A Nick in Time – Chapter 21

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“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?”

Bryony hesitated.

“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!

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A Nick in Time – Chapter 20

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Two hours later they were all sitting round a large oak table in the tavern. Mr Eyre had been dressed in a hooded cloak in an attempt to conceal him from prying eyes as they made their way there. The other members of the group, many of whom had had regarded Mr Eyre as one of Martha’s vivid imaginings, now showed considerable interest in him and he had tried to answer their questions as best he could. All had been sworn to secrecy about his whereabouts, since he was a fugitive from Lord Childecott.

Although there was no hiding Mr Eyre’s identity, Issell had suggested that she should introduce Bryony and Bethany as her young cousins from the next village, the plausible explanation which they’d settled on previously. No-one would be surprised at her taking on a young apprentice who, due to circumstances at home, had brought her little sister with her.

Bryony listened to the debate in silence. The group had divided into two factions: one which wanted to gather arms and march on the Manor House and the other which feared retribution too greatly and wouldn’t support such action. Martha and Issell were on opposite sides of the divide, with Martha advocating strong-arm tactics.

“But what else can we do?” Martha said in reply to Issell’s call for calm. “We have to stop him.”

“What’s the alternative?” said Dary, looking at his father.

“I don’t know, son,” Big Dary shook his head. “Who else is there to stand up for us since Lord Childecott removed the village council? You know most of them left here after his intimidation.”

There was silence in the room while people shook their heads. It was Bryony who spoke next. “What about the Ruling Council? Surely they wouldn’t approve of what he’s doing. Could a message be sent to them?”

People around the table murmured to each other. One or two started nodding. Big Dary looked up. “I think the young lass might have something.”

Mr Eyre slapped the table with his hand. “Yes exactly!” he beamed at Bryony. “Appeal to a higher council. Take it up the chain of command.”

“But how will any of us get out of the village without Childecott and his men noticing?”

“It’s almost a full day’s ride as well, how would we manage to get our hands on one of the horses? They’re all penned up at the Manor House, under Childecott’s control, remember.”

“We could steal one.”

“I have an idea,” Dary spoke up. Everyone turned to look at him. “We can use our wagon. Say we’re going to pick up more supplies for the brew-house. The dray horses are in the far stable and we don’t need permission to take those.

“But who would go?”

“I would, of course,” said Dary.

“And me,” said Toby.

Tommy banged on the table and pointed to himself.

“I want to go,” said Bryony, leaning forward on the table.

“Just a moment, Miss Bryony,” Mr Eyre looked at her. “I don’t…”

They were interrupted by the sound of heavy fists hammering on the door. “Open up, or we’ll bust the door in! Open up in the name of Lord Childecott!

“That’s torn it,” said Charlie.

“Quick,” said Big Dary, as he struggled to his feet, “out through the cellar.”

“Open up!” The hammering became louder.

Dary flew through to the cellar to open the back door, while his father moved over to the front door. “Hold on, hold on; I’m coming,” Big Dary roared angrily. Then they heard more shouting. Lord Childecott’s men were outside the back door too. There was no escape. Tommy ran to hide behind the serving counter, motioning Bryony to follow. Bryony grabbed Bethany’s hand and dashed after him.

Big Dary hauled open the front door, just as the wood was beginning to splinter. Lord Childecott strode in accompanied by two of his henchmen. He pointed at the burly tavern-keeper. “Right, you are under arrest.” He turned to his men. “Round up the other rabble-rousers.” His men moved to do as he asked, surrounding the little group and pushing them in the back with their weapons. One of them attempted to drag John Moore from his make-shift bed, but he cried out so loudly that he dropped him roughly to the floor again. Issell hurried over and crouched beside him.

Lord Childecott strode up to Issell. He put his hand out and held her chin. “Perhaps you’d like to go and stay with our good Pastor? Keep him company.” Issell shook her chin away from him and stood up.

“Leave my sister alone!” Toby ran over to Lord Childecott, a fist raised.

