"Well," said Dinah, pushing a small cauldron under a drip that had found a new way into the kitchen. "That's the last of the empty pots and pans." She wiped her damp hands on her apron and looked around the disaster of a kitchen, littered with dishes to catch the leaks, and puddles that grew while Simon carried full pots and emptied them into the courtyard.
"And flower holders, Mama," said Simon, taking a break from emptying full pots and looking sadly at the flowers left lying on the chopping block.
"And chamber pots and mixing bowls and slop bowls," Dinah added darkly.
"And soup bowls!" Simon said as he emptied one into the larger pot nearby. He sighed as it filled right back up again, and the rain went plip, plop, plip, plipplop, ploop, ploop, ploop, all over the kitchen, accompanied by the occasional splash of a falling sprite.
Rackham patted Simon on the shoulder and swapped the soup bowl for the pot, which was standing under a slower, intermittent drip. One of the leaks leaked on him as he did so, and dripped off his beak.
Simon beamed. "I wish I was clever, like you."
"If he were truly clever, he would have fixed the roof at some point in the two weeks since the last rain, or the nearly a month since the rain before that, like I've been begging him to do," Dinah said sourly. "If it doesn't stop soon, it'll be rain soup for supper, with rain to drink! I can't even keep the fire going, and it's going to be damp and cold in here soon."
"There's always so much to do," Rackham offered feebly.
Dinah pinned him with a gimlet eye. "Like long visits with Camilla?"
Rackham's cheeks turned slightly pink. "She gets lonely, and that makes her nervous, and nervous chickens don't lay," he said defensively. "We need her golden eggs to pay for supplies."
"And I don't know how many hours you've spent locked up in the library, doing heaven knows what," Dinah said.
"Not letting me in," Simon said disconsolately.
"There's important research—"
"Not to mention letting Patience, Prudence, and Plenty use you as a dress dummy?"
Iron Henry grunted in what might have been amusement.
"The handmaidens are very bored, lately. I was just trying to be help—"
"Yeah, and that's why you always make yourself so available whenever they get in one of their dress-up moods," Sister Peace interrupted, rolling her eyes, "and don't hide away in the farthest corner of the castle, or go visiting the neighbors, or anything."
Dinah snorted. "And then there's all that playing cards with the boys—"
"HEY!" came from Sister Peace, who was using her soup spoon to conduct the symphony of plips and plops as the rain dropped into the pots and bowls and pans and buckets.
"—and Sister Peace," Dinah added with a disapproving look. Peace just grinned and gave her a thumbs up.
"I couldn't patch the roof very well at night," Rackham said, "and with Chess gone again..."
Dinah just crossed her arms and tapped her foot, and Rackham gulped and gave up.
He looked gloomily out at the rain. "I guess Iron Henry and I can do it. When the rain passes, I'll make sure we have all the right tools and check the stores for replacement shingles, and I don't know where the recipe for the grout is anymore—"
Dinah was unrelenting. "Looking for it all sounds like the perfect way to pass the time, since you can't get anything done in here anyway, between the damp and the poltersprites." She ran over to stop one of the winged sprites (zwooop!) from getting into the bread. While her back was turned, one of the lutins pushed one of the piskies into a bucket (SPLOOOOSH!) from which water splashed up and caught Simon full in the face. He staggered back, fell on his rump, and started to cry.
"All right. All right!" Rackham said, looking around for his coat. "Any extra shingles we have would probably be in the east tower, or maybe the dungeon, so I might wait until the rain lets up—"
"Can I go?" Simon said excitedly, his face still damp with rain and tears, but he nicely distracted by the thought of adventure and a chance to explore a part of the castle in which he was not generally allowed.
"I'll do it," Peace said, tilting her bowl up to get the last bits of her soup. SLUUUUUURP!
Rackham, Dinah, Iron Henry, and Simon all turned to look at the Solicitine, and almost to a one they looked skeptical. The only exception was Simon, who turned to see what everyone else was looking at, so he just looked confused.
"What?" Peace said. She looked indignant, which is harder to do successfully when your wimple is damp and soup-stained, its little ears are limp, and a skelly is making faces behind your head.
"I can help!" Simon said.
Rackham and Dinah exchanged a glance that Peace intercepted, and she stamped her foot. "What is it? You think nuns are too delicate to mend a roof or something?"
Iron Henry's eyebrows nearly climbed into his hairline, and Rackham had a slight coughing fit. When he'd recovered, he said, "I don't think 'delicate' is a term that comes to mind with regard to you, Sister Peace, but—"
"You find me the shingles and the tools, buster, and I'll provide the stickum and the legwork!" She slid her sleeve up one arm and made a fist. "The Sisters took care of all of the repairs on the Abbey, and I have a few tricks I brought with me that'll keep this roof high and dry for a few years yet."
"Well, I don't care who does it, as long as it gets done," Dinah said. "You can't do worse than this old bird doing nothing at all, and you're probably less likely to fall off the roof to start with."
"Some of us are adults and don't take pleasure in climbing up to the tops of very tall trees and scaling dangerous walls," Rackham muttered.
Peace sniffed. "Old fuddy-duddy feather duster."
"ENOUGH," Dinah roared. "You don't want to do it anyway, Rackham, so don't fuss about it now. And no, Simon, you can't climb out on the roof with the Sister—"
"Aw, Mama, but I wanna help!"
