The Dunking Stool
The township of Willow, took its name from the Willow River that flowed through it. The river, a wide body of water split the town in half. Could trace its source to a vast track of forest some eighteen miles north of town. Here, countless little streams bubbled to the surface and formed pools of cold water, water that even in the depth of summer was cool and refreshing. Here among countless thousand of Pine, Fur, Oak, and Willow trees, these tiny little springs formed into pools of shallow water.
These tiny little shallow pools, slowly joined together to form brooks, and as these brooks joined together, they formed she slow moving body of water called the Willow. A named given, because of the countless Weeping Willow Trees that shaded its sandy banks.
The town of Willow itself was a strange little town. Its streets where paved with round, brown stones taken from the streams and books, most of its buildings where brick. Most sitting two stories high, coal black slate roofed many of them with a few being thatched. Most of the shops, bore little wooden signs hanging above the doorframe.
A needle and spool of thread marked the dwelling of the towns seamstress, a bed marked the Inn. A pewter Tanker, the tavern. A plate with a knife one side and a fork on the other. Marked the towns restaurant. And so on. It was under one such sign. A small wooden one, one with a white cup of coffee painted upon the rough wooden surface, that Susan was sitting under.
A small smile played across Susan's face as she raised her cup of hot chocolate to take a sip of it. The morning sunshine bathed the brown cobblestone paved square with warm summer heat. The towns fountain, located in the center of the square bubbled away merry. Dozens of coins dotted the bottom of the fountain. Most of those coins where low value ones. The highest being a gold and silver two pound coin. The lower, a copper two pence.
Having taken her sip, she eased her mug back down and smiled toward the gathered crowds. Women in dyed woolen dress's and hard leather shoes, there hair pulled back and braid, clustered together. The low whispers that passed between them hinted at the exchange of gossip. The men for the most part, wore lose fitting cotton shirts with the tails tucked into woolen trousers. The men for the most part seemed to center around a few wooden bench's and tables located at the far side of the square.
In the center of the square, children started to run back and forth. The girls, like there mothers wore lose fitting woolen dress's, mostly dyed a pastel color. Colorful ribbons adorned there hair. With loud giggles and laughs they chased boys around there age, who where likewise dressed like there fathers.
Around the fountain, teenagers gathered. The girls wore dress's like there mothers and younger sisters, only white lace trimmed the helm and the sleeves. And there bodices where lower than the older women. The older teenage boys, wore simple cotton shirts, that where often formless, the shirts where tucked into the waistline of high trousers.
"Wow. Its like something straight out the 'Wheel of Time'." Susan said as she peered around the square. Susan herself was dressed in a light woolen dress, one with short sleeves, the sleeves where trimmed with snow white lace, her bodice was a little lower.
Providing a good look at her budding cleavage. White stocking, and soft brown leather shoes completed her outfit. Her hair for the most party had been tied back in a high ponytail. A sky blue ribbon had been tied around her the base of her ponytail.
Then something shook her out of her musing. The ringing of iron horse shoes upon the stones. Followed by the grinding of a wooden wagon wheel.
"Make way for the mayor!" Came a cry from down one of wide, paved streets. The source of the voice was a young man. Around the age of twenty, he had long brown hair and his hair was tied back in a ponytail. He was dressed in fine scarlet coat that was worn over a white shirt. The shirt was tucked into woolen white trousers. A knot of gold ran the length of the shoulders. At his side, he wore a sword.
Following close behind the young man, there came a troop of armed men, all wearing the same uniform as the young man that lead them. Only this time, knots of dark blue ran the length there shoulders. Each man carried a brown wooden musket and a powder bag fashioned from highly polished black leather. All told there was around twenty of them. They marched five abreast. There tall leather boots, making rung out across the square as they snapped to attention.
A minute later a man dressed in a black court robe that brushed the top of the stones and wearing a powdered white wig appeared. He stood a good head higher than most men and his eyes where the palest blue Sue had ever seen. Standing beside him, a man with short, gray hair. He wore a white clerical collar and a solid black shirt that was tucked into the waistline of matching pair of pants. A black blazer completed the look. A silver plated pectoral cross hung from a silver chain finished the look.
