“Woah, Sentinel! Steady down, girl!” It was all Hempsty could do to keep the horse and calash on the gravel path and not veer through the trees at the side. He pulled on the reins, stopping the journey once again. He leapt from his seat, and ran over to the spooked animal. Gently, he stroked her nose. Sentinel neighed a couple of times, and then calmed down.
The path they were following had brought them into a dense forest. Old gnarled trees lined both sides of the path, and the lighting was very subdued because of the leaf cover. Hempsty noticed one strange thing here – there was no sound. Not a single bird sung from the trees. There was no rustle of the leaves due to the wind. Nothing came from behind the trees, deeper within the forest. The whole area was eerily silent.
“This is blitheringly odd…” Hempsty said aloud, patting his horse’s nose one last time. He climbed back into his seat. Gemevere had fallen asleep in her seat and was totally oblivious to these recent events, and Hempsty thought it best to not disturb her. They’d only been travelling for a few minutes since their encounter with Katherine Ferrier and a further disturbance would be the last thing his cousin would want.
Gemevere snorted, and her snort woke her. “Wha’… oo ‘eck,” she stretched, “a must’ve dorzed off!” She stretched again, and looked out her side of the carriage. “‘Ow long ‘ave a bin alseep, ‘Empsty?” she asked, through a yawn. “Is this the Forest of Sherwood?”
“Verily you did, my cousin,” Hempsty replied cheerfully. “Not too long, to answer your second question, and no to answer your third.”
“It’s a bit creepy in ‘ere, in’t it?” Gemevere noticed the eerie silence. “It looks like it’s gettin’ dark an’ all. ‘Ave we stopped?”
“We have indeed, albeit merely temporarily. Poor Sentinal was incensed by something, and I had to calm her. Thou mayst continue thine slumber, if thee desire.”
“Naw… doorn’t think a will now. I went out like a light then. An’ I ‘ad a weird dream about a flock o’ blackbirds all chasin’ a worm.”
“How frightfully interesting, cousin. Did they capture the worm?”
“They were about to, an’ then I woke up. They were cooin’ lark nobody’s business. Why are the’ no birds ‘ere?”
“That is a mystery, Gemevere. Something frightened poor Sentinel as well, so the eeriness isn’t only apparent to us. Perhaps what scared Sentinel has also frightened the birds away.”
“‘Ave you any idea where we are, ‘Empsty?”
“Indeed I do, my cousin. Thoust mustn’t worry thineself about my locational skills. From the distance we have travelled since setting off from Molecombe Castle, not counting our run-in with that Katherine woman, we are now deep in the heart of the Forest of Skipton.”
“Skipton Forest??? Yer kiddin’!”
“I jest not. We have to pass through this forest to reach the main thoroughfare towards Nottingham.”
“Did y’ave to come this way? ‘Ave you never ‘eard of the legend?”
“Thou hast an obsession with legends, Gemevere. No, I’m not aware of any legends from this forest.”
“Oo… it’s a good’n, this one. The legend says somewhere deep inth’ forest there’s an underground cave, and inth’ cave lives a gnarled and nasty ol’ woman. She’s known as Mother Skipton, Ursula somebody or other. She can see into th’future, cast spells an’ all sorts.”
“She sounds lovely. I pray we don’t meet her as we pass through on our journey today. One strange woman on the journey is enough for anyone, I feel.”
“‘Oo r’you callin’ strange, ‘Empsty?”
“Not thee, my cousin. Obviously I referred to that rascal from earlier. The one thy hope will spread the legend of thine own. I still think we should have handed her over to the local sheriff.”
“She was no ‘arm, ‘Empsty. She was probably a villager wantin’ to get a bit of money for summat. I feel a bit bad fer throwin’ ‘er into th’stream now.”
“Nonsense. She had a strange weapon, and you saw what it did to the wheel.”
“Yeah. It fixed it. She did us a big favour, really.”
Hempsty pulled on the reins, and Sentinel started to pull them along the pathway again.
“It’s still weird with there bein’ no birds inth’ trees, ‘Empsty. You’d think there’d be at least one.”
“I suggest you look ahead, cousin. On the path ahead.” Hempsty pulled on the reins again, this time to stop the horse. Sentinel duly obliged, nodding her head as she did.
“What the bloomin’ eck?” Gemevere could not believe her eyes. Just ahead of them, standing on the path in an almost straight line completely across the path and back almost as far as their eyes could see, was a huge flock of ravens. The vast majority of them were looking toward the travellers, but not seemingly at them. Other ravens were either pecking at their neighbours or looking in other directions.
“Thou mentioned blackbirds in thine dream, Gemevere. Could they have been ravens instead?”
“Well, I ‘ope not, ‘Empsty, ’cause if they were, that would mean we’re th’worm. I’m not still dreamin’ am I?”
“I hardly think so. Come along, cousin. Let’s shoo them away.”
“Shoo ’em away? There’s about a million of ’em!”
“Just make as much noise as possible. If I steer Sentinel directly through the centre, and you scream and shout, the first few should fly away and the rest should follow.”
“Well, I’m not screamin’ and shoutin’ through th’top, ‘Empsty. Not with that many birds flyin’ over’ead. I’ll shout through th’front.”
They continued along the path, and as Hempsty predicted, the flock of ravens did start to move out of their way. The eerie silence gave way to the rapturous sound of thousands of ravens cawing and squawking as they took off from their bizarre resting place – that and the sound of Gemevere Inxlsis’ constant shooing now echoed around the forest.
A hooded figure pulled aside a branch and some leaves from a bush as the horse and carriage passed them by, and with a smile watched as they disappeared from view along the gravel path.
This is the third part in the Reverence storyline. The previous two parts can be found in my Storylines menu. (Please be aware there are a few glitches with the links there, which I’m working my way through resolving, but the Reverence story and also the Space storyline are unaffected!)