Snordwich Chronicles, XXV: Cautionary Measures

On All Soul’s Eve, Tephna and Jaclyn go from house to house, offering prayers for the dead in exchange for soul cakes.

They see Richard and Gilbert out doing the same.

Their last call is at Jaclyn’s house, where they eat their soul cakes with bottles of milk. Tephna’s mother’s are the best, although Francis Brewer’s are a close second.

Tephna hurries home well before sunset. She does not want to be caught out of doors when the spirits start to roam.

She has saved one of her soul cakes for Oriel. Their mother mashes it up for her to eat.

Oriel is a difficult child, with a tendency to kick her big sister and monopolise the toys. But tonight she listens in captive silence as Tephna tells her a scary story about a ghostly water spirit who haunts the riverbank.

There have been no deaths in the village that year, so the parson’s All Soul’s sermon the following morning consists mainly of general prayers for the Watcher’s continued mercy. Tephna overhears Richard whispering to Gilbert that he saw a ghost last night, but she thinks he is probably bluffing: Richard will say anything for attention.

William Jardine and Henry Yates are not among the congregation. Their wives tell Avice that they are both sick with sweating fits and catarrh, which they are doing their best to treat with lime juice and dried mint.

With another baby on the way, Avice is determined not to catch the sickness. Seasonal maladies like this often turn out to be harmless; but to infants, pregnant women and the elderly they can easily be fatal.

The villagers know only a little of what learned men have discovered about the workings of the body, but they are familiar with the four temperaments: the choleric—bold, irascible, creative, ruled by hot, dry yellow bile, and prone to fever, swellings and violent dreams; the sanguine—self-assured, generous, romantic, ruled by hot, wet blood, and prone to gout and snoring; the melancholicnervous, introspective, ruled by cold, dry black bile, and prone to digestive disorders, insomnia, anxiety and despondency; and the phlegmatic—patient, devoted, calm, ruled by cold, wet phlegm, and prone to snoring, somnolence and disorders of the lungs.

They agree that Avice’s natural temperament is a mixture of the first two, and that she and her child are consequently in greater danger from the hot sweating fits than the cold catarrh. To protect herself against fever throughout her pregnancy she eats cooling foods like fish and raw vegetables.

She also begins her confinement early, to isolate herself from whatever unwholesome vapours might have brought the sickness to the village.

Through her small chamber window, Avice sees that the road is busy all day Wednesday: Wereables must be moving his things to his new home. Ralf the Groom comes to find Geoffrey in the garden and tells him that his master will probably only visit the village when he wants to attend church, but that Ralf himself will be in several times a week to buy bread and eggs.

Before he leaves, the groom has a gift for Tephna from the child of the kitchen he calls Small Ralf. It is a bunch of dried lavender that Cook Humphrey let the boy keep for working so hard. Small Ralf knows that Tephna loves plants as much as he does, and he wanted her to have something special from his garden.

Delighted, Tephna shows the little bouquet to her mother, who tells her that, if she tucks it up inside her bedroll each day, the blankets will always smell sweet and give her peaceful sleep.

On Thursday, Geoffrey takes his daughters to church for the Feast of the Children. He is relieved to see that Henry and William’s sickness does not seem to have spread to too many of the other villagers.

Tephna and Oriel are wearing new winter clothes, knitted for them by their mother.

Avice’s baby is due that evening, but all day Eda does not appear. Eventually Jaclyn brings bad news: Eda is sick and cannot come. At least Avice will still have the girls by her side; and around supper time her dear friend Francis arrives to help out too.

Without an experienced midwife on hand, delivery can be fraught with even more dangers than usual, but by the Watcher’s grace Avice’s is quick and free from complication. In just a few hours, she is holding a healthy baby boy with a head of dark hair.

There is no word over the next day of any other villagers falling sick, but Geoffrey insists that his wife and newborn son stay indoors throughout the winter penitence. Parson Reviers is called to the house to deliver the blesssings, and to give the boy his name, Adam.

On the Eve of the Nativity, the couple at last honour their son’s birth with a supper for a few friends.

Just before midnight, everyone walks over to the church to celebrate the arrival of the Feast of the Nativity and the entry of little Adam into village life.

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4 thoughts on “Snordwich Chronicles, XXV: Cautionary Measures

  1. It’s a good thing Avice didn’t suffer any complications because the midwife couldn’t attend. Adam is really cute. I love your knowledge of the time period; it’s also one of my favorite time periods to read about and study. I think that’s one reason (other than your great writing and pics) that I enjoy this story so much. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

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