CHAPTER 8 - CLOSE YOUR EYES!
From screaming women to a lady rising from the waters. Sure! Why not?! Add a dash of lights that only we can see, and a teaspoon of a scary headless horseman and you have yourself the perfect recipe for cooking up illogical worlds. I realised that my life will never be the same again. Sometimes, ignorance is pure bliss.
“Remember,” Vivien said after we finished packing our bags for the journey. “When you reach the town of Coventry, in its centre is the River Sherbourne. Take passage down that river where you will reach the River Sowe. Continue onwards and you will then come into the River Avon, which will meet with the River Severn. It will take you to the Mouth of the Severn and into the Bristol Channel and from there, you will find your way to Cornwall.”
I scrunched my face. “You don’t perhaps have a piece of paper on you so I can write down all those names?!”
“I’ve already got the names memorised,” Troy sounded pompous. I gave him the same stink eye the banshee gave me. I’ll let Troy have his moment, as I doubt Medieval England had signposts along the rivers. This is going to be fun!
Vivien continued, “but do take care! The River Severn has entities in it which will hinder your journey. Whatever happens, do not leave the boat. And be warned, when you enter Coventry, do not look at the lady!” Troy and I gave each other puzzled looks.
“Entities? Lady? What lady?” Troy was about to ask Vivien who she was referring to, but the ’wearer of water’ had already glided towards the area where she first rose from the river. Her dress reverted back into water and a mist began to circle her. When the mist finally cleared, the Lady of the Lake was nowhere to be seen. Having had enough of magical beings and malevolent entities, I grabbed Troy by his tunic and this time around, I was more than happy to follow the will-o’-the-wisps.
We walked in silence for a long time. My mind was racing. Vivien had answered many questions, but those answers raised more questions. I agreed with Troy, though. How could we stop the most powerful sorceress yet we couldn’t even get the banshees to shut up? As for spells being their weakness? I had no idea how to even conjure a spell. I figured that when the banshees retreated to Morgana, they were going to get a whipping from her. Morgana would no doubt know it was a ruse. The next time we crossed paths with the banshees, they will be even more ticked off than before. Just thinking of their screams sent shivers down my spine. Vivien had said we bought some time with the banshees, but we wouldn’t be able to fool the Dullahan. I swallowed hard. If I went hysterical over screaming women, what would happen if I saw a horseman with no head?
The will-o’-the-wisps were dim and offered little light. They looked like a flame you’d see when striking a match. Yet somehow, these little lights offered a strange comfort. Looking back at Troy, I saw his mind was running wild too.
“I’m sorry I went hysterical,” I said, trying to break the silence.
“Don’t be,” Troy said. “I was about to lose it too, but then you beat me to it!” He caught my arm, and we came to a halt.
“What is it?” I looked at him perplexed.
“Can you imagine explaining these beings back home?!” He lowered his voice.
I laughed. “They’ll lock us up for sure!”
Troy’s expression turned serious. “Science has caused modern day thinking to rely only on formulas and explanations for the unnatural. But the truth is, science isn’t always right. They would come up with any hypothesis just to explain something when they themselves are baffled at certain mysteries.”
“You better not let Mr Richards hear you say that! He’ll make sure you fail science before the year is out!”
“Think about it, Tristan. Can science explain why you have a Mark? There’s nothing visible on you. So? It must be something that can’t be seen, or maybe it’s part of your aura?”
I rolled my eyes and continued walking. “You’re overthinking things again, Troy!”
He caught up with me, “I’m just saying,” he muttered. “What about this lady we not supposed to look at? Do you think Vivien meant another banshee?”
“No, Troy, I don’t think so. There was nothing lady-like about those banshees. How far until we get to Coventry?”
“About eight hours, more or less.”
Great. I could do with a car ride right about now. Troy had a faraway look.
“Tewkesbury is near the River Avon. I’m glad we’ll be able to travel down that river.”
“What’s so special about Tewkesbury?”
“It was where one of the most important battles during the Wars of the Roses took place. The Prince of Wales was killed in that battle. It tipped the balance of power for England between two feuding royal families and the death toll was colossal.”
I gaped at him and raised an eyebrow. “Of all things pretty and nice in the world, you would want to look upon a field where violence and death took place? Your and my interest in history is as far away as the north is from the south.”
Troy smirked. “You chose history because of me!”
