Margaret Frazer

Posts tagged ‘novice’s tale’

The Novice’s Tale – Chapter 14

September 14th, 2012

The Novice's Tale - Margaret Frazer

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Thomasine sat in the far corner of the window bench in Domina Edith’s parlor, her hands folded in her lap, her gaze on the sunlit, empty yard below. Sir Walter and Master Montfort and all their men were gone. Sir Walter had taken Lady Ermentrude’s household with him. There had been a great clatter, with shouting and creaking of wheels and clanking of harness, but now there was only the mid-morning silence with, distantly, the calling of workers in the fields. Everything in the past few days might not have happened, except for Martha Hayward’s coffin waiting in the church for someone to come and take it to her people. (more…)

The Novice’s Tale – Chapter 13

September 13th, 2012

The Novice's Tale - Margaret Frazer

Ela clutched at Frevisse’s sleeve. “When I saw what they were doing, I went the back way round, into the church! To Domina Edith. She said I was to come get you! And him!” She gestured wildly at Chaucer. “She said to hurry!”

“Damn him,” Chaucer said without passion, and went for the door.

Jerking her sleeve free from Ela’s fingers, Frevisse followed him, overtaking him at the foot of the stairs, in the cloister walk.  “Your men?” she asked. “Can they be of use?”

Chaucer shook his head. “There’d only be blood shed to no purpose. I’ll have to stop him with words or nothing.”

Breathless with fear as much as haste, Frevisse nodded, gathered up her skirts and ran. Chaucer followed her. (more…)

The Novice’s Tale – Chapter 12

September 12th, 2012

The Novice's Tale - Margaret Frazer

The woman servant who had come with Lady Isobel was seated on the bench outside their chamber. She made no move to stop Frevisse, but Frevisse paused, turned from her intent to talk with Sir John and Lady Isobel because so casual a chance to talk to the woman might not come again.

“God’s greeting to you,” she said lightly, and nodded her head toward the door. “Your lord is still hurting?”

The woman, obviously bored at sitting attendance here, brightened, glad to talk about troubles. “Indeed he is. Wearying my poor lady with his needs and her so good to him she’ll not deny him anything.” She lowered her voice and said, leaning forward as if to give a great confidence, “Fancy, a big, strong man like him letting some passing peddler muck with his tooth because he’s afraid to have it drawn!”

Frevisse was not interested in Sir John’s toothache, but asked without a qualm at her own duplicity, “Do you suppose it was all the quarreling brought it on this time?”

The woman shrugged. “It comes on anytime it feels like, but I’d not be surprised. All that shouting would make anyone’s jaw ache.”

“They argued all the night, I’ve heard. And Sir John told Lady Ermentrude to leave.”

“Now that’s not quite right but close enough. Sir John was the one who tried to quiet it between them, but hardly a word in edgewise they let him have. We could hear them right through the door of the solar most of that evening. But the next morning when Lady Ermentrude came to leave, hardly a word was passed among them, except Lady Isobel sent my lord out to say, nice as you please, that he hoped, it would all come right after she’d thought on it and wouldn’t she break her fast before she left.”

“And did she?” (more…)

The Novice’s Tale – Chapter 11

September 11th, 2012

The Novice's Tale - Margaret Frazer

They were at the door to the church, already remiss in talking in the cloister and unwilling to be any later for Vespers. They slipped into the church, made apologizing curtseys to Domina Edith, and took their places in the choir stalls.

But once in her place, chanting the verses so familiar they did not need her thoughts, Frevisse felt the creeping impact of Dame Claire’s assertion. If she were right, someone had tried to kill Lady Ermentrude not two times but three. And it had to have been someone not of the priory, for none of the priory people went with her to the Wykehams or met her on the way back. So who, then? Someone who went to Sir John’s and Lady Isobel’s with her – or met her there or on the road on the way back to St. Frideswide’s. Whoever it was, they came with her into the priory and stayed to try again – and again.

