Monday, 12 November 2012

Offspring, babies and regrets

She runs down the staircase
And into the yard
And she goes down to the end of the drive

With her friends on the phone
And her angels on guard
She's just recently just feeling alive
After all of the tears and the changes
Now there's something that's taken a hold
She's becoming gold

She's becoming gold , I've seen her

She thinks of a boy
That she knew back in school
And she wonders if he's doing all right

The man of her dreams
Isn't all that he seems
And the baby don't sleep through the night

Something is moving inside of her
And the weather is turning so cold
But she's becoming gold,

She's becoming gold
She's becoming gold, I've seen her
She's becoming gold

She can hear in the distance
The sound of the cars
And she sees the snow falling down on the hill

Now the trees and the houses
Are as white as the stars
And she doesn't want to cry
But she probably will

As she thinks about all of life's mystery
And how slowly the answers unfold
She's becoming gold

She’s becoming gold, I’ve seen her

And another one.....

Don't know much about you
Don't know who you are
We've been doing fine without you
But, we could only go so far 

 Don't know why you chose us
Were you watching from above
Is there someone there that knows us
Said we'd give you all our love

Will you laugh just like your mother
Will you sigh like your old man
Will some things skip a generation
Like I've heard they often can

Are you a poet or a dancer
A devil or a clown
Or a strange new combination of
The things we've handed down

I wonder who you'll look like
Will your hair fall down in curls
Will you be a mama's boy
Or daddy's little girl

Will you be a sad reminder
Of what's been lost along the way
Maybe you can help me find her
In the things you do and say

And these things that we have given you
They are not so easily found
But you can thank us later
For the things we've handed down

You may not always be so grateful
For the way that you were made
Some feature of your father's
That you'd gladly sell or trade

And one day you may look at us
And say that you were cursed
But over time that line has been
Extremely well rehearsed

By our fathers, and their fathers
In some old and distant town
From the places no one here remembers
Come the things we've handed down

Thank you, Marc Cohn, for all the things that I have yet to enjoy and relish.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Encounter at the Inn (part 6)

Bull rose from his seat and walked off in the direction of the bar, and the innkeeper, while Toad swept up both his own chair and Bull’s in his hands and, bidding the Princess to carry what remained of their drinks, went out into the balmy night air.  Casting around for a suitable place to sit, Toad espied a small feed station, for horses or mules, which was partially covered by a plank set over it to keep the rain out. Thinking that it would make a makeshift but excellent trestle, Toad laid the chairs at the side of it and bade the Princess to sit.

“If Bull wants to go and check on the horses, let him go himself; I have no such worries about our good master farrier!” Toad said as he sat down. “Besides, it would be an insult to the poor man to wake him yet again from his slumber for such a paltry reason as mistrust, wouldn’t you agree, Princess?”

“Most certainly, Toad!” she exclaimed, smiling. “A grave insult, to be sure!” She chuckled but just at that moment, as she began to relax into her chair, a chill gust of wind made her shudder, as though someone had walked across her mother’s grave, and she felt the gooseflesh slowly creep all over her body.

“You are cold, m’Lady?” asked Toad. “Come, let me offer you my jerkin, I have little need of it.” Toad took off his leather jerkin and laid it across the Princess’ shoulders, fastening it around her throat with the two small, fine leather straps that made the only closure.

“I thank you, Toad, for your kindness,” the Princess said. “Perhaps you would gather me closer to you; I feel somewhat more chilled than this night air should warrant; perhaps I am sickening for something or evil, perchance, is afoot.”  The soldier laid his arm across her shoulder, as gently as he might, and gathered the Princess as close as he thought decorum would allow. As she laid her head onto his shoulder, the door to the inn swung wide yet again. However, instead of Bull’s re-appearance with ale and wine, the two females, who had earlier relied so heavily upon each others’ support, came into view, no less in need of support. As they stumbled away from the door, the taller of the two looked in Toad’s direction.

“Well, what have we ‘ere,” she bellowed. “Two young lovers, a-billing an’ a-cooing; ah, ain’t it sweet.” Toad immediately took his arm from around the Princess’ shoulder and quickly grabbed hold of his flagon of ale.

“You’d think she could do better than some old battle-scarred soldier to go-a-romping with, wouldn’t you; she ain’t what I would call, well, beautiful, especially in those clothes, but I doubt that even she could be so desperate!” She gulped at the bottle of wine that she was clutching tightly to her breast. “ My, my, what a sight! He surely couldn’t have come out from between his mother’s legs like that, all twisted like; the midwife would surely still be in shock! Perhaps she still is!”  The woman cackled maliciously. As the laughter took hold, she lurched forward and her companion barely caught her in time before she nearly pitched headfirst into the well-pounded dirt which made up the floor of the courtyard. Regaining her balance, the taller of the two continued with her diatribe.

