy.  I never thought of you as lazy. But I also never thought you would take to that sort of life! I always saw you perhaps going to courts, jesting and minstreling. But if you are happy that is all.” He rested himself and sipped from the cup.
“This is, indeed, a most subtle spirit! I do like it! Who brought this unto you?”
I explained how my shipper friend Albertus had ferried Mary and I to Harfleur the year past, how he was recent returned from Bordeaux and Normandy again, how Albertus had truck with a number of wine men in each large port, how he had barely escaped privateers on his latest junket, and how Albertus had been the one first brought us the brandy to drink, when we sailed on Barcelona.
“As for those lusty haywains, my boy, I am afraid they are little good to me. If I took them from their work with Stephen, I am sure they would but complain that my pay is no good for the hours they must spend climbing and stripping and laying out the baskets with care. I might enquire of them, but I am not certain I’ll be helped.”
“All I know, Porcull, is that they did help me. But then again, I paid them well enough, and also, Stephen was there, and they needed him to carry them back home. So in a way they were captive to the situation and convenient to me.”
We sipped the brandy, and then Porcull, obviously with some care taken in moving about, rose and took some split wood and fed it into his hearthstones. The little otter, Peddles, was now scratching at the door to be let in.
“How marvelous! He yet lives!” I cried, opening the door for him, and Peddles leaped from the floor into my arms and snuffled at my cheeks.  I was surprised to find it out, but he obviously remembered me.
“May I?” asked Mary, and I handed him to her.
He pulled quite the same action with her, and squeaked and chortled with obvious pleasure, at his back being stroked.
“That is Peddles, my dear. He is my longtime companion, now. He is getting on in years, himself though, too, and must be about five already. Well, so long as I feed him now and then, he still comes around. And of course, he remembers you Julian! Come, Peddles.”
He gathered up the otter from Mary, who sat back and sipped at her brandy again. I kicked at a spark which shot from the fire to the floor.
“Now, I am glad to have someone here at last, to talk to again,” he said. “With all that has taken place this last year, and the disruption caused by Richard dying, and with you being gone all that time... I guess I sometimes miss company, especially yours, Julian.’
“Does not Stephen come by to see you oft times?”
“Less than I would like, Julian and at that, usually he leaves it to the Roger man. Anyway I suppose I am not really a fit companion for most of the folk about here. I am growing old, and many do think me strange.”
‘That is because they do not know you.”
“Well, it is somewhat my own fault as well. I made this little cottage so I might be at peace from the world, and it used to be, I liked having the world at an arm’s length. Now though as I grow elderly and my bones ache most days it sometimes also pains me I have no friends to call upon me. But you, fine lad, you have returned! So why do I complain? It is the moment, and the moment suffices.”
“I remember the day I came here, and I met your otter, and you gave me that spirit to drink...”
“Ah yes, the aqua vitae! An experiment, lad, and one I am afraid leaves not a match for this fine apple drink. When I compare— Well, anyway, I was using an old alchemist’s recipe, and am afraid perhaps I used a little too coarse a rye, perhaps, or maybe, I distilled it not long enough, but...”
“It was fine, Porcull. But it left me with a taste for similar pleasures!”
“I see. and that then is why this apple drink appeals to you... no doubt... me and my bad influence...’
‘Don’t speak this way! You are a fine and good teacher, Porcull!”
“If I were finer, perhaps I’d have been at university...”
‘No matter! You are our wise man of the hollow, here! Here is your grace, your fame, and reward. we will always honor you.’
“Yes, yes, my lad, sure, you will. But to think of the Brothers...’
“The Brothers?”
“Oh, do you not know, Bishop Scrope has been scouring the west lands here, searching for they who wish to ensure— as I do— that one day the Holy Word will be taken up in common speech.”
“In this matter he has sent out watchers, and spies, going up and down the country...”
Immediately I thought of Micah and Earnest, the Franciscan and Dominican monks, going about Cornwall, teasing out alms, and spotting out heretics. Obviously they were among those who had been designated as the tenders of the flock, so to speak.
