Thursday, May 1, 1203
1 ~ The High Pasture
Hour of Day: Sun-Up
Hour of Prayer: Vespers
Sunlight played through a crack by the door of the weather-beaten mud and stick domus where, entwined in each others’ bodies, the lovers had fallen asleep. As the sun moved higher through its course, a narrow band of light glided across the shepherd’s face. When the golden beam crossed his eyelid, the brightness stirred Pierre awake. Still basking in the warmth of a passion-filled night, he drew a deep nasal breath and savored the scent of his lover’s hair.
The piercing sound of the nanny goat’s bleat broke the shepherd’s reverie. His eyes sprang wide. By now, Thomas and Lazare would be at the maison communes loading provisions on the mule driver’s team, he thought. Alyces would be waiting to count the flock with him before the drive to the high pasture
He nudged Marie. She made a sleepy grumble.
“Marie, my dearest, I must leave quickly,” he said in an anxious tone.
“I want to stay here and make love with you all day long,” the girl yawned.
“That would be heavenly, ma cara, but if you will recall, today is the day I must drive Arnaud’s flock to the summer pasture.”
“Thomas and Lazare!” Marie exclaimed, her sleepy voice becoming harried. “You were to meet them at daybreak and now Celie’s milking time has come and gone. You must go at once. And I must go also,” she giggled as she ran into the hearth room, her arms crossed over her breasts.
“On second thought, perhaps, we have time enough for another round of love,” Pierre said, ogling Marie’s slender buttocks as she went. “The sheep cannot leave without me and Alyces can wait until I arrive. The pasture will be there tomorrow.”
Marie answered over the sound of a trickle as she sat on the chamber pot in the corner.
“Oh yes,” she said with derision. “And perhaps for the first time in a thousand years, Pereille’s flock will fail to migrate to the low pasture at the start of the Mayfest. And then perhaps Thomas and Lazare will be found by the bishop’s pursuers. And then, perhaps the village will be subject to another papal inquest.”
She returned to the bedside and donned her tunic, lips smacking and mouth chawing, a sour look on her face.
Pierre looked at her with steady eyes. “What you say is true. I must go.” He paused, “What are you eating?”
“From the look on your face, it must be awful.”
“That it is. But if you insist on having your way with me the way you did through the night, I must take precautions against your becoming a papà before your time.”
“A papà?” Pierre said.
Marie giggled. “That is how it happens you know.”
“I do not think about such things.”
“That, my dear, is why I must think about such things,” she said, standing on her toes and pressing her lips to his. “The Lord be with you.”
“And with your spirit,” Pierre returned in a muffled tone, his lips lingering on hers.
Marie flattened her stance and stepped back. “Now go, while the day is still long.”
With his tunic flailing behind him, his wooden-soled sandals clopping in the muck of the road, Pierre lumbered to the maison communes, to meet his two companions and Alyces Claron, the wool master’s wife.
As he came to the maison communes, Pierre found no sign of the chef or caravanier, only the disheartening sight of Alyces Claron’s broad posterior standing in the dooryard. He wondered where his newfound compatriots might be.
“Good morning, good woman” Pierre called. “Have you seen Thomas and Lazare?”
As Alyces turned to respond, from behind her imposing figure the diminutive Lazare came into view.
“Oh, our most eminent and tardy shepherd has decided, at last, to grace us with his presence,” Lazare said with a curved lip and wrinkled nose.
“Ah, Lazare, there you are. I apologize for my tardiness.”
“Had it not been for the company of your enchanting neighbor, I would have come looking for you some time ago.”
”I am sorry, mon amic. The evening had its way with me. Where is Thomas and where are your mules?”
The caravanier put his fingers in his mouth and whistled. A discordant medley of brays, followed by the tramping of hoof beats, came from woods behind the building. “Thomas is still sleeping,” Lazare said, pointing to the maison communes.
“Ahh, here come my lovelies,” the mule driver continued as though greeting a throng of grandchildren. The mules trotted to their master with bright eyes and flared nostrils. After nuzzling him, each in turn, the animals lined up in order of tethering. While Lazare hitched the team in tandem, halter to tail, he and Alyces flirted and giggled as though falling in love for the first time.
Thomas’ voice interrupted the unlikely couple’s amorous glee. “Bonjorn,” the chef said as he walked toward the others, yawning and scratching the back of his head with his knuckles.
“Oh my dear chef du cuisine,” Alyces said, extending both hands to clutch Thomas by the fingers. “I must compliment you on the magnificent meal you prepared last evening.” Alyces felt her mouth grow moist as she recalled the saddle mushrooms with basil and garlic the chef had prepared for the meal. “How we will miss the exquisite fare you have brought to the maison communes.” She swallowed to clear the accumulated saliva in her mouth.
