Well I’m finally back in a position to do a little writing again, so here goes. This is the first part of a multi-part story. I’m not 100% convinced that posting it piecemeal like this as I write it is a good idea because I think it will be complicated. I’m running the risk that I will need to re-order stuff that’s already be posted, but let’s give it a shot hey … 🙂
John walked along the path to the market square. Around him the signs of spring were emerging. A touch of green growth dusting the trees just as the first snows had done so many months ago. A lone bird, singing its song, eager for a mate and the bounty of seeds that the season would bring, fluttered within a nearby perennial hedge. The sun was definitely stronger that a week ago. Peering through the thin cloud, he actually felt warmth from its rays on his skin.
His heart was light this morning. Jessica was with child; his child, his first. The thought buoyed his spirit, raising his hopes above the cloying mud that stuck to his boots and in which he seemed to spend so much of his life. Jessica, who had made such a change to his life was now bringing him another gift.
She was the ray of sunshine that had illuminated his life. Arriving two summers ago, she had walked into the village square one morning. A lone woman traveler. Not completely unheard of, but rare enough to provoke comment. A ripple of murmurs among the gathered traders, was a foretaste of things to come.
“Who is she?”, they asked. “A runaway slave?”, proffered one pundit. “No, look at her complexion, her teeth”, said another, “that’s no slave.” “OK then, a runaway consort.” “That makes her even more dangerous”, was the reply.
She’d certainly not acted like a runaway. A supreme confidence marked her bearing, calm and deliberate in the way she’d mixed with the crowd. She made no attempt to hide. And time bore out that truth as day on day, week after week no-one came looking for their property. With the safety of that truth slowly growing, fear of retribution through association had abated and she’d begun to be accepted locally. Yet local she definitely was not.
John had never met anyone with such an inquiring spirit before. Questions tumbled from her mouth constantly. “What are you doing?” “Why is that necessary?” “How long will that last you?” It was as if she were driven by a pathological need to fit in. A need to be part of the community and life that he wore with practiced ease.
It was impossible that she had grown up locally, she knew nothing of their way of life. In fact it surprised him how little she knew in some areas. It was almost beyond his comprehension how she could have survived so long without knowing how to butcher a carcass. How to properly roast over a fire. How to start a fire for that matter. Even the high ladies of the lord’s court knew of these things, regardless of whether they were much practiced. Yet she knew none.
Where could she possibly have grown up and survived to such an age without them? For all her questions of others, on this point she was resolutely silent. Nothing he tried could tempt her to give him a hint. It intrigued him, drew him to her and in return he’d become the primary focus of her questioning.
He enjoyed the times they spent together. Mostly he’d be continuing about his normal business, but she’d make it hers to join him and use the chance to keep learning. Admittedly some days he thought he might be smothered under the torrent of her questions. It was like a bubbling brook, at times stronger and at others weaker, always running. But like a brook, he found it cleansing.
Pausing in his stride, he sighed and looked down at his boots. A thick layer of mud had built up again; enough to make walking laborious. As he cleaned the sticky muck, he reflected that this was what life had been like before Jessica’s arrival. The community, the traditions and life in which he was embedded had been ubiquitous, all that he’d known. They had sucked at his thoughts like a mud pit, hampering his desire to move or explore. But like thrusting filthy feet into a stream, her questions and presence had cleaned away the inertia and caused him to reflect on how things might be. On why things were as they were.
That was the enigma of their relationship. Jess, incessantly driving inwards to understand what was inside his world. John relishing the glimpse of what might be outside. So different, and yet, perhaps the same. The difference simply being that the inside of his world was the outside of hers. Regardless, within a year John’s mind had been made up, he had asked Jessica to be his wife.
Rounding the corner, he came within sight of the tavern and his friend Willheim waiting at the gate.
“Ho, John”, he called, raising an arm into the clearing morning air.
“Ho, Willheim”, John responded. “Today is such a fine day, I think that after the market, you’ll be joining me for a pint at the Tavern.”
Willheim turned his face to the sky and look dubiously at the lightening sky. “I’d say the day’s definitely better than it’s been, but I wouldn’t have thought it good enough to extract the cost of a pint from you”, he observed, “still, if you’re shouting, I won’t say no.”
John grinned, “No my friend, you’ve got it wrong. It’s you who will be shouting me.”
Acting out an exaggerated shock, Willheim scoffed, “And what makes you think that?”
“Because of the great news I have today”, John explained, the grin on his face increasing.
Willheim looked unimpressed but tilted his head back slightly inviting an explanation good enough for him to part with his coin. Between them silence stretched, the grin on John’s face turning mischievous as he milked the moment for all he could get until finally Willheim broke.
“Come on, spit it out. You’re grinning like a madman.”
“Jessica’s pregnant”, he relented in a flood of excitement.
Willheim’s face broke into a smile as broad as his friend’s, and ran over to congratulate him, slapping his back and lifting him in a bear-hug. “That might just be good enough”, he said, “but it’s you who can explain to my Sarah where we’ve been come tomorrow morning.”
Arms draped over each other’s shoulders they turned to continue on from the tavern towards the market square.
“And what makes you think I won’t be stopping at one?”, asked John, mock hurt in his voice.
“History”, said Willheim simply and burst out laughing as they disappeared around the corner.
(to be continued …)