Buzzards, Hawks and Ravens
(Account of Six Friend's Life in the "Dark" Age)
St. Michael's Market
- The Minstrels -
With chattering teeth and shivering in pain, the dark-haired boy was curled up in the arms of a heavily breathing woman clad in multi-coloured rope. With frightened eyes wide open he was staring at Ruwen. His tanned cheeks were streaked by dried tears and his right hand was clutching his dangling left arm.
"Where is the Wise Woman? We need help!" demanded the woman, "Please, she must help my sunny-boy!"
"He looks sick, what's happened to him?" Ruwen questioned the strange woman, "Aliah, the Wise Woman is out for the moment. I will try to help him!"
"But the blacksmith told me to look for the Wise Woman or the Healer, not for a boy!" she insisted, "He told me ask for the Healer!"
Ruwen smiled to himself, he was used not to be recognized as the Healer "Don't rattle on better tell me what happened, the boy needs help immediately!"
"We arrived yesterday night to perform at St. Michael's fair. A beam crashed down and hit his left arm while we unloaded our equipment. Everything seemed to be alright at first, but during the night my little boy started to writhe in pain and the pain got worse and worse. Please help! Where is the Wise woman, for God sake?"
Ruwen took the small boy out of the arms of his reluctant mother, carried him to the bed in the back of the hall and put him down. Carefully he tried to examine the hurt arm, touching it lightly and moving it cautiously.
The sobbing of the boy increased into a piercing weeping.
"Stop it, you hurt my boy! Where is the Wise Woman?"
"Aliah will be back in a moment!.............. Your boy has a broken arm!" patting the boy's cheeks, "Don't cry little man, I know that hurts like hell. Tell me your name; I would like to know it! How old are you?"
"I'm Mirza, I am five years old!" he answered with a hardly audible voice, "Will you help me, please? My arm hurts so much, please make the pain go away! Please!"
Aliah came limping into the room and turned to the mother, "You should have taken the boy to my place yesterday, a broken arm needs immediate attention!" and then, "Get going Ruwen, prepare a sleeping sponge and then fetch two wooden ledges for the splints and get Bastian, we have to be three for the splinting!"
The strange woman calmed down at Aliah's sight, because the old woman looked like a "Wise Woman" with her white hair, her hump-back and a crooked cane. She looked much more like a healer than the slender dark haired Ruwen in his farmer's outfit.
Ruwen retrieved a clean cloth from the drawer and soaked it with an essence of poppy seed, mandrake and henbane. Mirza looked suspicious and even more his mother, as Ruwen ordered him, "Suck the sponge! The potion will kill the pain and then the splinting of your arm will not hurt at all!"
Aliah noticed the doubtful look of the woman, "Are you Mirza's mother? Look woman, Ruwen is a healer too; he is still young, but you can trust him!"
Mirza looked anxiously, but at the smile of Ruwen he downed the sharply tasting liquid obediently. Next Ruwen prepared two splints of about the length of the boy's upper arm and then hurried home to fetch Bastian.
When Ruwen came back with Bastian trailing behind, the boy was already apathetic and had stopped crying. Together the three stretched the arm till the ends of the broken bone met in the right angle, then they put the arm into splints and Aliah wrapped it with bandages soaked in a mixture of egg white and flour to stabilize the bandage. Mirza's pain subsided immediately after the arm was splinted and he fell asleep soon.
After midday, Ruwen came back looking for his small patient. The strange boy was sitting on the bed and greeted Ruwen with a wary smile "Thank you Wise Man. I have no pain at all, thanks to your aid!" and bowing his head he added elegantly, "Thank you, great Wise Man!"
"Are you kidding? Call me Ruwen, nobody is calling me Wise Man, everyone is calling me by my first name, Ruwen!" Remembering his supper, Ruwen asked Mirza: "Are you hungry?"
Mirza rose from the bed and hugging the young healer with his right he replied, "Yes, I could devour a pig!"
"Will some bread and cheese do it instead, you little monster?"
The boy giggled and started to wolf down the offered food at once. With his mouth still full he inquired, "How much do I owe you Healer? I have only this small coin," with that Mirza pulled out a quarter of a penny and handed it to Ruwen, "I am a poor minstrel boy and my parents have neither gold nor silver."
"Keep your coin Mirza, and get well, quick. We sure will find a way to repay me!"
But Mirza insisted, "Please Healer tell me how can I repay you?"
