A week after the flood crested, the river had receded enough to begin cleaning up. All of the men of the village and quite a few of the women collected the fallen trees and branches—most of which would be put to use in fires and repairing buildings damaged in the rain. Stones were collected to begin rebuilding the mill and bridge across the small river. The now-slow-moving current allowed anyone to swim across, and in places even wade through, helping the villagers reconnect with their friends and family on the other side of the river.
For Isabel, though, life was the same as ever. She and 3-year-old Sophia were busy every day in the neighboring forest collecting food to supplement Edmund’s income. Everything their father made went to the local alehouse keeper, so Isabel did what she could to supplement the family’s income, selling the eggs and fish she and Sophia collected that they didn’t need to feed the family of five. If she had wanted to, Isabel could have called all of the fish in the river and driven them into town to sell, and was tempted to do just every once in a while. She knew, however, that would not help her convince her uncle she was not a witch.
That week after the flood, Isabel and Sophia spent more time in the forest than usual, trying to stay away from the public eye. One of these days, she knew, Peter would begin telling everyone what he had seen her do, and then her life would be forfeit. She only prayed that she would have enough foreknowledge to be able to flee the village before her uncle came to collect her.
Isabel and Sophia were returning to the village one late afternoon with a collection of fish, eggs, herbs, and other assorted foodstuffs when a stranger stepped out of the underbrush onto the path in front of them.
Isabel pushed her little sister behind her and stood ready to defend her little sister if necessary.
“What do you want?” she asked, perhaps a little more harshly than she had intended.
“To thank you for saving my sister,” Peter said, his brown eyes locked on hers. There was an emotion there that Isabel could not read.
“I… I do not know what you are talking about,” Isabel stammered.
“Do not worry,” he said, holding up his hand. “I simply wanted to assure you that I will not tell anyone about what you did and Mary is still too emotional to remember much. Your secret is safe.”
Isabel had no idea how to take this new information. Why would the badger’s boy, who did the odd jobs around the village his father refused to, help her in any way? Especially after what happened between their families.
Peter and Mary’s father had once sold her father a few rare supplies he needed to finish a dress for a noblewoman, but then claimed to the magisters that the tailor shortchanged him. The local solicitor and mayor heard the case and ruled in the favor of Isabel’s father, and the badger had never let anyone forget it. After a time, the badger was told to stay only on his side of the river, and was never to return to Isabel’s side.
“Why?” was the only thing she could think to ask. “Why are you doing this?”
“Why are you even asking? You saved my sister’s life,” Peter said, taking a hesitant step toward her. “You are amazing.”
Isabel looked over her shoulder at Sophia, who was looking up at her with wide, fear-filled eyes the same color as their mother’s had been.
“We should get back home. Edmund will be worried if we tarry too long.”
Peter smiled widely and for some reason Isabel felt her heart leap at the sight. “That is why I am here. Your brother has hired me to be his caddie. He told me to come find you and bring you home.”
“You?” Isabel asked. The thought of being reminded day in and day out that her life was forfeit if she, or now Edmund, did anything against this boy filled her with dread. However, she had learned to trust Edmund’s decisions in the past three years, and if this was his decision, she would have to live with it.
“We will be able to see a lot more of each other,” Peter said. “I do hope we can become good friends.”
Isabel looked at him strangely. Why would this boy—knowing what she was—want to have anything to do with her? While they rarely saw the badger himself in Mass, Peter always made sure that his younger siblings were in every Mass unless they were practically dying of the plague. Why would such a righteous person want anything to do with someone as “touched by Satan,” as her uncle always put it, as her?
Shaking her head, she allowed Peter to lead the way home. Whatever the reason, they were not able to discuss it with Sophia around. Maybe one day, they would find themselves alone somewhere where they could speak freely.
Photo credit: James Allan
Isabel laid awake on the musty straw-filled pallet between her baby sister and 10-year-old brother long into the night. Her older brother, apprenticing with their father in his tailor’s shop, worked diligently on a suit for the mayor by the light of a single candle while their father slept off his nightly overindulgence.
Mama had been gone for three years now, dying in the process of giving little Sophia life. The midwife, the accoucheur of the neighboring town, Father Gerard, and, ultimately, the Lord were not able to save Mama. At 14, Isabel had suddenly found herself the lady of the house. Before her mother’s death, Isabel’s father had been trying to encourage her to marry the local lord’s son, Arthur, who everyone knew fancied her greatly. While the feeling was not completely mutual, she did have some feelings for Arthur. However, after the birth of little Sophia, the local lord terminated their courtship and Isabel was left to care for the home. Their father turned to drink out of grief, and had spent the better part of the last three years allowing his once-profitable business to decline. Isabel's older brother, Edmund, had stepped in and was becoming a well-respected tailor in his own right.
If what happened earlier that day, though, reached their uncle, the town’s Protestant priest, Isabel knew bad things would happen to her. Father Gerard, her mother’s brother, was always searching, always looking out for the evil influences of witches. Witches were trying to turn the innocent and unwary hearts of the village away from God and toward the Devil. They were infiltrating every aspect of life. They were turning men’s hearts away from their wives and children with their wonton behavior. They had superhuman powers given not by God, but by the Devil himself. Yes, if Father Gerard knew that she had a special way with animals and could hold her breath for what seemed like forever without her lungs even beginning to burn, he would light the bonfire to roast her himself, with no sympathy for her age, sex, or even who her mother had been.
Isabel sighed and got up from the pallet, doing her best to leave Sophia and Jacob undisturbed. She walked over to Edmund and offered her help. Edmund, who had just turned 19 that week, had been forced to take over the family business when Mama died, and was currently scrimping and saving every half-penny he could spare after taking care of the family in order to have enough to provide a home for his love, even taking on mending and other “women’s work” in order to make a few extra coins to hasten the day he would be able to provide a home for himself and his beloved and finally marry her.
