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Authors: Kate Forsyth

The Herb of Grace

BOOK: The Herb of Grace
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Kate Forsyth is a bestselling author across several genres. Her titles include the Witches of Eileanan series,
The Gypsy Crown
and
The Silver Horse
, the first two books in the Chain of Charms series,
The Starthorn Tree
,
Wishing for Trouble
and
Dragon Gold
. Kate lives with her husband, three children and a black cat called Shadow in Sydney.

 

ALSO BY KATE FORSYTH

The Chain of Charms series:

The Gypsy Crown

The Silver Horse

The Starthorn Tree

ALSO BY KATE FORSYTH
AND ILLUSTRATED BY MITCH VANE

Ben and Tim's Magical Misadventures:

Wishing for Trouble

Dragon Gold

T
HE
H
ERB OF
G
RACE

First published 2007 in Macmillan by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Limited
1 Market Street, Sydney

Text copyright © Kate Forsyth 2007
Illustrations copyright © Jeremy Reston 2007

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, person or entity (including Google, Amazon or similar organizations), in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.

National Library of Australia
cataloguing-in-publication data:

Kate Forsyth, 1966– .
The herb of grace.

For primary school aged children.
ISBN 978 1 4050 3782 2.

1. Gypsies–Juvenile fiction. I. Title.
(Series: Forsyth, Kate, 1966– Chain of charms; 3)

A823.3

Internal text design by Seymour Designs
Typeset in 11/17 pt Janson Text by Post Pre-press Group
Printed in Australia by McPherson's Printing Group

The characters in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Papers used by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd are natural, recyclable products made from wood grown in sustainable forests. The manufacturing processes conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin.

These electronic editions published in 2008 by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd
1 Market Street, Sydney 2000

 

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All rights reserved. This publication (or any part of it) may not be reproduced or transmitted, copied, stored, distributed or otherwise made available by any person or entity (including Google, Amazon or similar organisations), in any form (electronic, digital, optical, mechanical) or by any means (photocopying, recording, scanning or otherwise) without prior written permission from the publisher.

 

The Herb of Grace

Kate Forsyth

 

Adobe eReader format 978-1-74197-814-8

Microsoft Reader format 978-1-74197-855-1

Mobipocket format 978-1-74197-896-4

Online format 978-1-74197-937-4

Epub format 978-1-74262-539-3

 

Macmillan Digital Australia
www.macmillandigital.com.au

Visit
www.panmacmillan.com.au
to read more about all our books and to buy both print and ebooks online. You will also find features, author interviews and news of any author events.

ILLUSTRATED BY JEREMY RESTON

CHARACTERS

T
HE
F
INCH
T
RIBE

Luka Finch (13)

Emilia Finch (13) – his cousin

Maggie Finch, called Queen of the Gypsies – their grandmother

Jacob – Luka's father

Silvia – Luka's mother

Lena (14) and Mimi (9) – Luka's sisters

Beatrice (15) – Emilia's sister

Noah (9) – Emilia's brother

Ruben – Luka and Emilia's uncle

Sabina (10) – Ruben's daughter

Alida – a grey Arab pony

Zizi – a monkey

Rollo – a dog

Sweetheart – a brown bear

T
HE
W
OOD
T
RIBE

Gypsy Joe – an innkeeper

Rosie and Daisy – his daughters

Marguerita Wood – a witch

Abram – her son

G
ORGIOS

Tom Whitehorse – son of the Squire of Norwood

Pastor Spurgeon – the Puritan minister of the

Kingston-Upon-Thames parish church

Coldham – a thief-taker for Cromwell

Gerard Winstanley – a prisoner in the Stockhouse Gaol

Maloney – a guard at the Stockhouse Gaol

Lady Anne Lovett – of Tanglewood Manor

Martha – Lady Anne's servant

Lord Harry Morrow – a highwayman

James Butler, Duke of Ormonde – a Royalist spy

Nat – his servant

Father Plummer – a Catholic priest

T
HE STORY SO FAR
 . . .

