About The Hollow Ground – Episode 27

Hampton Beast Market was bustling.

The sun beat down, making dust of ground that had earlier been rendered almost inaccessible by rain and the trampling of countless hooves.

Calls from penned livestock carried on the air; there was the combined reek of cattle, horses, swine and the thick, woolly tang of sheep.

Both bull calves made a good sale. Heartened, Piers opted to go ahead with his proposal and take a look at the work horses on offer.

It was getting on for noon and he paused at a vendor’s to buy a steak pie, succulent with herbs and gravy.

He was standing in the shadow of an elm, eating his purchase, when he had the feeling of being watched. He threw a glance all around, scanning the area for what might be construed as trouble.

There was nothing in the milling throng to give rise to concern and Piers put the matter down to his state of mind. Last night he had had the dream again.

The shouts, the numbing blow, the returning to consciousness to find himself locked in a room, a pouch of stolen coins on his person.

Maybe this was why his imagination was playing tricks on him.

Nonetheless, the incident was unsettling. Piers felt he should be on his guard.

Should he avoid the market in future? Take the precaution of sending Brassey or the shepherd in his place?

Barely had the idea formed than it was rejected. So obvious a change of routine would be sure to arouse the curiosity of the men.

Also, here among the farming fraternity he stood a good chance of learning more about Henry Vessey and the circumstances of his death, something that seemed to Piers to become more under question as time progressed.

He opted to carry on as usual, but be extra vigilant.

Decision made, Piers brushed the crumbs from his hands and set off towards where the horses were being auctioned. He also wanted to visit the trade stands.

Brassey had complained about the state of the whetstone for sharpening the tools. A new one would be no bad thing.

*  *  *  *

Harvesting over, Brassey and Shepherd Skelland met at the Oak for a private celebration of the event.

The weather had remained open. Hot sun and gentle breezes had done their job and the rills had been winnowed until every single blade of herbage had become fragrant, golden bounty.

Gathered on to the wain, the crop had been transported to the farm by a strong Suffolk Punch acquired by Piers at the market.

“Does your heart good to see them haycocks in the stackyard, dunna it?” Brassey said, reaching for his ale.

Shepherd Skelland, his arms a mesh of scratches from the prickly stalks, gave a nod.

“True enough. Did you see Merriman stacking hay as if there were no tomorrow? I reckon he’s done the work of two men these past days. Aye, and fitted in a trip to market between times.”

“You have to wonder what drives him,” Brassey said.

The shepherd took a swig of ale.

“Whatever, he’s no shirker.”

“He’s not lacking in judgement, either. That’s a good ’oss he brought back from market. And he got the whetstone. Long overdue, that’s been.”

“Remember that stranger turning up here asking questions about him?” Shepherd Skelland asked.

“I do. What of it?”

“Seemingly nothing came of it. T’were strange, though. I’d practically come round to putting my trust in Merriman, but that made me think again.”

“Me, too,” Brassey agreed. “My missus called it sour grapes, Merriman having pulled things round – summat I cunna do. Happen there’s truth in that. Ready for another?”

Brassey gathered up the empty tankards and went to the bar to get them filled up. On returning, he shunted his friend’s ale across the table top.

“What think you of the coming Haysel Feast?”

“I’m all for anything that puts the farm on the map again. Here’s to Nan Vessey for going ahead with it,” the shepherd replied.

He raised his tankard ina toast and Brassey joined him.

“Like a dog wi’ two tails over it, is my missus. Childer are the same. There inna nothing like a bun party to give ’em summat to smile about,” Brassey said.

Shepherd Skelland spoke sharply to his two dogs, who had crept out from under the table with expectations of food.

“Taking liberties, the pair of ’em. Tes Mercy’s doing, sneaking ’em titbits when my back’s turned. I tell her working dogs canna be spoilt but she dunna listen.”

“Mercy inna a bad lass,” Brassey replied. “Pulled her weight gathering in the hay alongside Miss Nan. Sunbonnets flapping, arms bared, more like a pair of sisters than servant and mistress.

“And now there’ll be the Haysel cooking for the lass to tackle. You game for helping set up the trestles an’ what-have-you in the barn, Noah?”

“Aye, better show willing. Seems we’ve the Broxton Players booked for the dancing. Good, them are. Bob Trimelow’s giving folks a song and Geoffrey Penk’s doing a recitation.”

“What’s your contribution?” Brassey asked.

“Me? I’m standing on me head an’ telling ’em a wise crack or two!”

“And pigs might fly,” Brassey said succinctly.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.