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Dom's House


Hello there! After a week of running about (figuratively) between hospitals and dentists, I am truly tired. but then, to allay my weariness, I have been getting on with my new story, which I am enjoying muchly.

Now, for those of you au fait with the period in which I am writing, I trust you will remember that it is an Alternate Reality, and although most of the historical details are true, there are some that are patently not.

If you have questions, do feel free to ask me. Having said that - I do hope you enjoy reading it. Huggles.






Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] ladysunrope for beta. :D


Part One


The Prologue


The newly and quickly re-titled Reverend - once Father -Charles Poulton, forty-three, balding, and inclined to fat, had been very thankful that his second name was Isaac. When Parliament began to be the force in the land, and Cromwell's troops drew even nearer to the staunchly Royalist village of Middlecombe, he advised his flock to quickly put away their frills and lace, and to cultivate a more sober demeanour. He also reminded them all to change any name that might be thought to have connections with the newly executed king, the disgraced traitorous heretic, Charles the First.

Biblical names were thought appropriate, and the Reverend Isaac Poulton spent a hurried hour scouring the Bible, and writing out lists of names for the mainly illiterate villagers to choose from.

The daughter of the village smith, unfortunately christened Henrietta after the exiled queen, had selected the name of Abishag (the daughter of Ahab), as her new appellation, saying it sounded well in her ears. Her doting father, not to be outdone, chose to be called Ahab, saying there was a precedent for it already in the family.

Therefore, long before the first troop of soldiers drew up outside the church, Master Poulton was satisified. Besides the renaming of the congregation, he had hidden the church gold, silver statues and paintings in the priest's hole at the manor house of his obliging cousin, and had had his housekeeper, Mistress Worthing, exchange the lace, both on his vestments and everyday clothing to something less decorative and more in keeping with the Puritan mind.

The troopers, when they arrived, keen for plunder, were most disappointed at the stark, unembellished interior of the chapel, displaying no silver or gold crosses or chalices that could be melted down for booty. There was not even a crucifix to trample upon. Their more tolerant and law-abiding captain, frowning his men down, said that he was glad to see a man of God comport himself in a plain manner amongst plain surroundings.


Isaac, inviting Captain Lewis into his house, was glad in his heart that there was nothing about his newly stripped home that could engender charges of popery, and hoped that his best silver would not spoil in its newly dug home under the apple trees.

***

Several years passed, and on the day in question, Isaac, closing the church door carefully after the evening service, put on his plain black hat, mounted his sturdy pony, and made his way to the manor house by invitation of its present incumbent, who had been sold the house after Isaac's cousin had died, four years previously.

Master Monaghan and Isaac had become good friends, for, although belonging to different sides, neither tried to convince the other that he was headed for hell-fire. Indeed, they found much pleasure in each other's company, discussing the world of nature, of science, and literature.

The young man had paid for the manor, together with the antique furnishings, he had told Isaac, with a modest inheritance gained from his father. He hoped a small home-farm could provide for his simple needs, and indeed it had supported him well, despite several depredations from chance troops of soldiers from both sides of the conflict, every man-jack of them desperate, famished, and in want of succour.

It was a fairly commodious house, having upwards of twenty five rooms, all of them well-sized, especially the Great Hall, and set in sylvan surroundings. Isaac was very pleased to go there and visit Dom whenever he found the leisure to do so.

As he traversed the leafy lanes between his house and the manor, Isaac's mind was on his dinner - for Dom's Mistress Robbins was a far better cook than Isaac's poor Mistress Worthing - when his reveries upon roast lamb and rosemary were interrupted by a voice calling out to him from the undergrowth.

"Are you a man of God, sir, as your dress proclaims?" a hoarse voice asked from the depths of the green branches lining the lane.

Isaac pulled up his mount. "I am generally accounted to be a godly man," he said to the evening air, for no-one was visible, "but I must tell you I am not a rich one. I have no jewels, gold, or even coin on me, except for the two pennies I will tip the groom at the manor for the stabling of my old Susan here."

A tall, black haired, swarthy looking young man, in dirty, but plain grey clothing emerged from the bushes. He looked bone-weary, and over-watched. "Will you help my master, reverend sir? He has taken a ball in the shoulder, and is like to die if no-one will help him," he said in a quiet voice.

