“Come on, Mr Eyre, we have to go,” Toby said, taking his arm and steering him forward.
“Why? Where are we going?”
“We need to go quickly, now come on.”
Bryony took his other arm. “Come on, Mr Eyre, it’s a special game, a sort of experiment.”
Mr Eyre looked at Bryony. “An experiment, eh..? Ah, but aren’t you one of my pupils?”
“That’s right, it’s Bryony.”
“Ahem, Bryony you say?”
“Yes, and we have to be quick.” Bryony began to urge him forward by the arm.
“Right-ho, off we go then.” To everyone’s relief, Mr Eyre set off enthusiastically in the direction Toby indicated. Although still confused as to where he was and what was going on, Mr Eyre confidently maintained his pace through the woods and down the hill to the end of the stand of trees. Here he paused and stared down at the village below. He pointed. “That’s Martha’s village.”
“That’s right. We’re going there now,” said Toby.
“And we’ll be seeing her?” Mr Eyre started forward eagerly.
“Hold on, just…” Dary grabbed Mr Eyre by the shoulder. “Let’s just check the way’s clear first.” Dary dropped down on all fours and moved into the open. He scanned the moonlit hillside between the treeline and the Manor House for signs of Lord Childecott’s men. Suddenly he dropped flat on the ground. A small party of men were fanning out across the meadow. Slowly he propelled himself back to the cover of the trees. He turned to the others and put his finger to his lips.
“Is this part of our experiment?” asked Mr Eyre in a stage whisper.
“Hush,” said Dary sharply as he got to his feet.
Mr Eyre looked offended, but nodded and remained silent.
“We’ll just have to wait it out,” said Dary quietly. There’s a few of them, one of them’s bound to notice us if we move. It’s too open.”
“We could go back and around over the escarpment,” Toby suggested.
“Who’s to say they won’t have men over that way too?” Dary replied.
Toby nodded. He looked beyond the trees and over to the village. A thick layer of cloud was gathering over in the east. He pointed. “We might have a chance if the clouds move over this way. Without the light from the moon, it’ll be too dark for them to see us.
“Or for us see where we’re going,” said Bryony.
“Don’t worry, lass,” said Toby. “Dary and me know the area like the backs of our hands. Besides it’s simple. Straight down.”
They sat and waited. Mr Eyre fiddled with his watch, but otherwise they all were still, watching and willing the clouds to come their way. The minutes stretched by. Despite the fear of being discovered, Bryony felt her eyelids start to close and her head began to nod. Then they heard footfalls advancing towards them and the sound of heavy breathing. Everyone froze. Someone was prodding at the undergrowth with a stick and they were getting closer.
Toby waved the others back and leapt to his feet. “Hey, what yer doing there,” he yelled indignantly, emerging from the bushes.
The stick-wielding man almost jumped out of his skin.
“I’ve just laid me snares, after the rabbits aren’t I? Now you come tramping along…”
“Did you see a man up here?”
“No just you, crashing around disturbing…”
“You’re breaking Curfew.”
Toby shrugged. The man looked doubtful. Toby clenched his fists.
“You weren’t part of all that trouble?” The man nodded towards the Manor House.
Toby shook his head. “No, I just mind me own business, looking for a rabbit or two…you know.”
The man sighed. “All right, but don’t let me catch you up here again at this time.”
The man turned and went back the way he came. Toby collapsed into a heap by the others.
“That was close,” said Dary, patting his friend’s shoulder. “I didn’t think you’d manage to talk your way out of that.”
Toby chuckled. “Neither did I.”
“What’s happening? asked Mr Eyre who despite all the tension had nodded off but had suddenly awoken.
The clouds had filled the sky by now and the landscape was in almost complete darkness. Toby looked at the others. “Time to move. We’ll guide you both.”
Toby took Bryony by the hand, Dary linked arms with Mr Eyre and together the four made their way down the hill. Dary and Toby kept glancing around, but there was no sign of any of Lord Childecott’s men. All was dark and silent when they reached the edge of the village.
They spoke in whispers. “What now?” said Dary to Toby. He was having to support Mr Eyre to keep him on his feet. “I think we need someone to take a look at him.”