Issell stopped him and held his arms at his side. “No, Toby.”

“You again, boy,” said Lord Childecott. “Looking for another lashing?” He grabbed Toby away from her, twisting his arm roughly and pulling it up behind his back. Toby screamed out in pain as something cracked.

“Leave him be,” Martha shouted, her eyes flashing angrily.

Lord Childecott spun around, pushing Toby roughly across the room where he landed groaning in an awkward heap. “Ah, Martha Stebbins, my men have been looking for you.” His gaze landed on the man standing next to her. “And Mr Eyre is with you, I see.” Childecott made a mock bow. “We meet again, sir.” Lord Childecott’s eyes had a steely gleam. He eyed Martha and Mr Eyre. “Both of you, over by the door!” he ordered. One of his men indicated with his pistol that they should move.

Lord Childecott continued, looking at Mr Eyre. “You really shouldn’t have gone running off like that.” He surveyed the room. “I wonder who your accomplice was.” He raised his head and put his hand behind his ear. “Did I hear something about a young man out poaching during Curfew last night?” He looked around the room, a muscle in his cheek twitching slightly. “Could it have been you,” he said walking over to Dary.

“No, sir, not me.”

“I’ll let it go this once. After all, if the tavern-keeper’s not around, who will serve the ale?” He looked at his men. “Eh?” He nodded vigorously at them. “And if the ale’s not sold what of my new tax?”

Nobody moved. Lord Childecott took out with pistol, turning it over and inspecting it. He pointed it at Charlie and the three other men in turn. “All of you. Stand by the door.” He turned to his men. “Take them away.”

Big Dary, Martha, Mr Eyre, Charlie and the three others were marched out of the tavern accompanied by several of Childecott’s armed enforcers.

Lord Childecott laughed unpleasantly and looked around the room. “Very well, the rest of you can stay, but be sure to spread the world. There will be a fair trial this coming Friday.” He laughed cruelly. “Before we hang them.” He looked at each of them in turn. “And mark you, before you get any ideas,” he toyed with his pistol, “any attempts to rescue them will be punishable by death.”

Issell, Toby and Dary stared out of the tavern door as a covered wagon pulled by two shire horses was brought around and their friends were loaded on roughly by Lord Childecott’s guards. The wagon drove off followed by Lord Childecott who had mounted a beautiful chestnut horse. “That was Charlie’s horse,” said Dary quietly as they went back inside, ignoring the group of villagers who’d gathered around. He shut the door and eased the bolt in place. Daylight showed through in the places where the door had begun to splinter under the furious blows of Lord Childecott’s men.

Issell slumped into a chair and put her head in her hands. Tommy emerged from behind the serving counter followed by the two girls. Bryony hurried to sit at Issell’s side and put her arm around her. Bethany climbed onto the chair next to her and put her head on her shoulder. Dary and Toby, clutching his injured arm, took seats opposite them, while Tommy remained standing. John Moore shifted and groaned on the floor, before falling still and silent.

Issell looked up. Her face was grey with shock. When she spoke, it was not in her usual confident tone. “What do we do now?”

©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 what you think of it so far!

A Nick in Time – Chapter 19

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Bryony hurried after Issell towards the tavern, while Toby and Dary ran off to invite a few more trusted friends to the meeting. They had to be careful that word didn’t leak out to Lord Childecott’s spies. Not all the village folk could be trusted. Even though they might resent him, the Lord of the Manor had found ways of gaining a hold over them. Martha remained at Issell’s to supervise Mr Eyre’s recovery, willingly assisted by an eager Bethany.

When Issell and Bryony arrived at the tavern, a dismal sight greeted them. Big Dary’s right arm was hanging limply at his side, his shirt sleeve stiff with clotted blood. His neighbour, John Moore, was lying on the floor on a makeshift bed made from an old blanket. The clothing on his left leg was soaked with blood and his face was an ominous grey colour and bathed in perspiration. The man was clearly in a lot of pain.