So some of the questions Frevisse had been asking were no longer ones that needed answering, but at the very least Thomasine could no longer be considered guilty. If Dame Claire were right, even Sir Walter and Master Montfort would have to accept that.  Except this was somewhat subtle reasoning, at least by Master Montfort’s standards. He would not take Dame Claire’s word for it. He would say she was lying to protect the nunnery and refuse to hear her. Or, being male, he would say a mere woman should not dare to offer some female notion as fact. Montfort, the fool, and Sir Walter, the arrogant fool, would never waste their valuable masculine time seeking the truth when they thought they already had it.

Suddenly Frevisse found the curses in today’s chanting of Psalm 109 very applicable. “Let his days be few; and let another take his office… Let his children be vagabonds… Let the extortioner consume all that he has; and let the stranger spoil his labor.” And she did not care if that curse fell on Master Montfort or on Sir Walter or on both of them, so well they both deserved it. (more…)

The Novice’s Tale – Chapter 10

September 10th, 2012

The Novice's Tale - Margaret Frazer

Thunder grumbled. Dame Claire looked up as if it were reminding her of something. “I must go.”

“One other thing,” Frevisse said. “Sir John has the toothache. Have you anything to help it until he can find an honest surgeon to draw it?”

Dame Claire, always ready to talk of remedies, brightened, thought for a moment, and said, “My oil of cloves is nearly gone but I’ll have more from the Michaelmas fair. He’s surely welcome to what I have left. Has he been troubled long?”

“Long enough that he bought a cure from a passing mountebank some time of late. He described it as all froth and little help.”

Dame Claire made a ladylike snort of contempt. “I know of that false cure. All smoke and dwale and fancy words. Then they show you the gnawing worm they’ve driven from your tooth, but it’s come out of their sleeve, not your mouth.” Thunder muttered in the clouds. “If he’s hurting, this weather will make it hurt the worse. Tell him to send to me for the oil of cloves when he wants it. Where are you bound for?”

“The kitchen, I’m afraid.”

Dame Claire nodded her sympathy and went away.

Frevisse, drawn by duty and against her own inclination, went to see how matters were coming between Dame Alys and her unfortunate staff. Thomasine, as ordered, hung in her wake. There should have been no need of that within the cloister, but Frevisse felt uncomfortable unless she actually had the girl in sight.

The kitchen was crowded. Frevisse paused in the doorway, waiting to sort out what was happening, and saw that besides the priory’s usual lay workers, there were three of St. Frideswide’s nuns and a half dozen Fenner servants hurrying under Dame Alys’s full-voiced orders.

The dame was presently declaring that the next hand besides her own that touched the pastry would be ground up and added to the meat for the pies, but her usual fury lacked full conviction.

“Here now, here now!” She poked one of the servants in the ribs with her bent spoon but scarcely hard enough to make the woman wince. “Do that chicken neck again! There’s a fistful of meat on those bones! Pick it all off, pick it all! We’ve too many hungry mouths waiting to waste a morsel!” (more…)

The Novice’s Tale – Chapter 9

September 7th, 2012

The Novice's Tale - Margaret Frazer

Outside the doorway, they nearly collided with young Robert Fenner, who fell back, his eyes going to Thomasine. “I pray you pardon me, my ladies,” he said.

Apparently Thomasine was no longer afraid of this particular male. She murmured it was no matter and shifted a little, as if she would continue going toward the outer door. But Frevisse held her where she was and said to Robert, “Do you know if word is out about Lady Ermentrude’s death?”

“There’s talk beginning. Montfort is known for quick decisions, but hasn’t made one yet for this. People are starting to wonder, and once that starts it will spread like mold in damp bread.” He nodded at the door behind her. “Sir Walter has only just come but he’s even quicker to move than Montfort. If he believes the rumors about poison, he’ll press Montfort into doing something as fast as may be. If Montfort resists, there will be as fine a display of temper as this place has ever seen. He has that other matter to hand, so he will be doubly anxious not to linger over this one.”

