Authors: Felicity Pulman
ELICITY PULMAN'S FIRST
novel for Random House Australia,
, won the Society of Women Writers Award in the Young Adult Reader category in 2001.
Return to Shalott
Shalott: The Final Journey
completed the story of five Australian teenagers zapped into the romance and intrigue of King Arthur's court at Camelot. Felicity has also published
, a time slip adventure for younger readers about the Sydney Quarantine Station. The first book in the
Rosemary for Remembrance
, was a Children's Book Council of Australia Notable Book for 2006, and the third book in the series,
Lilies for Love
, won the Society of Women Writers Award in the Junior Fiction category in 2007.
Felicity is currently keeping busy researching the medieval world of the
and the civil war between Stephen and Matilda in the 1140s. When she's not scribbling notes and soaking up the atmosphere in the English countryside where the
are set, Felicity lives near the bush and the beach in Sydney, and enjoys swimming, surfing and snorkelling, bush walking and bush regeneration, and spending time with her family. Felicity is available for talks and workshops with schools and groups.
You can contact Felicity through her website at:
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity, including internet search engines or retailers, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, photocopying (except under the statutory exceptions provisions of the
Australian Copyright Act 1968
), recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of Random House Australia. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
Janna Mysteries Book Three: Lilies for love
ePub ISBN 9781864714807
Kindle ISBN 9781864717297
Original Print Edition
This book is fictitious. The herb properties and herbal remedies detailed in this book are based on ancient folk practice and should not under any circumstances be considered an actual remedy for any ailment or condition.
A Random House book
Published by Random House Australia Pty Ltd
Level 3, 100 Pacific Highway, North Sydney, NSW 2060
First published by Random House Australia in 2006
This edition first published 2008
Copyright © Felicity Pulman 2006, 2008
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
This electronic book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
Addresses for companies within the Random House Group
can be found at
National Library of Australia
Pulman, Felicity, 1945–.
Lilies for love.
For secondary school age
I. Title. (Series: Pulman, Felicity, 1945– Janna
Cover design by saso content & design pty ltd
Internal illustration and design by Pigs Might Fly Productions
Typeset in 13/17.5 pt Berkeley Book by Midland Typesetters, Australia
Printed and bound by Griffin Press, South Australia
HE GREAT GATE
clanged shut, its metal bars vibrating with the impact. It seemed to Janna that the sound held an awful finality. She shuddered as she realised what she had done. True, she'd sought sanctuary at the abbey from those who wished her harm – most especially Robert of Babestoche, whose secret she held close to her heart – but in doing so, she had cut herself off from the world, and from all those whom she'd come to love. But Janna knew she had no choice. While she lived, her knowledge, her very presence threatened Robert's status as the husband of Dame Alice. There was no place other than the abbey for her to hide in safety.
She looked behind her through the darkness to where Godric still lingered beyond the gate. In the light of the flares that lit the gatehouse, she could read the misery on his face, a misery she was sure was reflected in her own expression. More than anything she wished she was free to follow her chosen path: her quest to find her unknown father and seek justice for the death of her mother. She really didn't want to be trapped here with a convent of women who had given their hearts and minds to the Lord Jesus Christ. Janna couldn't understand why they'd want to do that, how they could bear to shut themselves away.
She became aware that Godric was beckoning her to come back to him. Beside him, a horse neighed softly. Although Janna didn't know how to ride, Godric did, and he'd brought her to the abbey on horseback, fleeing along the path beside the river to safety at Wiltune Abbey. Janna frowned. Her mind was made up, her path chosen. She couldn't return to the outside world, not now, not until her mission was accomplished; not until it was safe.
'Janna!' Godric called softly. 'I forgot to give you these.' He held out his hand. Janna saw the glint of silver coins in the hollow of his palm.
'Take them!' he called. 'Take them all. Thanks to my lord Hugh's gift of land and my new service to him, I have no need of any further reward, but you still have your way to make in the world.'
Tempted, Janna hesitated. She could not afford to be proud. Apart from the few objects secreted in her purse, which held value only for her, she had nothing to offer the abbey in return for food and shelter. The coins would help to buy her a way in, and smooth her path when, later, she took to the road in search of her father.
Turning her back on the ill-tempered and sleepy nun who had admitted her and was now leading her to an audience with the abbess, Janna hurried back to Godric.
'Are you quite sure you want me to take it all?' she asked, as she opened the drawstring of her purse.
