Wilthrop ran his fingers through his thinning hair. He’d just returned to his room after yet another summons from his cousin. He’d left Childecott storming around the Manor House, issuing threats to anyone who was unlucky enough to encounter him. It was clear that until his prisoners were re-captured he would not let up. He dipped his pen in the inkwell and prepared to write the edict which Childecott would make him read out before the villagers. His only comfort was that Mr Eyre and Mistress Martha were safely on their way back to the village.
Bryony felt little of the confidence she shown outwardly to John but, as Hodge always said, if there’s something difficult to do, confront it head on and don’t delay. And so Bryony let her feet take her through the wide entrance to the Court House and into a large vestibule where an attendant was sitting at a desk. Bryony took a deep breath and approached. The attendant looked down his long bony nose at her.
“What business have you here, girl?” He squinted at her with obvious contempt.
“Sir, I have a supplication to offer to the Ruling Council.” Her voice echoed around the empty room.
“Council is already in session. No disturbances are permitted. You may wait for the secretary to the Chief of Council.” He pointed at a long bench on the other side of the room.
“But please, sir,” Bryony held up her supplication. “This is urgent.”
“You will wait.” The clerk waved her towards the bench with a bony hand.
Bryony crossed the stone floor and sat alone on the hard wooden bench next to the large double doors which presumably led to the chamber where the Ruling Council was meeting. She glanced at the clerk who was busy writing in a large heavy ledger and fingered the edges of the supplication, smoothing down the creases it had suffered from the journey. She stared around the high-ceilinged room then focused on the door, willing it to open. She sighed. Her hope was ebbing away.
The clock on the front of the building struck loudly, each chime reverberating around the room. Ten o’clock. She’d been waiting an hour. As the clock finished striking, the doors to the chamber opened letting out a hub-bub of sound. Two men emerged, richly dressed in black and gold, and talking animatedly.
“…waste of time, Harrington.” Bryony heard one say.
“We’re getting close, Captain, I’m sure of it,” she heard the other reply.
They paused by where she was sitting. The first man, who was the taller and had a somehow familiar look to him, then said: “We come this far. We cannot allow Childecott’s trail to go cold.”
Bryony raised her head, suddenly alert. She looked at the two men standing before her. Clasping the supplication, she stood up. The two men turned and looked at her.
“Excuse me,” she said. “I couldn’t help but overhear you… you said the name Childecott?”
The first man took a step towards her. “Young lady, do you know of such a person?”
“Are you, perhaps an acquaintance of his?” he continued.
“Not really,” Bryony wasn’t sure what to say. What if they were friends of his?
The second man touched his companion’s arm. “Do you think it’s likely to be the same man?”
“What do you know of Childecott, young lady?”
Bryony had considered what she’d overheard. They didn’t sound as if they were Childecott’s friends. Rather the opposite. She fidgeted with the supplication. “It’s because of him that I’m here. Lord Childecott is an evil man. He has taken some of the people from the village and imprisoned them. He said he’s going to…” Bryony struggled to speak. She held out the supplication to the first man.
He took the document from her, his face darkening as he read. He passed it to his companion. “It must be.”
The man called Harrington scanned page and nodded.
The first man touched his hat. “Forgive me, young lady. My name is Strathmore, George Strathmore, and this is Harrington, one of my lieutenants. We have been seeking the man who goes by the name of Lord Childecott for many months now. It looks as if we may have found him at last.
Bryony looked from one man to the other. “I… I don’t know how much time they have before…”
“Then we must proceed with the utmost haste,” cried Captain Strathmore. He turned to Lieutenant Harrington. “Prepare to move out.”
Bryony looked up at Captain Strathmore. “Lord Childecott has quite a few armed men, he calls them his Enforcers”
“Does he indeed? Worry not, fair Bryony, we may be only six but we have the strength of sixty. Now tell me, where is your retinue?”
“The people accompanying you, where are they?”
“John brought me here on Rosie. They’re waiting for me at the Court House Tavern,” Bryony replied gesturing in the direction of the doorway.
“Excellent.” Captain Strathmore beamed. “My men are there too.” He held out his arm. “Shall we?”
Market day in the village had dawned clear and bright. All over the village people were busy preparing for the day. Dary had put tables and benches outside the tavern and stallholders were arranging their wares. Farmers had brought fresh produce which glistened in the morning sunshine and a family of tinkers were clattering about with their pots and pans and other household items.
Issell arrived pushing her handcart which was laden with her most popular potions and poultices. A rich, fragrant smell rose from the tightly packed bundles of herbs and other botanicals. Bethany accompanied her carrying a basket full of cut lavender spikes and primrose flowers. Astra trotted alongside. Issell had suggested they leave the little cat in her house for fear of her getting lost, but Astra had had other ideas and had streaked through the door as she and Bethany were about to leave.
