The next day after morning prayers and breakfast the girls got involved with there daily chores.
As Gloria buckled herself into the traces and reigns that ran back to the old wooden plough, Marta looked around and enjoyed the gentle normality that was around her.
Astra was walking with three nuns and two monks toward the solarium to work on copying the Holy Book of Scriptures and the Book of Prayers. Soon they would be copying out works using their quill pens to illuminate the pages.
Lillian, who for some reason was called Essence by the old Nun’s, sat gabbling away ten to the dozen as her nimble fingers manipulated the bobbins of cord that will eventually become a lace shawl.
Twilight was tending the Herb and Physics garden learning of their different properties from the two nursing Nuns she worked with.
Julienne was heating up the kiln ready for the firing of the first batch of pottery she had made.
Suddenly she let out a roar of anger and such inflammatory language that one of the elder nuns who were painting the pots covered her ears.
Sister Mary Clair rushed to Julienne’s side and got her to go through her breathing exercise which swiftly calmed her.
“I am sorry for my anger and my language it was inexcusable.” She said earnestly.
“My dear child the heat of you words was such that I feared it would burn off my ears and be etched in my mind forever.” The old Nun said as she uncovered her ears.
Julienne crossed to the woman and kneeled at her feet.
“Forgive me Sister Boniface I meant no offence.”
“Of course I shall forgive you not only because it is our Lord’s commandment but because it is my hearts also. Perhaps you could let out your anger in physical activity rather than letting it explode like a volcano.” The old woman put a heavily veined hand on to Julienne’s head. “I thing the kiln may be hot enough for the first of this mornings endeavour.”
Julienne got up kissed the woman’s hand before crossing to the kiln and putting the first tray of pots in.
Everyone had stopped what they were doing to watch, even Twilight peaked around the corner to see what the fuss was this time.
“It seem our friend needs an outlet for her temper, any idea’s?” Marta asked of her friend.
Gloria screwed up her face a moment in thought before saying in her slow style.
“I have an idea if the sisters will permit it. But I think we better do the ploughing first.”
Marta laughed as she stepped behind the plough and picking up the reigns.
“Gee up horsey.” She gave them a flick.
Gloria took up the strain moaning.
“I will be glad when the horses leg has healed.”
The horse in question, a beautiful shire, snorted in amusement as it watched from its stable.
Marta pushed down heavily on the plough to get it to open up the heavy soil. Behind her were a pair of Nun’s, one was dropping cereal seeds into the trench she had made while the other was covering them over again.
They worked up until lunch, just finish the last plough line just in time. They washed their hands and joined the others in the refectory.
The Reverent Mother crossed to the lectern and read out the Holy Tract that went with the day before the Abbess spoke the Grace.
The food was basic but filling and was soon devoured by the hungry workers.
The Mother Superior, Sister Fate, looked across to the girls and smiled a gentle warming smile.
“I believe that some of the Sisters are going down into the town to sell some wares and do some shopping. Is that correct Abbess?”
“Yes most gentle mother. I will be going myself to get fabrics that the girls can make into clothes.” Sister Innocent said her expression unreadable. “I think it would be a good idea if the girls came too so they can pick out their own fabrics. And remember girls my pouch is not the font of plenty it has its limits and that is not an excuse Lillian for you to liberate any objects that you find desirable.”
The Nuns and girls laughed good naturedly.
“Do you know I think I will come too. It would be good to stretch my legs for a change. Sister Leonora will you and Sister Mary Clair see to the girls needs before we set out.”
Both women called out their assent.
So it was that the group made their way down to the town that nestled against Lake Como in the Dolomites of Ital.
The lake looked inviting but Marta knew from experience that it was icy cold, fed as it was from the snow melt from the mountains around them.
Marta had the ponies bridal in her hand as it pulled the small cart that held the pottery and lace that they had made in it.
Marta noticed the strange bulge in the outline of both the Abbess and the Mother Superior’s Nun’s robes.
“You’ve noticed haven’t you?” Astra asked her quietly.
“Yes, but what does it mean?”
