Making Hay

Saint Norbert’s Feast Day, the Eighth year in the Reign of King Richard

The outskirts of London are busy with hay making. Indeed, the daily influx of reapers with bundles on their backs or in carts is a usual sight down London’s streets. And the sheep that are occasionally marched like a garrison down the lanes have been sheared and seem a bit forlorn in their summer raiment. But they will be the happier for it. This also makes the wool traders happy as good English wool makes its way to market as well, heading for distant shores in Calais or Flanders.

My estates in Sheen had its share of sheep. As I recall, there was a goodly sum to be made from selling the half of it, while the rest was used for the estate itself. Some of my sturdier clothing was made from the wool of my own sheep, with local weavers doing the work of forming it into solid cloth.

When I was a boy, I also recalled biding by the reapers and idly chewing on the stems of freshly cut straw. On my own lands and on Lancaster’s, the reapers kept good watch of me even as I watched them. I even joined in on their midday feast once, when I was a lad of ten. There was a lamb on the roasting spit and much ale and dancing. It took Lancaster hours to find me. Instead of scolding me as I thought he might–and well within his rights, too–he joined the reapers who offered him their best ale. He drank with them, blessed their fare, and took me back to the manor house. We were silent almost all the way back until he finally spoke when the gatehouse was in view. “It is a good thing to be kind to your tenants, Crispin,” he told me. “But you must not participate with them.”

“Why not, your grace?”

“Because they have their place and you have yours.”

“But we were having a merry time.”

“How can they truly enjoy the fruits of their hard work when a lordling watches over them?”

I had not thought of that. I had noticed by that time how servants who had been friendly with me when I was a lad of seven seemed more cautious in their habits and speech now that I was ten. Lancaster’s words were soaking through like spilled wine on fabric. “Yes, your grace,” I answered him, ever the obedient page. He smiled at me and ruffled my hair.

I remembered the gesture fondly, but his advice I took to heart, yet little it serves me now. I am now one of the reapers, the tillers of soil, the craftsmen in the square. And as easy as it was to differentiate then, today I find it difficult to know which place is now mine.