The Tale of Eleanor and her Apprentice

[The monk sought out the Castle Housekeeper, and inquired on the work of her young charges.

“They have improved remarkably,” she said; “It is as if you promised them gold or jewels!”

They’re getting the history of our Kingdom,” stated the old monk; “and a bit of romance thrown in for good measure. What young maiden does not dream of courtly love and royal romance?”

“Are you still determined to stretch this story out?” The Housekeeper inquired.

“I think it best. If we gave in now, all their enthusiasm would quickly melt away, and you would be back to a dozen young girls watching the boys pretend not to watch them back!”

“Well, you are the Master Storyteller; I think you know your business. What part will you tell tonight?”

“I think the story of the Herb Woman’s Apprentice is in order; it is short and needed for what comes next.”

And that night, after supper was over and the girls had all gathered in nightgowns and robes, the old monk sat on a bench and spoke: “I have heard good things from your Mistress, and she tells me you all deserve a story. Last week you all said you wanted more about Blessed Eleanor, is that right?”

After the assembled had all indicated to the monk that that was EXACTLY what they wanted, the monk continued; “So be it. Now settle down, and we shall begin. . .”]

The Herb Woman hung up her cloak with great care. She had not actually run all the way from the castle; but she had walked quickly, and was glad to see her cottage when it had come into view. Well, she was home now, and it was time to put the King’s problems behind for now and concentrate on village matters.

She noted that her new apprentice was in the back of the cottage, and seemed to have someone with her. She went to look closer, and saw that their visitor was a young child of the village, about 6 years old, as she recalled.

“Hello, Sally, how are you doing this fine day?” asked the Herb Woman.

“I fell and scraped my knee, and Mistress Rachel cleaned it, and put on a poultice. I was a good patient, wasn’t I, Mistress Rachel?”

“Yes you were, a very good patient!” said the bemused healer; “she did not even cry much when I had to wash the sore spot. In fact she has asked if she had been good Five times, and I have told her over and over that she was a Very Good Patient.”

The Herb Woman smiled at her apprentice, and went to the back of the cottage. Walking over to a jar of sugar sweetmeats, she took one out, and solemnly handed it over to the child. Without taking her eyes off the child, she told her apprentice, “Sally knows when a child is a Very Good Patient, and does not fuss or cry (“well, not cry TOO much or too loud” she thought to herself) that she gets a treat for being so good!”

Now that she was complete with her treat firmly in hand, the little girl waved goodbye, and sped off out the door and down the path.

“Things are so different from my home,” spoke the apprentice. “We did not have treats in abundance, and even our Herbs and Potions were preciously guarded.” She looked at her Mistress and added quickly, “The Herbalist for our part of town was a man, and was not fond of children.” Then she added shyly, “He was not a Christian.”

“How long has it been since you studied under him?” asked her Mistress, “Did you ever advance to the mixing of potions and teas?”

“Oh, no!” said Rachel, “I was only with him a month when my father found a husband for me, and I went on to tend my husband’s home.”

With that, the Herb Mistress started to instruct her student, and described the four humors of the body, and the four fluids that controlled each of them, and how to tell if they were in or out of balance. The Apprentice dutifully wrote down every word, but Eleanor got the idea that Rachel was picking up knowledge much faster than any student Eleanor had ever met.

Later that day, a young mother came to visit the cottage. “I am having a problem feeding my babe, and I do not know what to do.”

Mistress Eleanor walked to get a small vial, and as she then walked over to the other side of the room, she noted that her apprentice was there before her. “Yes, you are correct,” spoke the Herb Lady, “Blessed Thistle is the medicine of choice here.” She took a portion of the herb and placed it within the vial. “Make a tea of this, and have a cup of it 3 times a day."

"You will find it somewhat bitter, and so a drop of honey goes well with it.” added the Apprentice.

Once the young mother had thanked her benefactors and gone home, the Herb woman spoke again; “That was well done. I don’t even remember telling you about Blessed Thistle yet.”

“Oh, I had used that myself when I had my firstborn,” replied her student; “It worked, but unfortunately the babe caught a chill and died before his first year." The apprentice changed the subject; "She seemed to be a bit young to be a bride, let alone a mother,” she added, “Is it the custom here to wed early?”

“Well, she WAS a younger bride then ‘tis customary,” replied her teacher; “But in her case, she and her beau could not wait for the banns to be posted, and decided to have the honeymoon before they met at the church steps. But no one really teases them about it, for they were in love before they both knew how to walk, and it is clear God has blessed them with a fine, healthy child.”

And so the two women went on with their lessons. Repeatedly the Herb Mistress saw that her student seemed to know what each herb did, and how it was to be administered, and what to watch for.

They spent the next week going through the cottage, talking over each jar, and discussing the contents. Every day a messenger came to the cottage, and asked the Herb Woman to visit the Castle.

“Am I ordered to attend the Castle?” she asked each messenger, and with the reply of no, there was no order, just a request; the Herb Woman stayed safe and secure in her cottage. She thanked the messenger for his wasted trip, and went on with her teaching her apprentice. Things were going smoothly until one day. . .

