The stone people

The abbey has many carvings; flowers and leaves, animals, birds and strange creatures for whom I have no names. Perhaps the strangest amongst this stone host are the heads decorating windows and doorways.

Who are they? Kings and queens, perhaps? Angels? I do not know. They watch the comings and goings of all those who live in the abbey, and sometimes, at dusk, I sense their stone-eyed stares following me as I pass by. It can be unsettling, and I will admit, there is one head I do not care to look at too closely. He - for I think it it a man, though the weathered features hide their origins well - is known as the Owl Man. It is a curiously fitting name, and I am not alone in finding him a sinister presence. It is not unusual to see my fellow monks bless themselves as they hurry past.

Time and the weather has not been kind to the Owl Man, nor to some of the other heads at the abbey. Shaped by wind and rain to nightmare creatures, they are strange companions as we go about our daily work.


The Washer at the Spring

The hob came to find me this morning as I was busy in my workshop. His fur was wet and pond weed clung to it in places. He had been feeding breadcrumbs to Methuselah, the huge old carp who lives in the abbey fishpond, and the two had passed a companionable time, in the way that old friends do. 
'The old fish overheard two men from Yagleah talking about the Washer at the Spring,' Brother Walter said with a worried frown. I frowned too, for the men were stealing abbey fish. Not Methuselah, though, he was too clever to be caught. 'They saw the Washer a day or two ago, scrubbing shrouds in the spring water. They said that means there will be a death soon.'

I sighed and felt a weariness of spirit. In truth, there have been too many deaths these last few years, from hunger and from the Great Pestilence. If anyone had troubled to walk through the marshy ground by the Washer's spring, the water of which feeds the fishponds, then they probably would have seen the strange grey figure washing shrouds for all it was worth.

The Washer is lonely,' Brother Walter continued as he settled himself by the fire to pick the weed from his fur. 'Nobody visits it. They are too frightened to go near the spring. People go to Eadred's well in the forest instead and drop flowers and pins into the water there, as gifts for the fay who guards it.'
'I can understand why the washer might feel slighted,' I said. 'Does it mind not having offerings of its own, do you think?'
The hob nodded. 'The old fish thinks so. He sometimes sees the Washer staring into the fishpond, trailing its fingers in the water, its face withered with sadness, like the last leaf in autumn. The fish nibbles its fingers and the Washer smiles at him. Once he saw the Washer lift a blackthorn flower from the water and hold it against its chest.'
'That is indeed sad,' I agreed. 'Perhaps somebody should visit the spring one of these days.'
The hob grinned and looked pleased with himself. 'I already have. I took a hazelnut and some pins and dropped them in the water this morning.'
'Did you see the Washer?' I asked, a little worried by this.
The hob shook his head. 'No, but I know he was pleased.'
'Because the thorn tree by the spring suddenly started to flower. Just a few branches, full of white blossom, as if the tree was smiling.'
I patted the hob's shoulder and handed him a comb for his fur. 'That was kindly done, Brother Walter. And maybe the next time you visit the spring, I will come with you.'


Pen and inks

Brother Simon Peter is a fine scribe. Since Michaelmas, he has been copying pages from a Book of Days which was given to the abbey by Sir Robert of Weford.

Many years ago, as a young monk living at an abbey in France, Brother Simon Peter learnt how to prepare the pigments to make coloured inks. His skill in mixing the precious ingredients is matchless, as is his skill as a scribe. He taught me to mix the dark ink for writing. I collect walnuts and oak galls and soak them in rainwater. Later I mix them with copperas and sometime wine, and stir in powdered gum arabic. The ink is carefully stored in small jars, ready for him to fill one of the inkhorns which sit in iron hoops fitted to the side of his desk.

And there he sits, straight backed on his stool, his small knife in his left hand, his pen in his right hand, a frown of deep concentration on his brow. An iron weight keeps the parchment sheet from curling in on itself as he works by the light coming through the cloister arch beside him.

If he is aware of the hob's keen eyes watching him sometimes, then he never gives any hint of it, though he was puzzled to find a scrap of waste parchment lying on the floor near his desk this morning. On it was a scratchy little charcoal drawing of a strange creature with tufted ears and a tail, and a few carefully copied letters that did not spell any word that the monk had ever come across before.