Lady Joanna’s Guests – a #flashfriday story

233849776_ca4a1b5497_zLady Joanna thought of herself as well-mannered, but there were times when the world tested her patience. Sending her servants to join Queen Mary’s army at Framlingham had been the just act of a woman aiding her friend, even if it meant having to dress herself. The possibility of raids from the pretender Jane’s supporters instilled fear in her, but pride that they might consider her a worthy target. Discovering that she had been sold a useless mummy, powdered fragments of its wrapping providing no power for her visions, no way to tell how the struggle went? That was beyond the pale.

“A pox on Simon of Ipswich,” she muttered as she reached inside the upright sarcophagus. She should have known that a man that obnoxious would sell false goods.

Scraping pieces of mummia from the wrappings into her mortar, she ground them, tipped them into wine and downed the gritty, bitter results. But no vision came as it had in the past.

A noise made her spin around, eyes wide and staring at the mummy. Something was amiss, but what?

That noise again, a low groaning. Then the mummy’s arms rose, and it stepped slowly out of the sarcophagus, bandaged feet thumping on the tiled floor.

Joanna’s heart pounded – this was not how a corpse was meant to behave. But she was determined not to let her fear show. She straightened her shoulders and looked the creature in the eye.

“I don’t know what you are playing at.” She waved a finger in its face. “But I am having none of it. Your time of moving around has passed. Get back in your coffin so that I can take more mummia.”

Taking another step forward, the mummy reached out toward her.

“I said back.” Glaring did no good.

Joanna was all out of gentlewomanly options, but then serving her own breakfast had been an ungentlewomanly act. The line had been crossed, and there was no sense worrying about it now. Placing both hands on the mummy’s chest, she tried to push it back into the sarcophagus.

“Back I tell you!” It was no good. The creature was far stronger than her, and completely unmoved by the assault.

The thunder of hooves and rattle of gravel announced new arrivals at the house. Rushing to the window, Joanna peered out through the leaded pains. Four ruffians were dismounting and making for her door, swords drawn.

“I will deal with you later,” she said to the mummy as she tried frantically to plan her next step. Could she flee? Probably not, without the stable boy to saddle her horse. Could she fight? She had never used a sword, but how difficult could it be? Except that there were no swords in the dining hall, and the men’s footsteps were already coming close.

The door burst open and the ruffians stomped inside, leaving muddy footprints all over her floor.

“You’re to come with us.” Their leader walked past the stationary mummy and straight toward her.

“Most of this stuff, too.” Another of them started grabbing silverware off the sideboard.

“I will not.” Joanna folded her arms and prepared to argue, but two of the men grabbed hold of her. “Unhand me at once!”

“Not a chance.” The leader’s laughter was as ugly and brutish as he was.

Determination turned to nauseating fear in Joanna’s stomach. She had heard terrible things about what happened to women in times of civil war, even noblewomen.

But the laughter was cut short as a bandaged hand descended onto the ruffian’s shoulder. He jumped six inches into the air and spun around, sword stretched out toward the mummy. It stumbled toward him with slow, steady steps, groaning once more.

“Get back!” The man thrust his sword a few inches into the mummy’s chest, where it became stuck, not budging as he wrestled with the hilt.

The man next to him screamed in terror, dropped a pair of candlesticks and ran from the house. His companions followed suit, the leader sticking around just long enough for the mummy to lunge at him again before he ran, pale and shaking, out onto the drive.

They galloped away in a spray of gravel.

“I’m sorry about that.” Lady Joanna placed one hand on the mummy’s chest, grabbed the protruding sword with the other, and gave it a twist. The blade quickly came free. “I would never normally allow such riffraff into my house, but these are trying times.”

The mummy tilted its head, apparently looking down at the sword and then back to Joanna’s face. It raised a hand, and after a moment’s hesitation patted Joanna slowly on the shoulder.

She sagged with relief, and then offered the mummy a smile.

“Fine, I won’t keep scraping away your wrappings.” She poured a new goblet of wine, this time without any gritty additions. “I could do with some help around here anyway.” She took a sip, and a thought crossed her mind. “I don’t suppose you know how to prepare dinner, do you?”

* * *

This story was inspired by a whole bunch of different little details. I learned about mummia, the dust taken from the wrappings of mummies, while visiting a museum in Dorchester last week. Considered to have magical properties, it was genuinely consumed for medicinal purposes in the sixteenth century, doing far more harm than good.

Lady Joanna is named after one of my incredibly helpful beta readers – huge thanks to that Joanna for her help. Given that ‘Visions of Joanna’ by Bob Dylan is one of my all time favourite songs, putting visions in with that name was almost inevitable.

As for Queen Mary and the pretender Jane, I’ve been doing some freelance work about the Tudors this week, so they were on my mind. The Duke of Northumberland’s attempt to stop Mary Tudor inheriting the crown and instead put his daughter-in-law Jane on the throne was a complete failure, and there was never even a war. Northumberland’s men did do some robbing and burning though.

If you enjoyed this then you can read more of my fantasy stories in By Sword, Stave or Stylus, available as an ebook through Amazon. You can read more of my flash fiction for free here, and get my steampunk collection Riding the Mainspring for free by signing up to my mailing list.

If you’ve got any thoughts on this story I’d love to hear them, and if you’ve got a suggestion for a future Friday story then please leave it below – I can always use fresh ideas!

Picture by a2gemma via Flickr creative commons.