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Authors: Kathryn le Veque

The Falls of Erith

BOOK: The Falls of Erith
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The Falls of Erith

 

By Kathryn Le Veque

 

Copyright 2005 by Kathryn Le Veque
All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner
whatsoever without written permission,

except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical
articles or reviews.
Printed by Dragonblade Publishing in the United States of America

Text copyright 2005 by Kathryn Le Veque
Cover copyright 2005 by Kathryn Le Veque

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER
ONE

 

 

North
of Castle Erith, Cumbria, England

Year
of our Lord 1305

The
month of August

 

She
could hear the screaming.

Like
a dagger through the chest, physical pain bolted through her slender body at
the sound.  She knew it was her daughter; it could be on one else.

They
were quite alone out in the wilds of Cumbria, harvesting fat purple berries
from a bumper summer crop.  All had been peaceful this morning, a warm summer
day that had dawned soft and sweet upon the land, and she had allowed her
daughter to separate from her in search of additional edibles.  As another
scream pierced the air, she was coming to regret that decision immensely.

“Brooke!”
she screamed in return. “Brooke, where are you?”

The
woman began to run; she wasn’t even sure which direction the screams were
coming from but she began running nonetheless.  Panic bubbled in her chest as
she heard screamed words off to her left; they were incoherent but unmistakably
urgent.  The woman plowed through the heavy foliage that stood between her and
the screams; the branches scratched and the grass was wet with humidity,
causing her to slip in her haste. She charged through the bushes, bleeding
scratches on her arms, as she emerged into the clearing on the opposite side.

She
drew closer to the towering falls of Erith, an oasis of crystal pools and
roaring water about a dozen yards away. The thunder of the falls grew louder as
she raced towards them, the piercing screams of her only child penetrating the
mighty roar. The woman could hear the cries but she couldn’t see her child;
only the green, moist foliage surrounding the falls and the spray of the water
greeted her. Heart pounding, she yelled again.

“Brooke?”
she cried.

“Mama!”
 Came the call. “Help me!”

The
Lady Gray de Montfort Serroux could hear the cry again, like a nightmare, but
she still didn’t see anything.

“Where
are you?” she began to move towards the falls, a towering thunder of water that
emptied into a crisp pool some fifty feet below its zenith.  “I cannot see
you!”

“Here!”
came the cry. “I slipped! I am here!”

Gray
raced to the edge of the falls, as close as she dared, seeing her slip of a
daughter dangling from a ledge about ten feet below her.  She couldn’t help the
terrified yelp that escaped her lips as she fell to her belly, struggling to
reach out a hand down to her daughter.

“Take
my hand!” she stretched as far as she could go, reaching, begging. “Grab my
hand, Brooke. Take it!”

Brooke
was terrified, clinging to slippery rocks as the falls roared behind her.  She
was weeping hysterically, lifting a hand but too terrified to reach too high.  After
a half-hearted effort, she stopped trying altogether and clutched at the rocks
again.

“I
cannot,” she wept. “I will fall.”

Gray
was biting back tears, having no idea how she was going to reach her child. Her
heart sank as she realized that the girl was just too far out of her reach. All
she could think to do was to untie her apron and yank it over her head, trying
to use it as a rope as she awkwardly tossed it in her daughter’s direction.

“Sweetheart,”
she tried to keep the terror from her voice, knowing calm heads would better
prevail. “Try to grab hold of my apron. I will pull you up.”

Brooke
was sobbing, terrified, clinging to the wet rocks. “I cannot!”

“Aye,
you can,” Gray struggled to calm herself for her daughter’s sake. “Please,
Brooke; grab hold of my apron.”

Brooke
shook her head, crying, but eventually lifted a wet hand in the direction of
the lowered apron.  Gray tried to feed it down to her, lying on her belly and
reaching over as far as she could go without slipping herself.   The seconds were
ticking.  As Brooke reached up and took the tail-end of the apron ties, she
lost her grip on the wet rock and she screamed, sliding another foot or so away
from her mother down the slippery, grassy rocks.

“I
am falling!” she screamed. “Help me!”

Gray’s
tears returned, filling her eyes as she hurried to gain a better position now
that her daughter had slipped further.  She lay on the wet grass, trying to
lower the apron to her, struggling against panic to coax her daughter into
making another try for the apron. 

But
Brooke was paralyzed with fear, clutching the wet rocks and weeping
hysterically. Gray couldn’t get her to look up at her or even make another
attempt at the apron rope.  As the great falls of Erith thundered only a few
feet away, dousing them with spray, Gray sat up and yanked off one of her
woolen hose.

It
was full of holes but sturdy.  With shaking, panicked hands, Gray tied the hose
to the end of the apron and tossed it over the side of the cliff. It hit Brooke
in the head and the girl shrieked; any little movement had her terrified she
was going to fall the remaining forty feet into the churning water below. 

Gray
lay on her belly again, trying to coerce her daughter into taking hold of the
hose, when the wet ground beneath her suddenly gave way.  Gray let out a
piercing scream, positive she was going to go crashing down on her daughter
and, in turn, sending both of them to their death. The ground was sliding and
dirt was falling, and Gray struggled to pull back, away from the sliding earth. 
But she was caught in the avalanche and there was nothing she could do.  Just
as she neared the edge to the point of no return, someone grabbed her ankle.

