As Grimalkins evolve, so does the clowder. Grimalkins are always building, renovating and improving the clowder as it grows. As society becomes more complex, so does Grimalhame. Most of the network that extended east and west of the Henge became obsolete around nine-hundred years ago due to subsidence. Architects agreed to close off the east and west wings and rebuild closer to the Henge.
Even though the majority of the Grimalhame network is underground, the upper levels of the clowder hospital are above ground, as it the Clowder Mother’s and Master Healer’s abode. The outbuildings are, by Grimalkin standards, ostentatious and grandiose, with flying buttresses, decorative stained-glass windows, heavy doors, cloisters, and gargoyles in the shape of fabulous beasts.
The Central Council Chamber is an open-plan rotunda and level one marks the upper section of the Chamber. The Chamber itself has four floors that encircle the outer walls of the Chamber like the cloisters of a cathedral. It is a wonderful space - airy and expansive and decorated with rich murals carvings and hangings in bright colours, all stitched by paw.
The ‘beams’ of the ceiling are, in fact, the roots of ancient trees carved in wonderful designs and these roots support the entire ceiling. A magnificent wrought iron chandelier hangs above, some forty feet above the floor, bedecked with huge beeswax candles that can be lit from the upper level using long tapers (one has to watch out for dripping wax). An immense starclock (only one of two) resides over the entrance.
Much of the stone tracery is found in the oldest sections of the clowder like the Central Council Chamber, hospital, school and university. Many of the doors are bold and very ornate and carved with the emblem and symbols of that particular department. Blind arcades are also a feature of the oldest sections of the clowder and there are cobwebs abound as Grimalkins are reluctant to clear them away before all the spiders have gone into hibernations. Cobwebs also have their uses and are often used in medicinal dressings. There are also beautiful mosaics that can be found all over the clowder, some more than a thousand years old.
The original clowder hospital has long since gone (south of the Henge) and the new hospital is now situated on the east side of the Henge. Founded by Soriah Deodar seven-thousand years ago, the hospital forms a huge part of the clowder. The hospital is on three levels and consists of the Master Healer’s abode, wards, healing rooms, the Physician’s Lodge and storerooms.
The eight-hundred-year-old hospital was probably the most ambitious project of its time with its high-ceilinged, cavernous wards, labyrinthine corridors, ante-rooms and vast storerooms. The upper levels are, perhaps, the most interesting as the architects were given free rein on its design resulting in huge, flying buttresses, carvings, gargoyles, grotesques and strange creatures peering out from under the eaves and from corners. Inside, compound pillars and massive oak hammer-beams support the roof, each carved with its own design. A visitor would be hard-pressed to find two designs the same.
Level three is divided up into eight departments – botany, herbalism and medicine, philosophy and languages, the first school and kindle, history, midwifery, and study rooms. These are, in turn, divided up into smaller classrooms. The education department is also divided up into sections – Magnolia, Blackthorn, Oak and Deodar section, each with its own staircase leading up to the upper and lower floors.
It is a warren of corridors and niches each with rows of storage cupboards and storerooms that are home to exercise books, pens, textbooks and all manner of stationary (hence why it is my favourite department!).
I am Governess of Deodar Section (named after Soriah Deodar) which is where history is taught, although our new assistant Governess, Mavanwy Brindlewing the eagle owl, is a new addition to our staff and she teaches languages. Hellebore Longleap is Governor of Blackthorn Section, Moona Windshadow is Governess of Magnolia Section, and my brother Adharo is Governor of Oak Section (in addition to his position of Head of Mathematics and Astronomy).
Apart from the classrooms, there are also reading rooms where students can study in peace (I say ‘study in peace’ but what I really mean is places where students can escape to clown about without elders watching them.). In the centre, directly below the Central Chamber, is the Lecture Hall. It is furnished in dark wood with matching benches upholstered in red leather. At the north side of the lecture hall is a rostrum and blackboard as well as a plinth and lectern in the shape of an eagle in the centre of the hall.
All students from kittens to Initiates are taught here, making this a communal learning experience. Older students can also be given placements to teach younger students if they wish. Responsibility to others is positively encouraged here at Grimalhame.
After seven-thousand years, Grimalhame has had plenty of time to accumulate a great deal of curiosities. Many of these are architectural and one can spend hours, or even days, wandering around the clowder simply looking at all the gargoyles, grotesques, face-pullers, carvings, knobs, knockers and all the other things Grimalkins have created to make this place unique. While most of the grand carvings are heraldic and represent the Great Houses, many are small and unobtrusive and are often hidden away from view either by time, or other buildings or features. Here are just a few of the features one may find in around the clowder.
