It happened however that Eldfarm and his mates, the new keepers of Trewidden, did not make as much of my tavern as they did toward the Pelican. This might have perturbed me, despite their praise, but in fact, it did not. For the Pelican remained the haunt of the sailors and the fishermen in town... My tavern took primarily the country folk and farmers from the hills and dells around me. Most of these were the folk who had attended Anselm’s great feasts, and so he held more loyalty with them. At the Pelican Inn, (and the Crow and Squirrel) the Devonian lords could also keep a watchful eye on the elements of their misrule most likely to throw suspicion upon themselves— for it was well known how many intrigues were launched and plots hatched, and plans to regain lost treasures, in the haunts of sailors and docksmen.
So I did have me some grace, some time to breathe, while those who might despise me were elsewhere. Out of sight was out of mind, and good that was too. But while I had little to do with Eldfarm and his bunch, the monks made themselves more of a presence. For a while I made sure I spoke with them each time they came in, but in due time, I left it to Wilmot, if he were about (he had taken to working with Clarence on four days a week, and two for myself) and Wilmot’s girl Claire, who found the monks a pair of entertaining buffoons, certainly nothing to be concerned with. But this itself gave me cause to worry.
Claire, as I learned, was in all things precocious and given to making exaggerations of situations. This became apparent to me when Wilmot came begging to me for more pay ahead of when I might schedule it, in order that he and Claire might make something of an outing on his next Sunday (Sunday being the day he need not work for either Clarence or I). They planned to go to a point up near Trewidden and spend their afternoon larking in the meadow. That was all fine with me, but what need he more money for?
“For the meal, sire, the meal and the wine!”
I thought about this and asked “Does the one you love require it?”
“Yes, sire, it is of her I have made myself humble to ask... “
“She hath no other way to obtain such repast?”
“Nay, sire. She lives with her parents, but they are old, their food is meager... I wish to give her time to remember me by...”
“I see. Alright I will grant you an extra penny and half and you might use that to purchase more food. But let me hear a happy end to your tale, and successful courting, Wilmot! The happier an end we have, the happier both Clarence and I will be at your prospects.”
Now after their time in the pleasant picnic style, Claire was at the Lady when the monks came in. One bit of talk led to another, and soon she found herself defending herself from the monks insisting she was of loose morals and should make herself more virtuous, by attending mass rather than frolicking at love on Sundays! Lest that this lead to a holy sanctioned marriage, such past times might lead as well to illicit relations, and leirwites!
So then it came to me to try to soothe her spirits by speaking to her once the monks had again departed.
“Claire, however did you come to loose your tongue in front of them? You must be more careful. Now they have formed opinions of you, opinions that may ell be false, but which all are more easy for men like them to make.”
“I knew not... I thought they were joshing with me.”
“Please. They are not here in our country to josh! They have told me they are here on a mission given them by the Archbishop, that they see to it that only the Holy Word as it is styled in Rome is spread among us- no talk of the Gospel in common speech shall pass their scrutinies! And if your own family be so inclined, then, how much more difficult will they make it for them!”
Claire thought about this a while, then said, “Yes, Julian, you are right. I must keep my personal world my own. They have no need to know.”
“For the sooner they can be off and back up to Exeter and the Archbishop, the better off our whole county is. That is the nature of having overlords, whether they be nobles, or priests.”
The evening of the monks’ visit, I had a profoundly disturbing dream. In it, my friend Stephen’s father, Richard, looked sadly upon me. He seemed to want to tell me something he could not. There was a castle, and maybe, Owain Glyndwr’s spectre hung over it, but all around the castle were rings of armed knights and archers, and it was clear to me these represented the King and Prince’s troops. And Richard rather floated over them all. He did not so much as speak a word, but he put it in my mind somehow, that even though he had died trying to protect his son, and his farm, from the raid by the angry, merciless soldiers, that he was saddened that all this had come to pass. When I came to my senses I realized I was sorely sweating and it was most unusually cold, besides that. I thought perhaps I knew that Richard forgave his killers, but I also knew, that he knew, that Stephen, Roger, Albertus, and I could never do that. And it left me to think long and hard on Richard in the morning, as I rode my horse near the sea with my dog running beside us. As I looked out toward Saint Michel’s Mount and the towers and spires of the castle and kirk, I was deeply consumed with feelings I could not quite resolve.
