Ducking Under the Radar

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Okay, those of you who’ve been following the unfolding story of ‘A Nick in Time’, my children’s novel, will know we are reaching the climax and soon the story will draw to a (very satisfactory) close.

I’ve decided to devote the next couple of weeks to doing just that, so I shall be going rather quieter than usual, although I will be popping up now and then to see what you’re all up to.

The concluding chapters will continue to appear here but the ultimate finale will remain undisclosed until the story is ready for publication. Then you, loyal followers of ‘A Nick in Time’ (and you know who you are), will receive a free advance copy of the ebook. 

Bear with me. If I work hard it shouldn’t be too long.

see you soon

 

 

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A Nick in Time – Chapter 28

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Dary let the stable boy out of the cellar door. He ran off down the lane as if the devil were after him. Dary closed and bolted the door and leaned back against it. He hung his head. Issell put her hand on his arm. “Let’s go and sit down, Dary.”

John Moore looked up as they returned from the cellar. “I heard what the lad said.” He rubbed his hand over his face.

“What do you think Childecott’s men will do?” said Dary unhappily.

“To tell you the truth, I can’t see what Childecott would want to do. He was very concerned about keeping the ale running for his taxes, so I’m sure the tavern will be safe… and without you, who will serve the ale? No ale, no ale tax, eh?” John Moore’s tanned face broke into a reassuring smile. “Just keep your head down and keep pouring the ale.”

“But my dad and the rest of them, where will they go?”

Issell put her hand on Dary’s shoulder. “Listen, both of you,” she looked across the table at John. “When Bethany and I were up at the spring this morning, we met Will.”

“Will from the woods? He’s safe is he? And Ellen?” Dary’s eye’s widened.

“Both fine,” said Issell.

“And Astra was with him,” Bethany added. “She came to find me,” she scooped up the kitten and climbed onto the chair next to John Moore. Astra immediately started to purr.

“We’ll, anyway,” Issell continued. “When I told him what had happened in the village, he said he’d go for help from the people who live over the escarpment. He said he was sure they’d come.” Issell paused. “He didn’t seem very hopeful that the Ruling Council would do anything very quickly though.” She bit her lip worriedly.

“We don’t know that,” said John. “I have a lot of faith in that young lass.”

“So we’re not alone.” He banged his hand on the table. “Come on, let’s eat.”

*

Up at the Manor House, Lord Childecott was indeed furious. He paced about his large oak-panelled hall red-faced and fuming. Smiler, only recently rescued from the barn, was the brunt of his anger. The big man stared impassively at his master as he raged against his apparent stupidity.

Childecott finally collected himself. “All right, Smiler. Fetch my cousin,” he ordered.

Smiler stalked off in the direction of Wilthrop’s quarters. Once outside the hall, he slowed his pace, clenching and unclenching his fists. He’d wasn’t accustomed to being spoken to in such away, even by his unpredictable master. There’s other employment out there, he thought as he sauntered down the corridor past the kitchens.

Smiler hammered on the door to Wilthrop’s quarters. After several minutes the door was unlocked and Winthrop appeared in the doorway. Looking past the little man  Smiler noticed a large tray laden with empty bowls and glasses on a side table awaiting collection by one of the servants. He frowned. “Had company, have we Wilthrop?”

Wilthrop glanced over his shoulder. “What business is it of yours?”

Smiler rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Childecott wants to see you.”

“Tell him I’ll be with him presently.”

“You’d better come sharpish.” Smiler craned his neck trying to see into the room beyond.

“Is that all, Smiler?” said Wilthrop pleasantly.

The big man shrugged. What did he care what Winthrop was up to. “You’d do well not to keep Childecott waiting.”

Wilthrop nodded. The fact that Smiler had dropped the ‘Lord’ in front of his cousin’s name hadn’t been lost on him.

*

Toby and Tommy had just arrived back at the Red Lion after taking the wagon for repair. John had led them into the back parlour where Bryony was sitting with Eliza shelling a huge pile of peas into a large metal pot which stood between them on the floor.

“But that’s a whole day wasted!” exclaimed Bryony when Toby gave her the news. She leant her elbow on the edge of the table and rubbed her forehead with her fingers. “At this rate we’ll never be in time.” She looked at Toby imploringly. “What if…?” she tailed off as Toby gave her a warning look.

