I am really excited to welcome author Kristin Gleeson to my blog today. Kristin is originally from Philadelphia and now lives in Ireland, in the West Cork Gaeltacht, where she teaches art classes, plays harp, sings in an Irish choir and runs two book clubs for the village library.
She holds a Masters in Library Science and a Ph.D. in history, and for a time was an administrator of a national denominational archives, library and museum in America.
Myths and other folk tales have always fascinated her and she combined her love of these tales with her harp playing and performed as a professional harper/storyteller at events in Britain, America and Ireland.
Kristin has given us an excerpt from The Imp of Eye, Book 1 of the Renaissance Sojourner Series.
Excerpt from The Imp of Eye
(Barnabas, a thirteen year old orphan, is employed by the woman known as the Witch of Eye, Margery Jourdemayne, placed there by his guardian, Canon Thomas Southwell. He’s just been reprimanded for refusing to do a reading in the showstone for the Duchess of Gloucester)
I knows where I’ll find a welcome. Off down to the river to me mate Tom, the wherry boatman. We’s been mates for a long time and I loves it there with him on the river. Sometimes he lets me row when he’s got no people on board. Then I feel like I can go anywhere. Even Spain, Jerusalem and them places where they had the crusades long ago.
Me luck’s wif me. Tom is there in his wherry just about to take off wif two men bound downriver. ‘Barney-boy! You’re late.’
I’m small and quick, so I jumps onto the boat as light as a feather. I’m good at this and Tom knows it and grins. We shove each other like pals do and I settle in the back. I ain’t sposed to be here wifout paying, like, but since we’s mates he says it’s okay as long as I pretends I’m his boy.
The water in the boat’s bottom seeps into me clogs but it don’t bother me. Some say the river’s stink could stun an ox when it’s summer time, but I loves it. I look out to the river and imagine meself on a fine big ship, sailing to places where there’s so much sand you can’t see nofink else and you feel warm all the time. The tide is with us, so the run is quick, and before you know it I’m at Queenhithe docks helping the two fine gentlemun out.
I decides to stay a while at the docks. Besides the barges, it’s full of cayers, cogs and caravels what have come from all over. It’s the place to see different kinds of people, like sailors with gold earrings and dark skin and strange clothes, hoisting cargo, coiling up the ropes and shouting all sorts. I tries to talk to ‘em. Most times they only speak their own strange lingo, but I do get lucky and find some what can understand me. And that’s the best.
Today I’m not so lucky, and I goes wondering for a while, just taking in the sights before I hear a shout and a stout hand grabs me collar. Father Thomas.
‘I thought I might find you here, you young cur,’ he says with a growl. ‘Why didn’t you come by yesterday as I instructed?’ He starts dragging me along the streets and it’s no secret to me where we’re heading. His own church, St Stephen’s in Walbrook. Nearly thirteen years ago some jade dumped me in a dung heap on St Barnabas Day and that’s where this man found me. Thomas Southwell, Canon of St Stephen’s Chapel in the palace of Westminster and rector of St Stephen’s Walbrook. And a physician too. All them titles don’t satisfy his need for more, though.
We reach the church and make our way to his rooms in the building beside it. After a word to his man we go into his study and he locks the door. Next door is the room I used to sit with the other foundlings and learn me writing, reading and Latin. I loved it, but that learning is little use to me now. There ain’t no escaping Father Thomas and what he wants.
A moment later there’s a knock on the door and one of his servants brings in two steaming trenchers and sets it on the small table.
‘Hungry, Barnabas?’ he asks.
Me mouth waters. I sits down on the stool. The steam makes me nose run and I wipes it wif my sleeve. I can see the bone and gristle bobbing about on the surface. Boiled onion and some kind of greenery.
‘Eat up, we’ve much to do,’ Father Thomas says.
I takes up the horn spoon and slurp up the contents. I can’t say I ain’t hungry because ain’t I always? Wishing there was more, I lick the last drops on the spoon. I look up, and see his pale eyes watching me.
‘I need you to scry for me, Barnabas.’
I groan inwardly. Seeing spirits is what got me in a bother in the first place, and why Margery Jourdemayne took me on in her household. I’d as lief be a gong-farmer’s servant than work as a scryer. Never had no choice, though. Once Father Thomas found I could see spirits, he taught me the rest. Conjuring’s a burning offence, though. I’ve smelt them fires at Smithfield in me dreams and actually saw a burning once and I can’t forget it. It’s the smell of cooking flesh what gets to you, and then there’s the screaming. That’s another matter.
‘I’ve water ready in the bowl,’ says Father Thomas.
I wipes me mouth on the grease-stiff cuff of me sleeve and gives him a sullen nod.
The bowl’s heavy; black wiv heat and age. I reckon someone used to cook in it, but Father Thomas keeps it just for scrying now. I watches the liquid wobble against the sides and settle, and then I bends me mind to the task. The water’s smooth like the glass Mistress Jourdemayne keeps in her chamber. Her husband bought it as a gift, so she can admire herself. She caught me looking in it once and boxed me ears.
Fierce now, I shut out everyfink else and gets still-like and the quiet settles on me like a warm cloak. It’s a feeling I likes and I just let it stay there for a bit before I looks and stares at the inky liquid. In a wink me mind kind of opens up inside, so I’m looking and not looking into the water, if you know what I mean. It’s like I see through it and out into a different land. I like that.
A figure pops up and hobbles across me mind’s eye.
‘It’s Limpin’ Sam,’ I says out loud. ‘He’s got a partridge under his arm.’
