A medieval baker has a unique way of bread making.
|THE TALE OF THE NAKED BAKER
He was a dark and stormy Knight. No really, he was. Dirty skin and always brooding, with emotions that swung more often than the pendulum in me grandfather's clock. Probably hit too many times over the head defending our Queen. But Sir Paul Bulwyer was me brudder, and we loved him, me sister and I. Well most of the time anyway. Lyttia and I didn't care for him much when he came 'round all smelly and emotional. He was known for skipping his monthly bath quite regularly. That day he sat in me bakery, fuming. Banging his fists on me timber bench, shivering all me utensils. That's right, I'm a baker and me sister Lyttia is a seamstress over in Hertfordshire.
"What's the matter now, Bully?" I affectionately asked the giant in me shoppe.
"The knights are meeting at the castle this evening, Edward. I am supposed to help with the battle plan against those angry Scots in the North, and I got nothing!" ranted Bully. "Plus it's Sir Asquith's birthday and I got nothing for that either.
I walked over and moved his upside down map away and put two tarts in front of him with some piping hot tea.
"Oh, you'll think of something soon me brudder. You have a tidy brain under that helmet." I lied. "Blimey, Bully. You are stinking up me shoppe! When did you last have a bath? Your bloody horse smells better'n you.
"Don't bother me. I'll have a bath tomorrow."
"You'll have a bath today! Didn't you say you have a meeting with the other knights 'round the table with the King later? You'll stink them out of the castle. Finish the tea and tarts and go out back and scrub the dirt off your skin." I remember saying to him.
He lifted his armpit and took a whiff of his garments and I swore his nose hairs singed. He cocked his bushy eyebrows and flared his nostrils and it is then I knew he agreed with me.
"Aye... but what's your excuse then brudder? You wash your arse twice a day but you still have all the flour and dough all about your neck and shoulders for your troubles. What's your angle then?" he asked me.
"It's not your worry my young friend. This is known simply as a hazard of the occupation." I said swiftly. Far too quick for a slow mind such as me brudder the knight. I dared not dwell anywhere in the vicinity of my secret.
"Alright, Edward. This deal I'll make with ye. I'll have the bath 'round back but you'll part with those four loaves of Ashbury bread and the currant pastries to take back to the castle for Sir Asquith's birthday."
"Nay! Not those breads at all. They are cooling for the Mayor's wedding. Anything else but those," I told him with my sternest voice and he got the message. He might be a vicious marauder in armour on the battlefield but in me shoppe, his big brudder was the Lord.
Lyttia had a softer heart for him though. Ever since he scared off a pack of wolves that had run her up a tree when she was seventeen she has never stopped thanking him. In fact it was she who suggested that he apply to serve for the Queen's army because of his bravery. Our parents were far from noble blood but he started out as a knave and by twenty-two, he was knighted because of his valor. It might have been twenty-one had he practiced better hygiene. She made new Knighlty uniforms for him and left them at me shoppe for him to wear.
"No don't you put those smelly clothes back on now that you are clean, Bully," I told him after he was done with his bath. "Lyttia left you a fresh uniform down in the cellar, put those on."
I remember going out back to throw away the obnoxious pile of material that he wore and I looked at the tub of water he bathed in. Bloody hell it was as black as the soot in me oven. I overturned the tub and washed it out all the while holding me nose. By the time I went back inside, that vagabond brudder of mine had left, with a clean escape of all the Mayor's Ashbury loaves and currant pastries.
It was not for another six weeks that I heard from him. Lyttia was visiting from Hertfordshire and we were walking up the cobblestone road just a quarter mile from the bakery. I was pulling a sack of flour in me cart and we both heard the galloping behind us. There was only one steed in all of Britain who galloped like his horse,Thorne.
"My lord, Edward! He's not going to stop is he?" screamed his beloved sister.
With a deft lean and a scoop, Sir Paul Bulwyer clutched his sister on the gallop and swung her around behind him on the steed. Quite impressive I had to admit since Lyttia was long left the size of plump and was knocking on the door of obese. She likely screamed all the way to the bakery but I was convinced she had the time of her life.
"Paul Bulwyer! You mindless oaf! You could have killed me!" I heard her wail from a distance.
