Echoes From The Past – Episode 16

Murdo settled in well at the abbey. The monks knew a keen reader when they saw one, and started him off with various simple Latin texts. The mass itself provided the boy with a good starting point, and from that the monks devised a whole system of grammar and vocabulary which illuminated everything he read. The boy loved it, so that when he ran about with the others in the open air and kicked his pig’s bladder ball into the herb garden, he was instantly forgiven.

He brought home with him his slate tablet when he came to visit, and when he got the chance, he transferred as much as he could remember to his sister.

“This is what you do,” he said, reciting the conjugations faster than she could write them down.

It was a muddle to her to start with, but as the weeks passed, she picked up the system, for the Romans were nothing if not logical. Mirin could not pretend to be as clever as her brother, but she was a quick learner, and there was an excitement and fascination in the Latin.

She tried to be discreet about the Latin lessons, just as she tried to be circumspect about her developing friendship with Thomas. For Thomas came more often about the Cockerel, with or without his friends. It was Mirin who had to be careful. If she was secretive about her lessons, she was equally anxious that no-one saw her increasing attraction to the English soldier. No-one had a bad word to say for Thomas, except that he was English, and hence the enemy. The fact that he was courteous and honest was neither here nor there.

There was one person that Mirin feared in all this, and that was the Dominican friar, Petrus. There was something unsettling in the way the man hovered in doorways, in his dense black robes, like a hungry raven. He was dark haired and swarthy, with no light in his eyes bar the gleam of religious fervour. He had never been known to smile, and though he offered to pray for everyone, especially the host and patrons of the Black Cockerel, no-one felt any better for his ministrations.

Hector fed him, as payment for the prayers, and the friar took the meat as his due. There were other friars in Stirling, since the Dominican convent that housed them was close by, but it was Petrus who regarded the Cockerel as part of his personal parish.

Life carried on as normally as possible in a town whose castle was under foreign control, though rumours of approaching armies abounded. There were tales of King Robert the Bruce amassing troops somewhere to the east. Inside the castle, Sir Philip Mowbray had messages telling him that the English barons were learning to set aside their differences and combine under the leadership of King Edward. The English army might well be on the move.

As spring progressed and the weather improved, Mirin found herself popping in and out of the Cockerel’s garden, drying linen on the bushes, pulling weeds up round the burgeoning kale, then back into the kitchen to check on the stove. And as she did so, she recited Murdo’s lessons under her breath. Like her brother, she loved the sound of the Latin words and the strange logic that held them together.

The Cockerel was always busy, and people came and went all around her, chatting and admiring her, teasing her about the men in her life and when she hoped to be married. She answered them all with good humour, hoping no-one would notice how often she saw Thomas. There was always going to be a danger there.

But when the danger came, it was from an unexpected quarter. A man in official garb presented himself one bright morning at the Cockerel’s door and asked to speak to Mistress Mirin. Hector summoned her forth, and stood beside her. The man kept on his hat, his expression impenetrably grave. Mirin could feel her skin contract with alarm.

Then the man spoke in sober official tones.

“Mistress Mirin, I am to escort you to appear before the sheriff.”

Hector put a protective arm around his daughter.

“What does the sheriff want with Mirin? She goes nowhere without my consent.”

The man moved a step towards them, a surprisingly threatening manoeuvre from such a slender person. That was when Hector saw behind him two much larger men, built on tougher lines, each wearing a sword at his waist.

The smaller man spoke again.

“Mistress Mirin, you are to appear before the sheriff and the court to answer charges. You have been accused of witchcraft.”

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!