Feelings like, “how could the Lord say to forgive our trespassers, and forgive our trespasses, when it was life itself which was trespassed?” and “if I have all I need but only all I need, why is it meet to give that up to a robber, especially a robber who comes in the name of a king, who already has more than enough?” and “why do men like kings rule over other men?” But after spending the better part of an hour staring hypnotized by the waves breaking over the sands, and realizing I had come no closer to having any answer to any of these than I had when I posed them to myself, I turned the horse back towards my home, and the business of my tavern.
The business of my tavern! How was it that in two short years I had gone from worry over where I slept and what I had for my dinner and where I might get strings for my lute, into worry over where I would find the foods for my tavern guests, what I must give in the way of feed for their horses, and how much money we had earned so might pay wages to my workers! But here I was. The tavern itself was actually doing fine. On any day there were seven or eight locals who came for their afternoon bowls of soup and loaves with cheese, it seemed that every third day or so, some noble travelers would stop, on their way from Bristol or Saint Ives, to London, or once in a week perhaps, some ship would dock in Penzance, and the word spread round beneath the nose of Alstair of the Pelican that “out there in the country is a place that will feed you as good or better!” than his own bird. And the pelican, Scupper, who stopped each day to beg scraps off Moselles and Thangustella, made more and more friends (and maybe, fans!) from amongst them.
It was something of an amazing thing, actually, that this wild bird would be stopping to eat scraps of bread, than he would be out flying over the shoals seeking fat mackerel and sardines to fill his crop. This, we assumed, he did anyway. But he came as he did, and for the better part of a mid-day he would stand on the rail of the stairway, proudly craning his neck, or preening his great wide wings, or scraping his great long beak against the siding.
Kerfel the cat took a liking to Scupper, too, which was really just as odd. Perhaps between them there was a matter or respect or awe. Scupper was much too large a bird to fear Kerfel and his claws, and might have, if he were a more hawk-like bird, have made an easy meal of Kerfel if he wished. But when Scupper flew in on his midday round, Kerfel would bounce from the sunny flagstones where he dozed, and make a mewing noise, and the big bird would rub his huge bill against the top of his head, and Kerfel would rub back, and take pleasure in the stroking.
Panoptes my “Dutch barge dog” had grown into a fierce enemy of the crows, kites, and ravens which would flock along the cypress rows near the barley, and if they flew in and tried to glean the growing stalks, he would rush, barking, out into the field, gaining ground on them until his mere presence were enough to send them flying again to the safety of the branches. I shuddered to think what might become of one of them should he been able to catch one! But it was but a game for him, and he might not know what he should do with it, either, I laughed.
The best of all the people I dealt with in town was Odo Trappet. The butcher, besides being sympathetic to the idea of a Free Wales (and Cheshire) was full of stories and jokes. He was fast becoming actually something of a friend, rather than I only being his customer, I could tell he thought well of me, unlike Cocklenburg the candle man, who was more and more the opposite type, and becoming more a pain to deal with each week. I thought he was a bit of a cheat, although I could never prove it. One day he sold me a measure of wicking which was well short of that I had expected, and when confronted, he shrugged, saying only “It is all I have at this time. Would you like to pay more?”
And so when I compared the two men it was easy deciding between them which would be the first I might see in the day. I always saved the worst people for last for I would soon be on my way home, and away from them.
On a day when it was foggy in the morning, and the thick grey mist hung over the Lizard and the Mount as it could have been the willo’wisp of the Thames, I rode Magdalene to Mousehole, and stopped at the shop and workplace of my good friend Clarence. On this day, Wilmot had it off as a rest from me, and so he was busy with Clarence. Together they were working on the frame of another viol—Clarence had shaped and filed the fine wood sides, and now, Wilmot was spending his time clamping the body fast. First he would bind the back to the sides, and they were held fast with lamps made of wood, and scraps of leather kept it tightly bound. The smell of glue was thick in the air, along with violin rosin, garnered from pine sap, melted, and reformed into balls, pungent with the smell of the forest.
Clarence broke off as he heard the bell on the door clap, and I entered.
“Julian! A pleasure to see you my friend. How goes the Lady?”
“She is as she is, Clarence, and as you have known, your good young man Wilmot there, has been quite the boon for me.”
