Bryony was still staring at the broken wagon with Toby at her side. Tommy was slowly walking the horses around. Several men, red-faced and sweating, a couple carrying ropes, pounded down the roadway towards them.
“Did you see where they went?” One panted, as they came to a halt in front of them. He glanced at the broken cart and looked away. “The horses…?”
Bryony glared at him, while Toby indicated the two directions which the runaway horses had gone after their disastrous encounter. The group split up to follow at a run.
One held back, calling over to Tommy. “Take your horses to the inn. We’ll get someone to fix things up,” he said breathlessly, nodding towards the wagon, before he too ran off following the second group who had struck out over the fields.
“Let’s hope someone can help us,” said Toby. Bryony nodded, looking over at Tommy, who shrugged and started leading the horses along the road toward the centre of the village.
“We should bring our things from the wagon,” said Tommy, reaching into the back. He handed Bryony the cloak which Issell had lent her, and grabbed the cloth bag with the remains of their food and the half empty water crock. “The wagon should be safe enough here for now.”
Bryony hitched up her skirts and trudged after Tommy, Toby walked along next to her. She swallowed down her nerves as they approached the inn where a crowd of people were gathered outside. Toby reached out and put his hand on her arm. “Don’t worry,” he murmured. “It’ll be all right.”
The crowd were too busy discussing what had happened to notice their arrival. One person did though. No sooner had Eliza, the innkeeper’s rosy-cheeked wife seen Tommy leading the two large dray horses, she hurried over. “Tommy,” she held out her hands to him. “What’s happened? Is Dary not with you?”
Tommy nodded a greeting to her and looked around for the others. Bryony and Toby appeared at his side. Bryony smiled back at the friendly-looking woman.
“Who’s this then?” Eliza asked, looking at them both. Bryony and Toby introduced themselves, explaining what had happened to the wagon. Eliza raised her eyebrows. “Those horses!” she exclaimed, shaking her head. “John’s had such trouble with them while they’ve been stabled here, and now some of Lord Childecott’s men have come to fetch them and look what’s happened,” she raised her arms in the air. “They get spooked and escape.” She lowered he voice. “I just hope his men catch them, or who knows how his Lordship will react. Mind you, you’d know better than me, living where you do.”
The mention of Lord Childecott’s name made Bryony’s stomach turn over. She swayed on her feet. Toby, equally distressed, but managing not to show it, put out an arm to steady her.
“The poor lass must be quite done in, coming all this way, and then having that accident.” Eliza put out her hand and stroked the side of Bryony’s face. “Let me take her inside.” She looked at Toby and Tommy. “You two take those horses of yours and get them settled in the stables, then we’ll see about getting your wagon up here.” She breathed in sharply. “Lord Childecott should pay for the damage to it.”
Bryony let out a little gasp. Toby started to say something, but Eliza brushed him away. “Let me take this young lady inside, while you look after the horses. We can worry about the wagon later.” And with that she steered Bryony away into the back of the inn. Toby rolled his eyes at Tommy who shrugged and turned to busy himself with the horses.
Toby followed as Tommy walked the horses behind the inn to the stables. There was no one about. Presumably they had all gone off in search of Lord Childecott’s missing horses. Tommy, familiar with the stables, set about taking care of the two horses, with Toby helping as best he could.
Meanwhile, Eliza was busy fussing over Bryony. Bryony accepted her ministrations gratefully, but wished she’d stop talking so she could think. Fortunately Eliza didn’t seem to require any response from her as she sat her down on a cushion-covered bench in the back parlour and shouted through to the kitchen for someone to warm some broth.
A few minutes later, Bryony heard Toby calling at the kitchen door. She started to stand, but Eliza waved her to stay where she was and bustled out of the room, returning with Tommy and Toby, before disappearing once again to see about the broth.
Tommy and Toby sat on the bench opposite. A large table stood between them. Bryony leant forward, her elbows resting on the table. “What are we going to do?” she asked anxiously. “If Lord Childecott…”
Tommy shook his head from side to side, holding up his hands.
