Entrance #WritePhoto

The return journey home was a long one but finally after all these years they had been gained back the country of their great-grandfathers. The land was war torn and reclaimed by nature but they didn’t care about that. They could start again and live as their ancestors had once done.

Stopping to make camp as they did every night, the hundreds of people who had banded together to travel in safety, began the normal bustle and rushing to get things done. Horses, ponies, dogs and other animals needed to be sheltered, feed and watered. Watches for bandits and monster attacks need to be arrange. Lanterns lit, fires to be started, food prepared and cooked. Then finally, shelters and beds to be made.

A chilling winter wind was blowing and the sky looked heavy with snow. Prayers were said to try and ward the worse of winter away for bad weather would make the next few months difficult. Darkness began to fall and fires crackled into life, fighting away the growing shadows.

Tonight, they were camping in a low valley. Rocks jutted out from clumps of grass and small trees grew out from cracks in the mountain like rock. There was shelter from the elements here but it came at a price; venerability to attacks. The high rock sides and narrow ways in and out, meant that it would been easy for enemies to sneak up on the large group.

Some people would have chosen to stay out in the open but they had woman, children, elderly and non-fighting men who needed protecting. So, the best shelter had to be sort even if it wasn’t ideal for battle.

Through the noise that had risen up, the voice of a small child shouted out, ‘Look, mama!’

Fial turned wearily to her five year old daughter who was standing next to a pile of fallen boulders and pointing a finger upwards at the side of towering rock side.

Fial was exhausted and not in the mood for anything other then a hot meal and sleep. She was heavily pregnant, almost eight months gone with her ninth child. She was not happy about having to give birth in the wilderness but had lost the argument with her husband about travelling.

Fial sighed and addressed her youngest, ‘Ierne, please, I am too busy. I have to prepare the last meal and your sister, Aibell, still has a high fever.’

‘I wonder what is in there….’ Ierne spoke, ignoring her mother as her eyes were fixed on what seemed to be the entrance of a cave.

With a shake of her head, Fial turned back to her task and left the child, who was too young to help out much, to amuse herself.

Ierne began climbing up the side of the rock. She dug her hands into the soft soil and gripped onto rough grass to help pull herself upwards. She laughed as taller plants tickled her and frowned as sharp rock scraped her skin. The cave opening was high above but she was determined to reach it.

Stopping for a rest on a large outcrop, Ierne looked down and saw her family. Her mother and oldest sisters, Ciara and Dearlu, were preparing food into a large black pot. Aibell was still resting in the covered cart.

Their father was coming back from placing their horses in a more sheltered area with his youngest son, Faolan at his side. Whilst the other three brothers; Naos, Eion and Bricin, were getting the fire going after chopping down a nearby tree for wood.

Ierne turned her head back to the entrance and started her wonder again.

What is up there? Is it a bear cave? The home of a mighty dragon? Will there be treasure? 

Smiling, the little girl began her climb again. It took her awhile to stand before the cave and she felt tired and hungry. The sight of the gloomy darkness and broken rocks around the entrance re-sparked Ierne into action.

Standing before the cave mouth, she peered in. It was darker in there then outside and only slight outlines of the rock faces and a narrow way in could be made out. There was no guessing how far back or if other passages lead off the cave ran. The wind whistled through like a low, mournful flute backed up by an echoing water drip.

Ierne smiled and cried out, ‘elves! Do you live here?’

Her voice give a soft echo and she listened for a reply but none came back.

She stepped forward and tried to peer into the dark entrance. Icy wind clawed at her face and she shivered in her travelling cloak. Ierne wiped her nose on the back of her mitten cover hand then rubbed her face. She was getting sleepy.

The wind began to pick up, pulling her towards the cave now and a few flakes of snow fluttered by. It was too cold to stand still for long. Looking into the cave again, Ierne slowly walked inside and put her fingers to the damp, cold wall.