"—but you can stand on the stair landing, if she approves, and hand things to her out the window."
Peace turned from sticking her tongue out at an indignant Rackham, who threw his hands into the air and gave Simon a big smile and two thumbs up. "You and me, we'll do the best roof repair this moldy old dump has ever seen! Maybe I'll even let you in on a secret or two."
Rackham sighed. "You're going to need more help than just Simon. Iron Henry and I will pitch in, too."
"Pitch is right! We'll need plenty of pitch. But I'm in charge, and don't you forget it!" Peace said, waggling a finger under Rackham's beak.
The rain continued until late in the next day, but Sister Peace was busy in the kitchen, mapping out all the leaks, standing on a stool to peer at the ceiling and find all the damp spots, trying to figure out where there were actual problems and where the water was just sneaking away from the original hole to drip someplace else. Simon stood beneath her with a broom, keeping the various bogarts and boggles and nisken from swinging off the cloth ears of her wimple, trying to take her cross, or just generally getting their fingers and noses and toeses in her way while she took tidy notes on the cuff of her habit.
After breakfast on the first day of watery sun, she climbed out on the roof, with Simon anxiously watching from the stairs, and spent a few hours getting what she called her "air legs." At first she hugged close to the small dormer roof that connected to the landing where Simon stood. Then, assuring Simon she'd be careful, she climbed further and crawled around a bit, tugging at the shingles and testing them for stickitude. When she was ready, she slowly climbed to her feet and looked around. There were lots of windows for looking out of in the castle, many with better views than the roof of the hall, and there was the walk all around between the towers, but standing on the slope of the roof with nothing between her and the ground but a short plummet felt much more daring.
Simon whimpered now and then while she staggered about, until suddenly, much to his consternation, she was striding up and down the roof, peering over the edge, and walking the ridge of the little dormer roof as if it were a tightrope. This was much to the mingled delight and distress of the handmaidens, with their draperies and hats and parasols, who had come out for a little sun and to watch the show.
"Oh, la!" Plenty called, giggling, as Peace did a turnabout at one end of the roof to walk back to the other. She stopped to bow, and Patience and Plenty clapped happily.
"She's going over for sure this time," Prudence said, with a certain avidity.
"Pru!" said both Plenty and Patience.
"What?" she asked. "Tempting fate, if you ask me."
"But she has God on her side," Patience said.
Pru snorted. "They do say he looks out for fools, drunks, and little children, and I daresay the Sister fits in all those categories at one time or another."
"Oh, you're awful," Plenty said, giggling again.
"What's that?" Patience asked.
Pru looked up and squinted. "What's that, where?"
"It looks like a bird, or something, coming in for a landing — on Peace's head!"
"Look out!" they cried with one voice, but Peace just turned and waved, and went to bow again.
Throughout her performance, various piskies and hobs and other poltersprites had been peering out of windows, watching, and one of them had become overly curious about the good sister and her performance. Having wings, it decided to take a closer look, and happened to try and land on Peace's head at the same time as she was starting her bow.
Peace saw the creature out of the corner of her eye, and she pulled up, waving a hand at it, forgetting that she was still standing on the ridge of the dormer roof. She over-balanced, and for a terrible second or two she pin-wheeled her arms and tried to get her balance — unfortunately on the side that dropped straight down to the courtyard below.
"GASP!" and "Oh, no!" cried the girls, while Simon ran halfway down the stairs, then back up, yelling "Mama, MAMA!!!" since he didn't know what else to do.
The flying creature made a heroic effort, sinking its claws into the shoulders of Peace's habit, pulling at her until Peace twisted and fell face down on the roof, clutching the ridge, with the creature on her back. They both rested there quietly for a minute or so, and then Peace heard a soft, questioning "Rrrr?" She tilted her head, and a small black face with enormous ears appeared around the edge of her wimple, making anxious cooing noises, and patting her cheek softly with one clawed hand — softly for a kyrkogrim with claws, at least, and it barely scratched her skin. She rolled over on her back, ignoring the calls from below, and tickled him under the chin, grinning when he purred, prrt, prrrrt.
"Oh, you're trouble, I can tell. I suppose I should thank you for helping out." The grim bumped his head on her chin. "We'll just ignore the part where you caused the problem in the first place." She sat up, and Piety scrambled to sit on her shoulder, nuzzling her cheek. Peace laughed. "Yeah, you're a Piety if I ever met one." Peace waved down at the handmaidens and Dinah, who had come out at Simon's call, and Dinah pulled her apron up and hid her face in it.
"Sister, Sister! Are you okay?" Simon called anxiously.
"Oh, yes, I'm fine. Me and Piety are just getting to know each other." She took one of Piety's front legs and waved it in the direction of the handmaidens, and Piety nipped her, but not too badly. Peace tried to turn her head to look at him and ended up cross-eyed. "Okay, we all have our boundaries, I guess."
Rackham was just coming out of the kitchen. "What on earth are you doing with that pest?" he called. "Wasting time, I suppose!" The girls talked all over each other, wailing and exclaiming as they explained the near-disaster, distracting him nicely.
There was so much commotion that even Dr. Fell stuck his head out, muttering to himself, "Ah, so apologetically did their small rowdies cringe beside a tramp. Beneath a ballad, should a rooster harangue like the prostitute?" Then he closed his windows and pretended that he was alone again.
