London, January 1663
After nine o’clock in the morning, daylight finally peeped its dreary head above London. Clouds and coal smoke wisped low to obscure church steeples and house rooftops. Men pulled carts piled with goods, their ironclad wheels making an unholy din against the icy cobblestones. People clogged the lanes, their chatter loud as they competed with the ringing cartwheels.
Wrapped snug in a heavy cloak and hood, and a woolen scarf slung around her neck, Celia Barber and her half-sister, Priscilla, slogged along City lanes filled with snow and ice. As they met clusters of passersby, Celia gazed into their faces to see if she would recognize her mother. When a bairn of three years, her mam had cast her to the streets--shoved her out the door and locked it tight. Dressed only in a nightshift, barefoot and hungry, Celia remembered pounding on the panel until her hands bled.
Like a dark specter, her frightened screams still echoed across the years. Almost every night she dreamed of it, felt the searing terror when lost amidst so many skirts, breeches, and shoes as folk trod along the muck filled lane. Even today, years later, she’d awaken with a sob in her throat.
Suddenly, Celia bumped against her half-sister.
“Ach!” Priscilla cried. “Do keep thyself upright.”
She and her sister worked their way to Whitehall Palace, and to a high lady there. She was ill with a fevered finger, and must be tended to at once. Why Priscilla’s aristocratic employer hadn’t called for a palace physician, Celia could not reckon. If they found her, a low person and a woman, doing surgery on a high person instead of barbering, they’d have her head.
Men of physic who tended the king and his ilk were an arrogant lot. She’d be safer to stay within at Papa’s shop whilst he practiced barbery and she tended to the sick.
Her foot scraped through a pile of rotten giblets, and she slipped. With a yelp, she straightened and continued to trudge through lanes that were quite horrid. The last two winters had been green wherein it never got too cold, but this year told quite another tale. Ice floated in the River Thames.
They rounded a corner to a lane that stank to high heaven. Rubbish and muck steamed in the kennel whilst pigs and curs fought over fouled meat. Windows opened and shouts came from above. They warned, “Gardy loo,” before piss and shit rained onto the street. The dogs yelped and pigs squealed as they shot away from the streaming stench.
Frozen to the bone, Celia wished they had coin to travel by hackney coach, but at least most houses along the lanes provided cover where their eaves jutted overhead. It prevented them from being thoroughly doused. Only small splashes of the muck dirtied their skirts.
“`Tis frosty out here, ain’t it?” Priscilla huffed as she skimmed along the outside of the eaves nearest the kennel. “Me foot’s awash with piss. I could do with an extra coin for a coach. We’d be cleaner upon arrival to me lady’s.”