“Perhaps she is blind, my sweet, my good friend, my partner-in-crime and can no more see the face of her beau than I can see the inside of the King’s citadel. Yes, that must be it! Blind, and stupid too, if I am any judge.  To walk beside such as he, even if besotted by wine, would be more than I could bear. Heavens, it would fair shame me, have no doubt!”

The Princess bristled with anger at such an affront to her integrity but more so, if truth be known, for Toad; he who risked life and limb every day in the protection of their people, and herself, and merely on the command of a Captain and his own sense of duty; what it was to do right. She felt genuinely sickened by what she was hearing.

“Pay it no heed, Princess,” Toad whispered. “It is merely the bravado of those all too far into their cups to notice what it is that they say. It is of no import; do not trouble yourself with this. It is all but wind, no more.” However, the taller of the two women, despite her companion’s attempts to calm her down, would not be quietened.

“Hah! Do you think he has to pay for the privilege, I wonder? Not for all the cinnamon tea in the world would I step out with such a one. Fair makes my eyes bleed just to consider it! Still, once a doxie, forever a doxie; just close your eyes now, dearie, it will all be over in a trice and then you’ll be that silver penny the richer!”

As the door opened once more and Bull stepped into the gloom, his arms laden with a tray of ale and wine, the Princess launched herself away from her chair and positively vaulted over the feed stall. The chair clattered behind her as it turned cartwheels across the courtyard. With her fist held high, she bore down on the two women as though she was a banshee sent from the Dark One himself; there was murder in her eyes.

Toad sprang from his chair, upsetting the flagon of ale which fell, emptying its contents and soaking the parched earth of the courtyard, and went in pursuit as fast as his long legs could carry him. Bull let the tray that he was holding tumble to the ground as he too made to head off the Princess in her rage. Mere inches away from the hapless pair of women, Toad managed to grasp the Princess’ wrist and spun her around just as Bull made fast her other arm.

“Let me go!” the Princess screamed. “She will pay for what she has said; and pay dear! I am a Princess and he is a noble and courageous soldier. By his skill, and the skill of him and his companions only, are you protected from the Incursors; I will have just recompense for this affront!”

As Bull and Toad struggled to hold the Princess in check, the two women cowered in the doorway, retreating there in the face of the Princess’ onslaught. As inebriated as they were, still they possessed enough wit to be frightened and both tried to make profuse apology to the Princess, claiming ignorance or jest as a way of mitigating the insults whilst fumbling in vain with the latch to the door in a fruitless attempt at escape to the sanctuary of their fellows..

Bull, still with both hands clasped around the Princess’ wrist spoke calmly, a voice like gilded draperies gently fluttering in the breeze; a voice which the Princess had never heard before and so unlike the Bull that she thought that she had come to know. It was strangely soothing.

“Get along inside, you two, or better still, be off to your beds. She is indeed a Princess and a better blade than you will find in all the kingdom of the Elves. As angered as she is, it would not be wise to anger her still further by your pathetic whining, lest she take my good friend’s sword and skewer you where you stand.” He paused briefly. “Come, Princess! Toad will fetch us more ale, for I fear that what I have brought has come to naught, and we will sit again and drink and speak of ‘cabbages and kings’. These sad wretches do not deserve the anger of the fairest of the fair, whatever their fault.”

As Toad released the Princess’ wrist and likewise released the latch to the door, the two women passed back inside of the inn, Toad followed, and closed the door behind him; off for some more of the ale that Bull had so wantonly poured into the earth of the courtyard. The Princess snickered as Bull let go of her wrist, which bore the marks of how tightly he had held her and the strength of her struggle to release herself.

“A better blade than in all the kingdom of the elves,” she said with a smile. “I wish it were so, Bull. You tell a fine lie, a pretty story, so you do; oh, and how I wish it were true!”

“Come, Princess,” replied Bull. “I know not what occasioned this outburst but warranted I fear it was. I have never seen you so incensed unless it were after your audience with the King and yet, that was tempered by sadness, by regret. Here was only blind rage, I think. It would be imprudent to ask why you should thus take matters so far into your own hands. Is that not what Toad and I were sent on this journey for; to prevent any peril befalling our good Princess? Perhaps we have been remiss, Toad and I; perhaps the greater peril lies within, not without.” He smiled. “Still, nicely done, m’Lady, whatever the reason; I was almost frightened myself!”

