A Thursday afternoon, and the Church is quiet, apart from the figures of two people near the front. Despite the waters lapping over some of the paving slabs, the floods rising, a young man is sitting holding the hand of a middleaged woman, listening to her with obvious sympathy. From a distance, he is just dressed in black, his posture hiding the collar, but a walking stick is resting obviously against the pew they sit in. The water is trickling down into the cellars, pushing against the preparations Fred and Adam made in the last few days.
While Adam tends to the flock, Fred tends to the church. He's got sandbags - lots of sandbags - and he's not afraid to use them. Currently he's using them on the cellar steps, trying to build a little wall to keep the water from getting in that way. Keeping the water out completely is not a battle he looks fit to win any time soon, but he's doing what he can against the rising tides.
A woman in a bright pink rain coat is carrying a carrying a large backpack covered with a tarp. The rest of her clothing is hidden by the long green waders she has on. Her hair cannot be seen as it has been tucked beneath a matching pink hat. Droplets of water drip off the brim of the hat as the fabric sheds it. Muttering she reaches the church. "I should have got the canoe out." She gets beneath the eaves and carefully takes off her hat. Next the backpack is slid off he shoulders. Tarp remains off it. She is quiet for a moment making sure she is not about to disrupt anything. With her arrival the rain starts to fall harder.
Some of that water pushes past Fred, turning into a small stream running down the ancient steps. Some of it must have shifted the stones down there, for some sounds echo upwards, and some rats must be moving to avoid the water, for there is the sound of scratching.
Adam reaches out, holding the hands of the woman, bowing his head as he prays with her, closing his eyes, his voice audible but not well enough for the words to be clear. As he finishes, they exchange a few more words and he rises, taking up his walking stick, and walking her to the Church's doorway, stepping carefully around the water, his head bowed to hear her. She leaves and the man turns, revealing the collar he wears, his expression grave, "Fred, how are our biblical floods coming?" His gaze lands on the woman, and a warm smile lights up his angular face. "Forgive me, I did not see you." He limps forward, offering a hand of welcome.
"If you see seven thin cows and seven fat ones, let me know," Fred replies to Adam from his sandbag-stacking place. He's sounding more good-humoured than worried. "Who knows, maybe King Canute will surface." Another sandbag is shifted onto the makeshift wall. It's actually quite a good wall of sandbags, neat and solid and really quite professional-looking, although that sort of thing's only obvious to someone who's tried sandbagging something themselves. Making it look that good takes practice. With the arrival of Cricket, Fred falls silent but with a friendly wave and smile between sandbags.
"You will not be the first today." The woman in the green waders and bright pink coat says warmly. Her accent has a soft lilt to it but there is a quirkness to it that marks it as being influence by North America. Her blue eyes look at his hand and she grins. Reaching out she takes it. Her hand is rough and calloused, but her grip gentle. Her blue eyes rest on Adam's collar. "Pleasure, I brought bread for you all. It was baked today, trying to use the supplies before the rain either ruins it or washes our kitchen away. I am Cricket, my husband Ger-Bear is part of the congregation here." She turns her head to look in Fred's direction. There is humor in her voice when she answers Fred. "If I see seven thin cows and seven fat ones, I will be finding the nearest bar. Especially if they are dressed in waders and slickers." Blue eyes study his handiwork for a moment. "Nice sandbagging."
"Playing a trombone?" Adam's tone is dry and he moves forward, shaking her hand with a briefly searching look, a gleam of intelligence in his eyes, hidden beneath the friendly manner. "Excellent! Did you also bring fish? We can feed our five thousand..." He glances with concern at the water sneaking past the professional bagging, frowning slightly at the sounds. "Our rats are leaving the sinking ship down there."
"Always wanted a trombone," Fred grins, the grin only brightening at the compliment. "Cheers! If you're not going to sandbag right, you may as well not bother." And then to Adam, "Careful what you wish for when the river's flooded. Let me finish these and I'll go check the hooks?"