Porcull lay back a little on his bed, and Peddles the otter squeaked and leapt from Mary’s arms to mine. He snuffled at my arms and tried to climb up my chest, but I held him down so that he remained at my elbow.
“He is glad to be with an old friend,” said Porcull.
“You still have the falcon, don’t you?” I asked. Noticing that the perch was empty, where Springer had his normal place.
“Alas, no, Springer has taken flight, and is now rather not the type to be bossed and jessed any longer. But he lives in a tree out to the back. He might not be there now, though. In the afternoons, he goes flying and ranging far about the manor, even so far away as Chester, I suppose. But if I call him, he will come, should he be nigh.”
I had told the story often of how I had first met Porcull, to Mary, and to my other companions in Penzance, and I was sad that I could not bring her to see this wonderful bird for herself.
“I am afraid I never really had much of a contract with Springer anyway,” mentioned Porcull, “—because for him, it was a matter of meeting his needs. And I guess these last few months I have not been able to take him out where he might find that, no, no I haven’t, I think I have more an illness of the spirit, and it keeps me more tied to my rooms. I don’t know... It is very good to see you, though, Julian.”
I told him then about Abu, and how I had used his charts to make a horoscope for him, and he looked at me rather with a sly smile on his face.
“I am glad it came in useful, Julian. I knew there would be reasons you might want to have a thing like that. Besides, I had no one to give it to. It would have rotted away under dust here— as will everything else you see around you. I know my time for this world is not long. Soon, I shall be beyond all of you. I hope then to make my home on the wild heath... with the pixies...”

We took leave of Porcull while the sun was yet near four in the afternoon, and I led Magdalene by foot, and Mary and I walked across the large field of wheat and rye that shimmered like amber water, waving in ripples beneath a clear blue sky, and passed the apiaries, the dovecotes, and the granges, until we found ourselves on the graveled path leading up to the manor door. Our arrival had been duly noted by the men in the fields working with scythes and reaping, but only a wave of the hand and a turn of their heads were what they gave us on that.
I pulled the great bell that would summon Master Stephen. for now, master of the hall was he, and all of its machinations must run past his scrutinies. But when he saw me, he took to laughter, and beckoned us come in, closed the great door, and we looked upon a most transformed hall than we remembered, the day we celebrated our wedding there.
The floors were strewn with great woven mats of rushes now- no longer the free branches, but plainly woven movable mats, that no less were a comfort to the foot, than the bare stone. Over the great hearth now hung a ugly tusked head of a boar, and when we asked, Stephen said that it had been killed over the winter “making us much fine sausage, as well!) while it rooted through the geese pens after stray grains of corn, and had made itself a wallow, which was where Roger had fair dispatched it, with three arrows to the lungs.
“Julian, I will call for wine, and I will call for a feast. It is good to see you here, dear friend. do you two know how long you plan to stay?”
“Only so long as need be, to visit our parents, and with you. We did see Master Porcull already.”
“Oh, yes the old gentleman. he has been suffering of grippe, and sometimes fever. But he does keep to himself, although I send down men with victuals to help him each week. He is a dear man, but peculiar, and holds to his own. We see him sometimes with his gyrfalcon, but it is rarer that we do than it was before.”
Stephen threw open one of the great windows that opened to the west, and a cool breeze blew in stirring the room with a pleasance, and keeping us from feeling stifled. I brought out the brandy I meant to give him, and we drank from tumblers he fetched from his cupboard. Sitting now in the great chair which was his father’s, Stephen looked and felt every bit the part of the new landholder and head of the manor.
“We are now harvesting our hay, and in a few weeks shall be deep in gathering the grains. I have decided that I will not ask your participation this year, Julian. as I do know that you are deep involved in your own work now, and yet your visit comes at a point too early for the harvest proper, I will not ask your help. we do indeed have many hands here.’
“It is I should ask for their help when I harvest in fall, myself!’
“Perhaps that might be arranged.’