But I could tell she was glad to see her strapping brudder again. A small crowd had gathered outside me bakery by the time I arrived. It was not often that they got to see a real knight in the flesh. My breads and pastries were already spectacular but having a brudder who fought for the Crown was Majestic for me business. Thorne, his black stallion, had his mane and tail braided with red and white tassels and I knew this meant that the knights had won a battle recently.
"I bring great news my pedestrian siblings," cried Bully as we laughed our way inside the bakery shoppe.
"What Lyttia, did you see that? Bully's vocabulary is getting bigger!" I joked.
He looked down at his groin and said, "Do you think so too? I looked at it this morning and thought the same thing."
Lyttia and I had the hardest time to not laugh at our brudder and spoil his good mood as we could not predict when there may be another.
"Bully...That's not what 'vocabulary' means but I'm happy your whang is still growing. What's the good news, good Sir?" she asked with a straight face.
"Ahem... as you can tell by my handsome steed that we defeated that nasty band of Scots in the North. But what ye don't know is that my battalion discovered their secret plan and I slayed the enemy before they could attack!"
"What, that's grand work dear brudder. Hooray for the Bulwyer brawn!" we both exclaimed in genuine glee.
"Never mind I read the map upside down and led me men in the completely wrong direction to the plan. Some may call it 'stumbling across the enemy' but I call it divine battalion conception, seeing that the concept was me own."
We fell silent, then he continued.
"There is more, in addition, I pray thee. The breads and pastries Edward donated for Sir Asquith's birthday six weeks ago were the talk of the men. The king ate of one when he was at the meeting and took one for the Queen and they simply loved them. They said it was the best bread ever passed their mouths. Now I bring a direct message from the Royal house that they want you to prepare the bread for the victory banquet at the castle," he said.
"That's grand Edward. Hooray for you too. Wow, baking for the banquet. You will accept the honour right?" asked Lyttia.
"Well, of course, I'll accept the honour. It is the bloody Royal family you know. I'll have to hire an oxen cart to transport all that bread but that should not be a problem," I said getting quite excited at the time.
"No no no. You will prepare them in the castle kitchen, Edward of course. You will have to spend the night," Bully said with his chest full of air.
"Oh," is all I said and I walked away from me siblings.
This was going to be a problem. I pretended to tidy up but I was deep in thought as I knew me secret was in jeopardy. I may as well say it now because there would be trouble in the future. The reason why my breads and pastries are so wondrously delectable is because I knead the dough in the nude. It is important that you understand what I really mean, though. I mean that I take me knickers off and use me naked body to knead the dough for me breads. Why would I do such a thing? Well, I blame the lovely lass Minerva. I hired her as an apprentice two years ago and she refused to wear undergarments to conceal her ample bosom. Imagine the restraint required to concentrate on matters when she's bent over me table kneading away. I could take the situation no more and one fine day our passions got the best of us and we had ourselves a roll in the hay. Except that the hay was me flour on me table. After the fifth time of our rolling around, I noticed the breads were the softest most succulent ever and me customers were raving over the 'new recipe'. Well, Minerva went on about her business, but I found that I didn't need her to make me magic breads. Herein lies the problem; How was I going to knead the dough for the Royal family in me special way, if I have to use their crowded Royal bloody kitchens?
The banquet was four days after that and Lyttia kissed me on the forehead and wished me Godspeed. She stayed behind to mind me shoppe and off I went to the castle.
I got there the next day and made me introductions to the kitchen staff. A member of the Queen's court paced up and down the line made by two rows of the cooks. She barked out the orders for the new temporary staff and the bird-faced head cook followed one step behind.
"As you know the Queen tolerates no shite in her kitchens. Do as you're told and no more. There is no hanky panky behind these walls. By her decree, no skin shown above the ankle or above the elbow and obviously, no cleavage whatsoever. Cook or prepare your meals and present them to the Steward Cyril. I don't care if your children are starving, do not steal a crumb from this kitchen. The last cook took an entire turnip and she is still shackled in chains down below," said the prim and proper Courtier.
For the first time in many years, I was nervous and I could have done with a reassuring shove from me brudder the Knight. The banquet was five hours away and I set about preparing me menu of breads and pastries. Beak-nosed Cyril kept a close watch on the proceedings. Constantly up close behind me shoulders watching me knead the dough by hand. But even with his bird's eye view, he didn’t see two rats roll a potato off a table and down through a gutter hole in the wall. The poor cook in the dungeon was probably framed by them castle rodents.