“Surely the tavern’s not that short of ale?” Eliza asked. “In any case, if it’s running a bit low, I’m sure young Dary will know how to stretch it.” She looked up at her husband for confirmation.

“Aye,” agreed John. “Every brewer knows a trick or two.”

Bryony sighed and shook her head.

Eliza stretched across the table and patted her hand. “It’s not so bad, I’m sure.”

“But it is.” Bryony looked across the table. “Oh Eliza, it’s not the ale. Going for supplies for the tavern was just a story we made up.”

“Bryony!” said Toby sharply.

“I’m going to tell them, Toby. We need their help.” Tommy touched Toby’s sleeve and nodded at him, then held his hands out to Bryony, nodding for her to go on.

Bryony lowered her voice and started to explain what had happened to their friends back in the valley. As her story unfolded Eliza’s brows knitted and John clenched his fists together on the table top. Toby took up the story at the point when Childecott and his men stormed into the Tavern while Bryony reached into her apron pocket and pulled out the supplication which she had written to present to the Ruling Council.

“So you see,” said Bryony, smoothing the neatly written page out on the table. “We need get to Greaton as soon as we possibly can.”

Eliza looked at her husband. “I told you that Lord Childecott was a wrong-un. All those rumours we’ve heard must’ve been true.”

“Aye, it looks that way, love.” John looked down at his hands. “I didn’t pay them much heed, but it all fits.” He looked at Bryony’s supplication. “You wrote this, did you lass?” Bryony nodded. “I think I might find myself with a small errand to do in Greaton tomorrow.”

Bryony and let out a joint sigh of relief, while Tommy nodded enthusiastically.

John looked at Bryony. “We’ll go by horseback first thing. The lads can wait for you here. I’m sure they can make themselves useful.”

 

Eliza gently shook Bryony awake early the next morning. Bryony awoke with a start then rubbing the sleep from her eyes, untangled herself from the blankets which had covered her in her makeshift bed on the cushioned bench in the back parlour of the Red Lion. Tommy and Toby had bedded down in the stables next to the dray horses at the far end of the stables, well away from Lord Childecott’s small party of men who had snored loudly all night, having celebrated the recapture of the two horses with some gusto and several large pitchers of ale.

As Bryony adjusted her clothes, she thought how horrified Hodge would be if she knew she hadn’t changed, or even washed much, in several days. She felt a pang of longing to be back home in the little bright bedroom which she and Bethany shared, but then she stirred herself for the important task which lay ahead of her.

After she finished the cup of warm milk which Eliza had brought her, she was ready to leave. Bryony had never ridden a horse before. As a small child, Tom had sat her on one of the ponies which pulled his trap, and led her down the lane and back, but otherwise the experience was new to her. Tommy and Toby stood with Eliza as John mounted his piebald mare, Rosie, then leaned down to help Bryony up onto the docile horse. Bryony found she perched quite comfortably in front of him, bunching her skirts around her legs as Eliza advised. Moments later, they were on the road to Greaton.

Compared to the wagon Rosie’s pace was so much quicker and, Bryony was pleased to discover, the ride was no less uncomfortable than the jolting wagon had been. As John had explained the evening before, the journey would be completed in less than half the time that it would in the wagon. Sure enough, as they arrived in the busy town centre of Greaton, the clock on the Court House was just striking nine.

Bryony was astonished at the noise and commotion which had greeted them on entering the town. There were people and animals everywhere. Thank goodness John knew where they should go. He reined Rosie in and they came to a halt opposite the Court House outside the appropriately named Court House Tavern. Bryony slid off the horse, stamping the life back into her legs as John dismounted and patted Rosie’s neck.

“I need to get Rosie some water and let her rest up a while,” said John. “I believe the Ruling Council meets in the building over there,” he pointed at the Court House. “Do you want me to come with you?”

Bryony considered for a moment. “No thank you, John, you and Eliza have been so kind to us already. I wouldn’t want you to get into trouble with Lord Childecott by delivering the supplication with me.”

John nodded. “I’ll be waiting for you when you’re finished, he smiled is encouragement to her. “Good luck, Bryony.” He touched his hat. You’re a brave young lady, thought John watching her plodding determinedly across the muddy rutted track and up the steps to the court house.

©2019 Chris Hall


The latest chapter of my first full-length children’s story. What do you think? You’ll find the earlier chapters here. I’d love to hear your views!