'Of course.' He carefully poured in the coins. Janna beamed her gratitude.
'Hrumph.' The sound of a throat being cleared warned Janna that the porteress had returned and that they were being watched.
'God be with you.' She couldn't resist touching Godric's hand one last time. 'And good luck. Take care of yourself, and thank you.' There was so much for which she needed to thank Godric, she realised. He had come to her aid on so many different occasions. 'Maybe we'll meet again one day,' she said, trying to sound hopeful but not succeeding.
'HRUMPH!' This time the throat-clearing was an ultimatum.
'Be sure that I will come to you if ever you call, wherever you may be!' Godric ignored the watching nun. He seized hold of Janna's hand, raised it to his lips and kissed it. 'I would not leave you, Janna. Not ever! Not unless you wish it.'
'I know.' Reluctantly, Janna disengaged her hand from his. 'I know.' She swallowed hard over the lump of misery that had lodged in her throat, and hastily turned away from him. If only they could wed, if she could trust in his protection, she might have begged the porteress to unlock the gate and let her free to go to him. But she knew that even Godric, who would give his life for her, could not protect her at this time, nor could he help her to fulfil her quest. This was something she must do, and do alone. In truth, she preferred it this way, for she was not ready yet to commit her life, or her heart, to anyone's keeping save her own. But she felt a great dread for the future. Following her chosen path would take all her courage.
She turned away and, with reluctant steps, returned to the porteress, who scowled at her. 'I can't think why you've come here,' the nun muttered. 'Dressed up in men's clothes, and carrying on with that young man right here at the abbey gate. Who do you think you are?' She clucked her disapproval. 'If you had not come from Dame Alice's nephew and with a message for the abbess, be sure I would never have admitted you.'
'I am grateful that you did, mistress,' Janna murmured.
'Sister!' the nun snapped. 'My name is Sister Brigid.'
'And my name is Johanna.' Silence met Janna's offer of friendship. With lips clamped tight, the nun led Janna across an open yard to a building set on one side of the entrance to the church. She walked through a small parlour and rapped on a door. Together, she and Janna waited for an invitation to enter.
'Come in.' The voice sounded weary, and rather impatient. Feeling curious, in spite of her low spirits, Janna followed Sister Brigid into the private quarters of the abbess.
The receiving room was large and lit by torches in sconces on the walls. Richly embroidered tapestries hung between them, glowing in the bright light. A fat wax candle set in a silver candlestick sat on a table littered with written sheets of parchment. Janna stared at them, for the symbols looked different from the letter written by her father. These were set in long columns and divided by lines. She could not make sense of them at all. Her gaze moved on around the room. A gold cross hung above a small altar, exquisitely chased and decorated with coloured gemstones. The stools had fat cushions to soften hard wooden seats, while the box bed Janna glimpsed through an open door contained a thick mattress and was piled with more cushions plumped down on a warm, woollen covering. She wondered if the sisters of the abbey lived in the same comfort as their abbess. Stairs to one side led to extra rooms above, quarters perhaps for the nobility, even royalty, who were rumoured to stay here from time to time. For certes, the abbess was living in great comfort and style.
Fascinated, Janna dragged her gaze back to one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in the land. Her mother had once told her that Wiltune was one of the largest abbeys in England, with vast estates, mills and other resources spread over several shires. 'The abbess is the king's tenant-in-chief. She holds the entire barony in return for the service of five knights, should the king call for them in times of war,' Eadgyth had said. Janna wished she'd thought to question how the abbess managed to provide five knights, living as she did in a house full of women.
At their entry, the abbess had risen from her work. She scowled suspiciously at Janna. 'Who is this ruffian, and what do you mean by disturbing my peace so late at night?' She spoke in Norman French, addressing the question to Sister Brigid. It was clear she didn't expect Janna to understand her. Janna bent her head, thinking it wise to pretend that the abbess was right in her assumption.
'She says she's a girl, and she bears a message from the lord Hugh, nephew to Dame Alice. I would not have admitted her else.' Sister Brigid's face pinched into a disapproving frown. 'She was accompanied by a youth and he kissed her hand!' There couldn't have been more venom in the nun's voice if she'd accused Janna of dancing on the altar of Christ. She gave the brief message signed with Hugh's seal to the abbess, who perused it silently.
'Johanna?' she said then, reverting to the Saxon language. 'Daughter of the
Janna knew a moment's panic before she managed a reluctant reply. 'Yes, Sister uh . . . um . . .?'
