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One Sun, One Moon, Two Stars

Chapter 3

East Oakhurst

French?
      Jonathan stared. His initial thought had been that the men must be tourists – until he’d noticed their clothes. Tourists wore jeans, t-shirts and flip-flops; not tunics, tights and cloaks. Anyway, that was stupid. Who’d ever heard of gangs of French tourists cleaning up random English churchyards?
      “Is he saying what I think he’s saying?”
      Jonathan nodded. “He wants to know who we are.”
      “That’s what I thought. Why? What’s it to do with him? And why the French? Ask him about the dig? No… on second thoughts I think I’ll do it,” and with that Victoria pushed past Jonathan.
      Two men stepped sideways, blocking her way.
      “Bonjour.” She smiled at them confidently.
      They stared back, their expressions impassive.
      “Could you tell us how we get to the archaeological site?” She wrinkled her nose. French had never been her favourite language. “We think two of our friends might be there.”
      The men continued to stare, silently.
      The young man tapped the side of his leather boots with the handle of a whip. He gazed at Jonathan thoughtfully. “Why are you here?” he said ignoring Victoria.
      She flushed. “There’s no need to be rude. If you can’t tell us the way to the dig it doesn’t matter. We’ll just go and find someone who can…”
      “She’s right,” Jonathan interrupted calmly. “We’re looking for our friends.”
      The man standing behind the speaker leaned forward and whispered something in his ear. He nodded, his eyes never leaving Jonathan’s face. “I am told that the Bailiff returned from Linhest with someone in the cart.”
      “Ben… it’s got to be Ben,” Jonathan muttered.
      “Why Ben? Why not Sylvene?”
      Jonathan glanced at Victoria and shrugged. “I suppose it could be her… but I think it’s unlikely.”
     Victoria scowled. “Well, I hope it is; that’s all I’ve got to say. She’s got an awful lot of explaining to do.”
      “Yes, she has.” Jonathan lowered his voice to make sure none of the men could hear. “I’ve got loads of questions for her.”
      The young man rubbed his chin. The others hovered anxiously. “I will take these travellers to the hall,” he said at last. “Stephen!” A short man, not much taller than Victoria, pushed his way out of the crowd. “Take charge here. When everything is finished come and find me. There are many things to be done before the wedding.”
      “Travellers!” exclaimed Victoria her face reddening with indignation.
      Jonathan shot her a warning glance. She glared at him – but remained silent.
      “But Master Robert, there are two of them. Should not one of us go with you?” Stephen said.
      “What?” Victoria almost spat out the word. “What is the idiot talking about now? He thinks we’re going to attack ‘Master Robert’, doesn’t he…?”
      “Ssh!” Jonathan frowned. “They’re trying to hear what you’re saying.”
      “So what? Would they understand? I don’t think so. Have you heard any of them speak English?” Her eyes widened as Robert pulled a dagger from his belt. “Now what’s he doing?”
      Robert felt the tip of the blade. “There is no need for anyone to accompany me,” he said, smiling. “Not while I have this and my whip.”
      “Even so,” said one of the men.
      “Even so,” Victoria mimicked under her breath.
      “Master Robert… Master Robert.”
      The wheezy shout startled Jonathan and Victoria. Both whirled around. Stumbling up the path was a stout man.
      “What is it, Samuel Goodchilde?” Robert called walking to meet him.
      His breath coming in painful gasps, Samuel stopped    and removed his cap. He bowed low, then mopped his forehead. “T’is the Gleeman, Master Robert… the Gleeman is come. Your father sent me to fetch you back to the hall. They are discussing the music for Lady Adela’s wedding.”
      “The Gleeman!” Robert beamed and thrust the dagger back in its sheath. “Why, you bring me excellent news. Now all the entertainers are here. Samuel, you are in good time. It was my intention to take these two strangers to my father, but…” for an instant Jonathan thought he saw a hint of laughter lurking in the young man’s eyes, “…Luke Perkins declared they could be dangerous. Now you are here you can be my guard.”
      He clapped him on the back, turned and beckoned to Jonathan and Victoria. “Follow me.”
      Without waiting to check they were obeying he marched from the churchyard, his cloak billowing behind.
      “Friendly lot, aren’t they?” muttered Victoria out of the side of her mouth before starting after him.
      Jonathan scowled. From the moment they’d arrived in the village he’d been trying to make some kind of sense of everything he’d seen and heard. Now he had an answer – but it was an answer he didn’t want to believe. He stared after the two figures crossing the street.
      They should leave – immediately – with or without Ben; but Victoria wouldn’t like it. He didn’t like it. But what else could… A savage blow caught him between the shoulder blades. He staggered.
      “Move, lad… don’t yer keep Master Robert waiting.”
      Jonathan stared at the thin-faced man who’d struck him. Although he was grinning his eyes were cold and hard. Jonathan clenched his fists and raised them.
      The man reached out, caught his right wrist and twisted it behind his back. “Didn’t you hear?” he hissed. “I said move.”
      Two more men moved closer but before they could do anything Samuel Goodchilde stepped up to Jonathan and rested his hand on his shoulder. “I’d do what he says, lad.”
      Jonathan stared at him defiantly.
      “Please yerself… but I’d do what he says.” Samuel winked at the man holding Jonathan who immediately released his wrist. “Right… let’s go. Jest make sure you keep close to me and everyfink’ll be alright.”
      As Jonathan followed the older man down the steps his eyes strayed towards the river. There was no way he could leave now – alone.
      At the end of the street Samuel slowed and pointed.
      A path was winding its way up the hillside at the back of the village. A forbidding fence dominated the skyline. “That’s where we’re going lad. Best hurry. We dun want ter keep Master Robert waiting.”
      Jonathan’s heart sank. He sighed and followed his companion up the hill.
      The two gates creaked noisily as they swung slowly open.
      “I suppose we’ve got to go in,” Victoria whispered, a muscle twitching nervously at the side of her jaw.
      Jonathan nodded unwillingly. They walked slowly into the compound.
      “What is this place?” Victoria said, her voice husky with fear.
      Any hopes Jonathan might have been clinging to, vanished. The courtyard was almost the size of a football pitch. Barns lined three sides, some large, some small. What was most noticeable was that all these buildings were in good repair.
      A single large building over-looked the hovels in the valley on the remaining side. Smoke spewed through a hole in its roof. Nearby a cluster of smaller huts stood in its shadow.
      They were nearly in the centre of the compound when a horse nickered. Jonathan and Victoria looked back. A bay mare was trotting towards them. As it went past the rider glanced at Victoria, his lip curling unpleasantly.
      “The stables,” Jonathan said quietly as the man dismounted by the doorway of a long low