Out of the wind and the arriving snow, the girl sit down and huddled in her cloak. Lulled by the whistling, Ierne started to drift off. Her eyes were heavy, her limbs ached with the cold and she tried after her climb. Sleep thickly stole her away.

In Ierne’s dream, there was a cosy fire, hot stew and warm bread. Music was playing somewhere and little people were dancing. They looked funny with their really long hair and clothes made out of plants and small animal skins.  Laughter, singing and voices rose high, echoing in the cave. There was red wine and golden mead flowing and splashing on the floor.

Ierne joined in with the dancing and tried to sing but she didn’t know the words. The little people had a different language to her’s. When her feet got tried, she sat by the fire and it was then that one of the little people offered her a goblet of the mead.

She took it and looked into the shimming liquid. The fire light reflected off the surface and the mead smelt so sweet.

‘It looks and smells like honey!’ Ierne spoke, ‘I love honey and have not had it since the spring.’

‘Take a sip, A’stor,’ the little person said.

Ierne raised the goblet and was just about to taste the gold mead when everything started to shake.

The little people screamed and began running away. The goblet slipped from Ierne’s hand and she looked around confused as a faint, familiar voice called her name.

Coming too, Ierne woke up and felt light stinging her eyes. Someone was shaking her shoulder and repeatedly saying her name. She tried to question what was going on but only mumble sounds came out of her mouth.

‘Ierne!’ her brother, Naos snapped, ‘everyone has been looking for you!’

‘What happened?’ Ierne asked, rubbing sleep away.

‘You can not go wondering off! It is dangerous!’

‘I was safe. I was with the little people.’

‘There’s no one here,’ Naos pointed out and shone his lantern around.

‘That’s ’cause you scared them away!’ Ierne cried.

‘Come along now,’ Naos growled, ‘it’s supper and bedtime for you.’

Naos picked up his younger sister and carried her back down to the safety of their family.

 

(Inspired by; https://scvincent.com/2020/01/23/thursday-photo-prompt-entrance-writephoto/ with thanks).

At Year’s End

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She sat in the waiting room, hands twisting in her lap and eyes watching the clock tick away. There was only a few other people around which was unusual for a Tuesday morning but it was Christmas and New Year holiday time after all.

She had wanted to come alone. Most of her family and friends had offered to come with her. It was a big day after all. She had shook them all off, needing to face the test results alone. Everybody had been with her throughout this whole thing but today, she had wanted to reflect quietly, whatever was said.

The doctor called her in and she felt her heart skip a beat and her breath freeze in her lungs. Somehow, she got her body working and stood up to go into the room. Nothing had changed since her last visit. The blinds were still down on the window, the computer was hot and humming away. The shelves were filled with medical stuff and a poster about getting the flu vaccination was trying to peel itself off the wall.

‘Your results are back,’ the doctor spoke, ‘I’m pleased to tell you, you are clear of cancer.’

Snow Dust

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The snow fell on the town. Flakes danced in the lights from windows and out on the street. There was no noise as the snow stuck to cold patches or melted on warm roofs. Everyone was asleep, staying warm as winter froze everything but a small face appeared at a window and looked down into the street.

It was not the first snowfall of that year that the child had seen but for her each was magical. She thought some of the icy flakes could be fairies fluttering by. They helped to spread the frost and ice that lay thin.

The child rubbed her eyes and felt sleep calling her back to bed. She hoped the snow carried on falling. There would be games to play outside tomorrow, snowman to build and hot bowls of stew to wolf down in the evening.

She could wear her new suede and fur coat, the knitted gloves and hat from granny. Father might take them sledging on the hills and to feed the deer herd. Maybe, they would go to auntie’s for tea and cake on the way home.

Head full of things, she snuggled down back in bed and had dreams full of snow and fairies.

Flint #CCC

We took our normal boxing day family walk on the beach and thankfully it wasn’t raining. The sky was cloud covered, the wind blustery and spraying sea water at us. We were huddled in coats and boots, not looking like we were enjoying things expect for Banshee the dog.

