|The Road to Norwich Ch. I
by Violet Forever ©
Authors Note: In order to protect this story from unnecessary slander, I have decided to put in this quick note. This story includes a character that manages to breastfeed a child without ever having given birth herself. Apparently, there is a common misconception that this is impossible. Although that may be true for some women, it does not apply to all women. If there are any doubts, please see related education materials provided by the leaders in breastfeeding: La Leche League. www.lalecheleague.org
Thank you ahead of time; I hope you enjoy this story as much as I enjoyed writing it!
* * * * *
The tavern was alive with music and abuzz with the chattering of men downing October ale. Lively dancing wenches were celebrating the autumn harvest with great enthusiasm. Asha sat in the corner with Edgar, a babe of five months, suckling eagerly at a full tender breast.
Gazing down upon the wee babe, young Asha could not help but feel a little angry at her situation. Why had Seilke taken her own life, all for the love of a man?
Had it not been her own love for her dear suicidal sister and her duty to play wet-nurse to the orphaned child, it could've have been her in that travelling show that passed through but three nights ago.
It wasn't that she didn't love her dear, innocent nephew. Still, at times she couldn't help but imagine life without him would be like. She had known him since his birth, months ago, and yet now that he belonged to her, it was difficult to remember life before him. Without him here though she thought mayhap she could be assisting Mistress Renetta at the looms, or Mistress Cora with her beautiful tapestries, that were worthy to grace the castle of any King. Either way she could be worthy enough to find a husband. Her favorite fantasy was to move away from the center of King's Lynn and onto a farm. But how could she do that without a husband?
If she thought she could stomach it, she would even assist Lady Dayna with the passage of whelps into the world.
However, thinking back on Seilke, cringing with the efforts of bringing forth young Edgar, she thought that perhaps she would not want to see that expression on another face. Still, so many possibilities and so many doors now closed, and her with not a full score of years to claim for herself.
But what if she had been able to live that other life? Ah, and what would it be like to swallow a burning flame without fear or pain? What would it be like to sleep through the night without a screaming babe to destroy a blissful dream? And how she loved creating beautiful chalices and bowls and such. Several had recognized her talent with pottery and metals alike. If only she had but the opportunity or coin to create her wares. Then she could sell them and possibly leave this place!
Though she dreamt so foolishly, 'twas merely her want to escape from what was truly her fate here in King's Lynn; never would a man plight her his troth now, not with the swaddling load in her arms. It would matter not how she tried to explain it wasn't she who had borne him. So few men understood the nursing process! In fact, she had not believed it herself when Lady Dayna had wisely explained to her the folly of that thinking. It was true that it could not work for everyone, but fortune apparently was with Asha. After countless hours of trial and error, milk had finally leaked and eventually flowed from her breasts. She nearly laughed recalling how eagerly he had suckled when he'd first joined her, despite the complete lack of milk. Fortunately, she'd maintained the discipline and patience as Lady Dayna had said to do. At first she had only brought forth small droplets of nourishment for him. Penelope, another new mother had agreed to nurse him until Edgar's aunt became fully capable, bless her soul! Finally, after what seemed a small eternity, Asha was able to take over his feedings full time. What a joyous day that had been, she remembered.
Now she had a new life. Instead of spending each day with endless possibility, she was to be fondled by besotted drunkards, pouring their ale, washing their linens, and rinsing their flasks... forever a serving wench instead of the free young maiden she longed to be. There seemed no promise in that, she thought.
* * * * *
Young Bryon, having reached a full score of years this very day, was in something of a quandary. He wearily wiped his drenched brow and paused to survey his handiwork. Stepping back to admire the results of his skill, he was reminded how soon his time as an apprentice would be ending. He knew he was ready as far as proficiency was concerned but of late, had much confusion as to where his destination would be.
King's Lynn already had a bounty of blacksmiths. Having been trained by Master Cauthrin, whose skill was known far and wide, he was among the best. Nevertheless, something inside called to him, if only he knew what or better yet, where.
His thoughts were interrupted by the heavy thud of footsteps behind him. A gruff but friendly voice broke the silence.
"Ye are still here I see! Can ye not see 'tis time for ye to get home? Naidra hath made a special supper for ye, and I'll not have ye destroying her fondness of mind this fine eve. Ye have done more than enough work this day. Come with me now, that we might feast on the fine meats and cheeses she hath slaved the day preparin'!"
"But Master Cauthrin, I have still three axe blades that will not be to your liking... "
"Aye, do ye insult my wife, boy?" he chided firmly.
Bryon laughed, knowing he'd been trapped, "Nay, I do believe I have a supper to eat back in your home. What say we leave now?"