That causes a laugh from her. Her laugh is unrestrained and easy. "The fish and I had a long conversation, and decided that since it was not Friday, it would not work. They promised to be here by Friday." She is careful to avoid Adam's eyes. "I am afraid I just have bread, but you can be assured that it is not processed or from a commercial bakery. Since I am here and using your roof to keep my head dry for a moment before I try and make my way to the college is there anything I can do to help you both?"
Adam leans on his cane, shooting Fred a broad grin, "The nuns have abandoned their quarters and huddled in the vicarage so we can reach the cake tin unhindered." And his home is full to the brim with nuns. "Thank you, that was a kind thought." He gives Cricket another warm smile, one that lights up his face. There is a loud thud from underneath them, and a scuttling sound. Adam lifts his eyebrows, glancing at Fred. "I wonder if the rats are trying to demolish us...
Fred's grin back at Adam is interrupted by a wince at the thud from below. "Ma'am," he says to Cricket, "Short of someone able to tell the water to get out of the cellar and stay out, there's not much anyone can do." He looks down with a grimace, then sighs and reaches for another sandbag, dropping it across a trickle and thumping it into place securely.
She peers in the direction of basement. "Or you have something else down there, you are not in the habit of keeping golems are you? No undead in the tombs? Or what have you been feeding the rats?" She is half teasing of course. "You said you have a house full of nuns. Well if that is case, if you Treasa tell her Cricket said hello and that I have found my muse again and will start writing letters again." He eyes have not left the cellar entrance. "You do not think it is foundations?" This is said to Fred. "If I could stop the rain good sir I would be a happy person. I like enough rain to make the flowers and crops grow."
Disconcertingly, the next scuttle comes with an odd sound, as if gravel giggled. "Fred..." Adam's voice is slightly questioning, and he glances at Cricket, his eyebrow rising at her obviously knowledge. "Well, that makes it less than complicated. Sister Teresa has left us, sadly, for the Welsh mountains for a time." He glances down towards the cellars again, as something splashes in the water on the stairs, and Fred's carefully constructed wall of sand is shoved, some of it tumbling down. The stoney giggle comes again.
Fred eyes the cellar steps. "No golems, no undead that I know of, no rats either." Then there's the crash. "Boll...ahem," he says, with a glance at Cricket so quick that it could easily be missed. "Church has been standing for centuries, a mere flood's not going to upset it. Minty, I'm going for the biscuit tin. Want me to grab the stickflinger while I'm on the move?" He's already over the low wall of sandbags and backing towards the door to the church hall.
"You realize I was joking about the golem? It is good to know about Tereasa, I have some family trouble and had not been writing or a good at keep up with correspondence." The stony giggle coming up from the bottom of the cellars has her eyes raised, especially when the wall of sand bags comes falling down. She looks up towards the sky and then she calls down to whatever did it. "Not polite! You know better than to do that. You are to help not hinder." Her tone is motherly and it has a hit of a scold to it. She takes a step closer towards the cellar entrance but not so close where she could get pulled down. She looks at the two men with a raised silver eyebrow. "Since I am here I will help you restack. I am also not a delicate flower and do not need to worry about my hands or manicured nails. I was hoping that the rats would listen, it worked on my own kids on occasion. I have a habit of talking for our pets. I know the rats are not pets." She says hastily trying to cover up her thoughts about golems.
"I can give you her address if you wish?" He stares down into the water. "It is not polite to knock our barriers down when we are trying to protect your home, you know." The words are quietly spoken, a mix of a friendly tone and a stern telling off, a flash of fatherly behaviour revealing itself. Or perhaps the sergeant escaping. "We best get to it, and then we can retire to the slightly soggy hall to get some brew in us." He hesitates before he replies quietly to her cover up, "I believe the golems are stored in the garden somewhere. Now gargoyles... or something from one of the caskets."
"If that's rats," says Fred bluntly, "Then I'm a Catholic." Turning, he departs at a run for the church hall.
"That is good to know." Is her quiet soft murmured response to Adam. "Handy but still not good especially if they are restless and thinking that it is time to play." She clears her voice and says murmurs in Latin down to whatever is there her tone remains motherly. When she is done she says in English. "I would like that. I need write to her, it has been a few years." She looks over at the retreating Fed. "Rats taste good once they are cleaned and roasted properly."