“It means they are armed and I’ve noticed that they are wearing chainmail.” Astra told her. “I’m sure it’s just in case there is some unpleasantness.”
“That’s nice to know.” Marta replied sarcastically.
“You have heard the story of the Mother Superior and the Abbess haven’t you?” Astra asked.
“They were with the hero’s at the end of days. The hero’s defeated the Goddess of Chaos with their help you mean. It’s just a fairy tale and a bit of an exaggeration.”
“No it’s all true, if anything it has been watered down in the telling.”
Marta didn’t know what to say. Somehow he couldn’t see these two Holy Sisters as warriors.
As they passed the outlying farms and orchards they were met mainly with waves and laughter, the others crossed themselves and ushered the children inside.
As they neared the town the watchers became more fearful and hostile.
Waiting at the entrance to the market square was Father Quinn.
“Well met ladies, Sisters, Abbess and to you also Reverent Mother, I didn’t expect you to come so it is a pleasant surprise.” He said with a genuine smile.
“I thought the walk would do me some good.” Sister Fate replied with a grin. “I believe there is a good Java shop near here where I can rest my weary bones.”
“Allow me to escort you there.” His smile widened.
“And they say chivalry is dead Reverent Mother.” The Abbess joked.
“Oh that has reminded me. I have procured your usual spot to sell your wears and a group of the children are putting up a table for you.
I’ve also spoken to a few of the stall holders about your needs and they await your arrival.” Father Quinn told her.
“Thank you Father.”
As Father Quinn and the Reverent Mother moved away the Abbess started to deal with the work for the afternoon.
“Girls you will be with me and Sister Mary Clair. Sister Leonora will set up our stall please and see to the needs of our pony?”
“Yes of course Abbess.”
The girls followed the Abbess like cygnets following in the wake of their parent.
The market was full of noise and smells as the stall owners called out their wears. It was a riot of colours from the multicoloured awnings over the tables.
Most called out politely to the Nun’s those that remained stared frightened or aggressively.
Their feet kicked up the dust.
A stout woman called out from her stall.
“Reverent Sisters can I tempt you to some Cheese and bread?”
“You can always tempt me with your wears Rachel?” The Abbess, Sister Innocent, smiled broadly. “But how many Silvers will I have to spend for the privilege?”
“Holy one I am hurt to think you think I would cheat you.” Rachel replied wiping her hands down her smock. “Five Silvers.”
“We are a poor convent only just above the Poor Clare’s in poverty. Two Silvers.”
“We realise that is the case and that is why we pitched the offer so low. Four Silvers.”
“If only I could meet this most kind offer but I can’t pay so much but I thank you.” She made to move away.
“I’m cutting my throat and not ignoring my profits. Three Silvers.”
Sister Innocent turned back to her.
“I will make sure that the story of your generosity is spread far and wide. Agreed.” The nun had a broad smile on her face that was matched by the supposed disgruntled stall owner.
They suddenly burst out laughing and kissed each others cheek.
“So these are the girls you told me about. Well you’re always welcome to my stall, well.” She paused a moment. “Well that assumes you have money to spend off course.”
A little later they were weaving through the crowds to where three stalls made a cul-de-sac. The centre one had bolts of cloth on it’s table and dresses hung up outside of a tented booth.
“Well met Holy One, girls. What can this impoverish old woman do for you?” She was short with a prominent hook of a nose and black dancing eyes. Her black curly hair framed her swarthy complexion.
“Good afternoon Mistress Redshield. We need to make these young girls in to young women. Can you help?”
The woman looked the girls up and down a moment.
“Dresses or fabrics?” She asked after a moment.
“One of each if it pleases you.”
The woman’s eyes lit up and she rubbed her hands together with glee.
“How is your husband Joseph by the way Mistress Ruth, is his leg any better?”
“Yes thanks to your attention. He’s probably in his cups about now. His gone to procure some Burano lace and Morano glass which inevitably ends up with him sampling the wine and spirits that have made.”
She gave a slight smile at the thought before becoming more business like.
