Pagan's Daughter, p.1Catherine Jinks
First published in 2006
Copyright © Catherine Jinks, 2006
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National Library of Australia
Jinks, Catherine, 1963—.
ISBN 174114 769 7.
1. Albigenses – Juvenile fiction. 2. Heresies, Christian – Juvenile
fiction. 3. Languedoc (France) – Juvenile fiction. I. Title.
Cover and text design by Zoe Sadokierski
Set in 12pt Celestia Antiqua by Midland Typesetters, Australia
Printed in Australia by McPherson’s Printing Group
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Teachers’ notes available from www.allenandunwin.com
To Emma and Molly Jinks, the new girls
Table of Contents
I’ve killed the chicken.
How could I have killed it? How could this have happened? I wasn’t trying to kill it—I was trying to shut it up, the stupid thing! What was I supposed to do? Let it squawk away until they found me?
It’s all floppy now, like a bolster that’s lost most of its stuffing. Did I squeeze it too hard? Did I smother it by putting my hand around its beak? This is bad. I’m in so much trouble. If Gran ever finds out about this, I’ll be eating wool-grease and nutshells for a month.
But she won’t find out. She won’t. I’m going to hold my breath, and keep quite still, and with any luck . . . with any luck . . .
They’re nowhere near this fowl-house. I can hear their footsteps; they’re poking around behind the broad beans. Rustle, rustle. Mumbling to each other in some strange language that must be Latin. I’ve heard people praying in Latin, and it’s all ‘um’ and ‘us’, like the stuff I’m hearing now. They say that monks speak Latin to each other, and these men are probably monks. Or priests. I wouldn’t know. I didn’t stand still long enough to get a good look at them.
Let your breath out slowly, Babylonne. That’s it. Very slowly. Very quietly. There are feathers every-where, stuck to my skirt and my sleeves and my hair. Please God don’t let me sneeze. Please God keep the feathers away from my nose.
Please God keep those priests away from this fowl-house.
I’m very sorry that I killed the chicken. I honestly didn’t mean to. I was only looking for eggs, because eggs aren’t animals. I mean, you can’t really kill an egg, can you? Eating an egg isn’t like eating a chicken. Not as far as I’m concerned. There might be a chicken inside the egg somewhere, but if this world is truly the Devil’s realm—as Gran says—then you’re doing that chicken a great service, aren’t you? Making sure that it never hatches?
Wait a moment. Those footsteps: are they coming closer, or moving away? I think . . . I think . . .
They’re moving away.
Listen hard, Babylonne. Is that a door creaking? It is. I know it is. There’s a door almost directly opposite the fowl-house I’m sitting in. It must be the door to the cloister. Those priests must have gone back into their cloister.
To fetch some more priests, do you think? Or have they decided that the chickens were making a fuss about nothing?
It’s lucky that I’m so small. They probably weren’t expecting someone my size. If they had been, they would have had a good look inside this fowl-house, instead of just glancing through the door. Whoever did that, he couldn’t have seen much. He couldn’t have seen me, crushed into this corner. Oh please, please don’t be suspicious. Please don’t come back. Just go away and eat up your pork and your cheese and your honey, and forget about the eggs. Would you really miss a few eggs? You’d hardly have room for an egg in those great, swollen guts of yours—not after all the roasted peacocks and spiced pigeons and sugar cakes and whatever else it is that you pack into your paunches, day after day, while the rest of us live on bones and millet.
Swinish, bloated, greasy idolaters that you are. It’s a wonder you saw me at all over the swell of your own enormous bellies.
I think they’ve gone. There isn’t a sound. And I should make a move now, in case they do come back. Take it slowly, Babylonne. Carefully . . . quietly . . . don’t disturb the chickens. The other chickens. The ones who can still enjoy a nice dust-bath before bedtime.
Not like poor old Floppy, here.
The fowl-house door is only slightly bigger than my head. Beyond it, the sun blazes down onto rows and rows of peas and beans, leeks, marrows, strawberries, all laid out like a feast on a table. I tell you, these priests of Rome eat like kings. How dare they make a fuss over one poor egg?
Anyway, it’s their own fault. If one of those evil priests hadn’t dug himself a secret hole under the garden wall (probably in search of women, because all gluttons have hot blood), then I would never have come in here, would I? I would never have been tempted. They can thank their own unbridled lusts if they lose a few eggs. It’s not stealing when you take from priests of Rome. Men who call themselves holy should be fasting, not feasting.
Hmmm. No one to the right. No one to the left. There’s the door to the cloister, straight in front of me across the feathery vines, and it’s standing open. That means the priests might be coming back.
I’d better run the other way. Off you go, Babylonne. One, two, three, go!
I’d better head for the— ‘Haah!’
‘Thieving whore!’ (Where did he—? How did he—? It’s as if he sprang out of the ground!) ‘Give me that chicken!’