Gargoyles and grotesques can be found all over Grimalhame, inside and out. All clowders have these fantastic, sometimes monstrous, features. They can be found on the gables, rooflines and on the corners of all the clowder outbuildings.
Gargoyles are waterspouts that channel water from the roof and away from the eaves and walls of a structure and thus limit the damage to the masonry and stonework. A grotesque, on the other hand, serves no purpose but exists purely as a decorative feature. In the earliest days of the clowder, grotesques in the shape of dragons were carved to keep away negative, mischievous or swarthy spirits. These are known as apotropaic carvings. Apotropaic means to repel. Other apotropaic carvings include snarling wolves and grinning boars. Perhaps our ancestors thought that the sharp teeth and tusks of these creatures would be enough to keep mischief at bay.
Non-apotropaic carvings are also present and some a purposefully placed. In the Central Council Chamber you will find carvings of griffins, the symbol of the Democratic Council of Elders. In the library and school, you will find owls, hawks, eagles, herons and unicorns. The grotesques inside the clowder hospital and on the eaves of the outbuilding are in the forms of wild boar, fish, dragons, snakes and cats with faces made of leaves, or cats disgorging verdures from their mouths. But there are many more creatures that make an appearance in and around the clowder, seemingly placed at random – aurochs, foxes, bears, yale, kelpies, mammoths, goats, hares, lions and magpies. They also feature on corbels and on roofline corbel tables.
Heraldic shields are everywhere detailing the extensive family history of all the Great Houses of Grimalhame from the time of the Founders. Grimalkins take great pride in their family history and their heritage, whether it be Grimalkin, Wildcat, or a mix of both.
All clowders have gardens but the oldest and most extensive gardens can be found at Grimalhame. The gardens serve three purposes: 1) to provide medicinal herbs, plants and flowers, 2) to grow fruit and vegetables for the kitchens, and 3) to provide a pleasant and peaceful environment for everyone to enjoy.
The gardens stretch from the herb and rose garden by the clowder hospital to the Henge to the forests in every direction. Dotted about the gardens are beautiful stone statues of various animals – stags, yale, wild boar, unicorns – to name but a few. Anyone can tend to the gardens if they want as they belong to everyone, but only trained healers and botanists can tend to the poisonous plants which are kept in a walled garden behind the clowder hospital.
Since Grimalhame resides in a hollow surrounded by terraces, little stone steps allow easy access to the upper terraces. The gardens have been around for as long as the clowder itself. Shade-loving plants are grown in the shadow of the trees but we are careful not to grow too many plants in one place for too long. Some areas are left fallow for a year or two to allow the soil to recuperate.Unwanted foodstuffs and manure from passing wild sheep, yale and cattle are used as compost and fertilizer and there is also a wormery where compost is made. The worms help with the manufacture of compost which is then used to replenish the flower beds. There are several types of garden at Grimalhame.
The vegetable garden – many types of vegetable are grown here for the clowder kitchens. There are several vegetable gardens around Grimalhame, each growing potatoes, beans, carrots, turnips, swedes, kale, spinach, peas, sprouts, cabbages, leeks, broccoli, cauliflowers and pumpkins.
The orchard – the orchard is almost as large as the vegetable garden. Here you can find strawberries, blackberries, redberries, cranberries, gooseberries, juniper berries, blackcurrants, elderberries, loganberries and rhubarb. Even though many of the fruits are grown at ground level, the fruit garden is collectively known as ‘the orchard’. In addition to the berries, there are many trees producing apples, pears, peaches, plums, lemons, limes, quince and cherries.
The culinary herb garden – so as not to get confused with the medicinal herbs, the culinary herb garden is kept well away from the medicinal one. The culinary herb garden is situated near to the clowder entrance while the medicinal herbs are grown by the clowder hospital. Both are well signposted. Many edible herbs are grown here including thyme, mint, sage, parsley, chives, dill, lemon grass, rosemary, basil, fennel, coriander, bay, caraway and fennel. Many of these herbs can also be found in the medicinal herb garden.
The medicinal herb garden – This garden can only be accessed by members of the Order, physicians, and healers.
The flower garden – Flower gardens are found all over Grimalhame and are little oases of calm and tranquility in an otherwise busy clowder. All manner of flowers are grown here from small perennials to rhododendrons. In addition to the flowers, there are crab apple trees, magnolias, laburnum, wisteria and cherry blossom that burst magnificently into life in the spring and summer, creating a stunning patchwork of pink, cream, yellow and lilac amongst the greens and browns of the forest and grassy terraces. Wooden seats, benches and tables are provided for picnics, or just somewhere to rest your aching paws. The flower gardens offer a place of peace and serenity, especially for the elderly citizens and those recovering from illness.The rhododendrons are kept away from the main gardens because, despite their colour, are invasive and toxic to other plants, hence why the garden is contained by a wall and carefully managed. Ordinarily, the rhododendron would not feature in the gardens at all if it weren’t for the fact that it is a medicinal plant.