“Oh, don’t flatter yourself! At least I knew Morgana is Arthur’s sister!” I did a fist pump in the air. Troy didn’t seem pleased by that. After a while, we came out of the forest and saw a beautiful town before us. It was clean and the air didn’t smell like sweaty men or animal odours. Definitely a step up from the village in Nottingham. I thought of Gertrude and her granddaughters and wondered how they were doing.
If Robin Hood had received help before, whether it was from Miss Eden or a guardian before her, did that mean Gertrude and her family suffered at the hands of the Sheriff? I began to feel the effects of vertigo again. Best to leave those questions unanswered.
Walking down the mound, Troy stopped and grabbed my arm. “Wait.”
“What is it now, Troy?”
“The town is quiet. Too quiet.”
Instinctively, I looked back at the forest to see if Robin Hood would jump out and yell “surprise!” and let an arrow loose, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Looking back, I scanned the town and was able to see the River Sherbourne. It was easy enough to spot. It was where Vivien had said it would be - in the centre of the town. But where were all the people?
Just then, a young boy came running towards us, waving his arms like an octopus on ice skates.
“Stop! You cannot enter the town! It is forbidden to look upon her!”
I grabbed the boy’s arm. He was no older than twelve and wore a simple brown tunic. His black hair was untidy and his green eyes were full of anxiety.
“What do you mean?” I demanded. “Who are we forbidden to see? Why is the town so quiet, yet you’re the only living person we’ve seen so far?”
“I’m running to the woods to hide,” he exclaimed. “I heard if you look at her, you will become blind!” He vigorously pulled himself free from my grasp and continued running towards the forest. I looked at Troy in total confusion and was about to ask if he knew what the deluded boy was speaking of, but Troy’s face began to pale… again.
I sighed. “Spit it out. You know who this lady is, don’t you?”
He could only nod.
I raised both my eyebrows. “Well? The boy said we can’t look at her. Is it Medusa?”
Troy blinked. That got him out of his daydream. “Of course not, Tristan! Medusa wasn’t real. She’s from the Greek myths. And even if she was real, you would turn to stone, not go blind.”
I laughed. “So far, everything we’ve encountered has been mythological!”
He remained quiet. His mind was racing while looking around Coventry. He was trying to find an alternative route to the River Sherbourne.
“Are you going to tell me, or do you want me to go blind?” I now became irritated with his lack of conversation.
Troy let out a sigh. “The lady the boy was speaking of, is none other than Lady Godiva.”
Great. Another holdup.
I heard many tales of Lady Godiva and she had always been seen as a benevolent, even saint-like figure. But if she was going to ride through Coventry today, that meant a serious delay in our journey to Cornwall.
“I remember the story,” I told Troy. “Her husband, Leofric was… sorry, is the Earl of Mercia. He raised heavy taxes on the people of Coventry. Lady Godiva pleaded on the peoples’ behalf to end their suffering, but he refused. She became the typical nagging wife to the point where Leofric said he’d lower the taxes if she rode nude through the town.”
Troy smiled at me. “Wow! You nailed it!” He did a fist pump and I felt elated.
“I do like to surprise people with my amazing intellect!” I teased. Turning serious, I said, “Troy, I read that the preparations for Lady Godiva to ride nude took immense planning. Everyone had to bar themselves inside and not look until she passed by. A man was said to have gone blind when his curiosity got the better of him. That’s where we get the word ‘peeping Tom’ from.”
Troy nodded. “You’re right, Tristan. The preparations were quite extensive. I can only imagine how she had to prepare herself mentally for the task as well. She truly was an amazing woman. It’s a pity we can’t meet her.”
“Oh, hell no!” I exclaimed. “First, you want to see a field where a battle will take place much later on, and now you want to meet a woman who rides naked through the streets?! I’m not holding your hand to guide you to Cornwall because your curiosity got you blind!”
Troy shot me an irritated look. “I would’ve marched up to her husband and punched the guy for making his wife do this. It’s degrading!”
“Yet it became legendary,” I put in. “I think her husband thought she’d never go through with it in the first place, yet she did. Now, the question is, when will it happen?”
As if on cue, a single bell rang out. Troy and I exchanged nervous looks. We weren’t going to tempt the Fates if we came across her. I had no doubt in my mind that we would go blind. After all, everything that has happened to us, was always seen as fairy tales in modern times. But now? My mind has come to the realisation that the impossible can be possible.
We sprinted down the mound and ducked into a barn. No sooner had we shut the doors, did we hear the sound of a horse walking at a frustratingly slow pace. Troy looked through the wooden panels of the barn, trying to see the river (that’s what he said he was looking for, but I had my doubts). I picked up a fist full of straw and threw it in his face.
