A Servant Called Much
Present Day, 1192 (Robin Hood BBC)
Story is based 10 years ago from Present Day Nottingham, 1182
As daylight scattered across the cold grounds of the Carlisle Estate, a young man rushed through his morning chore with hurried hands, quickly retrieving eggs under the hens in the chicken coop. Shaking off the feathers that clung to his fingers, he could not suppress vocalizing his true feelings towards his morning duty after one of the hens gave him something he was not expecting.
"Ah… no!" Much said disgusted as one of the hens succeeded in fouling her egg the moment his hand managed to grasp the object. "That's it… I hate chickens." Taking care not to break the egg, Much flicked his wrist to try and rid the egg and his hand of their new, warm covering.
Upon returning outside, Much set the basket on the ground so he could wipe his hand clean on the damp grass. Still mumbling to himself, he stated, "That's it. I am not helping Lucy gather eggs anymore."
While walking back to the Carlisle manor, Much noticed one of the younger servant boys running towards him, laughing. Stopping, he looked around, trying to see what was so funny. Shortly, Phillip stopped in front of him, holding a wooden cup.
Much laughed along as he looked around and asked, "What's so funny?" Before he saw it coming, Phillip launched the contents of the cup towards him, bathing Much in milk. The bitter breeze did not help matters as Much felt the liquid soak through his jacket and the shirt underneath. "What?" Much cried. "What did you do that for?" He glanced down at his drenched clothes. "Phillip?"
Anger filled the young man as he bolted after the boy. Phillip could not be more than twelve years old, but Much planned on giving him a good tanning himself for this practical joke. It was hard enough to stay out of Osmond's ill graces while completing his chores. The head steward had made no pretense that he favored Much. Once too often Much had felt the stern hand of both the steward and his master.
As he barged into the manor house after Phillip, Much unexpectedly hit a slippery floor on his entrance. With grand fanfare, his feet flew out from under him. To his horror, the basket of eggs he had been so protective of catapulted upward, and before he had time to react, he found himself on the floor surrounded by and covered in broken eggs.
Snickering filled the room. Looking up from the floor, Much frowned at Sarra and Morton who tried their best to suppress their laughter. Much searched the room for the culprit, but there was no trace of Phillip.
"This is not funny?" Much exclaimed. "Where is Phillip? He is the reason I fell. I'm certain he spilled the milk on purpose." Much slapped the palm of his hand in the large puddle and regretted his action when milk splattered his face.
When heavy boot falls echoed through the manor, both Morton and Sarra quickly regained their composure. Much felt his face growing hot, both from anger and embarrassment. His situation did not look good, sprawled out on the floor amidst what should have been breakfast. Attempts to find his footing were met in vain as he slipped several times, landing back on the kitchen floor in a scrambled mess of egg, shells, and milk. Much dreaded the inescapable smell that he would have to endure should he not get washed as soon as possible.
Unfortunately for Much, Lord Hayden burst through the kitchen door. The lord of the manor flew into a rage at the sight that greeted him.
"I should have known. I hear a loud clatter, and who do I find but you sitting in the middle of a huge mess on my kitchen floor!" Hayden came as close as he dared to the slippery concoction that plastered the wooden planks. Looking to his other servants, he shouted, "Don't just stand there! Get buckets, mops, towels, anything to clean this mess up!"
Much's face drained any red that colored his cheeks. He felt that he did not deserve the sole focus of his master's rage.
"My lord, Phillip spilt the milk. I slipped…" Before Much could finished, Lord Hayden started his rant.
"Don't blame this on a boy who is not even present. It is obvious you are the guilty party. Why, just look at yourself! Do you realize how much you've cost me today?" The lord threw his hands in the air, "I do not know why I burden myself by keeping you in service. You are a useless blundering fool!"
"But Master…" Much tried to say. Seeing the rage in Lord Hayden's eyes, the servant quickly averted his own, adding, "I'll clean it up." Much managed to find his footing and stand without slipping. Sarra and Morton returned with buckets and mops, each taking turns trying to wipe away the mess on the floor. Seeing the others hard at work, Much tried to reach for Sarra's mop.