I could see Wilmot blushing a bit, but I continued along this track with Clarence.
“Ah, He is learning well our trade here as well, Julian. Some days, I admit, it even hurts to spare him...”
I noticed Wilmot blush again.
“For he is indeed quick, and has grasped many things I thought would take him years, in only months. After all, I was young and in love once myself... and I realize he has his desires...”
Now he was flushed through red, Wilmot was, but he kept at his task, and ignored the two of us. Clarence walked me back into the domicile of the shop— the front room of course was the workshop and room where all the instruments hung, but in the back were his own rooms. He led me into the kitchen and poured me a glass of cool perry, from a large flask resting beneath a counter.
“Yes,” I said to Clarence, “Wilmot truly helps us with what we need done. I especially depend upon him now to help me with all the carting back and froth from town, all the food, and keeping things in order. He now knows all the people I deal with and what I deal with them for. If he’s a bit daft at times, I know, he is really just suffering from his love.”
“Oh, that I know, too. If he can find a way to make his way to her, he will. Usually, however, he does this at a time so as not to inconvenience me.”
“Nor does he, for me, either. Still, something in me sees a lot inside of him, that reminds me of myself.”
“And I too! Listen, Julian, just because I am getting on in years now, and have no wife, does not mean that there were no ladies... who might have done well for that... in my own life.”
“I never doubted it, Clarence. And it sometimes might be hard, to have a shop, for man, and not to have somebody about to keep the rest of life in order.”
“Ah, bosh. I am pleased enough with what I have made of things. at this point, what could I gain? Close company for a few more years, and what is that? The way I live, t’would probably not be to the liking of... whomever.”
The fleeting thought hit me, and passed as might a swift arrow as soon as it did, but the widow Bess Farber... the blacksmith! Might not she be a good match for my Clarence? Perhaps there could be a way I could weasel them together somehow, someday... But it was only a passing thought. Clarence said he was happy as he was, and I left it at that.
“What do you think of the girl, Julian?” Now he was asking me questions, and about Claire.
“Well, I hardly know her either, Clarence. But she has come and helped at times herself, and my girl Pamela said she was quite smart. I dare say if these two know what smart is, perhaps they will do well together- and none of us dare to complain?”
“Well, I hardly know her either, Clarence. But she has come and helped at times herself, and my girl Pamela said she was quite smart. I dare say if these two know what smart is, perhaps they will do well together- and none of us dare to complain?”
“No, none of us should dare, but until the day they pledge troth and put us both to plight!”
He laughed, and tipped his cup of perry toward mine, as in a toast. The clink of the two cups sounded in the little room. Dimly lit, his kitchen looked as though it were the warren of some strange creature... it was not a match for the Lady’s shipshape neatness! Everywhere were bowls, plates, and cups, some with dried, old food encrusting them, others with their sides sedimented with weeks-old dregs... There were spoons, and knives and stirrers all about, there was a butter churn which had not known stirring in weeks, (and smelled it!) and there were long string-baskets of oranges, onions, and turnips hanging from the ceiling, along with ropes of sausage. From these, Clarence oft fashioned his meals. What he did not have to hand, he bought in Mousehole at a coster’s there, or he would barter with Mary, and lately, he had begun bartering with Moselles for day old loaves, and these he picked up weekly, or had Wilmot fetch back to him.
Clarence’s other rooms were really not much better than his kitchen. In the room that kept his bed and his study desk were mounds of clothing worn and cast off, and awaiting a wash. But washing got done maybe one time in a month, and Clarence, fond as he was of certain articles of his clothes, oft went without making any changes in that, for days on end. The desk was covered in paper, paper with writing and musical signs, and books that held stories and poems and mysteries and magical spells— all of which he said were not his ken (as they could have been with Porcull!) but which were good, he aid, for coming to grips with the many questions that life’s riddles posed. Sometimes, Clarence liked to say, “hearing what some other man had to say about something helps you to decide your own mind, or not.” I did not disagree.
The thought of that, however, brought me to turn the discussion toward the subject I had engaged on with Ranulf, and had brought Abu into awareness of as well. That was, the music of place, and the music of human souls. There is no music, said Clarence, without human ears to hear it. Much as there is no tree felled in a forest without a woodsman to cut it, so there cannot be music without perception of such a thing. What we experience, he told me, “when we approach a new place, is not merely the “music” of the place, but the language and discourse of the human souls which have dwelt there, or tarry there, or otherwise been a party to making the magic we sense exists."
