Traveller's visit to the Hermitage
OMG did I really not read the small print before signing the contract for my ticket to the hermitage - another performance. I really wasn't prepared for that. Obviously not only a visit to the dressing-up box was required but also a consultation of the instant-party-piece-box.
I decided I would travel to the hermitage by raven this time. I had to think carefully about which hermitage we were going to – not the one in St Petersburg (Russia) - one of the world's greatest museums but to the one which is home to the Amazon Queen.
In my new guise of thieving magpie, I exchanged my swansdown cape for one of magpie feathers. Since ravens and magpies belong to the same family perhaps I would have to revise my view of magpies as being the killer whales of the bird world (for their habit of stealing eggs and killing baby birds for food). My feathered cape was quite spectacular as it was made of wing and tail feathers of a dark green/blue hue and a lustrous sheen. We flew through the night sky, dark with storm-threatening clouds and no moon that night. My raven guide assured me that that wouldn't be a problem as the hermitage was only a couple of miles away as the crow flies. What a strange expression. Does anyone know the origin of that expression? and how appropriate for my present situation. After a short flight my raven set me down on the gravel in front of the main door. I pulled at the chain to ring the bell and heared it clang somewhere deep inside the building. The door opened, seemingly of its own accord and I stepped forwards into the entrance hall.
A tall lady came forwards to greet me. “You must be Traveller, I have been expecting you”. I followed her into a large hall with a minstrels gallery running around it. Tapestries hung on the walls and there was rush matting on the floor. Tall vases filled with bullrushes stood in the corners. There was a stained glass window on one side through which the light streamed casting rainbow patterns on the floor. A delicious smell of cooking floated up from somewhere. “I will show you to your room and then you can join us in the refectory for a snack before I show you the dressing-up box”. Oh help, I thought. I’m really going to have to put in some practice for this next bit.
She showed me to a turret room with views over the fields and woods. There was a smell of something woody in the room and I noticed that a small bunch of wild flowers and herbs had been tied together and hung on a hook near the window. After giving me directions to the refectory, she left me to get settled. It didn’t take me long to sort out my things so I followed my nose to the refectory, down a number of winding corridors with ceilings so low that I had to stoop to avoid hitting my head. The walls were covered with whitewash and a number of pictures adorned the wall but I didn’t pay these much attention. My stomach was more interested in the prospect of food.
When I got to the refectory I found that a place had been set for me at the table, but seemingly I was to dine alone. There was a wooden platter, a mug and a jug of some frothy liquid which, on closer inspection, turned out to be cider – my favourite. I helped myself to the bread and cheese. Replete after my snack I considered my situation. I thought that some of the other travellers were here as well but the hermitess had made no mention of them and I hadn’t heard or seen anyone else since my arrival. Very strange I thought.
My thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of the hermitess herself. “Come along now, we need to find you a costume. Come with me to the costume box”. I duly followed her out of the refectory and outside into the garden. We walked until we were out of sight of the hermitage itself and came to a greenhouse. She opened the door and motioned me to follow her inside. “This is where we grow the costumes”, she explained as she showed me rows and rows of costumes seemingly growing at a rapid rate. Each was tied to the sort of canes you see in vegetable plots and as the costumes grew, they were tied for support to the canes. Some had only just started and others were obviously nearly fullgrown. “Choose any one that you like. Whichever you choose will fit you so don’t worry about size. You will need these special golden scissors to cut it off the plant”. She bent down and showed me where to cut the stem of the plant at a point just above a bud. Thus a new costume would grow when I cut mine off. “You will find various accessories on the shelves, take what you want”. I had a vague memory of someone saying something about mediaeval costume as a group of troubadours was supposed to be stopping off at the hermitage. I wandered up and down the rows until I stopped at a silky red dress, with flared sleeves edged with blue brocade with a white undersleeve. I touched the fabric, imagining how it would move with me when I walked. I hesitated a moment longer and then bent down to cut the costume carefully off the plant. She stood watching me as I slipped the dress over my head. ”You see, it fits you perfectly and it’s just the right colour for you. I think the gold crown and the golden cords plaited into your hair would finish it off nicely” she said as she picked up these last items from the shelf. “I expect you will want some time to rehearse your piece so I suggest you take the dress off and go back to your room. I think the others are probably practising at the moment”. She’s right, I thought as I walked back to the hermitage for I could hear snatches of song and a few muffled curses….