Within a few moments, the kitchen hands had a fire lit. Free and unburdened by work, there seemed to be a magic about them tonight on the Eve of May. Sparks seemed to fly from their hands as if they were witches.
The kitchen girls produced food as if from nowhere. Their hands were empty and then suddenly full. Of things like a whole clove-studded ham, freshly baked loaves, mincemeat pies and honey cakes.
The washerwomen unfurled the largest of blankets, which seemed to float over the glade like a ship’s pennant before landing in the perfect picnic square.
The cleaning girls pulled wooden sticks from the fire and touched them to a million candles in a million lanterns. They peppered the clearing and hung about the trees, as bright as captured stars.
The village girls arrived bearing jars of jams and pickles, and jugs of ale from the tavern, their cheeks rosy and warm from the walk through the dark woods. They greeted the castle workers with whoops of joy and tender embraces. Most of them were related, after all. Mothers, daughters, aunts and cousins.
Catalina was awestruck. She had never seen anything so magical or so perfect. It was hard to connect these people with the downtrodden, subservient characters that ordinarily toiled in her world.
Someone showed her to a space on the blanket. Another handed her a silver goblet, full to the brim with ruby red wine. She drank half of it down immediately. The youngest serving girl, Joan, approached her, goaded by all the others. She brought out a crown of hawthorn blossom from behind her back.
Dropping a curtsy, she said: “We wish to crown you the May Queen, my lady.”
“Me?” Catalina replied, delighted. “It would be the greatest of honours.”
She rose up onto her knees and bowed her head solemnly. Joan placed the blossom crown on her head and everyone clapped.
“What do I have to do?” Catalina asked Maude, her nursemaid.
“You have to start the proceedings,” Maude replied. “Oh, look, my daughter’s here!”
And then Maude abandoned her. But Catalina had been waiting for many years for Maude to abandon her, so she didn’t care one bit.
“What do we do first?” she called out to the nearest girls. “And can we please do everything?”
But nobody had chance to answer her because, just then, there was a strange rumbling noise in the glade. There was a lot of ‘shushing’, and the women fell quickly silent, listening hard. Catalina stared along the hidden path to the right of The Tree as the rumbling came closer.
“It’s Boboli!” A washerwoman exclaimed.
She was greeted with disbelief.
“It can’t be…”
“Don’t be ridiculous…”
“He isn’t due this year…”
But the rumbling came nearer and, just as Catalina’s eyes were burning with the strain of staring, a black horse walked into the clearing pulling a black covered wagon, on which was written in gold the legend ‘Boboli ~ Who Knows All That Is Worth Knowing’.