Isaac slid off the pony, and, tying the reins to a branch, followed the man into the darkness. He did not know if his plea of poverty had been accepted, but if he was about to be robbed, the assailants would soon know he had spoken nothing but the truth.

The man stopped, and Isaac saw, by a shaft of light shining through a gap in the foliage, a man lying wrapped a cloak.

Still thinking it might be a trap, he hesitated to move forward, but the man groaned, and tried to push the cloak from him. "I must get up!" a weak voice managed, "We cannot stay..."

"Sir," the servant said, kneeling at the sick man's side, "here is a minister who might help us. Peace, now! Say no more, I beg you. Conserve your strength."

"What strength might that be, friend? Any I had has long deserted me. If this helper be a Digger or a Leveller, or a Ranter, mind, I shall not go with him."

The man struggled to uncover his face, but his hand fell weakly to his side. "I will not be preached to upon my death bed, mark you, Master Minister, by any fanatic." The voice, still partially muffled by the cloak, was that of a well-spoken young man. It had an autocratic tone to it, and Isaac would have found his style of speech amusing if the time and situation were more convenient.

The servant turned to Isaac. "Will you help us, sir?" he said, then mouthed, "he will die, else."

Isaac could see nothing of the wounded man except his small, delicate bloodied fingers, clutching the cloak edge. He had had enough of wars and killings, and the general despising of mankind who were not moulded in the selected pattern. He came to a quick decision, surprising even himself.

"Yes," he said, "I will."

***

Dominic Monaghan, or Dom, as he was now called, waited in the hall for his dining companion. He had refused to change his name entirely, saying that he was a well-known supporter of the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, and should not be thought a traitor merely for bearing a popish name.

He caught sight of himself in a mirror. Of average height, and trim form, his blond streaked hair cut in a practical crop that barely came under his ears. He was dressed in sober black, relieved only by a white collar of startling plainness, and the engraved silver buckles on his shoes. He had vehemently resisted them being exchanged for plain pewter ones by the anxious cobbler who delivered them. It was bad enough, Dom had stated firmly, to be obliged to drink out of pewter these days, but he was damned if he would wear any.

His plump little housekeeper-cum-cook, Mrs Parthenope Robbins had gasped at the impiety, and whispered that he should be more circumspect in his use of colourful language before others.

"Why should I, indeed, Mistress? When, so I hear, someone's God has damned many to a burning hell for far lesser crimes than the occasional oath. I hear a man was hanged at Norward for singing a hymn."

This was so unanswerable, that Mistress Robbins hurried off to baste the lamb, and to see how the cider was coming on. A glut of apples that year had made it obligatory to make as much of the drink as was seemly –watered down, of course - for a God-fearing household. Besides, she thought, indignantly, anyone who did not know by now that singing - hymns or not - was said by Parliamentarians to be the work of the devil was a dunderhead.

Dom was near enough to the door to have answered the peremptory knock that he thought must be Isaac Poulton, but he would not answer it. His only indoor male servant, Will Boyd, would have thought it beneath his master's dignity to attempt so mean a task as the opening of a door, so Dom stood at the foot of the wide oak staircase to welcome his guest.

As Will pulled the thick oak open, the Reverend Master Poulton almost fell in, followed hotly by a tall man carrying a tightly wrapped bundle, which was obviously a small body, its long dark curls hanging free through the one gap in the materials.

"What has come to her?" Dom asked, shocked to the core.

"Her? came an outraged voice, weak but indignant, almost smothered in cloth. It was obviously not a woman's voice. "Her? God's teeth! You insult me, sir!"

The servant pulled back the cloth from his master's face. The injured man gazed, outraged, up into a face he did not know - a man who bent over him; a plain-visaged man with short hair and a pleasant, if severe expression. "God's blood!" the bundled one remarked in an even weaker tone. "A curst Roundhead!" Then he fainted clean away.

"You will excuse my master, sir," the servant said, apologising in a voice that held more than a hint of fear. "He is not himself."

Isaac prodded Dom with a long, bony finger. "Why do you stand there gawping, Dom? Will you help him, or not? Forget that he be a Malignant, see only a wounded man! For, if you refuse, I must take him elsewhere. Yet I doubt he will survive if he gets no treatment soon."

