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The White Tower

Chapter 2

A Hiring Market

Ben stared.  “How do you know about the talismans?” he said at last.
    Tamara smiled. “Tobias told me about them when he gave me the ring.”   
      Ben ground his teeth and her expression changed. Turning to Jonathan and Victoria she said: “he gave it to me when he discovered I was traveling through time. He said it would protect me from danger. If I got into trouble the ring would let him know…”
      Ben snorted noisily. “And how exactly would that happen?”
      She shook her head. “I don’t know… he didn’t explain… but that’s not relevant right now. I think my ring and your talismans will take us to where I last saw him.”
      “There’s no way you can know that,” Ben snapped.
    She shrugged. “It’s what I believe.”
    Very like Ben, thought Jonathan. At least, like the Ben he’d met twelve months earlier.
    “Can I look at the ring?” Victoria held out her hand.
    Tamara pulled it off her finger. “Look at the inside first.”
    Victoria walked to the door, opened it and held up the ring to the light. Her eyes widened. She turned and beckoned.  
      “What?” said Jonathan reaching her before Ben.
      She held out the ring.  “Have a look.”  
      Jonathan took the ring, studied it for a moment then gave it to Ben. They watched him walk out of the barn. He, too, held up the ring. He whistled softly before turning back to the others, his expression puzzled. “What do you think it means?”
      Jonathan shrugged. Victoria looked steadily at Ben. “Perhaps we should go and find out,” she said.
      Together they went back to where Tamara was waiting. Scowling, Ben handed her the ring. “Okay, we’ve each seen the engraving but there are still things we don’t understand.”
      “Like what?” She slipped the ring on her finger.
       “First of all how could the Gleeman have been taken prisoner?”
       “Are you saying I made it up?” Tamara’s voice was suddenly cold.
      “No, no.” He coughed. “The thing is…” he glanced at the others in confusion.
      “The thing is…?” Victoria encouraged quietly.
      He smiled gratefully. “Victoria, do me a favour… think back to when we were in Norman England.”
      She nodded. “Okay!”
      “I’m not imagining it, am I? Whenever we met him the Gleeman was always in control, wasn’t he?”
      “Yes,” she said slowly, “he was.”
      “Then how on earth could he have got himself arrested? It simply doesn’t make any sense.”
      Jonathan bit his lip. “I know what you mean… it’s hard to believe… but Tamara saw him being arrested and she heard him say she had to find us.”
      Ben pulled a face. “I know… but that’s not all.  I don’t understand how we can help him when we don’t know where he is?”
      Jonathan glanced questioningly at Tamara.    
      She shrugged. “All I can do is repeat what I said earlier… the ring and your talismans will take us to the place where I saw him being arrested.”  
       “You’re certain?” Ben asked quickly.
       “Yes.”
       He drew in his breath and looked at Jonathan. “Then I say let’s chance it. Let’s go and find him. What do you say?”
      “Not just yet… there are still some things we need to think about first.”
      “Like what?” Ben said impatiently.
      “Like the fact we still don’t know where he is. He was arrested, remember? I assume he’s in a
prison… the question is which one?”
      “If we found some work…,” said Victoria.
      “Why would we do that?” Looking bewildered Tamara interrupted her.    
      “It’s what we did in Norman England,” said Jonathan.
      “It gave us time. Time is important. We need it to work out what we’ve got to do,” Victoria said.
      “Oh!” Tamara looked at them uncertainly. “Okay… if that’s what you think, we’ll look for work… now is there anything else?”
      Jonathan scratched his head. “I’m sure there must be. The trouble is I can’t think what.”
      “Good! Then shall we go?”  Tamara held out her hands.
                                                                              ***
 “Oye… you… move!”  
       “Here we go again.” Victoria ducked as a leather thong whipped past the side of her cheek.
      A dilapidated cart rumbled past and the driver shook his fist in their direction before cracking his whip again.