Submission Day – we did it!

Open Book Cape Town

Well, if you’ve been following my #writingmycity project journey, you’ll know we’ve had a few challenges along the way. Now we’ve come to the end of this particular road and there’s really good news.

Stories have been written, author’s bios have been composed and now our entries to the project are ready to go.

How pleased and proud I am of this group of women. They’ve produced disturbing, gut-wrenching and thought-provoking stories. There’s been anger, there’s still sadness but there is definitely hope.

These stories may not be selected for the Cape Town Library Book, but they will certainly give the selection panel food for thought. I don’t know what image of the ‘Mother City’ the editors of the publication intend to portray, but members of the Suiderstrand Library writing group have borne vivid witness to the gritty, dirty underbelly of beautiful Cape Town.

The voices of these strong women deserve to be heard. My thanks to every one of them for sharing their stories with such bravery and honesty.

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Just sayin’

000Make an author's day by JI Rogers

Some really helpful advice from author, J I Rogers.

If you were wondering how to jump aboard the ‘author’s helping authors’ band wagon, this makes it so easy!

You can see from the side panel that I regularly read and review books on Goodreads. I also post the review to Amazon for the books I’ve downloaded and read by indie authors. I know how important it is.

So, all of you ‘indies’ out there, time to help each other out. Share the message and post your book links!

And to all you gallant readers: let’s have your reviews! Pretty please?

 

A Tom’s Life

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Romeo clung to hope as fiercely as he clung to the gutter, eavesdropping on Nero as he chatted up the new little cat in town. The pretty princess had never given Romeo a second glance, but his hope swelled when he heard her rebuff his rival.

Nero leapt down, landing with the soft thud of paws on paving-stones. Immediately Romeo swung himself up onto the roof and stretched seductively before the little queen.

She slammed her paw down on the tiles. ‘Enough of you toms, you’re just after one thing! I’m going to hang out with the girl cats.’ Tossing her pretty head, she flounced off into the night.

Romeo stared after her open-mouthed. He peered down into the street below where Nero was twitching his tail in irritation. He jumped down and landed beside him. Nero turned his head. ‘No luck either?’ Romeo shook his head. ‘Wanna go rat-catching?’


From  a prompt by Hélène Vaillant of Willow Poetry: What do you see? June 4, 2019

A Nick in Time – Chapter 27

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Mr Eyre stood up and ran a hand through his hair causing it to stick up wildly. He took one last look at Martha’s prone figure and ran out into the yard. He gazed about him. Issell was his best hope, but how long would it take him to return to the village, seek her out and bring her back to the Manor House?

Mr Eyre dithered, pacing about the small yard in front of the hay barn. He glanced up towards the woods to where the others had run after their escape, pursued by Childecott’s enforcers. Had they got away? Had Charlie and Dary got to the horses? Might he use one to carry Martha to the village? He shook his head. No, he should just go to the Manor House and try asking at the servants’ entrance. He’d detected more than one sympathetic look as he and his fellow prisoners had been herded through the back kitchen into Childecott’s grand wood-panelled hall the previous day.

Glancing briefly over at the barn in which Smiler, he assumed, was still trapped, he set off at a jog across to the Manor House. As he reached the building he ducked down to avoid being seen from the front windows.  Then, rounding the corner by the servants’ entrance, he almost ran straight into Wilthrop, Childecott’s cousin, the man whom Childecott had instructed to preside over their impending trial. Mr Eyre leapt back, hands in the air in a gesture of surrender. An equally alarmed Wilthrop staggered slightly before righting himself, putting his hand out to the wall of the house for support.

Before Wilthrop could speak, Mr Eyre bowed his head. “Sir, I beg of you, I need your help!”

Wilthrop frowned, putting his head on one side. “Aren’t you one of my cousin’s unfortunate prisoners? What are you doing running about out here?”

“Please listen,” Mr Eyre clasped his hands together. “The woman who was with us, she’s collapsed. Please, she needs help.”

Wilthrop shook his head.

“Please, sir,” Mr Eyre implored.

“I don’t understand. You were all locked in the barn.”

“That’s right,” Mr Eyre said trying to curb his impatience. “But we escaped. Your cousin’s men are chasing after the others.” He gestured towards the woods. “Martha and I didn’t go with them, we went to hide in the hay barn, but then she collapsed. Please, won’t you help me?” Mr Eyre pleaded. “She’s fainted or something. She’s unconscious.”