“Me ma’s got the diarrhea real bad!” said a young boy breathlessly as he ran into the cottage; “She needs something to stop it. She sent me, er, um, because she could not come herself!” the child added, not knowing how to describe his poor mother’s needs in a polite manner to a respected healer.

“Rachel, go grab that jar labeled ‘Lobelia’ and fill a vial with it. I’ll take it over to the lad’s mother and dose her myself.”

“’Lobelia?’” questioned the apprentice, “Are you sure, Mistress?”

“Yes, now don’t just stand there, move quickly!” And the Herb Mistress grabbed her cloak and followed after the boy.

“When they had gotten to the child’s cottage, Eleanor quickly went about preparing the tea, steeping the plant stems and leaves in a tea pot and finally filling a cup of the liquid. She walked out to the family’s outhouse, where the anxious mother sat. However, just as the woman was about to drink from the cup, the apprentice ran forward, and knocked the cup to the ground.

“What have you done?” cried the poor woman, “why did you destroy my medicine?”

“Yes, apprentice, can you have any explanation for your actions?”

“That was the wrong medicine.” Said the apprentice in a low voice; “It would have caused her to vomit, and with diarrhea, she needs to get more fluids in, not out.”

“And what should I have given her, then?” continued the Herb Woman.

“There are a number of things, but I always used Our Lady’s Mantle,”

“Very good,” Said her Mistress, “I use that, also. We can go home now. You can go back to your cottage, goodwife; thank you for your help.”

Not a word was spoken until the two women reached their home. When safely inside the cottage, the apprentice started to gather up all her things.

“What are you doing?” inquired the Herb Woman; “Where do you think you are going?”

The Apprentice continued packing and replied, “I can no longer stay here. But if you have any pity in you, do not tell the authorities for at least three days, so I may try to find a new place to hide.”

“A place to hide?” spoke the astonished Herb Woman; “what in heaven’s name makes you think you need to hide?”

“I could see you figured out my secret. You know I come from a south country, and you also know that there are no Christian Healers there. There my husband and I ran from the Inquisition, here. . .”

“So you follow the old religion? That is not a crime here! Why my own teacher was not a believer in Christ, and she was loved and revered by all who knew her, even the King, who he himself used her services!”

“You don’t understand, Mistress.” And with a lifting of the chain around her neck, she showed her teacher . . . a Star of David. “Even in my own country, it was safer to be of the old religion than to be Jewish. I don’t want to bring down the wrath of the King or the Church on you; you have been nothing but kind to me.” As she said this, her bag was filled with her meager belongings, and she turned to leave the cottage.

“You do not have my permission to leave!” Spoke her teacher; “You made a promise to me to serve me in exchange for teaching, until you either finish you learning, or I determine you to be hopeless. And as a matter of fact,” she added dryly; “I have found you sometimes exasperating, but never hopeless.”

“Being Jewish in this Kingdom is not a crime, although you may have gotten that idea because here we have no ghettos in this Kingdom. Jews are allowed, nay, they are encouraged to live with those of other beliefs. The King tries to make accommodations for those who need a different day of rest and worship, and Jews in his service are not required to attend Christian worship. Nor do all have to tithe to the Church, as is custom in some other lands. Giving to God is from the heart and not the King’s law.”

“But I lied to you,” continued the Apprentice; “Surely you will turn me away for that!”

“If I did not forgive you, how can I expect others to forgive me? You were afraid, and in your own country, you might have had reason to fear. All that this means is I can now stop going over the basics, and can learn as much from you as you can from me. I know some things I use you never had, and I’m sure that there are things you used that I have never seen.”

And so the two women settled down to review what was in the cottage, and it soon became known that the village had two Herb Women, not just one.

[As he uttered the last few words the monk settled back in his chair, took a long swig of his ale, and waited for the explosion. It was not long in coming:

“But what about the King?”

“When does Eleanor marry Good King Henry?”

“How does the King win her love?”

“I thought you asked for a story about the Blessed Eleanor!” stormed the monk; “No one asked about the King. I sat right here and you ALL wanted to know what Eleanor did next!”

Silence, and then a small, plaintive voice said, “But we wanted the story to be about King Henry, too.”

“Then if that was what you wanted, you should have said so!” thundered Roger. But taking pity on the woebegone looks of his audience, he relented, and said, “Well, then next time I shall make the story about them both; will that satisfy you all?”

And with their fervent agreement, the children went away to their beds.

“You old fraud,” laughed the Housekeeper; “I would have wagered if Teresa had started to cry, you’d have sat there ‘til morning, and told them the whole saga!”

“Well, perhaps, but then the King would inquire why all of the Castle beds were not made, and you would have told him some fib about it being poor old Roger’s fault!”

And as the old monk wandered off to the Kitchen to see if there was a spare cookie or two, the Housekeeper smiled and *almost* wished Teresa HAD cried.]

To Be Continued. . .

Roger of Belden Abbey
Copyright © 2004, Daniel A. Thompson, Jr.

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