      “Move!” Jonathan pushed her out of the way.
      One by one they darted between horse-drawn carriages, haywains and wagons navigating their way through the crowded street. At the comparative safety of the side of the road they stopped to look back.
      A troop of soldiers, each carrying a pike, was marching over the spot where only a few minutes ago they’d been standing. As they rounded the next corner a man in a crimson doublet came out of a nearby house. He paused then set off up the street, his short cape swishing from side to side, his cane tap, tap, tapping over the cobbles.  
      The place teemed with life. Horsemen rode by in ones and two; housewives stood in little groups gossiping with friends and neighbours; traders walked up and down the street shouting out their wares. One approached their group. Thrusting his tray forward he called: “Hot pies! Delicious hot pies for sale!”
      Jonathan shook his head and turned to Tamara. “Well… is this the place?”  
      She wrinkled her nose. “It could be,” she said slowly. “It looks the same; it even smells the same; but I can’t be sure…” She pointed at a line of market stalls. “I remember market stalls and lots of people everywhere…” she shook her head, “… but honestly, I can’t be certain this is the right place.”  
      “OYE… CLEAR THE WAY!”
      Startled, they glanced upwards. A woman, leaning out of an upstairs window, was tipping a chamber pot over the sill. Ben sprang forward and pushed Victoria sideways just before the contents of the pot hit the cobbles. An overpowering stench engulfed them.  
      Victoria took a quick look up and then down again at the slimy puddle spreading across the lane. She shuddered. “What is that?”
      “I wouldn’t bother asking,” Tamara said matter of factly. “Just be glad you weren’t in the way. It was the same the last time I was here. No sanitation… just that and this.”  She picked up a pebble and flung it. A skinny brown piglet grubbing through a pile of rotting vegetables squealed indignantly. Scrambling over the pile it shot between the legs of a gang of boys leap-frogging along the street and brought them tumbling down into a giggling heap.
      In the middle of the road an ornate coach forced its way through a line of covered carts. A flock of sheep on the way to the Shambles filled the air with plaintive cries.  Market stalls were surrounded by housewives. Pungent smells bombarded them from every direction. The noise was overwhelming, dominated by the shouts of the traders.  Even these were drowned out when the yells of ‘stop thief’ rose into the air.
      A boy sprinted past, an angry mob on his heels. Jonathan turned to the others.  “That settles it… it’s far too noisy here. We need somewhere quiet… somewhere where we can talk without being disturbed. Come on, let’s go!”
                                                                                   ***
A shaft of sunlight burst through a gap in the houses filling the street with warmth as they set off up the
street. Gradually the noise began to fade. They slowed down and looked around.  The street seemed
wider, the houses larger and more important.
      “What about over there?” Jonathan pointed at a red-bricked archway between two houses.
      “Let’s look,” said Victoria.
      They walked slowly through the archway and stopped.  Less than a metre away the path split in two – the left-hand way zigzagging around a border before disappearing beneath a pair of wooden doors set in a high wall. From behind those they could hear loud, bad-tempered shouting mixed with the crack of a whip and terrified whinnying.  
      The other path circled a formal knot garden. Tamara ran to it and plucked a leaf.  She sniffed. “Sage!  My mum would love an herb garden like this… wow… look at that.”  Pointing, she stepped back to get a better look at an ornamental peacock on a plinth in the middle of the plot.
      “Tamara,” Jonathan hissed. “Come back at once.”
      Ignoring him she walked slowly round the garden stopping occasionally to pinch a leaf between her fingers. “Come and look… this place is beautiful,” she called back softly.
      Ben stepped out of the archway and looked around. “We should be able to find somewhere quiet in here. The house seems to be completely shut up.”
      “There’s someone behind those.” Victoria pointed at the closed doors in the wall.  
       “Well, if it’ll make you happier you three go and look. I’ll stay here. Call me when you found somewhere,” Ben said.
