The Tanner’s Daughter – Episode 02

The main characters with a backdrop of a town Illustration: Mandy Dixon

Jane was taking a shortcut through a cobbled alleyway when it happened.

There was movement in the shadows and the ragged figure of one of the city’s vagrants sprang out, blocking her way.

“Here’s a bonnie wench! Aye, and an even bonnier purse of money, by the look of it. Allow me to relieve you of that, lady!”

Filthy hands snatched the pouch held at Jane’s waist by a chain. The chain broke and Jane wailed in protest as the money was seized.

The man leered, showing blackened stumps of teeth. Foul breath assailed her nostrils as she was clasped in a vice-like grip.

“A kiss for my trouble.”

“Get away from me!”

She twisted her face away, kicking and fighting, provoking a torrent of curses from her assailant.

“Help!” Jane screamed frantically. “Help me!”

Just as she felt she could struggle no more, there was a shout of response.

“Ho, there, ruffian. Be off with you! Leave the girl alone!”

In a few bounds the newcomer was at their side. The thief was pounced on with such force that Jane, released, went sprawling to the ground.

In the skirmish that followed, the money pouch dropped from the thief’s grasp and Jane, claiming it back, got to her feet.

She was trembling, her knees weak and stomach churning.

Ahead, a fight had broken out, swift and vicious.

Her rescuer clearly had the upper hand, but Jane saw a glint of metal and shrieked a warning.

“Sir, take heed! He’s armed!”

But the dagger had found its mark. Her rescuer gave a gasp and slumped in a heap on to the cobblestones as, with a yelp of victory, the thief scanned about for his spoils.

At that moment a trio of labourers, part of a contingent engaged by the city authorities to lay a system of water pipes in the town, entered the alley.

Summing up the situation, they shouted, brandishing their arms.

“Scoundrel! Get you gone!”

Outnumbered, the thief accepted defeat and fled.

Jane, weak with relief, dropped to her rescuer’s side.

He had struck his head in the fall and there was also blood on his doublet – an emerald doublet with familiar tawny slashes.

A cap and full saddle-roll lay on the cobbles where they had fallen.

Jane pressed the unconscious man’s hand.

“Sir! Do you hear me?”

There was no answer. The three men gathered around, peering.

“Dead, by the look of him,” one said.

“Nay, him’s still breathing,” another noted.

The third took in Jane’s white face.

“Why, ’tis Tanner Hatton’s girl.

“Best you avoid these dark entries, mistress. They’re not safe for a gentlewoman like yourself. Are you harmed?”

“No, thanks to this poor man and your good selves.”

Jane’s gaze went back to the unconscious stranger.

“He needs help. We must get him to my home. If you would assist, sirs?”

Between them, the workmen transported the victim and his belongings, deposited him on the kitchen settle and left.

Alerted by the noise, Margery appeared at the inner door.

One look, and she took action. A hot posset of strengthening ginger root and honey was put in her mistress’s hands, and her attention turned to the injured man.

“The cut on his temple may need a stitch and there’s a lump the size of a goose egg on the back of his head.

“As to the wound in his side, that could be troublesome. I’ll fetch my simples box.”

Whether it was Margery’s healing touch as she bathed the man’s head, or the pungent reek of strong herbs, he moaned and his eyelids fluttered open.

He tried to speak, but a spasm of pain crossed his face and he sank once more into blissful oblivion.

To be continued…

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