Others had suffered minor injuries but now all apart from young Tommy, a lad of about fifteen, had gone to their respective homes. They would know to call at Issell’s later if help was required, she being the only healer in the village since Gwyneth had been sent away. Tommy was dozing in a corner, not obviously injured apart from a bloodied nose and bruised cheek.

“The first thing we must do is clean the wounds,” said Issell. “Have you fresh water, Dary?”

“Aye, mistress, there’s a barrel of sweet water in the cellar. I’ll fetch some for you.”

“I can fetch it,” offered Bryony.

“That would be a great help,” said Issell. “It’s better that you just sit there, Dary, until I examine your wound.”

Big Dary nodded and pointed to the cellar door. “It’s the barrel with the big pewter jug standing atop it. It’s heavy mind.”

Bryony pushed the cellar door open and located the barrel. She put the large pewter jug on the floor then tugged the barrel lid to one side. Despite its size it moved quite easily. She had seen Issell fill a jug from the barrel in her work room and looked about for a dipper to use to transfer the water to the jug. She found it hanging on a hook beside the door. As she filled the jug, taking care not to spill a drop, she thought how simple it was to turn a tap and have water flow, and how much harder it was to have to store water in a barrel and keep it filled by drawing water from a well.

She slid the barrel lid back into place and carried the heavy water jug through to Issell, who had cut away the clothing from John’s injured leg. She had a bowl ready to fill with water and a cloth with which to clean the wound. Bryony started to watch her work, but found she had to look away once the jagged edges of the wound were revealed as Issell washed away the dried blood. Issell sighed and looked over her shoulder at Big Dary. “You really should’ve called me last night.”

Issell cleaned the wound thoroughly, carefully removing all the pieces of shot with her tweezers. It turned out that John had been lucky. The bone had chipped, but it had not been fractured, although there were numerous torn ligaments around the top of the bone. Bryony forced herself to watch as Issell administered a few drops of tincture to the wound. She knelt down to help her bandage the leg then, under Issell’s guidance, took a cup of water and mixed in some of the same powder which Mr Eyre had been given. She carefully supported John’s head so he could drink it down. The wounded man sighed and closed his eyes.

“Sleep now,” said Issell gently. She looked up at Big Dary. “Can we leave him here for a few hours. It wouldn’t do to move him just yet.”

Big Dary nodded and winced as he tried to move his arm. Issell turned her attention to his wound, following the same painstaking process. This time Bryony watched intently, anticipating what Issell would ask for next. The big man clutched the edge of the table, but made no sound as Issell cleaned and dressed the wound. She finished by tying his arm in a sling, instructing him to keep his arm still so far as he could.

Finally she asked Tommy to come sit by the window, where she could get a proper look at his damaged nose. She put a gentle hand under Tommy’s chin and examined the line of his nose and cheek. “Nothing broken, Tommy,” she said softly to him. “It will pain you for a week or so, and you’ll be black and blue once the bruise comes out.” Bryony had brought a fresh bowl of water. “Here,” said Issell, passing her a clean cloth. “You bathe Tommy’s face. Do it gently but firmly.”

Tommy sat there bravely as Bryony tended to his face. Issell handed her a phial of lavender oil and she administered a few drops to the bruised cheek bone. Tommy looked up at her. One eye was closing, but the other was wide and bright. He smiled at her and put his hand on her arm, nodding. Bryony smiled back.

“Now we wash our hands,” said Issell. Bryony emptied the bowl for the third time and poured in the last of the water from the jug. “That was nicely done, Bryony,” said Issell, as they rubbed their hands on either end of the drying cloth.

“Thankee both, mistresses,” said Big Dary bowing his head to them. “But you will be back at noon, won’t you? I’m keeping the tavern closed today, so come in the cellar door. We don’t want…” He looked over his shoulder. “Well, you know.”

Issell nodded. “We’ll all be here.” She took one last look at John Moore before they left the tavern. He was sleeping peacefully.