Peace climbed easily back to her feet, Piety sticking to her shoulder with his wings spread for balance, and made her way around the dormer extension and over to Simon, patting at her sleeves and habit. "Now, what did I do with that chalk?"
"You gave it to me to hold," Simon said, sniffling, and handed it over. "You scared me."
She took the chalk and raised her cuff to see the notes she'd made of the leaks from inside the kitchen. "I'll tell you a secret: I was scared for a minute, too." She winked.
"Really?" Simon asked, a surprised look on his face. "I didn't know big people got scared, too."
"They don't come much bigger than you, Simon, my boy!" She grinned at him. "You okay now, if I go back on the roof?"
"I think so," he said. "What's that on your shoulder?"
"Not a what, a who; this is Piety, and he's pleased to make your acquaintance."
Simon held out his hand, and Piety sniffed it a couple times, then tried to take a bite out of it. "Ow," Simon cried, and stuck his finger in his mouth.
Peace bopped Piety on the nose. Piety looked stunned and injured, then flew off a few feet and landed on the roof, chattering and indignant.
"If you can't mind your manners, you can't stay around," Peace said. "And part of manners is not eating your friends. Or, in this case, my friends." Simon was okay, but Peace sent him down to his mother, anyway; she'd be able to tell whether he needed to see the doctor or not, and Simon, though a big boy, was not that far away from needing his mother to make things better.
Before the lunch bell rang, Peace had crawled all over the roof, peering at her cuff and marking all the spots that she felt needed looking at. Piety, having forgiven her, carefully looked at them all with her, never straying far from her side, and often perching on her head and shoulders, chirping and making interested noises. Peace found the creature good company, and an attentive listener, if he did try and catch every fly or ladybug that wandered by and chewed thoughtfully on the cloth ears of Peace's habit.
She made it down to the ground with just enough time to change into a clean habit, making note that she would need something more practical for climbing around on the roof. When she came to lunch, Piety came with her, and Dinah met her in the doorway, her hands on her hips.
"You're not bringing that thing into my kitchen," Dinah said. "It's dangerous!"
"Oh, pfft," Peace said eloquently. "It's no more dangerous than any of the other sprites that hang out in the kitchen."
"It bit Simon!"
"It was just a little hungry, it didn't know better—" Peace said, then took a big step back, wide-eyed as Dinah leaned in, pointed out the door, and simply roared, "OUT" in her most emphatic cook's voice, which was very emphatic indeed.
Peace sighed and tried to get the grim off her shoulder, but Piety was having none of it and dug his claws deeper into the thick cloth of her habit. Peace finally gave up and sat down on the bench outside the door. "Look, here's the thing. I'm hungry, you're hungry. You can't go in, so if you stick with me, I can't go in. But if you let me go in, I'll bring food out to you."
Piety sneezed once, chrrf, climbed off her shoulder to sit beside her on the bench, then curled his tail tidily around his feet and looked prepared to wait as long as it took.
After lunch, and after dropping a bit of bread and cheese off with Piety, she grabbed Rackham by the sleeve before he could hide away in his office again. "Not so fast, chum, have you found those shingles yet? And what about the pitch?"
Rackham sniffed and looked down his long beak at her. She let go of his sleeve and patted the wrinkled cloth.
"Yes, while you've been playing about out in the open air and terrorizing the girls, I scoured the rest of the castle, looking for the actual means to repair the roof."
"You're the best," Peace said. "Where do I find them?"
He took her arm and led her out into the courtyard and over to the stables. "Iron Henry helped me haul up them up out of the dungeon, along with a couple of buckets of pitch. It's hardened, of course, but I think it will do once it's heated up."
Peace rubbed her hands together, bouncing up on her toes. "Just wait until I mix in my secret ingredient!"
"Do I even want to know?" Rackham asked, looking up to the heavens.
"Want to, don't want to, makes no difference. It's not a secret if you tell! And if its good enough for the Abbey, it's good enough for this place."
He showed her the piles of shingles in one of the empty stalls. "We should have enough, but the shingles need to be checked; some of them are cracked."
"Hmmm," Peace said. "Maybe I can get Simon to do that while I round up the ch— the other stuff I need," she said. "We should be able to get started bright and early tomorrow. Thanks, Beaky!" She slapped Rackham on the back as she moved to look more closely at the shingles, and he gave a long-suffering sigh.
"I don't know whether you picked up that bad habit from Chess, or him from you, but I'll thank you kindly not to call me that!" He sniffed and turned on his heels to leave, but he allowed himself a small, pleased smile as he heard Peace humming happily to herself. This smile vanished almost immediately when Piety flew straight into him, wings working, and ended up wrapped around his beak, staring him in the face, bug-eyed.
"Prce. Prce!" he said, as clearly as he could with his beak held shut, grabbing hold of Piety's tail with both hands and trying to pull the grim off, until Piety started growling like a puppy with a rope playing tug-of-war. "PRCE!!!"
"Oh, all right, what—"
Rackham glared at her as best he could over and around Piety; his temper wasn't helped by the image of Peace, both hands clapped tight over her mouth, her shoulders shaking.
It took several minutes to get the grim off his beak, both because Peace had to wait until she wasn't giggling any longer, and because the grim didn't seem to want to move. Peace finally tempted him away with a bit of cookie she had hidden in her habit, and Rackham stalked off, muttering dire threats.