E
milia and Luka Finch are gypsy children whose families have been thrown into prison after they were caught singing and dancing for coins in Kingston-Upon-Thames. In the time of Oliver Cromwell, any merrymaking is against the law. Even Christmas has been banned, and anyone caught celebrating is sent to gaol. It's a hanging crime to be born a gypsy, and so the whole Finch family faces the gallows unless Emilia and Luka can rescue them first.

With the cruel thief-taker Coldham hard on their heels, Luka and Emilia flee through the English countryside, accompanied by Zizi the mischievous monkey, and the faithful dog Rollo. They are desperately searching
for other gypsies, to beg them for their help. Luka, who is a matter-of-fact boy, wants practical assistance, but Emilia, dreamy and fanciful, has had her imagination captured by an old story of her grandmother's.

Once, Maggie told Emilia, there was a gypsy witch who wore on her wrist a chain of six lucky charms. The witch gave each of her six children one of the charms as a talisman, but ever since the chain of charms was broken, the gypsies have been dogged with misfortune. Maggie gave Emilia the first of the charms – a golden coin – and told her to search for the other five – a silver horse, a sprig of rue, a cat's eye shell, a lightning bolt, and a butterfly caught in amber.

Emilia has the gypsy crown and has won the charm of the silver horse from the Hearne tribe, but had to give up her beloved dapple-grey Arab mare, Alida. Now Emilia, Luka, Zizi and Rollo search for the next charm in the chain, a sprig of the rue plant, often called the herb of repentance, or the herb of grace . . .

Tanglewood Manor

B
LACKHEATH
, S
URREY
, E
NGLAND
15th August 1658

R
ain pelted down, turning the road to mud. It drove into Luka's and Emilia's eyes and ran down the back of their necks, drenching their clothes.

They hunched their shoulders and trudged on, both resting one of their hands on Rollo's thick ruff. They could see nothing through the darkness and the rain. Luka felt a new understanding of how difficult life was for Emilia's brother, nine-
year-old Noah, who had been blind since he was four. Every sound seemed sinister, and every step was taken with trepidation, with no sure knowledge of what dangers lay ahead. If it were not for Rollo, who loped along tirelessly with his nose to the trail, Luka would have been too afraid to take a single step.

Yet at least the wild weather meant the road was empty. There was no point trying to seek shelter under a tree or behind the hedge, for the rain was driving at such an angle there was nowhere dry to rest. So Luka and Emilia had decided to push on, covering as much ground as they could before they once again had to leave the road and duck and weave their way across fields and heaths, as they had done all that long, weary day.

‘Look, Luka!' Emilia cried. ‘There's a light!'

Luka peered through the rain-tossed darkness. To his right, some way off, a dim orange blur
floated in the night. His heart lifted. A light meant people, houses, shelter, warmth, maybe even food.

He turned towards Emilia. ‘Do we dare?'

‘I really can't walk much further,' she said. ‘Please?'

‘We'll go and have a quiet scout around,' Luka said, shifting the backpack from one aching shoulder to another. He had tucked his beloved violin inside, to protect it from the rain, and it made the pack very heavy. ‘If it looks dangerous, we'll just slip away, but if there's a barn or stable there, perhaps we can creep in quietly and get some sleep before anyone's awake.'

‘Good idea,' Emilia said eagerly. ‘It's only one light. It'll be a house of some kind, not a village. They need never know we were there.'

They hurried on down the road until they came to tall, stone gateposts topped with eagles. One of the eagles had no head. There were no gates, and the driveway was weedy and overgrown.
Emilia and Luka crept down it warily, keeping close to Rollo's side. Ahead of them was a large house, looming against the heavy clouds. The light came from one of the windows. It looked warm and homey. Both Emilia and Luka were very hungry, and it was tempting to go and knock on the door and ask for something to eat. But they did not dare. They looked about for an outhouse or stable, and saw another building at the back of the house. They were creeping towards it, dreaming of straw to snuggle into, when the quiet night was split apart by the raucous barking of a big dog.

At once Rollo responded.

