Buy The Battle for the Black Fen!

The Marshlanders Chapter 1: Clare’s Promise

Clare ran like mad, dodging between the trees, leaping over fallen logs, and darting through openings in the underbrush. At a sudden dip, she plunged forward and fell flat on her stomach. The wind knocked out of her, she lay on the ground, gasping for air. Realizing she wouldn’t be able to hear them coming if she was breathing so loudly, she quieted herself and listened. There was no more shouting. The thud of boots had faded away when she’d plunged from the field into the forest. Only the new leaves stirred. From far away, she heard the song of a wood thrush.

It’s all my fault, she thought. That’s why they got her!

“This will make a good place for you to sit while I look for the goldenseal,” Mother had said, pointing to the wall along the edge of the field. “Promise to keep your eyes on the drove and whistle the thrush song if you see anyone coming.”

Clare had clambered up on the wall. The stones had warmed her bottom nicely on the sunny but cool April day.

Clare’s mother, Margaret, had taken a considerable risk directing her to climb up that high, but in her dun-colored woolen skirt and shawl, Clare would be hard to see. Margaret hadn’t done any healing since the new Guild of Apothecaries, as they called themselves, had forbidden it four years ago. To prove their point, they had persuaded the Maxton minister to preach thundering condemnations of healers. They were devil worshipers and heretics, he had shouted. People had laughed behind their hands that he actually believed those old winter’s tales.

But after his sermon, a mob hunted down an old herb gatherer culling thyme in the fields beyond Maxton and drove a stake through her heart. Their bloodlust roused, they had rushed back to the village and hung the pharmacist to whom the herb gatherer had sold her cures. They did it as a further example to the villagers.

Since then, Margaret had done very little healing in Twist. But the day before, well after dark, a mother had knocked on her door, haggard from sleeplessness. The woman had an infant in her arms, thrashing with pain. As a baby, Clare had weighed about as much as the infant the woman held—no more than five pounds—and her arms and legs had been just as thin. While examining the child’s mouth, Margaret had seen the telltale ashy color of thrush, a miserable, though entirely treatable, disease of the very young.

“Did you go to the apothecary?” she asked the woman.

“I did, but he gave me medicine that frightened me. Baby went to sleep and didn’t wake up for nine hours. I’m afraid to give it again, and her thrush is spreading.”

Margaret decided to fetch some goldenseal, a little plant that was fond of moist ground and worked very well for such cases. Clare could keep watch.

“Tell me again what you’ve promised to do if you see anyone,” Margaret had said to Clare.

“I must whistle the wood thrush song three times, waiting in between. I must slip down quietly to the other side of the wall and keep out of sight until I get to the brook. Then I must follow it along to where you are,” Clare replied.


But it hadn’t worked out that way. The day before, Clare and her friends had played their first hopscotch of the spring. She had lost narrowly, and it had been all the fault of a round-bottomed potsy. She had been telling Mother all about it on their walk together over the fields. Clare always adored these expeditions, though it puzzled her that Mother let her babble away about her friends and their games when, in Twist, she could be so mean to Clare and treated Clare’s brother much more nicely. Roger had complained about being left behind today, but it was Clare Mother trusted to sit watch because she was such an expert whistler that she could get thrushes to echo her call.

While sitting on the wall, Clare had spotted a perfect flat-bottomed stone. Keeping her eyes fixed on the drove a half mile away over the furrows, she had jumped down, grabbed it, and then clambered quickly back to her perch. It was a perfect potsy! She had gazed at her treasure in rapture, imagining herself deftly hopping her way to victory. It was just a few stolen looks, but time enough for three tall men dressed in black to appear in the field, too close for her to whistle a warning or slip down the dell to Mother.

She had tried to divert their attention by hurling herself from the wall and darting away over the field. But they must have spotted Mother, who was halfway up the dell. They leapt over the wall, grabbed Mother roughly by her shoulders, and threw her on her back. Holding her down, they had plunged their hands into her pockets. With a triumphant shout, they had brandished the goldenseal. Hauling her to her feet, they had turned her toward Clare, who had stopped to watch, transfixed with terror.

Glaring at Clare, Mother had declared, “Yes, I am a healer, as my mother and grandmother before me, but that is no daughter of mine. She’s a changeling. Ask anyone in Twist! She followed me out here, but would I ever apprentice one like that? You can tell she’s different by the way she runs—faster than any human being!”

Margaret had wished with all her heart she didn’t have to say that, but how else was she to get Clare moving? And it worked! At her hint, Clare had taken to her heels.

The minister knew Margaret had always insisted Clare was not her daughter. But a changeling? Watching the weird child leap like a deer over the furrows, he realized that if they could catch her and cage her below his pulpit, she would provide a perfect prop for his sermons.

“After her!” he had ordered his two companions. “I can bring this one back to the village by myself.”

Lying on the forest floor, Clare slowly regained her breath. She had to figure out what to do. It wouldn’t be safe to stay in the forest at night. Bears wandered there, irascible and hungry after their long winter’s fast, and wolves prowled too. Someone in the village would hide her. The quickest way home would be guarded against her; she’d have to sneak along the forest verge and then through the winter wheat.

It took her a whole hour to get back to Twist. She had been out at night plenty of times when the darkened village had provided a blindfold for evening games. But this was hide-and-seek in earnest! She crept along the house walls until she came to her own, where she inched up to look into the kitchen. The hearth had a lovely orange glow. Roger was toasting bread and buttering it right on the fork. In her shock and terror, Clare had ignored the growls of hunger from her stomach. Now they hit her. Her brother would make her some toast!

Roger, who was not ordinarily alert when eating, had been listening for her footsteps. As she came in, he grabbed her by the collar.

“They got Mother!” he yelled, aiming the toasting fork at her neck. “It’s all your fault! I don’t want anything to do with you. Soldiers have been looking for you all day. They said if I bring you in, they’ll let me off.”

As he dropped his fork to secure both hands around his sister’s throat, she kicked fiercely, wrenched herself away, and leaped for the door. She didn’t have time to grab the bread; she took off running instead. She would have plunged straight into the market square, where the minister was summoning the reluctant villagers to hunt for her if she hadn’t crashed into a large, soft obstacle. Weak from hunger and terror, she screamed, but her cry was muffled in Lizbet’s sizeable bosom.

“Hush, Clare,” her next-door neighbor said, pulling her along. She didn’t say anything else until they were crouched in the winter wheat.

“You mustn’t go home. Roger will betray you. They have your mother and two stranger women, each with a daughter, in the minister’s cow barn. They’ve set guards all around so that none of us can talk to them. They’re searching for you. You can’t be seen in the village; they’ll have watchers everywhere.”

Shattered by this news, Clare crumpled onto the ground.

“Don’t take on, child. I’ve sent messages for good folks to take you to safety, but they can’t get here tonight. Do you know the caves above the laundry place?”

Clare nodded, though happy days at the river seemed somebody else’s long-ago memory. On spring and summer afternoons she and her friends spread linens out on the stones, playing circle and clapping games while they dried. The warm rocks were an especially healthy place for drying baby clothes. Infants whose swaddling Margaret washed and Clare lay on the river stones rarely suffered from rashes.

“We launder tomorrow,” Lizbet reminded her. “That’s what made me think of it. Let’s get you to the cave. That will give us some time.”

Clare knew it would be a good hiding place because custom forbade boys and men where women and girls stripped naked to wash themselves and their hair along with laundry. She and Lizbet darted from shadow to shadow and kept well off every road and pathway as they made their way out of the village.

“If you crawl into this opening, you will come to a turn at your right.” Lizbet touched Clare’s right arm to be sure she understood. “Take that turn to a place as big as two of me.”

From under the folds of her shawl, Lizbet pulled a hooded cloak of thick gray wool and a bundle. “Eat from this jerky. There’s a flask of water too. Fill it at the brook where it joins the river above the washing stones, but don’t let yourself be seen.”

Clare clutched the cloak and the bundle as she crawled on her stomach through a scratchy tunnel. It was hard to breathe in the tight space. She remembered to feel with her right arm for an opening. There she turned to crawl some more until she came to the open space. She didn’t eat any of the jerky, but she wrapped the cloak around herself. Burrowing into a warm prickliness redolent of sheep and Lizbet’s personal combination of warm bosom and goat milk, she fell into a merciful asleep.

Clare dreamed she had a vomiting and a flux. Mother came with steadying medicine, and Lizbet brought goat’s milk in case her appetite returned. There was the dizzy, vulnerable feeling of having been sick to her stomach and perhaps going to be sick again. Clare felt cramps in her gut and a need to relieve herself. Then she woke up. She saw a strange yellow streak filled with shining bits along a jagged wall, and mica glittered where the shaft stroked the stone. She smelled a wet smell, like moss or damp stone.

Mother was not there. No one had brought her medicine. She had a pain in her gut. She was lying alone at the end of a stone tunnel. She sat up and remembered the jerky. She tore into it hungrily, remembering to chew the mixture of berries pounded down with fat and bits of bacon as slowly and thoroughly as she could. When she had drunk half the water in the flask, she thought of refilling it. Painfully, because she had lain on the hard stones all night, Clare turned. She left the cloak and jerky behind and crawled stiffly out of the cave.

She hesitated at the cave’s entrance. She couldn’t go for water because women and girls were already splashing and calling back and forth above the rapids to the thwack of sodden cloth on rock. This used to be her favorite time of the year, when it was warm enough to launder by the river instead of using tubs in the kitchen. Wading in the water with the first spring sun on her back was exhilarating, and all winter she had looked forward to the games they played while clothes lay drying.

Everyone was still bent over the washing, so it must be early morning. How could she relieve herself with most of the village women down there? There was the ledge, and above it was the path she and Lizbet had descended the night before.

The women and girls looked so tiny! Keeping her eye on them, she crawled until the cliff curved out of their sight. Even then she didn’t feel safe standing up, so she went on all fours until she came to a meadow where she relieved her aching gut in the grasses. The voices called more loudly, and young women sang:

I wish I were a maid again!
I wish, I wish, ’twer all in vain,
A maid again I ne’er shall be
’Til oranges grow on an apple tree!

A line of children formed to play Farmer, Farmer, May We Cross Your Golden River? The girl who was it had her back to Clare, but the rest of the children were lined up facing her. She couldn’t get back to the cave without being seen, so she played at creating a village in the grass. She couldn’t figure out how to shape Twist’s steep streets, so she flattened out a space for the market square and used little forked sticks for people. There would have to be Marshlanders, she thought. They had appeared in Twist last market day, always the bright harbingers of spring.

Twist’s modest fame derived from a strong thread women spun with deft flicks of their wrists, up and away from little wheels they held in one hand. Although most of their trade was with other towns along the drove, such as Brent and Breck, they got their raw flax from half-wild fen dwellers who grew the plant on islands among miles of reeds and sedge spreading west to the shores of the Ocean Sea. During the winter when they were often cut off from the mainland, the Marshlanders hackled the pale blue flowery herb with toothed combs. In the hot August days, they exposed the raw plants to the sun to ret out impurities, then separated the good from the useless fibers. When the winter floods receded, allowing the fen dwellers onto the mainland, they traded for supplies they sorely needed by that time of year.

Lately, though, they’d been much out of favor with the upland ministers because they held their own worship among their islands and refused the tithes demanded of them. Militias had been organized to hunt them down and make examples of them, but the fen dwellers knew every channel and reed bed in their watery homeland and easily evaded the soldiers. So far the militias hadn’t bothered them when they came to market, though villagers were fearful that they might not be permitted to trade with them for much longer.

Once a month, trading was set up in one of the only flat yards among Twist’s steep streets. The villagers bartered their thread for the Marshlanders’ flax and fish. At other times, the villagers sold thread to Martin, the dry goods merchant, for coins. Lately, however, he’d refused to give them money and exchanged necessities like buckets, hoes, or nails in kind. Other Twist merchants had decided to ban women from using coins, and he felt he had to go along with them.

As she flattened out the market square of her play village, Clare scratched a little hopscotch game onto it because that was where, from the first days of spring, she and her friends liked to play. The night before last it had gotten dark before they could finish their game. Clare had gotten to the sixth square of the game—a horribly narrow rectangle. She had stood poised on one cramped leg. Her potsy had been too round on the bottom and tended to skitter. Her friends had held their breath as she had cast her stone. It had fallen cleanly into the crescent that was the goal of the game. Gathering herself together for one last hop, her leg muscles had cramped and she had veered and come down on a crack. Her friends had groaned, partially in empathy but mainly because it was too dark to finish the game. As night fell over the village, they reluctantly parted.

Clare had thought about hopscotch all the way home that night, wishing she had won, figuring that it would still be the first game of the year, and wondering when they would get a chance to finish. It was so unfair! Just when good weather finally arrived, they had more chores than ever! The fields surrounding the village were being dug over, raked out, and seeded; later they would need to be hoed, weeded, and irrigated by bucket brigades during dry spells. There were orchards on either bank of the Danner where the villagers harvested apples, peaches, and quinces. The villagers held their orchards and their fields in common, allocating specific furlongs or groves to this or that family, often for several generations. They dwelled close by each other in their village, walking as much as five miles to their fields and orchards. Recently they had heard of folks buying the fields and orchards up with money and then building their homes right next to them.

“What could be the good of that,” Lizbet had asked Mother.

“Who would want the trouble of hiring laborers to do the work we have always done ourselves,” Margaret had replied.

“What would you do,” Lizbet had queried,” if you were five miles out when you ran out of meal in the middle of a baking, or if the baby took sick and someone had to watch it while you ran to get the healer?”

For a child like Clare, village life provided all kinds of compensation. Everyone knew her, and she was welcome at every hearth. Just the night before last night, Lizbet had leaned out her window as Clare rounded the corner.

“You are late, my girl. Get a leg on. Your mam and Roger have already sat down to eat.”

Clare hadn’t cared. She preferred Mother’s anger to her indifference. Besides, she had been looking forward to hopscotch all winter long and had only gotten away from her chores after hours of pleading. Everyone bottomed out their houses in spring, ridding them of fleas, mice, and vermin that had lodged in the floors and bedding over the winter, lest the creatures flourish in the warmer weather to bring on terrible spring sicknesses. This spring cleaning brought in extra washing. Since her husband’s departure, with never a pay packet sent to them, Margaret took in laundry, especially baby linens. Clare helped while her brother Roger did odd jobs for anyone who would hire him. They hoped to apprentice him to John the Grocer, but they had not been able to save up the fees.

Roger was furious that they couldn’t save enough for an even more expensive apprenticeship as a carpenter. He loved the smell and feel of wood and was deft with hammer and saw, but he hated shop keeping. In spite of his mother’s attention, Roger was a boy with grievances about everything, and he turned the full force of his rages on the much smaller Clare. One of the reasons she hungered and thirsted after games with her friends was his practice of destroying any toy she might cherish, even a play place she might built of sticks and stones, which he would jump on and stamp into the dirt. Long ago, he stole away the one doll she had ever owned. Clare never got over her grief. Roger could get her crying at any time by recounting how he had torn her doll’s head off and buried its body deep in the bog.

Although Margaret scolded and punished Roger for such behavior, she could not reach his heart. He missed his father and was furious that he had thought more of going off to the wars than staying with him. Roger had every intention of joining the army himself at the earliest opportunity. Besides, if Mother so obviously preferred him to Clare, he thought he must really be better than she and thought he had a duty to keep his sister aware of his superiority.

In spite of her mother and brother’s scornfulness, an unaccountable spark of delight burned in Clare’s heart, a joy in her days that blazed with fiery intensity when she was excited and burned with a temper as hot as Roger’s when she was thwarted. Sometimes she fell into a dark mood. During these times she would sit with her head buried in her arms in a cold corner far from the hearth. Injustices done to her brought on this dark mood, when everyone would say that Clare had the black dog on her shoulders. She fell into that bleakness if she saw Mother handle infants. Observing Margaret enclose a weeping baby in her arms, soothing it with gentle prattle until it lay still and looked up at her adoringly, made Clare feel as though she had been kicked in the stomach. When Mother sat with her arm around Roger as she told them stories in the evenings, Clare felt the same visceral misery even though the tales were often about brave young girls on their thrilling adventures.

Clare did not blame Mother; it had always been that way. As soon as she had been able to put two thoughts together, she had realized it must be her fault. So she scrubbed her thin hands raw at the laundry board, raised blisters with her hoe, and ran everywhere Mother told her to as fast as her legs could take her. A perennially hopeful soul, Clare had never approached the yellow light from their window without hoping that the love that surrounded her brother and made Margaret’s friends seek her friendship might reach out to warm her hungry heart as well.

But now she had ruined their lives! The ministers would kill Mother, and all because Clare had been thinking about hopscotch! She kicked her play village to pieces and peered over the grasses. The shouting and singing had stopped some while ago, she realized. Everyone had gone home. She was struck through and through with loneliness, a desolation that seemed focused in her stomach. She got back into the cave and devoured more jerky, only to discover her flask was empty. She would have to go down to the brook, where she might also find spring greens to eat. Carefully marking the left turn out of the tunnel, she emerged in the afternoon sunlight and cautiously descended the steep incline.

* * * * *

Margaret’s wrists were chained to an iron ring set low in the wall to hold recalcitrant cows for milking. They burned and chafed, and every time she tried to move them an even sharper pain shot through them. Two other women were similarly chained to horse stalls, with their little daughters beside them. The woman named Catherine had been seized by fit after fit of coughing all night long; she sagged limply against the stall.

“I’m worried about her,” Ann said. “That cough is low in her chest.”

She tried to speak softly, but Catherine’s daughter Janet heard what she said and burst into a fresh bout of tears. Ann’s daughter, Riven, had been trying to divert her with a game of stones, as their hands were free.

“Sounds bad,” Margaret agreed. “How are your wrists?”

“Raw, especially when I move them.”

The three women had crouched where they were chained all night—shocked, despairing, and filled with regret for letting themselves be taken. But morning had come. Sunlight slanted through loose slats to set dust motes dancing. It made them feel better enough to talk.

“What happened with you and Catherine?”

“I went to help with a birth and took Riven with me. It was a hard one, a breech, so I sent Riven for Catherine. She’s not a healer, but she’s good at birthing. Her husband was gone to Maxton, so she had to bring Janet. And you can see how she is. I feel terrible that I got her into this! How about you?”

“It was a child with thrush. I thought I could pick some goldenseal easily enough, but they must have followed us. I had my daughter Clare with me, too, but she got away. I’m so worried about her. My husband’s been to war since she was three years old. My son will be all right. He will find a way to get the grocer to hire him; he’s stubborn that way. But Clare won’t be safe after this, and she’s only eight years old!”

She winced at the thought of her daughter, whom she loved to distractioLn but pretended she didn’t. In her heart, Margaret was a loving mother, anguished by her choice to deny Clare in order to save her should persecution of healers spread to Twist. She and her mother and grandmother and generations of ancestors were healers, wise about leaves, blossoms, grasses, roots, tubers, and the tender shoots of cattails and reeds. When persecution came, it would be best if Margaret had been known to tell everyone that Clare was not really her daughter.

She had left the girl perched so happily on the wall, perky as a little gray dove in her beige skirt and shawl. Then she had cast worry aside—foolishly—because it had felt so delicious to leap down the forest bank. The beeches had been leafless, letting the sun through to engender a profusion of spring beauties, trillium, anemones, and trout lilies among last winter’s sodden leaves. An energetic woman in her prime, left behind by her husband to care for two children on her own, she was starved for both action and solitude. She had come to a sodden dip where the brook had overflowed its banks during the March storms, and she had jumped from clump to clump of drier grasses. The women in her family had always found their goldenseal on the other side of the brook. There, well within hearing range of Clare’s whistle, she had knelt down and peered through matted undergrowth until she saw the glossy little leaves and reached into the soil beneath for their bright yellow roots.

Why had she taken such a risk? After the murders in Maxton, she had turned sick folks away, sending them to the apothecary instead. Many could not afford the coins which, following the rules of the newly established Guild of Apothecaries, he insisted on. All he did was fashion colored capsules or potent alcohol-based potions out of the same herbs she herself administered. At the same time, their minister had begun preaching that healers were sinners who worshipped the earth rather than God. Since the villagers had always revered the earth as being infused with the Holy Spirit, these accusations had puzzled them. Even stranger was the idea that sensible healers like Margaret worshipped a devil that was two parts goat and one part hairy man. Everyone knew devils and demons were story creatures used to scare each other with on long winter evenings.

Hsst,” Ann said. She nodded at the barn wall. “Something thumped. Do you think the guards are listening?”

* * * * *

The river flowed swiftly, talking to itself as it skirted the boulders where the girls and women had dried their wash that morning. Clare followed the bank upstream to where a lovely rill bubbled. Bright green watercress grew on the bank. After lying down to lap the stone-cold water, she munched the tiny green leaves gratefully and put some in her pocket for later.

A light brown snail in a lovely whorled shell crawled across a rock.

“I wouldn’t think of eating you! And where is your family today? My family, I’ll have you know, is in terrible trouble,” Clare said to the creature. “Oh, your children are all gone too? I’m so sorry. I wish I could help you look for them, but I have to go back to my house now. I don’t have a cot anymore. But I do have a lovely gray wool pallet, though it is a bit smelly. Should you care to visit I can serve you spring water and jerky. Do come along one of these days!”

When the snail had crawled away, Clare stood immobile. There was nobody left to play with. In all her life, she had never been alone for more than a few minutes. The shouts and songs of the women and children had kept her company that morning, and their absence frightened her now. She began to cry. She had to find Mother! She couldn’t stay out here a minute longer, no matter what Lizbet said! Anyway, the woman had not come back like she said she would. Or had she?

Clare shuddered at the possibility that she might have disobeyed Lizbet by playing in the field and at the brook. Mothers weren’t taken away in chains because children played. But Mother had been captured because Clare had been playing hopscotch in her mind. Watching out was a chore, and she had disobeyed! She had played houses in the field and with the snail at the brook when Lizbet might have been looking for her. She felt locked into badness—a new and perplexing sensation. She knew that whenever her need to play swept over her, she was likely to give in to it, but from the moment she got out of bed until she lay down at night, Mother, Lizbet, and a whole chorus of villagers always set her straight. Now there was no one to scold her, and her head spun from trying to figure things out for herself.

She knew the way to the cow barn through the village, but she couldn’t risk it. She would have to cling to the forest verge and work her way around. It seemed to be late afternoon, but the days were drawing out now. She figured she could get there before night. The forest proved hard going. Bramble patches and tangled underbrush slowed her progress. It was dusk when Clare came to the wheat field. It was all stubble now; they must have gathered it that morning. That was bad news because she no longer had the wheat to shield her. She crouched at the edge of the forest and took a drink from her water flask, wondering how to avoid detection. She was sod-colored in her hooded cloak. She’d have to risk creeping along the furrows and hope no one spotted her.

She took her time. If she was caught, she’d be chained to Mother. She knew Mother did not want that. She could see the roof of the barn and used it to crouch and crawl in as straight a line as she could manage across the furrows. Finally, she was only one row of stubble away. Where were the prisoners? How could she see them without being captured herself?

A soldier appeared at the corner of the barn. Clare’s heart pounded so hard that she thought he would hear it. She flattened herself on the ground. He relieved himself before disappearing once again. She crawled along the foundation until she came to a spot where scythers had left a clump of waist-high grass. Then she lay down and pressed her ear to the wall.

Nothing. The boards were well sealed, which meant there was no opening to look through. Clare inched her way along. She felt a loose board and put her eye to a crack between it and the next one. She could only see grayish light. Something stirred. Someone whimpered.

“I’m hungry. My tum hurts. I’m hungry. I’m so hungry.”

Someone shushed. Clare had to see more. She felt along the crack and pulled some dead leaves from the edges. Then she wiggled closer and put one eye against the board. Some blurs moved slightly. That must be the women and girls, she figured, or at least a piece of them. As her eyes grew accustomed to the dimness, she saw a girl chained by the waist. She was rocking herself, humming a tune Clare recognized from their winter play. It was a hearth song for when grownups sat talking and children tossed beanbags back and forth in a carefully modulated timing, fingers curling just so according to rules of deftness that belonged to that game alone. There were no set songs for a game of toss; any well-known snatch might do. The trick was to whisper-sing it, softly so as not to interrupt the adults at their talk, but loud enough for one’s partner to recognize. Then they tossed the bean bag back and forth, one toss per line, and if a player figured her snatch right, she could win the game by catching the bag on the last line.

The child in the barn juggled her bag from hand to hand, humming the barley mow song. Clare chased a thought nibbling at her mind like a mouse. The child’s hands were free. She had a beanbag. The child was hungry. Clare had jerky in her pocket, but she had no bag. She could rip out her pocket and load it with pebbles, jerky, and the rest of the watercress. Then if she could get her arm far enough through the crack to swing, she could toss it to the child.

It wasn’t hard to work her arm into the crack, but swinging was out of the question. She found a sharp rock to work at the upper edges. When she was satisfied, she reached through, swung her pocket, and then put her eye to the opening. There was no change. How could she get their attention? The signal for beginning a game of toss was to hum a tune. Clare placed her mouth to the crack and whisper-sang a few bars of a song the children had been practicing for May.

Come see our new garland,

so green and so gay,

the first fruits of spring,

and the glory of May.

There are cowslips and daisies and hyacinths blue;

here are buttercups bright and anemones too!

Just in case, she sang it a second time before tossing her pocket as hard as she could. There was a soft plop, muted exclamations, and barely audible munching. Clare sat up, contentedly easing her back against the boards to concentrate on a nasty splinter she must have gotten when she’d wrenched the board back. That was when she heard hoofbeats. She flattened herself in the grass. The lock on the barn door clanked, and the door slammed open. Her heart in her throat, she heard the children’s shrill cries as soldiers dragged them roughly out of door.

“On to Breck for market,” the soldiers jeered. “An all-night walk up the drove will make you look even sorrier, if that’s possible. The ministers intend to shame you good and well as a warning to folk about what happens to healers!”

Clare waited for the sound of wagon wheels to fade, then ran along the furrow next to the drove, trying to keep Mother in sight lest she lose her for good.

Dear Reader,

I hope you’ve enjoyed this sample chapter from The Marshlanders.
If you’ve enjoyed it, I hope you’ll consider buying the book.

Thank you so much for your interest,

Annis Pratt




Copyright (c) 2010 Annis Pratt

All Rights Reserved

Read More>>