“How far do you think it goes?” Rebecca asked, standing next to her daughter.
“No idea. I guess we’d best find out,” Poppy replied moving towards the tunnel.
“Oh no you don’t Miss Poppy,” Geoffrey said grabbing her arm.
“Geoffrey, you know better than to think that you can stop me,” Poppy told him, looking at him sharply.
“I know I can’t stop you Miss Poppy, but I can make sure that you do it right.”
“How dark do you think it’s going to be down there? And who knows what’s at the end? If you’re going to insist on going down there then you need torches. And I’m going with you.”
“Geoffrey! This isn’t your business to interfere with!” Poppy told him.
“I’ve been working in this house longer than you’ve been alive. Your grandfather would turn in his grave if he knew that I was letting his little one into danger.”
Poppy had the urge to tell Geoffrey that she had faced things far worse than an unknown tunnel but seeing the earnest expression on his face she bit back the words. He was right when he said that he’d been with the family for years and she supposed that he had earned the right to be protective of her.
“Alright,” she said begrudgingly. “You’re right about the lights, go and find some torches that we can take with us.”
Looking a little surprised - and relieved - that she had given in so readily Geoffrey hurried off to find what he needed.
“Mr Green, have you ever handled a sword?” Poppy asked turning to Thomas.
“Umm, yes, once or twice,” he said.
“Good enough I suppose,” she strode off to her office and returned with a sheathed sword. “Fighting in the dark really isn’t ideal but there might come a point when we have no choice. Just try not to stab yourself with it.”
Thomas nodded and took it off her. “I’ll do my hardest not to,” he reassured her with a smile. He noticed that she had her sword once more.
Before too long Geoffrey was back with the torches. Poppy could tell from the grim look on his face that he was not looking forward to stepping into the tunnel but knew better than to try and dissuade him.
“Mother, you’re staying here,” Poppy said. “No, don’t argue with me,” she said as Rebecca opened her mouth to protest. “We don’t know what’s down there or how long it’s going to take us to get whether it leads to. If we’re not back by nightfall send someone in after us, understand?”
Rebecca nodded. “I don’t like this,” she said unhappily.
“I know. But remember Grandfather and Uncle John set this up; do you really think that they’d do anything that would hurt us?”
“Of course not!”
“Then we’ll be safe,” Poppy reassured her mother. She gave her a kiss on the cheek and said “Try not to worry too much.”
“I’ll do my best. Be safe and don’t do anything stupid.”
“When would I do anything stupid?” Poppy asked, full of bravado. “No, on second thoughts, don’t answer that.”
Hoping that she had her mother fairly well reassured she took the torch Geoffrey offered and lead them into the tunnel.
It was not too far down the tunnel that Thomas became very glad that they had waited for Geoffrey to bring the torches; it took only a few minutes for the light from the house to dim and then fade to nothingness. The darkness was oppressive around them and it seemed like every sound was amplified. Their steps echoed in the darkness and Thomas thought it best not to think about the faint squeaking sound that he occasionally heard.
At the front of the group Poppy was grim faced. She had never been overly fond of the dark; she hated not knowing where she was and the thought of not knowing what was 2 feet in front of her made her nervous. The only thing that stopped her from being completely terrified was the knowledge that if she did not know about the cave that they assumed was at the end of the tunnel then neither did anyone else; Poppy prided herself on knowing every inch of the coast around her estate.
“How long have we been walking?” Thomas eventually asked, the silence finally getting to him.
“I’m not sure, Geoffrey?” Poppy replied.
Geoffrey glanced at his torch and said “About 20 minutes I reckon.”
Thomas did a quick calculation and said “We’ve come about a mile then.”
“Aye, I reckon so.”
“Let’s take a break,” Poppy said. “Here Geoffrey, take my torch, I want to check something.” Once he had done as she asked Poppy pulled out her compass. She was glad that she had had the fore thought to grab it when she went to pick up swords for both her and Thomas. She held it under the lights and tried to make out what it said. “Just as I thought,” she said eventually. “We’ve been going north west.”
“Towards the coast,” Geoffrey stated flatly.
“Towards the coast,” she confirmed.
“Any idea how much further we have to go?” Thomas asked. “Assuming the tunnel ends at the coast that is.”
Poppy thought for a couple of second then said “Assuming we are heading there and that the tunnel takes us in a straight line then we should be there in 10 minutes or so.”
“Shall we get going again then?”
Poppy nodded, took the torch from Geoffrey and started off once more.
Back at the house Rebecca was trying her hardest not to worry. She knew that Poppy could take care of herself, had been doing so while away at sea for many years, but that did not stop her from doing what any mother would do. She was about to retire to her drawing room in the hope of finding something to distract herself with when she heard a commotion coming from the front door.
“What’s going on?” she demanded to know. She noticed that one of the boys from the village was standing by the front door, desperately trying to get into the house. He was being held back by one of the household staff.