Bryony frowned and looked at Toby. Toby also frowned, then smiled, looking from Tommy to Bryony. “I think Tommy’s saying there’s nothing to worry about,” said Toby. He glanced at Tommy who nodded vigorously. Toby paused. “But that’s right, isn’t it?” He said. “It wouldn’t matter if he finds out about the wagon. We’re just going for supplies, aren’t we? There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Tommy pointed at Bryony and covered his face with his hands. Bryony nodded slowly, looking at him. “But they mustn’t see me.” Tommy grinned and nodded. “Yes,” she said. “That might be suspicious. But I think that’s easily done. I can keep out of Childecott’s men’s way.”
“It’s probably best if we all do,” agreed Toby, “I wouldn’t want them asking me questions. Not after what happened back in the village.”
Tommy pointed at himself again, passing his finger across his lips. Bryony laughed. “Of course, they can’t question you, can they Tommy.”
Tommy laughed soundlessly and walked his fingers over the table. He pointed to himself and then in the direction of the stables.
“You’ll go back to the stables then Tommy,” confirmed Toby.
“Not before he’s eaten some broth,” said Eliza, entering the room carrying a wooden tray laden with steaming bowls and a half a loaf of dark bread.
The three travellers fell upon the food. Now that Bryony felt there was a little less to worry about, her appetite returned. She had the feeling that things would have to be very grave indeed before her companions’ desire to eat would be spoiled. Just as they were wiping the last of the broth from the bowls with hearty crusts of bread, they heard a commotion coming from the yard outside.
Toby put down his spoon. “Perhaps, they’ve found the horses?”
Tommy got to his feet and hurried out into the yard. Sure enough, there were the two fine-looking horses, their coats flecked with foam, each held firmly by one of Childecott’s men by a makeshift rope halter. The men were jovial now, relieved by their success.
The man who’d spoken to them on the road detached himself from the little crowd and came over to Tommy. “Sorry about that, lad.” He looked at Tommy more closely. “You’re the young fellow who usually comes along with Dary, aren’t you? It’s Tommy, isn’t it?”
“Sorry, I didn’t recognise you back there.” He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “Just give us a moment and we’ll go and fetch your wagon.”
Eliza appeared at the door and hurried over. “John, are you all right, love?” She put her hand on his shoulder and looked into his face.
“Aye, lass, don’t fuss.”
“Those horses have caused so much vexation.” Eliza put her hands on her hips. “And now their wagon is broken,” she continued pointing to Tommy and shaking her head. “Dealing with that man Childecott is more trouble than it’s worth.”
“Hush now, lass.” He dropped his voice. “It doesn’t do to speak ill of…” John looked over his shoulder nervously and then turned back to Tommy. “Hold on, let me just get these horses settled.” John strode over to the men holding the horses and gestured towards the stables. “You get them safely back in the stalls and clean them up. I’ll send some fresh water for them directly.” He turned to walk back, then paused and shouted back over his shoulder. “And make sure the stalls are properly secured.”
The men moved off with the horses and John rubbed his hands together. “Right then Tommy, where’s that other lad who’s with you? We’ll go for the wagon now.”
With Childecott’s men safely out of the way, Tommy had no hesitation in fetching Toby. The three of them had little difficulty rolling the broken wagon up to the village. At John’s suggestion, they took it straight to old Giles, the carpenter’s workshop.
Old Giles peered at the damage, stroking his beard and sucking in his cheeks. “That’s going to need a whole new piece of timber there.” He pointed to the damaged shaft.
“Can’t you just patch it up?” asked Toby. “Bind the two pieces back together?”
“Nay, lad, not unless you’re looking for another spill. A repair like that would never hold, especially with a laden wagon. I assume that’s where you’re going, to Greaton for supplies.”
“Yes, sir, that’s right,” agreed Toby, “but we’re in a bit of a hurry. For the supplies, that is.”
“They’re from the inn in the valley back yonder,” explained John. “An inn can’t do without its ale.”
Old Giles nodded. “I can do my very best, lads, but it’s not going to be fixed this evening. Maybe I can fit it in later tomorrow.”
Tommy and Toby both sighed loudly. “Well,” said Toby slowly, “if that’s the best you can do.”
“Aye lad, it is.”
©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 your feedback!