“Don’t look!” I hissed. “You might go blind no matter which part of her you see.”
“We need to get to the river!” Troy insisted, while at the same time began to blush.
“And I’d like to keep my eyesight, thank you very much!” I retorted. I sat against the door, breathing heavily. Troy sat down, idly picking up and throwing straw onto the ground. At length, the sound of the horse drifted. We looked at each other.
“Do you think it’s safe? Or should we stay indoors until she reaches her husband?”
“I wouldn’t dare it yet,” Troy sounded as frustrated as I felt. Although my watch was mugged from me when we were transported back in time, it felt like hours had gone by. I would’ve ventured outside, but I still heard no one, and that was the sound that scared me… the familiar sound of silence. I thought of Sherwood Forest again and how eerie the stillness made me feel.
It was a difficult choice to make. Should we leave and tempt fate? Or do we wait it out until we hear the townsfolk coming out of their homes?
Since we were pressed for time, Troy and I decided to leave the barn and stick to the shadows along the buildings. If we came across Lady Godiva, we would shut our eyes and duck behind any building so that we wouldn’t be in the line of sight. Trudging carefully along the buildings, it was as if the horse was deliberately following us.
“How is it even possible?” I hissed while hiding behind what seemed like a forge. “I thought she would ride from one point to where her husband is waiting?”
“I think the route she chose was to cover all of Coventry.” Troy deduced. “In that way, people would know what she did for them.” He sounded angry all over again. He gave me a look that meant he had just stumbled on a bright idea. “Maybe if we pass behind her towards the river, we could--”
“On no!” I made a ’time-out’ gesture. “If we accidentally land up behind her, you’d probably look at her…” I began to blush. “Never mind! Just stick to the shadows and if you happen to hear the horse’s hooves, duck behind a building.” We moved on quietly until a sudden thought came to mind. I abruptly stopped in my tracks and Troy slammed into me.
“Tristan! What was that for?”
“She’s riding a horse. Do you think Morgana is using Lady Godiva as a decoy? All these routes she’s taking! What if Morgana is controlling her horse and following us to deliberately make us go blind? After all, she did order the banshee to lure me to my death. Or worse, what if she turns into the Dullahan?”
Troy looked hard at me. “Just hearing you say that out loud sounds ludicrous! Of course, she’s not the Dullahan. Just go on and warn me the next time you decide to stop!”
We kept our pace evenly, stopping now and then to hear if Lady Godiva would pass our way. Finally, the River Sherbourne was in view. I felt as if a great weight was lifted from my shoulder. By now, I had been a nervous wreck. Every time I saw a horse, I’d shut my eyes, only for Troy to remind me that horses were the latest ‘car models’ of this time period. As we passed a house, I heard a man’s voice and was about to scream had Troy not covered my mouth.
“Hey! You two! Get out of my way!”
We looked at one of the houses and saw a window was open. A man who looked no older than twenty was looking outside.
“I want to see this spectacle with my own eyes!” the man said.
“Hey! Show some respect,” Troy said irritably. “Lady Godiva is doing this for you!”
But the man kept gesturing for us to step aside.
Looking hard at him, I asked, “Is your name Tom, by any chance?”
“Thomas, actually,” he was rather rude.
“Okay, Thomas, you do know that if you look at her, you’ll go blind!”
“Oh, poppycock! What utter rot! Now get out of my way!”
Before I could give him a piece of my mind, Troy took my arm and pulled me aside. “Don’t tamper with history, Tristan. What happens to him is meant to be.”
“But he’ll go blind!” Looking back at Thomas and feeling torn. I said, “Please! Shut the window and wait until the Lady’s ride is over--”
“I said get out of my way, little girl!”
That was when I decided to leave him to his fate. I no longer felt sorry for him. If he was the one where the famous ‘Peeping Tom’ saying came from, then so be it. However, since he still had his sight, a horrible realisation dawned on me.
“Troy,” I became frantic. “This man is still able to see, which means Lady Godiva hasn’t passed here yet!”
Troy’s eyes grew wild with understanding.
“Exactly!” came the annoying voice of Thomas. “She is due to ride here any minute. So, I will say this one more time. Get. Out. Of. My. Way!”
Troy was about to step past me and smash his fist into Thomas’ face, but I took his hand and pulled him away from the house. I gave Thomas one last look. “What happens to you on this day, you have only yourself to blame!” Thomas snorted, while I pulled Troy away and dashed towards the river.
