This brief draft story was inspired by a comment from Seumas MacRath on my Boethius and Brunanburh chapter post. I am still playing with it, and will post something else about the prayer over a vat into which something foul has fallen. However, two back to back hurricanes are arriving this weekend, so there might be some delay….
She kept her body low, green eyes fixed unwavering on his back as he balanced above her on the curved lip of wood. He did not see her gray-clad form melted in the shadows. Good. Noiselessly shifting her feet back and forth three times (for good luck), she sprang forward and pounced, bringing him down under her.
Ah, her lawful prey. But what was this odor about him? Even as he struggled in her grasp, he shivered like a dog shaking water from his fur. Why was he soaking wet? A quick bite to the neck, a bitter taste in her mouth, and he was dead.
Pan carried him to the master. It was somewhat of a journey to get from the dark cool place filled with crocks and barrels to the sun-lit room where men scratched with featherless bird quills on the dead skins of cows, sheep, and goats, she knew their smell.
She went through the place of many tastes—hot, dry, cold, and wet flavors filled her nose, but she did not stop to steal or beg any, skulking through the edge of the room unseen, an obligation to fulfill first.
Once she reached the master, she sat respectfully and dropped the body at his feet.
“Mew.” This was her only address to the man who worshiped her, and she him. Insofar as she thought about it, Pan knew that the man loved her—he fed her treats, stroked her head, and gave her a warm place to sleep—and that she must therefore be his goddess. Nonetheless, it was he who rescued her, young and motherless, from the field of screaming men. And so, she offered him gifts in return, as is right between a lady and her lord.
He did not deign to pay her attention right away—a game she and he played, pretending not to see or hear each other. But Pan was better at the game, sneaking up so quietly he did not know she was there. She always knew where he was, by her ears and nose.
The scratching continued for a bit longer as she waited. Then he looked down at her and made those comforting noises in his own language, not hers. Although she heard the sounds, she could only guess at their meaning from the pitch and tone of his voice.
“Hwæt, Panchiel, my archangel, such a gift! But what is that smell?” The man stroked her head, but in bending down his nose came close to the fur heap at her feet.
“Now where did you find this rascal?” he asked. “It seems he has been in the cellar drinking ale.” He pushed the little body into a small bin that smelled of trees, and she looked after it hungrily when he carried it away.
Pan led him to the place where she had caught the criminal. The master seemed very disturbed by the scene she had left. Were their more thieves in the cask? She saw that the lid was still askew, and her scratch marks along the side.
The master went and fetched the older man who seemed to be her master’s master. Pan followed.
“Provost Bearnhard, someone has been in the ale again and left it open! Look what my virtuous Panchiel has found, drenched in it.”
The other man peered into the bin and sniffed. Their noses were not as good as hers, but certainly they knew the smell of their own drink.
Now there was some discussion between them.
More men came in, the younger ones. Some shuffling of their feet and loud exclamations, followed by stern words from the master’s master. No one answered.
Pan moved among their legs, sniffing. She came to one young one and smelled that mixture of ale and wood. She raised up and pawed the hand of the young man. Her master smiled.
The master’s master turned to the one she had marked and asked, “Was it you, Osfrith?” That young one looked down at Pan and said “Are you my accuser, sent from God or the devil?”
Pan meowed and backed down from the young man. Her master stroked her. She purred.
Now the men all returned to the room with the crocks and barrels. Pan followed, keeping her nose and eyes checking the room for more culprits.
The men stood around the cask, one stirring it with a long piece of wood. Perhaps there was another rat?
Their voices sounded like bleating sheep and dogs barking as they spoke over and under each other:
“We’ll have to dump the whole thing out.”
“What a waste.”
“I won’t drink it.”
“What, water is safer?”
“It is not Lent, why should we not drink the ale.”
“Canon law forbids drinking from a vat fouled by rodents.”
“Forty days penance for us all, so we have a second Lent!”
“Yes, but don’t you remember the story of that saintly nun who pulled a mouse out of her cup, then drank the rest?”
“Hah, that was the devil who reminded her that she sinned as a girl doing that.”
“Oh, I only remember the bit where she laughed when she pulled the mouse out by the tail.”
“Then there was that nun who ate a demon on a stolen lettuce leaf without blessing it, and look what happened to her.”
“Why is it always a nun?”
“Women are greedy and never waste anything.”
“At least they don’t leave the lid off the cask, like some do.”
“Surely there is some blessing we can use over it!”
Her master said nothing and in the middle of all this caterwauling, strode out. Panchiel trotted behind him, back to the room of animal skins. He rummaged in a cupboard, muttering something. “I saw it somewhere, some folio at the back…”
Pan jumped up into the cupboard and began sniffing. It smelled mostly like sheep and goats. She scratched at the back, smelling cow, and something caught her claw. She dragged it out.
“Aha, here it is, thank you Panchiel.” He gave her another pet.
Moving into the sunlight she loved, he started moving the thin cow skins, shuffling through them, stopping on one of them toward the bottom, and then spoke words while his eyes were looking down at the thing, “this a man shall read over a vat into which something foul has fallen.”
Then he went back quickly to the other place, where she had started her hunt. Pan was not tired with all of this coming and going, just curious.
Her master showed the animal skin to his master. The arguing men were silent, as this master spoke with his voice of authority, “Osfrith, as the exorcist and guilty party, you will now cleanse the ale with this benedictio.”
The young one nervously began to recite in an uneven and high pitched voice that other language they spoke in a sing-song voice. The men listened:
Domine sancte pater omnipotens aeterne deus qui fecisti caelum et terram mare et omnia que in eis sunt. rogo te et peto in nomine Ihesu Christi uni[geni]ti filii tui ut sanctificare digneris et benedicere epulam istam sicut benedixisti epulationem habrahe isaac iacob et sicut benedi[xi]sti sex hydrias in chanan galileae aque in uinum bonum conuerse sunt de aqua ita conuertere digneris materiam istam ceruise in suauitatem et hilaritatem seruis tuis his qui in fide catholica crediderunt.;
She watched one of the older men who always shooed her away in the animal skin room and used a heavy voice with her master. He kept raising one of his eyebrows while the young one recited, and after they had all said with one voice,
“Amen,” that one turned to her master:
“Where did you find that feast blessing! I hardly think it is appropriate.”
Her master looked thoughtful. “The Wessex collectar the bishop brought back, it has some extra blessings at the end.”
The other replied, “That worthless thing? We need better service books than that.”
But her master thought otherwise and answered him with his mild voice, “Who knows what might prove useful. All parchment is precious.”
As he marched off, Panchiel sniffed and went with him, tail held high.
While he walked, her master continued to look at the animal skin collection she had found for him. He often moved his lips while walking, and sometimes stumbled, once tripping right over Pan as she wove in front of his feet trying to warn him.
But this time as they moved through the place of many tastes, he did not forget to reward his Pan. A bowl of creamy milk, and later he returned the rat.