Bryony hurried after Issell towards the tavern, while Toby and Dary ran off to invite a few more trusted friends to the meeting. They had to be careful that word didn’t leak out to Lord Childecott’s spies. Not all the village folk could be trusted. Even though they might resent him, the Lord of the Manor had found ways of gaining a hold over them. Martha remained at Issell’s to supervise Mr Eyre’s recovery, willingly assisted by an eager Bethany.
When Issell and Bryony arrived at the tavern, a dismal sight greeted them. Big Dary’s right arm was hanging limply at his side, his shirt sleeve stiff with clotted blood. His neighbour, John Moore, was lying on the floor on a makeshift bed made from an old blanket. The clothing on his left leg was soaked with blood and his face was an ominous grey colour and bathed in perspiration. The man was clearly in a lot of pain.
Others had suffered minor injuries but now all apart from young Tommy, a lad of about fifteen, had gone to their respective homes. They would know to call at Issell’s later if help was required, she being the only healer in the village since Gwyneth had been sent away. Tommy was dozing in a corner, not obviously injured apart from a bloodied nose and bruised cheek.
“The first thing we must do is clean the wounds,” said Issell. “Have you fresh water, Dary?”
“Aye, mistress, there’s a barrel of sweet water in the cellar. I’ll fetch some for you.”
“I can fetch it,” offered Bryony.
“That would be a great help,” said Issell. “It’s better that you just sit there, Dary, until I examine your wound.”
Big Dary nodded and pointed to the cellar door. “It’s the barrel with the big pewter jug standing atop it. It’s heavy mind.”
Bryony pushed the cellar door open and located the barrel. She put the large pewter jug on the floor then tugged the barrel lid to one side. Despite its size it moved quite easily. She had seen Issell fill a jug from the barrel in her work room and looked about for a dipper to use to transfer the water to the jug. She found it hanging on a hook beside the door. As she filled the jug, taking care not to spill a drop, she thought how simple it was to turn a tap and have water flow, and how much harder it was to have to store water in a barrel and keep it filled by drawing water from a well.
She slid the barrel lid back into place and carried the heavy water jug through to Issell, who had cut away the clothing from John’s injured leg. She had a bowl ready to fill with water and a cloth with which to clean the wound. Bryony started to watch her work, but found she had to look away once the jagged edges of the wound were revealed as Issell washed away the dried blood. Issell sighed and looked over her shoulder at Big Dary. “You really should’ve called me last night.”
Issell cleaned the wound thoroughly, carefully removing all the pieces of shot with her tweezers. It turned out that John had been lucky. The bone had chipped, but it had not been fractured, although there were numerous torn ligaments around the top of the bone. Bryony forced herself to watch as Issell administered a few drops of tincture to the wound. She knelt down to help her bandage the leg then, under Issell’s guidance, took a cup of water and mixed in some of the same powder which Mr Eyre had been given. She carefully supported John’s head so he could drink it down. The wounded man sighed and closed his eyes.
“Sleep now,” said Issell gently. She looked up at Big Dary. “Can we leave him here for a few hours. It wouldn’t do to move him just yet.”
Big Dary nodded and winced as he tried to move his arm. Issell turned her attention to his wound, following the same painstaking process. This time Bryony watched intently, anticipating what Issell would ask for next. The big man clutched the edge of the table, but made no sound as Issell cleaned and dressed the wound. She finished by tying his arm in a sling, instructing him to keep his arm still so far as he could.
Finally she asked Tommy to come sit by the window, where she could get a proper look at his damaged nose. She put a gentle hand under Tommy’s chin and examined the line of his nose and cheek. “Nothing broken, Tommy,” she said softly to him. “It will pain you for a week or so, and you’ll be black and blue once the bruise comes out.” Bryony had brought a fresh bowl of water. “Here,” said Issell, passing her a clean cloth. “You bathe Tommy’s face. Do it gently but firmly.”
