Annika Brownbeard was feeling lonely. Growing up in the family produce business, she had never been lonely, learning to work with her four sisters. At a very young age, she had discovered her talent for climbing and acrobatics. By the age of six, her father would take her up Mount Carmel to get ice for keeping vegetables cold. With her gifted feet and hands, she would climb up with her pickaxes and chop out a block of ice and slide it down to her dad. If she ever slipped, he would catch her just like another block of ice. But she never did.
Then she had taken to singing and acting when she went climbing. She would pretend to be a glorious Princess in a far-off kingdom, or an elfin shield maiden jumping from tree to tree.
Then they had gone to visit Uncle Frederick in Phesus. Frederick worked in the theater Guild and was in charge of the production of many plays which were done in the outdoor amphitheater near the harbor. The Phesus theater put on at least ten plays every year. Brownbeard had brought his family to see “Taming of the Blue”, a play about the difficulties in the life of a sailor.
Frederick had immediately seen Anni’s talents for climbing and acting when she had climbed up the scaffolding to retrieve a scarf which the wind had taken from one of the noble ladies of the town. The attention of the whole crowd was drawn to her small form 20 feet in the air. Her parents were probably the only people in the crowd that were not worried for her. When she brought the scarf back to the woman, she curtsied and sang a few lines from the play.
Uncle Frederick had immediately asked if she would enjoy being trained to become a player. Frederick was a decent sort of fellow, but like most people from Phesus, he did not attend church. Her parents had let her stay on the condition that she was to be escorted to the Cathedral every Sunday morning. Frederick had reluctantly agreed to this condition.
She remembered the first Sunday morning when she had to wake up Uncle Frederick. She had arisen with the sun knowing that the Cathedral in Adelphia generally had service about two hours after sunrise. Frederick’s dog, Maggie, a shaggy spaniel, was very excited that somebody had arisen at this hour. Anni made scrambled eggs, buttered toast, tea and started a bit of soup broth, assuming that Uncle Frederick would smell them and come to the kitchen any minute. The eggs grew cold.
Finally, after she could no longer cook to make good smells without burning breakfast, she tiptoed into Uncle Frederick’s room and found him sound asleep. His facial hair made him look scraggly and the combination of body odor and flatulence was not very pleasant after the kitchen.
“Wake up uncle Frederick,” she said, trying to be gentle and soothing, but somehow, what came out was a squeak.
“Go back to bed!” he said, turning over.
“But Uncle Frederick, you promised my parents you would take me on Sundays!”
As if to emphasize this point, Maggie took a running leap, landed on Uncle Frederick, and began licking his face frantically.
“Of all the confounded nuisances!” he said, brushing Maggie off his head and glaring at Anni. “Look, I’m sick. I’m not feeling well,” he said, as he turned the cold shoulder toward Anni.
“I made you breakfast,” she said. “Would you like some tea? I’ll heat it up on the hearth.”
In response, Uncle Frederick rolled over. Anni walked around to the other side of the bed and poked his nose. “You leave me no choice. I’m going to worship at the Cathedral by myself.” She stomped out of the room to finish breakfast.
About five minutes later, Uncle Frederick came into the kitchen. He had washed his face and water streamed down from his hair as he dried it with a scrap of linen. “You’re just like my brother,” he said, “stubborn as a pigheaded mule! I can’t let you just walk off on your own.”
“That’s good,” replied Anni as she started some more scrambled eggs, “because I’m walking off in ten minutes with or without you.”
In the end, they had to move at a pretty good clip to arrive in time. The church bells rang three rings for a half-hour, two rings for ten minutes and a single ring for five minutes. When the call to worship finally arrived, the ringer would ring all the bells, ringing and dinging with gusto!
“How annoying!” said uncle Frederick, echoing what most of the people in Phesus felt about the bells. For many, it was a signal that they could turn over and go back to sleep.
“I think the sound is pretty!” said Anni.
They arrived at the huge double doors of the imposing Phesus Cathedral along with two or three other latecomers. There was no one to greet them at the door, and if it wasn’t for the bells, they might have thought it was empty. They stepped into the narthex, it was so dim and gloomy that Anni was tempted to go back and open the front door for some light.
The second set of doors which lead into the nave were actually closed. On a Sunday morning? Anni gently pushed on the huge right-hand door and it creaked open. There were perhaps thirty people gathered near the center of the huge space. The minister was giving a Scripture reading and they had to walk closer before they could discern the words clearly. The responsive readings were done in a complete monotone. The minister showed no emotion, so, although Anni could not accuse him of being overly showy, she also felt that he himself was bored.
After a while, it came time to sing a song. The organ was deafening to the point where no one could be heard singing over its screechy tones.
Anni cringed as she looked over at Uncle Frederick. His frown showed that he was unimpressed. How she wished she could bring him to a one of the heartfelt worship services in Adelphia. She longed for that warm sensation of singing with everyone else.
After the service, Anni stopped to greet two girls her age on the steps. They were dressed in exquisite gowns and their hair was curled to perfection.
“Hello!” she said, “my name is Annika.” She performed a very slight curtsy with a smile in hopes of making new friends. Unfortunately, these were the daughters of nobles. Often, this meant snooty. They nodded ever so briefly, said nothing, and continued to walk away with their families.
Anni had matured at the produce stand, and so knew that some nobles could be friendly. But not today. A deep sadness came over her as she followed Uncle Frederick back through the streets. He said nothing and she knew it was best to remain quiet herself. Most of the town was beginning to wake up. People were already telling bawdy jokes as they bought and sold. It seemed like they still paid just a tinge of respect to the fact that it was Sunday, but, once the Cathedral service let out, they went about business as usual. The market opened late, but it was open.
When they arrived at the house, Anni fed Maggie some scraps and gave the shaggy dog water. “Well,” she thought to herself, “if I’m going to win over Uncle Frederick, I’d better hop to it!”
She made hot soup for lunch. The man’s kitchen was woefully inadequate. “What had he been eating?” Well, at least she could throw almost anything in soup.
Now she lay looking up at the cracks in the plaster ceiling. Another Sunday midday nap. She’d been in Phesus for almost 6 weeks. She began to see why Uncle Frederick slept in on Sunday mornings. It was because he was waiting for Sunday afternoons. This was when the actor’s Guild put on a play in the big amphitheater.
It seemed like half the town of Phesus showed up for these! They had been performing “The Taming of the Blue”, a play about life at sea. Anni really did enjoy her role where she had to climb up in the crows nest and say “land ho!”
RIGGER (Anni): “Aye sir! Winds will wend us whither we wot not.”
BEAUCUCCHIO: “Aye. Winds will wend whither whether we would or no.”
BEAUCUCCHIO: “Lift you lubbers! Lest we list left! Tie the tarps!”
After the play was over this particular Sunday, she was on her way home with Uncle Frederick when two older women asked to speak with her. whom she had seen in the Cathedral that morning
“Dear Sir,” said the first, addressing Uncle Frederick, “is this young maiden your daughter?”
“She’s my niece,” said Uncle Frederick, turning as if that meant the end of the conversation.