“Clarence, when I was in France I saw a place— it was an ancient stone circle like the ones up on the moors here— and it was magic, human magic, although no human had had so much as touched them in many centuries.”
“Ah, but that is the thing, lad. The human touch! If you were to go into a deep, dark wood, such as no man had ever walked inside, with wolves, and owls, and fierce dragons, even, and you were to walk from one end of that wood to the other and there were no clearing, would that wood still broadcast its music, as you call it, to you?”
“Well... that depends.”
“Depends on what?”
“That depends on whether one feels welcome there.”
“But could you feel welcome in the presence of a dragon?”
“I don’t know.”
“There, you see, Even you have your doubts...”
“But even if it were a dragon there, who is to say it be fair or foul but that I had disturbed it> If there had been no man walked there ever, that would not mean any difference to the trees.”
“Do you think we humans mean anything to the tree?’
“Well, maybe... yes.”
“Then you ask the trees next time to tell you what difference you should make to them. I guarantee you, all you will hear will be the wind talking in their leaves.”
“But that wind has spirit, too!”
“The wind carries all spirit, Julian. And it carries it we know not where. And it speaks to the trees more than it speaks to us.”
“But yet, it does!”
“Do you have the ears to catch its tale?”
“That is what Porcull was trying to teach me!”
“Ah, then Porcull perhaps must be some druid. For only druids concern themselves with the arguments of trees.”
“Clarence, I think you miss the point.”
“What point, Julian? That the druids knew the language of the trees? But all schoolchildren know this!”
“No, no, Clarence. That there was a spirit passed by the wood or the glen or the rock-strewn hill, and it left the message with the trees and the stones... don’t you think that there is just music in the air? That you or I have the charm, or maybe the luck, to pull it down, pluck it out, and set it back into the air in an order others find pleasing... is that not a magic of itself?”
“Julian, I am not discussing if music is a magic. I am only being stubborn in saying that, if the trees and stones have a music, should it not be they who speak it, not us? All we are are little fireflies that alight on their branches for a short moment. Then, our song is sung, and we are extinguished, and our souls...”
He stopped. I waited for him to continue.
“And our souls continue in the spirit world, at no odds with the rocks or the trees, or the wind...”
“I do think you missed the point, Clarence. I will teach you how to listen for it, yet!”
I drained my cup, and he poured me another. The light of the mid afternoon sun broke through his leaded windows, with their grey-smoky glass allowing in enough light that we did not need squint, but there was still the grey fog, and we saw no blue sky behind it.
“Listen, Julian. I feel there is something in your argument. But I will need my own reason to put up against it, if there is such to experience. I have not experienced it as yet, though I have been playing music all my life. I try to pour magic into the vessels that I create— the vielles and lutes and drums. There I set it, and it is up to the buyers to make that come out. Some are better parsed to the task than others. Some are mere dilletantes, you know... like that Lord Devonside!” He chuckled.
“I must have sold him five lutes, a violoncello, a hurdygurd, and six drums! It is a good thing I do not trivy about with pennywhistles— he would have bought a whole cane basket full!”
“I think the tin men would have better say working pennywhistles, Clarence.”
“Yes, quite. Anyway, Julian, you see, if there is magic and music it exists within us, first. We cannot express it unless it is there to begin with. If you have some new system, perhaps, of interpreting the will of nature, and it comes through your lute, well, good and fine. But to my mind, it is from your mind to your hands, and not from the big sky out there.”
I could see I had not, and maybe would not, ever convert good Clarence into the realm of the mystical awareness that Porcull had stirred in me, and that I had succeeded in with Abu, and also, just recently, Ranulf. But time is a river and we wait at the shore, and while Clarence was yet on our side of it, I would try, anyway, bit by bit, week by week, year by year...
At that point, a sweat-beaded Wilmot came beaming into the kitchen, wiping his brow, and Clarence poured him a perry as well.
“I have finished, Master Clarence.”
“Good! Now we shall set the back overnight, and in the morning, we will fix the front plate of the soundboard. Have you finished the scroll work for the neck yet?”
