The cock crowed again and he wondered if Madame Crespin’s tonic had worked on the rooster’s damaged craw which, according to her, was the direct result of its having supped poisoned water from ditches where cloth dyers’ on the hill emptied their vats into the street. She planned to lodge a protest but he doubted there was a village anywhere in France that would entertain such a complaint, as taxes from the lucrative weaving industry were what paid the officials’ salaries.
A goat bleated, followed by another and another as the goat herder approached, leading his five does along the cobblestoned street outside, their bells jingling like gypsy bracelets. “M-ilk?“ the herder called. “Fresh goat m-ilk?“
Adam closed his eyes, willing sleep to return its black comfort. Today he would stand like a common thief in the Square before his accusers, and listen to some arrogant magistrate pronounce his sentence.
Now that the day was finally here, he wondered if his friends had been right when they’d prodded him to ask Count Robert to intervene. But that would have meant sending a courier on a three-day ride and interrupting Robert’s hunting. He had not the money for one, nor the desire for the other, even though a word from his patron would have ended it all. Too, involving Robert would have lent credence to the accusation, one the simplest peasant would know contrived. Besides, he’d felt righteous at the time: the spectacle might help other members of the Puy and serve as a warning to lesser jongleurs who had no royal patron and simply wanted to sing their songs.
The goat herder passed and a sudden stillness descended. In the quiet Adam heard beetles scurrying in the rafters overhead, gnawing inside their caverns, a familiar sound in the timber-framed house. He wondered how much damage had been done in the few years since he and Maroie married and moved in. Once this business with his punishment was behind him he would enlist the aid of the carpenter who doubled as the night watchman at the currency exchange on the Petit Marché. Together they could check the roof beams.
Maroie turned her back, then tugged at the narrow coverlet, exposing his feet to the cool night air that never left the room before midday, not in April, which was still part of winter if you lived north of Paris.
With a flapping of wings and a gurgle, the rooster landed on the sill and commenced tapping his beak on the wood, a brazen move for a sick rooster and one that gave Adam a moment of amusement.
The pallet shook and Maroie sat up, her face silhouetted in the soft light.
Her black hair was unbound, and he remembered the silky feel of it, how it flowed through his fingers, flowed like a song, winding down beside her ears, resting like a final note on her slim shoulders.
She leaned over and retrieved a small block of wood that held the melted remains of a rush candle. Cursing, she took aim at the open shutter. The rooster flapped his wings and flew from the window, squawking loudly.
Adam sat up, reached for his woolen hose and could feel her watching him.
“Is this the morning you find out what your brashness will cost us?“ Her voice sounded sleepy and thick like he remembered, from earlier days when they made love, and he had a rushing sense of loss for the promises that had dissolved between them.
“Yes. An hour after sunrise.” His sentencing? He thought she had forgotten. They hadn’t spoken of it since her bitter reproach when he first confided in her, and she had sided with his accusers.
She turned her back to him and wrapped the blanket around her shoulders and padded to the front room. After pulling on his boots, he slipped the tunic over his head and followed her out.
She took kindling from a basket and tossed it on cold ashes. “It was foolish to sing songs that mocked the authorities—and in front of unknown foreigners. The burghers will entertain anyone, you’ve said that yourself.”
He stared into the fire and waited for the branches to ignite. “Come with me, Maroie. We will show them we’re not afraid.”
“I’ve promised Juliane to help sew her daughter’s wedding gown.” She yawned. “It was not me, in any case, who offended the officials.” Her voice was no longer sleepy, but clear and accusing. She covered her bare arm with the blanket, pulling it taut across her chest like a shield, a layer of protection from his foolishness.
“It was a song, Maroie, a song. A satire of sorts, about excessive taxes. Some of us think these new councilmen are imposters, not sent here by King Louis, as they claim. They would ostracize those of us who speak the truth.”
“Nonsense. The enquêteurs would find them out.”
“Maroie, the king only sends enquêteurs once yearly now.” He paused, lowered his head, then looked up at her. There was so much she didn’t know, or would not admit. “These opportunists will be gone by then, replaced with new ones.”
“No matter. We have our own fees to worry about, and you go looking for more misfortune, ridiculing the authorities.” She picked up scraps of dry bread from the table, rubbed them into crumbs in her palm and with her back to him, threw them to the three hens pecking in dirt near the door. “Go by yourself.”
She walked outside and past what would be a hedge of lilies come June, but for now were slender leaves, vulnerable to hares and insects. The hens trailed at her feet as she turned right and took the path to Madame Crespin’s.
He glanced at the table where a few sheets of parchment lay, an unfinished chanson about youthful love, and the beginning lines of a play, the theme of which laid bare the commonly held belief that Arras had too many officials and that quarrels between the monks at Saint-Vaast and the canons at the cathedral were more about gaining revenue from the relics than about spirituality.
He rolled the leaves together, thinking that his indictment was only the first in a long line of groundless accusations that would dissuade poets and musicians from exercising their talents when faced with condemnation and fines.
* * * * *
When the church bells rang the hour of terce, Adam stood beside the fishmonger’s stand. The smithy was already at work, sparks flying from the heated iron as he struck red-hot metal, a spade slowly forming from the molten mass. Directly across the Square a worker struggled to set up a trestle table on the makeshift podium. Nearby, a golden banner hung limply from its frame, a scowling Lion of Arras embroidered on it, paw raised, ready to crush its enemies.
Vendors opened their shops early, hoping to make sales to the onlookers. Adam glanced at the baker’s stall, smelled the aroma of cooked tarts, and wondered why he wasn’t tempted.
