Wolf Wood (Part One) (Chapter 1 - Sherborne Abbey, page 1 of 2)

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Easter Sunday 1436

Alice walked up the cobbled path towards the abbey. The old building was undergoing renovation and the scaffolding had recently been removed from the south side of the tower. The work was being undertaken at huge expense to the parish and was a major cause of friction between the abbot and the local people. On that chilly April morning, the new stonework shone brightly in the crisp light of a cloudless day.

She wore a warm gown with a badge that identified her as the matron of the parish almshouse. She had recently arrived in Sherborne from the convent in nearby Shaftsbury. Her friends, Elizabeth and John Baret, had arranged for her to take up the appointment.

They had rescued her from a situation that was becoming unbearable. Alice was a free thinker and that was something you kept quiet about if you lived in a convent. She knew Latin and Greek and had taught herself Arabic.

Arabic was strictly forbidden but she was prepared to take the risk. The language of the Moslem unbelievers had opened up a whole new world. The Arabs were skilled at healing. She had trained as a midwife and was intent on using her new knowledge to save the many poor women who died in childbirth.

She was on her way to All Hallows, which was a church-like building attached to the west end of the abbey. A crowd was gathered there. From the sprinkling entering the porch, it was evident that today's congregation was handpicked. Apart from the distinguished guests and their attendants, they were solid, respectable townsfolk who could be relied upon to behave.

The Easter Service always aroused passions. The abbey owned most of the town and the abbot interfered in the daily lives of the people. To their immense annoyance, he even extracted a fee for baptisms. They were not allowed to have a font in All Hallows. Instead, they had to pay to use the font in the abbey nave.

Easter was the time when the peasants flocked into town from the surrounding countryside. They brought produce for sale at the Easter Fair and got drunk on the proceeds. They also brought their babies for baptism. The ceremony was always a noisy affair. A band heralded the infants into the bosom of Christ and its members took every opportunity to stir up resentment towards the abbey. Last year, its antics resulted in a near riot.

A crowd of peasants was gathered on the abbey green. It was early in the day and they were relatively sober. Alice saw Elizabeth Baret amongst them. She was with another woman, whom she recognised as Lady Margaret Gough. Dressed in their smart gowns, the two women stood out like brightly coloured birds amongst the dull greys and browns of cottage homespun.

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