‘Grandfather! Look at this!’ Tod’s voice called above the crashing waves.

He came over with a large triangle shape of shinny rock.

‘It’s a Neolithic arrow head! A great find!’ my dad said.

‘And there’s more over there!’

We went over and discovered a treasure hoard washed up on the beach.

 

(Inspired by; https://crispinakemp.com/2019/12/18/crimsons-creative-challenge-58/ with thanks).

 

 

Christmas Day

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The house was quiet, such a strange feeling for today! I stood in the kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil. My body had kept me up most of the night and my old husband had been complaining again.

I had gone into the spare double bedroom which was made up for my daughter and her husband’s arrival later on. Next door, the grandchildren’s room was ready also.

The whole house felt like it was holding itself in, ready to burst when my family broke down the door and stormed the Christmas tree.

Only then would I feel like it was Christmas day.

Christmas Eve

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All the children but one were in bed. I looked at my oldest from across the living room, he was sat on a beanbag next to the Christmas tree, playing on a game console, headphones in and switched off from the rest of the world.

My wife give me a nudge with her elbow and and nodded towards him, her eyes telling me I had to convince our son to go to bed now. It was an hour or so before his normal time and I was finding being the father of a fourteen year old difficult.

‘It’s too early,’ I whispered back to my wife.

‘I know, but we have presents to wrap,’ she replied back.

‘So? Josh can help.’

She shook her head, ‘I want him to have one last magical Christmas.’

‘You said that last year…He’s a teenager now,’ I hissed back.

My wife pulled a face and turned her attention back to the TV. We had been watching some old Christmas movie but it wasn’t that interesting and followed the same old plot that other seasonal films did.

There would be no arguing with her. It really wasn’t the time. Christmas was stressful and more so when you had a big family and an even bigger extended one. We had six children; four girls and two boys, ageing between five and fourteen.

I had four older siblings who had many children of their own and my wife had three remaining siblings with families of their own, plus the children from her two brothers who had passed away. Then there were all the cousins, distant relatives and friends who were like family. Also, the people who only seemed to appear at Christmas then fade into memory for the rest of the year.

I got up, trying not to be grumpy. I was just as tired as she was and not in the mood for dealing with argumentative teenage boys. Perhaps, there was another way though?

Tapping, Josh lightly and motioning the removing of his headphones and I got his attention.

‘Why don’t you go and play that in bed now?’ I said.

‘It’s still early,’ he replied, a moaning tone in his voice.

‘I know, but we have present wrapping to do and you wouldn’t want to spoil any surprises.’

Josh fixed that look, the one that said he didn’t believe me and was getting on the edge to start arguing, ‘No, I won’t. I know what you’ve got me all ready. What I asked for; new headphones, Zombies Revenge Battle Two and The Haunted Earth games, Zomboz and Bomboz books, a download of the newest Death Rattle album, one of their band hoody and matching t-shirt.’

I took a deep breath, ‘and how do you really know we got you all of that?’

Josh shrugged and turned back to his game, ‘mum told me.’

Avoiding looking back at my wife, I spoke, ‘but we might have brought you something else too. Please, Josh, be good and think about your brothers and sisters. We know you don’t believe anymore but it’s important to keep things nice for them.’

I had noticed he had been keeping his distance all day. The other kids had been over-excited and unable to focus on much. Josh hadn’t spoke much and spent a lot of time playing his games. Even later, when we had gone out to lay the glitter and oats trail for the reindeer then put out the mince pie, whiskey and carrots, Josh hadn’t been with us.

Had my son really grown out of Christmas?

‘Come on, Josh. Bedtime or else you’ll have to help wrap presents,’ I pressed harder.

Josh sighed and gathered his things. He went upstairs and I followed after him.

‘I’m staying up to finish this level,’ Josh said, threateningly as he flopped down on his bed.

‘That’s fine. Thank you,’ I answered and went to shut the door.

‘Dad?’

‘Yes, son?’

‘Was Santa real?’ Josh asked.

I frowned and paused in the doorway. Where had that question come from?

‘Like, did he ever existed?’

I came back into the room, pushing the door closed behind me. Josh was sat up now, his game forgotten for the moment. I joined him on the bed and thought how to reply.

‘And don’t give me a fairy story, I know none of that is real,’ Josh added.

‘I guess there might have been an old man once who inspired the stories,’ I said carefully.

‘Like Robin Hood and King Arthur? There’s not much fact they existed, is there?’

‘Yeah, that’s right. It’s that kind of myth, legend thing. There must have been someone who inspired those stories,’ I replied, latching onto his way of thinking.

‘I guess that makes sense,’ Josh answered, ‘I wonder who he was? I bet the internet would know!’

‘The internet knows everything,’ I muttered, ‘but you know that some stories can’t be captured.’

‘What?’

‘Get into bed and let me tell you about an old man in Iceland who was the first Santa.’

‘Dad,’ Josh groaned, ‘I’m not a kid and I don’t need a bedtime story! And I have this level to finish.’

‘I know all that but just this once okay? I thought you wanted to hear about it.’

Pulling a face and muttering, Josh did as I asked and settled into bed.

‘Once there was an old man who lived alone but he loved children. He had longed wished for his own but, and though he’d had a few wives, he never had any of his own. He was black smith and also a carpenter because where he lived in a small town in Iceland it was far from anywhere else.’

‘He could have moved,’ Josh cut in.

‘Not the point,’ I replied and got on with the story, ‘the man made little money mending things, so he made things to sell but soon no one wanted anymore chairs or tables or shelves. The man decided he would have to make something else instead or he would have no money to get food or firewood.’

‘Sounds like he needs a new job,’ Josh muttered.

‘One day, watching the children play in the snow, an idea came to him; he would make them some toys. He spent a long time planning and trying to make things. At first he wasn’t sure what the children would like and because there was so few toys around, there was little for him to go off. The man asked the children and they told him they would like dolls and blocks, hoops and spinning tops, rocking horses and pull along dogs.’

‘Baby toys?’ Josh scoffed, ‘why?’

‘No, these where old fashioned toys. They didn’t have computers and TVs back then! Or even plastic. The toys were all made of wood and spare things that were left over from making other things. Children didn’t have a lot of time to play in the old days. They had to help their parents run farms and they had to go out to work as money was always short,’ I explained.

‘Like the Victorian children? We learned about them in history class.’

‘Yes,’ I replied.

‘So, he made these toys and then what? He went and give them out?’

‘Erm, no, because he wouldn’t have made any money then. The man tried to sell the toys but people weren’t interesting. They didn’t have spare money to buy toys, they had to buy meat, bread and firewood instead. The man was disheartened but then another idea came to him and he asked some of the children to come and work for him. He give them easy tasks and paid them with toys.’

Josh laughed and asked, ‘for real?’

‘Sure, why not?’ I questioned, ‘the idea did work and other children came looking for work because they too wanted toys and the man found them jobs, sometimes helping him to make the toys themselves. When he ran out of jobs, the man got the children to help other people and because the children were getting toys instead of money, there was more money to go around.’

‘But, he wasn’t making any money himself was he? So, the man was just as poor as before.’

I give a nod and carried on, spinning the story I was making up on the spot as if it was a well known tale, ‘but because there was more money to go around now, people could offered to buy toys for their children. They could have special presents on their birthdays and Christmas. Then, one of the adults came to the old man and asked him to start making gifts that the adults could give each other because they had seen how happy the children were and the grown ups wanted to celebrate too.’

Josh nodded sleepily but didn’t interrupted. He was curled in bed, looking like a child once again as he started to doze off.

I continued, ‘The man was happy to do this because it meant more work and more money. So, he made gifts the adults could give each other and soon that become a tradition too. On the winter solace that year, the town celebrated the shortest day and the man give away many toys to lots of people, thus another tradition was born.’

Getting up, I tucked Josh in, he was almost asleep so it was time to finish the story, ‘ word began spreading about an old man in Iceland who give children toys in winter and people liked that idea and decided to make it so. Stories were told and added to and changed over the years. Santa was created from all them, but who knows what is true or not now? Like all great myths and legends, we’ll never know for sure but doesn’t that make them more interesting?’

 

 

 

 

 

Ice Skating

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All autumn my little sister had been begging me to take her ice skating. Winter arrived early and stayed late this far north but still we had to wait for the lake to freeze over deeply enough to be safe.

‘Can we go out to check today, Alex?’ she asked me as we ate porridge before the roaring kitchen fire.

‘It won’t have frozen enough yet, Beka,’ I replied, ‘it only snowed a little last night.’

‘Still I want to see!’ Beka cried.

I rolled my eyes and finished my porridge.

‘Take her out Alex,’ mother said from the huge table, ‘today, we are getting the  sweet puddings ready for the Winter Feast day. You two will only get under our feet.’

Both grandmothers, cook and maid agreed.

‘I want to help father hunting,’ I spoke.

‘He left all ready. Now, be a good son and look after your little sister.’

Grumpily, I got ready and the maid helped Beka with her fluffy elk boats, long red coat, gloves, scarf and matching red hat. We meet by the kitchen door, all ready to go out in the freezing morning.

‘You won’t need your ice skates, Beka,’ I said.

Beka pulled a face and shifted the white leather ice skates on her left shoulder, ‘it’s just in case.’

I shook my head, decided not to argue with her and opened the door. An icy wind blasted in and the fire began to gutter. Quickly, we went out and saw a thick frost and light dusting of snow on the ground. The sky above was a steel blue colour and the sun was a weak yellow in the sky.

We walked to the end of the garden, through the gate and around the edge of the woods. Gun shots echoed and a few birds flew up from the trees.

‘It’s father,’ Beka spoke.

I nodded and we walked on to the lake. Ice cold, clear water lapped at a frozen mud shore. A few ducks were swimming in the distant and the little wooden rowing boat was rocking against it’s wooden walk way.

‘See,’ I pointed out.

Beka sighed and looked downcast, ‘it’s no where near frozen!’

‘In a few more weeks it might be. Let’s go out in the boat instead. It might be the last time we can.’

She nodded, we climbed into the boat and I rowed us around the lake.

Postcard Story

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Dear little one,

I have delivered your letter to Santa personally. He was surprised but very jolly. He make sure you received what you wanted.

There has been a huge snow storm in the North Pole and we were invited to stay with an elf family as our tents got snowed in! The elves are always merry, nothing seems to upset their cheeriness. They are also extremely busy but have found the time to be the prefect hosts to us.

I have asked them to send you some of the delicious biscuits. I hope you receive them soon.

Stay well, do as your mother and older brother say.

Merry Christmas and all my love, Father.

Leaf Pile

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Raking leaves should have been my son’s job, just as it was mine as a kid. However, my son is gone and has been for twenty-three years. He had been ten years old, a boy full of life which had been cut short.

I pause in my raking, leaning on the smooth wooden pole as I get my breath back. Looking up at the left front window of my house, I see my wife standing there. She is stroking her short white hair, her mouth moving as she speaks but her eyes are not watching me, they are staring into the distance.

The dementia has her mind in a tight grip of late and some days she doesn’t know who she is. In my heart I know she doesn’t have much longer to live but I can’t let her go. I wave at her and get no response back. She carries on playing with her hair and speaking either to herself or to someone she thinks is there but has long since passed away.

Getting back to work, I pull the dry leaves together into a pile, freeing the grass from the quilt blanket the leaves create. I wouldn’t burn them but put them on the composed heap to be used in planting my show flowers in the spring. Garden is the only thing I have left to enjoy now.