'Mother Abbess. We thought you were dead. The lord Hugh begged me to say a Mass for your soul.'
The abbess's expression had darkened into a thunderous frown. A sinking feeling told Janna what was coming next. She wished she'd thought to ask Hugh not to mention her name so that she could, once again, invent for herself a new identity. Now, it was too late. She braced herself.
'Out of the goodness of my heart, in Christ's holy name, and in spite of your mother's disgrace, I gave her the piece of land and the cot that was your home – and you repaid my generosity by burning it to the ground!'
'No! No, I did not.' But Janna's protest went unheeded. The abbess was practically spitting with rage.
'You might not have cared to stay there any longer, but there are many others in need of shelter and land on which to grow their food. How dare you destroy what I gave so freely!'
Freely? Janna opened her mouth to defend herself, then closed it again. It was useless to point out to this self-righteous, miserly old bat that the land had been unworked and the cottage a tumbledown wreck when Eadgyth had first moved in. The midwife had told Janna how hard her mother had worked to repair the cot, and to turn the surrounding untilled earth into the garden that had sustained them both. She and her mother had always worked hard, and had often gone hungry in order to pay the rent demanded by this greedy, grasping abbess, handing over silver coins and produce from their garden as well as several of their birds and animals. The unsaid words almost choked Janna, yet she knew the abbess would not believe that it was the villagers who'd burned down her cot and who'd almost succeeded in burning her alive at the same time. Not unless Janna told her the full story, and perhaps not even then. But there was far too much at stake for Janna to speak up, to tell the truth, and so she stayed silent.
'Not only that, but you led everyone to believe you had died in the fire! You have even disguised yourself as a youth.' The abbess's tone was full of contempt. 'Was that so that you did not have to pay for the destruction of my property, and heriot for your mother's death?'
'I . . . no, that's not true. No!'
'The girl has coins to pay, Mother,' Sister Brigid piped up unexpectedly. 'I saw her
pour silver into her purse.' She flashed a spiteful glance at Janna. It was clear she thought the worst of her relationship with Godric.
The abbess stopped abruptly. She ran her tongue over her top lip as she considered the possibilities. 'The lord Hugh asks me to give you shelter, and so I will,' she conceded, 'but in turn I demand recompense for the cot and garden you have destroyed by your wanton action. And as your overlord, I also claim heriot for the death of your mother.'
'That's not f–'
Janna's outrage was stifled as Sister Brigid's hand clamped hard on her arm.
'It's the custom,' the nun reminded her.
With an effort, Janna smoothed her face into calm acceptance, but inside she raged at the injustice of it all. No wonder Wiltune was such a wealthy abbey! The midwife's account of the abbess's treatment of her mother should have warned her how greedy and grasping she was. Janna was quite sure that Dame Alice had stayed true to her word that she herself would pay the heriot due, but it seemed the abbess did not scruple to be paid twice. Angrily, Janna untied her purse and pulled out a handful of silver. The abbess reached for it with eager hands. 'There is also the matter of your food and shelter,' she said, not taking her eyes from Janna's purse.
Seething, Janna pulled out the last of the coins. 'This is all I have, Mother Abbess,' she said. 'What is left is for my use. It is of value only to me.' She patted her purse, hearing the comforting crump of her father's letter, feeling the lumpy trinkets through the rough fabric, tokens of his affection for her mother; feeling, too, the small figurine she had found in the forest. On no account would she hand over any of her treasures. She would rather leave the abbey and face an uncertain and dangerous future than part with any one of them. She folded her fingers around the small figurine, taking comfort from the carved shape of a mother and her child. It gave her the strength to face the abbess and wait for her future to be spelled out.
'Very well,' the abbess said grudgingly. She considered a moment and then said, 'Harvest is about to begin, and extra hands are needed. You may stay so long as you are prepared to help in the fields, and do not disrupt the life of the abbey. We lead a simple life here, a life of contemplation of God and his mysteries. There is no place here for those who do not believe in Him. Do you love the Lord God and his Son, Jesus Christ?'
