Tuesday, September 27

winter solar, cider, and hot bread

The winter solar was a low-ceilinged room with woolen tapestries on the walls and two broad hearths at either end. The benches against the wall and the few chairs were made with a dark wood--or maybe they weren't dark themselves but only seemed to be, against the pale walls. Thick blankets, furs, and rugs were piled against the wall and on top of the benches to be taken down during the day. Windows were set back into the wall and usually covered with heavy curtains; they were opened every morning to air out the room.

A few of the women, layered in wool gowns and hoods and shawls, liked to sit there in the morning shortly after the fires were started and a pot of cider hung to warm over the grate. The room would yet be bitingly cold, but a certain conspiratorial air lay over the early hours of the morning, huddled around the fire with cider and hot bread somehow finagled out of the cook before the Hall would be set out with food to break the others' fast.

Thursday, September 15

Yet another introspective oddity of me.

I like to please people. It's why I didn't do badly in school (except for English Lit. and Latin, which were escapes) and why I feel guilty when the kitchen isn't clean. It's why I am polite to people in uncomfortable social situations--don't want to put my friends in a bad spot or get them upset with me because I'm different. I want my friends and family to feel good, when it doesn't get in the way of anything (I try not to take the consequences for others' actions or enable them to continue something unhealthy) and might build them up a little.

Of course, I botch it all the time--I seem to not have that gift of being spontaneous that most of my family has, and trying to plan so that I can do something nice for them often turns me on my head and rubs them the wrong way. They may need to realise that it is dashed hard to practise being spontaneous when it isn't natural in your personality already, but I know there is something about that particular gift that I'm missing, too, so I can't exactly pass judgment on them. Pot calling the kettle black, and all that.

The fact that I'm oversensitive to my own needs doesn't help, either--I constantly feel like I'm making a martyr of myself, if I don't really feel like being nice. (Note: feeling like a martyr doesn't mean you are one.) Then the feeling like a martyr thing makes me not want to do anything nice at all--which goes back to the thing about doing good and not having to like it. I want to be useful.

Saying that to myself, I always get a flashback of one of my favourite teachers looking at me in his peculiarly focused way, saying "That is going to lead to a quick burnout." I love him for saying that because it has saved me needless pain, but I hate his saying it at the same time because it only voiced my confusion. I know that endurance alone is not going to pull me through, but what are my alternatives? I can't exactly enjoy life without knowing if I'm on the right track . . . some people can, and they tell me to "loosen up" or just "go with the flow", but I'm sticking it out that

1) It is so much more important to know I'm doing good than to know I'm having fun. (I was one of those kids who couldn't play until they had their work done.)

2) I'd rather have a real Joy than a giggly personality.

3) The whole "loosening up" thing has only ever got me into trouble, anyway.

Sounds weird to some of you. I'll stay on the safe side of the line in that sense. In popular psychology/spirituality/whathaveyou that is the BIGGEST line to cross. It isn't.

This entry is getting long and my brain is shorting out because of the music, and I need to go bake some oatcakes. I hope they bring home apples and cheese. Or pears. Pears would be fine with oatcakes too.

Tuesday, September 13

summer solar, smelling of lavender

Well, this is totally an experiment. I was daydreaming in my weekend class and drew pictures on my syllabus, of a tall, wide tower with a solar at the top, and it was obviously a ladies' hall.

I've also been looking at medieval costumes and recipes, which are very cool. Veils and wimples don't seem so strange when you look at the funny hairstyles we have around today.

Am also trying to figure out dialogue in period style, but I'm really no good at it yet. Practice, I suppose.


The ladies' summer solar was at the top of the most southern tower, a wide unpanelled room with many windows cut in the round walls. During the summer months, the room was used commonly by all the ladies as a resting place. Wimple and veil could be unpinned and put aside, crying children were not glared at, and the topics unfit--or all too fit--for the company of the men could be discussed at leisure and without the semipolitical reserve required in a very political court.

But it was very much a room of women; only small children were allowed, and no men. Not that many men would have relished the experience of being confronted with an entire room of tired women in their stockings and without even a veil to cover their hair . . . most men steered clear even of the door to the tower, for the guards there (all of whom bore resigned looks on their faces) often left their posts with a lingering scent of perfume not their own.