“Other– You mean his uncle’s dying? But surely…”

“A cousin. Lord Fenner. He’s rich three times over, and Sir Walter is his heir. The title is Sir Walter’s for certain but he wants to be sure there’s no ill-written will sharing the wealth with others. He’s been at Lord Fenner’s sickbed this month past, and the talk has been that nothing short of Judgment Day could pull him away. But now his mother’s dead of a sudden, so here he is. Not that Lord Fenner will be making any wills in his absence.  His lordship is taking his time about dying and won’t make a will until the bishop himself has assured him there is absolutely no way he can carry any of it away with him beyond the grave. Still, Sir Walter will be eager to get back. He’s a careful man and doesn’t like leaving things to chance.”

“Or being kept from what he wants.”

“No. Best warn your prioress there is going to be hell to pay until his mother’s death is settled.” He looked at Thomasine and paused. This time Frevisse noted that Thomasine did not flinch from his look. More gently than he had been speaking to Frevisse, he said, “We are kin of sorts, my lady. Did you know that?”

“No,” she said softly. Her gaze dropped, but then returned to his face. “How?” (more…)

The Novice’s Tale – Chapter 8

September 6th, 2012

The Novice's Tale - Margaret Frazer

When Master Montfort was through with them, there was need to tell Domina Edith what was happening, and what was likely to come of it. At Dame Claire’s asking, Frevisse went with her, and afterward they stood together in the stillness of the parlor, waiting for Domina Edith to look up from her lap. The dog twitched in its sleep, a fly butted at a windowpane, and after a time Domina Edith raised her head.

“You have no doubt it was murder indeed?”

Frevisse inclined her head even more quickly than Dame Claire did. “Murder meant and planned and attempted twice, failing the first time, succeeding the second.”

“So you think Martha’s death was unintended?”

“I can see no reason for it being wanted.”

“But you see a reason for Lady Ermentrude’s?”

“Being Lady Ermentrude, there were probably any number of reasons and people wanting her death.” Two days ago Frevisse would have said that wryly, but there was no humor in it now. Someone had truly wanted Lady Ermentrude dead, wanted it badly enough that Martha’s accidental dying had not stopped them, wanted it desperately enough they had tried again with barely a pause.

“What reason does Master Montfort see?” (more…)

The Novice’s Tale – Chapter 7

September 5th, 2012

The Novice's Tale - Margaret Frazer

There was quiet in the church now that the bell had ceased its tolling. The air still seemed to tremble slightly, remembering the fifty-seven slow strokes in memory of every year of Lady Ermentrude’s life, but faintly and fading now. As memories of Lady Ermentrude would fade away in time, Thomasine thought, fade away and not matter anymore.

But they mattered now, lying sickly between her thoughts and her praying, even here in her best place, on the step below St. Frideswide’s altar, where almost always she could lose herself in prayers and not think of the stone hurting her knees or the thinness of her hands clinging together or the two coffins waiting on their biers behind her.

She had helped wash and ready Lady Ermentrude’s body for its shroud and coffin, had followed it across the yard and seen it set beside Martha Hayward’s, and been given leave, after Prime, to remain in prayer for their souls. But the prayers she wanted seemed to be nowhere in her, only the thought of Lady Ermentrude’s and Martha’s bodies lying behind her, waiting for their people to come and take them to their final places. Lady Ermentrude would go to her own lordship’s church and a grave beside the high altar, to rest there under a carved stone image of herself until Last Judgment Day. Martha Hayward would lie in Banbury churchyard, where she would molder into bones to be dug up and put with other moldered bones in a charnel house, to make way for someone else’s burying. They were both dead and in need of her prayers, and no prayers would come, only the thought of how suddenly dead they had been.

Their dying had had nothing easy in it; even completed death had failed to soften the engraved pain of Lady Ermentrude’s harsh features before the shroud covered it. Surely a soul forced from its body by such an end desperately needed praying for, and Thomasine knew it. But the prayers would not come, not for her own sake or Lady Ermentrude’s or Martha’s. Only thoughts.