Cricket says, in Latin, "Come on children, you and I both know you would rather have your home safe. Listen to the father. He does not want you or him to lose this house of God. Trust me it is a good for this house to stay standing. Especially now, do you really want to deal with human, the morning lord and not to mention two more of the sins that are wandering about? Let's be good children."
Fred's comment is met with a snort of laughter and Adam shakes his head. "I'll skip the roast rat course, I think, but I do love me some rat fritters." He listens to Cricket's words, his lips twitching slightly, and he watches as the splashers vanish, the water becoming restful once more. "Well then, maybe we don't need Fred's big stick. But the cake, that'll be welcome.
Fred returns, with the biscuit tin rattling in one hand as he legs it back through the church towards the cellar steps. Apparently he knew exactly where he was going for it, and considered it important enough to abandon the vicar and the lady to go get it.
"If you have tea to go with the cake I think that I will be joining you for something hot, then back into the rain. I need to get to the office them back home." She notices the waters becoming still again. She speaks again in Latin and her tone is as it was before. Switching back to English she looks to Fred. "Sure you do not need help rebuilding?"
Cricket says, in Latin, " Thank you! It is appreciated my good children."
"I think we can find some tea..." He glances up at Fred, his eyes narrowing slightly, a question in his face. "Seems like our friends decided to behave, thanks to Cricket's words." He turns to Fred, leaning on his stick, "Brew up, Fred, let's take a break."
Fred lurches to a halt next to his wall, only to be told that his errand was a waste of time. He eyes the steps, then says, "Fix it, make it stronger, and you can have a pack of biscuits for yourselves. Chocolate digestives, and I'll buy them if I see the job's done. We're going for a brew." It's the offer of a bargain, and it's followed by Fred turning his back on the cellar and setting out towards the hall at a more reasonable pace. "Tea, ma'am? Milk? Sugar?"
"Thank you sir, it is appreciated." Cricket looks to Fred and nods her head. "Sure, if you, as long as I can use your tools. Mine are in the barn and in my lab. Unless you want them to do it? I am certain they would do it if you gave each of them their own pack of digestives." This is said with a wink to Adam. She looks back Fred as he retreats. "Milk! I have a jar of honey in the pack that I can use to put in it. I know it is sacrilegious but I grew up with honey in our tea and coffee. It was easier to get than sugar."
Adam chuckles softly at Fred's words, and he limps in the other man's tail, returning Cricket's wink with his own. "Had honey in my tea a few times abroad, but give me sugar any day." The reply to Cricket is friendly, his words hinting at the well travelled vicar. In the hall, he puts his cane against the table, lowering himself into a chair, watching Fred prepping the brew.
Fred makes his way into the kitchen, rinses his hands, then makes with the kettle, the teapot and three mugs. He doesn't seem to mind being busy while Adam's being seated, instead getting everything set up without fuss and with a smile. "Honey in tea's alright," he says. "Did you ever try the yak butter, Adam? Bloody awful stuff, that." He clears his throat. "Begging your pardon, ma'am."
Following with the pack Cricket comes into the hall. Once there she eases takes the pack off and opens it up. From it she pulls out a Mason jar of honey that is wrapped in hand towels to keep it from breaking. The jar is followed by eight loaves of bread wrapped in butcher paper. She places each of these on the table. Done and with her back lighter she shoves the kitchen towels back into it before she slips off her coat and drapes it over the now almost empty bag. She lowers herself into a chair near the vicar. "Thank you, I appreciate the chance to get warm." It now can be seen she is wearing a plaid colored flannel shirt and overalls. "Son, I have heard much worse." She response back to Fred. "It sounds like it would be awful."
Adam stretches out his leg, rubbing the muscles slightly, giving Fred that broad grin that lights up his angular features. "Disgusting stuff, really. The monks used to swear by it but I suppose if you reach that age, half your taste buds must be dead. Must be, if they can eat that." He grimaces in remembrance .