Coming down the wide, even steps of the stairwell, she stopped at the lowest window to put on her wimple and veil over mussed hair. It was a hot day--not warm but hot--and putting on a head covering in addition to two layers of linen dress seemed doubly hot when she descended from the cool of the summer solar.

The world outside that small window was turning brown with the dead heat of summer. Soon it would be autumn, at least, and the death of the world would not seem so unexpected. The houses in the city looked so small, so far away, and yet she could pick out her favourite chandlers' shop, the best silversmiths' building apart from the crowded streets in a green of its own, and the cluster of alleyways devoted to making musical instruments. Tucking the hem of her wimple into the collar of her dress, she thought idly of picking up the lute again.

She turned to the door only to see a messenger waiting, watching her arrange her veil. Slightly annoyed at his silence, yet too hot to be upset, she gave him formal leave to speak. He looked slightly flustered.

"Ye smell of lavender," he said abruptly, and stopped.

"I see. Is that all ye came to say?" she asked, reaching up to affix a second pin to her veil.

"Well, when I was a child I used to--" he cleared his throat."My mother was a fine lady--the Queen liked her to spend time teaching girls how to sew in the afternoons--and when she came down, she always smelled sweet, like that. So I thought it was something special. All mothers smell like lavender! Methought maybe it had something to do with being a mother--one of the best, nicest mothers. She always came down from the solar rested, like that, I so always assumed that lavender was equated with goodness." He paused a moment. "That and the smell of--" He smiled, remembering. "I don't even know what it's called . . . "

She grinned. "Is your mother known as Lady Ellen?"

"Indeed! Do ye know her?"

"She taught me to embroider." Suddenly conscious of her embroidered shoes and various hems, she was glad Lady Ellen was not present to see the loose stitching on her slippers. She made a note to mend them as soon as possible.

"Ah. Tis' no wonder you smell like lavender."

"Well, there may be more to that than you know. Young girls usually sew lavender pouches for their first project."

"Oh. I had rather hoped it was something more glorious than that, but pouches will do."

Monday, September 12

picking apart stories

"So what do you think the story meant? I mean, it obviously could not have happened to a real knight." He stood up and stretched. It had been a longer story than he'd originally thought it would be, and even the teller looked weary with the telling.

"Don't ruin it!" She clapped her hands over her ears. "I don't want to know. Can't you just leave it alone and let it be beautiful?" She let her hands stray but warily back to her embroidery.

"I think somebody wanted to make something out of it--not discussing it wouldn't do the work justice." Reluctant to sit down, he crossed to the table and brought back a cup of ale for the poet, who was grinning. For a split second it shocked him that the man had very few teeth. He smiled back.

Oh, that's just because--ouch," she pricked her finger and took it out from underneath the veil of her sewing frame, "you take the words 'enjoyment' and 'understanding' to mean the same thing." She put the offending finger and its welling drop of blood in her mouth.

"Not necessarily. The truth is what is important, not my enjoyment of it."

"So you can't enjoy something unless you understand it?" She folded her hands in her lap.

"That isn't what I said . . . " he stopped, exasperated, and shook his head. "How could it be, when I'm still spending my evenings perfectly sober, listening to an elf in the guise of an old man and a goose in the guise of a maid!" (The poet cackled toothlessly.) "I don't understand that either."

Wednesday, September 7

same heroine, five years later

"Why are your hands so rough, so wounded? Are you not in the practice of ministering to that delicacy we so admire in our . . ." He searched for the appropriate cliche: "Our flowers of the court? True ladies should have hands made of rose petals, and fragile . . ."

She let her visitor trail off into silence as the King's vanguard moved across the plain; it would not be until evening that tales would be told or the news given.

He held her limp hand for a moment, scrutinizing it for blemishes and pointing them out to her; a fading scar, a callous, a graze that was slowly oozing blood from underneath a pale cover of blotched cream and powder.

"Like to porcelain?" she asked tonelessly, pronouncing the syllables deliberately.

It dimly crossed his mind to be annoyed with her seeming aloofness--she almost seemed as if she wasn't enjoying his presence at all--but he reminded himself, very patiently, he thought, that she was a young creature and perhaps unschooled. All the better. Untaught beauties, though with less elegantly affected behaviour, were often the more in need of refined company.

"Yes. Like to porcelain. Very good."