“I’ll take him back to my sister’s. Martha’s there as well.”
“Martha,” mumbled Mr Eyre. “I want to see Martha.”
“We made a hiding place in the workshop,” said Bryony. “You know, just in case anyone came looking.”
“Right, that’s settled then,” said Toby. “We’ll just take it steady through the lanes.” He looked at Dary. “You better go and check on your father. If there’s anything Issy can do…you know.”
“Can you manage?” Dary moved Mr Eyre’s arm off his shoulder and onto Dary’s. “We should meet up tomorrow and find out what’s going on.”
Toby nodded. “I’ll come to you first thing.”
Dary raised his hand in mock salute then headed off towards the tavern.
Now that they were back in the village, Bryony’s strength was beginning to give out. She staggered against the low wall where they were standing. “Are you going to be all right?” Toby shifted Mr Eyre’s weight slightly and peered down at her face.
Bryony nodded. “I’m just very tired.” She looked up at him. “I’ll be fine.”
Together they made their way back to Issell’s cottage. Progress was slow, as Mr Eyre had become an almost dead weight. Bryony summoned the last of her strength and helped steady Mr Eyre as Toby half dragged, half lifted him through the empty lanes. If there was any sign of the earlier trouble, they failed to see it. All apart from the broken-down door to Martha’s house. Toby made a mental note to come back and fix the door as soon as it was light.
Lamplight was still shining through the curtain when they arrived at Issell’s. Toby propped Mr Eyre against the back wall, while he rapped his special knock on the back door. Rat-tat-tat, rat-tat-a-tat.
As soon as she heard the familiar knock, Issell flew to the door and pulled it open. Moments later Mr Eyre had been carried inside and laid on the couch which Martha and Bethany had sleepily vacated. Bryony flopped down in the chair by the hearth, waving all attention away. Toby bolted and back door and checked the front door and the windows. Satisfied he returned and sat down while Issell and Martha examined Mr Eyre.
“Is he going to be all right?” asked Bethany, staring at her tutor’s pale and grubby face.
Issell nodded. “I hope so. He’s had a nasty crack to the back of the head.” She turned to Toby. “Is this how you found him?”
“He came round when Bryony used your potion on him, but he seems to have lost his memory.”
Bryony looked up. “He recognised the village here though. He said something like ‘that’s Martha’s village’. He was walking and everything, until we got back down the hill and then after that maybe he was just too tired.”
“That could be the case. I don’t suppose he was given anything to eat and drink up there.” Issell looked down at the peaceful-looking Mr Eyre. “I’ll sit with him.” She turned to Martha. “You and the girls, take my bed.”
“You should try to rest as well, Issy,” said Toby. “There was some trouble up at the Manor House earlier on.”
Martha looked up. “What sort of trouble?”
“A group of village folk were marching on the Manor with flaming torches. Dary’s father was one of the leaders.” Toby looked at his sister. “There was some shooting.”
“People were hurt?” Issell exclaimed.
“It didn’t look bad. The crowd turned back and Childecott’s men stopped firing.”
“I should go.”
“No Issy. I told Dary I’d go round first thing. See what’s happened. Then I call for you if you’re needed.”
Issell nodded. “Very well, if you say there’s nothing serious.”
“I’ll stay here too, in case he wakes up. This is very comfortable,” said Bryony, patting the arms of the chair in which she sat.
So it was settled. Toby went off to the alcove near the front door, where he usually slept, and Bethany, who’d barely awakened, curled up next to Martha in Issell’s bed. Issell and Bryony settled down between the hearth and the couch where Mr Eyre was now snoring gently.
And so the household retired for what was left of the short summer night. Toby and the girls were soon asleep, but Issell remained watchful. Martha also lay awake, gently stroking Bethany’s soft golden hair, while the little girl slept soundlessly beside her. The clouds had parted again and moonlight streamed through the thin curtain which was drawn across the window. The full moon, Martha thought, it was always during the full moon when he’d come.
©2019 Chris Hall
This is the latest chapter of my first full-length children’s story. You’ll find the earlier chapters here. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you feel it’s going!