The responsibility of the Midsummer Night Prince was not only care for the security of the village, but also the organization of festivities, especially the dances at the Fall, Winter and Spring solstice, and of the fair at St. Michael's day at the last weekend in September. The fair was of great importance for the whole county. Being two Midsummer Night Princes this year had the great advantage that the responsibilities could be carried by four strong shoulders and by two quick brains. Ruwen and Bastian had split the responsibilities according to their special abilities. Ruwen, who was able to write and read, had taken over the sourcing and invitation of traders, the theatre company, and artists, like tightrope walkers and fire-breathers, from near and far; while Bastian, being more down to earth, was managing the preparations at the village green and the trouble free realization of the fair.
Yesterday night the long-awaited theatre company had arrived. So far Ruwen hadn't had time to check for the travellers, mainly because of his never ending job as a healer and midwife. Taking advantage of Mirza's accident he decided for an immediate visit at the village green. He took Mirza by the hand and walked down.
The travelling company had arranged their three small wagons in a half circle at the upper end of the village green. A wide stage for the plays was already set up in front of the wagons and a small stand for the band of Gypsies at the right. Mirza dragged Ruwen to the wagon at the left.
As soon as Mirza's mother noticed her little son arriving with Ruwen she rushed over and produced a curtsey, "Thank you Wise Man! Forgive my ignorance; I haven't met such a young healer before and I have travelled the world from Rome in the South up to London in the North, from Constantinople in the East to Paris in the West!"
A slender dark-haired man turned up behind her. He bowed deeply and added, "I have heard of you and your brother, the chosen ones, the Midsummer Night Princes! Thank you for inviting my theatre company to perform at the fair... Welcome my Midsummer Night Prince to my humble place!" and with this words he tried to usher Ruwen into his wagon.
Ruwen blushed deeply. He really wondered why Bastian and he were such celebrities! He retorted with a light bow, "Thank you Sir, but we are just simple farmer boys and I am glad I was able to help Mirza. Congratulation, you have a very brave son."
Mirza beamed, "Are you really a prince? I never have touched one, less walked with one hand in hand. I never have dreamed a prince will take my pains away!" then a little hesitant looking at Ruwen with dreaming eyes, "Do you live in a castle? Do you have a suit of armour and a war horse? Do you have a knave and knights to fight for you? Where is your palace?"
"Oh Mirza, Bastian and I are poor boys like you. We have to share one small room and one small bed and have no knaves at all!" Spotting the doubt in the face of the boy, Ruwen added quickly, "But you are gladly invited for a visit to our house to check the truth and, if you like, you can be my knave at the fair!"
Mirza's mother did a curtsey again, "We are poor minstrels with hardly any money. I dare to offer you the most precious gift travelling people can give instead of gold and silver. Let me foretell the future to you: let me tell the future to you and your fellow prince."
A full moon was shedding his silvery light over the sleeping village breathing silently in the cool air rolling down from the mountain range. Life was still buzzing on the fairground, only. Traders, tinkers and cattle dealers were still setting up their stalls around the village green. The small band of gypsies had placed their bright coloured wagon to the right of the stage of the travelling company and announced their skill as rope runners, fire eaters, musicians and fortune-tellers.
The theatre company had announced their first performance for this evening. A lad with golden hair and a red embroidered cap, mounting a grey horse had been riding through the village accompanied by fiddlers, tambourine players and a drummer and had proclaimed the performance in the front door of every house:
"Tonight, tonight the great theatre company of Nithart the Minstrel invites you to enjoy the unsurpassed performance the famous play "Das puech von dem Mayr Helmprechte". This is the only performance authorized by the writer himself, the famous Wernher der Gartenaere.
Early at dawn many exited young people living in the village and in hamlets close by had already gathered in front of the stage, anxious not to miss out on the rare opportunity to view the theatrical. Meanwhile older people in festive dresses were waiting for the play to begin in the nearby inn. Bastian and Ruwen didn't want to miss out this very rare event. Together they were waiting amidst the others, when Mirza showed up and ushered the two to a soft seat in front of the stage "Mother and father ask you have the honour of the best seat in front of the stage! From this place you can follow all parts of the play. I will you join later and explain the play to you!" Mirza didn't wait for an answer and vanished behind the stage.
