Wolf Wood (Part One)
that chilly April morning, the new stonework shone brightly in the crisp light of a
She wore a warm gown with a badge that identified her as the matron of the
parish almshouse. She had recently arrived in Sherborne from the convent in
nearby Shaftsbury. Her friends, Elizabeth and John Baret, had arranged for her to
take up the appointment.
They had rescued her from a situation that was becoming unbearable. Alice was
a free thinker and that was something you kept quiet about if you lived in a convent.
She knew Latin and Greek and had taught herself Arabic.
Arabic was strictly forbidden but she was prepared to take the risk. The language
of the Moslem unbelievers had opened up a whole new world. The Arabs were
skilled at healing. She had trained as a midwife and was intent on using her new
knowledge to save the many poor women who died in childbirth.
She was on her way to All Hallows, which was a church-like building attached to
the west end of the abbey. A crowd was gathered there. From the sprinkling
entering the porch, it was evident that today's congregation was handpicked. Apart
from the distinguished guests and their attendants, they were solid, respectable
townsfolk who could be relied upon to behave.
The Easter Service always aroused passions. The abbey owned most of the town
and the abbot interfered in the daily lives of the people . To their immense
annoyance, he even extracted a fee for baptisms. They were not allowed to have a
font in All Hallows. Instead, they had to pay to use the font in the abbey nave.
Easter was the time when the peasants flocked into town from the surrounding
countryside. They brought produce for sale at the Easter Fair and got drunk on the
proceeds. They also brought their babies for baptism. The ceremony was always a
noisy affair. A band heralded the infants into the bosom of Christ and its members
took every opportunity to stir up resentment towards the abbey. Last year, its antics
resulted in a near riot.
A crowd of peasants was gathered on the abbey green. It was early in the day
and they were relatively sober. Alice saw Elizabeth Baret amongst them. She was
with another woman, whom she recognised as Lady Margaret Gough. Dressed in
their smart gowns, the two women stood out like brightly coloured birds amongst the
dull greys and browns of cottage homespun.
Alice felt a tinge of alarm. Elizabeth had told her that Lady Margaret wanted to be
with the women when they took their babies to the font. It looked as if she was
determined to carry out her wish. She turned to the vicar, who was standing nearby.
'Can't you do something about it, Vicar?'
'About what, Sister?'
'The band. It's hardly appropriate for a christening.'
'The baptismal band is part of a time-honoured tradition.'
'But the drums and trumpets … they sound like an army on the march. The
brothers find it offensive. There have been occasions when they have feared for
'I'm sure there is no reason for that.'
'We are worried about what Lady Margaret might think.'
'You are surely aware that she is here to make a donation for the new almshouse.
What will you tell your fellow trustees if she changes her mind?'
Alice turned her attention to a group of men on the abbey green. They had
musical instruments but didn't look as if they were about to take part in a religious