With thanks to Evie for reminding me to look after the ponies properly.
Part 2Barony of Tehryn
September 1130, Late Afternoon
Baron Jerrill de Tehryn left his triplets in the care of Old Johnny at the very outskirts of town, promising to come back for them before the evening meal. If all went according to his plan, this would leave enough time to mill the apples and load the press before the triplets were too exhausted to ride their ponies back home. Jäna de Tehryn was not pleased as her father rode toward Tehryn Keep, leaving her brothers and her with the odd old man. She kept her pony safely between her brothers as they rode behind the donkey cart toward Old Johnny’s home.
It wasn’t long before they reached Old Johnny’s home. Old Johnny stopped the cart a short distance from the large millstones, which were located close to a substantial shed with a row of heavy wooden doors in the front. Jäna noticed a neat little house towards the back of the yard. The door and windows were open to catch the afternoon breeze and there were hedges on either side of the house. It surprised her, because it looked like a proper, pleasant place. She had expected something dark and nasty.
“This is far enough,” Old Johnny announced. “You can put your ponies inside the fence over there,” he pointed to smaller shed within a wooden fence, “and then we’ll begin filling up the mill trough.” Old Johnny climbed down carefully from the cart and moved toward Jäna to help her dismount. Jäna hopped down quickly before he could reach her, and led her pony toward the enclosure. Jared gave her a puzzled look as both brothers followed behind her.
As Jäna reached up to lift the leather loop that held the gate closed, a tall young man came out from the shed and walked toward her. To her young eyes, he seemed to be all arms and legs as he approached.
“Let me help you with that,” he said as he lifted the loop off the post and opened the gate. “There’s fresh water in the trough over there.” He motioned with one long arm in the direction of the shed. “I’ll look after the ponies if you’d like, while you look after the apples.”
He reached for the ponies’ reins as he spoke, and the ponies followed the young man eagerly.
“Now,” Old Johnny said after the triplets returned to the cart, “grab a couple of apples each, and I’ll show you how to load the mill.” Each triplet obediently picked up apples and followed the old man to the millstones.
The bottom mill stone looked huge to the children. A trough had been hewn from the stone along the outer edge. The smaller stone sat on its edge in the trough, secured to an arm that stretched from where it was attached to the centre post through the stone and ending several feet beyond it.
Old Johnny showed them how to lay the apples evenly in the trough, telling them most sternly to keep their hands well clear of the vertical stone. “If you don’t,” he told them, “if the stone starts to move, it will squash your hand flat!” He smacked the palms of both hands together in front of him with a loud SLAP. The triplets started at the sound and nodded solemnly.
Old Johnny left them to their task and entered the house.
“This is your fault, Jäna,” Jared hissed at his sister when he was sure Old Johnny couldn’t hear.
“You flew as many apples as I did!” Jäna retorted.
“But it was your idea!”
“Shhh,” Justin cautioned. “Old Johnny’s coming back.”
The gnarled old man returned with a different donkey than the one that had pulled the cart. He checked the distribution of the apples in the trough and then hitched the donkey to the wooden arm.
“I’ll get ‘er started, then the three of you can take turns leading Amy,” he instructed with a nod toward the donkey. “It’s important to keep an even pace so the millstone turns smoothly.”
Fascinated, the children watched as the wheel began to crush the apples into pulp. Jared took the first turn leading the donkey, gradually speeding up to make the wheel turn faster. Old Johnny made him slow down, explaining carefully that milling faster did not make for as good a pulp. Each child had several turns before Old Johnny declared the pulp was ready for the press.
He showed them how to scoop the pulp into buckets. He took two buckets while each of the triplets carried one, Jäna having to use two hands to manage her bucket. He led them over to the large shed and opened the first of the large doors, which hardly made a sound as it swung open. Inside it was cool and dim. Old Johnny set down his buckets and opened the shutter of one of the windows to let in more light.
He showed them how to layer pulp and then straw in the apple press. Jäna thought it was mucky work, but her brothers didn’t seem to mind at all. Once they had emptied all the apple pulp from the buckets, Old Johnny directed them back to the yard to refill the mill trough with the remaining apples.
By the time the last batch of apples was milled, the triplets were bored from the seemingly endless turns leading the donkey around the mill, and the smell of crushed apples was becoming sickening in the heat. Even Old Johnny’s attention had wandered a bit as the children filled the buckets with the last of the pulp. He had glanced away when Jäna’s bucket slipped, and she tried in vain to catch it. Her little hand got caught between the handle and the side of the bucket, pinching it and drawing blood.
“Hey now, what’s happened?” Old Johnny came immediately over to her side when she cried out. Gently he pried her hand loose as Jared and Justin watched apprehensively. Tears were trickling down Jäna’s cheeks as the old man gently turned her hand to examine it.
“I don’t think it’s too bad, but we’ll get this cleaned up to make sure.” Old Johnny looked toward the open door of the house. “Meggie!” he called. “Come and have a look at this.”
A pretty, middle-aged woman emerged from the house. She wiped her hands on her apron as she hurried towards them. “What’s the matter, Father?”
“Little Lady Jäna’s pinched her hand under the bucket handle and cut it, I think. You take her inside and clean it up.”
“Let me have a look,” Meggie said, kneeling down in front of Jäna and gently taking the injured hand from Old Johnny.