And so the banquet time was nigh. I finished twenty loaves of Ashbury bread and three scores of the dainty little chaufettes on time. The other cooks were brimming about their soups and roasted swine and pickled pheasants but I gave it me best effort I did. Still, though I felt a pallor of inadequacy. Cyril the beady-eyed steward, took the finished platters and handed them off to finely dressed pages who carried them out to the banquet. That was the last I saw of me breads as I could not even steal a peek at me brudder and his cavalry mates celebrate in the Hall. I grew a wretched dislike for Cyril the steward indeed.
The four of us temporary kitchen staff were huddled into some damp quarters to spend the night with a few scraps from the banquet. It was nothing more than an animal pen without the animals but at least me bed of hay did not include any stains from the back-end of the castle livestock. I was just about to coax me way into a contract with sleep when me brudder barged into the room. It should be known that barging in was a specialty of Sir Paul Bulwyer and I was well accustomed to this. But something was amiss, and I knew what it was. It showed on the torch lit face of me brudder.
"Ordinary! That's what the King is grumbling about. He was promised exquisite bread and all he got was ordinary! What happened Edward?" hissed Bully. His breath was almost as rotten as his mood.
"Things just did not work out as I planned is all. The kitchen was crowded and I like working alone."
"So you admit they were not your best work. I bring you to the royal stage and you develop stage fright? This is what I'm supposed to tell the king, that you got nervous?"
"It is many things, Bully," I said to him feeling the heat from the torch. The other cooks sat up from their cots and watched us argue. "I did the best under the conditions."
"Well me mates are having a laugh at me and I don't like it, plus I have suffered great embankment from me king and employer." Bully paced the room and the other three cooks cowered in his shadow. The sword at his side looked rather mighty in that pen.
"Embarrassment not embankment. What is bloody embankment?"
"Embankment! He blocked my pay bonus because of you! So one of two things will happen; You will either offer the Crown your apologies and slither away in the morning never to return, or guarantee you will produce what you have promised before and redeem your reputation , and mine."
"How am I going to do that?"
"Turns out the Maharaja of India is invited for a state dinner three days from today. Cyril has ordered the imprisonment of two more kitchen staff for stealing potatoes and they will be short of hands. The Queen is willing to ask on your behalf if you accept. You better say yes, Edward. That's the only way my embankment is removed."
"Oh all right," I said to him. Mostly because I thought I knew how to get me breads done the way I wanted, so I'd get me family reputation back. But also so that Bully could use that bonus to help pay for an English tutor.
I asked me brudder to send word to Lyttia to shut the shoppe and come to the castle immediately. I needed her to help me as a lookout inside the castle for me plan to work. But I was prepared to lie to me dear sister to keep me secret alive.
The whole day and afternoon before the banquet for the Maharaja I pretended to help out and give of me time to the other cooks in the kitchen. This pleased Cyril as he was quite a lazy sod. He paced in the kitchen under a stuffed hawk on the wall which looked less avian than he. I kept looking out for Lyttia to arrive. Alas, she was tardy but I still had to go through with the plan.
I cleaned and I swept the dirty floors then pretended to leave the kitchen. But I hid behind a barrel of brine in the pantry until no one was left. I crept out the moment I persuaded my stiff, sleeping legs to awake and began to prepare my dough by the half moon light and the dying torch fire on the wall.
When I was ready with all of my ingredients I loosened me garments and hung me knickers on a spike. All was going well with the necessary nude kneading and I was all but finished, when the doors to the kitchen broke open and in rushed twenty guardsmen lead by the torch carrying Cyril.
"I knew you were up to no good!" he said. "Imagine my shock when I saw you commit treason against the state by taking off your clothes and rummaging on the Royal flour. Guards take him below to await trial."
There I was white as a ghost and naked as a newborn newt as the guards hauled me past Cyril. "These walls have eyes...Hawkeyes," he cackled pointing to the stuffed bird mounted on the wall that he apparently spied through at me.
I was thrown into the prisons with only rodents and regret as me cell mates. I realized that even if Lyttia had come on time that it would have made no difference as Cyril would still have caught me. I needed her badly still if only as a buffer against the rage of me rudder the knight.
