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Timothy H. Cook has not received any gifts yet
To Bob, the way had become arduous. The wind had shifted, and was now blowing from the west, and a stingingrain soaked through his cloak, and the light was now fading rapidly. He was relieved to see the castle off in the distance.
“That, I assume, is the Earl’s castle up ahead.”
“Aye, that it is,” replied Martin. “Awelcome sight to me. This rain iscolder than the snow up yonder. Afire within the walls would be most welcome to me.”
“And me,’ Bob agreed.
In the distance, it stood out from the muddied fields, scattered huts, and thincopses of evergreens, as a sanctuary on the hilltop. The road up to the castle was little more than a path ofmud, but it was at least wideenough for two to ride abreast. Unlike most castles of the time, this was not built primarily as afortress, and there were actually two main entrances, one on the north, withthe main road on which they travelled, the other southwest, with a road thatled down to the little port on the sea.
As they climbed the hill toward the castle the group picked up the pace, and itseemed as though the horses knew their ride was coming to an end, and began totrot, a gait Bob was not familiar with, and which hurt his tailbonemercilessly. However he didn’tcomplain, as he could see and feel the end of his journey.
“What is this I’ve gotten into?” he wondered again. “And who in this Earl, and what has this to do with me? This is so far removed from anythingI’ve ever seen and done. And thishorse... I’ve got to get off this thing soon, before I bust a gut. I sure hope they’ve got a fire and somewarm, dry clothes.”
The little band moved on up toward the castle, albeit slowly. Then they caught sight of a ridercoming in their direction. Therider moved quickly, and soon came even with their little group.
“Ah, Master Dowdell, you have come, and that is good, but, pray tell why suchhaste?” Martin spoke with theothers gathered round.
“Pray, let us get inside the walls, then you shall hear, as there is much totell. Suffice it to say, MasterCraycroft is expecting you most eagerly.”
“Craycroft?” Martin asked.
“Aye, acting on behalf of the Earl. Nowcome, make haste”.
With that the little company, now six, headed off toward the castle, with Bob noticing that his horse was now cantering,which he found a much more bearable gait than the last. He felt something of a surge ofanticipation, as they sped through the last village, turned toward the broader road that led through thehuge gate into the castle. Thecompany, following Dowdell’s lead slowed to a walk as they made their way overthe moat and into the great courtyard. They were led leftward toward the greatstables. There they were met by groomsmen who held the horses steady. Bob madeit to the ground without too large a display of ineptitude, and was thoroughlyglad to be touching the ground with his two feet. He looked around him, and wasastonished at the size of the castle inside the walls. The rain was stillfalling, but out of the wind, he felt he could at least breathe, and though thelight was dim, he could follow Dowdell and the company, as they entered asheltered walkway that led into the interior af the castle. The company then entred a doorway, intoa great hall, with massive pillars, and torches lighting the central open area.
“You should wait in here,” said Dowdell, “I shall let Master Craycroft know of your arrival.”
Bob looked around him. He was in a great hall, filled with mighty purpose, with high, narrow windows andrich tapestries and rugs. In the middle of the room was a large fireplace. The cold riders all huddled toward thefireplace, warming their frozen hands and faces. No one said anything for atime. Then Stoneheft finally brokethe silence.
“Well, then Master Robert of Ewe Ass, here ye be at the castle of the Earl of Shepperton. What think ye of it? How does it feel to be here?”
“First of all, I’m very glad to be off that horse, and out of the cold wind and rain, here where thereis a warm fire. As to the castle,even though it’s obviously dark outside, I can see that this is one spectacularbuilding. I guess that we’reexpected, and that’s probably a good thing.”
“Aye, Master Robert, that you are, indeed.”
Bob turned around, to look toward the sound.
“Allow me to introduce myself.” He said with a couteous bow. “I am Craycroft, and I represent our Lordthe Earl, as this is his domain. I do bid you welcome into his house.”