“Many other things Albertus had to tell me, when he brought us this brandy from Normandy, before we departed Cornwall, Stephen. The main thing to remember is: Prince Henry and his father will be making war quite soon, and once again Cheshire and the Marches will resound with their trumpets and the truck of the wagon-carts, and the soldiers again will come to raid your stores. These things we know, as Albertus tells us, because the true prince of Wales, Owain Glyndwyr, has made treat with the French, particularly the Bretons, for aid and comfort and troops to bolster the Welsh in his search for independence off Henry. There will be more sieges and fighting, very soon, in a matter of months, be it known. And should you hope for no repeats of last year”— I stopped, knowing what last year had meant for him, and to allow the full import of what I was telling him to sink in—“then you had best be aware that the storm is coming.”
Mary sat by my side, an once again we had a glass a piece of the good brandy. Now we each today had had three, to Stephen’s one, so it was time to call a halt to that.
When Stephen’s cook appeared from the kitchen with a large platter full of roast spitted lambs and well-spiced goose, then we set upon it like the hungry travelers we were.
“Albertus tells us that the places he once felt welcomed at in France have become a little less friendly. He told me that, of all the wine he did manage to get for you, that he actually paid near twice what he had on his previous trips. This, he said, was because much of the wine that was captured by English pirates never saw the hands for whom it had been intended, and the winemakers were trying to get back their loss. Really what looks like it was good for England, has actually only meant harder conditions for we who act in honest trade. And now I begin to wonder should Roger and I even take a chance on another journey at all.”
Stephen’s mopped his curly locks from back off his forehead. I could see that this was indeed something that vexed and worried him.
“Well, if I were you?” I ventured. He looked at me with a question mark in his eye.
“If I were you, I would yet go back again. Because unless some order is given to you preventing it, why can’t you just continue on? These fights over land, over independent Wales, even of our own Cheshire—are these not squabbles over who owes how much to who? No matter who is your lord, Stephen, he will still demand his tax and his dues and rents. And how best to provide that, than just continue to earn them and make them up the best you know how? Just go back. You might find there are actually more people used to dealing with you who will not hold as much against you, than they do the privateers, who at their worst, are but robbers. You give them in kind and in gold and they understand that.”
Stephen thought on that a while.
“It was kind of you and Mary to accompany us. This next trip, though, we will have to bring at least one of our manor folk. It is hard for me to say which of the haymen I should fear least, if I bring them- surely Blightson would be a burden. Maybe Shaftley less so. But Garthson? He can be pretty dim himself quite often. But at least he is used to standing watch.”
“Stephen, I hardly think I would be the best to help you judge any of that. After you and Richard went out of your way to help me in all ways...”
“Ah, Julian, ‘twas nothing to us! I live, and while Richard did, he’d have wanted only to help someone. Someone like you, who took him well for his advice, and he would be proud of all you became! As am I. If not, just a little jealous...”
“Well, you have the woman you love at your side. For that, I must still work, and slave, and bother, and hope, and pray, and...”
Mary now spoke up.
“Stephen, it is not at all so hard to gain a woman’s heart. Your girl is yet bound to her own home. You must do what Julian did— you must befriend her father, first, if you wish to gain any entry beyond.”
Stephen looked a little bleak for a moment, but then he saw the point.
“Of course. I have been struggling as though in a battle of only one! There are other men in the picture, yes, her father would be one of them. Of course. How silly. Why, thank you. It means I will need to draw completely different plans than I had.”
 While it had taken a good deal of time to draw out the obvious for poor Stephen, whose mind was daily beset with ledgers, accounts, and bills of sale, who knows where his romantic heart had led him to wander from more practical thoughts, where the family of his own beloved was concerned!
Now we stayed overnight as guests of the manor, sleeping in a good bed Stephen had shown us to. We woke to the sound of turtle doves and shrikes in the trees outside, and after we all had breakfasted on eggs and cheese, we then set off for Chester, and the house of Mary’s parents, Robert and Alexandra. Off on a distant rise we could see a falcon, and I knew it was Springer, and I pointed it out to Mary. The falcon dove quickly at something, speeding sharply straight down it went, and it hit the ground, rising immediately again, with something small and furry squealing in its talons.