“What’s wrong with Tommy?” Bryony asked Issell as they walked away from the tavern. “Why doesn’t he speak?”

“Nobody knows whether he can’t speak or just won’t speak.”

“But he looks as if he understands.”

“Oh yes, you’re right,” agreed Issell. “He understands. He’s clever too, I think you can see that in his eyes. He can even read a bit.”

“What about his family?”

“He has none. He just appeared in the village one day, a few years ago. He sleeps in Charlie Welsh’s old barn and people help him out with food and clothing and the like. He does odd jobs around the village when he’s not helping Charlie out.” Issell smiled. “He seems to do all right.”

Back at Issell’s, Bryony ate bread and jam ravenously while Issell checked the back of Mr Eyre’s head again. He was much brighter now and had been chatting to Martha, even though the subject of their discussion had been the dark times which had befallen the village. Bethany had meanwhile been busily employed in preparing more lavender blooms for the distillation process. When she had finished, Martha had found some of Issell’s drawing materials and Bethany had worked hard on a study of a lavender stem, just like some of the flower studies she had started to do in the library back at home.

Bryony had finished her late breakfast and was picking over some peppermint leaves to make a refreshing tea while the kettle, which Issell had put over the fire, slowly came to the boil. As she ran the peppermint through her fingers, inhaling its powerful aromatic scent, Bryony listened to Martha as she explained to Mr Eyre how the tyrant Lord Childecott had come to his position as Lord of the Manor.

“It was four summers ago that Lord Boothroy left this world. The manor and the title had been in his family for as long as anyone can remember. His poor wife had perished in childbirth the summer before and sadly the child only survived for a few hours. People say Boothroy died of a broken heart. He was a good man too, and his father before him.” Martha looked down at her hands and sighed.

“The manor remained without a lord for several months, and then Lord Downing appeared, a second-cousin to Boothroy or some-such. The Ruling Council up over the Valley in Greaton appointed him. I never met him, but he was a good and fair man according to the village elders. He brought no wife with him though, which is unusual for a gentleman with a title and a living, and he was without an heir as far as anyone knew. And then it wasn’t long before he too died.” Martha frowned and shook her head. “It was quite sudden and unexpected. Fine one day, gone the next. So, he not having a surviving heir either, the title passed to his nearest living relative, and Lord Childecott turned up.”

Martha stared into the fire. “Nothing much changed at first but little by little Childecott started to do all sorts of wicked things. He abolished our village council, introduced new taxes and brought in his enforcers to keep everyone in line. He sent people away from the village: some of the elders who tried to stand up to him, and Gwyneth, the old healer. He accused her of being a witch.” Martha glanced swiftly at Issell.

“Why did people let it happen?” asked Bryony.

“Well, chicken, you’ve just seen what happens to people when they stand up to him.”

Bryony nodded. She tipped the peppermint leaves into Issell’s big brown teapot and Issell poured the boiling water over them.

“Mostly we’ve just got on with our lives,” Martha continued. “But now, with all that’s happened over the past weeks, well…who knows where it will lead. Something must be done.” Her mouth was set in a grim line. She shrugged her shoulders. “We’ll just have to see what other folk think when we meet up.”

©2019 Chris Hall


My first full-length children’s story moves along. You’ll find the earlier chapters hereI’d love you to tell me what you think of it so far!

 

A Nick in Time – Chapter 18

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Mr Eyre was awakened early by the sunlight flooding in through the open weave fabric of the curtains. He was instantly aware of the pain radiating from the back of his head, which throbbed keenly as he surveyed his surroundings. Where the devil was he?

An unfamiliar woman was sleeping in the armchair next to the couch where he lay. Her long auburn hair fell in thick curls around her face. A pretty oval-shaped face, he noticed, with clear pale skin and red rosebud lips. His gaze moved on to the occupant of the second armchair. This was a familiar face. He searched for the name. It came: Bryony. But what was she doing here in this unfamiliar setting? Was the other little girl, her sister Bethany, somewhere here too?