“You two girls go into the booth and strip to your under garments.” She pointed at Marta and Astra.
The two girls entered the booth to find a pair of chairs, a low stool and hooks for their clothes.
Surprisingly considering they lived together the girls had never seen each other nude. So it was with some embarrassment and self-consciousness they got undressed.
Astra was tall and slim with small, but perfectly formed, breasts, a narrow waist and a pert backside.
Marta was almost the polar opposite. Where Astra was just over six foot Marta was just over five foot with full breasts, narrow waist and wide hips, her buttocks were heart shaped and rounded.
Astra slid across to her friend and gently cupped her chin in her long fingered hand and lifted it to look at her.
Lips slightly parted she lent and kissed her friend. Astra’s tongue darted out and investigated Marta’s mouth.
Their breathing became heavier as hands explored each other. Astra squeezed Marta’s breast while she ground her knee into Astra’s genitals.
There was a polite cough from outside the tent.
“Are you alright girls.” The Abbess called.
“Yes Holy Sister.” Astra called as they moved apart. Both of them looked at the other with a puzzled look on their faces. “It’s just a bit embarrassing.”
“And not to mention a bit cold, well a lot cold. There’s a breeze in here. I don’t know where it’s coming from but I know where its going.” Marta laughed.
The curtain parted and the stall holder and Sister Mary Clair entered, each one holding several dresses.
“Girls take off your breast bands and wing straps please?” The nun asked.
Marta’s bat like wings unfurled and flapped a couple of times before settling down on her back again.
Astra’s angel wings did the same.
Both sets of wings were small and unable to lift the girls aloft or at least that is what they looked like.
The stall holder focused on Marta first.
“Your red skin would make greens and yellows look odd but we will try with the blue one first.”
After a struggle she managed to put the dress on and as soon as she did Ruth began to shake her head.
“Oh no that will never do.”
The next was a bright red dress with blue showing in the slashed sleeves. Instead of a breast band their was a stiff board that pushed her breasts up and squashed them a little flat. Marta felt they were in imminent danger of popping out over the top.
Marta crossed over to the mirror in the corner.
The scarlet dress had a narrow waist and full hips, the breast panel had silver thread laced to and fro over seed pearls to produce a lattice affair. The seamstress cut the fabric out of the back to allow free movement of the wings.
“Stand on the stool a moment child.” Ruth asked.
As she stood there Ruth and the nun made the alterations needed to make her dress hers.
Astra was easier for the two women.
Soon the young woman was dressed in a pale yellow and white dress. The breast board carried a representation of a yellow rose bush whilst the dress had images of yellow roses scattered over its surface. The back was created to allow free movement of her stunted angels wings.
They went to change back into their nun’s habits but Sister Mary Clair stopped them.
“You no longer need to hide inside them.” She opened the tent flap and the two young ladies nervously ventured out to the oos and ah’s of their friends.
In two’s the girls went in and by the time the sand had reached the half hour they were all outside together comparing their clothes.
Gloria was in a long loose green dress that was belted at the waist with a brown leather belt.
Julienne was dressed in a dove grey dress that left one shoulder bare.
Lillian had been the hardest one to dress because of her small stature but even here she had been successful. She was dressed in a brown dress with silver leaves picked out on the bodice.
Twilight wore a black dress that had black lace at cuff and collar.
The next half an hour was spent with good humoured ribbing as they picked out the cloths they were going to use to make their everyday clothes.
When all was done Sister Innocent took the money pouch off her belt and without haggling paid the full amount.
At the next stall Sister Mary Clair picked out makeup and applied it deftly to her charges.
Marta had her eyes picked out with a gentle brown eye makeup and red lips finished the look. Her hair was vigorously brushed and put into a queue under a small bonnet set at a jaunty angle with a single pheasant feather curled out of it.
Lillian’s bluish white dead looking skin was a challenge but Sister Mary Clair rose to the occasion. A base tan make up was carefully applied and her naturally pink cheeks were enhanced with a touch of blusher. Her lips were made to look bow shaped by the crafty use of rouge.