We found Robert in his shop, as usual, working now on more coopage. He broke off from it, setting down his hammer and the staves, to embrace Mary.
“Dear daughter! And young Sire, minstrel Julian! How much I have missed you in these troubled months! Do, do come in and be comforted! Alexandra! It is Mary and Julian! Come hither and let us make good cheer!”
Presently Alexandra appeared from the stairway and rushed to hug Mary, and kissed me on the cheek.
“’Tis a fine thing, you have now come. we do worry so for you.”
“It is not meet to worry, Mother. Julian and I are doing well. We own a tavern! And it does fair. I make ale, and Julian supplies it with all goods, and we have a nice people from all around to serve. It is a nice place, yes, and I am happy.’
“That is good, that you are happy, daughter. I would not have it otherwise.”
“Let me see to that horse of yours, Julian! It is the same, is it not?” Alexandra’s interest in Magdalene reassured me. We had left her tied at the door post, and Alexandra brought her a bucket of water and an apple. We could hear her whinny softly her pleasure at the attention.
“Julian, I must say, I am glad to hear you have set your mind on a business more provident than minstrelry.’
“Well I still do act the player, Robert, but my good patron, he too has gone off to the war in Wales, and so now, I worry for his patronage this Christmastide. The men who rule at his castle now are outlanders, and hard. they are making sure none of the good that Anselm showed gets offered in their stead, no.”
“I should tell you, perhaps later, of the troubles I have had here at my shop! No, nothing is as easy as once it was. and nobody knows for sure who his friend is, either, any longer. This is not a sign of good prosperity. But such it is, with the Henrys.’
“Such it is. Yes.” My mind rushed ahead to thoughts of my father and brother, and how they might be faring. But we would see them both later in the day.
For now, it felt pleasant to once more be in the company of Robert, and to see my Mary so happily pleased as well, to be in her own home, the only other she had known besides our home by the shore at The Lady. We all went up the stairs and sat around the great table, and while Alexandra ladled soup from a huge stewpot, Robert let me in on all that had transpired.
“Now it is true, Julian, that I did take such a huge sum of money from the King, and was contracted to do his coopage, in a great amount of barrels, and under a small scope of time. And it is true that my guild gave  me pains for it— the Guildmaster of the Carpenters himself, one Rosswein, brought me to give call to this account, and explain why I should of all the good guildsmen in Chester, be such to receive the favors of the king, and why in doing so, was I not someone who might not be [ruse] any longer in the brotherhood, for it were no secret the Guild had pledged loyalty to Henry Percy and Owain Glyndwyr, and even then, they planned to give Chester to Wales if it were possible. So being that challenged, I said I had not wavered in the least of my own support of Glyndwyr, nor the cause of free Cheshire, but that I had fallen under this account by no faults of my own— I was the one in the town they knew might best deliver as they asked. And then I made them an offer which did cause them all to wonder. I said, “Let me prove that I am loyal in this to our good city. Let me go and make contract with Glyndwyr myself, that you will know me for no traitor.” And having said that, I took leave of Alexandra, I went myself to Harlech, and there, did make treat on my own with Glyndwyr, and when I returned to Chester, I did show my Guildmaster Rosswein that contract, and he was then pleased. And so now I have served two masters, and one I love less than the other, but that both now have me in danger of great calamity, should the one I hold dearest fail.”
Mary looked at him and her voice rang clear and true.
“So, Father, it is true, what my friend Pamela told me? That you went away to Wales, to the war?”
“To the war, but not to fight! To earn money that I might keep my home! Let it be known that the Prince has raised both a levy and a tax on us all here in Chester, in part, a determination against our going forth to Wales, as we all shall hope we might. And they did come to see your mother as I was gone, and yes, they did play a little rough- they bruised her arm, but that was not all of it. They let it be known they would return for the rest of the barrels in a month, and lucky it was that I had returned by then, lest the suspicions would fall more easily on me. But I have Glyndwyr’s gold now, as well, in my sack, and that was a forty pound. Not so much as was bought by the King, but ever yet, money good and free, and well-scrubbed from the taint of his evil.”