The mayor cleared his throat and looked around the square.
"Attention, citizens of Willow." He called out in a loud booming tone of voice. "I would like to thank you all. Without you, none of this would be possible. A special thanks goes to the shop owners who have donated everything from wares to coins." He paused to allow for a few token applauds to be given. Then he pressed right along.
"A special thanks goes to Katherine Cloth, who sewed all the costumes are guardsmen are wearing." He failed to mention that a handsome payment had been given to Ms. Cloth for each costume. The towns coffers had been almost drained to the last copper. Oh well.. The sales tax collected from the sale of baked goods, donations, trinkets and other knickknacks should offset the downfall enough, they might even show a profit.
Around that time, a wooden cart being pulled by a shaggy chestnut mare came into the square. The cart was being lead by a young farmhand with saggy brown hair.
"Thank you mayor." The priest standing next to him said. "I would like to remind everybody, that mass is at nine thirty tomorrow morning. Please reframe from parting too much." His voice was nasally and dry. It creaked like a old floorboard being pressed too hard down. A mummer ran through the crowd. The man simply closed his eyes and pressed on.
"Anyway. As part of are yearly founding festival. I would like to ask if anybody is willing to brave the Willow, as where in need of some willing. And I do mean willing volunteers to sit in are dunking stool." He said slowly opening his eyes.
"I need six women, unmarried if possible, to please raise your hand or step up." The rector of the village said. "One of are guards here, will then come and take you by the hand and guide you to the cart. Farmer Brown of Browns Farms, has been kind enough to lend us Bella and a cart. At least you'll be given a lift to the dunking site." The old priest patted the side of the saggy mare. Who gently flicked its tail in protest.
One by one, a few women made there way up to the cart. And one by one, they where helped in by a guardsmen. Susan for the most part just sat there and watched. She been in a dunk tank before, plenty of times to honesty. But never a dunking stool, never a classic, honest to goodness dunking stool. Taking a deep breath, she reached into her pocket and tossed a few coins upon the table. The heavy coins made a loud clanking sound as they bounced upon the metal surface. Three pounds, sixteen pence, should be more than enough for one chocolate roll and a cup of coffee with milk.
"Can I join?" Susan said raising her hand high in the air.
All eyes turned on her. A dozen or so half formed grins peered out at her, another dozen smirks, And countless looks of utter indifference.
"I don't see why not." The priest said taking a deep breath. "You seem very eager to brave the Willow. And by your accent, and your tone of voice. I can clearly tell that your not from around here. Your eyes, do match a fellow that passed a while back. Do you have a name girl?"
"Susan." Susan said in a chirping tone of voice.
"Last name? And middle if you can remember it." The priest said again in a low tone of voice. He then made a horrible sound, something that sounded like a cross between a hack and a cough. It sounded like a housecat trying to cough up a huge hairball.
Susan took a deep breath as she peered toward the priest.
"Susan Elizabeth Bell." She said giving her full name, with her first, followed by her middle then finally her last. She then took a deep breath as she peered into the swam green eyes of the man.
"No Father." She stated as she started to walked toward him, She could fell the eyes of the whole down staring at the back of her neck. "I'm not from around here. I'm from America, I'm visiting Willow as part of a school trip. To be more precise I'm from the state called Mississippi. A stated located in the southern region. If you really want to get down to brass tax, I come from a county in Mississippi called Warren. There I attend school at St. Katherine's a private school located in the seat of the county, a port on the Mississippi River called Vicksburg." She paused as she was now standing only mere inch's from his face. A small smile graced her face. "Does that answer your question?" And as a after thought she added the word. "Father."
"Really now." The priest said taking a deep breath. "I'm sure that makes you very special. To come from that ungrateful child. I know very little about the south. Only that it's a barren land, and everybody seems to marry there cousin." He chuckled to himself. "Anyway, joking aside. I think the cold waters of the Willow would if anything, teach you some manners."
