When, long ago (2004 actually) I wrote the first draft of the book that was (after several re-writes through the years) to become my best-selling creation, namely this one…
…I based the locale of a very significant part of the story on the place of my birth and upbringing. I had no idea that, eight years later, I would return to live there again. In the book, the English village in question was named Brambledown, and this sunken lane (see above) was the means by which the central characters gained access to the village whilst remaining unseen by those besieging it. As you can see – even though the passage of years have worn the banks down somewhat, and half the trees are missing – if you were unfamilar with the area, you might well fail to notice this tarmac artery amongst the surviving trees and adjacent farmland. Well that’s what I thought, back in 2004. Here’s an extract from the aforementioned book that includes the sunken lane…
Lee indicated that we should keep low, and join him. As Kevin and I scrambled to his side we both noticed that a small thicket stood in the lee of the hill. A thin column of smoke curled into the air from it, but quickly flattened out and dissipated.
“Campfire.” Lee stated needlessly as we hid behind a thick bush and snatched brief looks over it. “But who are they?”
Kevin rummaged through his haversack, producing a respectable pair of binoculars. It showed great forethought. My admiration for this simple survivor increased.
“These help?” He smiled as he offered them to Lee.
Lee gave him a wink of thanks, and then put the glasses to his eyes.
After a few moments, “Just as I thought; it’s some kind’a paramilitary outfit. They know what they’re doing though: They’ve posted guards while the rest are havin’ a bit of grub.”
“Can we get past them?” I inquired.
From our vantage point we could see little of the village, but Lee scanned what he could. He sounded positive when he asked, “You said you knew this place?”
“I don’t suppose it’s changed much.” I heard a slightly defensive tone in my voice. ‘Am I making excuses for failure already?’
“There’s a sunken lane somewhere over to the left.” I said. “In the opposite direction to the thicket.”
The sunken lane to which I referred was just as I’d remembered it. It wasn’t until you almost fell into it that its existence became obvious. Beeches had grown about it – their massive roots forming high heavy banks and disappearing beneath the patchy, undulating tar macadam surface. To anyone who wasn’t local it was merely a line of broadleaf trees much like any other, and of no significance. To the inhabitants of Brambledown it was a defensible position.
I wasn’t surprised when a disembodied female hailed us:
“All right:” She spoke in a broad rural accent.
‘Clearly one of Katherine’s ‘serfs’
“You can stay right there, and don’t move a muscle.”
There was no mistaking the threat in her tone. We all stood as if rooted.
“Lose the firepower.” The next instruction followed.
With a clatter Lee dropped the shotgun.
“And the old pop-gun.” The voice, slightly amused, insisted.
Lee didn’t know in which direction to turn his attention.
“It don’t work.” He called, then held out the revolver, “No firin’ pin.”
“Only got your word for that.” The tone became sterner once more, “Drop it, or drop your trousers: I aint fussy.”
The revolver joined the shotgun in the leaf litter.
Moments later the voice gained form, and a sturdily-built girl – whom I judged to be about seventeen, and wearing filthy combat fatigues – stepped into view from behind a cleverly disguised hide. She was unarmed.
“Well!” Lee exclaimed as he bent to pick up the shotgun.
“Now-now!” A young male voice warned us from behind.
We spun to face a man of about nineteen years, who held a shotgun levelled at us. He hid the lower half of his a face behind a mask.
“Hello.” Kevin smiled at him, “My name’s Kevin: I live in Lutchins Farm. It’s me dad’s farm.”
The well-spoken voice warmed. “So you do. Hello Kevin; I’m afraid the hairdressers are closed right now. Who are your friends?”
Kevin introduced us. “This is Lee, and this is Flissery.”
“That’s Felicity.” I corrected him.
“Felicity, eh?” The young man looked me up and down. “Knew a girl of that name once, you know. Looked a little cleaner than you I seem to recall. Then I suppose the same could be said of all of us.”
There seemed a hint of sorrow in his tone. His voice seemed familiar. I watched his eyes as he instructed his associate to collect our weapons. Then recognition struck:
“Thomas.” I blurted. “Thomas Kingsbury!”
Lee looked surprised. “You know this bloke?”
Thomas winked at me before pulling down his mask to reveal his face.
“I thought it was you, Fel. My – you’re a big girl now! I mean that in nicest possible way, you understand…”
For a brief moment it hurt to hear my abbreviated name so soon after losing Sarah; but then I recalled all of Katherine’s family knew me by that moniker. Somehow it brought with it a sense of ‘belonging’.
“And you appear to have increased your mass too.” I replied – running to him and being swept into the air by surprisingly powerful arms.
Dropping me again, he introduced me to his associate. “Fel, meet Fred.”
We made our greeting. Then I introduced Lee to them both. And Kevin shook every one’s hand, including my own.
Before long two more youngsters arrived to relieve Tom and Fred. This allowed the five of us make our way to the village. What we found in the village dismayed us. It was an armed camp under siege, though it was heartening to see many tethered or corralled young animals too. We learned that the adolescents and children of several nearby villages, farms, and outlying houses had collected together in mutual need and for the defence of the village. But from whom came such threat?
Fred, rather inaccurately, referred to them as ‘The Army’. Others called them ‘Bandits’ or ‘Killers’ – though as of yet no one had been actually killed.
Tom, alone, called them what they actually were:
“A bunch of frightened cadets, Fel: That’s what they are – led by an absolute lunatic.”
“What makes you say that?” I enquired.
We were sitting together upon an old, lichen-coated, stone sarcophagus beside the largest Ewe tree in the village churchyard. I enjoyed the physical closeness. As a twelve year-old I dreamed that one day I might marry Tom, who was always out of reach, being three years my senior: Now at Sixteen perhaps… The thought struck me like a thunderbolt: ‘He must be nineteen by now: Old enough to die!’
He didn’t notice my involuntary gasp. Instead he indicated the village about us. “Notice something missing – other than adults of course?”
It took me several seconds to re-gather my wits. I covered by looking from right to left and back again.
“Or should I say some one?” He added.
I was speechless. I looked into his grime-smeared but boyishly handsome face.
“Katherine.” He spoke as though I had merely made an enquiring lift of an eyebrow, “Katherine’s not here.”
Inside my head this new data did not compute. What my expression must have been, I can only guess; but the strength seemed to slough from Tom’s shoulders.
“They’ve got her, Fel. They’ve taken my only sister – and three more girls from the village. And what’s more they intend to take the rest. That’s how I know they’re led by a loony.”
Neither of us had heard Lee’s approach. We both jumped when he said, “So what are you doing about it?”
With Tom potentially at death’s door, and Katherine kidnapped by armed delinquents, this situation seemed impossible. Shangri la was rapidly turning into my idea of hell.
© Paul Trevor Nolan 2014
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