The wet cobbles reflected the greyness of the early morning as Mary hurried up the close. Her grandmother would be setting up her stall at Lawnmarket, ready for the day’s sales of wool and linen. Mary squeezed her way through the entrance and out onto the Royal Mile as she watched the sleepy city slowly come to life. Shutters were being opened on the richer inhabitants’ windows of the main street, which ran between the castle on the hill, towards which Mary now headed, and the Holyroodhouse Palace a mile down.
Edinburgh had never been a clean city. As she hurried by, more people began oozing out of their respective closes, but she caught glimpses of the dirty streets they spent their lives on. Hers was Regent’s Close, a little wider, with upper class families bordering her shabby residence. The autumn rain of the past few days had finally washed away the grime and waste off their cobbles, sending a torrent of sickly faeces and garbage down to the Loch below Castle Rock, while the narrower closes remained standing in perpetual darkness and filth.
Mary idled for a few seconds by the flower stall, touching the beautiful petals of various plants. When the winter set in, there would be no more flowers to brighten the grey mornings at Lawnmarket.
She mused on when the royal carriage would make its way down from the castle, throwing coins out to helpful path-clearers. The carriage came out almost every day now, after the recent horrendous plague had left a quarter of the city dead, the rest in need of morale.
Sometimes, it stopped at the market; the valet would enquire what it was the Monarchs required, scuttling off to find the desired item while the other members of the procession stood on guard.
But the carriage would never make it down to the depths of society. It would never stop by a close; not a foot of the royal elite would ever dismount the ornate step to make their way into the filth of the closes. They thought they knew how the rest of society lived, but they didn’t. Sharp pain jabbed Mary’s heart at the thought, but she soothed the frustration rising within her.
As she reached her grandmother’s stall, the carriage came out of the castle gates, rolling down to the market. But something was wrong. It was too early for a royal appearance. Mary cringed against the brightening sky and gaped. A young fair-haired lady in flowing dress, eyes terrified, careened down the slope. Was she running or being chased? Who was this frightened beauty? The carriage swerved into the nearest stall of vegetables as the carriage reached the market, scattering both people and their products across the street.
The horses neighed in agony, desperately trying to wrench themselves free of the leathers. Mary hastened towards the upturned carriage.
There had been something in the eyes of the young woman. Mary was determined to be of use.
Writers: Suraya Dewing (NZ), Donna McTavish (NZ), Ray Stone (Cyprus), Hemali Ajmera (India), Anna Zhigareva (Scotland), Joe Labrum (USA), Rosemary Wakelin (Aus), Gabrielle Burt (NZ), Antony Smits (Samos Island), Sumanda Maritz (S. Africa)