Two hours later they were all sitting round a large oak table in the tavern. Mr Eyre had been dressed in a hooded cloak in an attempt to conceal him from prying eyes as they made their way there. The other members of the group, many of whom had had regarded Mr Eyre as one of Martha’s vivid imaginings, now showed considerable interest in him and he had tried to answer their questions as best he could. All had been sworn to secrecy about his whereabouts, since he was a fugitive from Lord Childecott.
Although there was no hiding Mr Eyre’s identity, Issell had suggested that she should introduce Bryony and Bethany as her young cousins from the next village, the plausible explanation which they’d settled on previously. No-one would be surprised at her taking on a young apprentice who, due to circumstances at home, had brought her little sister with her.
Bryony listened to the debate in silence. The group had divided into two factions: one which wanted to gather arms and march on the Manor House and the other which feared retribution too greatly and wouldn’t support such action. Martha and Issell were on opposite sides of the divide, with Martha advocating strong-arm tactics.
“But what else can we do?” Martha said in reply to Issell’s call for calm. “We have to stop him.”
“What’s the alternative?” said Dary, looking at his father.
“I don’t know, son,” Big Dary shook his head. “Who else is there to stand up for us since Lord Childecott removed the village council? You know most of them left here after his intimidation.”
There was silence in the room while people shook their heads. It was Bryony who spoke next. “What about the Ruling Council? Surely they wouldn’t approve of what he’s doing. Could a message be sent to them?”
People around the table murmured to each other. One or two started nodding. Big Dary looked up. “I think the young lass might have something.”
Mr Eyre slapped the table with his hand. “Yes exactly!” he beamed at Bryony. “Appeal to a higher council. Take it up the chain of command.”
“But how will any of us get out of the village without Childecott and his men noticing?”
“It’s almost a full day’s ride as well, how would we manage to get our hands on one of the horses? They’re all penned up at the Manor House, under Childecott’s control, remember.”
“We could steal one.”
“I have an idea,” Dary spoke up. Everyone turned to look at him. “We can use our wagon. Say we’re going to pick up more supplies for the brew-house. The dray horses are in the far stable and we don’t need permission to take those.
“But who would go?”
“I would, of course,” said Dary.
“And me,” said Toby.
Tommy banged on the table and pointed to himself.
“I want to go,” said Bryony, leaning forward on the table.
“Just a moment, Miss Bryony,” Mr Eyre looked at her. “I don’t…”
They were interrupted by the sound of heavy fists hammering on the door. “Open up, or we’ll bust the door in! Open up in the name of Lord Childecott!
“That’s torn it,” said Charlie.
“Quick,” said Big Dary, as he struggled to his feet, “out through the cellar.”
“Open up!” The hammering became louder.
Dary flew through to the cellar to open the back door, while his father moved over to the front door. “Hold on, hold on; I’m coming,” Big Dary roared angrily. Then they heard more shouting. Lord Childecott’s men were outside the back door too. There was no escape. Tommy ran to hide behind the serving counter, motioning Bryony to follow. Bryony grabbed Bethany’s hand and dashed after him.
Big Dary hauled open the front door, just as the wood was beginning to splinter. Lord Childecott strode in accompanied by two of his henchmen. He pointed at the burly tavern-keeper. “Right, you are under arrest.” He turned to his men. “Round up the other rabble-rousers.” His men moved to do as he asked, surrounding the little group and pushing them in the back with their weapons. One of them attempted to drag John Moore from his make-shift bed, but he cried out so loudly that he dropped him roughly to the floor again. Issell hurried over and crouched beside him.
Lord Childecott strode up to Issell. He put his hand out and held her chin. “Perhaps you’d like to go and stay with our good Pastor? Keep him company.” Issell shook her chin away from him and stood up.
“Leave my sister alone!” Toby ran over to Lord Childecott, a fist raised.
Issell stopped him and held his arms at his side. “No, Toby.”
“You again, boy,” said Lord Childecott. “Looking for another lashing?” He grabbed Toby away from her, twisting his arm roughly and pulling it up behind his back. Toby screamed out in pain as something cracked.
“Leave him be,” Martha shouted, her eyes flashing angrily.
Lord Childecott spun around, pushing Toby roughly across the room where he landed groaning in an awkward heap. “Ah, Martha Stebbins, my men have been looking for you.” His gaze landed on the man standing next to her. “And Mr Eyre is with you, I see.” Childecott made a mock bow. “We meet again, sir.” Lord Childecott’s eyes had a steely gleam. He eyed Martha and Mr Eyre. “Both of you, over by the door!” he ordered. One of his men indicated with his pistol that they should move.
Lord Childecott continued, looking at Mr Eyre. “You really shouldn’t have gone running off like that.” He surveyed the room. “I wonder who your accomplice was.” He raised his head and put his hand behind his ear. “Did I hear something about a young man out poaching during Curfew last night?” He looked around the room, a muscle in his cheek twitching slightly. “Could it have been you,” he said walking over to Dary.
“No, sir, not me.”
“I’ll let it go this once. After all, if the tavern-keeper’s not around, who will serve the ale?” He looked at his men. “Eh?” He nodded vigorously at them. “And if the ale’s not sold what of my new tax?”
Nobody moved. Lord Childecott took out with pistol, turning it over and inspecting it. He pointed it at Charlie and the three other men in turn. “All of you. Stand by the door.” He turned to his men. “Take them away.”
Big Dary, Martha, Mr Eyre, Charlie and the three others were marched out of the tavern accompanied by several of Childecott’s armed enforcers.
Lord Childecott laughed unpleasantly and looked around the room. “Very well, the rest of you can stay, but be sure to spread the world. There will be a fair trial this coming Friday.” He laughed cruelly. “Before we hang them.” He looked at each of them in turn. “And mark you, before you get any ideas,” he toyed with his pistol, “any attempts to rescue them will be punishable by death.”
Issell, Toby and Dary stared out of the tavern door as a covered wagon pulled by two shire horses was brought around and their friends were loaded on roughly by Lord Childecott’s guards. The wagon drove off followed by Lord Childecott who had mounted a beautiful chestnut horse. “That was Charlie’s horse,” said Dary quietly as they went back inside, ignoring the group of villagers who’d gathered around. He shut the door and eased the bolt in place. Daylight showed through in the places where the door had begun to splinter under the furious blows of Lord Childecott’s men.
Issell slumped into a chair and put her head in her hands. Tommy emerged from behind the serving counter followed by the two girls. Bryony hurried to sit at Issell’s side and put her arm around her. Bethany climbed onto the chair next to her and put her head on her shoulder. Dary and Toby, clutching his injured arm, took seats opposite them, while Tommy remained standing. John Moore shifted and groaned on the floor, before falling still and silent.
Issell looked up. Her face was grey with shock. When she spoke, it was not in her usual confident tone. “What do we do now?”
©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!