Faced with such an unexpected demand, Janna hesitated. She could lie and say yes. It would smooth her path and make her life a whole lot easier. Or she could be honest and say no. The one and only time she'd ever been into a church, Eadgyth had dragged her out in a rage against the priest's preaching. She'd railed against him, calling him a narrow-minded bigot, an opinion which Janna had shared, although in the end her mother's actions had helped persuade the villagers to turn against them. She could not tell the abbess 'yes', for it was not true. Nor could she say 'no', for she would be thrown out of the abbey, left to the mercy of Robert of Babestoche and all those who followed his lead. Even worse, she would lose her only chance of finding out more about her mother and, more important, learning to read and to write so that she could make sense of her father's letter. In that lay her salvation, the answer to all her hopes: the secret of her father, of her own heritage, and the chance of bringing to justice the man responsible for the murder of her mother.
'Well?' the abbess demanded impatiently.
'I am here because I don't know Him,' Janna said slowly, sticking to the truth as closely as she could. 'I am here to learn.'
'Humph.' The abbess gave her a narrow look full of suspicion. 'You may stay here as a lay sister, for the moment. I am not prepared to accept you as a postulant in our convent. For one thing, you have no dower.' Her eyes rested on the pile of silver coins on the table in front of her. She looked up then and, as her glance met Janna's, she had the grace to look slightly ashamed. 'I will not accept you into our community until you have proved yourself fit to serve the Lord,' she amended. 'You may live and work with our lay sisters. They tend the garden, do the cooking, keep the abbey clean and help out in the fields when necessary, leaving my sisters free to say their prayers, to worship the Lord, engage in contemplation, or keep busy with more important tasks on the Lord's behalf. Be sure that I will keep close watch on you to make sure you are worthy of my trust.'
'Thank you, Mother Abbess.' The words stuck in Janna's throat. She bowed her head so that the abbess could not see her anger and dismay. I don't have to stay here forever, just until my mission is complete, she reminded herself silently, taking some comfort from the fact that being locked within the walls of the abbey was not a life sentence. Or was it?
'That will be all. It is very late, almost time for the midnight office, and I still have my accounts to reckon.' The abbess turned to the porteress. 'Take Johanna to the lay sisters' dorter, Sister Brigid.' She fixed Janna with a steady gaze. 'You will attend the Harvest Mass tomorrow morning with the lay sisters and our visitors. Sister Grace will speak to you afterwards about your duties while you are here. I expect you to work hard and earn your keep.' She turned back to her papers, and sat down.
Not sure what was expected of her, Janna bobbed a curtsy and followed Sister Brigid back out across the courtyard towards the gatehouse. Her eyes were drawn to the flare lighting the gate, but there was no sign there, now, of Godric. She felt abandoned, bereft, as she stared at the empty place where once he had stood.
'This is where you will sleep, above the undercroft.' Sister Brigid mounted a flight of steps and flung open a door. Janna squinted into the long, dark room, barely able to make out the humped shapes of the sleepers on their pallets. 'Tonight you may sleep in the clothes you wear.' She paused to give an outraged sniff. 'We shall find you more appropriate apparel tomorrow.' She waved Janna into the room and shut the door behind her, cutting off what little light had shone through from the black, starry night outside.
Left alone, Janna stood still for a few moments until her eyes became accustomed to the darkness. Now she could make out the sleeping figures once more. She ventured cautiously ahead, looking for a spare pallet on which to sleep. There was none. Nor had she been offered any refreshment, she realised. It seemed that Wiltune's famed hospitality was reserved only for those with the coin to pay for it. The thought came to Janna that she'd just handed over silver enough to the abbess to pay for a banquet every night for the next month to come. No matter. She was thirsty after her journey, but not hungry; she was too distressed for that.
She was just settling into a space, resigning herself to sleeping the night on the rushes covering the wooden floor, when she heard a quiet hiss. Startled, she looked around for the source of the sound, and saw a pale hand beckoning her. Curious, she rose and walked towards it. The hand was attached to a young woman. Janna could just make out the pale moon shape of her face and the gleam of her eyes in the darkness.
'My name's Agnes,' the hisser whispered. 'Come, sleep beside me. My pallet is thin and has many lumps in it, but it is large enough for both of us if we lie very still.' She shifted across to make room for Janna, who subsided gratefully.
'My name is Johanna, but I'm usually called Janna,' she whispered in return. 'Do not let these men's clothes trouble you,' she added hastily, as she saw her companion peer more closely at her. 'I really am a maid, but it's a long story. I'll tell it to you in the morning.'
'Be quiet over there,' a sharp voice commanded. 'Some of us are trying to get some sleep.'
Agnes patted Janna's arm. 'Don't mind her,' she whispered. 'She's like a gnat. Always whining.'