Mr Eyre tried to raise himself up on one elbow. The lump on his head protested strongly and he let out a gasp of pain. Issell’s eyes opened and within an instant she was on her feet. “Now there,” she said, putting a cool, a gentle arm around his shoulders and easing him back down onto the couch. “Just lie back, that’s it, put your head to one side. I’m going to fetch you some water, and then you must have a little broth.”

Bryony stirred as Issell bustled about, stoking up the fire and putting the broth on to warm before going to the storeroom to draw from the barrel where she kept the sweet spring water.

“Mr Eyre, you’re awake.” Bryony hurried to her tutor’s side. “How are you feeling?”

Before he could answer, Issell appeared with a jug of water. She poured a little into a pewter cup and then helped Mr Eyre take a few sips. He tried to gulp the water down, but she set the cup aside explaining that he should just take a little at a time. Mr Eyre lay back and closed his eyes. Bryony watched as he squeezed his eyelids together several times and then opened his eyes wide. His eyes flicked about as he looked around the room. Then he looked directly at Bryony and frowned.

“I’m dreaming aren’t I Bryony?” He put his hand to the back of his head and winced. “Or am I? I didn’t think dreams were this painful.”

“Mr Eyre, you aren’t dreaming unless I am too.”

“A mass hallucination, do you think?”

Bryony shook her head.

“No, I don’t think so either.”

“Try to remember, Mr Eyre.” Bryony held the cup of water out to him, as he propped himself up on one elbow.

He swallowed some of the water and nodded thoughtfully. “I took a blow to my head and I’m confused.” He tilted his head from side to side. “Vision’s a bit disturbed. I’m very thirsty too…could be dehydration.”

Issell came over with a bowl of steaming broth. “Now, Bryony, help Mr Eyre sit up.” She looked at her patient. “A little more water, then some of this,” she smiled encouragingly.” We’ll get you right, although I have to say,” she glanced at Bryony, “all of this is very strange.”

Mr Eyre sipped from the spoon which Issell held to his lips. He grinned broadly. “Mmm, delicious.”

Woken by the voices, Bethany ran up to Mr Eyre. “You’re alive, Mr Eyre. I am glad.”

Mr Eyre swallowed his broth and nodded. “So am I, Bethany.” He looked at Issell. “I’m sorry, here you are feeding me and I don’t even know your name.”

“Well, I’ve heard a lot about you from the girls here.” She smiled and putting her arm around Bethany. “I’m Issell. This is my home.”

“We’re somewhere in the village then?” He looked at Bryony.

Just then, Martha appeared, straightening her skirt and pushing her hair into place.

Mr Eyre looked up at her. “Is it?” A flash of recognition played across his face. “It is! Martha! I saw you…yesterday?”

Issell managed to move the bowl away before Mr Eyre spilled it as he held up his arms in delight. “Ah yes, you see,” he nodded looking at Bryony and then at Bethany. “It’s not so much the where, but the when.”

“Yes, Mr Eyre, that’s right,” Bethany said, nodding furiously. “We’re in the olden days.”

He frowned. “Things have changed again though, haven’t they?” He looked up at Martha. “It’s not the happy place is used to be.” He stopped and rubbed his chin. “I’m starting to remember now…”

Just then the back door opened and Toby hurried in, shutting and bolting the door behind him. “Oh, he’s awake!” Toby bounded across the room, which was rather crowded again now. “How are you feeling, sir?”

“Where have you been?” asked Issell before Mr Eyre could answer.

“I’ve been to the Tavern. Dary’s father was injured last night. He’s not too bad, just some pellets in his arm. But there are a few others who were hurt and John Moore’s leg is very bad. They’re all bedded down at the tavern.

“I must go to them.” Issell set the bowl of broth down next to Mr Eyre. “Would you like to help me?” she said to Bryony as she hurried through into her work room.

Toby turned to Martha. “I had a look in your house. I’ve managed to fix up your front door. They’ve made a bit of a mess, turning over stuff inside, but it’s not too bad. Here, I found your little bird. It was lying by the doorstep.” He handed the William’s carving of a wren to Martha.