As Issell and Bethany passed the tavern, Dary looked up and waved. He looked pale and out of sorts, thought Issell, and no wonder after the message which the stable lad had brought; but he, like the rest of them, was trying to carry on as normal. John Moore sat in a chair by the tavern door, a stout stick at his side. He tipped his hat in greeting as they made their way through the crowd to Issell’s pitch.
The usual market day bustle was subdued. Gossip was hushed and speculation rife. Issell refused to be drawn in, confining her conversations to her remedies and healing arts. She kept an eye on the tavern where Dary and the other staff were busy serving and every so often glanced towards the Manor House all the time expecting to see Lord Childecott and his men riding down to the village, intent on… on what?
“Stop it! Leave her alone!” Issell heard Bethany cry out behind her.
Issell wheeled around to see Preacher Gibson holding little Astra up by the scruff of her neck. He licked his lips, glaring the writhing kitten. “What have we here then? The witch’s apprentice and her evil black cat?
Bethany launched herself at the preacher, reaching for the kitten. “You’re hurting her. Put her down!”
Preacher Gibson dangled the struggling kitten out of Bethany’s reach, putting an arm out to keep her at bay. “See them both dance,” he said gleefully.
Golden curls tumbling from her bonnet, Bethany smashed the preacher’s arm out of her way and kicked him hard on the leg. “Let her go!” she yelled in fury.
Startled by the sharp pain in his shin, Preacher Gibson released his grip. Astra tumbled to the ground, landing squarely on all four paws. She squawked loudly before hurtling to safety underneath the handcart. Bethany turned to follow her, but Preacher Gibson grabbed her by the hair and hauled her back.
“Wicked, wicked child.” He held her roughly by the arm, bony fingers digging into her flesh.
Issell marched up to him. “That’s enough.” Hands on hips she faced the preacher. “Bullying a little girl, you despicable man,” she glared at the preacher. “Pick on someone your own size!”
Preacher Gibson shoved Bethany away from him roughly and took a step towards Issell. He licked his lips. “You know what I want from you, witchy, witch.”
There was a roar from the crowd over by the tavern. Preacher Gibson suddenly lost interest in her and strode off. Bethany had scurried over to the handcart and was sitting beside it cuddling Astra. With a quick glance back at the little girl comforting her cat, Issell hurried towards the tavern.
Childecott’s men had arrived in force, every one of them visibly armed. The Lord himself was strutting about supervising the construction of a makeshift wooden platform on the Green. Hovering behind him was a small, stooped man holding a roll of papers, accompanied by a huge brute whose open mouth revealed a complete lack of teeth.
People were gathering near the platform, turning to one another wondering what was going on. Everyone had heard by now that Lord Childecott’s prisoners had escaped, and there was much speculation as to where they could have gone and when, if ever, they might dare to return. But what was the Lord of the Manor doing now?
Childecott mounted the platform and was joined by Preacher Gibson and the man holding the papers. Childecott surveyed the crowd, an unpleasant smile playing on his lips. He put his arms up for quiet as his Enforcers took up their positions. “Now hear this,” Childecott roared. “I have God and the law on my side.
Childecott signalled to his men who were standing by the entrance to the tavern. Moments later two of them emerged with a protesting Dary between them. Two more Enforcers fell in behind them as they marched Dary up onto the platform where the Lord of the Manor was standing.
“This is the son of one of the ring-leaders. Unless those guilty of rabble-rousing and the capital crime of horse theft give themselves up, he will be punished in their place. I’m certain that some amongst you know where they are. They have until four on the church clock today. In the meantime, this young man will be confined to the stocks.” Childecott nodded to Dary’s captors. “Secure him and prepare the gallows!”
©2019 Chris Hall
Who will save Dary? Will Bryony bring help in time? Where have Mr Eyre and Martha got to? And the other escapees? How will Bryony and Bethany return to their own time? And what role has the little cat, Astra, in all this?
Sorry to leave you in the lurch. But here’s the good news:
All these questions and more will be answered when ‘A Nick in Time’ is published. Still to do: the final polish, proof-read, cover design and all that stuff. I’m aiming for publication by September.
Many, many thanks to the following people for reading along and giving me so much encouragement. Free copies of the e-book will be yours.
Debra of Nana’s Whimsical World
Tom, the Slumdog Soldier
Jean at Jean Lee’s World
Teresa, the Haunted Wordsmith
Violet at Thru Violet’s Lentz
Sadje at Keep it alive
Also friend and author, Paul English, who has been painstakingly reading along, will receive the first paperback out of the box when it arrives here in sunny South Africa.
Meanwhile, I’ll be coming up for air again next week.
Have a wonderful weekend, folks!