“Escaped eh? From the Lord of the Manor?’ Wilthrop smiled. “Oh dear, that will never do.” The small grey-looking man straightened himself from his cowed stance and shook his head. “Not at all.”

Mr Eyre tensed. He clenched his fists, ready to knock the man down.

Wilthrop chuckled quietly. Mr Eyre was about to take a swing at him. Wilthrop put up his hand. “You mistake me, sir. I’d be delighted to help you.”

Mr Eyre let out a huge sigh of relief. “I thought…”

Wilthrop interrupted. “You said the woman was in the hay barn?”

Mr Eyre nodded.

“Do you think you could bring her over to the house? We can put her in my quarters and then see what we can do,” Wilthrop regarded Mr Eyre. “Well, go on man. Hurry up!”

Mr Eyre rushed back to the hay barn. Martha was still unconscious. He scooped her up as gently as he could, then hurried back across the yard, his head darting left and right, checking the route was clear. Wilthrop was waiting for him beyond the servant’s entrance, the door to which was thankfully shut. He beckoned Mr Eyre to hurry then ushered him through another door into the Manor House.

Wilthrop led Mr Eyre along a dim corridor, up a short flight of steps, then into a sparsely furnish sitting room. There was a small bed chamber accessed through a curtained doorway at the end of the room. Wilthrop drew back the curtain indicated the bed. Mr Eyre, whose arms were beginning to tire, entered and gratefully laid his burden down. As he did so, Martha murmured something, her eyelids fluttered for a moment and then closed again.

Wilthrop held out his hand. “The name’s Wilthrop, I remember you. You are Mr Eyre, are you not?”

Mr Eyre took the Wilthrop’s extended hand and shook it warmly. “That’s right, Mr Wilthrop. I’m just surprised that you’re helping us.”

“After that performance from my cousin, yesterday?” Wilthrop shook his head. “It’s a sorry business, but I am forced by circumstances to attend my cousin’s bidding. I do not relish it, I can assure you. I had been trying to devise a way to circumvent his so-called trial. But if you’ve all escaped, maybe there will be no trial,” he said, eyes brightening with pleasure.

Mr Eyre nodded, then turned back to the bed and gently lifted Martha’s hand. He felt for her pulse; it was still weak, but her breathing seemed easier. He looked over at Wilthrop who was leaning on the side of the archway watching. “I just hope the others have got clear and Childecott doesn’t get wind of us.”

“You’re as safe here as anywhere,” replied Wilthrop, “My cousin does not deign to visit my quarters. If he wants me I am summoned. Usually by that brute, Smiler.”

Martha shifted on the bed. “Andrew? Is that you?” she whispered, opening her eyes.

“Martha,” Mr Eyre’s face lit up. “Welcome back.”

Martha stared around from where she lay on the bed. “Where are we?” She saw Wilthrop standing in the doorway. “I don’t understand. What’s going on?”

“Martha, you collapsed or fainted or something,” explained Mr Eyre. “We’re in Mr Wilthrop’s quarters at the Manor House.”

Martha raised herself on one elbow, looking anxiously at Wilthrop. “I thought he was the one who was going to…”

Wilthrop hurried over to the bedside. “Calm yourself, dear lady. You can regard me as a friend.” He bent towards Martha. “Are you sure you are quite well, though, my dear? I can get someone…”

Martha waved his concern away. She sat up. Colour was returning to Martha’s cheeks, and to Mr Eyre’s relief, she was looking much more like her old self. “Just a little too much excitement,” she said fanning herself with her hand. “I’m not as young as I used to be.”

“Let me bring you something from the kitchen,” said Wilthrop, stepping though the doorway.

“Might the servants not speak out if they discover you have visitors?” asked Mr Eyre nervously.

“To be truthful, there’s hardly any one of them in the house who would go out of their way to help their master. Like me, they are all in his thrall in some way.”

Martha nodded. “It’s true. Lord Childecott has made sure he has some threat or other hanging over the villagers who work here.”

“And his enforcers?”

