About The Hollow Ground – Episode 35

At Hampton Market the ground was again reduced to sludgy quagmire.

Piers shouldered his way through the chatting groups of farmers and other market-goers, heading for the stalls on the far side of the venue.

At a booth dealing with outdoor tools he purchased three heavyweight spades, a couple of forks, a pick and four brooms, arranging for them to be taken to the cart in the tying area, the horse being occupied with a nosebag of oats.

The set of working harness was next. That was easily dealt with. There was no reason to dally, and since he wanted to get back and check out the rising level of the brook, Piers headed for the exit with the harness over his shoulder.

He was nearly there when he caught sight of a figure engaged in some sort of deal with a stallholder. The man had his back to Piers, but there was no mistaking the straggly hair under the greasy cap and short, bow-legged stance.

“Wilkes!” Piers muttered under his breath.

There was no reason why the man should not be here. It was the nature of the stall that was in question.

Female geegaws and gimcracks? Why should the Vinewood groom concern himself here?

Piers stood at the edge of the throng, watching. Some sort of deal was in progress.

Conclusion reached, Wilkes relinquished whatever item it was he was selling. Money changed hands and, pocketing the cash, Wilkes sidled off.

Piers edged closer to the stall, the better to see what had been traded.

The stallholder was examining something. He looked smugly satisfied with the transaction.

Glancing up, he sensed a potential customer and called out to Piers.

“Be you after summat pretty for the wife, mister?”

“No wife, smallholder,” Piers replied, stepping closer.

“Sweetheart, happen. What maiden could resist a dainty piece like this?”

He held the object up. Piers stared at it, nudged by some distant memory that was infuriatingly blurred.

Dangling from a fine chain was a charm of a four-leafed clover. Where had he heard of such a thing before?

Briefly the sun appeared between the lowering grey clouds and, feeble though it was, a shimmering ray caught the charm with a spark of dazzling light.

“Tes real gold. None of your pinchbeck nonsense. Will you take it, sir?”

The man named an outrageous sum and Piers shook his head.

“Nay, stallholder. I’m not made of money.”

Some instinct told Piers he should obtain the charm. It felt significant, though he was at a loss to reason why.

He barked out a more acceptable figure, and after a little more wrangling, made the purchase.

The stallholder wrapped the charm in a small square of cambric and Piers, wondering if his wits had deserted him at what now seemed a risky extravagance, came away with the item in his pocket.

Berating himself for a fool, he retraced his steps towards the tying place.

The final stall was a haberdasher’s displaying cottons, silver needles and ribbons and lace to tempt the housewife.

Mercy Dale was there, haggling over a strip of cotton lace, a basket of kitchen provisions on her arm.

Piers hailed her.

“Good day, Mercy.”

“Oh, Mester Merriman, tes you.”

“Have you finished here? If so, you can ride back with me.”

“Yes, I’m done,” Mercy said, guiltily stowing away her purchase, which Piers deduced the housekeeping had surreptitiously been stretched to obtain, into the pocket of her skirt.

“You wunna tell?” Mercy pleaded. “Tes hard, having no proper wages to spend and no chance of bettering meself. Tes the price a lass pays for being born the wrong side o’ the blanket.”

“I’ll not tell, Mercy,” Piers said good-naturedly. “Just don’t do it too often, eh?”

They fell into step, the girl still grumbling over her unfortunate lot in life.

Piers put her ill-humour down to the weather. It was enough to dampen anyone’s spirits.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.