Bull led her to the feed stall, their makeshift trestle, and righting the chairs bade her to sit. As she sat down, she peered up into his eyes and then away to the door and back up into his eyes. As she looked to the door once more, she could see Toad appear; he was carrying a tray laden with ale and wine and oaten cakes topped with cream.  As he started out on the short walk across the courtyard, towards where she and Bull were sitting, she hung her head and averted her eyes, as though in shame, although she felt none, merely a sense of pride at what she had done.

“I understand, Princess,” Bull whispered. “Yes, I think that I may understand. Come, let us wait on our drink, and lo, what do I espy? Cakes and cream, Princess! And a pot of strawberry preserve! O, good man, Toad, good man. A fine dessert, a drink and then we shall be off to bed as soon as we may. It has been a long day, and a long night, and we have still a way to go tomorrow.”


Encounter at the Inn (part 5)

The innkeeper brought a large tray to the table and started laying out the plates and the cutlery while his wife, a large and robust woman with child bearing hips and thighs that looked to Bull as though they would crush the life out of him in two seconds should he decide on a brief dalliance, laid out two huge tureens and a basket of bread. As she removed the lids of the tureens, the heady aroma of venison blood could be smelt intermingled with the sweet scent of carrot and minted potatoes. After the meal had been laid out, the pair bowed gracefully as though this were a much practised act for which they perhaps wanted some applause but, in its absence, they left the travellers to dine in peace.

As the three spooned large gobbets of venison onto the plates, it became clear that the innkeeper had been too frugal with his list of ingredients. In addition to whole cloves of peeled garlic, there were shallots, gently sweated whole before joining the stew; bite sized pieces of celeriac; broad beans; courgettes, sliced thickly to preserve the flavour and finally a kind of fungus that only the Princess had any knowledge of; ‘little pigs’ they were called, she had said, but difficult to find. She had once found them by a tree in Natalia’s garden but that was the only place that she knew that they grew for certain. Old Ramly, the Spicemaster in the village, had told her that they were safe to eat and given her a name to call them by; their flavour was richer, darker and more intense than other fungi and was made all the more powerful when dried when they soaked up whichever sauce might be in the stew.

As Toad called for more bread, the party, to which the three weary travellers owed such a sumptuous meal, came into the inn.  They quite clearly had been visiting other ale-houses in the area and the innkeeper visibly raised his eyes to the ceiling as if praying for some divine aid or succour.

“Well met,” cried the innkeeper, although he did not think that these fellows were indeed ‘well met’. “Come, your table awaits you. Wine is laid upon the board and your meal will be served as and when you please! It simmers on the hearth as I speak.” The innkeeper grimaced as one by one the party made their way over in his direction, some more unsteady than others. Two of the females could barely stand and yet the only support which they had was the other; the remaining members of the party had clearly decided to disown them. As the party eventually attained some kind of equilibrium on the chairs around the table, after much changing of seats and raucous laughter in between, the innkeeper was already beginning to seriously regret having accepted this party, for all that it had paid well; in advance too.

The Princess found the interruption to her meal somewhat annoying. She was enjoying the food and, if truth be known, the two soldiers made excellent dining companions; much better than their captain she considered.  Her thoughts were interrupted as a young girl, little more than perhaps seven or eight summers old, appeared suddenly at the side of the table carrying a basket of bread, although where she had come from and who she was, the Princess did not know; perhaps a daughter of the innkeeper, a tiny helpmate if the inn became too busy for one man and his wife. Toad turned around on his chair opposite the Princess to accept the basket from the girl; her eyes were barely level with the table. As he took the basket from her hands with his left, he tousled her hair with the other.

“You have keen ears, little one,” he said. “To hear my call over such din and clamour as that rabble is making. Thank you, I am much in your debt. Here’s a groat for your trouble; buy yourself a little treat in the village when next you go, some candied fruit or other such sweet trifle. Now run along and get back to your mama, she is missing you already.”  The child, clearly elated at such a vast sum, to her, as a gift, disappeared behind the bar as quickly as she had appeared, if not as mysteriously.

“Heaven, they’re a pain in the rump, make no mistake, Princess,” said Toad, as he tore off a huge chunk of bread and dipped it into the gravy on his plate. “Twill be no better if we retire to our rooms, I fear; they are immediately above them if I am any judge. Let us finish our meal and retire to the open air; I am sure that the innkeeper will not mind us taking the chairs outside. The noise might somehow be bearable in the courtyard and it is still a mild night; there is little chill in the air.”

The Princess and Bull both nodded, although perhaps all the Princess wanted was her bed; still, in this Toad was right, they would get no sleep while that party remained in the inn. At last, there was nothing left in the tureens, Bull had used a spoon and the last of the bread to mop them dry and was leaning back, his hands clasped behind his head, a grin of extreme satisfaction on his face.