The morning brought brown water for breakfast and a reading of me charges. I was in big trouble. The penalty for treason was death. The penalty for naked treason was torture, then death. What with the trial in the evening of that very day, my future looked very bleak.
When Bully reached the Castle after escorting the visiting Maharaja he was told the news. By that time Lyttia was also at the gates and they were allowed to visit me.
"How on this God's planet could you do this to me and our family name, Edward?" hissed me brudder.
"I would have told you eventually," I pleaded.
They spoke to me from the corridor outside me cell. The look on their faces was heartbreaking. But the die was cast for me to die that evening.
"Look let's all calm down, it might not be the end of the world," Lyttia said to us both trying desperately to believe what she was saying.
Bully looked at her. "Well...to be honest, Edward will be sentenced to death this afternoon and I might be chosen to pull the lever on him. So it truly might be the end of the world for him."
"Thank you so much me dear brudder."
"Look, I've got an idea. I know you feel bad, Edward for what you did. We all have secrets right? So let's the three of us each tell a secret that maybe the other one doesn't know, to lighten the mood," said Lyttia. "I'll start; Bully when you were younger, a baby almost, Edward and I used to play with you a lot. But sometimes you were the game itself and we would play catch with you. Unfortunately, we dropped you on your head a few times."
"Lyttia! That's not going to help!" I cautioned. But this revelation brought a smile from Sir Bulwyer.
"That is sort of humourful in a way," he laughed. "Right me next; Remember the time those wolves ran you up a tree and I scared them off when I was a mere lad? Well I ran up the hill yelling and shouting because I thought you brought those big dogs for me to play with. I never thought I was saving you sis. I just thought it was a game. I was sorry they ran off."
My jaw wobbled and Lyttia hurt her arm trying to hit her brudder in her shock. Her whole bubble of childhood admiration just seemed to burst before her.
"Bully! I hate you. But I was there. It looked real... It felt real... I saw it with my eyes. You weren't saving me?"
"Wait, What did you say?"
"It felt real? It looked real?"
Bully whooped. "Tally ho!" He hit me in the head through the bars and hugged and kissed Lyttia.
"I'm going to get you off big brudder. I'll be your barrister tonight!"
He rushed away down the corridor then quickly bustled back up.
"Of course, if I'm wrong, all three of us will be dead by sundown."
And off he rushed again.
So there I was, shackled on a bench in the king's courtroom. Me brudder on me left with a box in his lap and me sister on me right with sorrow in her lap. The king sat upon his throne eating a pheasant leg and the bailiff spoke to read the charges.
"Hear ye hear ye. This be the trial and the five o'clock execution of the Royal crown versus Edward Bulwyer. He is charged with the high crime of indecent treason against the state. His excellency the king will preside and select the executioner when the defendant is found guilty."
The barrister for the crown called Cyril to the stand. he sat on a stool near the king and the trial began.
"Master steward, what did you see in the Royal kitchen last night?" asked the barrister.
"If it pleases the court. I saw that man defile the Royal kitchen by being completely naked on the tables," Cyril spat, pointing at me.
"And what was he doing?"
"He was rolling around in the bread dough your highness."
"How did you discover him?"
"I have a secret peephole I fashioned through the eyes of a dead mounted hawk perched on the walls sir, much like the one I gave to the king on Christmas day."
"I rest my case your highness. This man is guilty as charged."
"Sir Bulwyer, the floor is yours," said our king as he threw the pheasant bone to the corner of the room.
Bully stood and put the box on the bench. Lyttia and I swallowed hard in unison, holding our breath and each other's hands.
"Your Highness, today I act in defense of me brudder as his embarrister to show his innocence."
"Pause, Sir Bulwyer. What is an embarrister?" asked the king.
"Why it's legal representation to avoid embarrassment and death, your highness."
"Very well, carry on."
"Master Cyril...Why did you summon the guards as you spied through the hawk's eyes in the kitchen?"
"Because I saw that vile baker naked in there."
"But then why are you not under arrest for being naked right now?"
"Because I am certainly not naked. I am wearing clothes ."
"But aren't you naked under those clothes right now? You are wearing absolutely nothing under those clothes as we speak."