Desperately the children tried to shush him, but he bounded forward, bellowing a challenge that was answered as stridently by the other dog. Emilia went running forward, seizing Rollo and pulling him back, and holding out her hand and murmuring to the strange dog, who sniffed it
cautiously and then began to wag his tail. It was too late, though. A light had gone on in the house, and the front door opened a crack. An elderly woman shouted tremulously, ‘Who's there? I warn you, I have a musket and I'm not afraid to use it!'

Emilia and Luka froze, their faces turned towards the house.

The door opened a little wider, and the long muzzle of a matchlock rifle protruded through the crack. ‘I said, who's there? What do you want?'

‘Don't shoot,' Emilia pleaded. ‘We don't mean no harm. We're just so tired and wet and cold and hungry.'

The door swung open, revealing a thin old woman with stooped shoulders and a long white plait falling down from under a mob-cap. She wore a nightgown with a shawl flung over the top, and the hands that held the musket were blue-veined and spotted with age. A lantern set on a table behind her cast a broad ray of light out the front door, illuminating Luka and Emilia and the two dogs, who were sniffing each other warily.

‘Why, it's two little gypsy boys,' the old woman said, and put the gun down. ‘What on earth are you doing out there in the storm?'

‘Please, will you help us?' Emilia took a faltering step towards the house, hands raised
imploringly. Luka hid a grin, and did his best to look bedraggled and forlorn too. It was not hard.

‘Of course, of course,' the old woman said, and cast a quick glance over her shoulder. ‘Come in out of the wet. You're drenched to the skin. What is wrong? Are you lost?'

Emilia nodded. ‘Could you tell us where we are?' she asked in a small voice.

‘Tanglewood Manor, near Blackheath,' the old woman said. ‘No, that dog can't come in! His paws are all muddy, look, he's filthy.'

Emilia fixed her eyes on the old woman's face. ‘But he's cold and wet too.'

‘He'll track mud in all over my clean floor,' the old woman said crossly.

‘He'll howl and howl if you lock him outside,' Emilia said.

Again the old woman glanced over her shoulder. ‘Oh, all right then. But keep him quiet.' She opened the door wide.

‘Wheedler,' Luka said under his breath as he and Emilia hurried up the steps. She flashed him a glance, but did not smile or respond. She saw no reason for him to know that the tremble in her voice was entirely genuine.

They stepped inside the door, Rollo bounding at their heels, his ears pricked forward. The old woman clucked her tongue as they dripped muddy water all over the floor, but did not reprimand them, just picked up the lantern and hurried them down the hall towards the back of the house.

Just then a door opened and a young woman looked out. The children's hearts fell at the sight of her. She was dressed in black from neck to hem, and had a gaunt, sallow face with heavy bags under dark eyes. Her hair was scraped back from her face and hidden under a white cap. In one hand she carried a quill, and her fingers were stained with ink.

‘Why, Martha, what is all this noise?' she demanded. ‘Who are these raggerty-taggerty
gypsy children? What are they doing in my house?'

‘They're lost in the storm,' Martha said. ‘They're wet to the skin, poor things. I'm just taking them to the kitchen, my lady, to get them some dry clothes and something to eat. There's no need for you to worry.'

‘No need to worry? You know what gypsies are like, Martha! It's probably a trick, to get into the house and then see what they can steal.'

‘They're only children,' Martha protested.

‘Steeped in sin from the moment they're born,' the young woman said darkly.

Emilia hung her head, feeling heat creeping up her cheeks. Luka was angry, but he pressed his lips together and said nothing. Rollo whined, his tail sunk between his legs and dripping on the floor.

‘It'd be uncharitable to turn them away from the door, at this time of night, and in such weather,' Martha said. ‘It would not be godly, my lady.'

The young woman scowled. ‘I can barely afford to feed us, let alone grubby little beggars. What do you intend to feed them? There's not a crumb in the house.'

‘There's a little soup left over from supper,' Martha said. ‘You know neither of us has much appetite these days. I would've fed it to the pigs anyway.'

‘The pigs at least will give us some bacon, while all we'll get from these two are fleas, by the look of them!'

‘I'll wash them, my lady, don't you worry.'