“Oh,” said Bethany, “look Brynee, it’s like my little robin.” She looked up at Martha. “Can I see?”

Martha stroked the little bird and smiled before passing it to Bethany. “Thanks, Toby. At least they didn’t set it on fire.” She frowned. “But what happened last night; why all the trouble at the Manor House?”

“It seems that Lord Childecott is still refusing to change Curfew-time in the evening. Everyone’s complaining it starts too early now summer’s here. How are people going to work their land properly if they have to be indoors two hours before the sun sets?” Toby raised his eyebrows. “But what really got people riled last night is that he’s raising the tax on ale again. That’s why they marched on the Manor. Even some of his own men, the ones who’d come to enforce Curfew yesterday. I saw them drinking outside the tavern on my way back up to the Manor, I thought it was strange at the time.”

Issell returned from her work room carrying a cloth bag containing some of her healing herbs and potions. “No wonder folk are upset. He may be a lord, but the man’s a fool.” She indicated her bag. “Come Bryony, let’s go and see what we can do.” She turned to Martha and handed her a little packet of powdered herbs. This is belladonna. Mix it with a little water and have him drink it all down in one draft. It will help his headache.” She nodded at Mr Eyre.

“I’m hungry,” whispered Bethany to Issell.

“Oh, I’m sorry, lovely.” Issell pointed to the large wooden cabinet. “There’s some bread in the crock and some jam for it. Toby, will you fetch it?”

Issell opened the door to find Dary on the threshold. “Sorry, Issell,” he said in surprise.

“We’re just coming.”

“We’re thankful to you, Issell, but that’s not why I’m here.” He leant his arm on the door frame. He was red in the face from running. “I’m just letting people know. My dad and a few others are meeting at the tavern at noon.”

“Come in and catch your breath.” Issell opened the door wider for him. His broad figure almost filled the doorway as he entered.

“Folk are getting restive,” Dary explained. “Who knows what will happen now, after yesterday? I’ve heard that folk are already minded to march on the Manor again tonight. They’re talking of arming themselves with muskets this time.”

“That means more people will get hurt,” said Mr Eyre quietly. He sighed. “There must be another way.”

“I’d like to agree with you, sir,” said Dary, “but I just don’t see it. That’s why my dad wanted to ask you all to come to the meeting.”

“Childecott has to be stopped. That’s for certain,” said Martha. “We can’t go on like this.”

“Yes, he does,” agreed Issell. “Everybody I know wants that, but how do we do it without more people getting hurt?”

©2019 Chris Hall


Another chapter of my first full-length children’s story. You’ll find the earlier chapters hereI’d love you to tell me what you think of it so far!

A Nick in Time – Chapter 17

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“Come on, Mr Eyre, we have to go,” Toby said, taking his arm and steering him forward.

“Why? Where are we going?”

“We need to go quickly, now come on.”

Bryony took his other arm. “Come on, Mr Eyre, it’s a special game, a sort of experiment.”

Mr Eyre looked at Bryony. “An experiment, eh..? Ah, but aren’t you one of my pupils?”

“That’s right, it’s Bryony.”

“Ahem, Bryony you say?”

“Yes, and we have to be quick.” Bryony began to urge him forward by the arm.

“Right-ho, off we go then.” To everyone’s relief, Mr Eyre set off enthusiastically in the direction Toby indicated. Although still confused as to where he was and what was going on, Mr Eyre confidently maintained his pace through the woods and down the hill to the end of the stand of trees. Here he paused and stared down at the village below. He pointed. “That’s Martha’s village.”

“That’s right. We’re going there now,” said Toby.

“And we’ll be seeing her?” Mr Eyre started forward eagerly.

