Clyfford poked his head out of the barn roof and looked around cautiously. There was nobody visible in the yard in front of the Manor House. He turned his head slowly, taking in the cart-way up from the village and the wide sweep of the land on either side. Craning over his left shoulder he ran his eyes over the treeline behind the Manor House buildings. There was no sign of any of Childecott’s men anywhere nearby. His cocked his head, listening out for voices on the other side of the barn where his view was obscured by the roof, but all he could hear was birdsong and the distant hubbub of life down in the village.
He braced his arms and hoisted himself up onto the edge of the hole which Mr Eyre had made in the roof. Several strands of broken reed rolled across the roof and landed on the ground below. From the muffled sounds inside the barn, the occupants below had been similarly showered with debris from the roof.
Clyfford took a deep breath and swung his legs out onto the roof. Digging his toes in against the solid ends of the reed bundles he inched over to the roof edge. He peered over to choose his landing spot then rolled onto his front and let his weight launch him down to the ground. It was a fair drop, but he landed well and was straight up on his feet, flattening himself again the barn wall. Just because he could see or hear anyone, didn’t mean that no-one was guarding the door.
Edging around the corner of the building he saw the coast was clear. Clyfford scurried to the door and heaved off the sturdy length of wood off the brackets which secured it to the frame. He was just about to set it down on the ground when a heavy hand came down upon his shoulder. Clyfford wheeled round.
Smiler loomed before him. “What have we here then?” He grinned his toothless grin.
Clyfford gripped the beam with all his strength and swung it at Smiler, catching the big man full in the stomach. Winded, Smiler keeled over double, gasping for breath. The barn door flew open and Mr Eyre and Dary appeared, blinking in the daylight.
“Oh.” Mr Eyre’s eyes widened, but he was quick to react, drawing back his fist and smacking Smiler sharply across the jaw as he tried to straighten up. Mr Eyre rubbed his knuckles. “Right. Get him inside and shut him in before he raises the alarm.” He turned around to the others who were just behind him. “Come on, we need to get moving. Hurry!”
The little group of prisoners spilled out of the building. Clyfford and Big Dary shoved the groaning Smiler inside, while Mr Eyre pulled the door closed and hefted the beam into place.
“We’ll need to hide out somewhere over the escarpment,” said Don.
“Up by the cave,” agreed Clyfford. He turned to Mr Eyre, “it’s over to the east.”
“I know it,” said Martha.
Mr Eyre nodded. “Now let’s go!” He gestured with a sweep of his arm.
Clyfford, Titus and Don all set off across the back of the yard at a run. Charlie hesitated a moment, glancing over in the direction of the stables. Following his gaze, Big Dary, who was holding his injured arm again, nodded. “You thinking what I’m thinking, Charlie?”
“I want my horse,” Charlie said, tight-lipped. “I’m going to take Cinder back.”
“C’mon then,” replied Big Dary. “I know the stable-man…” He turned to Mr Eyre, touching his temple. He nodded to Charlie. “Let’s go.”
Mr Eyre turned to Martha. “Take my hand.”
At that moment they heard shouting in the yard in front of the Manor House. Looking across they noticed a group of Childecott’s men running towards the woods. They’d spotted the three men who were fleeing across the top yard. Charlie and Dary were hidden by the further outbuildings, but they would have to cross the open land to get to the stables. There was every chance that they’d be spotted too.
“We’ll have to go another way, Andrew,” Martha said, gripping his hand. “Come on, round the other side of the barn. Maybe we can make it over towards the stream on the far side of the Manor House, although it’s quite a way.”
Together they hurried past the heavy barn door. There was no sound from Smiler. Now shielded from Childecott’s men, Martha pointed out the route to the stream beyond the Manor House.
“It’s too open, Martha,” said Mr Eyre. “We’ll never make it.”
“We could hide out in another of the outbuildings until this all calms down. Then try to get away.” Martha suggested. “How about that hay store?” She pointed to large timber building with a shallow sloping roof. “It’s not so far, and everyone else is running in the opposite direction.”
Mr Eyre nodded. “Well, we can’t stay here. Not with Smiler inside.” He squeezed her hand. “Ready?” Martha smiled up at him and nodded back. They launched themselves across the rutted yard, Mr Eyre holding tightly onto Martha’s hand, as she gathered up her skirts in her other hand and ran alongside him as fast as she could. She gritted her teeth and focused on the ground, shutting out the calls coming from the men who were pursuing their friends into the woods.
It seemed to take an age to reach the hay store to Martha. Her chest was burning as she stumbled over the threshold in Mr Eyre’s wake. She doubled over and took a deep breath.
“Are you all right?” Mr Eyre peered at her with concern.
Martha straightened up, her face was very pale. She coughed and patted her chest, nodding. “Not used to running these days,” she panted.
Mr Eyre looked around him, spotting a ladder leading to the floor above. He pointed to it. “Come, on, we can hide up there. I’ll help you.”
“Let me just sit for a moment,” said Martha, staggering to a nearby pile of straw and sinking down on it. Her breaths were still ragged and she was even paler than before. Mr Eyre crouched down next to her, touching her cheek gently with the back of his hand. Her skin felt clammy and her colour worried him. Martha bent forward; her hand clutching at her chest. “I’ll be fine in a moment. Just let me get my breath back.” Martha said bravely.
Mr Eyre patted her shoulder gently then stood up. They were out of sight of the doorway at least. The shouting had died down as well. He looked over to the escarpment, hoping his new friends had got away. He presumed they could hole up for a while, but then what? His thoughts turned to Bryony and the Ruling Council. Had she managed to get away with Toby and Tommy and the dray wagon? It seemed that might be their only hope. He ran his fingers through his hair shaking his head. But how were he and Martha going to evade capture?
He heard a little gasp behind him and turned back to Martha. She had slumped onto the floor. He rushed over to her side, gently pulling her hair away from her face. All the colour had drained from it and she was unconscious. He felt her pulse. It was weak, although steady, but she needed proper care. There was nothing for it. He would have to go for help.
©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!