I’ve seen this spirit before. He dresses in rags like a beggar, and his hands is blue wiv cold, but he has the merriest face. His eyes is the colour of blackbird’s eggs, and he’s a snub nose, dimples in his cheeks and a wide, curving mouth. Sometimes he sings, sweet as a chorister, but he don’t speak. He brings me fings instead. I’m supposed to work out what they mean. I don’t know who he is or was, but he likes me and he brings me stuff. This night it’s a bird.
‘It’s a fat partridge,’ I says. Father Thomas’ bref warms me cheek as he leans in to hear. ‘Sign of plenty, I reckon. Someone’s got somefink good coming his way.’
‘Ah!’ Father Thomas sighs wiv satisfaction.
‘He’s showing me a cooking pot over a fire, now.’ I watches Limpin’ Sam pointing to the bird and then sticking it whole into the bubbling water, feathers and all.
Wiv a squeal of surprise I jerk back.
‘What is it?’ asks the priest.
‘Forget what I said before. I got it wrong. There’s some fellow wiv fine feathers…wealthy, fat, thinks well of hisself…struts about and imagines he’s doing real well, but he should take care he don’t get into hot water. He ain’t very bright, by the look of it. He’s in for a rare shock. Somebody’s out to teach him a lesson. If you know him, Father, you should warn him to beware them what he’s offended.’
‘Enough!’ The priest’s voice is harsh now. He ain’t pleased wiv this information. ‘Summon Bethor, Barnabas. I want to be sure.’
But I don’t like this at all. Bethor’s a different kettle of fish from Limpin’ Sam. He’s a mighty spirit what can grant men priceless treasure, help them create miraculous medicines or be powerful likes a lord or somefink. It’s a chancy fing calling these spirits. They doesn’t like being told. Father Thomas says Bethor’s a good angel and won’t harm me. But Bethor comes in a great whirling storm and his face is bright as fire. I’d rather let them as wants to come to me, like Limpin’ Sam, than getting a proud angel to do me bidding. But I don’t argue.
I says the words what Father Thomas’s taught me so carefully, and wait, feeling me skin prickle and hearing the air rushing in me ears. The ritual has to be done right, he says, though I don’t understand half the words I have to use. The priest prompts me now and then.
It’s always a shock when Bethor’s voice roars in me head and dazzles me eyes with the blaze of his appearance. Flames leap like sun-rays round his head. The light’s so blinding I can’t make out his features.
‘What shall I ask him to do?’
The priest’s fingers is talons on me arm and his breath grows moist against me ear. ‘Tell him to bring us wealthy patrons,’ he whispers.
Me mistress needs customers, he means, and she’ll pay him a portion of what she makes from them. I nod anyway and do as I’m bid.
I feels Bethor’s desire to be free. He strains against me will and when I tell him what he must do, I knows he thinks we’re greedy bastards and he’ll make us pay. I lets him know in me thoughts like, not to blame me and that like him, I’m only obeying orders. He laughs. I let him go and he’s gone in a whoosh of burning flames.
‘What did he say?’ Father Thomas grips me arm tight.
‘He’ll do it.’ I says the words to send off the spirit what he taught me then, even though the spirit’s already gone.
‘Good boy.’ Father Thomas pats me shoulder.
But I’m seeing somefink else—a woman in the black water of the scrying bowl, and I can’t take me eyes off her. She’s dressed in a white linen shift and carrying a heavy candle. The flame of it flickers dangerously and the hot wax drips on cobblestones by her naked feet. What does it mean?
The priest is shaking me back into consciousness. I smells the draughty chapel and musty old robes, and someone’s hammering on the chapel door.
Father Thomas is on his feet and snatches up the bowl. The water spills on the floor. His robe swishes as he crosses the floor, the lone candle in his hand, and he disappears through to the larger room.
The hammering continues and then I hears the slide of the bolt and the door creak open and some whispering. Father Thomas comes back in the room and a man follows him. I knows by his long gown and cap that he’s one of those learned men what Father Thomas likes to talk wif.
‘This is my boy, Barnabas,’ Father Thomas says. ‘No need to worry. He knows how to keep secrets.’
The man’s creepy an all—got a beaky nose and face like a skull. Before I knows it, Father Thomas wraps a musty, old cloak round me shoulders and he puts some wood on the ashes of the little fire. Thin green smoke trickles from it, making the man cough.
‘Sleep, Barnabas,’ Father Thomas says. There’s a note of warning in his voice as I curls up in the cloak.
They whispers away then. It’s just loud enough to keep me awake but not enough so’s I can understand what they’re saying. Eventually, I manages to drift off.
When I wakes I’m stiff wiv cold in the little black room. The fire’s out but I can see the dark lump of the priest on his pallet and another dark shape what I takes to be the man, huddled near the hearth. I tries to shut me eyes and crawl back into sleep, but I’m chilled to the bone. Me head frobs and me eyes is full of sand, and though I try shifting this way and that, it’s no use, cos me bladder’s full now. As soon as the light turns grey, I hauls meself up and creep to the little niche what the priest uses as a privy.
The man groans as I sigh in the relief of making water, even though I’m shivering. There’s a bite in the morning air what makes me arms all goose-flesh, and I wriggles me toes to stop ‘em from going numb.
There’s no sense in lingering. There’s nofink to eat here, and soon people will be filling this place. Father Thomas snores steady and deep now, so I rolls up the old cloak, leave it by the door and shoots back the bolts. The man stirs, but he don’t wake. I shake like a dog and sneaks out into the day.
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