Janna grinned in the darkness, her spirits lifted by the girl's show of friendship. 'Thank you,' she whispered, and lay down to compose herself for sleep. She felt a little awkward lying in such close proximity to Agnes. Sharing a pallet reminded her of her life with her mother, when they had shared everything. Janna felt a shaft of pain at the memory of Eadgyth. It was quickly followed by hot annoyance. She'd been so intimidated by the abbess that she'd neglected to ask for information about her mother. Eadgyth might well have had to give an account of her misfortune to the abbess in order to win even such a derelict cottage as had been given to her. What might the abbess have told her, if only she'd had the wit to ask?
'Your mother's disgrace.' The abbess's words echoed in Janna's mind. She had a sinking feeling in her stomach that had nothing to do with hunger. She'd missed her opportunity. It was unlikely she would be granted another audience with the abbess and, even if she was, the abbess seemed to hold her mother in such contempt it was doubtful she'd willingly pass on any information about her. Nevertheless, Janna determined to question the abbess if the opportunity arose. The more she could find out about her mother's circumstances, and in particular where her mother had come from, the more help it would be in finding her father.
'Why have you come to the abbey? Where's your home?' Agnes's quiet voice broke into her thoughts.
Home! Janna's heart twisted with grief. Fighting the urge to confide her misery to Agnes, she said only, 'My mother and I lived not far from here, in a small cot beside Gravelinges forest. But . . . but she died and I was forced to flee.' That much was already known by the abbess, so there was no point in telling lies about it.
'And you came here? Why? Do you have a calling?'
'No.' Janna hoped it was safe to tell this truth at least. 'I know little of the Christian faith, and even less about life in the abbey,' she admitted. 'Will you help me, please? What am I supposed to do?'
'Observe the Rule of St Benedict. You have to take a vow of poverty, chastity and, most of all, obedience,' Agnes said promptly. 'And you have to confess if you're not. Obedient, that is. Or if you do anything else wrong.'
Agnes gave a small huff of sour amusement. 'Just about anything. Even if you don't know whether you've done the wrong thing or not, you can be sure someone will have seen you and they'll report you at chapter. Then you'll be punished for it. The punishment's even worse if you haven't admitted your fault, because it means you've shown the Sin of Pride, or the Sin of Forgetfulness, or the Sin of Something or Other. The prioress and the priest can always find faults and sins to be punished.'
'And then what happens?' Janna was beginning to feel more and more depressed by the minute.
'You have to do penance. You get to say a whole lot of
, or you go without meals or lose privileges, or you have to work extra hard and put in extra long hours. But we do that anyway. They call us "lay sisters", but we're actually servants here. We do all the hard, dirty jobs that the nuns won't do for themselves because they're too busy with what they call the "work of God",
. But the lay sisters work for God too, not just the nuns.'
As the dreadful future she'd chosen was laid out before her, Janna fell into a dismayed silence. A thought revived her flagging spirits somewhat. 'It can't be that bad,' she protested. 'Being a nun is a chosen profession for many women, surely?'
'Those that can't get husbands,' Agnes said gloomily.
'Then why are you here?'
'Because of this.' Agnes reached out into the darkness for Janna's hand. She grasped it and held it to her face, smoothing Janna's palm and fingers across her right cheek. Janna's first instinct was to pull her hand away as she felt the rough scar tissue, but she forced herself to keep tracing the terrible wound that ran from Agnes's eye right down to her chin.
'What happened to you?' she whispered, appalled.
'Fire. I crawled too close to our hearth as a child, and my hair caught alight. My shoulder was burned as well as my face.' Agnes's voice sounded unbearably sad. 'I was like to die, so my mother brought me here and begged the infirmarian to take care of me, and so she has. I am fortunate to be alive. And I have made my life here. Sometimes I think I would like to wed, and to bear children, but who would have me as I am?'
Janna didn't know how to answer, and so she kept silent. A thought occurred to her. 'Burns leave terrible scars, I know,' she said. 'But there are salves to relieve their pain. If you wish, I can make you such a one.'
'That's kind of you, Janna.' Agnes sounded surprised. 'But there is no need for your trouble. Sister Anne still takes care of me. She is our infirmarian and she has given me an ointment to rub on my skin every night, to soothe it and keep it soft. She's very kind to me, and she's a very skilful healer. Her medicaments have helped us all.'
Sister Anne. Janna made a note of the name. If she could impress the nun with her knowledge of the herbal lore that Eadgyth had taught her, she might well improve her lot while she was here, ease the burden of living in an abbey, the burden that had been spelled out so clearly by Agnes.
