Chapter 20 - Sunday 4 March 2012, 5 AM on Hazeley Common
Deep in the Common, but just 7 miles as the crow flies from Maud Maxwell’s house, Greta awoke before first light. She could hear the birds singing, but she could hear strange sounds as well. She lay with her eyes open adjusting to the strengthening light.
She was deeply troubled. She could no longer feel the presence of her Mistress and her Witch Sisters. She’d had the gift from as long as she could remember, where one witch could always feel the presence of another witch Sister. It was a feeling that transcended the normal senses. She knew that Queen Matilda her Mistress and her witch Sisters had travelled to Winchester, just 30 miles or three days’ horse ride away, but even at that distance she who normally have felt their aura and it would give her comfort. She could not believe they were all dead? For comfort, she felt in her bag for the lavender she had cut as a gift for her mistress. To her surprise the lavender seemed to have wilted to dust, very strange.
When she first realised she could no longer feel the presence of her Mistress and her Sisters, she thought she must have lost her gift. But now she could feel the presence of new Sisters, who were quite close, but she didn’t know who they were. Her one crumb of comfort was she could still feel the energy lines that intersected in this part of the country.
There were also other things she could not explain. There was a smell in the air, of burning. Not as if something was on fire, but the air itself smelt dirty and contaminated. There were noises, loud rumbling noises both from the ground in the distance and overhead. She did not know this area of the woods well, but they had seen yesterday wide straight paths that appeared to be covered with a solid material. She was sure they had not been there before. There also seemed a lot less trees, more open spaces, the plants were of a different shade of green, and there was virtually no wildlife. There were also those strange clouds, long white vapour trails in the sky, as if lines had been painted by the gods.
Ideally, she would have liked to have discussed these strange things with the people she trusted most, her Mistress and her Sisters. The King did not have the intellect to understand these discernments, and Eustace and Henry in her eyes were just thugs. Who else could she talk to, maybe the tall stranger could help?
She rose from her sleeping mat and urinated in the woods a discrete distance from the King and his two henchmen. The King and Eustace were still asleep on the ground, while Henry dozed with his back against a tree. He was clearly on the last watch of the night. She wanted to do this quickly before Eustace awoke, because he was quite likely to kick and punch Keith into a state of unconsciousness when the King began to question him. She crept over to Keith, and put a hand over his mouth to stop him crying out. Then she gently shook him awake. He was lying on the ground still with his legs tied. She whispered just loud enough in his ear so only he could hear her, ‘Do you need to piss?’
She had a strange accent, and a gravelly voice, it almost sounded as if she was French but speaking English, so although he understood he said, ‘Sorry, I don’t understand’, so he could hear her accent again.
Greta made a gesture with her hand mimicking a penis peeing and repeated her question which sounded to Keith like, ‘do u ned do pizz?’
He said, ’yes’, and for good measure added, ‘oui’. So, he struggled to a sitting position. He wasn’t sure what she was going to do, surely, she wasn’t going to watch him? Instead she waived to Henry, and made the same pissing gesture as if she was holding a penis with her hand. He waived back. Greta slit the ivy binding Keith’s ankles with her dagger. Henry rose to his feet and cocked an arrow in his bow. Keith had seen the power of that bow yesterday, when Henry had killed that horse rider. He stood up warily, rubbing his back, which was stiff from sleeping on the ground. Greta gestured towards a tree, and he turned his back towards her and Henry while he undid his zip and tried to concentrate.
Despite his desperation to urinate, he couldn’t focus. Having a strange woman watch him and knowing an arrow could pierce his spine any second didn’t make it easy. He often found it difficult to pee in crowded urinals, especially with other men close to him. As he was taller than most his eye level meant he could see too much. He did what he always did in these circumstances, and tried to think of the numerical constant pi, he used to know it off-heart to 100 decimal places 3.14159265359 … and he urinated on the ground with great relief.
To his surprise, Greta didn’t immediately re-tie his hands and feet but gestured for him to sit opposite her on the ground near the fire. Keith was glad of the warmth, although the weather was unseasonably warm it was cold in the early morning. He could still see the remnants of Patch’s bones in the embers, and felt a lump of terrible sadness in his throat.
Greta watched the tall stranger as he sat by the fire. He had on strange looking clothes, and shoes. The clothes were tight fitting and appeared very well made. The fabrics were different to those worn by the dead horsewomen, but were also new to her. He was as tall as Eustace, but although he looked fit, he did not have the muscular physique of a trained man-at-arms. He was clearly not a military man.
Greta said without preamble, ‘What is your name?’
Keith found it hard to find his voice he was still so upset. This was the women who had skinned, cooked and then eaten his dog. He croaked, ‘Keith Maxwell.’
‘I am Greta the Witch. Where are we?’
Keith could not place her accent. She was a striking looking woman, short and wiry probably not even 5-foot-tall, her teeth were bad and her white hair a mess. She smelt terrible although she slept rough all the time. She smelt of unwashed clothes and he couldn’t quite place it, it smelt like animal dung and garlic. He could still taste the smell of her hand, when she had put it over his mouth when she had awoken him. So, he could get her to speak again, and try and place her accent, he said, ‘Excuse me?’
Greta said, ’Excuse me, is not a name of a place I have heard of, is it near La Fete?
Keith’s brain began to clear, and he realised that Greta was speaking with a slight French accent. He also realised she didn’t understand the term excuse me, and although it had not registered the first time, he was sure she had said she was a Witch. If he hadn’t seen the two women murdered yesterday together with his own beloved pet dog, he may have thought this was an elaborate joke.
He said, ‘I am not sure exactly where we are, but we are somewhere near Hazeley Common’. Greta didn’t realise it but Keith was giving a factually correct scientific answer, he would have given her the map reference from the GPS if he could have remembered it. At that point, he realised he had left his phone in his jacket, but he hid the thought.
‘Hazeley Common, I have not heard of that place, but are we near Hertleye Wynteneye?’
Keith was taken aback by the old French name for Hartley Wintney. He had read it in the local history book in his father’s study, but had never heard it spoken. He now realised Greta’s earlier reference to La Fete was probably to Fleet. Fleet was the nearest large town with a population of about 30,000 people.
He asked Greta, ‘Are you from France?’
‘No, I am from England. Have you not heard of Hertleye Wynteneye?’
‘Yes, but most people call it Hartley Wintney’.
Greta had never heard it called Hartley Wintney. This was strange, because she thought she had known about all the people who knew Hertleye Wynteneye.
She said, ‘I have never heard the Winta family call it thus.’
Greta did not ask Keith if he knew the Winta family. As far as she was concerned this was such a small community, everyone would know the Winta family.
Keith said, ‘I don’t think I know the Winta family, where abouts in Hartley Wintney do they live?’
To Greta, this was a very strange question, since there was only one house of any consequence in the village. But she let the question pass, and instead switched to a different subject.
‘What is that noise I can hear in the distance?’
Keith listened for a moment, because any traffic noise was slight this early on a Sunday morning. He said, ‘it is probably some traffic on the M3’.
‘What is traffic and what is M3?’
Now Keith was confused by a question. Perhaps this woman was playing with him. Perhaps this was a joke? Despite her dishevelled appearance, her yellow eyes were bright, and showed a hidden intelligence. There was no trace of a smile or humour in her expression. She was serious, perhaps she was foreign or French after all. But she had just said she wasn’t? Keith’s tired and muddled brain now began to return to his scientific training, and he began to analyze the situation logically. He replied to Greta’s question to give him time to think. He replied in a scientifically factual way.
‘The M3 is the main London to Winchester motorway, and the traffic will probably be made up of cars and trucks mostly heading towards London, and in the other direction to the south coast or Winchester’.