Janyn Perez 1st-December 1361
A mist rolled over the River Thames. The banks of the River, the buildings of the City, other traffic on the river and the river itself all merged into a uniform grey, streaked occasionally by flecks of a lighter or darker shade, dictated by the continuous movement of the mist itself.
Janyn could see nothing which might identify their position and he was pleased to be a passenger in a barge controlled by a professional boatman. Even so he was worried. The Thames was notorious for collisions on nights such as this.
His concerns proved to be ill founded, as suddenly, unexpectedly, the barge came to rest alongside the steps of Dark House Lane. Merely the act of disembarking sent ripples of mist across the waters of the Thames, along the quay and into the narrow confines of the entrance to the lane.
As the mist swirled, Janyn was given a momentary glimpse along the quay. He noticed that “l’Aigle de l’Occitan” was tied up alongside the steps in it’s usual position. He pulled his cloak closer around him and hurried to the entrance to the laneway. He turned and watched as his companions payed the boatman and haggled over arrangements as to how they might be picked up later. The mist was suddenly so thick that he momentarily lost sight of them.
‘Come on we will be late, she will be waiting for us.’ He sighed. “She is never late.’ All three sprinted up the narrow lane way, partly because they wanted to make up time but also because they wanted to escape the grasping clutch of freezing fog.
A dozen people were huddled outside a door, three quarters the way up the lane.The door was emblazoned with Janyn’s initials ; JP Merchants, Importers and Provendors. Janyn did a role call of the assembled company and then opened the door.
They squeezed their way down the narrow isles between merchandise stored in sacks and crates until they stood in front of another door. Janyn opened the second door and whole group spilled through into a structure within the warehouse room built of solid stone. Opposite the door there was a balcony, nine feet from the floor, firmly enclosed within the stone walls.
It was suddenly warm. The railing for the balcony was illuminated by the flickering light of a fire and the fire itself could be glimpsed At the back of the balcony. A shadowy figure was sat by the fire.
Janyn allowed his cloak to drop from his shoulders, revealing a black leather military style uniform underneath. The uniform consisted of leather hose, thigh length boots, a jerkin cut low enough to expose the collar of a pure white fringed shirt. Janyn’s companions, who positioned themselves either side of him, wore identical uniforms.
Jenyn raised his hands in the air. ‘Your attention please. I am known as Jenyn Perrers, an anglicised version of my Castilian name, Juan Perez. My organisation has the London agency for the famous shipping company “l’ombre sans nom”, “The shadow without a name”.
There was a mutter of surprise throughout the room.
‘You are being recruited as members of the shadow, whose name suggests that it intends to be everywhere, but be relatively unnoticed. Through dealings with organisations such as my own it achieves it’s objective. What we want to do this evening is to allow you to meet l’Aigle, or as she prefers to be called Aquila, which both mean ‘The Eagle’
The mutters intensified. ‘She? We will be working for a woman?’
‘These are my lieutenants, Henry d’vivar, also known as El Cid and William de Windsor also known as the Whisperer, and yes they have a military background.’
Underneath the balcony was yet another door. Janyn opened the door and held it open whilst Henry and William passed through. The door was closed and there was the clear sound of it being locked, and the three men climbing the stairs. It was less than a minute before they reemerged on the balcony.
There was now considerable disquiet amongst those below.
‘Why was the door locked , What are you doing to us”
‘Janyn gazed down and made a point of looking into the eyes of every man.’
‘Do not be concerned, we must ensure Aquila’s safety. There are those who do not wish her well.’
Henry and William came forward to the front corners of the balcony.
Janyn held out his hand and Aquila moved forward, her figure outlined by the light from the fire.Henry and William leaned forward and lit two torches mounted on the side walls. The light from the flares seemed to be focussed on Aquila who now could clearly seen. The light from the fire still flickered behind her.
The muttering from below intensified. Her dress was black and studded with gold beads. She wore a bodice which did not extend below her waist and rose to a tight fitting collar. It showed nothing of what lay beneath. It presented an austere, almost military appearance. a female equivalent of the uniforms worn by Janyn and his associates. This image was emphasised by the fact that she wore a long black cloak loosely tied over one shoulder and long gloves, which were embellished with a gold claw on every finger. The costume threw into sharp contrast the mask she wore. It was unmistakably the face of an eagle but was constructed of “feathers” which picked up and reflected the intensifying torchlight.
As she advanced to the rail of the balcony, Aquila grasped one of Janyn’s hands. William moved forward and grasped her other hand. Together the two men raised Aquila’s hands in the air, in a gesture of triumph. As they did so the underside of the cloak was revealed. Layer upon layer of super reflective gold feathers, picked up the light from the torches. Around her waist were two wide belts, slung from her hips and crossed over each other. One of the belts carried a broadsword and the other a dagger. The weapons also glittered in the light
Aquila held her hands aloft for a full minute to make sure that everyone could see her. .She lowered her arms but the held her right hand out in front of her. She moved the arm to the left and then to the right, making sure that the talons poited directly at every person in the room
‘Welcome to “l’Ombre Sans Nom”, you have not signed on as the crew of a ship but as members of my organisation. You will be aware that you were selected carefully to join us, based on the recommendation of successful ships captains and then an interviewing process.
I know some of you were surprised by the questions you were asked. In fact some of those we selected declined the offer to join us as they found the process too challenging. We consider those of you who did accept to be very special people. Regardless of what your initial duties may be, every one of you will be trained to navigate and to control the ship in all weathers. You will be trained in the use of arms. You are all regarded as future captains of one of our ships. If you make it to that position you will receive a share of every cargo you deliver safely to port.
The murmuring change into a muted cheer. She waited for the sound to subside.
‘If you perform well, there will be opportunities for all of you. However for now, every one of you will report to a different ship. I wish you welcome and good fortune.’
Without any further prompting the murmuring turned into a full throated cheer.
Aquila retreated from the rail of the balcony, waited until Janyn had counted to ten and then when he gave signal advanced again to the rail, holding both arms in the air and presenting a spectacular image.
The result was wave after wave of cheering.
Janyn returned to the lower room and the door once again was opened and then locked behind him. Aquila finally retreated from the rail
Janyn tried to speak several times but was forced to wait until the cheering died away. ‘Thank you for coming. As you were promised I will now give you a modest sum as your signing on fee. In the pouch will also be details of your first tour of duty. The ships name and where you should join her are clearly identified. You will all join different ships which are currently manned with experienced crews, so that your development will be as quick as possible.’
As the sailors filed out they were all given a pouch.
‘Oh just a final point. inside the pouch is a small broach in the form of an eagle, sitting on a pentacle. Just across Thames St you will find our sailors home.. Those of you who wish to do so may stay there until you join your ship. Use the broach to gain access.’
Once everyone had left, Janyn returned to the upper floor. The fire now roared, the focal point of the balcony. Henry and William were stood either side of the fire facing the room. William wriggled. ‘Oh that is nice, I have been frozen all day.’
Ximene was stood by the fire, a mug of wine in her hand. A bucket stood in the fireplace and as Janyn climbed the last step Ximene extracted a poker from the fire and thrust it into the bucket.
The wine in the bucket boiled around the poker, instantly producing a loud crack and then a sizzle. The sounds were accompanied by a penetrating aromatic aroma of cinnamon.