Everyone froze when a shout from Hayden bellowed his next command. "No! I want you out of this house. You are banished to the barn. I do not want to see you near this manor for the next two days!" With a slam of the door, Lord Hayden disappeared. His boot falls thundered against the floorboards as he stormed away. Shaking, Much looked from Sarra to Morton, unsure what to do.
"He didn't mean that, did he?" Much questioned the other servants. Before either could answer, the rear door leading outside opened, and Osmond entered.
The bald steward stood astonished at what he saw. "What in heaven is this?" Osmond asked, giving Much the once over. Disgust filled the steward's bearded face. His gaze found Sarra and Morton. "I thought I heard Master Hayden. What did he say?"
Sarra stopped mopping and pointed to Much. "He has been banished to the barn for the next two days. The master doesn't want him in the house." The smug woman avoided looking at Much as she relayed the master's orders.
Much wanted to scream. Instead, he tried reasoning with them. "But this wasn't my fault. Phillip threw milk on me out at the hen house. I was just…" Much's animation trying to tell his story nearly cost him his footing, and it took all of his effort to keep from falling again.
Osmond backed up and opened the door. "Out!" he shouted.
"But…" Much looked down at his wet clothes, wanting someone to notice that he was in no condition to be heading outside. Spring had finally thawed the ground and the flowers were starting to bloom, but it still had a long way to go before the days and nights outside warmed.
It took a shout from inside the manor to get Much's feet moving. Lord Hayden's voice reverberated through the manor, "I said get out, now!"
Much tiptoed across the sopping mess past Osmond, only to have the door slammed shut, leaving him defeated. His soaked clothes clung to his skin. A northerly wind chilled the day with every second that passed.
At a loss, Much gawked at his shirt, his jacket, and then back to the house. He wanted desperately to change and wash up. Pondering over an attempt to sneak back inside, he ran his hand through his hair until he felt a clump of raw egg ooze through his fingers. "Great… just great." He flung the mess off his hand. Looking around, he questioned, "Now what do I do?"
An old man's voice broke his gloom. "This way young Much, follow me." Much lifted his eyes to find Jarrod walking past him towards the pond. "Oh…" he stated just before running to catch up with the elderly groundskeeper.
Loud snickering from the manor stopped him in his tracks. He looked back to witness the trio watching him. Osmond's laughter rose above that of Sarra and Morton.
In a huff, Much fell in step beside the groundskeeper. Trying to take his mind off the other's merriment, the milk soaked servant thought to himself that the old man walked far too fast for someone whose hair had turned solid white several years ago. Apparently quite a few years of tending the grounds had not broken down the old man as much as the house servants had claimed.
"Surely they will let me inside to bathe. I mean, it is awful nippy out here." He pulled at his clothes, "And these clothes, they will take forever to dry."
Jarrod held up a bundle that he carried in his hands. "I took the liberty of rummaging through your things. Lucy warned me you might need a change of clothes when she heard clatter in the kitchen. You are lucky the master is only putting you out for two nights." The old man finally stopped long enough to take an assessment. "Look at you. You just past your twentieth birthday, and yet you are still making childish mistakes." Jarrod shook his head.
"But it was Phillip who…" Much began.
Jarrod stopped. "Yes, Phillip baited you, but you did exactly what they knew you would do. You took in after him. You got mad and didn't think."
Much stopped. "They?" He looked back to the house. "Sarra and Morton, they were in on it too?" When he turned around, Jarrod had left him several feet behind, causing the young man to sprint to catch up. He could no longer hear anything from the manor house, yet their laughter still echoed in his mind.
Finally, the two men made it to the pond. Jarrod placed the bundle of clothes and towels on the ground. He unwrapped one of the gray towels to find a large brown bar of soap inside. After walking over to retrieve a small bucket near the water's edge, he handed both to Much.
Careful to avoid the mess covering the young servant, the old man placed a hand on his shoulder. "Much, how often do you get in trouble with the master?"
Shrugging, Much guessed, "Once a week, maybe. But I have been trying."
Jarrod's green eyes bore into Much's blue orbs. "You need to start paying attention to what the others are doing around you. Your mother taught you to be observant of the master and his needs, but you have to pay attention to the servants in the household as well. Osmond may be steward, but he does not have our best interest at heart, and he especially does not have yours."
