Geoff sets the book on the grass, crosses his hands behind his head, and gazes up at the clouds drifting across the sky. He wonders why schools keep torturing children with The Canterbury Tales.
“Middle English is difficult,” his father warned as he handed the old copy to Geoff. The same copy his own father had given him once upon a time.
The shining sun lured Geoff outside, and he hiked through the forest to his favorite meadow. The ruined castle lords over it atop the hill.
Lying on the grass, Geoff wills himself to open the book again. The assignment is to read The General Prologue, and it surprises Geoff he understands Middle English well enough.
Birds chirp in the trees. The spring breeze plays with his hair, the clouds drift, and the sun warms the earth. Geoff reads, slow and steady.
The sound of hooves approaches and pierces the living silence of the meadow. Geoff turns his head towards the tree line, following the sound.
Two men emerge; the elder clad in a rough and rust-stained tunic, the younger with bright clothing and curly hair. With them walks a man in green carrying a bow and arrows. Geoff gazes at them, but finds no reason to move. There is no danger, and Geoff wonders whether the man in green is Robin Hood. His lazy brain puffs the dandelion-idea away, and he watches in placid contemplation as they cross the meadow.
Following the knights, a prioress, a nun, three priests, and a monk appear out of the forest. Geoff is as religious as a fly, but he distinguishes the clergy and their ranks. They cross the meadow and a friar appears, then a merchant and a sergeant of the law.
Geoff knows these people, and wills himself to rise and greet them, but his body is deadwood. The cool breeze gusts and rustles the flora; Geoff thinks they have not seen him, and his silence among the heather will not offend them.
The procession continues; a haberdasher, a carpenter, a weaver, a dyer, and a tapestry-maker. Geoff observes them from his spot, as figure after figure crosses the meadow. Their animated conversation floats to him on the breeze. He cannot distinguish the words, but he hears the jolly mood in the murmur of voices wafting through the field. He wishes he were walking beside them.
Twenty-nine people, he counts, as the last person vanishes into the forest across the meadow. There is one missing, he thinks.
The soft roll of thunder rattles his body. His eyes fly open as soft sprinkles of rain pinprick his skin. The book lies face down on his chest, and a leaden thunderhead darkens the sky.