Christmas Eve, 13th year in the reign of King Richard II (1390)
It was damnably cold. Sleet pelted the closed shutters. Our few candles did little to light the main room and I almost thought it wiser to retire to my bedchamber if it weren’t for the fact that I was waiting for Jack to return. He feasted with Gilbert and Eleanor and, of course, his betrothed, Isabel. I was invited as well, and I stayed for as long as I could. Jack urged me to remain, insisted on leaving with me, but I put my foot down. “You stay, boy. I’ll be fine. I need fresh air.” And I had. I had indulged too much in the good Spanish wine and before a maudlin temper set in, I felt I had to make my escape.
The cold air did do me good, and I took my time returning to the Shambles. The snow-whitened lanes were etched with the footsteps of fellow travelers, with wagon tracks, and horses’ hoofs. The air was filled with the aromas of fires and cooking. I spied the occasional homey scene when a shutter was ajar or a door opened, of warm golden rooms, and families laughing together, and for once, the sight did not sadden me with envy and regrets.
It had begun to snow in earnest when I reached the old poulterer’s shop I now called home. I shook the snow from my cloak and hood, hung them by the door, stoked the fire, and settled in with a well worn book of Aristotle.
It could not have been more than an hour when Jack stumbled in. His face was red and his smile bright. Amused, I set my book down and sat back. “You look merry.”
“Oh indeed, sir. I wish you had stayed.”
“I was grateful for their good cheer, but a man knows when it is time to depart from his hosts.”
“Oh.” He looked worried. “Did I overstay, then?”
“Not at all. You are to be family, Jack. It is mete that you should stay.”
He cheered. “That’s all right, then.”
He commenced his duties, taking up the poker and pushing the wood about, when he stumbled over a package wrapped in cloth sitting on the hearth. “Here! What’s this?”
“I don’t know. What do you suppose it is?”
He carried it carefully to the table and set it down. “It’s all wrapped up, sir. It…it looks to be a gift.”
“Then maybe you should open it.”
“Well, it isn’t mine.”
Jack’s eyes shone and he carefully unlaced the ribbon and laid the cloth aside. The hearthlight revealed a pair of sturdy boots with hard soles, solid laces, and a slight point to the toe.
“What is this?” he said in awe.
“It appears to be a pair of boots. Why don’t you try them on?”
He looked askance before he turned a worried face towards me. “For me?”
“Who else, you knave?”
“But sir…” He dropped into the chair opposite, eyes glossing with tears. “You shouldn’t…”
“Do you presume to tell me what to do with my own money? Of all the nerve.”
He wiped sloppily at the tears on his face and gathered the boots in his arms. He tried a smile, licking the tears from the sides of his mouth. “Thank you, sir. God bless you, sir. Oh! I have something for you, too.” Still clutching the boots, he ran to the door and cast it open. Something scraped over the step and then across the floor. Good oak logs, hewn to just the right size to fit our hearth. He stacked them carefully, quite a feat with his arms encumbered by his own gift.
“I found a fuel seller and did some work in trade, sir. I wanted you to have a proper fire in your bed chamber this Christmas.”
I could not stop the grin cracking my face. “Now that is a fine gift, Jack. And if you don’t mind, I would like to share some of that now in this our fire.”
“But sir, I got it for you!”
“Am I not sitting here, boy? Toss one in!”
Still embracing the boots, he managed to haul one heavy log and place it in the fire. In no time it caught, and the room was filled with warmth and light. One could not ask for a better Christmas.