The narrow stage was subdivided into three settings. The left setting represented a farm house with a draw well in front, in the middle setting a draw-bridge was opening to the inner ward of a castle with a big tower and the right setting pictured a clearing in midst of a sinister forest with a towering gallows in the center.
Drumbeats, the sound tambourines and flutes announced the beginning of the play. Torches flashed up and Mirza's father, the minstrel Nithart, impersonating a princely herald announced the play with loud voice accompanied by his lute:
"Welt ir nû hœren waz dâ stât?
Ein meier der hiez Helmbreht:
des sun was der selbe kneht
von dem daz mære ist erhaben."
(„Would you like to hear what this book tells?
Once there was a Farmer called Helmbreht
He had a son who was toiling the land
And it's him of whom this tale is all about.")
The tale itself was well known to the villagers, not as a play, but as a poem recited by traveling tale-tellers in cold winter nights at the warming hearth fire. The story was simple and cruel. It pictured the fate of a high-flying farmer boy, his rise and fall.
Mayr Helmprechte was the son of a rich farmer, a tomfool and dreamer at the same time. Everyone told him, he was lucky guy, because he be born with a caul. One day the lad found a splendid looking cap tangling from a branch of a tree. The noble cap was embroidered with noble scenes of kings and queens. Taking this a wink of fate he decided to become a knight immediately. He jumped into the draw-well to clean himself. When he emerged from the cold water his short black hairs had turned into golden locks falling down to his shoulders.
Bowing all warnings of his far-sighted fathers and the laments of his mother into the wind he puts on the cap and takes off with his horse to make his luck at the king's residency. At a duke's castle he asks to be ordained a knight and to be given the duke's arrogant daughter for a wife. However the overbearing duke and his hoity-toity daughter ridicule the foolish and awkward yokel and turn him out of the castle. The outraged, would-be knight vows vengeance and with his splendid cap on top of his golden hair he joins a gang of baron robbers to make a fortune. The robbers mug counts and earls, traders and farmers, rape virgins and nuns, burns castles and villages. Finally the robbers get caught. Nine of them are hanged on the gallows, but the tenth, Mayr Helmprechte, is allowed to survive. But for deterrence of other would-be-knights he is robbed of his both eyes, his left foot and his right hand and send back to his father. Hit to rock bottom he returns home as a cripple. There he is ridiculed and despised by his fellow countryman as a loser. In desperation he takes off to the forest where he is caught by farmers he has robbed before. They take away his splendid cap, tear out his golden hair and kill him like a dog.
At the beginning of the performance Mirza sneaked up to Ruwen and Bastian. He claimed the seat between the two. There he was sitting, smiling like the snow king. He was merry as a lark having two princes as friends. He explained the actions on the stage, revealed which of the few members of the stage company was impersonating which of the many characters of the play.
He was whispering to the two, "Look, the good looking minstrel, that's my father, and he is the proud duke also, as well as the savage chief of the baron robbers; and the lovely duke's daughter Amelint, that's my mother, she is also Mayr's poor sister Gotelint, and the crooked witch, and one of the crying farmer wives." On and on he went listing all the others parts, Mayr Helmbreht, the yokel's father, mother and sisters, the duke's jester, the robber barons and their chief Lemberslint, the sheriff and his henchmen, the other farmers and their wives, the nuns and the band of gypsy musicians.
The onlookers cheered the foolish dreamer in the beginning. They had their malicious-joy with the awkward yokel at the duke's castle, were uneasy with murderous attacks of the baron robbers and finally very sad about the disastrous ending of the poor dreamer.
As the torches went out at the end of performance everybody was taken by the terrible fate of the simple-hearted Helmbreht. Many girls were crying and those lads, who had been dreaming of a career as knight and winning a beautiful princess, decided to stay at home and marry their neighbor's clumsy daughter instead.
But soon the spectators forgot about the sadness of the play, because a big fire was sparked off by the gypsies with roasted lamb and chickens sold to the hungry guests. Soon the young people danced on the fair ground to the tunes of fiddles, harp and drums and the song of the minstrel.
Ruwen and Bastian left the fair for home, while the others still enjoyed the night. At the edge of the village ground they stopped in surprise. A woman dressed up like a princess in an embroidered gown with a pearl studded coronet waited in the silvery moonlight.
"Whereto, you brave princes? The night is still new and the moon is high! May I foretell you the future?"
