Estimated reading time: 5 minutes —< Chapter 9: The Priory Ruins
Chapter 10. The Church
The young gypsy man walked the path around the church in silence.
He knew the place better than the palm of his hand. Even though he had traveled extensively, he spent most of his life living in the gypsy camp by the village with his mother. Although he was a gypsy, often looked upon with distrust, at the village he felt at home.
The villagers respected his sense of community and praised his initiative. He helped the elderly farmers plow the lands and their wives pack and carry the crops to be sent to the capital by train. He was always willing go to the neighbor village to bring planks of wood to fix the floors of the older houses, the forge and the farms. There was something to be done at all times and his willful ways earned him a reputation he was proud of.
He stopped at the entrance of the church for a few seconds and searched the way going up to the Indian Pavilion. Nothing. Then he turned towards the Mansion and spotted a shadow coming surreptitiously from the ruins.
“Interesting,” he whispered to himself, scratching his head under the worn-out cap.
The shadow crouched and moved slowly towards the village through the maze of houses, down to the wooden gate facing the main road. The young gypsy decided to follow.
It was not before long that they reached the market square, now completely deserted. As the shadow approached a lit area, the young man realized it was a very short person, either a dwarf or a child. He couldn’t see the face; it was covered by the hood of a dark cape.
“Hey,” he called, expecting to be heard the first time.
The shadow looked around as if afraid and ran into the Forge. The young man followed, but as he entered the warm building, the shadow was gone. He crossed it through and through, all the way to the patio at the back of the Inn. Vanished. His mother would not be happy.
Earlier, much to his despair, he had lost the blonde woman too, near the Tower. One second he was on her trail, the next she had disappeared. Being positive she might be inside the Tower, he waited close by. He waited till it got dark, but the woman never came out. He went up the stairs of the Tower, just to make sure. He could hear voices, angry voices, none of which was the blonde woman’s.
Out of desperation, he decided to walk back to the ruins in the odd chance that he would come across at least one of them. He couldn’t help wondering where that person came from. There was nothing inside the crumbling walls of the Priory, except for the old tomb, and nobody dared walk around that place at night.
As he approached, he immediately noticed the lid of the tomb.
He could barely see anything, so he stuck his hand inside and whirled it in the darkness to find bones, dust, leaves and a few spider webs. His fingers twitched, but he slid his arm in as far as he could.
As he stood in the dark corner of the ruins, the young gypsy suddenly spotted the shadow again, this time going into the Church. He hurried his pace. People weren’t supposed to enter the Church without the stubborn and irremediably decrepit vicar’s permission, however this was an unusual situation and unusual situations needed unusual measures, he thought.
“Stefan, you’re not giving up,” he muttered to himself. But when he entered the church, there was no one there. “I can’t believe it.” His voice echoed through the archways.
A small door leading upstairs was open, so he reached the balcony overlooking the nave. “Hah! You’re caught,” he said to himself, a bit louder than he wanted which startled him, making him chuckle.
A ladder went farther up to a room where stacks of newspapers piled next to a crate. A small blonde child stood in the dimness of the corner, wearing spider webs on her hair, leaves and dust on her skirt and cape.
“Don’t be afraid, little girl. I am here to take you to your mother. You’re Kelly, aren’t you?” – He reached his hand out to her.
She nodded with her blue eyes wide open. Although she was very young, Stefan could see that Kelly was not afraid of him at all; she actually took a step towards him. She didn’t take his hand though. Her mother had warned her about strange people repeatedly, sometimes too loudly, like that time when she suddenly decided to cross the road to receive an ice-cream from an overfriendly ice-cream vendor.
“Kelly, come with me, we’ll find your mother, ok?” – Stefan knelt on the wooden floor to be at eye level with the kid.
Kelly had other plans though. “I am going to stay here.” She held on tight to a wooden box with both arms, Stefan noticed. Could that be the box his mother told him about a long time ago?
“It’s cold, Kelly. Don’t you want to see your mother?”
“I am going to stay here.”
“Well, in that case, I’ll stay here too,” said Stefan, sitting down.
Kelly didn’t like that at all.
“This is my place. You go find yourself another place. You can’t be here.”
“No, no, no! You can’t stay here, go away.”
Stefan crossed his arms after pulling the collar of his coat up and stretched his legs. He wasn’t going anywhere and he was blocking the way out.
Defiantly, Kelly also sat on the floor, with her back towards the spider-webbed corner, the wooden box still in her arms.
“What’s that box, Kelly?” asked the gypsy man, trying to keep the communication line open.
The determined child turned her back towards him and faced the dark corner. No one was going to make her do something she didn’t want to and no one, absolutely no one, was going to take her box away from her.
“Kelly?” A distressed voice made Stefan jump to his feet.
“It’s your mother! Come.”
Kelly remained unyielding. She crossed her arms even tighter, the forehead resting on the wooden box.
“Kelly? Are you here?”
The child shrugged in silence.
“We are up here,” replied Stefan; that only won him a sideways look of stern condemnation, but it was too late; her mother was on her way up.
“My God, Kelly, I have been looking for you all this time. Where have you been?” – A very relieved Isabella, with tears in her eyes, hugged her small daughter. “Thank you so much,” she added. She recognized Stefan as one of the gypsies and she was sure he was the one who had been following her since she left the camp.
“You’re welcome. I tried taking her to you, but she didn’t want to leave. I can understand why. She doesn’t know me, so…”
Isabella agreed with him. “But now all is well, we can go, Kelly.”
Kelly, much to everyone’s amazement considering how stubborn she usually was, stood up immediately and headed down, still holding on tightly to the wooden box, despite both Stefan and her mother’s offers to help carry it.
“Well, we part our ways here” – Isabella took a glance at the box and knew immediately that that could be the box they came for. Understandably, she was eager to get rid of the young man. “I thank you wholeheartedly for keeping my daughter safe.”
“You’re welcome, Madame.”
She nodded and curtsied, she wasn’t certain of the reason why; it must’ve been the Madame. Well, Madame Isabella decided to stay clear of any reference to possibly having been followed by the gypsy man, in the likelihood that that would raise serious suspicions about her reasons to be in this village. The young man struck her as being extremely smart and articulate, a bit too much for her taste; they sure didn’t need smart people getting suspicious, did they?
She grabbed her daughter’s hand and the two walked back to the center of the village.
“You must show me that box, Kelly. It’s lovely. Where did you find it?”
Not even her mother’s soothing voice was able to convince the young child. Kelly kept walking but sped up the pace to walk alone. Her mother wanted to take the box away from her and no one, absolutely no one, was going to do that, not even her mother.
Isabella knew it would be a problem to get the box from her daughter without too much fuss. And they didn’t need fuss in a village full of strangers, passengers and villagers alike.Chapter 11: The Barn >