Bob was taken aback, as this was the first truly courteous greeting he had received since coming tothis place. The speaker was a man,who was of indeterminate age, of great bearing. The others in his company suddenly seemed to sense thattheir riding companion may have been more than he appeared, and backed away.
“I am honored by your presence here, and I bring greetings from the Earl himself. It is my hope thatyour arrival on our island was a peaceful one, and that you were shown duecourtesy, though I should doubt that your companions knew of your true worth.”Craycroft glared silently at the ragged band of guards and noticed that no oneheld his head up. Craycroft, though, could not help but smile, as he noted Tomamong the group
“I’m sorry Mr. Craycroft. But I myself don’t know of this “worth” you speak about. You see, I don’t even know how I got to your island inthe first place. I don’t know what is expected of me. All I really know is that I’ve come a long way, and thenI’ve trudged through snow, rain, mud and misery. I know that I’m tired, sore,wet and hungry. But here I am, and, I guess, at your service.”
“Very well, Master Robert, I shall have one of the Earl’s servants escort you to your quarters,where there be a warm fire and dry clothes for you. Then we shall send for you,and you will be fed and given drink with me, and I shall explain what I may ofour present circumstances. Unfortunately, I know not how you did arrive, but Ican tell you some of the why, as I understand it.”
“That would definitely be good,” said Bob. “I especially like the idea of some dry, warm clothes, and agood meal.”
“Very well, then, you shall be shown to your rooms by this page, named Hermes, whom I have instructed to beat your call at all times. Shouldyou need anything, simply say the word and Hermes will obtain it, if it bepossible. Now, Master Robert, doyou need anything else?”
“It seems that I had several things that were taken from me when I arrived. It would be really niceif I could have them back now..”
“Martin, do you have knowledge of such things of which Master Robert speaks?”
“Aye, m’lord. Stoneheft has these things in a satchel.”
Stoneheft rather sheepishly pulled out of hislarger bag a smaller bag that he handed to Bob. “Here, I’m quite certain that ye’ll make betteruse of these than I shall. I only hope that ye’ll find everything in order.”
“My thanks. I have a feeling that if anything is missing, It’ll come back to me somehow,” Bob said, rather sardonically. He tookthe bag and opened it, pulling out his penlight, his watch, several pens,tongue depressors, his various papers and cards, his reflex hammer, his beeper, and finally his stethoscope. “Yes Ithink it’s all here.” He then put all the stuff back into the bag. “OK then, Ithink I’m ready. You may lead the way,” turning toward the young page, who hadbeen staring at Bob’s stuff with absolute fascination.
“I guess I’ll see you later,” said Bob toCraycroft. Then to Hermes,”leadthe way young man. I’m cold, wetand hungry, and I smell like a wet horse.”
“This way, Master Robert.”
The two of them went off in the direction of the extensive guest quarters of the castle, as Craycroftstayed and spoke with Martin and the others, gathering what information hecould of his new guest and how he got where he was. He expressed his rathersevere displeasure over the treatment Bob had received, and explained to themthat Bob was not just a guest, but was a healer of great power, and that heshould be treated with the utmost respect, and further that he had come to themby way of Drachma, the elder, and that any further sign of disrespect would bedealt with severely.
Bob and his page wound through the corridors and labyrinthine passageways of the castle before arriving at hisrooms. He was pleasantly surprisedto find that someone had built a nice, warm fire in the main room, and therewas, on the table, some bread and dried fruit, as well as a tumbler of brownliquid that had a pleasing aroma. Hemes showed him where there was a large bowl of water for washing, aswell as dry cloths for drying himself. Then he showed him where there were clothesfor him to wear, that were dry, but seemed to Bob like the costumes worn byactors in some play by Shakespeare.
Bob couldn’t help but chuckle, and commented, “in some ways, this looks and feels like you’ve brought me to somefine resort, where I’m supposed to tip the bell boy, but I have no cash, and Iam cold and smelly, and it’s apparent that I have no idea where I am and barelyspeak the language.”
“Most sorry, master, is anything amiss?”