The emphasis was on the word 'soon'. Mrs Robbins had bustled out of the kitchens at the sound of the to-do, but when she saw what was held in the tall man's arms, whether the wounded was a Royalist traitor or not, her motherly instincts were aroused. They could not think of handing him over to the authorities until he was recovered.

The wounded man was young and very handsome despite his extreme pallor. Her heart was touched - she looked to her master for guidance.

Dom shrugged. "Take him up to my chamber, Isaac. Will, show them the way. It is the only bed made up, except for Mistress Robbins's and Will's, and I doubt me that either of them would care to get their sheets bloodied."

"Mrs Robbins, you can make up the bed in the second best bedchamber for me after you have brought water and cloths upstairs. As soon as may be." he said, jerking his head towards the kitchens. "Bustle about, woman!"

The servant staggered up the stairs and through the door Will Boyd had opened, and deposited his master on the bed within moments of Will removing the upper bedding.

Dom followed at a leisurely pace behind the group, but when he saw the bundle placed, and the man's servant - nearly as exhausted as his master - fall to the floor beside the bed, he sent Will downstairs for cider and food.

"I pray you will pardon me, sirs," said the servant, rubbing his face with a trembling hand. "But it is many days since we have eaten, and..."

Isaac put a comforting hand on the man's shoulder, and helped him up. Close to, Isaac could see the man was younger than he had first thought - about thirty was his guess. He helped him up, and put him in a chair at the bedside.

"Sit there quietly, man. I will see to your master. Who is he, by the by?"

"Sir Elijah Wood, sir, of Bristol. I am Tom Bedford, his man. Thank you," he said, with real feeling as Will handed him a tankard of watered cider.

Isaac and Dom stood patiently, one each side of the bed, with Will leaning over the foot waiting for instructions. The man in the chair having drunk, and eaten a morsel of bread and meat was nearly asleep. Dom signed to Will to spread a blanket against the far wall, and there the man fell fast asleep, despite himself. Will covered him, and turned his attention to the bed.

"We ought to strip him. But how can we do so without occasioning him further harm?" Isaac pondered.

Dom had the answer. "Cut the clothing from him. No doubt it is fouled with blood, if nothing worse," he said, motioning Will to bring a knife.

The cloak being unwound, Sir Elijah was found to be wearing a dark green velvet wide-skirted coat edged with gold, and with etched gold buttons ornamenting its front, and matching breeches. His collar was six inches deep in best Brussels lace, and his torn and muddied stockings were of oyster coloured silk. There was a ring on his finger - an emerald of startling size and quality, and this Dom removed, placing it on a table beside the bed.

"We can pull off his breeches, that will be simple enough," Isaac commented, watching with concerned eyes, the patch of blood which reached from the jacket's collar to the waist.

Dom thought it was a shame to cut off such an elegant - and expensive - coat. It was well-made; fashioned to fit its wearer's form by a master tailor, but there was no other way to remove it.

When they had cut it off, as well as the underlying shirt, Dom could not help gasping with concern. The wound was large and deep, and still bled sluggishly as a piece of padded cloth was removed from it.

"I wonder if the ball is still in there, sirs?" Will asked. He tried to get the servant to tell them, but though he roused slightly to Will's shaking, he was too deep in exhaustion to reply.

"We can take it that it is still there, I think," Dom opined. "I cannot see how the jacket could have been removed to gain access to the wound."

Mrs Robbins brought in a pile of old linens, hot water, sundry other items and her best boning knife. Dom eyed this domestic utensil with misgiving, but Mistress Parthenope stated that she was very adept at boning chickens, if they wished her to attempt the ball's removal.

"Aye, you let her get at him, sirs. She knows what she is about with a boning knife," Will said. As none of the men had ever attempted to dig a ball out of a man's shoulder, it was judged best if Mistress Robbins tried.

She looked at the wound first, then demanded they pick up the unconscious man and show her his back. So competent did she seem, they had no hesitation in doing so.

"Yes," she said, with a satisfied smile. "It is just the same as that deer you shot, sir, last year. If you see this bruising, and feel just here, you will see the spent ball has travelled through the flesh and lodged under the skin at the back, as it did in the deer. We must trust that it has not hit a vital spot."

The three men looked at her, amazed, whilst she made a small incision in Sir Elijah's back, and after a bit of probing, brought forth the ball, intact.