Of Lady Ermentrude’s dying, of the small black creeping thing reaching out – from Hell? – toward her…

A hand touched Thomasine’s shoulder. With a gasping shriek, she lunged forward to scrape with both hands at the base of the altar, then jerked her head around to find Dame Frevisse standing over her, come quietly in soft-soled shoes. (more…)

The Novice’s Tale – Chapter 6

September 4th, 2012

The Novice's Tale - Margaret Frazer

Frevisse was awake. Somewhere the last faint tendrils of a dream drifted and faded from a far corner of her mind, leaving no memory of what it had been. The hour was past Matins but still far from dawn, she thought. She raised her head a little, looking for the small window in the high pitch of the dormitory’s gable end. By St. Benedict’s Holy Rule all who lived in nunnery or monastery should sleep together in a single room, the dorter. But the Rule had slackened in the nine hundred years since St. Benedict had taken his hand from it. St. Frideswide’s was not the only place where the prioress slept in a room of her own, and the dorter had been divided with board walls into small separate rooms that faced one another along the length of the dorter. Each cell belonged to one nun, and sometimes each had a door or, as at St. Frideswide’s, curtains at the open end.

There, in a privacy St. Benedict had never intended, each nun had her own bed, a chest for belongings, often even a carpet, and assuredly more small comforts than the Rule even at its laxest allowed. In Frevisse’s, one wall was hung with a tapestry come from her grandmother’s mother, its figures stiff, their clothing strange, but the colors rich and the picture a rose garden with the Lover seeking his Holy Love. Across from it, beside her bed, there was a small but silver crucifix her father had brought from Rome.

It was all lost in near-darkness now. Through each night the only light for all the dorter was a single small-burning lamp at the head of the stairs down to the church, and sometimes moonlight slanting through the gable window.

As a novice, Frevisse had slept badly. She had been uncomfortable with the hard mattress and with sleeping in her undergown as the Rule required, had been disturbed by the water gurgling through the necessarium at the dorter’s other end, and at being roused at midnight to go to the church for Matins and Lauds.

Finally, over the years, she had learned to use her lying awake for prayer, or meditation, or remembering, or simply thinking. Now, waking in the night was no longer a burden but a gift for which she was often grateful.

With the last whisper of the dream drifted out of her mind, she lay looking at the high gable window, trying to judge the time, but there was no familiar star or any moonlight, only the rich darkness of sky, so different in its satin gleam from the dead black of the dorter’s night. She pulled herself more closely into her blankets’ warmth, settling into her mattress’s familiar lumps. And found she could not settle. Whatever hour of the night it was, not only sleep but quietness had left her.

She stirred restlessly, realizing she was fully awake. Why? She roamed through her mind and found she was wanting – for no good reason – to go and see how Lady Ermentrude was doing. And Thomasine. (more…)

The Novice’s Tale – Chapter 5

September 1st, 2012

The Novice's Tale - Margaret Frazer

Frevisse stopped where she was, as much in disgust as horror, then crossed herself as much in penance for the disgust as for the repose of Martha’s soul. Dame Claire, recovering from her own reaction, went to kneel where Father Henry had been.

Frevisse, almost as quickly, went to stand between sight of Martha’s body and Thomasine, who was crouched too near it, whimpers crawling up from her throat and her face pressed against prayer-clasped hands. Carefully, not wanting to bring on hysterics, she took the girl by the shoulders and said as gently as she could, “Stand up out of Dame Claire’s way.”

The infirmarian was feeling for pulse and breath, looking for life where very surely there was none.

“Stand up,” Frevisse repeated, wanting to get her away from the temptation to look again at Martha.

Thomasine responded, letting herself be helped to her feet. With an arm around her shoulders, Frevisse turned her away from both Martha and Lady Ermentrude.

“It was awful,” Thomasine whispered, shaking in Frevisse’s hold. “It was horrible. She had a… fit. She–”

Firmly across her rising voice Frevisse said, “It’s over. She’s not hurting anymore. It’s finished.”

Dame Claire sat back from her fruitless search for signs of life and looked up at Father Henry still standing above her. “What happened?” she demanded. (more…)

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