“Bryony’s plan,” said Toby. “That’s what we should do. Go for Bryony’s plan.”
Tommy joined them at the table.
“We need to go quickly,” said Dary. “Greaton is a more than a day away even with the wagon and horses.”
“I’m not sure…” Issell began.
“Issy, it’s our only hope,” said Toby wincing as he spoke. He put a hand to his shoulder. “Unless you can think of something better?”
Issell got to her feet. “Let me take a look at that.” Issell rounded the table and eased Toby’s arm from his shirt. She looked across at Bryony. “Mr Eyre wasn’t happy for you to go, was he?” She started to feel Toby’s arm gently. “Perhaps I should?”
Bryony raised her eyebrows. “He didn’t actually say no.” She folded her arms, resting them on the table top. “I understand the situation, and I understand what must be said. Mr Eyre taught us about such things. I shall write a supplication and we can present it to the Ruling Council.”
“She does talk better than the rest of us,” said Toby, looking round at Issell as she moved his arm slowly in its socket. “Ouch.”
In the background John Moore groaned again.
“You can’t go, Issell, people need you,” said Dary, looking over at John.
Issell followed his gaze. She nodded. “Yes, I suppose so.” She turned Toby to face her in his chair, held his forearm out and pulled it gently towards her while turning it away from his body.
Toby cried out, then stopped and felt his shoulder. “Oh, that’s better. Thanks, Is.”
Issell smiled and helped him back into his shirt. She leant on the back of Toby’s chair and looked at Bryony. “Very well, I believe you should go,” she looked at Bethany. “But Bethany stays with me.”
“Thank you, Issell.”
Bethany looked up and Issell met her round-eyed gaze. “I’ll need your help here, Bethany. I need someone to help mix my curatives. And you can help with the illustrations for my book.”
“All right,” said Dary. “That’s settled. Toby, Bryony will come with me.”
“But Dary, you can’t go,” Bryony looked at him anxiously. “I heard Lord Childecott say that you need to be here to serve the ale. That business about his taxes. He said something like, ‘I’ll be watching you, son,’ didn’t he?” she looked around at the others.
“She’s right, you know, Dary,” Issell said, nodding. “If you’re missed…”
“We don’t want to make him suspicious,” said Bryony.
“You mean any more suspicious than he already is.” Dary sighed. “I suppose you’re right.”
Tommy, who’d been following the exchange keenly, started banging on the table and pointing at himself.
Dary nodded. “Of course. Tommy knows the way and he’s hitched and driven the wagon before. He might not speak,” Dary clapped Tommy on the shoulder, “but he’ll get you there. He’s helped my father out a few times.”
“Right. That’s settled then. Dary stays and keeps the ale flowing, and the three of us will go,” said Toby. “Don’t look so worried Issy, we’ll be fine.” He looked at Dary. “Should we leave now?”
“The wagon usually leaves at Curfew up, just after first light. Then we break the journey at the Red Lion in Sandgate by eventide. If you leave early the following day, you should arrive at Greaton before mid-morning.” Dary glanced at Tommy, who gave him a ‘thumbs up’ sign. “It’s a simple journey.”
Toby nodded. “Best keep to routine.”
Dary continued. “There is a checkpoint on the main road up the top of the Valley, but as I say, there’s never a problem since we’re going for supplies for the brew-house. If they ask, just tell them you’re fetching barley and hops.”
“Barley and hops,” Bryony repeated.
“All right,” Toby nodded. “First light.” He looked at Tommy.
Tommy pointed at himself, then walked two fingers along the table and pointed at Issell and Toby.
“You’ll come and meet us at Issell and Toby’s house,” Bryony interpreted.
Tommy’s face lit up with a big grin.
The following day, Toby and Bryony were ready to leave before sun up. Bryony had spent much of the previous afternoon perfecting her written supplication. “Too bad we can’t have it signed by the whole village,” Issell had said; but of course, there wasn’t the time and it was too much of a risk to share their plans.