Jäna rubbed away a tear from her face with her free hand, not too sure of the woman who smiled down at her. “It’s all right, now,” Jäna said with a sniff.
“We should make sure.” Meggie stood and smiled at her father. “We’ll go inside and see to it. You continue on with the young masters.” Gently she propelled Jäna toward the open door of the house.
“Yell if you need us,” Justin sent.
Jäna looked back once over her shoulder as she allowed herself to be guided into the house by the woman.
The small house was simply furnished, but Jäna noted it was clean and tidy. The woman named “Meggie” asked her to sit on the bench before the rough-hewn table while she fetched water and cloth. Jäna noticed a small wall hanging embroidered with a tree laden with apples as Meggie gently cleaned her hand. Meggie looked up and saw what had captured Jäna’s attention.
“Your lady mother gave that to my mother when I was born,” Meggie said. “She was very fond of Father’s cider.”
“Do you live here, too?” Jäna asked.
Meggie smiled. “No, I live in town with my husband and two sons. Since my mother died, I often come up to check on Father and make sure he has what he needs. He gets distracted by his cider making and sometimes forgets the day-to day things. My younger son Bertie came with me today to check on Father’s donkeys. Would you like a drink of cider?“
“Do I have to squirt it from a skin?” Jäna asked, wrinkling her nose in a look of distaste.
Meggie laughed. “Did Father try to tempt you with that old skin of his?” She shook her head, still chuckling merrily. “My boys loved it when he’d pull that out and show them how to use it, but I was never impressed!” She filled a cup with cool cider and Jäna accepted it gratefully.
Meggie had bandaged Jäna’s hand to keep it clean on the way home and now busied herself tidying up, humming a pleasant tune. Jäna wondered at the fact that Old Johnny could have such a nice daughter and a wife her own mother had given a baby present to.
By the time she finished her cider and returned to the yard with Meggie, Old Johnny and the boys had loaded the last of the pulp in the press, and Old Johnny had screwed down the wooden top to start the pressing. Papa had just returned, and Jäna showed him her bandage, turning to thank Meggie for her help. Old Johnny and her brothers fetched the ponies and Old Johnny brought hers forward.
“’Ere you go, young lady,” Old Johnny said as he lifted Jäna up gently onto her pony. He made sure her skirts were properly arranged for riding as well as any courtier would have done.
“I trust they worked hard and behaved themselves?” Baron Jerrill asked.
“Aye, m’lord, hard workers all of ‘em. I fancy they know a lot more about cider making than they knew before.” Old Johnny handed Jäna her reins and gave the boys a gap-toothed smile. “You should bring ‘em back for a sample, once it’s finished and aged. I’ll bet it will be the best they’ve ever had.”
He ducked his head respectfully and Meggie curtseyed as Baron Jerrill and his triplets turned their mounts to leave. As they headed back toward town and Tehryn Keep, Jäna turned to look back at the old man and his daughter. Old Johnny reached up with his gnarled arm and gave her a huge wave.
Jäna de Tehryn smiled and gave him a huge wave back.
The old baron caught a reproachful look from Lady Amah as he and his family sat in his private quarters for the evening meal. By the time Amah had gotten the children cleaned up after their return to Tehryn Keep, it had been too late to eat in the Great Hall. She had ordered a light meal of meat stew, fresh bread and cheese to be served in the solar. Jerrill enjoyed a mug of excellent stout with his meal while Amah sipped a light ale. The usual exuberant chatter from the triplets was absent tonight, limited to polite responses as required. They had hardly touched their food. Justin was able to prevent a small disaster when he stopped Jared from falling face-first into his stew when Jared dozed off in his chair.
“Ah, dessert!” Jerrill announced as a servant brought forth a freshly baked apple pie. He picked up the piece set before him and took a large, enthusiastic bite. “Delicious!”
“Papa,” Jäna asked, followed by an audible gulp. “Might I be excused?”
“But child, it’s delicious – “ The old baron stopped as he noticed that his daughter’s face had turned an indelicate shade of pale green that did nothing to complement her emerald eyes. “Go on,” he finished hastily.
Jäna bolted from her chair towards the nearest garderobe.
“I’ll check on her,” Lady Amah said as she rose from her chair and followed at a more dignified pace.
“Papa, might we be excused as well?”
Sighing, Jerrill turned toward his sons and nodded. They didn’t look much better than their sister, but at least they looked to be a more normal colour. The boys stood, offered quick bows and hastily withdrew from the room.
“Hopefully this was a lesson well learned,” Jerrill thought. “Food is not to be carelessly wasted.” He eyed the abandoned slice of pie on the boy’s shared trencher, and since Amah wasn’t in the room to scold him, reached over and helped himself.
Jäna de Tehryn yawned and stretched to her full length on her bed. She was feeling much better. Lady Amah had tucked her in and advised that her brief illness was all due to too much sun and not enough to drink during the day. Jäna curled up under the light coverlet and closed her eyes to sleep.
But the moon had risen, a full moon, and it shown brightly through her open shutter. She opened her eyes and glared at it. If the shutter was closed just a little more, it would block the light. She was too tired to get up to close it, and she didn’t want to call for Amah.
She turned her head slightly and focused on the shutter. Slowly, with a faint creak, it began to move, finally blocking the bright moonlight.
With a contented little smile, Jäna drifted off to sleep.