Chapter 25

03Dec12

[New readers: to start at chapter 1, click Archives / November 2012 on right hand side]

They stood in the gloom. Ludovic sat down on a crate, just beside the boards where the chair had been. His stomach rumbled.

“Would you like something to eat?” Rose asked brightly.

Ludovic was suddenly aware that he was very thirsty and that he had not eaten since the morning. “Yes,” he replied. “Please. I would like something… and some water to drink.”

Rose hesitated. “Water? I can get some ale. It might be better than water. Everyone drinks ale here.”

“Yes please,” Ludovic almost smiled. “Ale, of course.”

With a quick splash of light feet the girl was gone. There was silence apart from the continuous dripping of the rain outside and the trickle of the muddy gutter. Ludovic moved over to where the chair had stood. He reached up in the darkness and felt cautiously around the beams in the ceiling. He stamped on the planks and lifted one end to feel underneath. There was nothing there that gave him any hope.

The door opened slowly and Rose edged in, both hands full. Awkwardly in one hand she held a wooden tray with a jug and a plate. In the other she held a candle which flickered ominously in the draught.

“I could only get bread,” she said. “The mistress keeps the meat locked up. And the cheese smelt like bad carrots.”

Ludovic reached out to take the tray and placed it on the crates. Rose put the candle alongside, took a wooden beaker from her apron pocket and poured the ale. She offered it to him together with a hunk of bread. The crust seemed hard and grey in the candlelight.

The ale was not what Ludovic expected. It was rich, sweet and cool. He gulped it down and took a mouthful of the crumbly, dry bread. His teeth crunched on grit in the dough.

“What is it like where you come from?” Asked Rose, her thin face turned towards him and her eyes glittering in the candlelight.

Ludovic sipped from his mug. “I come from a big city,” he said. “Some people are rich and some are poor, but  almost everyone has enough to eat. All the children go to school and most of them can read.”

“Even the girls?” Rose interrupted, her eyes wide.

“Yes,” nodded Ludovic. “Girls and boys go to school together.”

“My baby is going to read,” Rose said decisively. “Mister Barry said that he would pay for everything that my child needs. He said if my child is a girl we shall call her Hope and if he is a boy he will be called James, like the last King. And like Mister Barry,” she added.

The door was flung open so hard that it crashed against the wall. They both jumped and the candle flickered and smoked. The thin woman stood gasping in the doorway.

“Rose,” she hissed. “You must hide. They are trying to find you. I showed them your Sokay,” she jabbed a bony finger at Ludovic. “They say that you are a sorcerer and the child will have horns and forked tongue.”

Rose gave a little cry and clutched her stomach with both hands.

“Go,” she flailed her arm at Rose. “Go now!” Loud voices and shouts echoed in from the street. “Don’t let them find you here.” She pointed again at Ludovic. “Or you!”

Rose pushed past her mistress and peered out into the narrow street. She turned and beckoned to Ludovic.

“Come,” she said. “This way, up the hill.”

Ludovic looked at the gaunt face of the woman. She curled her lip above blackened teeth and seemed about to shriek. He took one last look at the empty space on the boards and followed Rose out of the door.

The drizzle had turned to persistent rain. He looked left down the lane and saw firelight flickering. The voices were loud and angry. He could hear feet splashing. Rose was just visible in the glow, half-running, half-sliding up the hill through the mud. He hurried after her.

In the darkness it seemed further to the top of the lane. Rose looked back and stopped at the corner. He caught her up.

“Where do we go?” He panted.

She gestured left, towards the cathedral. He took her arm. Behind them a lithe small figure appeared round the corner carrying a large, blazing torch in one hand.

“They’re here,” the boy shouted back down the lane.

Ludovic began to run, the ground was harder here in the wide market place. He dragged Rose along beside him, stumbling and moaning softly. Glancing over his shoulder he saw more figures with torches appear.

“Witch!” It was almost a shriek. “Witch!”

Running on, he hoped that the darkness would hide them. Rose suddenly pulled sharply on his arm.

“Down here,” she hissed and guided him into a narrow alley between two darkened buildings. He blundered forward, unable to see anything, one hand stretched in front, the other held tightly by Rose as she followed him.

They could hear the mob. Men were shouting and women were screaming. Someone was baying like a dog. Rose stumbled and half fell.

“Get up. Run,” Ludovic could not hide the panic in his voice. “Run, now.”

Looking back, the top of the alley was crowded with black figures. The torches blazed orange in the puddles leading down towards them.

“I can’t go any further,” gasped Rose, her hands on her belly.

Ludovic felt along the wall. “Come on,” he said pulling her into a doorway and bumping his head on the stone lintel.

