Adam of the Road opens with one example of life and culture in 13th century England when Gray sketches Adam's daily life as a school boy at a monastery. Another example follows close behind when she paints a golden picture of the life of a trained and erudite minstrel. A third example follows when Gray introduces the ideas of 13th century England's languages and dialects.
A school boy's life (then called scholars rather than school boys) starts in the morning in the dormitory where they sleep as a group. Because all is silence, with no motors humming unnoticed in the background and with no unwanted smells intruding, the boys are awaken to the sound of birds and the smell of blossoms. Since group schools (boarding schools) were often in monasteries, their day began with singing choral praises in the choir. Adam would have excelled at this, raised as he was to sing with his father before lords and ladies. After choir followed the day's lessons in grammar (Latin grammar, not English). Meals were taken in silence while a monk, their school "masters," read from stories of saints lives intended to teach the boys to live spiritual and moral lives. Boys like Perkin think of continuing their learning at university, at Oxford. On rainy days, Adam would sneak away to get his harp (or lyre) to tell tales, sing songs and play music for the other boys ... until a monk caught them at it (or, better yet, ignored them at it).
If [a master] heard him [telling minstrels' tales] they would stop him, or make him tell stories about the saints instead; but oftener they just pretended not to hear him.
Roger the minstrel is used to paint a picture of the two kinds of minstrels traveling about in England (and across Europe). There is the kind that Roger is not who play at inns and local fairs, juggling when they forget the words of a tale or song or filling in with ribald songs of deviltry that the church frowned upon. There is also the kind that Roger is. He is trained and undertakes "continuing education," as we might call it, by going to annual minstrel school to learn new romances chronicling the feats and adventures of the heroes of England and Europe, like Charlemagne and Arthur. He plays his viola, tell tales and sings before the people of the court, in castles and manors, for lords and ladies, all who are accustomed to the finest and who reward him handsomely for his talents. He walks or rides about England: he walks after gambling away his horse to another minstrel. He has a boy assistant who is an apprentice minstrel and who carries, plays and sings to assist (until he was started in monastery school by Roger, that boy with Roger was Adam).
Languages and dialects of England in the 13th century are also presented but with a little less clarity than other aspects of Adams's social and cultural life. What we know as "English" was then the dialect of the region denoted as "London," to be differentiated from what we know as the contemporary city of London. The London dialect was one of many and had not yet taken hold as the one predominant dialect uniting all regions of England. In the 13th century, the dialect of the Midlands region was distinctly different from the dialect of the Northern or York region (although they had some common ground because of the influence exerted on both dialects by the entrance of Scandinavians in the late 800s).
While the midlands boys may indeed have laughed at Adam's northern York dialect (dialect is not the same thing as accent because dialect includes vocabulary, not just pronunciation), they may also have been at pains to understand it, the vocabulary and syntax of varying dialects being so different as to be partially or sometimes wholly unintelligible in relation to others. Language communication had several forms in England, however, so those who traveled widely or had association with the educated, the landed and the ruling classes had, as Roger had, recourse to French and Latin to provide what we'd call "universal" languages of communication, which were Latin taught in schools and French learned by those associating themselves with "the language of the court folk."
[T]he boys from the midlands made fun of his northern dialect, but he turned to French a few times and silenced them. Not many of these sons of franklins and burgesses knew the language of the court folk.