“It has been my honor to serve you and the Bonhòmes of Pereille, Madama,” the chef said as he bowed. “I look forward to serving you again, once events at the bishopric have settled down.”
“Summer is short, Thomas. You will be back before long,” Alyces said in a comforting tone. “I have no doubt things will settle while you are away.”
“You give me heart Madama,” Thomas said.
“As you do us all,” Lazare interjected, spreading his hands wide in a grandiose gesture of appreciation.
Alyces beamed at the mule driver’s praise.
Following an awkward silence, Pierre clapped his hands and rubbed them together as if to get down to the work of the day. “Well then,” he said. “We had better start loading the provisions.”
“Arnaud has asked me to count the flock,” Alyces said.
“To be sure, Madama,” Pierre answered. “Once the mules are loaded, we will go to the stable and count the sheep as they pass through the chute before Paire Louis’ blessing.
Alyces jutted her chin in certitude and nodded to all three men. ”The provisions are in the larder between the hearth room and the fullery,” she said.
While Lazare fitted the packs, Thomas and Pierre ferried the provisions between the larder and the mules. Lazare loaded the baskets with food, wine, blankets and sundries, taking care to balance each load for the mules’ comfort and the food’s protection. When they finished loading, Pierre picked up his hook-necked staff and flicked his head toward the stable. “Let us count the sheep,” he said. “If we are to make the Sios Pass before sundown we must make haste.”
Both Lazare and Alyces felt a shiver of passion as their shoulders touched when he turned his mules toward the stable. With Thomas and Lazare bringing up the rear of the mule train, the pair walked side by side, Lazare leading the first mule by the halter, Alyces padding close by his side. The spoke in honeyed voices, and took turns brushing arms as they strolled.
When they arrived at the stable, Durand emerged, from the hay maw, yawning and rubbing his eyes.
“Oh dear boy,” Alyces said. “What are you doing here?”
“This is where I sleep, Madama.”
“I thought you slept in the fullery.”
“I am most grateful for your hospitality, Madama, but the stench of the fullery keeps me awake all night long.”
“What of your duty to Filius Major Rouet?”
“My master has departed without me.”
Alyces gasped. “Departed without his attendant? No. He bid his Adiu, but I thought you went with him.”
The boy shook his head.
“What is to become of a Filius Minor without his Filius Major to act as his mentor?”
Durand shrugged again. “Paire Louis says I might become a woodcutter or a shepherd or perhaps one of the viscount’s pages.”
Alyces eyes brightened. “A shepherd. Yes, a shepherd. The time is perfect.” She turned to Pierre with imploring eyes. “The flock will be departing for the high pasture this morning. You can…”
“No,” Pierre interrupted.
“The flock can never suffer from too much tending. What with the lambing and the wolves and the straying.”
“One pair of novice shepherds is more than enough for one summer’s pasturage, Madama,” Pierre insisted.
Alyces stared at Pierre with cold eyes. “I have no doubt Arnaud will be pleased to know his flock-master has taken every opportunity to protect his chattle.”
Pierre’s shoulders drooped. Alyces turned to Durand.
“Since your master is gone, it will fall to the Good Men to feed you which will be the same whether you eat in the pasture or the maison communes. And I have no doubt you will find sleeping in the summer air of the high pasture more agreeable than either the fullery or that haystack,” she said with a tip of her head toward the stable.
Recognizing the hazard of contradicting the will of his master’s wife, Pierre tightened his lips and nodded. “Very well, Madama, the boy will come with us to the pasture.”
He turned to Durand. “But have no doubt, boy, you will work for your supper, every day. You can count yourself blessed if you are able to find a moment to make a single Paire Nòstre all day long.”
Relieved to find a steady source of food and a regular place to sleep, in the absence of his master, Durand stood tall and addressed Pierre with deference. “It will be my honor to put myself into your service Mon Senhor.”
Pierre laughed. “No need to bow and scrape, you fool.”
“I meant no…”
“Clean up that mule shit,” Pierre ordered, pointing at two piles of dung the mules had dropped while being loaded.
Pierre smiled mischievously and nodded. “Fetch the scoop in the stable and scrape the cartway clean.”
The boy hurried to the stable. “Where might I find the scoop, Mon Senhor?” he shouted from inside.
“Mon Senhor, again? I told you there is no need for that. Never mind pick it up with your bare hands and carry it in your hat. Throw it in the dung heap out back.”
Thomas and Lazare tried without success to suppress a burst of laughter.
“Pierre!” Alyces scolded. “Stop tormenting the boy. He was reared in a convent and put into the service of the Filius Major. He knows nothing of caring for livestock.”
Pierre tipped his head in false innocence. “I am teaching him how to care for livestock, Madama.”