Issell had prepared two cloth bags containing provisions for the journey, together with a crock containing sweet water for Tommy could carry up to the stables. She stood waiting, unconsciously fiddling with her apron strings.
Sure enough just of the first ray of sunlight dipped over into the valley there was a soft tap-tap at the door. Issell hugged them both and dropped and handful of coins into Toby’s hand. Bethany appeared with a little posy of angelica flowers, “for luck” explained Issell. Bryony tucked the posy away carefully, then squeezed her sister’s hands and kissed her forehead between the golden curls. Then they were off.
They hurried through the deserted lanes to the far side of the village in silence. An occasional dog barked as they passed its gate, but otherwise their departure went unnoticed. Soon they had climbed the valley side and were nearing the stables. Toby glanced over at the big barn at the edge of the Manor House yard, wondering if that was where the prisoners were being held. He hoped Martha was bearing up. But this was no time dwell on their fate. He must concentrate on the success of the plan.
The stables were close to the main road. A narrow lane separated it from the large paddock which surrounded the stable buildings. Tommy opened the paddock gate and strode over to the huge double doors. The door he pulled on opened easily and Tommy entered, followed by Bryony and Toby. It was a long building with stalls occupied by horses on each side. There was almost no sound apart from the odd rustle coming from the sweet-smelling hay as one of the horses moved around in its stall.
“At least he looks after his horses,” Bryony whispered.
“Well, there’s value in them,” said Toby. “A horse is worth far more than a man’s life. Depending on the man, of course.”
They made their way through the stables until Tommy stopped and pointed at two large horses which shared a stall. Tommy opened the waist height door and entered holding out his hand to each of the horses in turn. They whinnied gently as they nuzzled his hand. Tommy pointed to the tack which was hanging on the side wall. He lifted down the first bridle and signalled for Toby to do the same with the other one. Bryony held back, rather nervous of the large beasts, however gentle they appeared to be. Toby watched as Tommy fitted the straps and noseband over the nearest horse’s head. Struggling to copy, Toby’s horse shied away from him and stamped its hooves. Tommy motioned for him to wait. He finished tightening the noseband on his horse, then took the harness from Toby, showing him what to do.
The horses were ready. Bryony held the stall door while Toby and Tommy led them out. Just as they started to walk them towards the door they heard a man mutter and swear in the next stall. Bryony froze. A man’s tousled head appeared out of the door to the stall opposite.
“Ah, it’s Tommy isn’t it?” The man peered out over the door. “Come for the brew-wagon have you?”
Tommy nodded. He glanced at Toby, then looked more closely, screwing up his eyes. “You’re not young Dary, are yer boy?”
Toby shook his head.
“Cat got yer tongue as well?” The man fumbled open the stall door and came up close to Toby, peering at his face. He shook his head. “Can’t say I know ye, but if you’re with Tommy that’s fine by me.” He reached out and took the horse’s bridle from Toby. “Why don’t I give you boys a hand to hitch up?”
Tommy placed a hand on the man’s arm and nodded vigorously. He seemed to stare past Tommy and Bryony realised that he was almost blind. He certainly didn’t seem to have noticed her and it was probably better if he didn’t, she thought. As they all walked back through the stables, Bryony stayed on the far side of the horses, keeping them between her and the stable man.
The wagon was in a second building alongside the stables. As they entered the man looked in Bryony’s direction. “And you, missy, what are you doing?”
“None of my concern,” he said cheerfully. “Good luck to ye, boys,” he chuckled.
Bryony was tempted to protest at this, but Tommy caught her eye and shook his head. She watched as they hitched up the wagon, noting the various buckles and rope hitches involved. Tommy took the reins in one hand and leant down to give her a hand up. Toby followed so that she was neatly sandwiched between the two of them. Hodge would undoubtedly find this highly improper, as would her mama. She felt a sudden pang. But it couldn’t be helped, she thought. There were more important matters at stake. The journey and its goal lay ahead.
©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 how you think it’s going!