Later in the morning after Bryony and Toby had left for Greaton, Issell had taken Bethany up to the edge of the woods. They were close to Lord Childecott’s forbidden area, but Issell judged it to be safe enough, provided they were mindful of where they wandered. In any case, she needed certain herbs which were only in flower for a short time, besides which she wanted to distract Bethany who was understandably fretful over current events.
As they passed within sight of the Manor House Issell wondered how her friends were bearing up. She still couldn’t quite believe that Lord Childecott would carry out his threat. He’d had people flogged and whipped and put in the stocks, and he’d even resorted to banishment, but surely he wouldn’t… she couldn’t even bear to think about it. Issell shook herself, trying to rid herself of the dark thoughts.
Then there was her brother Toby on the road to Greaton with Bryony and Tommy. Issell had never been to the big town and knew little of the workings of the Ruling Council, but the mysterious Mr Eyre seemed to have a lot of confidence in the plan. Coming from a time in the future, as she fully believed he did now, he surely would have a good understanding of how such things worked. Bryony too, but they had put a lot responsibility on her young shoulders.
“Oh look, a little stream,” Bethany exclaimed, as they climbed past a small rocky outcrop near the ridge. She scampered forward and knelt down next to where the water was bubbling forth from the rocks.
“This is one of the sources of the River Eden,” said Issell kneeling down beside her. “You see,” she continued, pointing downstream, “it disappears underground for a while and reappears further down the hill just outside our village. There it joins with the larger stream that comes from the north and makes the little river which runs through the village. It continues on through the Valley and widens out. Beyond the Valley, it goes all the way to the sea.”
“Does it go to the town where Bryony’s going?” asked Bethany.
“No, sweetheart, but that’s a clever question. A different river flows through Greaton, one which rises over in the east.” Issell dabbled her fingers in the water. “This is very pure water, even cleaner than our sweet well water.” She cupped her hand and scooped some up taking a sip. She look at the little girl and smiled. “Try it Bethany.”
As Bethany bent forward another reflection appeared in the stream behind theirs. Startled they both turned around.
“I thought I heard voices,” said the man grinning down at them. He was tall, broad-shouldered and straight-backed, but the deep lines on his weathered face gave away his age.
“William!” Issell sprang up and stepped towards him, putting her arms out to him. “We thought… well, we didn’t know what to think.”
William took her hands and squeezed them. Issell looked up at him. “And Ellen?”
William smiled. “She’s fine, Issell. We got a good start on Childecott’s men. We went over the Valley to, well, perhaps I’d better not say.”
Issell nodded. William dropped her hands and turned his attention to the little girl beside her. He squatted down. “Surely it can’t be?”
Bethany looked at William with her round blue eyes. “It is you, William, isn’t it? You gave me the little robin.”
“So I did, little one.”
“But you’re so old now!” Bethany screwed up her eyes and waved her hands in front of her face. The she stopped and looked from William to Issell. “Oh, I don’t understand these olden times.”
William glanced up at Issell, then turned back to Bethany. “It must be,” he frowned. “Nigh on thirty years since we last met.”
“It was three weeks ago, when I met you and Ellen, and we did the spinning and you gave me the little robin.” Bethany took a deep breath. “Then four days ago, I came again with my big sister and your house was burned.” She looked at him with her round blue eyes. “I was scared.”
William ruffled her golden hair. “But we escaped. We weren’t hurt.” He stood up and looked across the Valley. “And one day we will rebuild.” William furrowed his brow. “Four days ago,” he paused. “That was when I went back to look at our house to see if any of my tools could be salvaged.”
“You went back?” Issell’s eyes widened. “But weren’t you worried that Childecott’s men might be around?”
“Well, yes, but I was careful. Don’t forget, I know the woods here like the back of my hand.”
Just then, there was a rustling in the bushes from the direction in which William had come. He tensed and turned. Then a small black kitten trotted out meowing loudly.
“Astra!” Bethany cried. At the sound of her voice, the kitten bounded over towards her. Bethany scooped the little cat up in her arms. “Astra,” Bethany whispered into the kitten’s fur. “Did you follow us?”
“I was just coming to that,” said William. “When I went back to the house, this little thing was there, meowing her little heart out. I couldn’t understand where she could have come from. She was obviously lost.” He put out his hand and stroked the soft fur above the white star shape on her forehead. “So she came home with me. She’s been following me about ever since.” He grinned as he petted the cat. “I didn’t think she’d come this far though.”
Bethany looked at William, then at Issell. “I can keep her with me, can’t I?” She hugged the kitten. “I want to look after her and keep her safe.” The little cat was purring loudly, snuggling against Bethany’s neck.
William held up his hands. “Well, she’s obviously yours.”
Issell smiled and stroked Astra’s head. “Of course you can, chicken.” She raised her eyebrows. “So that’s four of you crossed over here now.” She turned to William. “They seem to have come from some future time, through the woods over there. No one can explain it, but I’m certain that’s what has happened.”
William nodded then furrowed his brow. “Four you say?”
‘Yes, William,” said Bethany nodding. “There’s Briny, my big sister and Mr Eyre. He’s our tutor. He’s been here before, like me, but…” the little girl’s eyes clouded.
Issell put her arm around her and hugged her gently. “There’s been some trouble in the village, you won’t have heard.”
William grew stony-faced as Issell told him about the events which had led to Martha, Mr Eyre and the others being rounded up and held at the Manor House awaiting some kind of trial, and what Lord Childecott had suggested their fate might be.
“We must stop this!” William cried out. “We must free them and help them escape.” He looked around and lowered his voice although no one was anywhere nearby. “There are people,” he indicated over his shoulder, “the other side of the escarpment who could help.” He nodded to himself. “I’m sure they’ll be willing.”
Issell nodded. “That is good to know, but we’re hoping it won’t come to that. You see, Bethany’s sister and my brother Toby are on the way to Greaton to petition the Ruling Council about Lord Childecott’s actions.”
“But Issell, if this trial is only in a few days that might not been in time. The Ruling Council works very slowly.” Issell’s hands shot to her mouth in alarm. William continued. “Leave this to me.” He looked at them. “Now you both take care, and try not to worry.” With a wild look in his eyes, he turned and ran off towards the escarpment.
©2019 Chris Hall
So, what do you think of my first full-length children’s story as it progresses? You’ll find the earlier chapters here. I’d love to hear what you think of it!