The front door opens and I hear my wife shouting. Her words are garble and it’s hard to pick out what she’s trying to say. She pulls at her hair and dress as she comes down the path.

‘What is it, Olive?’ I call.

She ignores me, trapped in a world of her own.

I go over and leaving the rake against the side of the house. She’s clearly in distress but there is no way she can tell me what’s wrong. It could be she believes she is in a different time and some moment there has triggered the upset.

I talk to her softly, calming her though she seems unaware of me, ‘it’s fine, whatever it is. I can help. You are okay. I’m here.’

I reach for her but she waves my hands away and carries on shouting out what seems to be just random words, ‘not here! Gone! Come back! Where is he? Don’t know what to do! Alex! Alex! Frog in the hallway. Frog, frog, frog! Gone! Gone!’

It’s hard when she gets like this. I want to get her back inside and sat down but she would fight me all the way and last time she pushed me down and I almost broke my arm. I know I’m too old to deal with her now and leaving her care to a specialist would be best. I can’t though. I can’t let her go….

I pick up a stray leaf and press it into her hands.

‘Look Olive, isn’t it pretty? Listen to the sound it makes,’ I say.

She crunches the leaf, tears it up and lets the bits fall from her hand. She stares in fascination.

I give her another and another. She crunches them in her fist and tosses the leaf pieces to the wind. They blow around in the breeze and she watches them go.

I take her hand and led her to the pile of raked up leaves.

‘Where is Alex?’ she asks.

‘At school, my love,’ I reply.

I can’t explain that he’s been dead for years because she won’t understand and though it hurts, it’s easier to lie.

‘School?’ she repeats as she picks up leaves and plays with them, ‘he never comes home. Never. I miss him….When will he come? When, when?’ she cries with desperation.

‘Soon, dear, soon,’ I reply gently, ‘come back inside now. It’s cold out here and you are not wearing a coat.’

I take her arm and guide her away. She starts muttering to herself again, words I can’t catch or understand.

Once inside, I get her in front of the TV, feet up and wrapped in a blanket. Her eyes are distant. She isn’t here, she’s off in the past, some place I might not remember or don’t want to recall.

I stay with her until she is settled enough to be left again. The news is on the TV but she’s not watching it but the sounds of the voices help her to feel not alone.

‘I’m going out again but I’ll be there if you need me. It’s getting dark and I want to finish,’ I say.

She says something which is lost on me.

I get up, go to the front door and on the mat is a crumbled brown leaf. I pick it up and take it outside, feeling a pain my heart that never goes.

The Figures In The Fog (Part 4)

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I felt frozen and I knew I wasn’t alone. Things were moving in the fog and it had nothing to do with the wind. I stayed still, listening but not hearing anything else. Suddenly, I felt angry and frustrated, I was tried of being the source of a joke.

‘I’ve had enough,’ I uttered and strolled forward.

The dog trailed after me, tail behind her legs and head down.

‘Rufina,’ came from the whisper from behind me.

‘No, I won’t turn around,’ I spoke, ‘I won’t let you scare me.’

I stomped my boots for a few steps and then tried to calm down. Perhaps, they were trying to make me more angry then scared? That had always been a part of my brothers’ fun. The twins had been the worse, taking my toys and books, trying to get me into play fights, pulling out my red hair and also blaming me for many of their naughty doings.

The dog growled and tried to twist around me. I walked into her and stumbled over, unable to stop myself, I landed spread across the road. I tasted blood and felt bruises blooming.

I turned my head and pressed my cheek to the icy road. Blinking, I looked across and saw a figure leaning against the tree. It looked like a man smoking a pipe.

Turning my head the other way, my eyes picked out another figure. The man with the riding hat. He was standing on the edge of the road, the fog curled like white smoke around him, distorting his features.

I got to my knees and wiped my face then noticed my hands were dirty. Pushing up, I got to my feet and reached back down for the dog. She pushed her nose into my hand then growled a warning.