“Ah, no, Hermes. It’s just that I’m not native to your island, and have no idea about your customs.”
“Well, for one thing, these clothes,” he said, picking out a pair of leotards, “these are not exactly what I typicallywear…”
“And what ye have on, is that more typical?” Hermes could barely avoid chuckling himself.
Bob looked at what he had on. He got out of his cloak, and below that he had on his formerly whitelab coat, over his scrubs, with his brown socks and his loafers, all wet, muddyand clinging to his skin, which felt like a wet, infested swamp. Then all he could do was laugh, at hisown predicament, his obviously foolish appearance, his current state of ratherextreme exhaustion.
Hermes laughed along with his master.
“Well, I might as well get started. Even if I look ridiculous, these clothes are dry, and don’t smell like horse.” He then got out of his clothes, washed up as well as he could, foundsome of the clothing that looked a little less garish. There was a little mirror in which hecould see himself, and what stared back at him was hardly recognizable. He had grown a few days worth ofstubble, and his visage had a new quality he did not recognize. He looked around, and he could seenothing to suggest toothpaste or a toothbrush. Seeing nothing like a comb, he ran his hand through hisdark, matted hair.
“Master, if it be all right with ye, I’ll have these clothes cleaned, dried and returned to ye on the morrow. Now , if ye wish, ye may sit in here bythe fire. I am quite sure thisbread is fairly fresh, and the drink is one from Barncuddy, and should be pleasing to ye, at least that be what Iam told.”
“Thank you , Hermes, I think I’ll do just that.” Having said that , Bobsat down in the comfort of the old chair by the fireplace, while Hermesgathered up Bob’s clothes, placed them in a sack, and stepped out, indicatingthat he would be back to tell Bob when Master Craycroft would want to see him.
The bread was, indeed, fresh, and still somewhat warm, tasted like what was served in fine italian restaurants backhome. The drink was unlikeanything Bob had ever tasted. Ithad an aroma that was of cardamom, cinnamon and just a whiff of somethingelse. Its taste was just a littlesweet, and just a touch bitter. Itwent down easily and spread warmth through his chest. He sat back with a sigh, and then thought about hiscircumstances once more, this time thinking about his wife, and that there wasno way on earth he would be able to contact her to tell her that he was alive,and, amazingly, quite well.
He wondered about how the people “back home” would handle his disappearance. What were they thinking? How could a well respected cardiologist just disappear? He wondered if anyone saw him. Then he realized that he himself didnot know how he got here, in this place and time, with all these strangepeople, with their strange names, weird clothes, and ancient dress. And who was this Drachma, and what didhe want? Then another thoughtstruck him. Where was his wallet,with all his personal identifications?
“Shoot, I must have left it in my scrubs when I changed into these loud leotards.”
He took another draught of his drink, felt the warmth flow through him, felt himself slip seemingly deeper into thecushions of his seat. Exhaustion began to overtake him,and he drifted into a deep,dreamless slumber.
“Master Robert, Master Robert, it is time. Master Craycroft has summoned you to join him for the evening meal.”
Bob was awakened from his slumber by Hermes, his page, gently shaking him. It took a few minutes for Bob to get his bearings, test the reality ofhis current situation, and to reaize where he was.
“All right, I am ready.” Bob stood up from his chair, them immediately sat down again. “Oh, man, I’m stiff and sore.That ride here was more than I am used to. Just a minute, let me get mybearings.” He then got up more slowly and stiffly, as if he were some oldrheumatic. Hermes just lookedbemused, offered to help.
“No, I’m all right. Just give me a minute. By the way, that was some potent, but wonderful drink, there. I’ll haveto ask about getting some more of that stuff. All right, then let’s be off, young man.”
Hermes held out Bob’s cloak for him. “Here, Master, you may need this. The weather has not improved outside, and itis a fair walk to the Earl’s quarters.”