Fred shrugs. "Dunno," he says. "You can get a taste for anything, really. Who was it who ended up preferring curried worms to anything else we managed to rustle up?" The question, apparently, is for Adam, but at that point the kettle finishes boiling and Fred empties it into the teapot before taking a seat himself. "Proper bread. Wow. Thanks, ma'am."
"What did you do to your leg, Adam? Old injury?" Cricket cannot help but ask, She looks in Fred's direction, "Curried worms, I have eaten rats, ants, termites and grubs. I can see where curried grubs and would be good. Worms are they like grubs? Was the taste required during missionary outing or war?"
Adam glances over the bread with an appreciative eye. "I'll make some stew tonight, that will cover our visitors. Lucky the vicarage was furnished, otherwise we'd all be sleeping on the floor over there." He tilts his head, remembering back "Ubin, that was." His face shutters a little, despite the friendly smile on it, "Yeah an old injury." He replies quietly. "Ubin just felt that it would be a good idea, at the time. Nothing more. Funny sod.
"Enough curry powder makes anything edible," says Fred, with the air of a man who knows. "Either that, or you can't taste it any more so it doesn't matter." He exhales, then looks to Cricket, without quite meeting her eyes. "Worms are... not quite like grubs? There's less to them, but what there is is much better to cook with." If Adam isn't going to answer the question, Fred isn't either.
The shudder is not unnoticed, "Understood, enough said on it and I am going to assume war because of both of your reactions. Even if it was interment. I will not say anything to anyone as I do not like to assume or to create gossip." She leans back in the chair. "I will stick with grubs, it is good to know about the worms, especially if I am ever in bind. Which I hope will never happen. Forgive my external musings. Now about tea this tea!" She smiles warmly and it warms her voice.
Adam nods briefly, before he replies lightly, "Will you be mother, Fred?" He is mocking his friend there, a tug at the corner of his lips, his eyes twinkling. "Any protein in a storm, right? Even Sister Helena's fish cakes." Battle cakes, they ought to be called. Could kill a man if hurled at him. Or if he ate it.
Fred nods. "Just clean 'em first," he says cryptically, eyeing the teapot, eyeing his watch, then leaning forward to open the biscuit tin. Adam's question has him smiling and standing to pour. "Adam? Don't mention Sister Helena's fishcakes while I'm pouring boiling liquid, thanks, mate. It might end up where no-one wants boiling liquid."
Leaning against the back of her chair Cricket listens to the friendly banter. Her long legs are stretched out in front of her and a soft smile graces her lips. "I will warn Ger-Bear about those fish cakes. " She watches Fred pour the tea. "So thoughts on when the storms will pass?"
The smirk that crosses Adam's face suggests that he may have just been unvicarish in that deliberate timing. "Not my parts, mate, I'm alright." A brief twist of his lips suggests a passing thought before he reaches for his mug, lifting it to inhale the blessed scent of tea. "We're told they won't pass for a time, but we can expect more rain all week for certain. Maybe we can get a floatation device for my pulpit... "
Fred shrugs. "They're prophesied to last a few days, but the prophecies haven't been much good in the last few years." Adam gets a casual hand-signal, one that was at least partly hidden from Cricket's view by having been made on the far side of Fred from her. "Floatation device for the pulpit? Looks like beans are back on the menu!"
"I cannot imagine why they have not, perhaps it has to do with everything else that is going on. They are all getting muddled. Too much interference." She adds, not being able to help herself, she misses the hand gesture. "A flotation device will be needed and your Sunday Congregation will need boats to get to church. Crops will be poor this year."
Adam snorts, shaking his head before he reaches out, taking one of the biscuits to dunk. "I'll rely on you for that, Fred, being as you are full of hot air." Adam nods slowly, adding quietly, "We'll be short of potatoes. The nuns tell me they get too wet or something." He dunks the biscuit, taking a bit of it, missing the bit that flumped into his mug. He eyes it balefully, before attempting to lever it out of the tea, using a rich tea biscuit.