       “Would you mind?” Victoria smiled at him.
      He grinned back and nodded. “No, go on… just don’t be too long.”
                                                                   ***
“Which way now?” Jonathan stopped by the fork in the path and looked around.
      “That way.” Victoria pointed at the wide swathe of grass to their left.
      Side by side they walked over to the grass, keeping a wary look out all the time. The air was heavy with the scent of roses. Colour filled flowerbeds on either side of the immaculate lawn that
sloped away from the back of the house down to the river. Half-way between the two an ornate fountain was guarded by stone dragons and griffins. Water droplets hung for a second or two in the air glittering like diamonds in the sunlight before falling to the ground.    
      Behind it a thick hazel hedge arched like a tunnel over yet another path. Victoria pinched Jonathan’s arm. “That’s got potential. What do you think?”
      He glanced in the direction she was pointing, his expression puzzled.  Then it cleared. He grinned. “It’s perfect, let’s call the others.”
                                                                          ***
Tamara leapt the miniature box hedge and raced across the grass. Reaching them she stopped and said, between gasps: “What Jonathan? What? Tell us…”
      He pointed at the hazel tunnel. Her eyes widened and she ran on. Jonathan turned to Victoria as Tamara disappeared. He grinned. “Well?”
      She shook her head. “It’s amazing… you’d never know she was in there.”
      Jonathan jumped and spun round as someone tapped him on the shoulder.  
      “Sorry,” Ben said apologetically, “I didn’t mean to startle you.” He glanced at them. “Where’s Tamara?”  
      “In here!” Laughing Victoria linked arms with both boys and led them into the tunnel.  
    “No, she’s not, there’s nobody in here,” said Ben once his eyes had become accustomed to the darkness.  “Perhaps she’s gone out of the other end.”
       “Possibly… but she might be hiding,” said Jonathan pushing aside a branch.  There was an angry screech. Jonathan ducked as a large black crow shot out from the hedge, its claws just missing his face.  
      It flew the length of the tunnel and disappeared into the sunshine. Victoria looked around. “Tamara, where are you?” she called softly.
      A twig cracked and leaves rustled on the other side of the tunnel, followed by a faint giggle, then another.
      Ben walked over to a bunch of quivering leaves. “It’s no good. You can’t hide for ever. You might as well show yourself.”
      Tamara stepped out and grinned at them. “Jonathan… this is soo… cool.”
      Victoria giggled. “She’s right… it is cool… in more ways than one.”
      “Not only is it cool it’s the perfect place,” said Ben.
      “It’s certainly that; it’ll give us a chance to try and work out what we should do,” said Jonathan looking around. He chewed his lip thoughtfully for a moment or two before continuing: “I was wondering if we should split up and find jobs.” He held up his hand as they crowded around all speaking at once. “Don’t you think if we did that we’d have a better chance of finding him?”
       “Not really,” said Ben shortly, “and besides I don’t like it.”  
      “Neither do I, if I’m honest,” said Jonathan. “But I can’t think of any other way.  Can you?”
      They all shook their heads.
       “So, do you agree we should split up?” said Jonathan at last.
      “I suppose so,” Ben said slowly. He frowned. “But I think we’ll need a hiring
market.”
      “A what?” said Tamara.
      He grinned. “Oh come on… some of you must know what a hiring market is.”
      Jonathan shook his head. “I don’t but I’m guessing it has something to do with finding work.”
      Ben nodded. “That’s right.”  He frowned suddenly. “Mind you, I’m still not happy about the splitting up bit.”
      “Ben, you know we’ll stand out if we stay together. As individuals we’re far less likely to attract attention,” said Victoria.
      He sighed. “I know, I know. Jonathan’s right as usual…”
      “We should arrange to meet somewhere a few days after we’ve split up,” Victoria said.
      “Now that is a good idea,” said Tamara. “How about London Bridge?”