They headed out the door, and immediately Bob could tell that Hermes was right. The weather was not anybetter at all, the rain was now mixed with icy particulate matter that waswhippped by the wind, and stung his face as he tried to keep up with hisyouthful page. The walk across the courtyard was particularly brutal. Neitherone spoke while they walked. ThenHermes turned down a long corridor, then into a building, by a side door. Once inside, they paused, stamped theirfeet, rubbed some feeling back into their faces.
“Pardon, Master, but I have taken you inside by way of the servants’ entrance, as it was faster, and out of thishideous weather. Now we may godown yonder hallway, and enter by way of the main entryway.
“Thanks, Hermes. I appreciate that more than I can tell you. And it is good to come in out of that awful weather outthere. I’ll take the servants’entrance any day.”
“Ah, we pages know where there are ways and byways through this castle.”
The two of them headed down the dimly lit hallway toward the main entryway. There they tuned into another grand room,similar to the great room they had seen earlier, complete with a big fireplace,with innumerable torches all around. Hermes led the way toward the back of the great hall, where a door ledinto a smaller room. It wasbrightly lit, pleasantly warm, with a large table in the center. On the table was a sumptuous array of foods, including breads, fish,meat, fruit, vegetables, with pies and cakes. Craycroft stoodup from a seat at the table, and greeted Bob with unexpected warmth.
“Welcome, good Master! It is my most sincere hope that your arrival at our Earl’s castle has been comfortable, though I do understand thatyour arrival on our island was something less than one would have hopedfor. Pray, sit you here at thistable, and enjoy what food and drink you would like. As you can see, we have food for all tastes, and drink tosoothe.”
“Why thank you, Master Craycroft. This is truly the finest feast I have seen in some time. And I shouldsay that my rooms aren’t bad either. Like I was telling young Hermes, here, it’s like a luxury hotel. I’m just not too sure about theseclothes, and whether I’ve got them on right or not.”
“Ah, you do indeed. You do look, in fact, splendid, though I must say that my own sensibilities do not run alongthose lines. Why not sit here andtell us of what food you will partake. I’m quite sure we can accommodate yourwishes.”
Bob sat down and surveyed the feast before him. There was some fish that looked particularly good to him, as wellas a roast that looked like pork, some fine vegetables and some warm, aromaticbread. Not knowing, he said hewould like to try some of most of the foods.
“Spendid! Why not a little of everything, then? And some wine?This is some of the Earl’s best from last year.”
Bob’s plate was then piled with great helpings of things from the table. He looked around, and did not see anyutensils at his place, but as hungry as he was, he looked to Craycroft forclues, and seeing that his host was ”digging in” he did the same. This wastruly a feast for the famished, and Bob enjoyed every morsel. The wine was just a little too sweet,but it went down easily. Not muchwas said during the meal, as it was apparent to all that Master Robert was famished,and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself.
After eating himself almost into a stupor, Bob pushed his way back from his seat, washed his hands in a bowl setthere for that purpose, and dried his hands on a cloth at his side.
“My goodness, that was some meal. Tell me you don’t eat that way all the time. It was magnificent.”
“Ah, but no, this is a truly rare meal, as your arrival here would warrant such a celebration.”
“There you go again. I’m really no one special, just a cardiologist from the midwest, who got to your island by some method unknown,at least to me…”
“Are you not a healer?”
“Well, I guess I am that.”
“Then we must have much to discuss. Come, let us then retire to one of the sitting rooms, with a good fire.”
With that they both got up, Bob still a bit stiff, and the very full and slightly tipsy Dr. Robert Gilsen followedCraycroft out yet another door, down a hallway, reasonably well lit by torches,then they turned into a room that was obviously set apart as a study, with manyshelves full of books , several comfortable padded chairs, and a fireplace thatglowed warmly. Craycroft turned toyoung Tom, mumbled a few words about something to drink, then offered Bob aseat.
“Very well, then, Master Robert, let me begin by telling you a little about myself, as I am sure you know very littleabout me.”
