In which Meagan enjoys the hospitality of the Middle Ages …
EVERY NICE THING Meagan had ever thought about castles was wrong. Standing inside her quarters (which she shared with four others), she could hear things crawling in the sweet-smelling rushes laid over the floor. Her newly-corrected wardrobe, a light gown, left her shivering in drafts or roasting beside fires. The best thing about a castle was probably its view, Meagan decided, if only you could see it. The heavy glass over the room’s single window had the transparency of milk.
“Madame?” came a maid’s voice from the doorway. “The meal begins.”
Meagan smiled politely and followed the servant into the smoky hallways. Rush torches made shadows dance along the stone walls, bringing the rich tapestry to life. Woven scenes of Demons and the Heavenly Host seemed to watch them pass in the flickering light. Suddenly all was brightness and sound. A large bonfire burned on a ledge above a great hall. Racks of candles hung over the room. One long banquet table was set upon a wide stage, with gaily clad occupants lining the wall to face the crowd below. Perhaps two hundred people milled about the floor, eating, drinking, shouting, singing, and throwing bones to dogs. Odors of spices tangled with those of spoil and sweat.
“Meagan!” The voice was nearby, but it took two more calls before she saw Knight Henryk standing on a bench waving, obviously inebriated. A mild-looking man sat beside him. She made her way across the room.
“Sitting, Meagan,” Henryk slurred, pointing to the table’s community bench.
Almost faint with hunger, Meagan wiped off a used spoon. This is how people manage to eat with this smell, she told herself—they are starving. There were no place settings, but there were piles of trenchers made of brown bread lying on wood platters. She scooped thick stew into one from a central basin and tried not to slurp, not that it mattered to the gobbling crowd. Roving servants traveled the tables with large pitchers, sloshing wine into outstretched goblets. Others carried trays of cut fruit. People began grabbing pieces before the tray was set down and Meagan, too slow, went without.
Copyright © 2008 John Royce« Previous excerpt: “On the Run in the Middle Ages”
Eclipsed by Shadow (Book #1 of the trilogy) won national awards including the Eric Hoffer Award for best Young Adult Fiction, and the Mom’s Choice Award for best family-friendly Young Adult Fantasy.