'God be with you tonight, Janna. Sleep well.' Agnes turned over with a sigh, and settled onto her half of the straw pallet. Janna stared up into the darkness. Her eyes pricked and burned with tiredness, but her brain buzzed with voices, conversations and images from the day. So much had happened, from making up her quarrel with Godric, to finding Hamo and then being recognised by Robert of Babestoche and having to flee for her life. The abbess's stern face and harsh words came into Janna's mind. They were partly tempered by the friendliness of Agnes, and the news of a kind infirmarian.
Janna turned on her side away from Agnes and tried to get comfortable on the lumpy pallet. It scratched and tickled, but it was still much better than sleeping on rushes and a wooden floor, she told herself, as she wriggled her body in an effort to smooth out some of the bumps. Agnes stirred and murmured something unintelligible. Not wanting to disturb her, Janna forced herself to lie still. This, then, was to be her life: obedience or punishment. It wasn't much to look forward to, not much at all.
ANNA AWOKE WITH
a start, heart pounding as she listened to the insistent tolling of a bell. For a moment she thought she was back at the manor farm, listening to the bell that had tolled repeatedly after Hamo disappeared, calling the lost child home.
Then she remembered where she was, and her spirits sank even lower. She sat up and looked across at Agnes. Even though her touch had warned her of what to expect, still the sight of the girl's disfigurement in the daylight made Janna suck in her breath with startled pity. Her right eye was half-closed from the injury, the skin above and below a crisscrossed mass of rough red scars. The whole side of her face was affected. Too late, Janna tried to conceal her shock, but Agnes's eyes were open and she had seen. 'It's really bad, isn't it?' she whispered.
Janna bit her lip, wondering how to answer. Of course there would be no looking glass here in the abbey, no way for Agnes to see the damage to her face unless she caught a glimpse of herself in some piece of polished metal, or the still surface of a pond, perhaps. But her own touch must tell her the worst of it. Yet the proud tilt of Agnes's head warned Janna that her pity would not be welcome.
'I think anyone coming to know you would soon see only your kindness and your sense of humour,' she said awkwardly.
Agnes flashed a grateful grin. 'It's a Sin of Pride even to be asking!' she muttered. 'Don't tell on me, will you?'
'Only if you promise not to tell on me – and I'll wager there'll be far more to tell about me than I could ever tell about you.'
'That's another sin to be confessed,' Agnes said promptly. 'We never, ever make wagers in the house of God.'
Janna pulled a face, and Agnes's grin grew broader. 'Sister Grace is the novice mistress,' she said. 'She's also in charge of discipline among the lay sisters. She's quite fair, really, and a good teacher, but I'm sure her brain is crammed tight with all that learning and so I try not to bother her with things she doesn't need to know.'
'Like sins, you mean?'
'Exactly. But we'll have something else to confess unless we hurry.' Agnes jumped up and pulled a black gown over the tunic in which she'd slept. 'It's time for the special Mass to mark the beginning of the harvest,' she said, as she picked up the wimple laid neatly beside her pallet. 'Lateness is one of the great sins, along with running, so we can't hasten to church either. Nor can we shout, skip or sing. Oh, and there's also anger, bearing a grudge, causing friction, telling lies, being greedy, breaking silence, impure thoughts and desires, deceit, stubbornness –'
'Stop!' Janna clapped her hands over her ears to block the sound of Agnes's voice.
The lay sister's mouth curved up in a wide smile. 'I'll take you first to the reredorter,' she said, and hastily tucked a stray lock of hair into the concealing folds of her wimple.
Reredorter? Janna hastened to follow her guide. Her question was soon answered, and she was glad of the chance to relieve herself, and also to wash away the dust and grime from her journey in the lavatorium.
'Hurry!' Agnes urged, as Janna dried her face and hands on one of the rough napkins beside the long basin. She led the way down and out across the open yard. Janna noticed that she carried herself straight, and that she favoured her right arm. Agnes had drawn her veil down low over her forehead and had draped the soft folds of the wimple about her cheeks so that they were almost covered. To make sure no-one had a chance to notice her scars, she walked with her head bent.
It had been too dark to see a great deal the night before, and now Janna looked about with interest, noting the pilgrims in their wide-brimmed hats, the wealthy travellers and their wives, and the beggars, the halt and the lame emerging from their various quarters set about the courtyard. Lay servants streamed through the gate; all were hastening towards a pair of carved wooden doors that opened into the body of the great stone church. Janna looked about for the abbess and her nuns, but they were nowhere to be seen. She frowned as she tried to puzzle it out.