"Aw, snookums didn't hurt the mean old stork, did snookums," she cooed in Piety's ear as he nibbled on the cookie, turning it round and round until it was all gone, and they went off to find Simon.
Once Simon was happily ensconced in the stable with clear directions as to how to sort the shingles, Peace changed back into her already dirty habit and went to get some heavy gloves and a spade from Iron Henry, and found a bucket and a cloth to tie over her face. Then she snuck around to the chicken patch, making sure nobody watched her going, which wasn't too difficult. At this point in the afternoon, most of the Castle's inhabitants except for Iron Henry were taking naps, and Iron Henry wouldn't say anything to anyone, even if he did see her.
Piety made the chickens nervous, and Peace looked around guiltily. The Castle relied on Camilla's golden eggs to support them all, as Rackham had said, and if she was too nervous.... Peace took Piety over to the gate and urged him off her shoulder onto the gate itself. Then she stepped back and said firmly, "Stay!"
If a grim could look sulky, Piety did, but he stayed, and apart from flapping his wings now and then, he played nice while Peace tied the cloth around her nose and mouth, then scraped up as many chicken droppings as her bucket would hold, chortling gleefully to herself. "They'll never guess!"
Along about suppertime, Simon had neat stacks of shingles ready to be carried up to the roof as needed on the morrow, and the pitch was heated and mixed and keeping warm in the coals of the forge, ready to use. It had been hastily removed there from the kitchen, where Peace had first mixed it and started it heating, leading to more than a few exclamations of "Oh, dear," and "EW!" and "Dear God in heaven, what is that smell."
Even now the odor lingered, and no one had much appetite. The handmaidens kept dabbing at their noses with perfumed handkerchiefs, and Rackham kept eyeing Peace rather smugly. Even Dr. Fell, when he came in in his plague mask to fill his dinner pail, remarked, "The iron mother's bouquet did rudely call, Yes, I am as fine as many murmuring crates," as he hurried from the kitchen with his pail in hand. "People was braver than snowy hay," he called back over his shoulder. "It was dirtiest who bleeds behind the piano!"
Peace and Rackham exchanged glances at that, and Peace nodded grimly. "As soon as the roof is done, I'll check in on him; it sounds like things are getting bad again."
Dinah served out the meal and refused to talk to Peace all evening, although her dour silence and pointed snorts were as clear as anything she could have said. Peace shrugged and figured she'd get over it once the roof was fixed.
As she was leaving, Peace slapped a dozing Rackham on the back, startling a short squaaawk! from him, leaving him looking a tiny bit disheveled and quite embarrassed. "Get an early night, birdbrain! We start at dawn!" She winked at Simon. "And that goes for you, too. We'll need you and your strong legs to run the shingles up and down the stairs!"
She woke before dawn and said her prayers, taking time over each member of her small flock, praising their gifts and praying for guidance to shore up their weaknesses. Then she pulled out a pair of leggings and a long tunic that was still significantly shorter than her habit, wound her wimple tight, and grabbed a flat hat that she could pin to the wimple to keep the sun out of her eyes. Piety had seemed content to spend the night in her room, and now he followed along behind her as she went to find a meal.
No matter how early a denizen of Castle Waiting might be up, Dinah was there before them, ready with breakfast that would stick to their ribs and keep them going through whatever task was set them. Today was no exception, even if Dinah still looked unhappy and took a broom to a chastened Piety when he crept in the doorway to watch Peace. She had porridge and cream, eggs and sausages and bacon, ready and put full dishes in front of Iron Henry as he came in, and in front of Rackham when he staggered in, yawning. He blinked at Peace, then politely averted his eyes, clearing his throat awkwardly.
"Better for clambering around on the roof," she said, her mouth full of bread. "Have to be able to keep my feet under me without getting tangled up in the cloth."
He nodded, but kept his eyes turned away, his cheeks slightly flushed.
Up earlier, Peace finished before them, and along with Simon went into the courtyard. When Rackham and Iron Henry came out the courtyard was filled with a rosy glow, and Peace was standing contorted, one arm behind her back holding one ankle, and Simon was touching his toes and giggling. Rackham declined to join in with the stretching, and Iron Henry just leaned against the wall, waiting.
"Okay, then!" she said, handing out gloves and pitchers and cloths to mop the pitch with. "There are two buckets of pitch; we'll alternate them when one starts to get too cool. We'd better have Iron Henry get the cold one settled back on the fire and run the hot one up to the stair landing, while Simon is in charge of making sure we don't run out of shingles or nails when the time comes for those." She shaded her eyes with her hand, and looked up at the roof. "The underlying roof seems sound, I think it's just a matter of making sure it's well-covered with pitch and that the tiles are all intact, straight, and well-fastened. The three of us will work at replacing any broken or leaking shingles, and patching the marked holes with pitch. Hup! Hup! Hup!"
Iron Henry fetched the first bucket of pitch, and Simon came up behind him with an armload of shingles. Putting them down where they wouldn't fall off into the courtyard, Simon bent over the open bucket and took a deep breath.
"PEE-YEW!! That's about the worst smell I ever did smell," he said.
Peace beamed. "That's the secret ingredient! The worse it smells, the less anything wants to be around it, so even the rain slides away. And it's got a little bit of actual rainwater mixed in, to make it seal better, because the rain thinks it's already there and goes off someplace else!"