“Hold on, just…” Dary grabbed Mr Eyre by the shoulder. “Let’s just check the way’s clear first.” Dary dropped down on all fours and moved into the open. He scanned the moonlit hillside between the treeline and the Manor House for signs of Lord Childecott’s men. Suddenly he dropped flat on the ground. A small party of men were fanning out across the meadow. Slowly he propelled himself back to the cover of the trees. He turned to the others and put his finger to his lips.

“Is this part of our experiment?” asked Mr Eyre in a stage whisper.

“Hush,” said Dary sharply as he got to his feet.

Mr Eyre looked offended, but nodded and remained silent.

“We’ll just have to wait it out,” said Dary quietly. There’s a few of them, one of them’s bound to notice us if we move. It’s too open.”

“We could go back and around over the escarpment,” Toby suggested.

“Who’s to say they won’t have men over that way too?” Dary replied.

Toby nodded. He looked beyond the trees and over to the village. A thick layer of cloud was gathering over in the east. He pointed. “We might have a chance if the clouds move over this way. Without the light from the moon, it’ll be too dark for them to see us.

“Or for us see where we’re going,” said Bryony.

“Don’t worry, lass,” said Toby. “Dary and me know the area like the backs of our hands. Besides it’s simple. Straight down.”

They sat and waited. Mr Eyre fiddled with his watch, but otherwise they all were still, watching and willing the clouds to come their way. The minutes stretched by. Despite the fear of being discovered, Bryony felt her eyelids start to close and her head began to nod. Then they heard footfalls advancing towards them and the sound of heavy breathing. Everyone froze. Someone was prodding at the undergrowth with a stick and they were getting closer.

Toby waved the others back and leapt to his feet. “Hey, what yer doing there,” he yelled indignantly, emerging from the bushes.

The stick-wielding man almost jumped out of his skin.

“I’ve just laid me snares, after the rabbits aren’t I? Now you come tramping along…”

“Did you see a man up here?”

“No just you, crashing around disturbing…”

“You’re breaking Curfew.”

Toby shrugged. The man looked doubtful. Toby clenched his fists.

“You weren’t part of all that trouble?” The man nodded towards the Manor House.

Toby shook his head. “No, I just mind me own business, looking for a rabbit or two…you know.”

The man sighed. “All right, but don’t let me catch you up here again at this time.”

“No sir.”

The man turned and went back the way he came. Toby collapsed into a heap by the others.

“That was close,” said Dary, patting his friend’s shoulder. “I didn’t think you’d manage to talk your way out of that.”

Toby chuckled. “Neither did I.”

“What’s happening? asked Mr Eyre who despite all the tension had nodded off but had suddenly awoken.

The clouds had filled the sky by now and the landscape was in almost complete darkness. Toby looked at the others. “Time to move. We’ll guide you both.”

Toby took Bryony by the hand, Dary linked arms with Mr Eyre and together the four made their way down the hill. Dary and Toby kept glancing around, but there was no sign of any of Lord Childecott’s men. All was dark and silent when they reached the edge of the village.

They spoke in whispers. “What now?” said Dary to Toby. He was having to support Mr Eyre to keep him on his feet. “I think we need someone to take a look at him.”

“I’ll take him back to my sister’s. Martha’s there as well.”

“Martha,” mumbled Mr Eyre. “I want to see Martha.”

“We made a hiding place in the workshop,” said Bryony. “You know, just in case anyone came looking.”

“Right, that’s settled then,” said Toby. “We’ll just take it steady through the lanes.” He looked at Dary. “You better go and check on your father. If there’s anything Issy can do…you know.”

“Can you manage?” Dary moved Mr Eyre’s arm off his shoulder and onto Dary’s. “We should meet up tomorrow and find out what’s going on.”

Toby nodded. “I’ll come to you first thing.”

Dary raised his hand in mock salute then headed off towards the tavern.

Now that they were back in the village, Bryony’s strength was beginning to give out. She staggered against the low wall where they were standing. “Are you going to be all right?” Toby shifted Mr Eyre’s weight slightly and peered down at her face.

Bryony nodded. “I’m just very tired.” She looked up at him. “I’ll be fine.”