      “Yes, I like it,” said Ben. “London Bridge in… say… seven days time between five and six in the morning?”
      Jonathan nudged him. “Ssh!  Listen! There’s someone in the garden.”  
      They tiptoed to the entrance. An old man was pushing a dilapidated wheelbarrow across the lawn. Stopping by the knot garden he knelt down and began weeding.
      Ben drew in his breath. “Quick… recap! London Bridge in seven days time, between five and six in the morning… yes?”
       “Yes… yes…now do be quiet or he’ll hear...”
      “Not a chance!  I’m off. You never know, they might need another gardener.”  
Before the others could protest Ben raced out of the tunnel, across the grass and skidded to a stop by the man. He tapped him on the shoulder
      The man looked up. “Eh… who are you? Wot yer doing ’ere? Yer better go. If they catch yer…yer’ll be in trouble…”
      “Work! I’m looking for work. Do they need any more gardeners?”
      He curled his lip. “Nah… there be too many already.”
      “Oh,” Ben hung his head as though disappointed.
      “Sorry lad,” the gardener said more sympathetically. He nudged Ben as two men walked by deep in conversation. “See them?”
     Ben nodded.  
      “Well why don’t yer try them. Yer never know… they might need ’elp in the house. Ask James… ’e’s the younger one… but mind, don’t tell ’im I sent yer.”
       “Thanks, oh thanks, I will!” Ben shot off again and caught up with the men by the back door. He coughed loudly.
      The older man turned back. “What is it boy?” he asked, his bushy eyebrows quivering.
      “Er… I’m looking for work… do you need any help in the house?”
      The younger man looked him up and down and sneered. “I doubt we need the
likes of you.”
      “Not so hasty, James. I’d like to talk to the lad. Come… we’ll go inside.”
                                                                       ***
“Now where are they going?” Victoria whispered.
      “It looks like into the house.”
       “What are we going to do?” said Tamara looking around anxiously.
    “Get out while we’ve got the chance,” said Jonathan.   
    Tamara stared at the closing door, her face paling. “Really?”
    “Well, can you suggest anything else?” Jonathan said belligerently.
    She bit her lip. “No… I guess you’re right,” she said at last.
    They crept in single file through the arch and crossed the street. Jonathan leaned against a handy hitching rail. Victoria and Tamara sat down at the edge of the street and fixed their eyes firmly on the front door of the house opposite.
                                                                            ***
“Well lad, what have you to say for yourself?” The twinkle in the clear brown eyes belied the serious tone.  
      Ben hung his head lower. “Er… nothing sir, except I need work.”
       “My Lord Bishop… boy.”
      Bishop Pye half-turned and frowned at James who was standing behind his chair, “It does not matter. How should he know who I am? So you need work, lad?”
      James curled his lip and silently eyed Ben with disfavour.
       “Er… yes sir… sorry… I mean my Lord Bishop,” Ben stuttered.
    The Bishop waved his hand impatiently. “If you really are seeking work I might be able to help.”
    “But my Lord…”
    “Enough James, I am quite capable of making my own decisions. All I ask of you is that you inform your master that I wish to speak to him. Now go and order my coach.”
      “Yes my Lord.” His eyes glinting with anger James bowed and left the room.
    Bishop Pye waited until the door had closed before looking at Ben. “I need another page in my household. The pay is good. There is a new uniform every six months, your board and somewhere to sleep. Will you come and work for me?”
    Ben hesitated.
    The Bishop’s eyebrows quivered. “Perhaps I was too hasty sending James away.”
    “No my Lord… honestly… it’s not that. I was taken by surprise by the generosity of your offer. Of course I accept… most gratefully.”
***
Jonathan prodded Victoria in the back with his foot. “The front door’s opening,” he hissed.
      She raised her head and nudged Tamara. Ben was standing in the doorway of the house. He stared at them blankly.
    Jonathan beckoned.
      He shook his head.
      The Bishop appeared and looked up and down the street. “Where is my coach?” he demanded.  