“Go to bed, Issie,” Edmund said. “It is too late. Sophie will be hungry in a few hours, and you will need all your strength to get Papa cleaned up and presentable in the morning.”
“Ed, I may have to leave soon,” Isabel said quietly. “There was a girl in trouble at the river today. I... I couldn’t let her drown.”
“Again?” he asked with a sigh, putting down his needle and thread to give her his full attention. “Did anyone see you?”
Isabel nodded. “The girl’s brother, Peter. The badger’s children? It was Mary who fell in.”
Edmund sighed again. “Father Gerard does not care for their father, and the animosity between Papa and the badger is well known. Perhaps he will not listen to the rumors. But, Issie, you must control these urges. I know you are special, and I have been able to protect you as Mama asked, but it is getting harder and harder to do so. You need to stop this. Sophia and Jacob need you. I need you.”
“But she would have died, Ed,” Isabel said, finally allowing the fear and stress of the day show. “I don’t care who her father is, or what their family has done to ours. How could I let a little girl drown? What would the Lord say if I simply refused to help when I know that I can?”
Edmund sighed and looked at his younger sister.
“With all this charity in your heart, you should have joined a convent, but I don’t think they would accept a witch,” he said with a hint of a smile. “I will do what I can to keep Father Gerard off of your trial, and it will be a few days at least before the river is able to be crossed again. I will see about speaking to Peter when we can cross the river.”
“You know I’m not a witch, don’t you?” Isabel said, her bright aqua eyes brimming with tears. If her own brother believed she had evil in her heart, how would she ever convince a tribunal if her secret came out?
“You know I don’t,” Edmund said, putting an arm around her shoulder. “I’m sorry. It was just a bad joke. I will protect you always, just as Mama wanted.”
“Thank you, Ed.”
“Don’t think anything of it,” Edmund said. “Now, go back to sleep. I will speak with Peter as soon as it is possible to do so.”
In honor of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, here's a little something I cooked up in Creative Writing for Children class at Bible College. It's only about 10% of the whole, but I can't find the file, so I'm copying from the old paper copy.
Jeff and the Pirates
Ever since Jeff could remember, he wanted to be a pirate. Jeff always though that the life of a pirate would be so cool—swabbing decks, taking people’s stuff and getting away with it, making people walk the plank, having a gold hoop earring and a parrot—he really thought he would like that stuff.
The life of a pirate seemed so much better to Jeff than his own life. Every day he would tell himself that pirates don’t have to go to school. Pirates don’t have to do homework or math problems. They didn’t have to do their chores or eat their vegetables. Pirates don’t have to dance with Elsa Kranz during P.E.
When Captain Crow’s ship came to his small town on the coast, Jeff was excited. He and his mother were walking along the beach one afternoon when the ship pulled up.
“Jeff, I don’t want you going anywhere near that pirate ship,” his mother said after taking only a glance at the large vessel. “Pirates are dangerous people. I don’t want you near them.”
“But, Mom!” Jeff complained.
“No ‘buts,’ Jeff,” his mother said. “I don’t want you going anywhere near the port until the pirates leave.”
One night, Jeff packed his backpack with his dad’s handkerchief, an eye patch he wore for his Halloween costume the year before, a change of clothes, and some candy bars.
“I wish Polly hadn’t flown away,” Jeff said to himself. “Polly would have been really impressed with the pirates.” Polly, the family’s pet canary, had been the jewel of his costume, sitting nicely on his shoulder last Halloween.
Jeff packed up all his stuff and waited for when he heard his parents go to bed. Once he was sure his parents were asleep, he snuck out of the house and ran toward the docks.
He walked quietly and quickly down the pier where the ship was docked. Before getting on board, he looked down the beach and saw the pirates walking toward him from the direction of the town’s only pub. He quickly jumped aboard the ship and ran below decks to find a place to stow away.
As soon as Jeff’s feet hit the deck of the ship, he was attacked. The ship’s dog started barking and biting at him. He tried fighting the dog off, but the large golden retriever was too strong.
The dog grabbed the backpack in his mouth and ran off. Jeff ran after him; he needed to get his stuff back. He ran around the corner and found the dog tearing into his back pack to get at the candy bars. Jeff grabbed his pack and took a candy bar out for the dog.
“Do you want this, boy?” Jeff asked, holding up the candy bar. The dog sat quickly and looked at Jeff with sad-puppy eyes.
“If you promise not to let anyone know I’m here, I’ll give you this,” Jeff told the dog, who smiled and wagged his tail. “Okay, can you show me where to hide?”
The dog stood and walked to one of the cabins. In the cabin was a bed. Jeff dove under the bed to hide. “Okay, dog, you can go now. Thanks,” Jeff whispered.
The dog whimpered and whined at the foot of the bed. Jeff remembered that he had promised the dog a candy bar. He took the bar in his hand and threw it out into the middle of the cabin. The dog ran after the candy and pounced on it. Just as he finished wolfing down the chocolate, the pirates came in the cabin.
To Be Continued…..
So, I'm supposed to write something about myself. Well, I am a Christ-follower, first and foremost; then a wife, now of 14 years; then a mom to a very busy almost-10-year-old; and then a writer. All of that, unfortunately, means my writing sometimes gets pushed to the back burner.
By entering in your email address, you agree to receive no more than 6 emails in a calendar year (and I promise to not send more than 6 a year), alerting you of new books being released or special promotions from the authors R.M. Strong, David Strong, and Sarah Farabee.