But such an extensive garden requires a great deal of water. There are many wells around Grimalhame that are used both for domestic use and irrigation. Gargoyles on the clowder outbuilding siphon rainwater from the gutters into waiting water-butts. Nothing is wasted, not even a drop of rain. Water is stored in the cellars and in underground pits that have been specially constructed to both stay cool and house up to two-thousand barrels of water. All water comes
from either the River Hestia (fed by Lakes Danir and Mimir), or underground seeps and wells (also fed by the lakes).
Sizeable ponds can also be found around Grimalhame and the surrounding country. Some of these are natural but many are artificial. These ponds do not provide water, but house fish taken from the lakes and rivers and bred for the purpose of food. These ponds are carefully managed and not only do they provide the clowder with fresh fish, they also provide edible water plants such as water cress, water pepper, water spinach and bulrush. During the year, a pond will be ‘rested’ for a year before being harvested again. This gives the plants and fish time to recover. This rotation is also employed on the land too. Spaces cleared in the forest to grow rye, barley, oats and winter wheat are left fallow for a year or two before being farmed again.
The living quarters of the clowder are underground, extending outwards beneath the Henge and into the forest. Massive networks have been excavated by generations of Grimalhame cats and have little streets and avenues that connect living quarters, learning establishments, meeting places, healing stations and workshops.
If you ask any Grimalkin what the most important thing about clowder life is, they will always answer with the word “food.” Food, apart from being necessary for survival, is perhaps one of the most important things about life in a clowder. There are always feasts at festivals, birthdays, kittenings, rituals and even funerals. Grimalkins love food. Every important moment is celebrated or commiserated with food. When a stranger enters a Grimalkin’s home, they are offered food and drink before even asking what that stranger wants. When Grimalkins arrive from other clowders, food is laid out before them. Food is a Grimalkin’s way of saying “hello, welcome to my home. I offer you my paw in friendship,” or “I have offended you. I am sorry. Please accept my apology in the way of this meal.” Food bridges gaps and helps forge friendships. It helps mend broken hearts and broken bonds. It makes strangers into companions and adversaries into allies. Food is the glue that keeps Grimalkin society together.
Food can make love happen. For example if a tom wishes to court a queen, he will often cook for her. If it is the other way around, a queen may cook but she will often make clothes for him instead. It is true to say the way to a Grimalkin’s heart is through their stomach. If that tom is an exceptional cook, his courtship may end in divine union. Or children.
There are no strict rules about mealtimes at Grimalhame (any other clowder). Communal mealtimes are served in the Central Council Chamber and a Grimalkin can choose to eat there, or make his or her own at home. Many like to attend the communal mealtimes just to socialise. There are four set times in which Grimalkins can eat in the chamber. Far Pavilions time is listed first in bold, then Earth time in normal typing to give you an idea of when we eat compared to human mealtimes. Don’t forget there are 30 hours in a day in our world.
Breakfast (07:00 -10:00/06:00 – 09:00) – on the breakfast menu there is porridge (with a selection of toppings including fruit, jam and honey), wholemeal toast, butter and jam, crumpets, bacon, eggs (poached, fried, boiled or scrambled), sausage, grilled tomatoes, fresh forest mushrooms, a mix of
sweetened cereal with honey and milk, To drink - fruit teas, spring water and fruit cordial.
Lunch (14:00 – 17:00/12:00-14:00) – a selection of freshly baked wholemeal and seeded hlaf, cheese, haslet, soup (tomato, onion, vegetable, wild game, broth, carrot and kale, carrot and bean, and fish served with a trencher), wholemeal crackers with herb butter. To drink – spring water, fruit cordial, ale, wine.
Dinner (19:00 – 22:00/16:00 – 18:00) – Grimalhame stew (meat with carrots, swede, leeks, peas and dumplings), roast pheasant (or whatever bird is available) with buttered vegetables, steamed/roasted/grilled fish (pike, trout, perch, with herb sauce, pot pie roast/mashed/boiled potatoes, fruit crumble with spiced custard or cream. To drink - metheglin, bragget, ale, mead, tea, fruit cordial, spring water, wine.
Supper (24:00 – 27:00/20:00 – 22:00) – hot milk spiced with cinnamon and honey, posset, a selection of sweet biscuits (sweetmeal, ginger, barley). To drink – hot milk spiced with cinnamon and honey, posset, fruit tea, almond milk.
Of course, this is just a small selection of what is on offer during mealtimes. The cooks make sure there is something for everyone at the table and quite often they will just throw ingredients together and hope whatever comes out of the oven or the pot is edible.