"This is an affront, sir. I am indeed not naked."
The barrister for the crown stood up. "Your Highness, This is preposterous. It is clear that the goodly cook is not naked. Objection!"
Lyttia and I looked with sadness at each other. We realized then that our brudder knew nothing about nakedness and courtroom defense.
"Move it along Sir Bulwyer. It's getting late and the banquet for the Maharaja is nigh," said our king.
"Last night, you say you saw this man naked in the kitchen. Was it not dark?"
"There was a dying torch and also the half-moon light gave some illumination."
"A half-moon, master steward?"
"Yes! Just the half-moon light was enough."
"Well, where was the other half of the moon? Where did it go?"
"I-I don't know. That's just how the moon works. Sometimes it's full and sometimes it's half. It disappeared."
"Your Highness. Your master cook contends that because you cannot see half of the moon at night then it doesn't exist. He says large portions of the moon disappear because you can no longer see it."
"Your Highness. What is the point of this questioning?" asked the other Barrister.
"My point is, your Highness, just because you can't see all of the moon does not mean it's not there. The moon is always full!"
The barrister stood. "What talk of an imbecile does this man speak your Highness?"
"Sit down counsellor," said the king.
"I submit to this court that me brudder and me client was not naked in the Royal kitchen but that he wore the cloak of the 'Epicurious baker' in order to prepare the excellent delicacies of this age!"
Meself and Lyttia could not believe the sweet rubbish coming from our brudder's mouth and we were as surprised as the court.
"It is our family secret, but I am compelled to show this high court this most special of cloaks."
Bully came over to the bench. He opened the box and dramatically pulled out, with great flair ...nothing.
"Look here, your Highness and members of the court. Look at this finely tailored cloak of the 'Epicurious baker!'"
"But there's nothing there. I cannot see anything," said Cyril from the dock.
"Precisely. So says he who thinks the moon disappears because he can no longer see it. Me brudder was not naked, your Highness...He wore this special delicate tapestry of chefs to prepare the breads for the Maharaja's banquet. He was no more naked than Cyril is right now in his clothes."
"your Highness, this is objectionable in the highest order!" shouted the barrister.
"But where does one get clothing such as this? Why only your brother is blessed with possessing this material?" asked the King.
"These are secret and sacred made only by me sister, Lyttia the seamstress from Hertfordshire!" proclaimed me brudder.
Lyttia, on hearing this, swooned and fell from the bench where she sat.
"Your Highness. There is no proof whatsoever that this is real. No evidence can be shown to prove this," argued the barrister.
I saw me brudder gently lay the fine invisible cloth on a table and shout at the top of his knightly lungs.
"You want proof? This court wants proof? Well here is your proof!"
He went back to his box and took out what looked to be one of me Ashbury loafs. He pinched off a corner and stuffed it into the barrister's mouth. Then pinched off another corner and went right up to the sitting Royal Majesty of the land and stuffed it into his mouth. While they chewed, me brudder announced.
"Can there be any more proof that the cloak of the Epicurious baker exists when bread such as this can be produced? Eat and swallow your Highness. Just because they saw me brudder's bits does not mean he was naked. If the cloak allows you to bake bread like this, then I say, 'Let them eat bread'! I rest my cake!"
Lyttia was still on the floor recovering when the king announced that I was not guilty of the charges and free to go.
"Thank you, your Majesty," said me brudder the knight to the King. "Just two more things your Highness... I believe a replica of the kitchen hawk adorns the wall of the royal chambers presented to you by Cyril. Are we sure that this naked man under those clothes is not spying upon the King in a similar way?"
All eyes turned to Cyril as he shrieked from the witness stand.
"And, your Highness, if you ever wanted to wear such a magic cloak, me sister Lyttia would be happy to tailor one for you to impress the Maharaja when you visit India as Emperor."
Me weighty sister had no choice but to fall to the floor once more.
And so ends my tale. Little did I know that me brudder had rushed up to the kitchen to bake the dough that I had prepared. A naked baker I am, still to this day, with steady work between me shoppe and the Castle. Sometimes I even send a corner of me Ashbury loaf down to Cyril and the other rats in the dungeon. Me sister Lyttia recovered two days after the verdict and she is almost done now with her fantastic cloaks for both the King and Queen.