The abbess had worn a black veil with a silver cross embroidered at its centre, and a long black habit with wide sleeves, bound at her waist with a girdle. Underneath her veil was a white wimple, which swathed in folds around her face and neck. The porteress had been dressed in similar fashion, although her garments were not of the same fine quality. Here, the lay sisters like Agnes wore white wimples of rough homespun and white veils, while the lay servants coming through the gates wore the same smocks and breeches as the villeins on the manor farm from which Janna had come.
'Where is everybody?' She tugged on Agnes's sleeve to get her attention.
'The abbess, and the nuns . . .' Janna waved her hand around the courtyard to indicate their absence.
'We're in the public part of the abbey grounds. The convent is through there.' Agnes indicated a narrow passage. 'The nuns enter from their own part of the convent and sit together in the choir stalls.'
'Don't we have anything to do with them then?' Janna felt a vast disappointment at having her plans thus shattered just when the next step seemed so close. It seemed she had come here for nothing!
'Yes, we do. Sssh.' Agnes laid a cautionary finger across her lips as she hastened through the door of the church. She stopped to dip a finger into a dish of holy water, and made the sign of the cross. At once, Janna copied her, then followed her new friend into the nave where a group of lay sisters, servants and guests were already waiting for the Mass to begin. Full of amazement and awe, she looked about her, studying her surroundings.
The roof of the church towered high above her head, supported by thick columns down each side of the nave, joined together with rounded arches. Some of the windows in the church were set with glass, which let in shafts of sunlight. Most of the glass was clear, but there was coloured glass in a couple of the windows, forming pictures of people with gold rings around their heads. The light that shone through them cast bright splashes of red, blue and green onto the stone flagging. Janna had never seen anything so wonderful. Fine, fat beeswax candles stood on an altar on a raised platform at the end of the nave, illuminating the gold crucifix standing in the centre. A fainter light came from burning wicks that floated in shallow stone bowls filled with animal fat. The church was filled with their rank, smoky smell, overlaid with a spicy scent that mingled with the odour of sweat and unwashed bodies.
The walls of the church were plastered and painted with scenes of people, each one different from the last. The same figures appeared in several of the scenes, a man with golden hair and long white robes, crowned with a golden halo, and a woman in blue, seated and nursing a small child on her lap. Janna recognised the figures from various shrines she'd encountered while journeying between Berford, Babestoche and Wiltune. They were Christ and His mother, Mary. The same Christ figure hung from the cross on the altar. He was wearing a crown of thorns and an expression of agony on his face. Janna shuddered. She knew something of His birth, His crucifixion and resurrection, and when they were celebrated. Her gaze moved on to a picture of His crucifixion that was painted on a wall. Janna wondered about the other pictures; perhaps they all told stories of the life of Christ.
She was about to ask Agnes when a line of black-clad nuns filed in from a side entrance and settled into the choir stalls. Following close behind came a bearer in a long white robe, carrying a stoup of water. Janna craned over heads to see what was happening. The bearer headed a procession to the high altar at the farthest end of the church, where the water was blessed by a priest. The bearer then set off once more, moving down into the nave at the head of the procession. Behind him came a man carrying a large cross, flanked by two others, each with a lighted candle. Behind them followed a man bearing a large bound book. Next came the priest, who wore a glorious embroidered vestment over his white robe. He seemed to be in charge of the proceedings. Several young boys brought up the rear, one of them swinging a censer. Janna caught another strong whiff of the spicy fragrance.
In a wave of rustling movement, everyone knelt as they passed by. The procession moved on along the back of the church, the bearer sprinkling the holy water as he passed. They came back up the nave, passing by on the other side towards the altar.
'Who are all these people?' Janna nudged Agnes, leaning over to speak in her friend's ear.
'That's Father Mark, the priest. He comes from St Mary's in Wiltune to celebrate the Mass. The deacon and subdeacons are in front of him, and there are some acolytes as well.'
'Why can't the abbess celebrate the Mass?'
'She's not allowed. Shhh.' Agnes closed her eyes and listened with a rapt expression as the priest came to a halt beside the altar.
The priest stood with his back to everyone as he made the sign of the cross, '
In nomine Patris, et Filii
et Spiritus Sancti.