       “It comes my Lord.” James pointed at a coach and four rounding a corner.
      As it drew up in front of the house Ben stepped forward and opened the door.  “Where to my Lord?” he said.
    The Bishop smiled. “Lambeth Palace, but my driver knows.” He climbed into the coach and beckoned. “Come lad.”
    “Lambeth Palace, driver,” Ben called loudly enough for his voice to carry across the narrow street. He scrambled into the coach. James slammed the door.  
      The coachman leaned forward and flicked the reins. The horses started forward at a brisk trot.
      “Lambeth!” said Jonathan staring after the coach as it disappeared around a corner. “They’re going to Lambeth.”
      “To a Palace,” said Tamara. “Is that man a Prince?”
      Jonathan smiled and shook his head. “Unlikely.  I’m pretty certain Lambeth Palace is the London home of the Archbishop of Canterbury.”
      “Do you think he’s the Archbishop?” said Victoria.    
      Jonathan shrugged. “Possibly… Even if he isn’t, he must have something to do with the Church. Wait… where do you think you’re going?”
    “After them, of course,” Victoria said tossing her hair back over her shoulders.
      He grabbed her arm. “Why? We know where they’re going. Surely we should be concentrating on finding work?
       “Oh all right,” she snapped. Her eyes gleamed. “But can we go in the same direction?”
      Jonathan grinned at her. “I don’t see why not. Come on, let’s go.”   
      The way took them past taverns, market stalls and churches and, once or twice, past small groups of people huddled together, talking. But there was no sign of the coach.  
      “Should we ask them?” Tamara said seeing another crowd gathered under a tree in a dusty square.    
      “Ask them what?” Victoria said, doubtfully.
      “If they saw a coach go by.”
    “I think it would be more sensible to ask the way to the hiring market,” said Jonathan.
      “Okay… then we’ll ask them that.” Tamara looked around for a friendly face.
      Victoria stared at a well-dressed man talking to a scruffy youth. She shook Jonathan’s arm.  “I think we may already be there,” she whispered.
      Jonathan nodded as an elderly man led a young lad from the square. “So do I,” he said slowly.
      “Can I be of help?” a quiet voice asked.
      They turned. A young woman, standing at the edge of the crowd, was watching them curiously.
      “Well, can I?” she said.
       “Er…” Victoria glanced at Jonathan.
      “Is this a hiring market?” he said quickly.
      She nodded. “It is. Do you seek work?”
       “Yes.”
       “Good. I need a seamstress,” she said. She glanced at Victoria. “Will you come and work for me?”
      “Come where?” Jonathan said sharply.
      “Lower Thames Street. ‘Tis close by the Tower.”
      The Tower! Victoria shivered.
      “What is your name Mistress?” Jonathan asked watching the woman closely.
      “Tis Anne. I will look after your friend, I promise.”
      “What do you think,” Jonathan said turning to Victoria.
      She shrugged. “She seems all right,” she whispered, “there’s just one thing... I can’t sew… and what about you two?”
      “Don’t worry about us…Tamara and I will find work.” He smiled unhappily.  “Just remember… London Bridge between five and six in the morning, seven days from now.”
      “Come.” The young woman took Victoria’s arm and led her towards the gateway.  “What is your name?”
      “Victoria.” She looked back and stopped abruptly.
       “What is it?”
      “That man…” She pointed at a thin faced man, his black doublet exaggerating the pallor of his skin. He was tapping his leather boots with his whip while at the same time talking to Jonathan and Tamara.  
      “That man is Master Walker. He must have employed your friends. See, they’re going with him.”
      “Going where?”   
      Anne’s grip tightened around Victoria’s arm. “You must stay with me… he will beat you if you go after them.”
    “You don’t understand,” Victoria cried struggling to get free. “I must find out where they’re going.”
    “I can tell you that… he is taking them to Whitehall Palace.”