You want this chicken?
‘Yowch!’ It hits him full in the face. But he’s blocking my way; I can’t reach the hole that I got in through.
The door behind me is my only chance.
‘Get her! Stop her!’
‘Come here, you whore!’
Fat, fat, fat. They lumber like cows. I’m trampling all the green shoots, but I can’t help it—I have to reach the doo
Through the door! Whirl around! Pull it shut, and there’s a latch! A latch! It’s as good as a lock!
The door shudders beneath the weight of a hurtling priest. But it’s sturdy. It’s oak. It won’t give way.
‘Open this door!’ Pounding fists. ‘Open this door!’
I’m sorry, are you talking to me? You and what armoured warrior, my fat friend?
Quick glance around. There’s no movement. I’m in a cloister—it’s very big—with a well in the centre of the square courtyard, and a row of columns on each of its four sides. The columns are carved with snarling, painted beasts coiled about their tops. There are doors, too, behind the columns. Lots of doors. Most of them shut.
How am I going to escape?
The church. I can see it straight ahead, on the other side of the cloister courtyard, rearing up to block the sky. If I can get into the church, I can certainly get out of it. The church of St Etienne is open to all the people of Toulouse, all the time. I just have to work out which door I should use.
‘Open up! Do you hear me?’ (Thump, thump.) ‘OPEN UP!’
I can’t stay. Someone will hear that noise, and come running. Where are the other priests? Not in church, I hope.
Now. Take a right turn. Go!
Ouch! Ah! What happened? Where am I? I must have hit something and . . . I’m on the floor. The floor is dark stone, worn shiny. There’s a soft leather boot under a trailing black hem.
And a face, too. Staring down at me. A thin face, as white as milk. (White with shock?) A long nose. Pale, stricken eyes. Blood on his scalp.
No, not blood. Red hair.
‘Who—who are you?’ he croaks. He’s holding his stomach; I must have hurt him when I bumped into him.
I have to get away.
‘No! Wait!’ He catches my arm. Let go! Get off!
But he’s strong. He’s so strong. I can’t shake him loose. Can’t bite those long, white fingers, either, because he shifts his grip. He grabs my collar.
Bang! Bang! ‘Open the door! There’s a thief! A thief!’
Curse those fat priests! Smite them with the pox on their piddlers, oh God, please help me! When I lash out with my foot, the thin priest sidesteps. He’s still clutching my collar.
‘Shh!’ he hisses. ‘Calm down! Get in there! Hide in there!’
Who—? What—? Is he talking to me? One quick shove and suddenly I’m in a room off the cloister walk. A round room full of benches and hung with fine tapestries.
‘Get behind that hanging!’ he whispers. ‘Go on! Quick!’
I can’t believe it. Tapestries! Great, glittering things covered in gold stars and flying beasts. Beautiful things, like windows into heaven. But they’re too long for the walls, so I can burrow into the bunched folds piled up behind one of the benches.
It’s dark and damp and stuffy. The silk smells almost like singed hair. I can hear his voice in the distance—the redhead’s voice.
‘A girl?’ he’s saying. ‘Yes, I think I saw someone, but I didn’t know it was a girl.’
‘She went that way. Through that door.’
My pepper. If all else fails, I still have my pepper. Fiddling with the strings of my purse, I strain my ears, trying to make out what’s happening. Why did he hide me, that red-headed priest? Why hide me, if he was just going to turn around and betray me? But perhaps he won’t betray me. I can’t hear any footsteps. There are voices, but the voices are fading.
Unless I’m wrong, that redhead has sent his friends off in the wrong direction.
I can guess why, too. I’m not stupid. I know what priests are like. (I ought to, after what happened to my own mother.) Who hasn’t heard all the stories about priests lifting skirts? Besides which, I just crawled through a hole that must have been dug by a sinful priest. By a sinful priest in search of women.
By the red-headed priest, perhaps?
But I’m not a whore. If he tries to force me, I’ll scratch his eyes out. I just have to keep my wits about me. I have to be quick, and clever. Once upon a time there was a brave and beautiful princess who escaped from a locked tower guarded by a hundred venomous serpents ...
The tapestry is twitched from my hand. There’s light again—light and air. How did he come so close? Why didn’t I hear him?
‘It’s all right,’ he says softly, stepping back as I scramble to my feet. He’s still pushing the stiff, heavy cloth to one side. (He’s so tall! He’s like a tower!) ‘You’re safe for the moment. I’ve sent them off to the kitchens,’ he continues. ‘But we don’t have much time. Nones is nearly over; they’ll all be leaving the church. You must come to the guest house, and we can talk there.’
You must think I’ve got bowels where my brains should be.
