Kings of the Shambles

27 October 1390 Feastday of Saint Frumentius, 13th year in the reign of King Richard II

15c-austrian-simple-mealEven after a year Jack and I are still in the habit of referring to our lodgings as “the new place.” I suppose it shall ever be, for to me, having lived on the Shambles some twelve and so years, it is difficult to change old habits. And Jack has been with me for the last six of those years over the tinker’s shop. Strange to miss something so well hated. No, that goes amiss. It’s unfair to think it. It was a roof. It was relatively safe. And Martin Kemp my landlord was kind to me, despite his shrewish wife. I laud my new landlord, the lawyer Nigellus Cobmartin, for his absence. For who wishes to see a landlord? Isn’t it enough to see them on quarter days when the rent is due?

Two bedchambers and one hall seems such a grand thing after my one room above Martin’s tinker shop; not nearly as grand as I was used to in my earlier days, but it is a step upward.

I dare not hope in better days, for they have marched along through the years with little change since my banishment. The only change–and a great one it was–was when that rascal Jack Tucker insinuated himself into my life. I had little realized that the appearance of a dirty-faced lad would lead to so much. New lodgings, the boy getting himself betrothed, clients seeking the both of us. Well. It was better than I expected. Perhaps more than I deserved.

As winter approached, I realized I have been prone to maudlin thoughts. But today, even as the chill has settled over London with an early morning frost that whitens the rooftops and sends clouds of breath into the air, I feel only hopeful. Strange that I should feel such on the toes of winter, but there it is. And there he comes. I could see Jack through the slightly open shutter, for the light inside was bad unless I open at least one of the window’s shutters. Our few oil lamps and candles do little to brighten the room.

Jack threw open the doors and stomped his feet on the granite step without, shucking the mud from his boots. “Master Crispin! Oh! You’re there.” He noticed me in the darkened room, sitting on the coffer, carefully oiling my sword blade. He placed his bundles upon the table and huffed a breath. “Ooh. It’s cold out there. The leaves have barely turned and I fear they will flee in fright of the winter.” He turned toward the door he did not close. “But I do approve of the yellow carpet left behind.”

I leaned over to look. Upon the muddy lane, the yellowed fallen leaves have left a pathway of bright gold. Such a sight does not last long in London, for in no time the carpet that Jack touts will be trampled under carts, and horses, and sheep, and men and women walking the streets and lanes. Such is busy London any time of year.

“That’s all very well, but if you don’t close the damn door we’ll freeze to death.”

“I’m getting to it, master.” Jack took two strides of his long legs and shut the door.

“How is Isabel?” I asked. I lifted my sword to inspect the nicked and scratched blade. I can only do so much on my own. But the oil makes it brighter and smooth, and the letters that Henry Bolingbroke carved into it are easily discernible. They make me smile.

“She’s well, sir. And gives you her greetings of good health and the Lord’s blessings. But why must Eleanor be nigh all the time?”

“She cares for her niece and wishes no ill thing to happen to her.”

“I wouldn’t hurt her.”

“You know precisely what I mean, boy.”

Jack blushed. The more I knew him the more complicated I understood his life prior to our meeting was. But for all intents and purposes, I think the boy was untried. And he has respect for his betrothed. My suspicions were confirmed when he finally said, “I wouldn’t touch her, Master Crispin. Not until the priest blesses us, as is proper.”

My little monk. I liked to tease him but I abstained today. “What have you brought us?”

“Eleanor gifted us with a meat pie. A whole one! And I’ve got pears, and sausages, and rastons.”

“You didn’t accept all that, did you?”

“No, master. I bought the rest. So now! Shall we feast, sir?”

“A good idea. And I have a full jug of wine.”

Jack rubbed his hands together before taking up the poker and stoking the fire. “Aye, a feast for kings.”

“Indeed we are,” I said, sheathing the sword again in the scabbard I kept hanging by the door. “Kings of the Shambles.”

Jack laughed. “Poor kings at that.”

I took up a straw from the mantel, got it glowing from the fire, and lit two more candles. If kings we were, then we would have light like any monarch.

Jack sliced the pears into quarters and put them in a bowl. He took up some suet and let it sizzle in a pan and sliced up a large onion, throwing it in. The room filled with the pungent aroma. It smelled marvelous. I poured us each a goblet of wine, pouring more into Jack’s than my own, and handed it to him. He looked at me with some surprise but raised it to me before he drank.

I settled in on my chair, kicking it back and rocking on the two back legs as I sipped and watched my apprentice at work. I was blessed indeed when he came into my life and I hope I have compensated the boy well with the benefit of my knowledge, for that is the majority of compensation I can offer besides the penny for each case we take on. He is turning into a fine tracker in his own right.

The meat pie was soon smothered in roasted onions and set on a tray in the middle of the table. With a knife he cut a hearty slice of it, put it in a bowl, and placed it before me. He took his own generous slice and sat down. We both crossed ourselves and muttered our prayers before digging in. I ate a quarter of pear, seeds and all. I drank my wine, at my pie, relishing the savory flavors and succulent meats.

Jack smiled up at me, mouth full, and I couldn’t help but see a crown upon his curled, ginger hair. Kings indeed.