"Really?" Simon said. "That's smart!"
"That makes no sense at all, you ridiculous—" Rackham started.
"Do you want to do this all yourself?"
He subsided with a disbelieving look.
"I thought not," she said smugly.
The first day they spent tarring the roof, making sure that all the places Peace had mapped out were well-mopped with pitch. It made their eyes water and their noses run, but they kept going. Piety watched from a distance, apparently sharing Simon's opinion of the pitch. They tried to eat dinner, but were too tired, and fell directly into bed after the meal, exhausted.
The next day, Peace went up and checked whether the tar was dry enough yet and decided it needed another day at least. So they fell back to their own devices, and Peace concocted a new game that she played with Piety, which involved getting Piety to dig his claws into Peace's headgear, whereupon Peace ran as hard and fast up and down the courtyard as she could, cackling, while Piety leaned into the wind and angled his wings back. Simon laughed so hard he got the hiccups, and when Peace stopped, Piety couldn't fly for a bit, staggering around like he was drunk.
The following morning, Peace rallied her troops again and marched them up the stairs, Hoop! Hup! Hip! The pitch had lost the worst of its stench, and while they hammered shingles into place, Piety kept an eye on what they were doing. The grim had a great deal of fun playing keep away with Peace and the nails she was using and trying to carry off one of the tiles, while Peace shook her fist and threatened to roast him over an open fire. He kept his affections concentrated on Peace, so Iron Henry and Rackham weren't bothered —until late in the morning, when Piety, giving a small crow of glee, successfully dislodged one of the tiles, which slid and skimmed right over the edge of the roof to land with a great crash.
A most un-Dinah like stream of words sounded from below. Peace looked over at Simon, who had his hand up over his mouth, big eyes staring at her in horror.
"...Oops," she said.
"Um, look out below?" she called, and peered over the edge.
Dinah was standing with shards of shingle at her feet. "Be more careful, you crazy nun! I knew it was dangerous, putting you in charge of this!"
Peace stood up, hands on her hips, while Piety flew small loops and continued to crow his triumph. "You shouldn't have been standing so close to the building!"
Dinah shook a finger at her. "It was that damned pet of yours, wasn't it? Admit it!"
"He gets bored," Peace said defensively. But she knew Dinah was right, and after lunch, she lured Piety in with a biscuit. While he was avidly nibbling all around the edges, she managed to dress him in a little collar left over from the days when all the ladies and handmaidens of the castle had yappy little lapdogs to walk in the garden. Piety didn't seem to mind the collar, and even preened in front of some of the other biggles and noggins. When it was time to go back on the roof, she fastened on the accompanying leash—and everything changed.
At first, Piety tried to fly away, this way and that, pulling and struggling and zooming all around Peace's head like a mad thing, dragging her a few steps behind him.
"I'll let you go, if you like," Peace shouted at him, "but that means gone! I can't have you around if you're not going to behave, and if that means having you on a leash, so be it, the choice is yours."
At that, Piety dropped straight to the ground as if dead, except for the panting. When Peace tried to get him to move, she ended up having to drag him at the end of the leash, although she noticed he took great care to keep his wings from being dragged along the ground.
She looked down at him, shaking her head in disgust at his blatant sulking. "Fine," she said. "I'll leave you tethered to the wishing well, and you can watch from there."
As soon as she turned to drag him to the well, he was up and flying just behind her shoulder and a bit around her head, then tugging her along towards the stairs up to the roof. "Silly grim," she muttered.
He tried a few more tricks on the roof as she tried to work, flapping his wings and heading off one direction, then another, until she finally slipped him one of the caramels she'd stolen from Rackham's stash when Rackham wasn't looking. It was a more successful distraction than she'd expected as the grim chewed and chewed and chewed and chewed, working the candy and making the most ridiculous faces (gnar, gnar, gnar) until both Peace and Simon were giggling like loons, and Peace finally gave up, rolling on the roof and cackling.
When she was reduced to nothing but a few hiccupping snorts, and Piety had macerated the caramel into submission, Rackham said, "If you're quite through, some of us are still working."
Unfortunately, this just set Peace off again, and the rest of the day she'd look at Piety, or see the injured set of Rackham's back, and start quietly giggling again. And again, they all fell into bed at an early hour.
There was just a little work left to do the next morning, and Peace took care of it, releasing Rackham and Iron Henry to their regular duties. Then Peace, with Simon's help, cleaned up all the broken bits of tile and spilled roofing gloop and hauled all the tools and buckets and bits and bobs back to where they belonged, and then they went in for lunch.
Peace and Piety had come to an understanding, more or less, about how they would behave around each other, and Piety seemed quite willing to wait outside during meals. Peace suspected that the grim held audiences and regaled the other sprites with the strangenesses of humans and the wonders of their meals. Peace and Dinah had come to their own silent understanding, and things had, as Peace had expected, gone back to normal, although Dinah still sniffed if the grim came too close. Peace suspected they would never be friends.
After lunch, Rackham stood looking up at the roof, his arms crossed behind his back, trying not to look impressed. "So, are you sure it's done?"
Peace stood beside him, mimicking his pose, but rocking back and forth from heel to toe, unable to keep still. "Yup, almost."
