Chapter Twenty One

Three Weeks Later


Methinks that note is ‘F natural’, not ‘F sharp’,” Ariana cautioned, and Rosemary peered closely at her harp’s tuning levers, her eyes nearly crossing in the dim light of the single candle which lit their rented room. After a few seconds of irritable searching, Rosemary found the offending string and, sighing, flipped the lever into its neutral position. They had been practicing for nearly six hours, and she was so bleary-eyed that she had failed to set the strings correctly before playing.

“Shall we call it a night?” Ariana ventured.

“Nay! We have only one more day, and… aye,” Rosemary amended with a sigh. “Aye, we should cease. At this point methinks my playing is getting worse, not better!” Rosemary rubbed her sore fingertips with her thumbs and stood to stretch her legs.

“Three hours playing in the marketplace for coins, then six hours rehearsing,” Ariana sighed as she stowed her flute in its burlap carry-case. “’Tis no wonder we are both weary. I am hungry, but methinks I have not e’en the energy to chew.”

Rosemary breathed a small laugh, and gestured wordlessly to the small bundle on the floor before unlacing her bodice and folding it gently over her harp stool. Ariana dug into the bundle, withdrawing a loaf of rough bread and a thin strip of dried beef, for this was the relatively cheap fare upon which they had dined whilst saving for the ribbon which tomorrow would make a goodly show of them at the audition.

Rosemary had proved an adroit seamstress, staying up late into the night stitching the pretty trims onto their raiments and mending Ariana’s skirt where it had torn after getting snagged on a nail.

In terms of appearance, all was in readiness: betwixt them they had enough blue and burgundy-colored garments to create a sort of color “theme”, and Ariana had traded her traditional gypsy garb for a skirt of Rosemary’s that had been taken in at the waist in order that she might look more English. With two long braids instead of her free-flowing locks completing Ariana’s transformation and an elegant comb and earrings to add flair to Rosemary’s presentation, the two were assured of making as fine a showing as their funds would allow.

In sooth, Rosemary was quite proud of her handiwork, for she had even impressed frugal Ariana with how she had managed to make inexpensive trims and a bit of raw cloth look like more than it was worth. They had rented a small one-room apartment above a cobbler’s storefront, and Rosemary had cleverly fashioned some pretty little patchwork curtains out of the scraps to hang above the shutters, and had even begun embroidering a little pillow to adorn their bed.

Living above this shoppe is decidedly better than renting a room in an inn, Ariana mused, for here they could add decoration to the room and move the furniture about if they wished. Moreover, because the cobbler’s was closed at six of the clock, they could practice in the evenings without disturbing anybody.

Breaking each of the foodstuffs in half, Ariana handed a share to Rosemary, and went to open the shutters. They were fortunate: their room faced the back where there was only a grain field, giving them privacy and the opportunity for fresh air. The field further provided a place for Morley, who was tied to a post with a long tether, and the wagon, which had broken a wheel shortly after their arrival in London and now sat idle whilst they saved their money to repair it.

Despite this being September, it was still quite unseasonably warm during the day, so that even the tiniest movement of the cooler night air was most welcome. Holding her food in one hand, Ariana gently lifted the curtains aside, undid the shutter latch, and swung the slats wide. Behind her, Ariana could hear Rosemary dousing each of her hands three times with water from the ewer, as was her religious custom before eating bread. The quiet sound of the familiar ritual and Rosemary’s whispered grace over the bread soothed Ariana’s weary nerves, and she sighed contentedly as she leaned out of the open window and chewed thoughtfully on her dried beef. After taking a bite of the bread to complete the ritual, Rosemary joined her at the window and stuck her nose out into the air, taking a deep breath of the clean, pleasantly cool air. For a few minutes, both women chewed in silence and gazed serenely at the sky, watching as the last sweeps of pink and purple darkened into a rich navy blue, and the first stars began to wink above.

“We have been through every song we know tonight. So, what shall it be tomorrow? Blackbird?” Rosemary said at last, and Ariana thought for a moment.

“Aye, I suppose we do need to decide now, do we not?” Ariana agreed. “And that is one of our better songs. A melancholy tune, but the melody is beautiful, and our voices show that we can breathe emotion into our music.”

“I have heard it told that King Henry quite likes the sad tunes… the more morbid or melancholy, the better. If this be so, Lord Roget will surely know it, and t’will help nudge us into favor,” Rosemary supplied.

Ariana nodded slowly. “Since we are allowed two songs, let us make the other more upbeat, mayhaps with some humor…Maids When You’re Young?”

“Art thou in jest? ‘Maids when you’re young, never wed an old man.’ If we do not have our heads nicked off halfway through the second verse, let me ne’er sing again!”

“Oh! Well, aye,” Ariana conceded. “We do not wish to appear in any way to be criticizing the king. Mayhaps All Around my Hat?”

“Aye, that suits. ‘Tis saucy and colorful, and we know it cold.” Rosemary stifled a yawn.

“Then ‘tis decided.” Ariana wiped some crumbs from her bosom and leaned thoughtfully against the windowsill.

“Thinkest thou we have a chance?” she asked.

Before Rosemary could answer, the bark of male laughter broke the stillness, and Rosemary looked down to see that two young men had darted behind the cobbler’s shoppe to relieve themselves against the wall.

“Oi!” she shouted, leaning over the wall and waving for the youths to clear off. The more inebriated of the two paid her no heed, but his friend looked up to see a woman in only her chemise leaning out her window with her black curls billowing in the breeze, and beyond her, a fetching blonde pursing her lips in becoming disdain. Still making his water against the wall, he eyed the women appreciatively and whistled low.

“Gerrout,” Rosemary answered, but she was smiling as the youth pulled up his hose and, flipping the tail of his jerkin back into place, winked at her cheekily before staggering off with his friend.

“About as good a chance as any others,” she laughed as she fastened the shutters. “For once I am glad to be a female musician – for if Lord Roget is of the same mind as that fellow, we shall be well off. Mayhaps we should leave our bodices at home tomorrow?”

Ariana looked scandalized, but Rosemary slapped her lightly on the arm.

“I am in jest! Come, let us to bed.”

Ariana rolled her eyes, and grinning, smoothed the curtains back into place and turned to ready herself for bed.