With a pat on the back from older to younger, the two strode away purposefully into the setting sun. The eyes of the older sparkled with hidden excitement.
He knew the boy would be leaving him and Naidra in no more than a year's time. Bryon's parents had died of the fever when he was still quite young. His quick ability at developing skills with metals had earned him an apprenticeship with the blacksmith, whose own wife had loved the boy instantly upon his arrival. Having been declared barren by Lady Dayna years before, she had eagerly welcomed the boy into their home.
Having been as a father to the young boy, it had not escaped his notice that the boy was of an age where many a wench would catch his eye, often several times a day. Bryon had proven to be a fabulous son on a continuous basis. He'd helped Naidra by running errands and such, often without her having to ask. As a child he had always been ahead of his time. On more than one occasion he had been proud to hear of Bryon and his mature ways of dealing with his peers when they fought. His convincing way of talking people in and out of things seemed to be one of his strongest abilities, despite the fact that he was strong in body and could have quite readily solved many matters physically without much trouble. He was a smart and charming young man, and as a father to him, the blacksmith felt 'twas his duty to aid the boy in his transition.
Laughing to himself he recalled the last time a maiden had glanced in the boy's direction. Poor Bryon was so unlearned at such matters that, when she'd winked at him, he'd stumbled, face first into the dirt. It wasn't that Bryon hadn't spoke of such matters with his friends. It was just that he became absorbed in his work, to the point of having very little time for entertainment purposes. Whether he knew it or not, come the morrow, young Bryon would be a boy no more if the determined William Cauthrin had anything to do with it.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ As the evening was drawing to a close, the noise in the tavern began to die down a little. Wenches on laps greedily and effortlessly continued coaxing eager men and boys into rooms upstairs, as they had throughout the day. Hungrily they trailed behind these women, who'd whispered promises of physical pleasure into their ears.
Many of these men were soldiers, employed by Lady Dana's husband, Lord Gregor. The wealthy couple lived not too far from King's Lynn. Although they did not technically own the land within, an outsider could wonder otherwise. Their ancestors had once owned much of it and many of the currently residing townsfolk were descendents of their serfs. Now the fair and honest couple thought of the community as their own people. Lady Dana was well learned in the arts of midwifery, and though nobility, worked as hard she could to never to miss a birth.
Wanting no part as usual, besides having the babe to tend to, Asha set about the duty of sweeping the floor, young Edgar asleep in between two filled sacks, his fat infantile legs peeking out from under his swaddling clothes. She had never had much of an interest in wenching. A soft grunt caused her to look up.
"Just look at ye! All grime and soot wit' hardly a coin to spare for yourself and the young whelp! Why do ye not venture into one of the rooms, just one time? Ye may enjoy the earnin' for once!" Boislyn peered up at her with small, deep-set black eyes from a fatty, pink-cheeked face. Though short in stature, the kitchen mistress commanded authority from all that served under her. Few knew her well enough to know that behind her lashing tongue hid a kinder, more generous side.
"Ye know ye get to keep nearly two-thirds of what I bring in for ye," Boislyn pleaded. It was she who collected the fees from the men who partook in the wenching.
"Ah Boislyn, " she sighed. "I do not wish to offend thee, but ye know I do not have the knowledge of such things."
"Indeed," the stout procurer replied. "Nevertheless, ye can learn. I have already taken it upon myself to ask Gwynna to learn ye in the ways of proper wenching, should ye change your mind. She has worked here now nearly half a score! "
"I thank thee for your consideration Boislyn. I will think on it, really I will."
* * * * *
Bryon ate heartily of the sweet bounty his foster mother laid before him. The delicious hard cheeses, the savory, tender meats, and the hot, baked, mouthwatering breads filled him to the brim. Rarely, had there been such a feast before. The wine was perfectly aged and he knew the occasion was not only his birthday, but also that 'twas his last birthday with this family.
He would miss them, but 'twas time to be off and have a family of his own. He had toiled long and hard and became the youngest blacksmith in ages. He would find himself a lovely young maiden and make her his wife. Then, he would plant his seeds into fertile ground and they would grow into fine subjects, suitable for any king or queen of England. Such happiness was just around the corner and he intended to find it, despite the heartache of leaving King's Lynn to do it.
Quite surprised was he when in the midst of the later hours his foster father awakened him from his perfect slumber.
"Arise quickly my boy," the blacksmith whispered harshly. "But do it quietly, for I wish none to disturb my wife."
"Why do ye wish me awake? There are several hours yet of night to sleep through!"
"Ah, must ye always bother with so many questions? Cannot ye once learn to listen to your elders and do as you're told?"