"I guess we'll have to wait until the next rain to see what kind of job we did," he said stiffly.
"Nope," she said. "I have a plan. It'll need to dry for a day or two, get it good and solid, and then I'll test it."
"And how are you going to do that?" Rackham asked. "You'd have to haul the water up the stairs, and then you could only throw a bucket at a time over it, and it would get all slippery and wet—" He shuddered.
She grinned at him. "Don't you waste one thought of your fluffy little head on it, boyo. I have it all under control." Piety stuck his tongue out at Rackham from his seat on her shoulder.
Rackham glared at the little beast and sniffed. "I'll believe it when I see it."
Two days later, she took a clean, lidded bucket, covered it with a cloth, and went for a walk in the sunshine, out the castle gates and down the road. She let Piety off his leash, but he didn't go very far, just sat on her shoulder and chittered and scolded the squirrels and the birds. When they came to the river, she walked alongside it, singing loudly.
"Smug, rich and fantastick old fumbler was known, that wedded a juicy, brisk girl of the Town. Her face like an angel, fair, plump, and a maid, her lute well in tune, too — cou'd he but have played!"
They walked quite near the river's edge, and Peace kept a firm grip on the bucket with one hand, with the other hand on the lid, under the cloth, on the far side from the river. The water was burbling and bubbling a little suspiciously alongside. Suddenly a water spout shot up out of the stream, but quick as a wink Peace had the bucket ready, and Ole Man River was tucked up tight with the lid popped on top.
"Let me out!" the outraged sprite called, splashing about inside the bucket until she could barely keep hold of it.
"Quiet. QUIET, will you? I have a bargain for you, a chance for you to go pouring about and drenching things at the castle as much as you'd like!"
The bucket stopped rocking madly to and fro, quieting down until she could hold it steady.
"...All I like?"
"All you like, if not anywhere you'd like, and probably not as long as you'd like, now that I think of it, but yes. I have a job for you, and you're the only one who can do it."
"Really," the sprite said, a note of curiosity and pride creeping in. "Only me?"
"What is it?" he asked suspiciously.
Peace sat down on the river bank and pulled up a stem of grass to chew on, and handed one to Piety, on her shoulder. "If I open up the bucket, do you promise to listen and not drench me?"
The bucket was quiet for a minute or so, rocking back and forth a little, thoughtfully. "I promise."
She unfastened the lid, and Ole Man River popped up and stretched his watery arms.
"You could have just told me you had something for me to do," he said sulkily.
Peace rolled her eyes. "Sure, and you'd have just quietly listened and not tried to splash me at all."
"Hmf. What's this thing you've got for me to do, anyway?" He crossed his arms and leaned on the edge of the bucket and looked at her.
"I've patched up the roof over the kitchen, and I want you to test it, see if it's leaking."
"Oh, that's all, is it? You just want me to throw myself all over your filthy roof and roll around on it, just to see how good a job you did."
"Yup," Peace said. She kicked off her shoes and pulled up her robe so she could dangle her feet in the cool water.
"What'll you give me?"
Peace giggled as fish nibbled on her toes. "What do you want? It has to be something I can manage on my own. I'm the one asking, and I can't go bothering any of the others."
"Can you teach me that song?"
She grinned. "I expected that one. Okay, done. Not a problem. What else d'you want? We've got plenty of good clean rain water up at the castle."
He laughed gleefully. "Like I don't get all I want of that, anyway. No, I want a bucket of that cider of yours. Make it two buckets," he said, rubbing his hands together greedily.
She narrowed her eyes at him. "You can't drink it around decent folks. I don't want you getting any foolish ideas when you're drunk."
He pouted. "Agreed," he said pettishly.
She spit in her hand and held it out. "Deal, then?"
"Oh, no, I want one more thing!"
"Greedy, you are. What is it, then?"
He grew up out of the bucket to lean in towards her, peering at Piety suspiciously, like he was embarrassed. "Can that thing understand what we're saying?"
"Sometimes I think so, yeah."
He glared at the grim, then leaned in close to whisper in her ear.
She pulled back and looked at him, blinking. "Say that again, I don't think I heard right."
He looked embarrassed and whispered again, and she said glrtch, like she'd swallowed wrong.
His eyebrows lowered. "You laugh, and the deal's off."
Peace nunfully restrained herself, but her face turned purple while she got herself under control, and then she hung her head between her knees, taking in deep breaths of air. "Okay, but not with me, you'll be on your own."
"Done!" he said, and they shook hands. "Now pour me back in the river, and I'll meet you in the courtyard."
She did so, sploop!, and made her way back to the castle by the road, while Ole Man River went by river, waterfall, and underground cave, sploosh!, splsh!, and bloop!, surfacing through the well just as Peace and Piety made it into the inner courtyard.
"Wait a couple minutes, I want to make sure we're clear," she said. But Rackham and Dinah were out in the garden, while Simon was doing his chores in the stable and the kitchen was empty.
"Okay, let it rip!" she said.
Ole Man River wriggled and twisted a bit, and then he was at the top of a water spout, heading straight for the roof, more and more water pulled up behind him. He crashed down on the roof, SPLOOOOOOOSH! Almost immediately his head popped up, and he looked down at Peace, clearly outraged. "You didn't say there'd be ch—"
"A deal's a deal," she yelled, interrupting him and shutting him up. "Now get to work, or no bu—"
"I'm going, I'm going," he said hastily, and then he began in earnest. He danced and he sprayed and he poured, over and over the full extent of the roof, but no harder than a good solid rain would push. Peace went into the hall, and Simon joined her there to find her staring up at the ceiling, watching for any dampness.