At the last stall each girl received a weapon. With the exception of Gloria they all had a long knife whilst she had a short sword.
After they had delivered their fabrics to the cart they broke their fast and shared the bread and round of cheese they had purchased earlier.
They were then given some coppers and told to go and enjoy the market and the little fair that nestled beside it under the strict commandment to behave themselves and to be back within the hour.
As Astra and Marta wandered the market they were amazed by the sheer diversity of products.
They happened across Robert the Wheelwright who was displaying his wears which included several small carved pieces of animals.
One was an intricate one of a rose held by a mouse.
Astra bought it at the full price even though it empted her purse of the money she had saved.
The pair of them walked arm in arm giggling in high spirits.
The money Astra had left was meagre but enough to buy some crystallised fruit off a stall near the centre of the market.
“What is the meaning of this, why are you serving the devils spawn!!” An angry voice said from behind them as they paid. They didn’t have to turn around to know to whom it belonged too. “Well I’m waiting.”
With great courteously they thanked the stall holder and made to move away.
There was a roar of disapproval as Thomas-a-Quintus slammed his fist into the table top.
The stallholder stepped backward as if she had been struck.
“Answer me woman!!” His face was suffused in his fury, so red was it that it was close to Marta’s own flesh tones.
Angered at how he was terrorising the poor stallholder Marta turned around to face the man with a smile on her face.
Well aware how she looked in her dress she struck a provocative pose and simpered.
“Do you like me in my new dress my Lord? Does it enhance the right parts of my body?” With swaying hips and running her hands down her body she closed the distance between them.
“Do you want me in your bed is that what this is all about.” She whispered into his ear. “Do you want to feel my heat as you ride me. Do you want to break me to your will.”
She stepped back aware of the spectators.
“They do say that bullies are really cowards underneath, that and the fact they are inadequate in the bed room department if you know what I mean.” She lifted up a balled fist with her little finger extended and flexing. “Is that you or is it still to big. Is that your problem my Lord?”
The crowd that had gathered burst out laughing.
Thomas lifted his massive hand and with all his might swept it toward Marta.
Marta just managed to avoid the worst of it but it still split her lip making her black blood run down her chin.
He raised a hand to strike again but this time she was ready.
She raised her hand to block the blow only this time it didn’t come.
“Look at your hand?” Astra told her.
Puzzled she did so. There just above her closed fist was a ball of fire.
Confused she stared at it as it sank painlessly back into her flesh.
She looked back up at Astra but all she did was shrugged.
Marta turned round to face Thomas once more.
“Thomas-a-Quintus!” She called as she held out an olive branch. “I apologise for my words, they were cruel and unkind. I’m sorry I lost my temper because of your rage. It seems we were both at fault for not controlling our emotions.
I offer my hand in apology.”
Thomas looked at it in disgust.
“You are evil girl! You dared to threaten me with Hell Fire!” His voice was as cold as ice. “I will see your neck stretched by the hangman’s noose and will watch with delight as you kick out your last.
Wife, daughter attend me.”
His wife gave the two young women a sympathetic look before she and her daughter trotted away after him.
“I’ll endeavour to keep away from trees with ropes on them then.” Marta muttered as she started to shake with reaction.
“Yes you do seem to have upset him somewhat.” Astra mused. “That was a neat trick with the ball of fire by the way. How did you do it?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea.” She held out her hand but nothing happened.
“Perhaps you have to be angry for it to work. It did seem to be the trigger.”
“Are you alright child?” The stallholder asked as she came round to the front of the stall to where Marta lent against one of the poles that held up the gaily coloured awning.
“I have felt better.” She replied. “But how are you? I wasn’t going to let him terrorise you like that.”
“Bless you child. I was not in any real danger. I just needed to keep out of his way till his temper cooled, though I must admit I’ve never seen him as angry as he was today.”
“We have the crystallise fruits untouched if you want them back, you can keep the money.” Marta held out her own.
“No you keep it.” Her smile was like the warmth of the Sun. “I think you have earned it.”
