The Prophecy of Death - Extract

Vigil of the Feast of the Apostles
Near Lydford

It took Simon an extra day to cover the distance to his own home, and it was the excitement at seeing his wife again that caused him to rise before the dawn on that Wednesday and set off on the last few miles of his journey after spending the night on the moors.

He had stopped at the little inn that nestled on the southern side of the road from Mortonhampstead, perhaps one third of the way over the moors. From here he could turn up, past the little dwarf trees at Wistman's Wood, and head westwards, towards his home. It was a route he had taken often enough, and it would give him a clear view on how the moors were. After his travels to London and thence to France, it felt like an age since he had last been here, on the moors where he had been happiest. There was nowhere better for a man to live, he reckoned.

All appeared normal. There were occasional plumes of smoke from the tin works, where the miners tried to smelt their ore into black ingots of semi-pure metal, and the constant sound of water from leats, hammering, and the slow rumbling of mill-wheels. On the early morning air, all these sounds cartied so clearly, the workings might have been right at his side, rather than perhaps a mile distant. Not that he cared. The main thing was, that the moors were being farmed, so there was still work for him, provided he had a job.

Some months past, he had been given a new post as Keeper of the Port of Dartmouth, a great honour and promotion which his master, the Abbot of Tavistock, had given him as reward for his service over the past years. The sad truth was, however, that he didn't want it, and neither did his wife. Meg would have been happy to remain as the wife of a bailiff on the moors. She had no desire for more money or the authority that came from a senior position. All she craved was that their lives might continue comfortably, that their children might grow strong and healthy, and that she and her husband might enjoy their time together. The idea that they should be uprooted and dropped some tens of miles to the south, devoid of friends, without even the companionship of the animals on their small farms, threw her into a despondency. And the alternative was to see her husband go to do his duty while she remained here at their home.

It had been a wrench, but that was the only resolution at first. But now all had changed, because the good abbot had died, and the two men who desired his abbacy were fighting over it tooth and nail. Simon had no idea who would eventually succeed to the post, whether it be John de Courtenay, whom Simon considered a fool, or the more urbane, calm, Roger Busse, whom Simon thought much brighter, and possibly more corrupt. There were rumours, which Simon had confirmed to his own satisfaction, that Busse made use of a necromancer in Exeter. That was itself enough to disqualify the man from the abbacy, so far as Simon was concerned.

Still, at least he should soon know which was to become the abbot, and when he knew that, Simon would be able to confirm what his own position would be - whether he would be entitled to return to his work here on the moor, or whether he would have no position within the abbey at all. If that was the case, he was not sure what he would do.

At last he found himself dropping down the hill at Brat Tor, a long, gentle incline that halted at the road which headed northwards from Tavistock, and here Simon had to turn a little north himself, to meet the long road that took him along the ridge towards Lydford itself.

So many of the roads here in Devon wound about the long scarps at the top of hills. The alternative paths were precipitous lanes that sometimes dropped vertiginously into valleys, and then climbed alarmingly - and exhaustingly - back to the next. Simon had spent much of his youth swearing at such hills, but now that he was older, he minded them not at all. Especially since his rides to London and beyond. Those journeys had shown him how tedious travelling could be. There were whole plains in which a man could ride for days seeing scarcely a tree, and the only alteration was in the quality of the soil. Few places had the rich, black soil of the peat-filled moors of his homeland, or the deep red of the lands about Crediton, the earth that shouted to him of vegetables and cattle pasture. Nowhere he had seen could bear comparison with his own lands, he felt. Simon was a Devonian through and through.

The road brought him straight into the old stannary town of Lydford, and just as the great square, black block of the prison came into view, he turned left into his yard, and sat there a moment looking about him contentedly. He knew that the pride and happiness he felt now could not be improved upon. It was as though he had been a soul travelling for a thousand years in purgatory, only to suddenly find his way to the gates of heaven itself. He sighed with a gentle moan of contentment, and then took a deep breath.

"Hey! Hoi! Is there anyone at home?" he roared.

"Simon? Simon? Oh, Simonl" his wife called, and suddenly he was standing on the ground and Meg was in his arms.

He knew only delight at the feel of her breasts at his chest, her hips at his, her arms about him, her lips on his, and then she pulled back a little, hands on his shoulders, and he saw the tears in her eyes and smiled. "I'm home, Meg."

But her words made his soft smile dissipate like fog in the sun. "Oh, Simon, what can we do?"

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