“That’s for sure…”
“I am a native of this island, which is called Shepperton Island. I was born to parents of the working poor, my fatherwas a metalsmith and my mother was a maid and cook. Not being adept enough tofollow in my father’s trade, I was given the opportunity, in my youth, tobecome a page for the Earl’s house, from which position I then rose toapprentice for Master Cartho, who was a healer, and may I say, a great one. Itis from him that I learned of the arts of healing, and also the art of recordkeeping. It was this love of my art that caught the attention of the Earl, andI have been in his employ for nigh unto fifty years. Tell me, have you everheard of Master Cartho?”
“No, I can’t say that I have. His name isn’t one I recognize, though I must admit, I am not much of a medicalhistorian.”
“Ah, well then I must show you some of his writings. They must mean more to you than the others of this age.
“As it came to pass, my employment, and my friendship with the Earl provided me opportunity beyond the healing arts,and, as such, I have become his closest ally. Though I have no official role assuch, I have come to act as advisor to the Earl, and he has recognized thisfact. But now the Earl is himself quite ill, and this comes very shortly afterthe death of one of our beloved ladies, lady Felicia Vincente…”
That name struck out of the blue, like a flash of memory. He was taken backto his meeting with Judy in the ER, when she told him it was a Carlo Vincentewho had given her the little box with the Drachma inside.
“Vincente, did you say Vincente?”
“Why, yes. Does that name mean something to you?”
“Indeed it does. Before I came here, I was given a little box by one of my colleagues, who was told to give it to meby someone with that name, a Carlo Vincente, who later died in our EmergencyRoom.”
With the mention of that name, Craycroft’s eyes widened, but he did not say anything immediately.
“And do you know what was in that box? It was a Drachma.”
Craycroft was stunned. This was no mere coincidence. “You say it was a Drachma? A coin of ancient Greece?”
“The same. It was the start of multiple odd things that I thought at first were merely coincidences. And I understandthat it was someone named Drachma who is somehow responsible for my beinghere.”
“That is most odd, indeed,” Craycroft said thoughtfully, “and what do you know of this Carlo Vincente, and ofDrachma?”
“Well, of Carlo Vincente I only know that one of my colleagues, a nurse named Judy Morrison, said that about a weekago (or so – it’s hard now to keep track), a very old man came to the EmergencyWard at our hospital for an infected dog bite, and when there was no one elsein the room, he took her aside and asked if she knew a doctor of hearts namedGilsen (that would be me), and he gave her the box, which she then gave to meper his instructions, with the Drachma inside. Now where that box is, or thecoin for that matter, I have no idea. Anyway, this guy, Drachma, also sent her a note (how, I have no idea),telling her to find someone skilled in the arts of healing, and tell him thatsomewhere there were people in great need and that whoever would be receivingmore messages, and to be prepared to make a journey unlke any before. And then, a very old man with a largemane of flaming white hair, a hawklike nose, and a certain regal manner came toour Emergency Room, desperately ill, and told them he was a patient of mine,then before he died, he turned to me and told me that it was the day. Anyway, later that day, as I wascardioverting one of my patients, something happened, I really don’t know what,and that is how I came to your island, as far as I can tell.”
“Most remarkable, Master Robert, most remarkable. Now, before I tell youof our tale, I would ask what you would desire to drink, as our page hasreturned.”
“Well now that you mention it, I am a bit thirsty. You know, some ofthat magnificent brown stuff that was waiting for me in my room would really benice.”
“Ah, yes, Carlisle’s brew, I feel certain that our good page has some of that available, am I right,Tom?”
“Of course, Master Craycroft, here it is, with Barncuddy’s compliments.”
“Many thanks, my good page. Now remind me, Master Robert, to show you Barncuddy’s Ale house, a place unlike any other,with good ale, excellent food and music unlike any you may have heard.”
Bob suddenly remembered the dream he had, with the inn, the tables, the ale, the harp music, and then it dawned onhim – there was Craycroft. For the life of him, though, he could not rememberthe tale that Craycroft told, nor could he remember the actual music, though hecould remember how it made him feel - the powerful, inexpressible longing, allconveyed through that incredible music.