Looking over my shoulder, I saw the tall man behind me coming out of the fog. I couldn’t make out much of him but I saw his mouth open and heard my name whispered.

Fear rushed through me, I turned and ran. The dog was at my heels, chasing after me and my chest hurt with the cold air. I couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to stop. I knew it wasn’t real men out here nor was it my imagination, it was something else. Something no one living could explain.

A few times, I tripped and fell over a stick or my skirts or the dog but I didn’t care. Each time I got up and ran on because that voice started whispering my name in my ear again. I hated the way the letters sounded, long and curling like a never ending song note.

I tasted blood, felt wetness on my legs and arms. My feet, hips and chest ached. The house felt so far away and the idea that I wouldn’t reach it before the men grabbed me pushed me further on.

I broke through the trees, the road widen and I knew home wasn’t far away now. Stopping, I felt tugging on my cloak and thought it only the dog. I looked down and saw she wasn’t at my heels but ahead of me.

The tugging grew harder, I felt the collar and ribbon against my throat. I twisted, thinking maybe a branch had snagged me. There was nothing there. The cloak was pulled tight out as if someone was holding it.

My next breath chocked. I strained against the force but only felt the pressure more on my throat. I undid the ribbon and clasp, letting the cloak fall behind me. I walked quickly away, trying to run again but my energy was gone.

‘Rufina,’ the voice whispered, ‘Rufina.’

‘Go away!’ I screamed back at the forest.

I saw my cloak fluttering in mid-air, the fog filling it like a living form.

I couldn’t scream, my voice was gone. I turned again and broke into a run, my only thought to make it to the safety of my home.

Yellow glowing lights broke the fog and it seemed less dense along the driveway. The dog barked and another dog answered back. Gasping, I pressed on, trying to get the imagine of my floating cloak out of my mind.

A man’s screamed shocked through me. I twisted around, expecting to see someone behind me but my boots hit something hard and I tumbled down. I landed heavily on something solid, the scream still in my ears.

Dazed, it took me a few moments to figure out I had fallen into the fountain. The water was turned off for winter and damp leaves had gathered into the bottom. I reached for the stone edge and pulled myself up.

Ahead of me the house rose, lights blazing out of the windows.

Standing, I climbed out and wobbled up the front steps. I reached the double wooden doors and struggled to turn one of the heavy iron door knobs. I pushed the door open but couldn’t stop myself from falling into the hallway.

‘Rufina! What happened?’

I looked up at my eldest brother, Thomas, and groaned. He and someone else picked me up, their questions washing over me. I was sat in a chair where I looked around and realised my family, guests and some of the servants had prepared themselves into a search party.

‘Cook told us you had come out to find us,’ Thomas picked up.

‘When Melody came back without you, I knew something must have happened,’ my father said.

‘Did you fall off and hit a tree?’ one of the twins asked with a hint of laughter in his voice.

‘Then stumble into a fox hole?’ the other one added.

I shook my head and dragged in breath enough to speak, ‘there are three men out there and they chased me. They stole my cloak and they tried to…take me too!’

‘Men? But we are all here. There should be no one out there, ‘ my father explained.

‘Been here all the time?’ I questioned.

‘We’ve all stayed together. When the fog fell we came back. We were waiting for you but when you didn’t arrive we were about to go and find you.’

I looked at the floor, fighting myself. Could I have imagined the figures and what happened?

‘Do you want us to go and look for these men?’ Thomas inquired.

I bunched up my damp and mud covered skirts in my fists before responding, ‘no. It’s too dangerous out there.’

‘But if there are trespassers!’

I stood up and grab Thomas’ arm, ‘please, stay here.’

Arguments broke out and it took a lot of convincing to make them all stay inside. I don’t know how I knew but I couldn’t let any of them go out. Whatever those men were it wasn’t good and I knew entering the fog meant no return.

We sat down for lunch begrudgingly but there was no more talk of it again.

As for my black cloak, it was never found.

The End