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.'