‘Please.’ His voice cracks. He sounds desperate— almost frightened. I don’t like the look on his face. You’d think he was going to faint, or something. ‘Please,’ he says, ‘you must come, we have to talk, you don’t understand—’
Whoosh! I hit him square in the eye with my handful of pepper, and dodge his swinging arm. He shouts, but I’m out of the room already. Running for the door into the garden—and it’s ajar! It’s standing ajar!
Through the door. Over the cabbages. Past the fowl-house. Threading between the bean-stakes and . . .
. . . into the hole.
I’m safe, now. I’m safe.
They’ll never find me, if I keep my head down.
Grandmother Blanche is asleep downstairs.
She’s sitting in the big, carved chair that she brought from Laurac, her head thrown back and her mouth wide open. She’d look dead if it wasn’t for the snoring.
She has a snore like an armoured corpse being dragged across dry cobblestones.
‘Babylonne? Is that you?’
Curse it. Those are Aunt Navarre’s feet, up there at the top of the ladder. She’s coming down from the loft— and I’ll never make it to my bed in time.
I’ll have to slip the egg into Gran’s bed. There. Like that.
Not a moment too soon.
‘Babylonne! Where have you been?’ Aunt Navarre is in a foul mood. (As usual.) Her back must be bothering her again. ‘You’re late!’ she spits. ‘What have you been doing? Idling? Gawking?’
‘Don’t lie to me!’
‘I’m not.’ Quick, Babylonne. Think. Think. ‘I’m late because a friar was preaching near the Croix Baragnon, and the crowd was so great that it blocked the street, and I had to go around.’
‘Around? Around what? It wouldn’t have taken you that long to come through Rouaix Square.’
‘No, no, I went further than that. I took the Street of Joutx-Aiques, and went past La Daurade. I had to, because the friar was talking in such a loud voice that I thought I might hear some pestiferous lies of the Roman Church if I went through Rouaix Square.’
‘Hmmph.’ She’s suspicious, but she can’t catch me out. So she raises her voice above Gran’s snores, and asks about the money.
‘Here. It’s here.’ When I pull the money out of the purse at my waist, she snatches it from me.
‘There wasn’t any trouble?’ she asks.
‘And he gave you no more wool?’
‘He says he’ll have some on Friday. He says he’ll pay the same price if we can have it spun by this time next week.’
Aunt Navarre sniffs. She goes to the big metal-bound chest in the corner, and opens it with the key that she always carries on her belt. She’s so jealous of that key. So jealous of that chest. If you even sit on it, she’ll lay into you with an iron pot.
I suppose it’s her last link with the old life. The only thing that she saved from the Ancestral Home at Laurac, apart from Gran’s chair. Personally, I was glad to turn my back on Laurac. I didn’t want to spend my life mouldering away
Toulouse is my spiritual home. I might not have been born here, but I belong here. Toulouse has twenty thousand people in it. Twenty thousand people! It’s busy and it’s bright and it’s also very brave. It won’t bend its knee to the French King. Not now. Not ever. Toulouse will never belong to France.
‘Where is everyone?’ This place seems so empty. ‘Where’s Sybille?’
‘Sybille and Berthe have gone to fetch water,’ Navarre replies. ‘Dulcie’s upstairs. And it’s almost time to eat, so you’d better start soaking your grandmother’s bread.’
‘What are we having?’
‘What do you think?’ A sharp retort, like a trap springing shut. ‘It’s a fast day, remember?’
Ugh. Fast days. How I hate them. But it could be worse. It could be Dulcie’s turn to cook. Dulcie’s idea of cooking is to assault the nearest turnip with a big stick and a jug of boiling water. I suppose, since she spends so much time mortifying her own flesh, she believes that we should all be mortifying ours as well.
I’m beginning to wonder if she really did leave her husband. If you ask me, it’s more likely that her husband left her—because he couldn’t bear to eat another glutinous lump of mysterious grey stuff.
Oops! And here she is in person. Dulcie Faure. Climbing down from the loft with a smug expression on her long ferret’s face. Sure enough, she’s moving stiffly. Like someone who’s just given herself a brisk beating with a willow switch.
I’d punch her in the nose, except that she’d probably enjoy it. She’d raise her pop-eyes to Heaven and offer up her suffering to the Lord. I always thought that Aunt Navarre was pious, but since Dulcie arrived I’ve been forced to reconsider. I don’t think even Navarre ever slept with her head on a river rock.
‘Wake up, Mother.’ Navarre gently prods Gran’s chest. ‘It’s time to eat.’
‘I’ll join you at the table,’ Dulcie announces, as if she’s bestowing on us all a gift without price, ‘though I won’t eat. Not today.’
‘You must eat something,’ Navarre frowns. ‘If you don’t, you’ll make yourself ill.’
Pagan's Daughter by Catherine Jinks / Fantasy / Young Adult / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes