Sneak preview…

Here’s a sneak peek at my work-in-progress, which is currently with my readers and checkers.  This is the prologue from DRINKWATER’S DAUGHTER, a tale of highwaymen.  I hope you like it.

Prologue

1820-something

The young boy tore along the lane, holding onto his shapeless hat.  He almost bowled over an old couple who were idling along.  The boy stopped to gasp out an apology and to try to explain, between heaves of his breathless chest, the reason for his precipitate haste.  The old couple were startled to hear the boy’s news and, reacting as one mind, altered their course and accelerated their pace, heading off in the direction whence the boy had come.

Satisfied that his excitement was contagious, the boy resumed his hasty path with his free hand clutching at his ribs, which were threatening to punish him with a stitch if he didn’t curtail this running-around nonsense.

The boy reached his destination and burst through the door.  He bent double in the public bar, wheezing like leaky bellows.

It was early in the day and the Ragged Rascal Inn was as yet untroubled by patrons.  The boy was disappointed to realise only one pair of ears would attend his announcement.  Those ears were the pendulous and hairy lobes on either side of the innkeeper’s head.  They, and the rest of the innkeeper, were situated at the fireplace.  The innkeeper was in the process of polishing the horse brasses that decorated the bar but he had arrested his oily cloth upon the sudden entrance of the excitable child.  He waited patiently for the boy to get his breath back, wondering what had got the child so riled up this time.  A three-legged lamb, perhaps.  A shiny pebble perchance – it didn’t take much to overexcite the boy.

The innkeeper hobbled across to the bar.  He poured the boy a tankard of small beer, which was gratefully received and thirstily guzzled within the blink of an eye.

The boy smacked his lips and wiped his mouth on his sleeve.  His eyes were wide, alive with secret knowledge.

“Well, Joseph?” the innkeeper prompted.  “What is it that’s got you fit to be tied this time?”

“Oh, innkeeper!” The boy Joseph was not on first-name terms with the man but clearly considered his news worth sharing with everyone.  “It’s – it’s wonderful!”

The innkeeper groaned.  “Don’t tell me; you’ve been and gone and discovered the opposite sex already.  I was hoping to be safely dead and gone by the time you stumbled across that particular source of wonder.”

Joseph scrunched up his nose in disgust at the suggestion.  “No, no!  Nothing like that.”   He looked positively scandalised.  “Yuck,” he added in case there was any doubt.

“Well, come on then; out with it!”  The innkeeper refilled the boy’s tankard.  It was his weakest, most-watered down ale suitable only for youngsters, child-bearing women and the parson.   “What’s got you in such a froth this time?  Last week it was a two-headed tadpole.”

“Kids’ stuff,” Joseph scowled in disdain.  “Listen; I was up in the woods.  They’re digging up there, did you know?”

“Yes,” the innkeeper nodded.  He had been among the first to find out, when the gangs of navvies had begun to use his establishment for after-work refreshment.  “A new highway.”

He shuffled back to his seat by the fireplace.  Joseph watched, fascinated by the way the innkeeper favoured one foot over the other.  He longed to hear the story behind the pronounced limp.  A war wound, perhaps.  Bah, Joseph decided.  It was probably nothing more exciting than a birth defect.  Like that tadpole.

“Well, are you going to tell me or must I forever live in ignorance?”

The boy seemed to remember he had something of import to relate.  He shook himself from his contemplations of the innkeeper’s hobbling gait, and the marvelling expression lit up his face anew.

“You’ll never guess what they found.”

Joseph waited for the old man to try.  The innkeeper fell quiet, looking into the fire.

“A tunnel,” he said, flatly.

The boy was as deflated as a pig’s bladder after one kick around the town too many.

“You know about the tunnel.”

Keeping his eyes on the flames, the innkeeper waved a dismissive hand.  “Everybody around here knows about the tunnel.  At least, all of us old ones do.  Perhaps I am the only one left…” he paused to consider the likelihood of this.  “But yes, I know about the tunnel.”

Joseph stepped closer, determined to astound the innkeeper yet.

“Well, the tunnel’s not the important bit.  It’s what they found in the tunnel…”

He waited.  Slowly, the innkeeper turned to face the boy then, as quick as a snake, he shot out his hand and seized Joseph by the arm.

“What did they find in the tunnel, boy?  An old coin!  A box of old coins!”

Joseph squirmed in the grip of the old man’s bony fingers but he was delighted the innkeeper hadn’t guessed.

“There’s one section…” the boy spoke slowly, pausing for dramatic effect, “where the roof has fallen in… and -” he could contain himself no longer; his words spilled out like a pan boiling over.  “I was there!  I watched the navvies!  And there they were!  Must have laid there undisturbed for donkeys’ ages.  The entire ceiling must have come down and buried them.”

“What, boy?  What?”  The old man pulled Joseph closer to him, searching his face as though to read the answer written there.

“It’s so exciting” the boy teased the old man a little longer.  “Here in this dull old place!”

“What?”

“It’s proper gruesome really.  They said I can go and have a better look later on.”

“Joseph!” the innkeeper lost his patience and barked at the boy.  “What.  Did. They.  Find?”

The boy laughed in triumph.

“Skellingtons!  Two perfect skellingtons!”  He took advantage of the old man’s surprise to wrest free of his grasp and skip away.  “Young men, they reckon, judging by the clothes.  Must have been buried alive.  Just fancy: being trapped like that and the air running out and water coming in… How long, do you think –“

He broke off, realising the innkeeper wasn’t paying attention.  Instead, the old man was staring intently into the flames.  A darker realisation struck the boy.

“You know something about them, don’t you, innkeeper?”

The old man raised his head and lowered it again in a slow and sorrowful nod.

“It was a long time ago, Joseph.  The mind – hides things.  Buries them.”

Tears coursed from his eyes, spreading through the creases of his ancient face.

“Innkeeper?”  The boy approached again, genuine concern overriding his curiosity.

“Forgive me,” the old man offered the boy a wet-eyed smile.  “Memories I’d forgotten I had have taken me by surprise.”

“You do know something!”  Joseph pulled up a stool, settling in for the storytelling he felt was coming.  He joined the innkeeper in watching the dancing flames, a visual accompaniment to the old man’s tale.

“Fifty years…” the innkeeper began.  “Yes, it must be fifty years – where does the time go? – before I took over as innkeeper here.  The roads were not as busy then as they are now so if you took it upon yourself to venture forth then you could stake your life (and many did) that your journey might not pass without incident…”

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UPDATE: DRINKWATER’S DAUGHTER went live on Amazon on October 23rd, 2013.

It is now also available on Kobo and iTunes. (November 6th, 2013)

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