Authors: Sarah Naughton
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #General
Back inside he was immediately surrounded by his friends.
‘Did you find it?’ Caleb said, his good eye now drooping with drunkenness.
He looked around the throng of wide-eyed boys and wondered where Flora had got to.
Finally he nodded. ‘Just a corner, mind.’
‘Where is it?’ Richard said, back to his old belligerent self now that the shock was subsiding.
‘Well, that’s the oddest thing about it,’ Barnaby said quietly. ‘This wind suddenly blew up from nowhere and snatched it out of my hands and up into the trees.’
Caleb nodded slowly, ‘An enchanted wind.’
‘The devil’s wind,’ Griff said.
‘Certainly smelled like it,’ Barnaby said, but they were all too drunk to get the joke. All except Richard. ‘Did you read the names?’ he said.
‘The names on the parchment. Did you read them?’
‘Umm. It was torn. I couldn’t really see much.’
‘Was the Widow Moone on it?’ Caleb said.
‘Er . . . yes. Yes, she was. That one I could read.’
‘What about her sister from Gupton?’ Griff said. ‘Can’t remember her name . . .’
‘Er . . . I think there might have been another Moone. It was dark, you know, so . . .’
‘Is that it?’ Richard said.
Barnaby rounded on him. ‘It was dark, the paper was ripped, and the wind blew it out of my hand. But feel free to go back and look for it yourself, if you like.’
Richard pressed his lips together.
‘And was it written in blood?’ Caleb said breathlessly.
There was a ripple of gasps.
‘A blood list of the damned,’ Griff whispered and even Barnaby shivered.
Then a gaggle of younger children tumbled into them and the spell was broken. The boldest child asked if it was true Barnaby had been visiting his fairy family in the forest. He told them that
certainly it was and that the scratches on his leg were elf-shot. When Griff brought over a platter of pork crackling he refused, saying that he had feasted with his fairy friends on nectar and
ambrosia, which turned out to be very filling. He told one of the younger girls that he would love to dance with her but he was worn out from the wild dancing on the fairy hill. The child gawped at
him, then ran off and whispered to her mother who cast him a reproachful glance.
Though he was greatly enjoying the attention his eyelids started to droop. The tension of the forest had worn him out. He wobbled to his feet and, patting Griff’s shoulder, made for the
Juliet was up when he arrived home. She greeted him at the door with a plate of cold ham and bread just baked for the morning.
‘Your father’s been back this last hour,’ she said.
‘That’s because he’s old and boring,’ Barnaby said, tossing a hunk of bread into the air and catching it in his mouth. ‘Can I have some warm milk?’ He pushed
past her and flopped down by the fire as she went out to the kitchen.
A few minutes later she returned with a cup. She’d flavoured it with cinnamon and brought a plate of cakes with it. Wonderful Juliet: she knew exactly what to do to make him happy. They
had grown up together and he loved her like a sister, though she seemed considerably older than their mutual sixteen years.
‘Was it fun?’ she said, kneeling by the fire.
‘You should have come.’
‘There was too much to do here,’ she sighed,
‘In that case, sit down and have a rest,’ he said, adding, ‘Then I can use your plump lap as a cushion.’
She threw a half-burned twig at him but stretched out her legs, and with a deep sigh, he lay down and breathed in the familiar smell of her dress. He was glad to be home. The night’s
experience had taken more out of him than he’d imagined.
‘What’s the matter?’ she said.
He looked up at her. Her eyes were the palest watery blue, like an overcast sky. It was the first time he’d really studied her for a while. She looked tired.
‘I went to the forest tonight,’ he said.
She caught her breath. ‘Who with?’
‘Barnaby!’ she gasped. ‘What were you thinking?’
‘I was trying to impress Flora Slabber.’
‘Oh.’ Her eyes slid away from his.
‘A witch coven was seen in the forest,’ he went on. ‘Dancing with the devil. There was supposed to be a list of the names of the witches, written in blood. I went looking for
She stared at him.
He lowered his voice. ‘And I found it.’
‘You found the list?’
‘Who was on it?’
‘Oh, you, me, Mother . . .’
