Echoes From The Past – Episode 13

Unlike his compatriots, Thomas wore his Englishness lightly. He was clad in the tunic and breeches of a normal young man, if better paid than most. Like many men, he wore a dagger concealed at his belt, but he did not sport the full weaponry he was entitled to. No-one took much notice of him as he escorted Mirin and Murdo through the town gates, which were choked with carts and cattle.

Everywhere, the black-robed Dominican friars held out their bowls, begging for food and money in exchange for prayers. Mirin spotted Friar Petrus, the priest who normally frequented the Black Cockerel. He was off his beaten track, and eyed Mirin and Thomas with dark speculation. Mirin felt suddenly chilled. Had the man been following them?

The little party carried on through the outlying buildings, hovels and barns, before hitting the open country between the town and the ferry. Murdo ran ahead of them, anxious to embark on new experiences.

Thomas was amused by the boy.

“Does he understand how hard he will have to work for the monks? I’m sure they’re fine teachers, but the hours will be long, and there are services at all sorts of times. Will he take to the life, do you think?”

Mirin looked thoughtful.

“He’s a boy like any other, but he also likes learning things. He wants to know. He won’t have to be persuaded to his books. That doesn’t mean, of course, that he won’t ever be up to mischief.”

Thomas grinned.

“The monks must get plenty of that.”

“Aye,” Mirin said, then sighed. “I just want him to do well.”

She didn’t mention her hopes of absorbing everything Murdo learned, at one remove. The fewer folk who knew about that the better.

The river was not too broad, and the ferry was halfway towards them when they reached the water side. It was in essence a floating raft, but it accommodated several people, two dogs and a goat. Mirin was glad that Thomas was with them, if only as something substantial to hang on to. Once off the ferry, they could see the handsome abbey buildings in the distance, and as they approached, Thomas indicated that he would stay outside, and wait for her to return. Mirin nodded, and set off with Murdo for the abbot’s official rooms.

If Abbot Alfred was surprised to see a young woman instead of Murdo’s father, he did a good job of concealing it. Mirin reflected that the abbot probably knew many clever, independent women who had become nuns. He would perhaps suspend judgement on the girl in front of him till he had entered into conversation with her.

In the end, they talked at length of what would be expected of Murdo and what kind of education he would be offered. Hector had authorised his daughter to discuss financial terms, and how often the boy would be allowed to come home.

“We are not monsters here, Mistress Mirin.” The abbot gave a small dry smile. “We have no desire to separate the boys from their families if they live as near as you do. But first there will be a trial period. We will have to see how able Murdo is to cope with our regimen. He will stay for one week, and then we will send him home with a report on our conclusions. Your father can read?”

Mirin nodded, not admitting that she was considerably better at reading than he was, and agreed to the abbot’s suggestions.

“Very well, sir.” She turned to her brother, suddenly conscious that this could be the beginning of a whole new life for him. “D’ye hear that, Murdo? We’ll see you in one week. I’ll give you the money for the ferry.”

She did not embarrass the boy by putting her arms around him, but she put her hand on his shoulder and smiled encouragingly. Then she took her farewells, and half ran out of the abbey and into the open, where Thomas Forester waited for her.

Lucy Crichton

Fiction Editor Lucy is always on the look-out for the very best short stories, poems and pocket novels. As well as sourcing enjoyable content, she enjoys working with our established contributors, encouraging new talent, and celebrating 155 years of 'Friend' fiction!