Janna listened intently to the Mass, anxious to understand what was going on. The priest wasn't speaking in the Saxon tongue, nor were the words Norman French. She remembered again the one and only time she'd been into a church. It was new, and not nearly so grand as this one. It had been built to replace the old preaching cross at Berford, and a new priest had been appointed in place of the elderly priest who used to visit their community once a month. The new priest had prayed in what sounded exactly like this gibble-gabble. Eadgyth had called it Latin, the ancient language spoken by the Romans. Janna had asked her mother if she understood what the priest was saying, and Eadgyth had said she did not. Janna had formed the impression at the time that her mother might have understood more than she'd admitted. She'd certainly seemed to know when to kneel and when to stand. As they were doing now, Janna realised, and hastily scrambled to her feet.
There was a moment's silence and then the nuns in the choir stalls began to chant. The church was filled with the sound of their voices. It wasn't a bawdy song such as Janna had heard occasionally in the marketplace, but it was a sound she recognised.
She froze into stillness. As she listened, the whole world seemed to tilt and go dark, so that she was no longer aware of what was happening around her. Everything she knew from the past, everything she'd taken for granted, now had a different shape and a different meaning. She no longer knew who she was, nor who her mother had been. She was cast adrift on a vast ocean where nothing made sense anymore.
The thread of music filled Janna's mind and left her heart overflowing. Eadgyth had sung like this sometimes when she thought she was alone. Perhaps she was hardly conscious that she was doing it. Certainly she had not expected Janna to hear her, had been confused, embarrassed and – yes – angry when Janna had once questioned her about it. From Eadgyth, Janna had learned that there was something wrong with music, with singing, something shameful. Why? How had Eadgyth learned to sing like this?
Janna bowed her head as the answer flooded her mind. Her mother must once have been a nun! It was the only thing that made sense – and nonsense, for if Janna was sure of anything, it was that Eadgyth had no time for the church or for those who served in it. Janna remembered the embarrassment of that service in Berford. After praying for a time, the priest had launched into a tirade against women, and against Eadgyth in particular, speaking this time in the Saxon language so that all would understand the import of his words. And in the middle of it all, right in front of everyone, Eadgyth had grabbed hold of Janna and marched her outside. Although she understood her mother's anger, Janna still blushed when she recalled the scene.
Could her mother once have been a nun? If so, it wasn't at Wiltune, for the abbess had claimed that her mother had come to seek her help. Janna knew this to be true, for Aldith the midwife had told her the same thing. But if not here, then which abbey had Eadgyth come from? More important: why had she turned against her faith, and her life in the convent; why had she never mentioned it even once to her only daughter? Had she been expelled when her pregnancy became apparent? Janna was struck by another thought. If her mother was once a nun, how on earth had she managed to get pregnant in the first place? What was she thinking? And what about Janna's father? What was
thinking, seducing a nun and leaving her with child? Had he, perhaps, been a priest himself, forbidden by the church to have an intimate relationship with a woman? That might explain her mother's shame, and also the need for secrecy.
Overwhelmed by her discovery, by the questions that hammered insistently in her mind and clamoured to be answered, Janna sagged down onto the hard, stone floor. It was too much to take in all at once.
A strong hand under her arm jerked Janna to her feet. Agnes. Everyone had risen, and her friend was making sure she followed suit. Janna smiled her thanks, but her thoughts were wholly preoccupied as the psalms, lessons and prayers proceeded. Whether standing or kneeling, she was blind to her surroundings as she tried to puzzle out this mystery of her mother. Never, at any time, had Eadgyth even hinted at the fact that she'd once spent time in an abbey.
Janna's thoughts turned briefly to Agnes as, once again, her friend yanked her upright. Agnes was a lay sister at the abbey, really a servant. Could her mother also have been a lay sister rather than a nun? Janna peered down the crowded nave, past the lay sisters and servants of the abbey, the guests, pilgrims and beggars attending the Mass, trying to see the nuns more clearly. She caught glimpses of black veils and white wimples framing pale faces. She wondered which one of them was the kindly Sister Anne, the infirmarian.
The infirmarian? According to Agnes, an infirmarian was someone skilled in the art of healing, and with knowledge of herbs. Someone like Eadgyth, her mother? Was that where her mother had learned her healing arts – in an abbey? Janna nodded. That made sense. But if her mother was an infirmarian, it meant she had taken her vows, it meant she was definitely a nun. How, then, had she met Janna's father and, even worse, come to know him well enough to be seduced by him?