This went on for over an hour, and towards the end she and Simon just sat and watched Ole Man River have a grand and glorious time, while Rackham stood with his hands on his head, occasionally saying something about how "You mustn't encourage them," and Dinah muttered darkly about who was going to get stuck cleaning up the mess.
Finally, the water sprite splorched back into the well, and contrary to Dinah's grim prognostications, he took most of his water back with him. He popped his head up, looking tired, but happy.
"Let me look inside one more time, then you can tell me what you found," Peace said. "You did a fine job!"
There was only one drip that Peace could find, and a damp spot or two that bore investigating. Rackham went back to his office, Dinah to her kitchen to start work on supper with Simon's help, and Peace and Ole Man River were alone, save for Piety. Consulting with the water sprite, she made some more notes on her cuff, whistling cheerfully. "I should be able to patch these spots up myself, once it's dried out, and we're good to go."
"Well? When do I get paid?" asked the sprite. "If you'd told me there was going to be chicken dung—"
"Hush, keep it down! That's the secret ingredient," she said, grinning. "Works like a charm. And you'll get payment tonight, if I can make it happen. Come back later this evening, say, when the sun's just touching the castle wall?"
Ole Man River saluted her and was gone back down the well, slosh!
Then she went to Rackham and told him she'd need two jugs of cider and entrance to the Keep.
"What on earth for?" he asked.
"I made a promise to Ole Man River, to get his help, and I don't think Dinah wants him in her kitchen at this point."
"But why the Keep?"
"It's got everything I need to keep my promise, the only place that does except for the kitchen, once I get Simon to help me carry some wood and water. Can you check the chimneys in the old kitchen when you bring the cider there, make sure there aren't any nests or whatnot?"
Rackham raised an eyebrow at her. "How surprisingly careful and prudent of you."
"Hmf. I can be forethoughty when it's called for, y'old sourpuss. Will you do it?"
"I did a walkthrough and checked it all just last week, during the rain, so it should be fine."
"You could have just said so."
"I just did."
"Fine! And you'll bring the cider?"
"Indeed." He took the key off his ring of keys, and handed it to her. "Be careful with this, don't let that little monster of yours carry it off!"
Piety chittered at him, and he pulled his hand back.
Peace stuck her thumbs in her ears and waggled her fingers at him as he walked away, and stuck her tongue out for good measure. Piety did the same, using his wings, and the flapping knocked Peace off-balance. She grabbed for the creature, who immediately dug its paws into her wimple and held on, nattering at her crankily. "Ow! Let go, you little monster! Ow!" She finally gave up and let go herself, and looked up to find Rackham watching her, a huge grin on his face.
"Good to see he shares his favors equally," he said. "It occurs to me that you needn't haul water to the old kitchen; the cistern on the tower still gathers rainwater, and the pipes should work."
She flung her arms around him and gave him a hug and a peck on the cheek, while Piety lifted off her shoulder and hovered grumpily. "Thank you, thank you! That makes things even easier!"
He touched a hand to his cheek, smiling, while she skipped off to find Simon and Iron Henry.
Iron Henry was right where she needed him, chopping away at the briars that still grew wild outside the castle gates. They no longer grew abnormally fast, or thick, but it was still a job keeping them under control.
"John! John!" she said, running along the path. "Can you bring me a big stack of thornwood? I have to make a big fire in the old kitchen, but I don't want to waste any of our regular wood. Do you have any old dry stuff stacked up?"
He grunted, and she took that as a sign of agreement. "Thank you! I'll send Simon to help in a bit!"
Back on the castle grounds, she found Simon and took him with her to check out the old Keep.
"Are you sure this is okay?" Simon asked nervously. "Rackham doesn't usually like for me to go in here."
"You're with me, so we're safe as houses," Peace said. "See? I have the key."
Simon looked at her doubtfully, but it was too exciting to be in the old Keep for his worry to last long.
"We don't have to haul water, as long as the pipes are okay, but we are going to need one of your Mama's big water-heating pots, to put the water in," she said thoughtfully. "Why don't you go help Iron Henry haul some thornwood up, and I'll find out about the pot. Oh, and I have to visit the girls."
Dinah took some convincing, but Peace knew she had no love for the mischievous sprite, and when Peace presented it to her that either she borrow the pot, or the bargain with Ole Man River was off, and who knew what would happen then, Dinah gave in, albeit reluctantly.
"I don't want that dirty old sprite in my pot," she said severely. "Nothing but natural, unliving water, you hear me?"
"He's not going to use it, but he's made of water, how dirty can he be, anyway?" Peace asked.
"He's dirty where it counts," Dinah sniffed. "And I'm not heating my bathwater in anything that creature has been wallowing in. What do you need it for, anyway?"
"Heating water," Peace said cheerfully, and she went back out of the kitchen and crossed the courtyard to the living quarters, where everyone but Peace, Simon, and Dinah had rooms. Taking a deep breath, she knocked on the handmaidens door, grimacing when they called out "Coooome iiiiin!" in a coy, cheery singsong.