Recognizing Mirza's mother in disguise from the play, Ruwen replied with a bow, "Dear Lady Amelint, there are the Norns who are waving the web of fate! They guard us and they keep us on s straight path! They rule our lives!"
Bowing also, Bastian added, "We trust in the norns care and we trust in our wit and strength! So thank you fair Lady for your gracious offer!"
Just now Mirza turned up behind his mother, "Remember Ruwen, you promised to take me to your palace tonight. Please, my princes, take me with you as your knave!"
The way up the road from the fair ground to Klas's farmhouse was long and tiring for a five year old boy. After some steps Ruwen picked up Mirza. The little minstrel boy clutched his legs around Ruwen's waist and put his healthy arm around Ruwen's neck. Ruwen enjoyed the bird-like heartbeat and the warm embrace of Mirza and started to sing a lullaby into the ear of his little friend. The minstrel boy was firm asleep when they reached their home. He didn't even wake up when Bastian took him out of Ruwen's arms to carry him upstairs to their room.
"Did you feel his bird-like heartbeats and his soft breathing, Bastain? It was so wonderful; I wish I could have a lot of sons like him!"
"Me too, dear Brother, but now it's time for a good night kiss!" The moment, when Ruwen kissed Bastian's cheek a small voice rose from the bed, "I need a Good Night kiss too. My mother always kisses me Good Night!"
When Mirza woke late up next morning Ruwen and Bastian had left already. He looked around in the room and then snuggled back into the warm cushions. He felt like a prince lying in a big soft bed, in a bright and tidy room with a window to the garden, all for his own. The room was not really big, not really tidy, but spacious and tidy compared to the traveller's wagon he had to share with his mother, his father and his two small sisters. After enjoying the loneliness for some time he decided to dare to climb down the stairs to the main room. As he pried into the room a big orange coloured tiger came pouncing towards him. Frightened, he called out, "Help! Help!", but then he realized it was just a big yellow cat, and the cat realized that the stranger was just a frightened little boy, and she started to rub her head softly against his legs - purring loudly.
Startled by the shriek of Mirza Bastian's mother noticed the hesitant boy at the door, "Come in Mirza! Bastian and Ruwen have told me all about you and asked to care for their little knave like a mother. They had to leave already, but you sure are big enough to have breakfast alone... It's over on the table. Later you can go down to the fair to your parents or you can stay with me and help me with the chickens and the pigs!"
Mirza rushed to the table and started wolfing down the food. He replied with his mouth still full, "Oh Lord! That tastes good! Sweet milk and fat porridge! I haven't had these for years! Thank you Madam!"
"Don't call me Madam, I'm Bastian's mother, call me Aunt Miriam. Miriam nearly sounds like Mirza, doesn't it?"
Later on, still chewing happily, Mirza stated, "I'll stay with you, if you don't mind. But I can't help much, because of my broken arm!"
"That's alright. Let's go feed the chickens, you only need your healthy arm for strewing grains, and later we will let out the piglets into the pen in the garden."
Mirza was happy. What a roomy house with its big stables for cows and pigs and chickens. And the fine barn filled up to the roof with fragrant hay and straw. The farm even had two outhouses, with doors he could bolt, so nobody could disturb him while he was relieving himself.
After the midday dish resting in Ruwen's bed, Mirza contemplated, "I like it here, it's nearly like a castle, everyone likes me, Miriam, Bastian, Ruwen all are so kind, even the big cat and piglets. Shouldn't I stay here for ever and never move on?........ On the other hand, I want to become a famous minstrel and an actor like my Dad; I want to sing to people and make them laugh and cry; I want to see the big cities all in the South and North and the West and East my mother told me about! What shall I do?" Closing his eyes he tried to look over his possibilities from all sides. He fell asleep.
Later in the afternoon down in the kitchen, he told Miriam precociously, "I have compromised with myself! I stay with you Aunt Miriam till the fair is over, and then I will leave you, and Ruwen and Bastian and travel with my Mother and Father. I will learn to sing and play the lute and how to perform in front of an audience. But next year I will be back again with you and Ruwen and Bastian! I love you and the princes!"
The morality play, "Das puech von dem Mayr Helmprechte", is a novel in verses by the minstrel Wernher der Gartenaere written about 1260.
I would like to express a special thank to Paul and TSL for doing a great job by correcting all the wrong expressions and the punctuation used by a non native English writer.
Comments, reviews, questions and complaints are welcomed. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. And I would like to add, thanks for reading.