Susan only make a sniffing sound as she gave the priest the hardest stare she could muster. Then turning around and tossing her bottom out, and poking out her chest, she climbed into the wagon. Once she was in the back of the wagon, she noticed there where no seats, only old wooden crates, and most of there where covered in a fine layer of sawdust. Rolling her, she started to clear away what she could of the dust with her hand.
Susan soon found herself taking a seat, with wondering eyes she watched each and every girl being helped into the wagon. Once the wagon was full, the driver gave the mare a rough slap on the bottom. A sudden jolt caused the wagon to shake as animal reared its head up and brought down its hoof. Within the same second it turned around and eyed the six women in the cart before swishing its tail around. Rearing its head up again, it jolted into action and soon the wooden wagons where turning.
The heavy wooden wagon meals, made a loud thumping sound as the rolled over the brown cobblestones. Following behind the wagon was the twenty or so uniformed townsmen. There muskets resting easy on there shoulder. Walking just a little ahead of the wagon was the mayor of the town, walking shoulder to shoulder with him was the rector of the local church. Behind the armed body of men, came a stream of towns people.
From her seat on the wooden crate. Susan had a good view of the passing town. It was for the most part a neat little town. Inn, the last building they passed before turning onto the hard packed, dirt road called the "Watch Road" because it took you to the outlaying hamlet of "Watchmen's Hill" some twenty miles away was a tidy little structure.
The Inn, a massive four storied building made of red, oven fired brick. A dozen or so stain glass windows adorned the upper levels. The roof of the inn was red tile, stood out like a sore thump among the black slate and brown thatch roofs. A splash of red in a pattern of black and brown.
The inn keeper, a short man with a round belly, and a clean white apron worn over a blue shirt stood out in front of the Inn. He was a clean shaven man, one with deep blue eyes, and few puffs of salt and pepper colored hair. A long stem wale bone pipe was clenched between his teeth. With a look gentle amusement he watch the procession pass him.
"A free bowl of mutton stew, rolls and a bubbly drink for all the girls dunked today." He called out after removing his pipe from between his teeth. "That includes all are dashing young men." He quickly added with a smirk. He fully expected the common room of his inn, to be filled to the rafters with people come gray, twilight.
Soon the narrow streets gave way to open road. Lush green hills and fenced in pastor. Rough, whitewashed, wooden fences marked the boundary's of each field. Small flocks of a dozen or so blackface sheep, dotted the rolling meadows. From where Sue sat, they reminded her of flecks of snow. Ever now again, a big horn ram would climb up on a overlooking hill and with a loud bleat, he would broadcast to all the world, he was king of the flock and ruler of all.
Before long, the process came to a halt. The place, a little clearing some miles from town. Here, the long branch willows provided cooling shade, from her vantage point, she could see the swift flowing Willow, forming a wide curving bend before becoming straight again. It was in the bulge of this Pen, a wooden chair had been placed. The chair was a simple wooden chair, one that could have come from any of the three dozen farmhouses that dotted the outlaying land.
Yet the pretense of five, thick leather straps, two at the arms, two at the legs. A pole, some eighteen feet in length was attached to the bottom of the chair. The pole was attached to a wooden spool. The spool, had been attached too two wooden pieces of triangles. All of this rested upon a wooden platform. Heavy wheels, likewise made of wood, had been mounted at the bottom, four in number with one at each corner.
"Wow.. Looks like something out of the middle ages." Susan said peering toward the wooden chair. "Man, there really going all out." She said with a small sigh as she eased her shoulders up and her head forward a little so she could get a better view of the straw covered floor.
"Yep." A women said to the side of her. "It's the towns, dunking stool, been around as long as anybody could remember."
"A dunking stool?" Susan said turning around and giving her a puzzled look. "Going back to old Salem are we? Think maybe we should have all worn black dress's? And for the extra slice of pie, a point black hat, with a broom and a stuffed cat." Susan said barking a laugh.
The other women in the cart paused and peered toward Susan. Blinking a little they all peered toward her as if she had just spouted a extra head and was now shooting out the other. Finally one of them spoke.