"That's good!" she grinned, asking Will for some brandy to pour into the wounds. "The ball that killed the deer had shattered inside it, and I had to cut a haunch off it before I could retrieve all the fragments. This ball does not appear to have struck bone or lung, for which we should give thanks to God."

Isaac, unused to seeing so much blood, felt rather faint, so instead of praying, he sat on the foot of the bed, whilst Mistress Parthenope sewed up the wounds with thick linen thread. "Just like trussing a chicken," she said.

Dom, too surprised at her talents to say more than 'thank you', handed her the ruined clothing. After inspecting them briefly, she nodded, "I'll leave you to bathe him, sirs, or the lamb will spoil. I'll save the buttons off this coat - it is a pity to lose such workmanship."

She smiled at the three men, and felt an explanation was needed. "I have always thought that the art of chirugery was as close to that of being a good cook as could be, with all the boning, and cutting and stuffing bits back inside, and that," she said, sailing out of the room in fine fettle.

Isaac stood, glanced at Dom, and after rolling up their sleeves, they both set about cleaning their new charge.

*

Will sat with Elijah whilst Dom and Isaac went down to dinner. "We are very able to serve ourselves, man, if Mistress Robbins places the food on the side-board. I will come up and take a turn with him after Master Poulton has gone. I'll send up Hob with your food."

Hob, the groom, was good with horses, but a trifle simple-minded. It was not thought a good thing to allow him to take a turn watching the wounded man, so he ate his dinner, as always, in the stables, and retired to his warm bed in the straw as soon as Isaac had left.

Dom was surprised that he did not have more appetite for his dinner. He put it down to the sight of the injured man. When they had him stripped to wash, it was seen how very slender he was. Isaac had remarked that the two men must have been on short rations for some few days.

"I wonder how he came to be shot?" Dom pondered, as Isaac helped himself to more of the fragrantly delicious meat. "I do not think that dressed as he was, Sir Elijah - if that be his real name - was engaged in any serious skirmish. He was not dressed for fighting. Besides," Dom poured himself a glass of wine, "there has been no news of battle nearer here than fifty mile, and he could not have walked the distance with that ball in him."

Isaac dipped a morsel of bread into the gravy. "It appears that they were robbed. Where were their horses and baggage? They cannot have been walking long."

Dom looked up from his plate, startled. "Do you think so? There has been no news of highway robbers abroad, either. It will be interesting to speak to the servant, when he wakes."

They did not linger at the table after dinner. They sat beside the fire for an hour with some wine, talking things over, before Isaac left. As he was throwing on his cloak in the hallway, he said, "I will not tell Mistress Worthing of your visitors, Dom. You know how she likes to gossip. It would not do to have it generally known that you are harbouring Malignants."

Dom opened the door with something perilously near a grin on his mouth. "If I am discovered, I shall merely report that is was the Reverend Poulton brought them to me, and leave you to answer any charges of harbouring, my friend."

Promising to return the next day, Isaac rode off on his plump little pony, and Dom, rubbing his chin, climbed the stairs to see how his unwelcome charge was faring.

He found Will trying to get the man to drink. "He was wandering a little in his wits, sir, so I thought I'd take the chance of trying to get some cider down him. He looks fair bad, he does. Come on, now, sir, just another mouthful," he coaxed, and the man drank, thirstily.

Will, triumphant, put down the empty horn beaker. "There! He must be better for that."

Dom moved closer to the bed. The man was sweating gently, which was always a good sign, he thought. At least any fever he had, had broken. He waved Will away. "Go now, but bring me a jug of cider before you retire. Come at daybreak to relieve me. I will sleep until noon tomorrow, for there is no business for me to attend to."

Dom went over to the servant, who was snoring gently on the floor by the wall. The man did not appear to have moved at all. He would allow him to have his sleep out. There was no point in having so tired a man take a turn watching his master if he was to fall asleep over it.

Dom was not feeling tired, although it was already past ten. The excitement of the day had kept him alert. He wiped the sweat from the invalid’s face, and wondered idly whether he would live. The man was a Malignant, a follower of the dead king's son, Charles. Whether he would survive the night mattered not at all to Dom. It was a sense of Christian duty that would keep him that night at the sick man's side.

Dom sat in the chair beside the bed, and put his feet up on the counterpane.

Life or death - they would find that out soon enough.
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