Whoever
it was yanked hard, sliding her back along the wet grass that was now more like
mud.  Stunned, and slightly numb that she wasn’t already in a watery grave,
Gray looked up to see a fairly big knight bolting past her, dropping to the
edge of the cliff to peer down the side of the rushing falls.  As she watched
him, bewildered, a soft, deep voice from behind caught her attention.

“My
lady?” he asked. “Are you injured?”

Gray
turned in the direction of the voice; a knight was kneeling beside her, his
handsome face glazed with concern.  He was fair, his blond hair cropped close
and graying at the temples, and his square-jawed face held an intelligent,
angled edge. He was perhaps ten or more years older than her twenty-nine, but
he wore his age well upon his striking features. He was average in height but
he was very broad; she could see the thickness of his arms and legs, heavily
muscled from years of warring.  All in all, he was a big, handsome man,
something she hadn’t expected to see out here in the wilds of Cumbria, and she
struggled to find her tongue.

“I…
I am well,” she suddenly scrambled to her knees. “But my daughter has fallen. I
was trying to pull her up when the ground gave way.”

The
knight rushed to the edge of the cliff, beside the other knight, and as Gray
joined them, the three of them peered down at the very frightened young lady
about twelve feet down.  Gray’s amber eyes filled with tears as she gazed down
at her frightened daughter.

“Please,”
she turned to the men. “Please help her. I fear I have done all I can.”

The
words hadn’t even left her mouth before the knights were swinging into action. 
She didn’t even have to ask, truly; they had already decided they were going to
assist.  They had heard the screams, too, and had followed the cries until they
came across the source.  Even now, the older knight was directing the younger.

“Take
your mail off,” he instructed quickly as the man hurried to do his bidding.
“This ledge cannot take the additional weight.”

The
mail coat came off and the younger knight, a lean and attractive man with
shoulder-length blond hair, fell on to his belly and slithered to the edge. 
The other knight got in behind him and grabbed his ankles.

“I
will lower you down,” he said. “Tell me as soon as you have hold of her and I
will pull you up.”

The
younger knight nodded, waiting until his liege had him by the ankles before
plunging forward.   Muddied, wet and terrified, Gray leaned over the edge of
the cliff, as far as she dared to go.

“Brooke!”
she called over the roar of the falls. “Take hold of his hand!”

Brooke
was clutching the rocks, her eyes closed and face pressed into the wet
granite.   But when her mother called to her, she dared to open her eyes,
looking up to see that someone was descending towards her.  She started to
scream.

“Nay!”
she wept loudly. “He will make me fall!”

Gray
tried to soothe the terrified girl. “Nay, sweetheart,” she assured her. “He is
here to help.  Take hold of him.”

Brooke
sobbed loudly as the knight was lowered.  Gray glanced over at the older
knight; he had a good grip on the younger man’s ankles but it was taking all of
his strength to lower him.  Just as it looked as if he was having a rough time
of it, more men burst through the foliage and the older knight snapped orders
to them; a tall, red-haired knight went to his aid, grabbing hold of the legs
of the other and helping to lower him while two men –at-arms stood by the man
who was now lowered over the edge of the cliff by about three—quarters of his
body length.  The knight dangling over the side called back to the others.

“She
is too far out of my reach,” he called. “I need another seven or eight feet to
get to her.”

Gray
suddenly remembered the apron and hose rope in her hand and she thrust it at
one of the men-at-arms.

“Here,”
she gave it to him. “He can use this. She can grab hold of it.”

The
soldier took it, handing it down to the knight as the others struggled to hold
him.   The knight wrapped one end around his forearm securely as he dangled the
end to the girl.

“My
lady?” he called to her, oddly formal under such peculiar circumstances. “Take
the rope. Grab hold!”

Brooke
peeped an eye open; the rope had fallen against her arm and she instinctively
grabbed it.  But in doing so, she suddenly lost her balance and, with a mighty
scream, slipped right off the rocks.  She had a strong hold on the hose rope,
but she screamed like a banshee as she dangled forty feet above the foaming
waters of the falls. 

The
knight had the other end of the rope wrapped several times around his forearm.
He wasn’t concerned that he would let go, but he was very concerned that the
young girl would let go.  She was thrashing about, screaming, and he called
down to her steadily.

“Stop
kicking, my lady,” he commanded. “Hold fast and we will pull you up.”

Gray,
standing at the edge of the cliff, watched the scene unfold with her heart in
her throat.  “Brooke, stop thrashing!” she begged, looking to the men who were
struggling to pull her up.  “Please; pull her up quickly!”

The
older knight knew that; God help him, he did. But the grass beneath his feet
was giving way as he and the tall, red-headed knight pulled back steadily.  The
tall knight lost his footing in the slick grass and ended up on his knees, but
together, they managed to pull the knight and the lady back from the boiling
brink of madness.  Once the younger, blond haired knight was able to get his
footing, he pulled the young lady to the edge of the cliff where the two men at
arms grabbed her by both arms.

BOOK: The Falls of Erith
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