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'Here's a better way,  Bear said into my ear. 'When I tell you to - when we're close to the gate - start playing the pipe. I ll
dance.
'But won't that make them pay more attention!' I said.
'Do as I say, he said, but in so terse a fashion I dared not question him.
Instead, we edged along. Just as we approached the gate - and the soldiers - Bear said, 'Begin.
I hastily made the sign of the cross over my heart, called on St Giles to protect me and, with trembling fingers, took up the
recorder and began to play. Bear began to beat his drum and dancer People turned to look. There were smiles on their faces
and, from some, applause. That included the soldiers.
We fairly well danced our way up to the gate and through the town walls with not so much as an unkind look from anyone.
'Well done, said Bear with a palpable sigh of relief as we entered Great Wexly itself.
If I had been amazed by what I'd seen on the road, I was more astonished once within Great Wexly. For we had hardly passed
through the gate when I saw more people - men, women, and children - in that one moment than I had seen in all my life
together. First the din that burst upon my ears was beyond belief. People were shouting, calling, arguing, laughing, selling
their wares to any and all from where they stood, Wandering water carriers were proclaiming what they sold. So were those
who offered apples, lavender or ribbons.
It was hard to know who was taking to whom. It all appeared to my eyes and ears like a flock of crows screaming at one
another in a crowded held of new-threshed wheat.
No, it was more like a dense forest, not of trees, but of people. For we could not walk straight, but had to weave our way
along, constantly bumping and banging into others.
In Stromford Village you could not pass anyone without knowing them and receiving some nod of greeting, perhaps a
grunted word or two. Even I received such notice. There, strangers were as rare as shooting stars and just as portentous. But
though Bear and I were strangers to Great Wexly - and I a wolf's head - no one seemed to care, though they did glance at
Bear, if only on account of his size.
Still, what assaulted my senses more than anything - aside from the sheer numbers of people of all ages and the ensuing
cacophony - was the stench that filled the air, rotting goods, food, dung, manure, human slop and swill, mixed together into
such a ghastly brew as to make me want to swoon.
In my village, refuse was heaved behind our houses. In Great Wexly, foulness lay on the wide road where we walked. This
road was no longer earth and mud, but laid out in stone. A filth-filled gutter - like an open gut - ran down its middle. Even as
we passed, I saw house shutters opened and muck heaved out on the street, sometimes dousing passers-by, to the hilarity of
those watching, arousing fury from the victims.
Nor was it only people I saw, but animals, pigs, chickens, geese, dogs - and rats - all of which scurried among the crowds
with as little thought to people as the people seemed to give to them.
Pressing in on the crowded, narrow streets were looming walls of dose-built buildings, structures two, sometimes three
storeys high, with slate, not thatch roofs. These houses were, for the most part, built of timber beams with pale mortar filling
in between the wood. Here and there stood stone buildings of even grander proportions. Many houses had their upper storeys
built so that they extended over the narrow streets, blotting out the sky.
The houses had countless windows, mostly with shutters but some with glass, more than I had ever seen before. As for doors,
I did not think the world had so many. These people, I thought, must live their lives by little more than entries and exits.
And again, on many places there was black doth draped with intertwining ribbons of blue and gold. I asked Bear what it
meant.
This time he replied. 'Someone important has died.' From numerous buildings hung great wooden images of things, a pig
here, a helmet there, a fish, a jacket, a hoop, even a sheaf of wheat. These - as I was to discover - were emblems to inform
passers-by of the nature of the business or goods made or sold therein. Tradesmen simply lowered their shutters to the streets,
making a kind of shelf from which they marketed their goods. As for sleeping and eating, people did that in the first- or
second-floor solars.
There was so much to see, I had barely looked at one thing before I felt compelled to look at yet another. Indeed, there were
so many objects to look at that if I had had ten eyes I could not have seen them all. It made my head ache. [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]