We took down the hazel branches from the doors and windows and blessed God for keeping us free of witches for another year. Would that it were so easy to keep the abominable Robert away. He is coming for Christmas. The first memory I have of this brother is his drowning ants by pissing on the anthill. He has plagued me ever since.
I joined the village children today as they went from cottage to cottage begging for soul cakes. Our cook makes the largest cakes but Perkin's granny makes the best. Ordinarily I do not mind Perkin's granny's muddle-mindedness, for she is the most roomhy-hearted person I know, but sometimes she forgets to make her cakes and we are all disappointed. One year she made cakes at Michaelmas and was full angry that no one came begging for them. Another All Souls Day,k as we stood at her window singing, "Soul, a cake, a soul cake, please good mistress, a soul cake," she wished us a Holy Christmas and sang back, "Here we come a-wassailing among the boughs so green." This year she got the day right and I snuck extra cakes into my chamber for tomorrow. I have already eaten them.
The beast my father roared especially ugly roars today. I never seem to please him, although it is true I never try. When I was a child, I ofttimes thought I was a foundling or, even better, the beloved daughter of our good king Edward Longshanks, left here with this beast and his wife for fostering. Mayhap it is true, and now that I near fourteen my real father will call me home. And I will live in a castle with Turkey rugs on the floor and glass in the windows and dress my hair with a comb of gold and ivory. No, even better, my real father is a woodsman from the west who lives in a treehouse made of sticks and branches. He calls me home and we live with the beasts of the forest and dance in the moonlight in the wet grass and no one calls us in to go to bed or finish our sewing, which Morwenna is doing now, the Devil take her.
Brought my popinjay to dinner. He fell off my shoulder into the boiled mirling and I had to take him to the kitchen to wash the sauce off his feathers and let him dry himself by the fire. My father roared because there were a few feathers in the fish. He has eaten worse. As I passed his chair after dinner, the beast hit me hard enough to crack my rump.
Afterwards, my uncle George winked at me and made all the uproar worth it. My heart almost stopped.
Father Huw came for dinner after Mass. He is infested with boils and blotches and sought the aid of my lady mother. To test my skills in doctoring, she asked what I would advise. I thought the best remedy was to throw himself in the river, but aloud I advised an ointment made of oil of bay and a bath once in a while.
Went to the high meadow to meet Aelis as we planned. I waited all day but she never came. Morwenna caught me sneaking back after supper and i have been made to do extra sewing. My belly is croaking with hunger and I have seven ticks.
Aelis did not come to the meadow yesterday because she was with my uncle George. I have made myself another draft of wormwood and mint.
I put a toad in George's bed. I don't know why. I cried at dinner and left the table before the almond cream. I don't know why. I looked for Perkin to pinch him but he was gone with the goats. I cannot be a monk nor a crusader nor a tumbler. I must stay here and hem sheets until I die. My humors are greatly out of balance. I prescribe for myself wormwood in spiced wine and some of the custard left from supper. And I will let all of the dogs sleep in my bed.
It appears a storm is coming. Father Huw says storms are the work of the Devil. Does that mean if the Devil is busy with some other mischief, the weather is good? Or if the Devil is occupied bringing a storm to Stonebridge, there is no sickness or evil or bad weather elsewhere in the world? Is the Devil, then, being in charge of the weather, more powerful than God?
Father Huw is ringing the bells to drive the storm away, but the Devil is winning this time.
The wind ripped the roofs off several of the cottages and the unlucky villagers crowded into our hall last night. Trees fell and the lowlands were flooded with a foot of water as our normally dilly-dally river leapt its banks and ran through the fields, looking for things to devour.
Perkin said babies in their cradles were washed out of the cottages and sailed away to lands unknown like Moses in the Bible. This morning we can see the river tumbling with dead rats, turnip tops, and cooking pots.
Why, I wonder, did God make faces with the nose over the mouth instead of the other way? Why do noses have two openings and mouths only one? And why do we need to blow our noses but never our ears? Or our eyes?
I thought to ask Morwenna these questions, but when she doesn't have answers she just bellows at me and sends me to do embroidery, so I dare not risk it. It rains today, so I am sitting in my chamber listening to the music of my birds and wondering.
My father is confined to his bed with severe ale head. I ground some peony root to soothe his pain but he drank the powder in more ale so I don't know how much good it will do. I wonder why every occasion for mourning or celebrating seems to call for ale: birth ales, church ales, bride ales, funeral ales, harvest ales. Every week our hall is filled with guests who are marking some occasion with ale on one day and violently ridding themselves of it4 the next. Birds and animals and children, being smarter, never get drunk and never have ale head or putrid stomach.
All is ashes. I was in the high meadow today with Aelis, who says she loves my uncle George, and he loves her, and they wish to wed. I must doubt that her father the baron will let her be given to a younger son with no land and no title, but she says she always gets her way, so I am greatly afeared. Will they, my two most favorite in the world, abandon me for each other? I am sore stricken.
I have heard that if lovers meet a pig while walking, it is certain to doom their love. if only I could arrange for them to meet a pig. Or, even better, a weasel. Where do I get a weasel? And how do I get them all three together? I think to need more wormwood tonight.
A gray and drizzly day. I have done extra hours of embroidery, for it gave me time to think undisturbed about Aelis and George. I thought to make a spell to curse them but I do not know where to get dragon dung. Mayhap I should pray instead but I am not very good at asking nicely for things, even from God.
They are cleaning out the privy today. The stench drove me from the house into the muddy fields, but when they started to spread the manure on the fields, I went back into the house. One thing I will never do is run away and be a privy cleaner.
They found the remains of several spindles, many skeins of wool, and an unfinished tapestry in the muck from the privy. Why is everyone so certain they are mine?
I have developed a rash on my body where the rough cloth rubs on my skin. I wanted to take a bath, thinking that the dirt on my skin made the rash worse, but the bathing tub has been turned upside down and is being used as an extra table in the kitchen and I cannot have it until springs, so I just spread goose grease on my rash. The dogs are following me everywhere.
Heard Mass three times today. My father must want something of God. A rich son-in-law, no doubt, although there have been no further prune-faced suitors. No more news of George and Aelis, the uncle thief. Mayhap their love is but a dream of Aelis's. George for certain has said nothing, albeit he has new dark circles about his eyes and no winks for me.
It is a strange and wonderful story, about King Edmund. He was hacked to pieces by invading Vikings, and his head rolled under a thorn bush where it lay calling "Help, help" until his friends could find it and carry it home. I have added to the picture on my wall Edmund's head hiding in the bush, calling "Help, help." His teeth are yellow because I have no white paint. But maybe they truly were yellow. Most people's are.
Morwenna says today is the day Noah entered the Ark. I asked her how did she know, was she there? She hates when I make jests about how old she is, so she just sniffed.
We were visited by a procession of musicians today celebrating the feast of Cecilia, their special saint. We had music at dinner, with lutes and gitterns and pipes and drums. My favorite song was about Arthur and Guinevere. It was beautifully tragic. I have no talent to be a musician, but I now have it in my mind to be a song maker.
One of the musicians showed me a jest to do with lute strings. He cut one and sprinkled the pieces on a bench near the fire. As they grew hot, they moved and twisted like worms or maggots. One of the dogs was fooled and started barking and scratching at the bench. Then she ate the strings. No one else noticed. A poor jest.
My mother, Morwenna, and I are spending some days crushing, grinding, boiling, steeping, and straining herbs. The taste and smell of agrimony, betony, feverfew, and dill are in my clothes, my mouth, my hair, my ears. While we worked, my mother told the story of how she first met my father.
She said, "I was the ward of the baron Fulk Longsword, my father having died some years before, and was living at the time with his family in their castle near York. One day appeared a young knight of no great fortune or renown, with great strong arms and shoulders, and eyes like a raven's. He claimed the baron had cheated his father out of a plot of woodland and he, the knight, wanted it back. When the baron laughed and refused, the knight challenged him to a contest on the field of honor.
"The baron bade his men throw the young knight out and we all sat down to supper. I remember we ate minnows and eels baked with white apples. But all night we could hear the knight banging on the gatehouse door with the hilt of his sword, calling out his grievances. It began to rain and then to snow but day after day the knight stayed there, pounding on the door and shouting.
"I was most impressed with his strength and his stubbornness, and so too was the baron, it seems, for he would not let his knights run the young man through with their swords but instead brought him in and listened to him, gave him the woodland and sat him at his side for dinner. Then the young knight's eyes found me and I knew that strength and stubbornness would win me as they had the baron, whether I would or no, and so I went right upstairs and packed my clothes. In three days we were wed and off to Stonebridge. We were both fifteen."
That was the end of her story. I cannot imagine my father a young knight, but I certainly can see him pounding on the gatehouse door all night. I told my mother then some of my wonderings and about my wanting to be a song maker.
She pulled one of my plaits and said, "Song maker, Birdy? Don't stretch your legs longer than your stockings or your toes will stick out." Then she added, "You are so much already, Little Bird. Why not cease your fearful pounding against the bars of your cage and be content?"
I do not know exactly what that means but it troubles me.
Today I asked Morwenna about spells. "What," I asked, "is a spell against warts? Against sickness in sheep? Oh, ah," I asked, feigning innocence, "what would one use for a spell to come between lovers if one has no dragon dung?"
"Facing the lovers by moonlight," she said, "throw dirt from a new-made grave and say 'Love abate. Disintegrate. Turn love to hate,' and what are you up to now, Little Bird?"
That sounds too fearsome to me. I must find a spell that does not involve graves.
Catherine, who is my own name saint, was, I know, a princess who refused to marry a pagan emperor, but I do not understand the part about her dying on a spiked wheel. What is a spiked wheel? Where are the spikes? What is it for, besides martyring virgins? How was she fastened on? Was it lying on the ground or upright? Why didn't they just put an arrow through her?
Would I choose to die rather than be forced to marry? I hope to avoid the issue, for I do not think I have it in me to be a saint.
Inspired by the musicians, I made a Saint Catherine song. It begins:
Catherine, bless your namesake today.
If I ever meet a pagan king, to you
Hi diddly, hey diddly, sing ho.
For save yourself you didn't know how
But being a saint mayhap could do
Hi diddly, hey diddly, sing ho.
This is as far as I have gotten. The hi diddlys are my favorite part.
I am confined to my chamber with my embroidery needle. My mother's doing. How it came about is this. Yesterday being my saint's day and my birthday, there was a feast. We sat down to dinner at an hour before noon and stayed at table until after dark. The hall was crowded with guests, musicians, and servers and was--for once--overwarm. We ate glazed eggs, apple tarts, whole pigeons and snipes, peacock in raisin sauce, red and white jellies, pig stomach stuffed with eggs and spiced, and potted beef with nutmeg. I relished it all but the birds, which I never eat. During the feast, the cook and the kitchen boys paraded around the hall with a giant pastry they had made to honor me of Saint Catherine dying on her wheel, with marzipan spikes and spun sugar soldiers. The wheel was upright.
The eating went on forever. I was seated next my father, so I had no one to talk with. George was not there, so I had no one to look at. Finally I conceived a small amusement to pass the time. I took a string from the lute that once was mine but now belongs to the cook, cut it into pieces as the traveling musician had showed me, and sprinkled them on a dish of creamed herring as it passed by.
The heat of the dish made the pieces of string writhe and wiggle. The lady Margaret, seated three places beyond me, dipped her hand ladylike into the dish and lifted a piece of fish to her mouth. Screeching like a barn owl, she jumped up and set about wiping her hand on her gown, the tablecloth, my father, whatever she could reach. The cook was summoned. I thought I was safe and he would be blamed but somehow it was sorted out and my saint's day ended with the cook standing on the table, shaking his spoon at me and swearing in Saxon. I was sent from the table to prepare a potion of cinnamon and milk for the daughter of the lord of Moreton Manor, who fainted in the potted meat. What a ninny. Now I am imprisoned. Deus! It was meant as a jest.
I am still confined to my chamber, with the army of girls here for my saint's day celebrations. Aelis, the uncle thief, is with us and I do not know how to act toward her. I have chosen for now slightly cold but well behaved.
Aelis says her father will not speak to her of marriage to my uncle, and George has not said one word to her this entire visit. For one who claims to be perishing to love, she looks healthy enough.
Perkin's granny says to put yarrow up their noses and spit, and Aelis and George will love no more. Corpus bones! I could more easily get dirt from a hundred graves than stuff yarrow up George's nose!
As Aelis and I passed George on the way in to supper, I threw a fistful of dirt at each of them, spattering us all. It was not really from a grave, but from the edge of the churchyard, yet it must suffice, for I am not venturing deep into any graveyard with this jealous evil in my heart. George and Aelis looked dusty, puzzles, and sore vexed.
I said the turn-love-to-hate chant under my breath so no one could hear me, for sure else I would be punished, cast away, locked up, or laughed at, no one of which I relish. I do not know how long it will take the spell to work. By supper's end they did not yet look like people whose love had turned to hate.
After supper yestereve George accompanied the baron's party back to Finbury Castle. George is now home again, ill-tempered and drunk. Corpus bones, all that men seem to know of doctoring is prescribing ale.
When will the curse work?
Three weeks and three days before Christmas comes in. I had it in my mind to make a Christmas song, but I can think of nothing to say except when will the curse work?