Mary’s friend Pamela dwells with us now, or she dwells in the town, a fair distance from us, and works for us in her days. Her brother... was killed at Shrewsbury.”
‘Yes, that was our judgment on it,” said Alexandra. “That he never made it home, it were a foul thing and a foul day.”
“I must to see my brother, ever later in this day,” I added, “for he was taken wounded there, and I must see how he has managed, and how healed is the wound.”
“It was not a good time for us. And even now, as I said, they are raising tax and raising rent and doing what they might to be rid of our thought to join Wales. I pray for our sake we shall have an end to it in our favor. For it will only be worse should Henry IV rule all.”
“So he does at the moment,” I agreed, “but even in Cornwall they despise him. Where we live there are many given to work in the mines, some of whom have been charged to leave and fight for him, others who toil but to give him weapons and armor.”
“And while I was in Wales, they wanted me to take up arms for them. I said, no, for what I can offer with my work is more valuable. This provoked laughter among the Welshmen gathered about the Prince, but then he said he would not have me at arms, if he could gain from my good supply. Then the Welshmen about him all concurred that for force of arms, it would be best that he treat with the French.”
“Aye, there were raids in Dartmouth but a month ago. It was all turned back, but the people are now suspicious...”
“Well, they ought to be. These are not times to be too obvious about where one stands, lest one anger those with the power to take action. And thus it was, that I spent a month apart from Alexandra, and sat with the Prince at Harlech, and heard all the plots of his court and all the news of his various sieges, and when I had garnered his coin unto myself as well as the scrip, so I returned. to find Alexandra shaken and disturbed.”
“Of course,” added Alexandra, “We did have the goods to give to those of the King. I helped at some cost to my own alemaking to put together the balance of the barrels for them. Luckily by then the small ones were all we needed to complete. Even so, it was either to me to do this, or we might suffer their pillage. Thankfully it satisfied them, and they will not be back.”
“But yes it did cause the guild to look at me three-eyed. That I do regret, but they now know my true intents, and if any hold a grudge, yet, they do us all foul.”
“It sounds like a situation I could not envy, were I in it. But thee things do occur. Listen— our Baron who has ridden off to fight for the Prince, in his place has been put men of Devonshire, and lords of one of their castles now run our own. And these same are trying to use me to gain information on a certain miner. Their thought is perhaps he is willing to trade with the French, yet, and so, I must have an ear to his talk when he comes to the tavern. I do not like it. So I am trying to be as discreet as I can. Perhaps I will tell them nothing, although they, I am sure, will have ways to find out otherwise than from me.”
He then told me of how it had been rather deflating for Glyndwyr to have attempted so long the siege of Carreg Cerren (in Carmarthen) to so little gain.
“Glyndwyr believes that whoever so wish to remain free Welsh ought to be fighting with him. Those who do not, well, he may see fit to fire them out. The English are our enemy-— not our brother Welshmen! Except that those who will not take a side a’tall, they’re the hardship for me. “T'would all be easier had I a united Wales to fight with me, not just for me,” he told me, and for that, I was grateful I heard it.
“It lent more of a feeling of desperation to our cause, to know that even inside Wales there were many who refused to commit, for perhaps, they feared submitting to anyone was less preferable than remaining outside of everything. I know... that is a reason you left Cheshire! Because you do not wish to be committed, Julian. Never the less, I feel my daughter safer with you than I would feel she be up here— everything and everyone here is subject to changing their minds on a moment’s word, or testing loyalty to one warlord or the other.”

We passed around the bowl of stew and so we each filled our own bowl and ate our fill. The ale Robert poured into our glasses was merry and inspired us all to talk merrily, about Mary and our wedding, about the May Day Fair and how Stephen had managed to amorize himself to this year’s Queen (which , I was sure, explained his strange talk the day before!) and more about our little inn, about Pamela, about Richard, about how life in Chester would be good “if only they would leave us all alone, and to our homes and shops, and pay no mind!”