St Bartholomew's Eve

For the first time since the Great Plague ravaged this land a full six years ago, the Bartlemas Fair will return to Weforde. The green will once again be bustling with people. There will be singing and dancing, and stalls selling Bartlemas gingerbread and mead, honey and nuts and plums and Wardun pears.

At least, I hope all those things will be there, and much more besides. The truth is, I do not know what to expect when Brother Piers and I take our baskets of gingerbread and jars of honey from the abbey hives to Weforde tomorrow morning. With so many houses standing empty, their crofts and tofts overgrown, and so many farms abandoned, will there be anybody left to come to the fair? And even if there is, far too many familiar faces will be missing, faces of old friends who died in the terrible summer and autumn of 1348. All are sadly missed and fondly remembered.

Brother Walter and I spent the afternoon making Bartlemas gingerbread in the kitchen. He has a sweet tooth and likes honey above all other things, but honey and hob's fur are not a happy combination and I had to stand him in my largest bowl and pour warm water over him to wash him clean. He sat in a patch of sunlight in a corner of the yard and let the warm breeze dry his fur.

While we worked, stirring breadcrumbs and pepper and powdered ginger into the pot of warm honey, the hob asked me about St Bartholomew.
      'Does the holy man like gingerbread?'
      'I'm not sure he ever tasted any,' I told him.     
      'Perhaps he'll be there tomorrow,' Brother Walter said hopefully. 'He can try some then. I think he'll like it.'
      'St Bartholomew died a long time ago,' I said. ' He's in heaven, with God and all the saints and angels.Tomorrow is his holy day, when we remember him.'
      The hob stared at me, and lowered his honey-sticky fingers from his mouth. 'The holy man is dead? That's very sad.' He thought about it for a moment and then said, 'Perhaps he won't mind if I eat his share of gingerbread?'
       'I don't think he'll mind that at all.'
       Brother Walter busied himself patting the warm gingerbread into small round cakes. I began to mark each one with a wooden stamp, carved into the shape of a knife. Brother Walter watched me curiously.
       'Does the holy man like knives?'
       'Bartholomew was put to death in a cruel way,' I explained. 'He was skinned alive because he believed in God. And now, the knife is his symbol.'
        The hob was quiet for a long time. His face was puzzled and sad at the same time. He left the kitchen without a word and I was worried that I had upset him. I decided that the gingerbread fairings would look better plain and I set the stamp aside. I had just finished shaping the last one when Brother Walter returned carrying one of the baskets from my workshop. He climbed onto a stool and set the basket down. It was filled with flower heads. Carefully, he pushed a flower into the middle of each soft gingerbread cake.
       'I think the holy man might like flowers more than knives,' he said quietly.
       'I think you are right.'
       So tomorrow, those who come to the Bartlemas Fair will be able to buy gingerbread cakes covered with flowers, and I think they will agree that flowers are a far better way to remember a good man's sacrifice than knife blades.

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