GEOFF, WITH CAREFUL trembling hands, placed the heavy stewing pot into the oven. Beneath the cast-iron lid, the saddle of the hare lay in three parts with its legs tucked around, stewing in a pool of stock, cider, root vegetables and thick cuts of bacon. After a slow two hours in the oven, he would then add cream and serve it at the table.
Richard lay on the sofa reading a book he had picked up from the shelf in the hallway; a book of local history. He found himself particularly engrossed by a section he found on the Civil War; of the battles fought in the area and how certain stories made their way into local folklore. These were stories that were mostly left out of history books, due in part to their speculative nature, and lack of solid contemporary evidence. Nonetheless, these were stories that resonated through the hills. He looked up from the page, out of the window, onto the driveway. He and Geoff were growing quietly but more steadily concerned over the whereabouts of their wives. Neither of them could be reached by phone. Knowing there was little to be done in this weather he returned to his book. There was a passage describing an execution that took place in a field not far from the farm. A young Royalist soldier was captured by a group of Cromwell’s men. The young man, practically a boy, had been stripped
naked in the middle of winter, his body beaten, and almost every bone broken. He was forced to renounce his king. After further beating, he renounced his God. He was finally left in the mud to die; naked and wretched, and without a single loyalty in his heart to comfort him in his last few moments of his life.
Richard flattened the book on his chest. He closed his eyes and concentrated his senses on the heat emanating from the fire as it travelled in lapping waves across his neck, around his ears and into the short tresses of his hair. In the darkness, he could better appreciate this most primitive of comforts; a comfort born of the earliest human achievement. He also heard the rain outside. He could hear it making its way down the chimney; the individual droplets hissing as they hit the full-blazing logs. Perhaps he and Geoff should go out and look for them, he thought, see that they aren’t hurt.
The sound of yelling, cut through the falling rain; the heavy crunch of boots on wet gravel, running toward the door. Richard looked out from the window and saw Karen running over. Anna followed behind with the girl in her arms. The door swung open and for a brief moment the storm itself seemed to enter the room.