“Master Craycroft, would it be harp music… a very special sort?”
“Aye, that it would, but not like any other music to my ears. But itwould be from the magical fingers of an angel. Then it is settled – we shouldgo someday soon. Ah, here ye be – a flagon of Carlisle’s brew.”
“Ah, thank you.”
Bob drank in the fragrant, warm brew, letting its warm, gentle fingers reach him through his throat and chest.“Sometime, too I’ll have to get the recipe for this most marvellous drink.”
“That if only Barncuddy would reveal its making. I am quite certain that he keeps such secrets well hidden.”
“Well, for now I’ll just have to sit and enjoy it. Now Master Craycroft,you were going to tell me your tale, and I’m anxious to hear it. Then I should tell you my story as timeallows.”
“Indeed, Master Robert, that would seem fair.” Craycroft smiled, winked knowingly at Tom, then began his tale. “Now you already heard my story, butthat is not the tale of what brought you here. That would be the real story, itwould seem, that you should like to hear. Is this not so?”
“Ah, yes, it would be nice.”
“Well then, let us start with the story of our pots.”
Bob’s expression was one of surprise.
“Aye, that would be right, our pots. For there are none finer, and more rewarding, both to the owners and to thisisland. Ever since William Fitzgibbon first discovered the source, here on ourisland, our Shepperton pots have been a boon to our people, and to wealthyhouseholds throughout Europe, and have shaped our lives as nothing ever could. You see, our pots impart a certainvitality to their owners, that, it would seem comes from the clay from whencethey are made, a clay only found upon this island. It is clay that comes from the base of Croftus Knob. You may remember passing by there on your way here.
“As it happens then, our little thriving economy here on our island became centered on the manufacture and sale of ourpots. Then something wentawry. Last springtime, one of ouresteemed potters took ill and died, then another, then our painters also. Then later our Carlo Vincente (of whomyou know), then his daughter, our beloved Lady Felicia have taken ill and havedied, and now our Earl, who has taken ill, but, thank the Lord, has not yetdied. What all this has done has stirred havoc among our people, and themanufacture of our pots has come to naught. And there is talk of witchcraft and murder, some of whichmight be more true than one would suppose.”
“All right, now let me get this straight. You have this thriving little community on your island, that makesits living selling these magical little pots to wealthy noble houses all overEurope, then quite mysteriously, the potters and painters necessary to theproduction of these pots are suddenly dying off. Then the nobility on yourisland also start to succomb. Is that about right?”
“Aye, that would appear to be an accurate, though a little crass, summary of events thus far.”
“Now, then, you’ve got to tell me a little more. First, about this illness that afflicted these painters, pottersand nobility. Second, what do you expect from me, and what do you suppose I cando that might be helpful. And lastly, but most importantly, how did thisDrachma fellow get involved, and how and why, in heaven’s name, did he pluck meout of thin air, and another time and place, to get involved in your crisis.”
“Ah, I can see that you are most perplexed. As to the how and whyof Drachma’s behaviors, that I cannot hazzard a guess, or to why he would pick you and theLady Judy Morrison…”
“Now wait just a minute. Did you say Judy… Judy Morrison is here too?”
“Aye, that would be true. Do you know this Judy Morrison?”
“Ah, yes. You could say that.”
Just then a messenger appeared at the doorway. “Master Craycroft, a matter most urgent. It is Councillor Genet. He has been injured. We have him in yonder room. He asks for you.”
“Councillor Genet? Ah, this cannot be good. Master Robert, if you would be so kind as to accompany me. This may sheda bit of light on our travails.”
Bob could feel the tug of fate pulling him along, as he got up, and joined Craycroft. He found Hermes, just outsidethe door and said, “listen I’ve got my things in a little bag in our room.Could you please go find them and bring them where we’re going?”
“Aye, Master Robert. I shall bring them anon.” Bob could not see the eagerlook on Hermes’ face as they departed.