“So you may be, but there is no need to be unkind about it.”
Caught in his cruel joke, Pierre assented to the woman’s plea. “Very well, Madama, from hence forward, I will treat him with kindness. He will still have to work for his keep, but I will be fair with him.
“Let us get on with counting the flock then,” Alyces said.
Pierre whistled to his dogs who ran after the sheep, driving them one by one through a livestock chute made of lashed saplings. As the terrorized sheep ran the gauntlet, Alyces watched with careful eyes while tapping the fingers of both hands on her belly, muttering a series of mnemonic phrases about candles, flags, breasts, and cliffs. Satisfied that she had counted correctly and memorized the count, she nodded to Pierre. “Six-hundred-seventeen,” she said.
“Exactly as I counted yesterday,” the shepherd responded. “One-hundred ninety-two fresh ewes, ninety-four hogget ewes, two-hundred sixty-seven lambing ewes, forty-one tups, and twenty-three yearling rams.”
“Correct, except for the two extra yearling rams and two fewer tups you confused with each other,” Alyces said.
Pierre shrugged, “No difference. The sum is correct, either way.”
“That it is,” Alyces agreed.
“Of course, between the wolves, the worm and the lambing, that number is bound to change as we go,” Pierre added.
After an awkward pause in the conversation, Alyces spoke. “Well, I know you have work to do,” she said. “And now that our treasured chef will no longer be with us, I am off to the village square to haggle for our supper. Adiu, mes Bonhòmes.”
“Adiu, Senhora,” Pierre and Thomas answered in concert.
“Adiu, Midona Alyces,” Lazare said, addressing the woman by her given name, using the Occitan salutation for young, virginal women. “And many thanks for a very pleasurable conversation,” Lazare said, standing as tall as his bantam frame would allow.
Alyces walked to the mule driver with a forlorn look. She grasped him by the forearm and lifted his sleeve to her lips. As though making love to the garment, she kissed the fabric for the length of a Gloria. Lazare’s heart jumped.
“The Lord be with you,” Alyces said.
“And with your spirit, Midona” Lazare answered with catch in his voice.
She turned gracefully and began to walk toward the village square, her hands thrown forward to counterbalance her bustling rump.
“My kind of woman,” the driver half-whispered when she was out of earshot.
Pierre looked at him with incredulity. “Madama Claron?”
Still watching the woman as she walked, Lazare barely turned his head, “There is a universe of passion floating beneath those fleshly folds.”
Thomas chuckled. “Would not the folds conceal the passion?”
“Oh no, mon amic. On the contrary, they are grottos of ecstasy for the man who appreciates them.”
“Grottos of ecstasy?” Thomas taunted. “Do you mean you would slip your baton into one of her wrinkles?”
“I would pleasure her in every place, in every way.”
“She is married you know,” Pierre said.”
“So I have heard. But it is clear to me that her husband understands neither the height of her senses nor the depth of her passion.”
“It will be best for all concerned for us to depart Pereille before your covetousness sparks a quarrel, mule driver,” Pierre said, flashing his eyes toward Thomas.
Thomas tugged on the fold of skin beneath his chin and nodded in affirmation of Pierre’s words. “Yes, we must depart. How long is the journey?”
“Half of today and most of the morrow,” Pierre answered. “By the time Paire Louis blesses the flock midday will be upon us. We will sup and sleep at the Sios Pass tonight and continue to the low pasture in the morning.”
With the help of three dogs, the trio rounded up the flock and, shortly before noon, drove the sea of fleece through the village square where Paire Louis had built two smudgy fires on either side of the cartway. As the sheep scurried through the smoke, bleating in terror, the priest mumbled the benediction in Latin, making the sign of the cross over and over, blessing the animals to ensure a safe journey. The villagers gathered to witness the spectacle, cheering the bleating stampede as though sending off an army of crusaders.
The sun hung low in the western sky when the shepherds arrived at the narrow corridor between the dolomite walls of the Sios Pass by late afternoon. After driving the sheep through the neck of the pass they made camp in a meadow between the edge of a marsh and the foot of a steep, pine-covered bank.
“This is our camp,” Pierre declared. “The sheep cannot stray far, and the pine duff will make our beds soft.”
Pierre built a fire beneath an ancient pine while Lazare gathered wood to chase away the chill of the oncoming night. In the cast iron kettle, Thomas simmered a stew of dried lentils and smoked pike fish. When the men finished eating they bedded down on a sumptuous cushion of conifer needles. While the dogs sniffed out rabbits and birds sang in the trees, the trio nodded off like babes at the breast. The men slumbered in peace, washed in the warmth of a breeze that fanned them just briskly enough to whisk the flies from their cheeks.
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