customers, devouring her pies and drinking ale like there was no tomorrow. In two weeks, word of Mrs Howden’s incredible pies had spread through the town, and now her shop was never empty. She chuckled to herself as she imagined their reaction if they ever found out that they were merrily munching away on their neighbours.
Through the window she could see Evan in a waiter’s apron with his drum, calling in customers from the streets. After he had finally accepted that Adamoli wasn’t coming back for him, he and Mrs. Howden had become thick as thieves. He was like a son to her, and she a mother to him.
She knew Adamoli had treated him badly, and her kindness towards him meant he had become as loyal and loving as a puppy to her. She glanced up at the ceiling, to where she knew Arthur would be pacing restlessly. They were almost like a family, the three of them. If Arthur could ever let go of the past.
She turned her attention back to serving her customers, half listening to Evan calling to the rhythm of his drum outside.
“Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please! Are you nostrils trembling and tingling at that delicious smell? Well, ladies and gentlemen, that smell in the air is nothing compared with its juicy source!”
Mrs. Howden smiled to herself. The boy certainly had a way with words.
“Ladies and gentlemen, you can’t imagine the bliss in store for you – just inside of this door! There, you will sample Mrs. Howden’s Meat Pies! Savoury and sweet, they are the treat that pies should be!”
And so on, and so on, until the shop was full. Then, he ran inside and helped Mrs. Howden with serving the customers.
“Over here, boy, how about some ale?” one man called over the din of the other customers.
“Let me have another, laddie!” shouted another. Evan ran to them and poured out the ale.
“Could we have some service over here boy?”
“What about that pie, boy?”
“How much are you charging?”
“Evan!” This was Mrs. Howden.
“Coming!” he replied.
“Ale over there!” She gestured to a customer.
“God, that’s good!” shouted the customers.
Mrs. Howden bustled around the customers, serving pies, collecting money, taking orders, addressing each of her patrons individually and with equal insincerity.
“Nice to see you, dearie. How have you been keeping? Cor, me bones is weary! Evan! Ale for the gentleman!” She looked over and saw the old beggar man lurking just inside the door. “Evan! Throw the old woman out!” Evan shooed the old man away, and Mrs. Howden went back to her customers.
“What a pleasure, dear! No, we don’t cut slices. Evan!” She pointed to a very drunk man who Evan was about to pour ale for. “None for the gentleman! I could up me prices,” she continued to her friend, “Business couldn’t be better though, touch wood!”
“Psst!” Mrs. Howden span round. Arthur was on the stairs, leaning into the shop. She sighed, and smiled her apologies to her customer. “Excuse me.”
“Psst!” Arthur hissed again.
“Dear!” she called to Evan, “See to the customers!” She ran up the stairs to Arthur. “Yes, what, love? Quickly, though, the trade is busy.”
“But it’s six o clock!” whined Arthur. Mrs. Howden stared at him blankly.
“It was due to arrive at quarter to!”
She rolled her eyes as she realised what was worrying him. “And it’s probably already on its way! It’ll be here. Have some ale and stop worrying.”
“I’ve been waiting all day, it should be here!”
The roar of the crowd downstairs filtered through the door, and Mrs. Howden looked back, agitated at being pulled in two directions.
“Gawd,” she muttered to herself. “Will you wait there!” she said to Arthur. “The customers are getting unruly.” And with that she was rushing down the stairs again.
“You’ll come back when it arrives?” he called after her, but there was no reply. He growled to himself and continued pacing.
Downstairs, Mrs. Howden began circulating around her shop again, talking amiably to all her customers.
“Hello there, dear. Oops! Beg your pardon, my hands are all smeary. What’s my secret? Frankly, dear, forgive my bluntness, it’s a family secret. All to do with herbs!” She chuckled to herself. “Oh, yes, things like being careful with your coriander. That’s what makes ‘em so good!”
“More hot pies!” cried the customers. Mrs. Howden dashed over to the counter to fill her tray when she heard it again.
She rolled her eyes. “Dear!” she called to Evan. “See to the customers!”
Mrs. Howden went back to the stairwell, where Arthur was leaning down again.
“What?” she hissed. “Quickly!”
“But it’s here!” Arthur whispered back urgently.
“Coming up the street!” Mrs. Howden looked out the window, and sure enough, a large crate on the back of a cart was approaching.
“I’ll just get rid of these,” she told Arthur, gesturing to the tray of pies she was still holding, “Because they’re still hot, and then I’ll be there.”
“It’s about to be opened!” he cried. “Don’t you care?”
Mrs. Howden rolled her eyes again. She couldn’t believe how worked up he was getting about this.
“I’ll be there!” she told him, exasperated. “These’ll never sell if I let them get cold.”
She moved out the way as the crate was carried upstairs.
“But we have to prepare!” Arthur called after her, but she was already back with the customers. He spun on his heel and followed the crate into his room.