“Lady Hawkins! They’re coming!”
“Who are?” Rebecca asked. “Claim down, Andrew isn’t it?” the boy nodded. “Take a deep breath and tell me what’s happening.”
“The English! We just saw them pass the village! They looked like they were heading this way and my mother sent me to warn you cause she knows that I’m the fastest.”
“How do you know they were English?” Rebecca asked, trying to keep her voice even.
“They had uniforms on. Mother recognised them.”
Rebecca thought quickly. “You’re a good lad coming here,” she told Andrew. “Now run back to the village and tell the people there to stay in their homes. Hopefully once they’ve done their business here they’ll go back over the border.”
Andrew nodded and sped off. The maid who had been holding him back turned to Rebecca and said “My Lady! What shall we do?”
“Go and find Sir Michaels, tell him what the boy said.” The maid nodded and ran off as fast as she could. Rebecca knew that there while there were not many men in the house that could fight her man-at-arms Sir Michaels kept them well trained and well equipped. She could only hope that the soldiers who were heading their way were few in number.
Rebecca hurried over the the stairs of the tallest tower and quickly began to ascend. It had been years since she had had to climb these stairs and she had forgotten how steep they were but she knew the importance of doing so. Before too long she had reached the battlements. She rushed over the the telescope that her father had insisted on installing up there and searched for the soldiers.
Rebecca gasped when she found them; there must have been at least a hundred of them, all heavily armed. “Why have they come here?” she muttered but she feared that she already knew the answer - Mr Green.
Decades before her father had been instrumental in establishing an early warning system for the houses and fortifications near the border. If the enemy was sighted then the nearest person would raise a flag, or if it were night time, light a fire, high up to let those around that they were at risk from attack. The message would be passed along the front and eventually it would reach the nearest garrison. It had been years since the English had dared to cross the border but Rebecca had insisted that the flag be maintained. As she hoisted it she prayed that there was someone who would see her signal and more importantly knew what it meant.
From her vantage point she could see the troops nearing the house. Despite having been built 50 years ago the house had yet to see battle; they were too far away from the border to be worth the bother of most English attackers. But her father had built the house knowing that one day the attack might come and had insisted on it being fortified. It was a foresight that Rebecca was now thankful for.
As she watched she saw Sir Michaels and his men head out of the house to meet the troops.
“Halt!” Sir Michaels called out. “By what right to do intrude up this land?”
One of the soldiers stepped forward. From his bearing Rebecca guessed that he was in command. “We followed a known criminal. He is wanted for heresy and crimes against the royal family.”
“You have no authority here,” Michaels replied. “Your royal family is meaningless in Wales, you know that as well as I do.”
“Under the terms of the truce between our countries any fugitive who claims refuge here must do so formally in front of a magistrate and a clergy man. Has Mr Green done this.”
“Who?” Michaels replied, confused. He had never heard of Mr Green.
Rebecca had heard enough. She hurried down the stairs and towards the courtyard, hoping that she got there before things got too dramatic.
“What’s going on here?” she said as she stepped out of the house. She was glad to see that the situation had not further degenerated. The English troops were on their guard but none had drawn a weapon. Her own men looked nervous; Sir Michaels had trained them to fight against each other to she supposed that not one among them had seen action other than a bar room brawl.
“And you are?”
“Lady Rebecca Hawkins, owner of this house.”
“Ah, then you are the person I should be dealing with,” he replied.
Sir Michaels bristled at the dismissive tone in his voice but Rebecca looked at him a shook her head slightly. Now was not the time. “Is there a problem?”
“We have reason to believe that you a harbouring a heretic.”
“A heretic? I did not know that you had the Inquisition in England now.”
“His Royal Highness King Phillip the Second is an extremely pious man. He is following the example of his Spanish forefathers and bringing the one true faith back to England.” It sounded to Rebecca as if he was quoting something that he had learnt by rote.
“I’m sure he is. That does not alter the fact that we do not have the man you are looking for.”
The man blinked. “But I’m sure he is here, our trackers-”
“Spies! I’m not sure off all the ins and outs of the peace agreement but I’m sure that spies would be frowned upon.”
The man was looking increasingly uncomfortable. Rebecca imagined that this was not going the way he thought it would.
“You, men, search the grounds,” the leader said turning to a small group of his men.
“No! You have no authority to do this.”
“I have greater numbers, that gives me authority,” he had clearly tired of feeling like Rebecca might have the upper hand and decided to take it back from her. By force if necessary.
Rebecca looked at Michaels. His men were out numbered ten to one but she knew that if she gave the signal they would fight to the death. She looked at their innocent, frighteningly young faces and knew that it was not an order that she was willing to give.
“Fine, search the place if you must. You won’t find anything,” Rebecca told him, hoping that she was telling the truth.
As the men began searching through the grounds and through the houses she caught site of the flag on the roof and prayed that help would not be slow in coming.