“Go,” he said. “I have some business with the innkeeper that will not keep until morning. Go take the night air, I will join you shortly. Perhaps you would check on the horses also, while you are out there, I never trusted, or trust, that farrier, although, in truth, I had and have no reason. Go, gather up your drinks and retire to the night air; I will return shortly with more ale, have no fear.”

(to be continued)

Encounter at the Inn (part 4)

Toad opened the door and, with his back against the iron which bound the wooden planks, bowed low and waved her into the inn with a flourish, as though he were ushering her into a stately ballroom courtesy of the King himself. Toad stepped away from the door and was surprised when, all of its own free will, the door closed behind him. He thought at first that some charm or other had been placed on the entrance by some elf, more knowledgeable than he, but, in glancing upwards towards the lintel, he descried the spring that was the real instrument of this magic. Disappointed, though he knew not why, he turned sharply back to take in the ambience of the room and saw that it was almost empty; just a few lonely souls sitting alone at scattered tables nurturing their isolation in between gulps of ale. Looking around, he could see Bull standing at the oaken shelf that served as a bar in this inn, propping his elbows on the glazed surface as though he could no longer support his own weight. The Princess was already moving towards him; Toad decided to join them.

“Well met, again, Princess,” Bull shouted. “Holla, Toad, your turn to stand the round, methinks!  Too long have you kept your silver pennies in your purse, Master Pinchpenny! Barkeep, two flagons of ale!  And what of you, my good Princess? Some of Master Elias’ fine matured barley wine, or perhaps some Korn tempered with a little water; what say you? Be not slow otherwise my good friend Toad will surely pass you by and leave you thirsty.”

Toad was smiling as he approached the bar, his hands rummaging in the small money purse hanging at his belt. He had become accustomed to Bull’s accusations of miserliness and he paid it no more heed than he had done on countless occasions before.

So, what is it to be, my Lady?” Toad said as he came up from behind the Princess. “I will surely not pass you by and yet you had better be quick, else Bull and I will have finished and you will scarcely have started.”

“Innkeeper, Elias, do you have any mulled wine?” The Princess asked. The innkeeper nodded. “A glass of mulled wine then please. Do you have a cinnamon stick to spare that you may add it to the wine?” The innkeeper nodded once more and turned to enter a narrow door that led to the kitchen and the kettle of steaming wine. He returned a minute or so later and laid the two flagons of ale and a pewter goblet of steaming wine, with two cinnamon sticks, onto the bar.

“That will be four groats, Master Toad. Will you pay now or shall I tot it all up for when you are so far into your cups that you will have forgotten all that you have done this night and I shall have to sweep you up the stairs to your beds with my besom!”

“Oh, just as you wish,” said Toad, feigning exasperation. “We will pay later when we have finished for the evening, or perhaps tomorrow morn’. No doubt, you will diddle us, as is your wont, but it is of no matter. Tonight we sup with a Princess and that is a tale to tell for such as I and worth every silver penny, I’d wager.” The Princess flushed and rapidly took a sip of the hot wine.

“Tell me, Master Barkeep,” said Bull. “What do you have for supper? Something toothsome, I hope; we entertain royalty tonight! I have assured my good Princess that the food here is as good as, if not better, than that at the King’s own High Table. Do not disappoint!”

“Ah, you have the very luck of the Dark One tonight,” replied the innkeeper. “My wife has prepared venison stew with bay, garlic and the blood of the stag for a party coming in later this evening. Needless to say, she has produced enough to feed a regiment of hungry soldiers even though only sufficient for eight was required. We have taters, carrots and turnip to accompany. Will that do for your Princess, do you think?” Toad and the Princess nodded enthusiastically.

“Well, I suppose it will have to do,” Bull smiled. “Enough to feed a regiment, you say? Then bring it on, man, and extra gravy; a soldier needs to feed on blood every once and a while and stag’s blood is just as nourishing as an Incursor’s! We will sit over there, by the window; it will be cooler, methinks.”

The three hungry guests, each carrying their own drink, made their way to the table that Bull had indicated. Sitting themselves down, the Princess took a deep breath and asked, somewhat apprehensively:

“You don’t really drink Incursor blood, do you, Bull?”

“No, it would taste fouler than the most noisome beast but it never hurts to spread a little mischievous rumour. News and rumour travel fast, especially so in the direction of the Far Reaches. Perhaps, the tale does need a little embellishment; what say you, Toad? Shall we put it about that not only do we drink their blood but we do so only when they are still alive and conscious! Lapping it up like bats from the open artery.” Toad guffawed.

(to be continued)