“Hello dear,” she was saying again, “Incidentally, dear, you know Mrs. Bail? Her sales have been so slow, poor thing is penniless!” She chuckled in a way that strongly contrasted with her sympathetic words.
She glanced over and caught sight of the old beggar man again. “Evan! Throw out the looney! That’ll be 2 silver pieces,” she added to the customer who was trying to slink away.
Mrs. Howden beamed as she collected the reluctant customer’s money and gazed around the bustling shop. All she could hear were people talking about her pies. Her pies – the worst pies in Camelot, once!
“God that’s good -”
“That is delic -”
“Have you ever tasted -”
“…smelled such -”
“Oh my -”
“What more can you want than these pies?”
She laughed heartily. If only they knew! She checked Evan had the shop under control and went upstairs. She entered Arthur's room as he was opening the crate. Both she and Arthur gasped. Inside was a magnificent red velvet chair, almost a throne, elaborate carvings on the dark chestnut frame.
He had said that the chair was for his customers, but she suspected that he wanted a piece of his royalty back, to feel like a king again, even if only when he was sitting in his chair. And this obsession he’d had with it arriving all day had further proved this to her in her mind. They both knew it was completely unnecessary, and it had cost an arm and a leg. But it was magnificent.
“Isn’t that a chair fit for a king?” Arthur breathed reverently. “You tell me where there is another seat that can half compare to this!”
Arthur walked slowly around it, running his hands over the smooth arms. “I have a few minor adjustments to make. I’ll call you…” he trailed off, too absorbed to remember to finish the sentence.
“You take your time. I’ll see to the customers,” Mrs. Howden replied gently, and left the room.
Arthur gazed at the chair. “I have another friend,” he murmured to himself.
Downstairs, Evan saw Mrs. Howden return and ran to her, holding a pie. “These are the best pies in Camelot, ma’am,” he cried breathlessly, “Everyone says so!”
She laughed and ruffled his hair. “They’re perfect,” she agreed.
“There’s no pie anywhere that can compete with ours, ma’am! None!”
He took a huge bite and gave her a meaty grin. “So thick and rich,” he mumbled happily. Mrs. Howden smiled proudly at him, ignoring the uneasy voice in her head that said that this was very wrong. Let him enjoy the pie, she told the voice. It doesn’t matter what’s in it.
An hour later, Arthur threw down his tools. “It’s time,” he breathed, and clattered downstairs to get Mrs. Howden.
When they returned, she examined it carefully. “It doesn’t look any different,” she told him doubtfully.
“That’s the point,” he snapped, “Now listen. When I pound the floor, it’s a signal -”
Mrs. Howden cut him off. “Yes, you told me, I know.”
“I just want to be sure -”
“Will you trust me!?” she cried, exasperated. Arthur narrowed his eyes, and after a moment continued.
“When I’m certain you’re in place, I’ll pound three times.” He demonstrated on the window sill. “Three times.” He did it again, and Mrs. Howden nodded impatiently. “And then you -”
Distracted, she knocked at the air twice. “Three times,” he hissed, and she knocked wearily at the wall three times. “If you forget -” he started threateningly, and Mrs. Howden rolled her eyes and knocked again.
“Exactly!” Arthur cried triumphantly.
They shared a brief grin, and Mrs. Howden rushed down into the basement. The basement was her main bakehouse – there were two huge ovens and a butcher’s-block table on which stood a meat grinder. In the corner, on the wall, was the mouth of a wooden chute, which led down from his room. Arthur had built it in the previous week.
Upstairs, Arthur placed a large stack of books on his chair, and pounded three times on the floor. Mrs. Howden responded by knocking three times on the chute, and Arthur pulled a lever hidden in the arm of the chair. Quickly and smoothly, a trapdoor opened in the floor and the chair tipped backwards, sending the books flying down the chute, and the chair innocently resumed its normal position.
In the bakehouse, the books came flying out of the chute and plopped onto the floor. Mrs. Howden grinned with excitement and knocked on the chute again, and Arthur responded. In their separate rooms, they chuckled to themselves. It worked!
“More pies!” The cries of the customers filtered down to the bakehouse, and Mrs. Howden hurried back upstairs. Evan ran to meet her. “We’re all out, ma’am!” he told her. She smiled and patted him on the head, before going to flip a sign on the door that read ‘Sold Out’.
“Sorry!” she shouted over the groans of her customers. “You’ll have to come back tomorrow – hold it!” she said to herself suddenly as she spotted a man hurrying up the stairs to Arthur’s rooms. “Well, bless me!” she chuckled. “Fresh supplies!” The cheer from the townspeople rang down the street.
Within an hour, the customers were eating again, the echoes of their delight echoing round the as they munched on their neighbour.
“That is delicious -”
“Have you ever tasted -”
“…smelt such -”
“Oh my goodness -”
“What more -”
“That’s perfect -”
“God, that’s good!”