Fred nabs and dunks a biscuit of his own, then settles back in his seat with his mug. "Hard times ahead," he says quietly. "Adam, much more of this and the call will go out for rescue volunteers. Hoping to get the cellar sorted before I get drawn away."
"You need a pump." Cricket tells him both. "I wish you both the best of luck." Her hands are wrapped around her cup of tea. "Vicar, when you get a chance could you give that address to me. I would appreciate it. If anything, I owe her some shortbread. It is long overdue." She looks between the two men careful to never let her eyes fall on either of them. "Well if you bless that water in the cellar at least you know you will have plenty of holy water on hand."
"People first, Fred. If they need us... I'll be preparing for the vicarage to act like a shelter, and this room, if it is dry..." He glances around, considering the risk of flooding here. "A pump might be a good idea." He reaches for a piece of paper, writing an address neatly, offering it to her. "Do give her my regards. Blessing the water might not be a bad plan, to keep any troublesome things quiet... "
Adam finishes his tea, rising to his feet, "Time for the women's institute meeting. Apparently we will be discussing plans for the fete and for the flooding..." A nod, with a speaking look at Fred, and Adam limps towards the door, adding quietly, "A pleasure, Cricket."
Fred grins. "Tell Mum that Fred says 'Hi'," he says to Cricket, before nodding to Adam. "Good luck." Apparently braving the WI is akin to braving the lion's den. With Adam departing, Fred settles back in his seat and drinks more tea, making the most of the break while he's got it. "Most people don't know what grubs taste like," he informs his mug quietly, not looking at Cricket at all.
"Pleasure Vicar!" Cricket calls out to Adam when he leaves. She sipping her tea, she looks at Fred. Since his gaze is not on her she takes the chance to study him. After a long pause and few more sips of tea she answers. "I grew up in the wilds of the Northern Territories in Canada, I know what it is like to go through the starving season and I know what is like to be cold. You eat what you can get." She explains without really explaining. "I know that soldiers do these days and I know that those who have had to go through survival training do." She points out. "I also know that those who have been to other counties know what grubs taste like. You eat what you can when there is nothing else to eat. Poor is poor and starvation knows no boundaries. You do what you have to do to survive. I have eaten cattail roots as has my husband."
Fred nods. "Good answer," he says, smiling ever so slightly. "I'm ex-army, although it's not like I need to actually say that out loud. Been through survival training, 'nuff said." The just-starting-to-fade deep tan suggests other countries. "Got on well with most of the Canadians I've met. Nice bunch. Tough, too." Both those things together sounds like a mark of high respect.
"My husband Gerry was in the Army but had his officers commission, he is Canadian too. I think you two would get along. Where you in the middle East?" She asks noticing that fading tan. "Forgive me, I have a tendency to ask many questions. How long have you been back in England and are you the one to marry Nia?"
Fred smiles faintly. "Any questions I don't want to answer I just won't bother answering," he says, his eyes lifting from his mug to the centre of Cricket's forehead. "I get called in to go help out there sometimes. Been back a few weeks this time round - and yes, Nia and I are going to be getting hitched. Hopefully without a parade through the middle of town, if you know what I mean."
"Ger-Bear and I were telling her that it is about you and her, not everyone else. If you want to go an elope then do so. No need for pomp and circumstance unless you want it." Cricket tells him. "We also gave her some marriage advice." She laughs. "We cannot help ourselves." She shakes her head. "Have to say it is good that you do not look into people's eyes. Never know what you will find. You are wise. With that said, it is good you are back. I think you two will enjoy each others company for a long while. Just do not go to be angry or blame each other for financial woes or troubles that are beyond your control."
Fred grins. "So glad to find someone else who agrees," he says, the grin turning down to a mere smile. "As to financial woes or troubles beyond our control - well. I respect her as a fighter in her own right, as well as loving her. Money isn't that important, and trouble beyond our control is sort of what we both live for, so we won't be getting angry about that sort of thing any time soon." The smile turns rueful. "As to not looking in people's eyes - yeah. Training started that, but life since has set it in stone." The grin resurfaces. "Wise? Nah. Jumping out of a perfectly serviceable aircraft while strapped to a hanky is fun but it isn't wise, and I'll laugh at anyone who says it is."