building and led the horse inside.
      She rubbed her eyes, wearily. “I don’t care what it is. I just want to get out of here. This place gives me the creeps. As soon as we find the others I vote we leave.”
      “Er… that might be… damn, here he comes again,” said Jonathan.
      Robert nodded at Samuel Goodchilde. “Stay here. I will go and see what the Bailiff wants.”
      The Bailiff… he was the person who’d come back with someone in his cart. Victoria stared curiously as the two men paced backwards and forward over the cobblestones, deep in conversation.
      “What do you think they’re talking about?”
      “I wish I knew,” Jonathan said. He frowned. There was something unpleasantly familiar about the Bailiff. Where had he seen him before? He was about to ask Victoria if she knew when he caught sight of a movement out of the corner of his eye. He edged over to one of the barns and peered inside. Three men were beating a pile of corn with heavy wooden sticks.
      “Ere… where do ya think yer going?”
     Jonathan jumped.
      Samuel Goodchilde was standing beside him.
      “Nowhere… I wasn’t going anywhere! I wond… what are they doing?”
      The man burst out laughing. “Never seen anyone use a flail before, boy? ’Ow else does ya think they thresh the corn?”
      Thresh the corn!
      Finally, here was the proof he needed. No one in the twenty-first century threshed corn like that… at least not in England. Jonathan shivered. The farmers he knew either hired contractors to bring in the harvest or did it themselves driving huge combine harvesters complete with computer software.
      He watched the men working, oblivious to his surroundings.
      “Jonathan, I’m getting the weirdest feeling,” Victoria said joining them by the open door.
      “So am I,” he said grimly. “In fact there’s something I need to tell…”
“Oi – you two… in here”. The Bailiff and Robert were standing in the stable doorway. The smell of
warm horseflesh took Jonathan by surprise. A picture of his little sister galloping across their fields
on her pony flashed into his mind. His throat tightened. When would he see her again? He swallowed. Would he ever see her again?
      They walked past a tethered horse lipping at the hay in a manger and stopped by the Bailiff who grinned; but his eyes were still cold and calculating.
      Victoria smiled at him warily.
      “Come closer.” The man beckoned again. “There is something you should see.” He tossed aside a pile of sacking in the back of a nearby cart.
      “Ohhh…!” Victoria screamed. She hurled herself forward. “What have you done to him…?” she yelled.