Tommy sat there bravely as Bryony tended to his face. Issell handed her a phial of lavender oil and she administered a few drops to the bruised cheek bone. Tommy looked up at her. One eye was closing, but the other was wide and bright. He smiled at her and put his hand on her arm, nodding. Bryony smiled back.
“Now we wash our hands,” said Issell. Bryony emptied the bowl for the third time and poured in the last of the water from the jug. “That was nicely done, Bryony,” said Issell, as they rubbed their hands on either end of the drying cloth.
“Thankee both, mistresses,” said Big Dary bowing his head to them. “But you will be back at noon, won’t you? I’m keeping the tavern closed today, so come in the cellar door. We don’t want…” He looked over his shoulder. “Well, you know.”
Issell nodded. “We’ll all be here.” She took one last look at John Moore before they left the tavern. He was sleeping peacefully.
“What’s wrong with Tommy?” Bryony asked Issell as they walked away from the tavern. “Why doesn’t he speak?”
“Nobody knows whether he can’t speak or just won’t speak.”
“But he looks as if he understands.”
“Oh yes, you’re right,” agreed Issell. “He understands. He’s clever too, I think you can see that in his eyes. He can even read a bit.”
“What about his family?”
“He has none. He just appeared in the village one day, a few years ago. He sleeps in Charlie Welsh’s old barn and people help him out with food and clothing and the like. He does odd jobs around the village when he’s not helping Charlie out.” Issell smiled. “He seems to do all right.”
Back at Issell’s, Bryony ate bread and jam ravenously while Issell checked the back of Mr Eyre’s head again. He was much brighter now and had been chatting to Martha, even though the subject of their discussion had been the dark times which had befallen the village. Bethany had meanwhile been busily employed in preparing more lavender blooms for the distillation process. When she had finished, Martha had found some of Issell’s drawing materials and Bethany had worked hard on a study of a lavender stem, just like some of the flower studies she had started to do in the library back at home.
Bryony had finished her late breakfast and was picking over some peppermint leaves to make a refreshing tea while the kettle, which Issell had put over the fire, slowly came to the boil. As she ran the peppermint through her fingers, inhaling its powerful aromatic scent, Bryony listened to Martha as she explained to Mr Eyre how the tyrant Lord Childecott had come to his position as Lord of the Manor.
“It was four summers ago that Lord Boothroy left this world. The manor and the title had been in his family for as long as anyone can remember. His poor wife had perished in childbirth the summer before and sadly the child only survived for a few hours. People say Boothroy died of a broken heart. He was a good man too, and his father before him.” Martha looked down at her hands and sighed.
“The manor remained without a lord for several months, and then Lord Downing appeared, a second-cousin to Boothroy or some-such. The Ruling Council up over the Valley in Greaton appointed him. I never met him, but he was a good and fair man according to the village elders. He brought no wife with him though, which is unusual for a gentleman with a title and a living, and he was without an heir as far as anyone knew. And then it wasn’t long before he too died.” Martha frowned and shook her head. “It was quite sudden and unexpected. Fine one day, gone the next. So, he not having a surviving heir either, the title passed to his nearest living relative, and Lord Childecott turned up.”
Martha stared into the fire. “Nothing much changed at first but little by little Childecott started to do all sorts of wicked things. He abolished our village council, introduced new taxes and brought in his enforcers to keep everyone in line. He sent people away from the village: some of the elders who tried to stand up to him, and Gwyneth, the old healer. He accused her of being a witch.” Martha glanced swiftly at Issell.
“Why did people let it happen?” asked Bryony.
“Well, chicken, you’ve just seen what happens to people when they stand up to him.”
Bryony nodded. She tipped the peppermint leaves into Issell’s big brown teapot and Issell poured the boiling water over them.
“Mostly we’ve just got on with our lives,” Martha continued. “But now, with all that’s happened over the past weeks, well…who knows where it will lead. Something must be done.” Her mouth was set in a grim line. She shrugged her shoulders. “We’ll just have to see what other folk think when we meet up.”
©2019 Chris Hall
My first full-length children’s story moves along. You’ll find the earlier chapters here. I’d love you to tell me what you think of it so far!