“None of them’s from round here, Andrew,” Martha replied shaking her head. “The new Lord of the Manor brought them with him when he took over.” She looked up at Wilthrop and smiled. “I’d be delighted to take a little bread and ale if you have…”

“It is my pleasure to assist,” said Wilthrop bowing his head, and with a new spring in his step he hurried away.

A few minutes later Wilthrop returned with a serving girl carrying a large tray covered with a muslin cloth. She set it down on the wooden table by the window, bobbed a curtsy to Wilthrop and left the room seemingly without even noticing the occupants of the chamber beyond the spartan sitting room.

“Come,” Wilthrop urged, pulling back the cloth revealing a large hunk of bread, some cheese, a jug of ale and three heavy-looking glasses. Mr Eyre and Martha glanced at each other, then hastened to the table. Wilthrop gestured to the food. “Eat, my guests, please. Then, Mr Eyre, you can tell me all about this fascinating object.” Winthrop held up the Box Brownie.

*

Back in the village, Issell and Bethany were in the tavern. Issell had come to attend to John Moore. She was pleased to discover that he was considerably improved. Although his left leg was far from healed, Issell judged that if the wound was kept clean it would not turn bad. She finished binding the knee tightly. “There now, John,” she said. “You’ll still need to rest, but with a stout stick you will be able to get about.”

Dary came over from the bar counter and crouched down. “Shall we get you up now John? It doesn’t do to have customers sprawled all over the floor before opening time,” he grinned.

Bethany was playing with Astra, twirling a piece of straw just out of the little cat’s reach as Astra chased after it, again and again, back and forward, and round and round. There seemed no end to their energy.

“You make me fair dizzy dancing about like that,” Dary said as he glanced over to Bethany and the prancing kitten, while easing John into a sitting position. “Ready?” asked Daryl. John nodded, then Dary carefully hoisted the injured man to his feet. “We’ll soon have you dancing too, eh John?”

Issell shook her head. “You go easy, John Moore. “Too much movement will not help your knee heal,’ she said sternly.

Dary helped John to a chair at the big wooden table. “Can I offer you all some stew. I cooked up a big potful yesterday after closing. I just couldn’t settle what with…”

He was interrupted by someone banging on the cellar door. Dary hurried through to the back. The hammering continued. Daryl unlatched the door and pulled it open cautiously. Dary recognised one of the stable boys from the Manor House.

“Hurry up. Let me in!” The boy shot a look up and down the lane, as if he was being pursued. Dary flung open the door and the boy rushed in, looking over his shoulder as he did. Dary shut the door behind him and bolted it. Issell’s anxious face appeared around the cellar door.

“Come on in,” Dary urged the boy. He looked at Issell. “He’s from Childecott’s stables, works with old Seth, don’t you lad?”

The boy nodded. “It was Seth who sent me to warn you, Dary,” the boy said breathlessly. “Your dad and the other prisoners escaped,” the boy panted. ” They got away with two of the horses… Lord Childecott… he’s sending his men into the village…you don’t want to be here when they come, Dary.”

©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!

 

Revelation!

Open Book Cape Town

This morning’s #Writing My City workshop (re-arranged from last Friday when most people arrived too late to do anything, but never mind) took us to a whole new level.

Rather than prepare anything for group participation, I’d decided that we should just write, and then write some more. We had finished our previous workshop in writing mode and sure enough, stories had been written, at least partly.

I was so pleased to find that most of the group had written their stories in English (contrary to what they had told me they would do). I read each of them in turn in a quiet area, with their authors. And I had someone to help translate the two pieces which were written in Afrikaans.

The #WritingMyCity project is about the stories, not about how they are written, but reading stories phrased in the local vernacular is very pleasing.

The stories I read this morning are thought-provoking. They are disturbing and they have got under my skin. These stories have been told from the heart, and they are heart-wrenching. Most important of all, they are real. Powerful stories, written by women who lack power. All but one are from what we so tastefully call the ‘formerly disadvantaged communities’ as if they’re not still disadvantaged. All of these women have lived through very tough experiences.

For some, this writing journey has opened barely-healed wounds which are hard to deal with. But there will be support. For many of them it may offer a way to that special writing space which means so much to me. At least I hope so.

I’m saddened and humbled by their stories. I feel privileged that they have trusted me to read them. I am gratified that now they have the will and confidence to share them further by submitting them to the project. 

When we let our stories out into the world next week we will celebrate… with cake!

I hope at least one eventually appears in print.