She slapped him on the shoulder. ‘Don’t joke about such things.’
When she frowned she looked as old as his mother.
‘Anyway,’ he went on, ‘you should be more concerned about the fact that I was very nearly lost and would have been eaten or frozen to death by the morning. There were lights
that seemed to want to lead me deeper and deeper into the forest.’
Rather to his disappointment the anxiety in her face vanished.
‘Marsh gas,’ she said. ‘And besides, if you’d been missing for longer than a minute your father would have had the whole village out looking for you.’
She got up, letting his head bump unceremoniously onto the floor. Picking up his plate she headed for the kitchen.
‘Wait,’ he said. ‘What about these . . .?’ He felt in his pocket for the pearl but it was gone.
‘What?’ she said.
‘There was a path of pearls; it led me out of the forest. I picked one up but now it’s gone and . . .’
‘. . . And all that’s left is a wet patch on your breeches.’
He looked down. She was right. There was a small damp circle where the corner of his pocket lay. He frowned.
She rested the plate on her hip, smirking. ‘It couldn’t conceivably have been berries, could it?’
Sure enough, right at the very bottom of his pocket, there was a slimy skin. He drew it out and they peered at it.
‘Mistletoe,’ she said.
‘Well, I didn’t think I was scared enough to piss myself.’
But she wasn’t smiling any more.
‘Strange,’ she said. ‘The berries would have been taken by birds if they’d been laid in the day, so they must have been left tonight. As if someone knew you were coming
and wanted to help you.’
There was silence for a moment, then Barnaby frowned.
‘There’s something else,’ he said. ‘When I went hunting the other day a huge black dog suddenly appeared. I thought it was going to tear my throat out. But then it was
scared by some seeds flying in the wind and ran away.’
‘What kind of a dog was it?’ she said, her face troubled.
‘An alaunt I think. I thought it must be one of the baron’s hunting dogs.’
‘Did it have a collar?’
‘I didn’t notice one. I suppose it might have. What’s wrong?’
Her face was pale in the firelight. ‘Lucifer often takes the form of a black dog . . .’
Goosebumps sprang up on his arms.
‘Have you upset anyone recently?’ Juliet said.
She gave a humourless laugh. ‘Whatever you think of your brother, he is no friend of Beelzebub. No, I was thinking of witchcraft.’ Her voice dropped to a whisper. ‘Perhaps
someone has performed maleficium on you.’
Barnaby sighed. Every time anyone in the village sickened or died Juliet was convinced it was caused by malevolent spells. Like most of the villagers she was a firm believer in witchcraft. She
hung charms on her bed and always bashed in the shells of boiled eggs once the insides were scraped out, to prevent witches using them as boats. Frances had removed at least three witch-bottles
from the chimney that Juliet had hidden up there to protect the household, scolding Juliet that their contents of hair, nail clippings, pins and urine were ludicrous and revolting. Once Juliet had
even tried to cure a stye in Barnaby’s eye by licking the eyes of a live frog and then licking the infection: for that Frances had almost dismissed her. Abel often accused Juliet of being a
wicked pagan and threatened to report her to Father Nicholas. Barnaby was sure his mother was right when she said that cleanliness and faith in God would keep you far healthier than cat’s
urine and dried spiders, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to ignore a magpie or to cross his knife and fork on his plate (although Abel deliberately did so to upset Juliet).
And tonight, while the fire whispered in the grate and beetles clicked in the thatch, he found it hard to scoff at her beliefs.
Instinctively he glanced across at the black square of the window. But it was cloudy now – too cloudy to see any flying shapes silhouetted against the moon.
‘You were lucky to escape unharmed,’ Juliet said. ‘Something was protecting you. It seems that the spirits of the forest have not forgotten you.’
He looked at her uneasily, then quickly finished the milk and went up to bed. There were times he liked to be reminded of his origins, but not tonight.
