Mr Eyre was awakened early by the sunlight flooding in through the open weave fabric of the curtains. He was instantly aware of the pain radiating from the back of his head, which throbbed keenly as he surveyed his surroundings. Where the devil was he?
An unfamiliar woman was sleeping in the armchair next to the couch where he lay. Her long auburn hair fell in thick curls around her face. A pretty oval-shaped face, he noticed, with clear pale skin and red rosebud lips. His gaze moved on to the occupant of the second armchair. This was a familiar face. He searched for the name. It came: Bryony. But what was she doing here in this unfamiliar setting? Was the other little girl, her sister Bethany, somewhere here too?
Mr Eyre tried to raise himself up on one elbow. The lump on his head protested strongly and he let out a gasp of pain. Issell’s eyes opened and within an instant she was on her feet. “Now there,” she said, putting a cool, a gentle arm around his shoulders and easing him back down onto the couch. “Just lie back, that’s it, put your head to one side. I’m going to fetch you some water, and then you must have a little broth.”
Bryony stirred as Issell bustled about, stoking up the fire and putting the broth on to warm before going to the storeroom to draw from the barrel where she kept the sweet spring water.
“Mr Eyre, you’re awake.” Bryony hurried to her tutor’s side. “How are you feeling?”
Before he could answer, Issell appeared with a jug of water. She poured a little into a pewter cup and then helped Mr Eyre take a few sips. He tried to gulp the water down, but she set the cup aside explaining that he should just take a little at a time. Mr Eyre lay back and closed his eyes. Bryony watched as he squeezed his eyelids together several times and then opened his eyes wide. His eyes flicked about as he looked around the room. Then he looked directly at Bryony and frowned.
“I’m dreaming aren’t I Bryony?” He put his hand to the back of his head and winced. “Or am I? I didn’t think dreams were this painful.”
“Mr Eyre, you aren’t dreaming unless I am too.”
“A mass hallucination, do you think?”
Bryony shook her head.
“No, I don’t think so either.”
“Try to remember, Mr Eyre.” Bryony held the cup of water out to him, as he propped himself up on one elbow.
He swallowed some of the water and nodded thoughtfully. “I took a blow to my head and I’m confused.” He tilted his head from side to side. “Vision’s a bit disturbed. I’m very thirsty too…could be dehydration.”
Issell came over with a bowl of steaming broth. “Now, Bryony, help Mr Eyre sit up.” She looked at her patient. “A little more water, then some of this,” she smiled encouragingly.” We’ll get you right, although I have to say,” she glanced at Bryony, “all of this is very strange.”
Mr Eyre sipped from the spoon which Issell held to his lips. He grinned broadly. “Mmm, delicious.”
Woken by the voices, Bethany ran up to Mr Eyre. “You’re alive, Mr Eyre. I am glad.”
Mr Eyre swallowed his broth and nodded. “So am I, Bethany.” He looked at Issell. “I’m sorry, here you are feeding me and I don’t even know your name.”
“Well, I’ve heard a lot about you from the girls here.” She smiled and putting her arm around Bethany. “I’m Issell. This is my home.”
“We’re somewhere in the village then?” He looked at Bryony.
Just then, Martha appeared, straightening her skirt and pushing her hair into place.
Mr Eyre looked up at her. “Is it?” A flash of recognition played across his face. “It is! Martha! I saw you…yesterday?”
Issell managed to move the bowl away before Mr Eyre spilled it as he held up his arms in delight. “Ah yes, you see,” he nodded looking at Bryony and then at Bethany. “It’s not so much the where, but the when.”
“Yes, Mr Eyre, that’s right,” Bethany said, nodding furiously. “We’re in the olden days.”
He frowned. “Things have changed again though, haven’t they?” He looked up at Martha. “It’s not the happy place is used to be.” He stopped and rubbed his chin. “I’m starting to remember now…”
Just then the back door opened and Toby hurried in, shutting and bolting the door behind him. “Oh, he’s awake!” Toby bounded across the room, which was rather crowded again now. “How are you feeling, sir?”
“Where have you been?” asked Issell before Mr Eyre could answer.
“I’ve been to the Tavern. Dary’s father was injured last night. He’s not too bad, just some pellets in his arm. But there are a few others who were hurt and John Moore’s leg is very bad. They’re all bedded down at the tavern.
“I must go to them.” Issell set the bowl of broth down next to Mr Eyre. “Would you like to help me?” she said to Bryony as she hurried through into her work room.
Toby turned to Martha. “I had a look in your house. I’ve managed to fix up your front door. They’ve made a bit of a mess, turning over stuff inside, but it’s not too bad. Here, I found your little bird. It was lying by the doorstep.” He handed the William’s carving of a wren to Martha.
“Oh,” said Bethany, “look Brynee, it’s like my little robin.” She looked up at Martha. “Can I see?”
Martha stroked the little bird and smiled before passing it to Bethany. “Thanks, Toby. At least they didn’t set it on fire.” She frowned. “But what happened last night; why all the trouble at the Manor House?”
“It seems that Lord Childecott is still refusing to change Curfew-time in the evening. Everyone’s complaining it starts too early now summer’s here. How are people going to work their land properly if they have to be indoors two hours before the sun sets?” Toby raised his eyebrows. “But what really got people riled last night is that he’s raising the tax on ale again. That’s why they marched on the Manor. Even some of his own men, the ones who’d come to enforce Curfew yesterday. I saw them drinking outside the tavern on my way back up to the Manor, I thought it was strange at the time.”
Issell returned from her work room carrying a cloth bag containing some of her healing herbs and potions. “No wonder folk are upset. He may be a lord, but the man’s a fool.” She indicated her bag. “Come Bryony, let’s go and see what we can do.” She turned to Martha and handed her a little packet of powdered herbs. This is belladonna. Mix it with a little water and have him drink it all down in one draft. It will help his headache.” She nodded at Mr Eyre.
“I’m hungry,” whispered Bethany to Issell.
“Oh, I’m sorry, lovely.” Issell pointed to the large wooden cabinet. “There’s some bread in the crock and some jam for it. Toby, will you fetch it?”
Issell opened the door to find Dary on the threshold. “Sorry, Issell,” he said in surprise.
“We’re just coming.”
“We’re thankful to you, Issell, but that’s not why I’m here.” He leant his arm on the door frame. He was red in the face from running. “I’m just letting people know. My dad and a few others are meeting at the tavern at noon.”
“Come in and catch your breath.” Issell opened the door wider for him. His broad figure almost filled the doorway as he entered.
“Folk are getting restive,” Dary explained. “Who knows what will happen now, after yesterday? I’ve heard that folk are already minded to march on the Manor again tonight. They’re talking of arming themselves with muskets this time.”
“That means more people will get hurt,” said Mr Eyre quietly. He sighed. “There must be another way.”
“I’d like to agree with you, sir,” said Dary, “but I just don’t see it. That’s why my dad wanted to ask you all to come to the meeting.”
“Childecott has to be stopped. That’s for certain,” said Martha. “We can’t go on like this.”
“Yes, he does,” agreed Issell. “Everybody I know wants that, but how do we do it without more people getting hurt?”
©2019 Chris Hall
Another chapter of my first full-length children’s story. You’ll find the earlier chapters here. I’d love you to tell me what you think of it so far!