Together they made their way back to Issell’s cottage. Progress was slow, as Mr Eyre had become an almost dead weight. Bryony summoned the last of her strength and helped steady Mr Eyre as Toby half dragged, half lifted him through the empty lanes. If there was any sign of the earlier trouble, they failed to see it. All apart from the broken-down door to Martha’s house. Toby made a mental note to come back and fix the door as soon as it was light.

Lamplight was still shining through the curtain when they arrived at Issell’s. Toby propped Mr Eyre against the back wall, while he rapped his special knock on the back door. Rat-tat-tat, rat-tat-a-tat.

As soon as she heard the familiar knock, Issell flew to the door and pulled it open. Moments later Mr Eyre had been carried inside and laid on the couch which Martha and Bethany had sleepily vacated. Bryony flopped down in the chair by the hearth, waving all attention away. Toby bolted and back door and checked the front door and the windows. Satisfied he returned and sat down while Issell and Martha examined Mr Eyre.

“Is he going to be all right?” asked Bethany, staring at her tutor’s pale and grubby face.

Issell nodded. “I hope so. He’s had a nasty crack to the back of the head.” She turned to Toby. “Is this how you found him?”

“He came round when Bryony used your potion on him, but he seems to have lost his memory.”

Bryony looked up. “He recognised the village here though. He said something like ‘that’s Martha’s village’. He was walking and everything, until we got back down the hill and then after that maybe he was just too tired.”

“That could be the case. I don’t suppose he was given anything to eat and drink up there.” Issell looked down at the peaceful-looking Mr Eyre. “I’ll sit with him.” She turned to Martha. “You and the girls, take my bed.”

 “You should try to rest as well, Issy,” said Toby. “There was some trouble up at the Manor House earlier on.”

Martha looked up. “What sort of trouble?”

“A group of village folk were marching on the Manor with flaming torches. Dary’s father was one of the leaders.” Toby looked at his sister. “There was some shooting.”

“People were hurt?” Issell exclaimed.

“It didn’t look bad. The crowd turned back and Childecott’s men stopped firing.”

“I should go.”

“No Issy. I told Dary I’d go round first thing. See what’s happened. Then I call for you if you’re needed.”

Issell nodded. “Very well, if you say there’s nothing serious.”

“I’ll stay here too, in case he wakes up. This is very comfortable,” said Bryony, patting the arms of the chair in which she sat.

So it was settled. Toby went off to the alcove near the front door, where he usually slept, and Bethany, who’d barely awakened, curled up next to Martha in Issell’s bed. Issell and Bryony settled down between the hearth and the couch where Mr Eyre was now snoring gently.

And so the household retired for what was left of the short summer night. Toby and the girls were soon asleep, but Issell remained watchful. Martha also lay awake, gently stroking Bethany’s soft golden hair, while the little girl slept soundlessly beside her. The clouds had parted again and moonlight streamed through the thin curtain which was drawn across the window. The full moon, Martha thought, it was always during the full moon when he’d come.

©2019 Chris Hall


This is the latest chapter of my first full-length children’s story. You’ll find the earlier chapters here. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you feel it’s going!

 

What will 2019 bring?

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Just a teeny-weeny slightly self-indulgent post to clear the decks and set me on a whole new year of writing. Note the new theme which is perhaps a bit tidier (unlike my desk).

I have finally finished editing the novel which I was writing all last year (between other things, like paid work). The next phase is the boring and daunting bit, the publishing and marketing. I’m going to take this slowly. Deep breaths!

So now I shall be turning my attention to my new work-in-progress novel. It’s the children’s book which I roughly drafted during NaNoWriMo. It hasn’t even got a working title yet, but very soon it will take the place of You’ll Never Walk Alone which will be disappearing from the pages here.

And there will still be my weekly little fiction pieces, responses, random thoughts and that kind of thing, and of course, reading all your lovely stories and engaging with the writing community on social media. However, I will mostly be writing fiction!