Life of the Medieval Janet
Early in the morning I woke to the sound of the servants sweeping the stone steps beneath the narrow windows of my bedroom. My father's castle is cold and damp, although we hang tapestries from the rafters to keep the stone and our bones snug from the Irish mist and frost. Halloween comes shortly, and it was still dark when I woke, although I woke no earlier than usual, not before the cock's first crowing. When I pulled back the heavy robes from the window so the wind my greet my cold-flushed cheeks I could see some white glistening dew, half water half snow, beading the grass. Druchta Dea, it is called the frosty liquid of life.
Early too, I could see the milkmaids walking out, clattering their pails against their mud-stained skirts as they trudged to the barns to milk the cows. Beneath me, I could hear the sound of the scullery maid, wrecking her vengeance against the cornmeal that was being beaten into dust for the morning porridge and for the evening supper.
The maids are shot-handed in the kitchen, which leaves them cross. This is because one of the maids has recently given birth to a child and is still lying abed, for it was such a hard birth. It pained me even to hear her cries. While I was wandering by myself, I saw yesterday how a piece of the newborn child's clothing had been torn -- not cut (as iron repels the spirits) -- and fixed to the boughs of a hawthorn tree. When I asked the girl that night why this had been done, she said it was to keep away death and illness from the child. I wonder if this old custom works? It does not seem to make the mother feel any better, poor little maid, she is still as pale and yellow as the cornmeal she used to grind. I wonder if I shall have a child someday -- I hope not!
Well, I suppose she just counts herself lucky that she did not have a changeling child, as this seems like an unlucky and dangerous time to give birth. It is cold the world is filled with fairy sprits, and in October the whole world is filled, seemingly daily, with the death-averting customs of the year. What a peculiar people we are! And how cruel children can be amongst themselves and to the morning old, on a dare -- it is not uncommon to see a boy egged on to fetch a dead man's bone from a churchyard in October or to gather fern seed at midnight in a solitary wood, to be later thrown in the face of some poor wandering grandmother. Halloween pranks are so common, especially against a couple about to be wedded -- I hope I shall never be married, at least not to the men my father thinks suitable! At least not around Halloween! How foolish to schedule one's wedding now!
But in truth, I prefer to see a funeral to a wedding around this time of year, really I do! And they say that one should laugh at a funeral, anyway, for one leaves this rainy damp world for a life of bliss -- oh, I do not long to be dead, but I long to leave this world, where my father hungers for my marriage, a day when I shall no longer eat of his bread and mead at night and feel grateful that he still cares enough for his Janet to feed for a daughter that can give him nothing,…