He woke the next morning stiff and bruised from his fall in the forest. But no-one seemed to care about that. All they were interested in was that he had gone there alone. His
normally level-headed mother screeched like a fishwife and after haranguing Barnaby she turned on her husband. Henry was too soft and indulgent with Barnaby, the boy was growing up spoiled and
arrogant and needed to be disciplined with a firm hand or he would become unmanageable. While Abel smirked from the landing Barnaby just stared at her in astonishment. It was not like her to care
so much about his comings and goings: usually she was far too busy coddling and fussing over his brother. If it had been Abel with a bruised backside, he would have been bedbound for a week with
hot compresses and spiced honeyed wine.
It was an eternal mystery to him (and, Barnaby suspected, his father) how Abel occupied such a position in his mother’s affections. Abel was self-pitying, humourless, spiteful and
cowardly: a snivelling little toad, as Griff put it. And yet whenever he raised his long face from his Bible Frances was there with a beaming smile for him, listening politely as he spouted some
verse obviously chosen for Barnaby (‘
Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall . . .’).
When his skinny legs hurt from kneeling on the cold church floor,
his mother would massage them; if he got a tickle on his bird-chest she would rub beeswax and eucalyptus into it.
Barnaby, on the other hand, could do nothing right. If he been brave, it was reckless attention-seeking, if he was charming he wanted something, if Abel struck him he must have said something
cruel, if he struck Abel he was a bully.
When one of Henry’s associates brought back a pineapple from the Americas one Christmas, Frances allowed Abel to polish off the whole thing, for the sole reason that Barnaby had refused to
eat his goose wing – and this was only because the previous year he had choked on one of the bones. Though he was only ten, Barnaby had forced himself not to weep at this gross injustice and,
in the bitter darkness of that Christmas night, he vowed to harden his heart to his mother. From that day forth he had turned to the welcoming arms of his father. Henry had always seemed to have
the measure of Abel and was as cool with his second son as Frances was with her first.
But a few days after Agnes’s funeral something unexpected happened.
Barnaby and his father were breakfasting when his mother came down from Abel’s room, sat down stiffly at the table and sighed unhappily.
‘What’s the matter, my love?’ Henry said, looking up from his eggs.
She did not answer him but turned to Barnaby. ‘Go and tell Juliet that she may tighten the bed-strings today.’
Without protest Barnaby got up and went out to the kitchen, leaving the door ajar. Juliet looked up from the sink and opened her mouth to speak but he put his finger to his lips and leaned in to
listen at the gap.
Frances sighed again and ran her fingers through her hair.
‘Oh I don’t know,’ she muttered. ‘I just wonder whether Abel’s interest in the Bible isn’t becoming rather . . .unhealthy.’
‘How can the Bible be unhealthy?’ his father spluttered, spattering the table with masticated egg white.
‘I just don’t like the message he takes from the texts,’ Frances murmured. ‘It is so harsh. So simplistic.’
‘I shouldn’t worry,’ Henry said, patting her hand in a way that made her purse her lips. ‘It’s only a young boy’s imagination.’
Frances seemed unsatisfied. ‘I might ask Father Nicholas to speak to him.’
Barnaby thought about this as he munched his way through Juliet’s plum jam tarts out on the back step. His mother really must be worried if she was prepared to speak to Father Nick. Was
Abel’s halo slipping a little in his mother’s eyes?
The following morning, when Abel had gone to church for his daily prayer session, Barnaby persuaded Juliet to lend him the key to his brother’s room, on the pretext of borrowing some
He had not been into Abel’s bedchamber for at least three years, nor even seen inside, since their rooms had been moved to opposite ends of the house after Abel complained that
Barnaby’s snoring kept him awake.
Abel’s was the only locked door in the house and for a split second, as he turned the key, Barnaby wondered if his brother had set a trap for interlopers. If so, it was bound to be the
nastiest, most mutilating trap his vile little mind could imagine.
The door swung silently inwards revealing an interior as bare and white as a monk’s cell. It smelled faintly of beeswax. He knew his brother was scrupulously clean, but there was not even
the merest whisper of smelly feet or unwashed bedlinen. He walked across to the wardrobe and opened it. The clothes were arranged in order of colour: brown jackets at one end, white shirts at the
other, separated by a large gap, as if Abel feared cross-contamination.
On the table beside the bed sat one of Abel’s many Bibles. Barnaby glanced at the open page.
Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them. If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out
free for nothing. If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or
daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself . . .