About The Hollow Ground – Episode 40

Piers tramped on along the downward road towards the Salter’s Lane crossroads on which sat the Royal Oak inn.

The sun was rising, and long shadows streamed away ahead of him.

Suddenly a hare appeared from the cover of the hedgerow and lolloped along the grassy bank, unafraid of the tall figure whose booted steps were loud in the early stillness.

According to old wives’ lore, hares were a good omen. Piers had seen many in his time, often to his advantage, and had come to wonder if the portent were true.

Not this time, though. Luck was not on his side today.

“Mester Merriman! Mester Merriman! Wait!”

The breathless voice behind him and the patter of racing feet brought Piers to a halt.

He turned to see Mercy Dale running towards him, apron strings flying.

She came to a gasping stop before him, clutching at a stitch in her side.

“Mester Merriman. Praise be I’ve caught you. It’s them hayricks. Remember how you said as stored hay can get overheated?”

She paused for breath.

“Well, what of it?” Piers asked impatiently.

His stomach churned. Had his fears of heat combustion materialised? Surely not. He had supervised the stacking of the crop himself.

Adequate space had been allowed to promote a flow of air between the stooks.

Even so, the damp and humid conditions did not bode well for new-made meadow hay, and the dowsing the ricks had received when the brook had overflowed would not have helped matters.

“I were passing the ricks and thought to feel one to try it for heat, like,” Mercy continued. “It seemed warm to me. What if the lot goes up in flames and the house catches light? All that timbering!

“Find Mester Merriman, I says to meself. Him’ll know what to do. Then the missus said you’d gone an I took to me heels an’ ran to catch you up. The place could burn to a cinder –”

“Calm down, girl. I’ll come back with you and see for myself.”

Steadying the heavy bundle on his back, Piers set off up the steep incline back to the farm with Mercy at his side.

*  *  *  *

In the stackyard, Brassey and Shepherd Skelland stood contemplating the rounded hayricks.

“Trouble?” Piers called out to them.

“Could be,” Brassey replied.

Resigned, Piers relinquished his gear and went to inspect the ricks, thrusting his arm into the very centre of each to test for problems.

They seemed all right to him. Warm on the outside, but the sun was hot overhead so that was to be expected.

The two men watched him with guarded expressions.

“I can’t see anything amiss here,” Piers commented.

Brassey grunted.

“Them two nearest the house are steaming some.”

“They will. They’ve caught the morning sun. It’ll do a good job of drying things up – providing it stays out long enough.”

“Dang weather. Rain one day, shine the next. You never know where you are wi’ it,” Shepherd Skelland grumbled. “What if we dismantle them two closest to the house to be on the safe side?”

Piers shrugged.

“All right. Best give Bob Trimelow and Geoffrey Penk a shout. They can tackle the far one and we’ll see to this rick here.

“Tell them to bring ladders. We could put the stooks over there in the open for now.”

“Right you are,” Brassey replied.

The five men set to work.

Piers, up the ladder dealing with the peaked top he had so carefully constructed, was inwardly cursing. He could have been well on his way by now, rather than executing a seemingly pointless exercise here.

He paused to brush the sweat from his brow, and as he did so he caught sight of Mercy, mistakenly aiming to assist by pulling out stooks from the bottom of the far side of the stack.

He was about to call out to her to stop when he felt the hayrick tremble.

Brassey was on a second ladder dealing with the loosened stooks, directly in line of disaster should the rick fall.

“Watch out, man!” Piers hollered.

Brassey looked round, saw the danger and began a ponderous descent, his heavy frame working against him.

Just then the hayrick gave a judder and went toppling over.

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”.