A short time later, she was tucking something under her habit when she met Simon coming out of the Keep. "Your mama has the water pot ready for me, Simon, if you'd carry it into the old kitchen?"
"Okay," he said, turning towards the kitchen with her. "What were you doing visiting the ladies?"
"Oh, I needed to trade them for something," she said mysteriously, and wouldn't say another word, no matter how Simon pleaded and cajoled as they carried the water pot into the Keep.
Iron Henry dropped off a last load of thornwood and left, and with that, she had everything she needed.
"Are we going to take baths, now?" Simon asked dubiously.
"HA! No, not us!" And again, that's all she would say.
She decided to test the pipes before starting the fire, in case they found they did need to haul water. Fortunately, after some noises that made her wonder if some nixies had gotten stuck in the pipes, and then some gurgling and bubbling, the pipes worked fine. She got a roaring fire going under the filled water pot that Simon helped her hang up, and while it heated she put the jugs of cider in the buckets, filled them with cold water to keep the cider cool, and set them next to one of the two-seater bath tubs.
She leaned back, bracing her back on her hands, listening to it creak and pop. "I think that'll do it, Simon."
"But what's all this for," he burst out.
Peace laughed. "I'll let you in on a little secret. Before Ole Man River agreed to test whether the repairs were waterproof, he wanted two things." She pointed at the buckets of cider. "Two buckets of cider, and..." Sticking her hand into her sleeve, she pulled out the bottle she'd gotten from the handmaidens, "a bubble bath!" She didn't tell him about the song, because she didn't think his mother wanted him learning any songs like that just yet — if ever.
Simon made a face. "But why would he want a bath? I don't like baths!"
"I dunno, maybe the bubbles make him feel good, or tickle his nose, or something. I didn't ask!" Making sure the fire was contained in the great fireplace, the cauldron of water securely hung, she walked Simon out of the Keep. "It seemed little enough to pay in order to know that the roof was working before the next big rain."
She stopped by the well, and gave Simon a big hug. He got a huge grin on his face and hugged her back.
"Thank you for letting me help with the roof, and with this, Sister," he said. "It was fun!"
"You're welcome, Simon; it would have been much harder without you. You're a good boy." She patted his hand.
"That's what Mama says," he said. "I better see whether she needs help with dinner."
"You do that. I'm going to wait here for Ole Man River."
Not too long after the sun had dipped entirely below the edge of the walls, and twilight filled the courtyard, Rackham found Peace sitting on the steps of the Keep, grinning ear to ear.
"Come look," she said. She led him into the Keep and across the old Hall, tiptoeing, her finger to her lips for quiet. As they neared the old kitchen, they could hear splashing and crashing of water, and a wavery voice singing at the top of its lungs, "She laid his dry hand on her snowy soft breast, and from those white hills gave a glimpse of the best: But, ah! What is Age, when our youth's but a span? She found him an infant instead of a man!" Peace snickered as Rackham looked scandalized and didn't mention that she'd taught Ole Man River the song he was obviously enjoying.
She cracked the door on the kitchen and peered in, and a number of soap bubbles escaped and went drifting down the hall. "Have a look."
Rackham peered in to see Ole Man River having the time of his life, bubbles everywhere, as he splooshed and splished from one tub to the next, churning up more and more bubbles, and occasionally taking a dip through one of the buckets that now held the cider itself, splorch, singing drunkenly about wicked women and dirty old men.
Rackham closed the door quietly. "Where did you get the bubbles?"
Peace shrugged. "I bargained with the girls; they keep it set aside for special occasions."
He looked at her. "What on earth did you have that they wanted enough to trade?"
Her cheeks shaded a soft rose as she said, "I told them they could dress me up one day."
Rackham looked a bit shocked. "Paint pots and all?"
She nodded cheerfully. "I may be a nun, but I'm still a girl, you know!"
He shook his head, dumbfounded, and said nothing more.
They walked back through the Keep, into the courtyard, and toward the Great Hall and the warm kitchen, where Dinah was ringing the bell for dinner. "You get to clean up that mess when he's done," Rackham finally said.
Peace chortled. "Will do. Maybe I'll let Simon help!" She giggled at the dry look Rackham shot her. "Don't you ever tell him, but I'm kind of fond of the mad thing."
He knew she wasn't talking about Simon. "I won't tell Dinah, either."
"No, I don't think she'd understand." Peace fondly scratched Piety's chin, and the creature purred. "I don't think she likes my new pet."
"No," Rackham said dryly. "I don't think I like your new pet, either. You really shouldn't encourage them, you know."
She scuffed her feet and skipped a bit, and Piety rose up off her shoulder, then settled back, chirping happily. "All creatures need a little love, Beaky."
He gave a long-suffering sigh that she knew was mostly for show. "I've asked you not to call me that." But he tucked his hand over hers when she curved hers around his arm.
"Maybe there will be cake," she said hopefully, and they walked in to join the rest of their family.
Dr. Fell's words, both here and in places in Castle Waiting itself, are from poems composed by the Arch-Beatnik, a computer program created by the pseudonymous R.M. Worthy and others around 1960. They "fed" their program on a diet of words and sentence structures, and in return it generated a very interesting body of work. I would probably never have known this if it weren't for Yuletide.
The excerpt from the song that Sister Peace sings and that she teaches to Ole Man River is The Old Fumbler, c. 1695.