"We'll, not quite like that. Here darling, we don't need to wear those silly black dress's and walk around with brooms and stuff." She said smiling softy as she peered toward Susan. "Nor do we have the Church, breathing down are necks and dragging before the Justice of Peace." She quickly added with a touch of jest.
"Of course." Another women said. "The good ol' Church of England has other things to do, beside going through the bogs at night." She paused to put on a lopsided smile. "Beside, where not going to string you up, because you saw balls of light dancing on the moors. Everybody know the fey come out on the night of the full moon."
"Talking above the girls head there Wisdom." Another women said with a toothless grin. "She's an American, a lot of the old world wisdom has been forgotten by them. She might even think the little people are just myths. Might even name the dark one before its all over with."
"If your done." The priest said taking a deep breath as peered into the eyes of each women. "Talking about silly things. Then maybe you three ladies. And Yankee, would mind following me toward the dunking. The boys, have just about wheeled the thing into place and are getting ready for the first dunking of the day."
A low whisper passed through. But one by one, they all stood up and made there way over to the odd looking machine. A large crowd of townsfolk had already started to gather it. From where she stood on the green, Susan could see a dozen or so shadows sliming around in the center of the river.
"Fish?" Susan said taking a deep breath as she peered toward the shadows. Swimming around in the center of the river, She could see the current moving upon the surface of the water. She did not have long to look, for soon of the uniformed guards had her gently by the shoulders. Smiling a little he guided the girl toward the wooden chair. With a gently push, they pushed her down into the seat.
Susan soon found herself being eased into the seat of the wooden chair, taking a deep breath, she leaned in and watched as red coated guards strapped her in. First they fasten the broad, leather straps around her waist. With a grin they pulled extra hard, making sure she was secured. Then with practice eased they pulled upon the leather straps that ran the length of the arms of the chair.
Those leather straps, where wrapped and buckled around her arms. Once her arms where secured, they dropped down and brought her legs together and with a quick, fluid motion they wrapped her legs together with brown, leather straps and secured the, Once they where done, they stepped back and admired there hand work.
Susan blushed a little as she settled into the straps that where holding her down, taking a deep breath she watched as she the chair was lifted off the ground and she was swung toward the center of the river, the area where the water was the deepest and the coldest. Frowning a little she looked down, those small black shadows where now darting around, others where lazing around at the bottom.
From her vantage point high above the water, she could see the bottom of the river bed. Pure white sand, the color of sugar could be seen at the bottom of the deep river. Oddly enough the bottom of the river was free of anything major, no snags or hidden surprises, totally unlike the might Mississippi, a river that was freezing cold even in the depths of summer and muddy and dark as sin.
Smiling a little, Susan felt she could almost trust herself to the river below her. Soon though her smile turned into a panic stricken look, as she felt the seat being lowered toward the water. Quickly she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, she took her breath just in time, for soon she was being dunked into the cold water below.
For a minute, everything felt odd, slowly she opened her eyes, and with wonder the beheld the light breaking through the water, pillars of pale white light streamed down from the surface, a large trout peered at her with unblinking eyes. The helm of her dress lifted up a little and she could feel the cold willow surrounding her, molding to her, bonding to her. Then she felt herself being yanked up.
A loud groan escaped her lips as she was forced to breath in air again, her brown hair hung around her shoulders, river water dripped down from her shoulders and down below. Each drip, produced ripples upon the surface. These ripples formed other ripples that still formed others that kept fanning out till they broke upon the sandy, willow shaded shore.
"Dunk her again!" Came a loud shout from the shore.
"The little American needs a good washing, somebody go fetch a paddy of soap. Maybe we can bring her into she shallows and soap her good." Another women called out before she started to clapping and laughing.
Before Susan could respond, she found herself being lowered again, this time at a slower pace, quickly she took a deep breath as she felt the ice cold water reach her chest. Blushing deeply she closed her eyes and once more she felt the water flooding over her, surrounding her, molding itself to her and flooding every part of her.
"God save the queen." Susan could only mutter as she was raised from the water. Without giving a second thought, she spat out a stream of cold stream water and took a deep breath as the late morning sun started to reach its peek in the center of the cloudless, pale blue sky.