"Of course Master Cauthrin. I do not know what hath clouded my mind. I am arising now," he said as he began to dress himself. He donned a leather tunic and briefly stopped by the kitchen area. Dipping his hands into a small wooden bucket, he brought a soothing splash of well water to cool his tired face.
"Hurry," the older man urged. "We have little time!"
"I am coming, I am coming," was the tired but curious reply.
Off they set but minutes later, an interesting pair. In the lead marched a jolly and thickset, patriarchal one. In begrudged tow walked the younger a lean, strapping, confused one.
Where in heaven's name is he taking me, Bryon wondered?
Outside the Tavern, in the early autumn mist, it was impossible to ignore the enchanting sounds of female voices, so inviting, resounding from somewhere through those doors. Bryon's heart began to flutter faster and more excitedly, the closer they got. He had been well informed by Bradbarry, his childhood friend, that somewhere through those doors were women that spent their nights pleasing men.
* * * * *
As the pale moon slowly began to rise, darkness crept further into "Crossroads Tavern."
On her way to put Edgar down for night, Boislyn had halted Asha. After several minutes of persuasion, the plump elder had finally convinced the girl to at least stay and watch the festivities.
Whenever the evening had drawn fully into night, the true action began within Crossroads Tavern. Men of all classes came to be served, without the public eye jeering them perpetually abashed into a corner. Boislyn and her wenches made the majority of their coin at this time. Men eagerly paid a goodly sum, and came later to alleviate the risk of the women in their lives discovering their activities.
Whenever the evening had drawn fully into night, 'twas when true action began to fill the doorways within Crossroads Tavern. It was a time when men of all classes could come and be served. 'Twas a time without the public eye jeering them into a perpetually abashed corner. This was where the great majority of the coin was made for Boislyn and her wenches. Men were eager to pay a goodly sum, and come later to alleviate the risk of women in their lives discovering their activities.
It was a known fact by the men of King's Lynn, and of several towns nearby that if one wanted to go wenching and have it done right, this was the place to go.
Finding a dark corner, Asha quickly seated herself away from the whores, so as not to look ripe for the "choosing." Holding Edgar in the crook of one arm, a hand under his buttocks, she used her other hand to casually brush back some stray wisps of her coppery hair.
Knocks on the hard wooden door brought the last of the wenches scurrying into the main hall, along with the sounds of last minute primping and skirt smoothing. The abundant and mature kitchen maid bustled forth and opened the door, allowing the first flow of eager masses through.
Asha observed quietly from the corner, rocking the sleeping babe. Two by two (and occasionally three) pairs of wenches and males made haste to the rooms upstairs and down the hall accompanied by the constant ring of feminine giggling.
* * * * *
Upon entering the tavern, the damp, musty smell of aged wood mingled with stone filled Bryon's nostrils, combined with a touch of dried ale. Smoke from the nearby hearth clouded his vision for a good number of seconds before he was able to make out any faces
As the thick haze opened, Bryon was instantly captivated by a most wondrous visage. It was as if the time had come for his last few breaths. The woman before him, not ten paces away, appeared the likes of an angel. But perhaps she was some enchanting goddess from many a nighttime fantasy.
* * * * *
Among the last few men to enter, Asha noticed two in particular that didn't quite fit in with the rowdy bunch. One appeared to be the local blacksmith. She knew of him, a respected weapons maker in fact. The other was taller and leaner, yet strong and young. He moved with the sinewy grace of a cat, she mused thoughtfully.
Asha was beguiled, for he looked so confident for one she felt had to be so innocent. Stunned was she however, when, instead of choosing one of the hopeful looking wenches, he began to stride away past them. In fact, she suddenly realized in bewilderment, that he appeared to be headed her way!
* * * * *
Captivated by silvery eyes covered with long, sooty lashes, Bryon was barely aware that he'd approached the beautiful woman in the corner. It wasn't until he was right upon her that he noticed the slumbering babe in her arms. He nearly closed his own lids for a moment, as the alluring fragrance of honeysuckle rose to meet his readied senses. Not quite sure what it was he was about to say, he opened his mouth to speak.
Before words could leave his parted lips, another voice filled his ears.
"Nay, nay ye cannot lift the skirts of that one, my boy," he heard as a stout, middle-aged kitchen maid came scurrying up to him. "She does not partake in such activities... yet."
Fortunately, the darkness well hid Asha's face, ripe with color as she turned away in embarrassment. Boislyn led the young man away by the hand and brought him to the crowd of ready wenches, some calling out their offered specialties and others simply smiling and blinking.
With, but one last backward glance at the now empty dark corner, Bryon sighed and finally made his choice -- a sultry, voluptuous, blond that grinned at him. With a sheepish smile, he allowed himself to be led away, up the stairs and down the hallway, to the third door on the left.
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