As we were about to reach the River Sherbourne, we heard the horse and I rugby-attacked Troy into a nearby building, winding him as we hit the floor. The smell of bread was divine. I looked around and saw we were in a bakery. The oven was still hot with bread inside, but they began to burn. The baker peeped over his counter and saw us lying on the floor in his shop. As I got up and dusted myself, I gave the baker my winning smile.
“Don’t mind us,” I ventured. “We just…um… passing by!” The baker’s eyes were wide with shock and seemed too scared to answer us. I then heard the sound of horse hooves and as I looked back, I realised the door was still open. I cried out for Troy’s attention. “Close the door!” Troy struggled to get up (I tackled him rather well!) but he managed to bolt the door as soon as the head of the horse came into view. When I saw the steed, I shut my eyes, as did Troy when he realised how close Lady Godiva had been to the baker’s shop. We sat down and leaned against the wall, trying to catch our breath.
“That was rather painful,” Troy wheezed, holding his ribs.
“Sorry,” although I didn’t sound as if I were. “Adrenaline kicked in.” He scowled at me. All I could do was shrug my shoulders. Not a minute had passed when we heard a bloodcurdling scream, “I’m blind! I’m blind!”
Troy and I looked at each other. Thomas had received his fate and for all his rudeness (and debauched ways) I felt rather sorry for him. A few moments later, Troy and I dared to venture out of the baker’s shop and headed towards the river. However, since we were rudely interrupted by Thomas (and Lady Godiva), we had no idea which direction the river lay. As we walked behind more buildings, I heard a familiar high-pitch whistle.
Instinctively, my head jerked back. A few metres in front of me was the annoying arrow I’d come to admire in this world. Looking back, we saw Robin Hood sprinting on the rooftops and landed before us. I tried to pull out the arrow, but it was no good. Troy stepped forward and yanked it out, smirking at me. “Strong, much?”
“Whatever…” I muttered.
“You two are by far the worst scouts I had ever encountered!” Robin said, grinning at us. “You should have been on a boat by now, passing through the River Avon, if memory serves me well,” Robin Hood said.
“Yes, well, we had a slight delay,” I said sarcastically. Again, Robin gave me an expression that sarcasm wasn’t invented yet. “Since we last met, we’ve been screamed at, have more questions than answers thanks to Vivien and now we are far behind our planned trip because it clashed with Lady Godiva’s scheduled ride through this blasted town!” My breathing became heavy. I yanked the arrow out of Troy’s hand. “And another thing! One day, your luck will run out and you will skewer us if you keep shooting these at us!” I waved the arrow in his face for emphasis.
“Tristan,” Troy muttered. “Your pitch is rising to that of a banshee again!”
“Whatever, just point us in the direction of the River Sherbourne as this town is setting my nerves on edge. I can’t look at any horse without thinking I’ll go blind.” A thought struck me. “How did you manage to find us without looking at Lady Godiva? Her route was to pass through every street.”
“I have eyes for only one lady,” Robin sounded sincere. “She is my beloved wife.”
“Maid Marian?” Troy asked.
I snorted. “If they’re married, I don’t think she’s a maid anymore!” Troy said nothing, but his ears began turning red.
Taking the arrow from Troy, Robin notched it to his bow and let it loose. I saw the arrow embed itself in a tree not too far away.
“That is your way towards the river,” Robin explained. “As you get to the arrow, you will see more, leading you towards the boat.”
“And how exactly do we travel by boat?” I asked. “I never was good at rowing during Physical Education.”
“The boat is enchanted, thanks to the Lady of the Lake. It will transport you to Cornwall and also has spells to keep evil entities at bay. But beware! These entities are powerful.”
“What are they?” Troy asked.
“Morgens,” Robin said.
“More morgens?” I became irritated. “Do you people have any imagination to call them something else other than them sounding close to Morgana’s name?”
“They are water spirits, first thought to have taught Morgana the art of dark spells.”
We remained quiet for a while, then I remembered something, “By the way, thanks for your help crossing the River Trent! Do you have any idea how cold that water was?!”
Robin frowned. “Where I pointed for you to carry on with your journey, only a few minutes south, you would’ve come across a makeshift bridge. We use it all the time.”
Holding my head high and proud, I refused to look at Troy and see his ’I told you so’ expression.
“Oh! Well, if you had told us that, we wouldn’t have had to endure banshees!”
“Oh, you would have come across them, whether you swam or walked across the bridge.” Robin mused. “Now, off you go!”
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