Much shook his head. "I try real hard to do my part, Jarrod. Mother has been gone for over a year now. As head stewardess, she was fair. She looked out for everyone when dealing with the master. There were no favorites." Blinking away a tear in his eye, Much tried to stay calm.
After releasing his grip, Jarrod motioned to the towels. "Dry off as best as you can before putting on your dry clothes. Just be quick with the bath and you will be fine. If you don't bathe now, you will be riper than a rotting cow in the middle of summer."
The comparison caused Much's nose to wrinkle at the thought of anything rotting in the middle of summer. At the same time, he shivered from the wet clothes that still clung to his skin. The idea of bathing outside from the pond did not please him, but he understood that it had to be done.
Jarrod finally smiled at him. "When you are finished, you can help me with my chores outside for the rest of the day."
As the old man walked towards the manor, Much took his new clothes and towels deeper into the grove near the water's edge. He made sure that they were safe from thieving hands before he started his cold bath. An embarrassing dip in the pond last summer taught him to proceed with caution. Plus, if what Jarrod said was true, then the other servants had been helping him draw Lord Hayden's wrath for the past several months, and he had been blind to that fact.
Much quickly undressed down to his underclothes before dipping the bucket into the water. Holding his breath, he managed to pour a bucketful over his head. He thought for sure he would freeze to death right then and there. Feeling the eggs oozing down his back and through his hair, he steadied himself for another bucket. This spring morning promised to be colder than anything he could remember since the last winter's snow.
A day's worth of hard work with Jarrod reminded Much how it had been working with his mother. She had been a stewardess for the manor as long as he could remember. He recalled running to carry her water from the well when he was barely tall enough to keep it from dragging across the ground. Much looked longingly towards the manor house as the curling smoke rose from the chimney at dusk. Closing his eyes, he imagined the flickering fire that would be keeping everyone in the manor warm this night.
"I only have two blankets to spare." Jarrod's voice startled him. "No worries, lad, it is only me."
Much peeked around Jarrod to gaze inside the barn. The musical tones of the cows mooing and the sheep baying eased his nerves somewhat. "Any advice on how to keep warm tonight?" The young servant gratefully accepted the two blankets.
Jarrod escorted Much inside the barn with a small candle lantern. "Be sure you blow this out when you get settled. You don't want to burn the barn down while you are out here all alone."
Much pretended to laugh at the statement, but truly was terrified of such a prospect. "I will."
"Best sleep on top of the clean straw in the corner over there. Put a blanket on the ground and wrap up in it before wrapping yourself in the other blanket. The barn will keep out the bitter night air."
Nodding his head, Much watched the groundskeeper leave and close the door behind him. He felt his hands turn to ice. Rubbing them together did not relieve the sensation. The numbness had nothing to do with the chill in the air. He was terrified. Never in all of his days in the manor had he slept outside.
Taking the largest blanket, he spread it out over the straw. "Clean straw? Hah! It all smells like dung." With the blanket set, he walked over to the candle. Closing his eyes, he promised himself that he would be brave. He was in the barn, and he was not truly alone. He just had to make it through two nights, and then he would be able to curl up in his own bed. Finally, he opened his eyes and blew out the candle in the lantern.
After curling up in the blankets, Much tried to relax. Every time a different animal made a new noise, he thought for sure it was something on the outside trying to get in the barn. That night, he made a promise to himself that he would never lose his temper again. He would not let the others get him in trouble with his master. Jarrod made sense. If he had not run into the house, at the very worst, all he would have contended with was the milk thrown on him by Phillip. Much also thought it galling to learn that Osmond, Sarra and Morton were in league with Phillip. None of this seemed fair, but what could he do? Osmond held the role of steward of the household, and he was just a measly servant. The young man tried to hold back the tears as memories of his mother flooded his mind.
She had been a strong woman before the illness. No one questioned her, and she did not fear their master. Much never thought he would think back fondly of the days when she made him work on numerous chores that she would supervise. The others did not understand how upsetting it had been when he did something wrong and had to be reprimanded by his own mother in front of them. Now, he longingly wished for those days again, but knew they were gone. With a deep sign, Much curled up tightly in his blankets and tried to shut out the night and the memories.