A heavily muscled man walked forward from the small crowd.
“You said the words that most of us think in our minds but are to afraid to say out loud. Here is a gift for defending Martha.” He passed over a small basked in which there were a group of sweet cakes. “Be careful my child you have made an enemy that will not cease in his need to have his revenge.”
“Scripture teaches us that if you seek revenge you dig two graves one for the victim and the other for yourself.” Astra said.
“Well said my Lady but he wont care.” The man looked back at the others behind him. “But know this any of you young ladies are welcome here in the market and you will be treated with the utmost respect.”
“Thank you my friend but I request that you treat us the same way as you would treat anyone that came to your stalls.” Marta told him.
He nodded his understanding.
“You are wise for your years my Lady. May the Unnamed God watch over you and keep you safe.” He drew the sign of the Living Ankh over his breast before walking away.
“You are cut child let me help you.” An old woman had pulled out a spotlessly clean handkerchief to wipe the blood off her lip.
Marta swiftly but gently took her by the wrist and stopped her.
“I fear that my blood would burn you, see how the few drops that fell to earth have scorched it.” She patted her frail shoulder in thanks. “Do not fear I shall bathe it in the water from the horse trough. I will get Lady Astra to draw it for me so I do not contaminate it.”
As they walked away eating their fruits, who’s acid made Marta’s cut sting but didn’t stop her eating them, they were met time and time again by the trades people giving gifts of their wares.
Soon the others appeared in dribs and drabs.
Worryingly Lillian look please with herself which was never a good sign.
“Hello what have you been up to trouble?” Marta asked.
“I’ve had the time of my life.” Lillian said with a chortle. “You know old Master Stone, you must remember him. He was the one who kept moaning about how much it was going to cost him to carve a stone to mark Our Lady of the Rose new resting place. he’s the Beadle ”
“Yes, what about him?”
“I moved everything around from pocket to pocket and pouch to pouch. You should have seen his face it was a picture. He reached for his coin pouch but instead found the seed he had bought earlier.” She laughed making the other girls joined in as she demonstrated his actions. “When I left he was questioning his sanity.”
The girls linked arms and made their way toward where the Sisters had set up their little stall.
They arrived as the Nuns were packing up for the day.
“Sister Mary Clair how goes the day?” Marta asked with a smile.
“We sold all the earthen wear pots and most of the lace squares.” She told them as she put the last bit of shopping carefully around the bolts of cloth. “We managed to buy a few chickens and a hare from the meat man. But what have you got there?”
The girls passed over their baskets full of the gifts from the stall holders explaining how they got them.
“I’m glad we didn’t put anyone off buying from you.”
Sister Mary Clair was about their age with the same sort of humour as the girls. She was loved by all six of them.
“No. Not at all though we did hear some people were unhappy about the six of you but the Abbess soon put them right.”
She looked down the road and spotted the Abbess coming up to join them.
As soon as she was in earshot she called out that they should leave as soon as possible.
“From what I have heard you have created quite a stir in the market Marta?” The Abbess gave her a stern look that soon turned into a smile.
“Come along Sisters it’s time to leave.” She added.
“Shouldn’t we wait for the Mother Superior?” Sister Leonora asked.
“The Reverent Mother will be coming home later. Do not be concerned she is safe and will be well escorted back to the convent.”
She took the lead and began the walk home.
They were only a mile or so up the track when they spotted a shape huddled on the ground ahead.
Marta crossed with the Abbess to investigate .
Lying on the ground was a young man in his twenties dressed in workman like doublet and hose.
The abbess knelt beside the body and searched for a pulse.
She looked and gave a sad shake of her head.
The head moved loosely in her hand. His face so battered that it was difficult to make out any features. It was swollen and heavily bruised. The skull, cheek bones and nose were all cracked and the spine shattered at the neck.
The Abbess stood up and turned to the others.
“Sisters we will take this poor soul with us to the convent and prepared him for the last rites.” She beckoned the Sisters forward. As they lifted the body Marta noticed something glinting in the bodies back.
Who knew that this simple act had such repercussions.