The young woman gave another low grunt, and stepped back, closing the door. The next moment she poked her head out again. ‘No point in thinking of robbing us,' she said to Emilia and Luka. ‘There's not anything of value left in the house, I assure you.' The door shut sharply behind her.

Martha looked at them apologetically. ‘Hard times,' she murmured. ‘Hard times for us all.'

Emilia and Luka followed her down the hall, which was indeed very bare. Pale patches on the walls showed where tapestries and paintings had once hung, and there were indentations in the wooden floor where furniture had once stood. Room after empty room led off the draughty corridor, and it was a relief to reach the kitchen, which was at least warm.

A low fire flickered on the hearth, casting shadows over the whitewashed walls. Heavy pans and ladles hung from a cast-iron rack above the fire, and bunches of herbs were set to dry on hooks hanging from the low, dark beams. An old rocking chair was pulled up to the fire, with a big basket of mending next to it, where an orange cat lay curled. It hissed at the sight of Rollo, who bounded forward, barking loudly. As Martha shrieked and seized her broom, whacking Rollo across the back, the cat swelled up to twice its natural size and bolted from the room. Luka and Emilia were glad
to see it go. Cats were dirty creatures, and bad luck. They could not understand why
gorgios
let them into their houses.

‘Poor Gringle!' Martha said, glaring at Rollo who was sniffing the basket with great interest. ‘Well then, come up to the fire, get yourselves warm. I'll go and get you some blankets. You'll need to strip off those wet clothes. I'll boil up some water for the bath, and heat up the soup. We've not much to give you, I'm afraid.'

‘Anything at all is fine,' Emilia said. ‘We're really hungry.'

Martha bustled out of the room, and the two children struggled out of their wet coats and dropped them on the floor. Luka's little monkey Zizi had been tucked up inside his coat, asleep. She yawned widely, showing sharp teeth, then bounded around the kitchen, exploring. Rollo had lain down on the hearthrug, as close to the fire as he could get, and Luka seized the big dog by the
ruff of the neck and dragged him away so he could stand with his back to the fire.

‘Do you think we're safe here?' he whispered. ‘That young one looked as blue-nosed as they come.'

‘Surely Fishface can't have every Puritan in the county on the lookout for us,' Emilia replied, perching on the rocking chair and holding her wet, numb hands to the fire.

‘I'm not so sure about that,' Luka responded darkly.

Pastor Spurgeon, the Puritan minister who had set the thief-taker Coldham on their trail, seemed to have friends and colleagues everywhere, all looking for two thin, dark, shabby children with a dog, a monkey, a horse and a big brown bear. Luka could only hope that they could escape notice now that they had left Emilia's horse, Alida, and Sweetheart the bear behind with the Hearne tribe.

‘We'll head out first thing in the morning, and go cross-country,' Emilia said.

‘Good plan,' Luka replied. He seized the poker and tried to stoke up the fire, which was falling into ashes.

‘You can go out back and get me some more firewood, since you're already wet,' Martha said, coming back into the room, her arms piled high with blankets and nightclothes. ‘And in the morning you could cut me some more, if you have a mind to. Neither my mistress nor myself are much of a hand with a hatchet.'

‘Sure,' Luka said, though he had no desire to go back out into the rain-swept night. ‘Where do I go?'

Just then, Zizi scampered down from the top of the dresser, where she had been crouching, and swung herself up onto Luka's shoulder.

Martha screamed in horror. ‘What . . . what devil is that?'

‘It's not a devil,' Luka said angrily. ‘She's a monkey, a darling monkey girl. She won't do any harm. She's just curious.'

Martha glanced at Zizi's wizened face and shuddered. ‘Keep it away from me!'

Luka tucked Zizi under one arm and petted her lovingly. ‘All right,' he said, sounding rather offended. ‘But truly, if you'd just get to know her, you'd see –'

‘I don't want to get to know her!' Martha snapped. She laid one hand on her heart. ‘Oh, I'm too old for all this. Why oh why did Lord Jeremy have to die?'

BOOK: The Herb of Grace
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