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The Abbot's Gibbet
The sun was almost unbearably hot, the journey distinctly uncomfortable. Arthur Pole wiped his face with the hem of his cloak to clear the fine dust that rose from the road in thin clouds as hooves and cartwheels stirred it.
"Is it far now, Arthur?"
Marion, his wife, was a few yards behind him on her new mare. An amblere, it was trained to give a lady a smooth ride, swinging first the legs of one side of its body, then the other, always moving left together, then right. It had been ruinously expensive, for training a horse in such a gait was difficult, but the gift was necessary to compensate her for having to make this journey at the height of the humid summer heat.
"Not far, dear," he said. "Would you like to halt and refresh yourself? We have wine, if . . ."
"Father, if you give her any more of your wine, Mother won't be able to stay on her horse," his daughter called cheerfully.
Arthur stifled a smile as his wife snapped back waspishly. After two days travelling from Exeter, where he had been engaged on business, his backside ached, but his excitement made him want to get on. It was two months since he and his family had left their home on the coast and made the journey to Exeter to meet a steward of the King, and in his purse he had a written authority to buy wine on behalf of the royal household for when King Edward II visited later in the year. Now he was on the way to Tavistock Fair to acquire the best available, and his profit should be enough to stock another ship with fleece to be sold in Flanders. With any luck he wouldn't have to visit any more fairs for two or threeyears, but could rest at his home living on the proceeds.
His daughter interrupted his musings as she came alongside him with her maid, and he could see her gaze fixed firmly ahead. "Looking forward to it, my dear?"
"Of course I am. It's the first fair I've been to for five years, Father."
"I only hope it justifies your enthusiasm."
"Oh, it will! You've always told me that Tavistock has the best fair in the land."
"Your mother will insist that I buy you the best, too."
"Don't sound so sour!" she laughed. "You wouldn't want me to dress like a beggar, would you?"
"Certainly not, especially for your wedding."
His feelings for his daughter ran very deep. Partly it led from comparison with his wife. Where Marion could snap, Avice was gentle; where his wife was careful with money, Avice was generous; where his wife sought his errors and corrected them, Avice always congratulated him on his successes. In short, for Arthur Pole, the most important woman in his life was his daughter, and he would move heaven and earth to please her, no matter what the cost -- and yet he wanted to make sure that his wife was not discountenanced. If she was upset, he would be the first to hear, every time, and he had no wish to see her with her nose out of joint over the matter of his daughter's marriage. She had set her heart on having her daughter, her only daughter, marry a squire, and join herself to a decent, noble family. It was her only desire, and he did love his wife and respect her wishes.
His words made Avice quiet a moment. She had always been a dutiful daughter, but the thought of marrying John of Hatherleigh was not thrilling. John was the son of a knight, but the purpose of the match was advancement, not love: John was related to the de Courtenays.
The family was the most powerful in Devon, and any attachment to them could only reflect well on Arthur, and as Marion had pointed out, with the dowry Arthur would grant, Avice need not worry about John's income. Yet she did worry, increasingly, as she thought of his thick lips and heavy brows, powerful shoulders and strutting arrogance. John looked the kind of man who might take pleasure in beating his wife.
Avice thrust the idea from her. The sun was shining, she was on her way to a fair, and the wedding was some way in the future. It was not worth worrying about. As Marion had said, he would probably listen to her, just as Arthur took advice from her mother. It was the way of marriage, in which the wife ordered all things in the household while the man saw to his duties outside. In any case, as she knew, it was the part of a daughter to accept the groom selected for her.
"Father, this house where we are to stay, is it close to the fair itself?"
"Yes, it's in the town, but it's only a short walk to the ground. I have stayed there before, in previous years, and there is plenty of space."
"It was lucky you could find a place," she said. Avice knew how quickly properties would be rented. One of the best opportunities the townspeople had for making money came from selling sleeping space to visitors for the duration of the fair.
"There was no luck. The owner was pleased enough to agree," Arthur said. The amount he had offered had guaranteed it, but he didn't grudge the expense. His margin would more than justify the costs. "Anyway, I didn't want to arrive with you and your mother and then have to hunt high and low for a miserable hovel." "Mother wouldn't like it!"
Avice glanced over her shoulder. Her mother was riding along comfortably enough with her maid beside her. Behind was Henry, her father's groom, while Arthur's steward rode in the wagon at the rear. It was the first time Avice had gone away with her parents on such an extended . . .The Abbot's Gibbet. Copyright © by Michael Jecks. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.