Wilmot took a gulping gasp of the perry, and set it down, shaking his head.
“No, no, I had almost forgot! That will be my next thing...”
While Wilmot was there with us, I turned to him and asked him directly about Claire.
“Wilmot, we note your passion for the maid. Are things well with you? Are you and her parents, I mean, making progress? I can tell that she loves you. Are there no other suitors, have you driven them all away? Can you make note, perhaps, to tell her, that while I appreciate her work at The Lady, and her attending them, please, do not let her speak too loosely about your affairs! For they were born to meddle. All friars are. They feel a concern for the state of our souls which belongs to nobody but ourselves. If you value your happiness... do not let her speak of your love!”
I was a little shocked even at myself for having said it, but now that it was out, there need be no more querying Wilmot as to how things stood.
“They do go well, Julian. Her parents are good people, if poor. They too appreciate your letting us work for you, when you do. I feel it may be a year or more, but I will win her. There are no suitors. Yes, I drove all of them away! One of them was a lout named Targis, but I put him to flight by knocking him into the Coombe one day. He has not bothered me, nor us, since. And those monks! I will speak to her. I realize what you are saying. I do not like church a whole lot. If it were up to me, God might say, “You are too good to go to church today! Who are they to say you sin by your tarrying?” But then, that is my Lord, not theirs, speaking.”
I took it for a sensible answer. Clarence and I played our instruments through the evening, Wilmot went back to finishing the work, and we heard the bell of the doorway slap on his way out, which was as the sun had begun to set.
One day the monks were there in the tavern, and this was quite odd, but the one named Micah was sitting crying, blubbering almost. The other one, Earnest, was holding him by the shoulder and trying to whisper comforting things in his ear.
I rushed to their table.
“Whatever is wrong, my dear friars?”
“We have been Trewidden...”
“Good Brother Micah has had his crozier stolen, by one of the castlemen!”
I drew in a sharp breath, and I knew the both heard it.
“Wherefore and why?”
“This we hardly know either, but we think ‘tis of some idea that because it happened to be the staff of a friar, that it hold some magic inside it, or some power, that perhaps it be some talisman, and that it might serve a man of arms far better than some friar, for with magic...”
“For with that magic, perhaps, a man in battle might be invincible, of course!”
“Yes, but, nothing. We hold that the cross of Jesus itself means more than just a means for a man to take power...”
Micah the monk sobbed even louder.
“Why is he crying so? It’s just a piece of wood, a carved stick...”
“Then,” Earnest continued, “Then you do nor understand, good Julian, for this staff was a gift to Micah, from the Archbishop Scrope at York. This personal gift cannot be replaced, as such... We rest at Madron...”
Really now, the sobbing monk beside him made a piteous sight, for each time he began a new jag of crying, the tonsure on his temples flushed red, his eyes ran like the spring of Saint Piran itself, and he would sometime rub his arm to wipe the snot that drooled off his nose, a portion of his sorrow no doubt. I had not seen such a thing in a man since the battle at Shrewsbury, but those men I saw would die that night, and knew there was no sense in shedding tears for their own lost cause. This man was, it seemed, quite drunk on his pain. All for a silly staff with a cross on the top!
I was then glad I had made the decision much younger, whatever happened, I would never be a monk myself. For if it meant to have blubbering nincompoops like Micah to sup, drink and converse with... well, at least I did not have to sit at the table with him, only to wait on him.
Luckily just then the ever-aware Pamela turned up, and brought the friars bowls of hippocras, hot and steaming, and the sufferer wiped his eyes smiled a weak smile, and took a sip from the bowl the other held to his quivering lips.
“I do not want to to lose the respect of the Archbishop,” he said, finally breaking free from the sobbing jerks of his upper torso to get a few sensible words out.
“But so I have failed him. I love England. I love the Archbishop. But...”
He had stopped, and I wanted to hear the rest of it. “Yes?”
“I do not like a knight who robs holy men! What can be holy to a man like that?”
I had no answer for him, for I would hate such a man myself, and I did.
I had few words, but my asking “yes” and nodding “no” when they posed me a question, as the helping brother helped simpering Micah to down the rest of the hippocras, in big gulps he took it, until they set down the bowl, and looked at me limply, and both smiled.