Cricket laughs, "I cannot argue about that, I do not understand the pleasure in skydiving. My youngest used to try and convince his father and I that it was fun. We just pointed out to him that it was like going to the race track with your life savings. Taking those life savings and putting a using it to place a bet and hoping the horse wins." She shakes her head. "I will stick to what I know. You could just ask her about the elopement. Have a small dinner here with your friends and I am certain the Vicar would be tickled pink to perform the service for you." She points out. "Gerry had two days of leave when we got married. The company Chaplin did the service. Our witnesses was the sergeant, lieutenant, two of my friends. Afterwards we had wine and all of us had stew and bread and real butter. For desert, we had strawberry shortcake. I still to this day do not know how the sergeant got his hand on fresh eggs, butter and cream. We had a jar of honey my parents sent over to sweeten it." She shares with him. Her eyes bright with distant memories. Her hands are wrapped around her tea. Make memories and enjoy."
Fred does grin at that. "You can't ask me to go betraying the secrets of the Sergeantry," he says. "Not going to happen." And then a nod. "Adam's already said he'll marry us, and there are plenty of people around who can witness for us, provided we can rein in the enthusiasm. Tempting to go to Wales on honeymoon, if Nia's up for that. But yes, making memories and enjoying is something we both do. Neither one of us is in an occupation known for long, happy life."
Cricket says, "In that case you should go to Wales or a place you both agree to go. If you get married in the next week or two I would suggest going somewhere where it is dyer." Cricket laughs at that. "I will not ask but I can still wonder. He had to have some magic and great connections! Though I do recall having to get garlic and onion for him at one point. Garlic and onion fetched a high price. We did the exchange at my office after lectures." She laughs. "Now if you cannot make it to Wales. Gerry and I can give you our house. It will be quiet. The only requirement is that you would have to feed Walt and Blue. They are two old draft horses. They will not be much trouble. It is to give you another option.""
"In that case you should go to Wales or a place you both agree to go. If you get married in the next week or two I would suggest going somewhere where it is dyer." Cricket laughs at that. "I will not ask but I can still wonder. He had to have some magic and great connections! Though I do recall having to get garlic and onion for him at one point. Garlic and onion fetched a high price. We did the exchange at my office after lectures." She laughs. "Now if you cannot make it to Wales. Gerry and I can give you our house. It will be quiet. The only requirement is that you would have to feed Walt and Blue. They are two old draft horses. They will not be much trouble. It is to give you another option."
Fred blinks. "Wales? Drier? You haven't spent much time in Wales, have you." A wink. "They'll be fine over there, actually. They're used to rain, this lot'll just wash off. It's the rest of us, the ones who aren't used to it, who're worrying." He shakes his head. "Doubt we'll get married 'til the storms are gone. If nothing else, too many people know how to get hold of me if they need me, and they will do. Just waiting for the first call to come in. Thanks for the offer, though - especially given that you've only just met me."
"I have but if you went to the mountain you will not be floating away towards the sea." Cricket laughs again. "You work here in the church. If there is one thing I have learned over the years is trust those that work in the church. I may not be a great church goer, but I do understand some things. Mind you there are people I would not offer this too. A great many for that matter."
Fred smiles. "Not everyone who works in the church is equal," he says, "But yeah, I know what you mean. Thanks. I really do appreciate it. But now I have to go and see if my new friends have sorted out the sandbags, or if there's more to be done." He downs the last of his tea, then offers the contents of the biscuit tin to Cricket. "Can't leave this out, they'll vanish and we'll get blamed."
"No thank you, I need to watch my waist. I do appreciate the offer." Rising from where she was seated she down the tea and then gets bundled back up to fight the rain. "I need to see to some students and then get home. Stay dry and tell your friends I will be back if they are not good, you may want to give them a little extra. They are were just excited, it is not every day that they have to deal with that much rain water in their home. Thank you for the tea and the conversation."
"No worries," says Fred, putting the lid back on the tin and tucking it back in its cupboard. "Best of luck out there, and stay safe, alright?"