Forgotten Child is the sequel to the historical thriller, Runaway Girl, and it is published on 28th July. Here’s the first chapter – the prologue.
She had not invited the monk into the house. He had simply pushed open the door and walked in. And because he was brandishing a knife, she had thought it wise not to argue.
Her first thought was of the children upstairs. She prayed they would remain up there and stay quiet. The monk stood in the hall, a silver cross hanging from his neck and raindrops dripping from his black cloak onto the floor. His eyes were hidden under the shadow of his hood, but she could see from his face that he was young. He had a thin, mean mouth and a square jaw. His shoulders were broad and he looked strong. From the open door behind him came the hiss of heavy rain.
She wiped her sweating palms on her apron and did her best to appear calm.
‘I can assure you there is no need for a knife.’ She was annoyed that her voice wobbled when she spoke. She didn’t want him to sense her fear.
‘Just let me know how I can help you, Brother…’
She waited for him to tell her his name, but he said nothing.
The knife remained poised.
‘I have come to see Alice Wescott.’ His voice was quiet and he had a foreign accent.
‘Are you from St Hugh’s?’
‘Is she here?’
‘No, she is not. Please tell me your name and why you are here so I can tell her you called when she returns.’
His lips pressed together tightly; he seemed disappointed.
‘Where is she?’
‘She’s out on an errand, but I can’t tell you exactly where she is because I don’t know.’ Her heart thudded in her chest as she focused on the knife in his hand.
‘Where’s the casket?’
‘Not here. Some men came and took it.’
‘Three or four years ago.’ She thought back to the visit of the two foreign men shortly after Thomas Wescott’s death. They had taken a casket Thomas had hidden under the floorboards of the bedchamber he and Alice had shared. Alice had known nothing about the casket and had learned little about it since then.
‘I don’t believe you.’
‘Well it’s the truth. You can search if you want to, but the men took it, as I say.’
As soon as she suggested the search she regretted it. The children were upstairs and she didn’t want them to see the monk or his knife. She didn’t want him to see them, either. There was no telling what he might do, especially if he was angry about the missing casket.
She heard a rumble of thunder outside as the monk strode over to a cupboard next to the fireplace. He yanked open the doors and began pulling out its contents. A ceramic jug fell onto the stone floor and shattered into pieces.
‘Stop it!’ she shouted. ‘You are breaking our things. There is no need to look for the casket, it’s not here!’
The monk left the hall and she followed him into the parlour, desperate to stop him causing further damage.
She grabbed his arm. ‘You must leave this house! Mistress Wescott is not here and neither is the casket!’
He shook her off and cleared the shelves and cupboards in the parlour. She winced as countless items scattered and broke.
How could she stop him?
‘I want every chest in this house unlocked so I can search through it,’ he ordered.
‘I asked you to leave!’ she shouted.
He turned and grabbed her by the throat. She gasped in pain and tried to pull his hand away.
‘Unlock the chests,’ he growled. ‘Now.’
He let go and she headed into the kitchen, coughing, to fetch the bunch of keys that hung from a nail on the wall.
Perhaps it was best to do what he said; she had nothing to hide. The casket wasn’t in the house, so hopefully he would soon see that the chests were of no interest to him.
A noise came from upstairs. She froze and listened, but all remained quiet.
He mustn’t see the children.
She began to unlock the chests.
He followed her as she unlocked each one, searching through the contents and throwing them to the floor. Clothes, pottery, plates, blankets and leather gloves were strewn around the room.
‘Open that one,’ he said, pointing at a chest carved with acorns and oak leaves.
‘It only contains gloves.’
‘Open it!’ He held the knife close to her face once again and she obliged.
Everything she and Alice had spent days sorting into neat piles was being thrown about the place. He hurled the gloves across the floor and marched into the workshop. She knew there were some heavy tools in there that she could grab and smash over his head, but hopefully there would be no need for violence.
A clattering noise on the floorboards above their heads caught his attention. He turned to face her and then looked up at the ceiling. She held her breath and watched him.
His eyes moved over to the wooden staircase. ‘Who’s that upstairs?’ he asked. ‘Is it Alice?’
‘No, it’s just the children’s nursemaid. She doesn’t know anything about the casket. You must leave her alone!’
He made his way towards the stairs. As he turned away from her she looked around to see what she could use to stop him. There was a wooden stool by the fireplace.
‘You mustn’t go up there!’ she yelled, but one of his feet was already on the bottom step.
She seized the stool, ran over to him, lifted it and crashed it down over his head. The monk slumped to the floor.
She had to get the children out of there.
She grabbed his cloak and tried to pull him away from the stairs.
‘Beatrice! Get out!’ she screamed. ‘You need to get out of here! As quick as you can!’
She dragged the monk by his cloak. He was dazed, but the knife was still in his hand and he was beginning to stir. She didn’t know what would happen once he got to his feet again.
There were tentative footsteps at the top of the stairs and she saw Beatrice peering down, a look of horror on her face. The front door was still open following the monk’s forced entry and the doorstep was wet with rain.
He tried to get to his feet, but she brought the stool down on his shoulder a second time and he fell again.
‘Get out and raise the alarm!’ she yelled to Beatrice. ‘And get the children out!’
Beatrice nodded and slowly descended the stairs with the children behind her. Their frightened eyes were fixed on the monk who lay on the floor. She hadn’t wanted them to see him.
He tried to get up again but she wrapped her arm around his neck and throat, hoping she could hold him still. He began to flail around with the knife in his hand.
‘I’ve got him!’ she screamed at Beatrice. ‘Get out now!’ Her arm was tight around his throat, but she knew she could only hold him for so long.
The children and their nursemaid were at the foot of the stairs. Beatrice told the children to run towards the door, but they hesitated. Matilda climbed back up a step.
Beatrice grabbed her. ‘Run!’ she yelled.
Fear was etched on their faces, but they saw the open door and ran.
With a roar, the monk freed himself from her arm and lunged across the floor at the children. He grabbed Peter’s ankle and the little boy fell over. The children screamed and she prayed someone would hear the disturbance from the street and come to their aid.
Beatrice stepped forward and jabbed her fingers into the monk’s eyes. His head ricocheted back and he let go of the boy’s leg. She got to her feet and breathed a huge sigh of relief as Beatrice and the children escaped through the door.
She needed to get herself out of there, but the monk stood in her way.
He got up, spun round and glared at her. She knew he was angry as he paced towards her. She tried to run to her right and dodge round him, but he grabbed her arm.
There was no escape.
Another rumble of thunder sounded.
The children would get soaking wet.
‘Please don’t hurt me,’ she begged. ‘The casket isn’t here, I assure you. Leave now and I promise not to tell anyone you ever came here, as God is my witness.’
But there was a look of determination on his face that chilled her to the bone. He wasn’t listening to a word she said.
He pushed her into one corner of the room and lunged at her with the knife.
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