“There they are! There!” The crowd jostled into the alley and rushed towards them.

Ludovic pushed on the door and lifted the latch. Together they tripped down a step into the dark. He turned, pushed the door shut and felt for a bolt. His fingers stubbed painfully against a metal bar. He pulled the bar down and felt it grind into a bracket at the side of the door. He stepped back down the step.

There was a thump on the thick door and then a battering of wood and metal.

“Burn them! Burn the witches!”

The cellar was completely dark. It smelt of damp, sacking and tar. Ludovic could hear Rose gasping for breath and sobbing behind him. He turned and almost tripped on a hard wooden edge. Reaching out with both hands he caught Rose’s hand and pulled her gently towards him. She sobbed and clung to him like a child. Her wet hair rubbing his chin.

“We can’t get out,” she murmured. “I know this place, the other way is closed. It’s always closed.”

Behind them the thuds on the door stopped. There was a scratching sound and he saw a flicker of light at the base of the door. A wisp of smoke curled up

“I’ll have to talk to them.” He paused. “I’ve got to talk to them. They don’t understand.”

“No. Don’t. They won’t listen. They think it’s witchcraft.” The light under the door flickered more brightly. He could smell the smoke, pungent with tar.

Ludovic thought about the dig. He thought about Belacar. He remembered sitting in the car, holding the door handle as Belacar said, “your DNA was all over the place.”

She pulled him closer. “It is witchcraft” she moaned. “They will tear us apart.”

He took a deep breath, slid his hands up to her shoulders, kissed the top of her head like a parent and stepped back.

“I’ll talk to them.”

He turned in the dark, reached out, lifted the bar and pulled open the door.

A shower of sparks and thick smoke rolled into the cellar. The mob roared and beyond the flames Ludovic could see contorted faces. They jabbed at him with pitch-soaked torches. The flames scorched his face. He smelt his hair burning as he raised his arm to protect his eyes. Something struck him hard in the chest and he stepped back, bumping into Rose. She reached round him and slammed the door shut again. With one hand he swung the bar back into place and staggered backwards coughing, eyes watering. A tongue of flame licked under the door.

“They won’t burn us,” said Ludovic. In the livid orange glow he pointed towards the back of the cellar where A thick low bench was piled with barrels. “Under there.”

Rose knelt and then lay on the ground. She wriggled quickly under the bench and turned on her side to face him, coughing. Ludovic took a last look at the door, the flames were growing dimmer as the smoke thickened. He crouched and rolled to the floor, squeezing alongside her in the tight space under the bench and barrels. Rose raised one hand and grasped the visitor’s badge from the Osborne Reynolds Institute that still hung around Ludovic’s neck. She murmured a prayer.

Ludovic cushioned her head with his arm. “Don’t be afraid,” he said quietly in her ear. “Someone will find us.”

The End

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19 Responses to “Chapter 25”

  1. 1 camillaherrmann

    Alex, thank you. Reading this has been one of the brightest experiences in a very dreary November.

    PS. Does the novel have a name?

  2. 3 Jerry Darnell

    Thoroughly enjoyed that Alex. Thank you very much indeed.

  3. 5 Becki_Casey

    Brilliant twist at the end. I’ve really enjoyed this Alex, many thanks.

  4. 7 Andrew

    Alex – each day I have looked forward to the next chapter and it has never disappointed. You are a gifted writer, thanks for sharing it with us.

  5. 9 Fiona from Perth

    Have enjoyed it from day 1. This needs to be published to a wider audience 🙂 Congratulations

    • Hi Fiona – I’m not sure that I could find a wider audience as discerning as my loyal blog readers 🙂 Glad you enjoyed it.

  6. 11 Sarah

    An ebook on amazon?

    When’s your next title released?

    • Sarah – I’m exploring e-book options… Perhaps I’ll get something out there in time for Christmas (one year or another…).

      Next title? Perhaps when I have caught up on all the jobs I didn’t do in the last five weeks 🙂

  7. 13 ann

    That was brilliant! But what can I look forward to reading each evening now? Do publish it.

    • Ann – thank you. Did you notice the washing line making a cameo appearance in Chapter 24?… That was for you 🙂

      • 15 ann

        I’m honoured! Do hope yours isn’t hairy though, that could explain a lot!

  8. 16 Olly

    Alex,

    Well done on this – it was a great read with a fantastic end!

    Would also be interested in the e-book!!

    Thanks.

  9. Excellent work Alex, though I must confess I did think “Poor Ludovic” at the end of chapter nine ;¬)
    For publishing, have a look at unbound, bookbaby or Lulu, all with variations on the DIY approach :¬)


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