Steam rose from a fire-blackened cauldron resting on a bright log fire; thin wisps of smoke and vapour surged upwards to disappear among the leaves of ancient oak trees. It was peaceful in that small forest glade, no breeze disturbed the tranquility. The village dogs slumbered in supine positions, sated by their glut of bones from last night’s feast.
Mediaeval England was a dangerous place to live in. Bands of outlaws roamed the woods, stealing whatever they could find and molesting the women. Luckily the dogs usually set up a racket when strangers approached, so villagers could reach for their arms to thwart any attack by these rogues. I wondered if the dogs could possibly react today. The lazy curs slept soundly on this morning.
Our village consisted of a few wattle shelters with dirt floors and a central hearth for heat. The buildings gave little shelter from severe weather and even less if marauders descended upon us, intent on pillage and rape. The Norman overlords taxed us Saxons heavily, forcing us to rebel. Already an armed band, led by Robin in the Hood controlled the forests around Nottingham.
To save ourselves from excessive smoke, a communal fire outside the buildings served as a means of cooking in good weather. Small game was skinned and gutted, then roasted over embers after being skewered on a green stick.
We lived on what we could gather from the forest; the king’s deer, rabbits, squirrels, an occasional hedgehog and wild birds. Trout brought a change in diet when there was sufficient water in the streams. Plants, berries and nuts augmented our few meals, but there were times when our foraging provided little and we were forced to find other means to assuage our hunger.
Under the feudal system we tilled and planted the ground around our feudal lord’s home. What small portions of grain he gave us was insufficient for our needs, so we stole an equal amount whenever we could.
When starvation threatened, we thought about boiling lone wayfarers. Fortunately for the proposed victims, this practice had not transpired. It was now fall and the forests teemed with life and there was plenty of food available. Today I was about to cook four small objects I had found and it was time for me to practice my culinary expertise.
“How be ‘ee?” Mary’s voice startled me.
“Oi be good, darlin’.” I replied, turning around to watch her sidle towards me.
Mary was George’s wife. I coveted her, but George was an immense man with a bad temper and I forced my lust to subside. She was an attractive older wench, and she still had a few blackened teeth left. I also had strong feelings for their young daughter, Leah.
Just at that moment George drew his bulky frame out of his hut, He was followed by Leah. He cast a venomous look at me as they passed on their way to reap the cornfields nearby. Mary fell in beside her husband, eyes downcast, but ogling me with sidelong glances. My desire suddenly heightened. Then they were gone and I was left with my cauldron.
My romantic interest in other women was usually thwarted by Maude, my companion for the past several years. She had ruined most of my attempts at liaisons with the village girls. Maude was especially vigilant whenever I left the ale house after drinking a few flagons of mead.
The cauldron’s bubbles increased as the water came to a boil. I lifted my ingredients and plunged them deep into the frothing maelstrom. No scream came: no cry of agony shattered the peace and quiet. The objects rolled around at the bottom of the pot slowly, and in ever changing directions. Sometimes they would touch and move around in a macabre dance.
Maude and I would devour two each when they were ready, but Lord help me if I failed to cook them properly as Maude’s temper was worse than George’s.
My reverie took me into the foreseeable future, as I wondered how we would survive the coming winter. Food was ample at the moment, but the abundance of nuts and berries on trees and bushes foretold a harsh winter was at hand.
I could smell something scorching. It must be smoke from the fire, I thought. The odour was familiar, but definitely not firewood. What could it be? I shrugged my shoulders in dismissal and returned to my thoughts.
I should have kept my mind on the task at hand, because a terrible, ear shattering scream erupted and, in an instant, I was suddenly transported to the environs of the twenty-first century. Several centuries passed within a split second. Gone were the glade, the dogs and the cauldron and I saw a saucepan on the stove and smoke billowing from my electric toaster.
Maude was extremely agitated and vented her anger on me
“Can’t you smell the toast burning? And those eggs have been boiling for five minutes, I hate them hard boiled and you know it.”
I had felt contentment in that glade. Tomorrow, before Maude wakes up, I may return.