A trained bear, tied to its master, danced across the Square. With each step, the bells on its collar tinkled, adding a monotonous, annoying distraction to the carnival atmosphere.
Adam rubbed his eyes, wished he had gotten more sleep. He dreaded the impending disclosure of his punishment, yet some part of him wanted to hear it, to have it finished.
Someone touched his shoulder and he turned to see Michael, a childhood friend, standing beside the dwarf Liegart engrossed in feeding his pet monkey.
Adam smiled, noticing Michael’s scruffy black curls and red-rimmed eyes. “It is plain to see you spent the evening with one of the ladies from the tavern.”
Michael grinned and ran his fingers through his hair as he squinted into the sun at the activity across the Square. “Are these the ones, then, who dictate the fate of all Arras?” He tilted his chin toward a group of busy clerks. “Is that the magistrate, the red-robed one?”
“Yes, between the two red-headed bodyguards.”
Liegart tugged on the hem of Adam’s tunic. “Here come the others now,” the dwarf said, pointing to one corner of the Square. . He took a bite of plum and gave the rest to his monkey. A group of townspeople, led by the chair-mender and butcher, crossed the square to Adam. A horn sounded and clerks approached the table. A bailiff handed a rolled parchment to the magistrate, and the smithy put down his hammer. The hawkers grew quiet. A slight breeze flapped the Lion of Arras. He appeared to be rolling on a golden sea, placid, listening.
Adam looked closer at the magistrate, thinking he knew him from some other time, another place, away from this bitter morning with its judgments. Clerks unrolled parchment and quoted ordinances. The magistrate referred to new laws to defend their decision.
The air grew still; the Lion ceased his rolling. Pigeons cooed from perches beneath the roofs of the open-air stalls.
“Citizen Adam de la Halle, present yourself to the magistrate,” a bailiff called out.
Adam thought the magistrate looked uneasy. After all, the man had little protection, as this was to be a minor sentencing for civil disobedience, not like a hanging or public beating that would bring crowds of townspeople and gens d’armes.
As Adam studied the magistrate’s face, something wet hit the man’s cheek. The magistrate glanced down, then up at the smithy. The smithy smiled, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand as if to claim victory for so accurate an aim. Someone in the crowd laughed, and Adam shifted, hoping the gathering mob would not resort to a riot in his defense and make matters worse.
The magistrate looked away, evidently having decided to ignore the smithy’s brazen challenge, and gave a sharp command to his guards. “Push these bystanders away. We’ve business to conduct.” He kicked a hapless mongrel that had wandered onto the platform. The crowd hushed as the hated official cast his eyes over the sea of faces.
Anxious to have done with the preliminaries, to learn his sentence, Adam squared his shoulders and stepped forward to stand near the platform. The magistrate’s gaze pinned him and he suddenly regretted his choice of clothes: a simple brown tunic and hooded cape. He had wanted to blend with the crowd and appear no different than an ordinary peasant come to market, but he would not grovel. In fact, he felt oddly defiant. After all, he had entertained royalty. His poetry was known throughout France.
“You, here. Are you the accused? Step forward, then, do you hear?” The magistrate pointed to a spot directly in front of him, his red brocade sleeves unfolding to show thick pink arms, mounds of flesh adorned with gold bracelets where his wrists would be.
Adam swallowed a reply. He dared not speak, as this court controlled the severity of his punishment and could change it at will. He felt a familiar embarrassing warmth rise on his neck, his ears, as it always did with irritation or discomfiture. Holding his head high he took another step forward, not blinking, the sun almost blinding him. He looked into those rheumy eyes, and remembered.
At court, not two months ago this fleshy little man with his bulbous countenance had sat grinning, watching the entertainment, fingering the neck of a young girl beside him. Adam recalled the silent endurance, her rigid posture in contrast with the man’s contentment. Like her, he was at the magistrate’s mercy. Did the man thrive on others’ discomfort? Obviously he had misled the Paris officials, convinced them he could enforce the collection of taxes, in a village where no one knew who was in charge.
The townspeople crowded behind Adam, hardly breathing, waiting, like him, to see what rebuke would come from the lips of this hated intruder.
A clerk handed another scroll to the magistrate. He unrolled the parchment and held it before him, the sun glinting from golden rings on his stubby fingers, and read. “By the order of Le bailli d’Arras et Les magistrats urbain, bearing in mind the accused is from a family respected in Arras, the following is hereby ordered: For aiding those who would knowingly withhold fair taxes levied upon certain households by the honorable town magistrates, and for encouraging these same households to defy the lawful collectors of funds to support the sacred cause of our beloved King Louis’s crusade, we sentence him to a period of four months’ exile in Douai, where he will be imprisoned for the duration of his exile.”
Hisses arose from the crowd like a swarm of bees driven from their hive. Catcalls interrupted the magistrate, becoming louder, spreading across the square, first from the baker, followed by the card reader, the fish merchant, the dealer in wines, the stableman.
The magistrate lifted his pudgy face and waited, looking from beneath his hooded lids at Adam,then blinked in recognition. His lips trembled; sweat broke out on his upper lip and he blotted his face with his sleeve.
Adam experienced a moment’s satisfaction. The man now recognized him as a friend of the royal family.
The magistrate lowered his head and continued reading, evidently trying to ignore the insistent objections of the townspeople which had become loud enough almost to drown out his words. “By the authority of King Louis, this fourteenth day of April in the year of our Lord twelve hundred sixty-five.”
He laid the parchment on the table and spoke in low tones to the guards. They nodded. Near Adam, a clerk unrolled a document and signaled him to sign.
While he wrote his name, a shadow fell across the parchment. Adam looked up. The magistrate’s two guards grinned down at him. One held a coil of rope.