The Anglic Gene

An orphan girl unsure of who she is or why a man wants her dead carries a secret. She will experience humanity.

Are you ready?

Join Sophia in a heart thumping adventure across England set in the 1870’s, exploring faith, doubt, love and fear. A story, quoted by the editor as “really something special”, you’ll continue to contemplate long after the journey unfolds

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34. Dunsop Bridge

“Quaint village,” Sophia said as they passed over a little hump-backed stone bridge that crossed the river Dunsop in the small town of Dunsop Bridge, which was nestled in the rolling hills of the Forest of Bowland. She fidgeted on her horse. The long rides, typically a day’s duration, still managed to displease her bottom such that she had to occasionally reposition her body or stand up in the stirrups for short lengths of time. “Where are we going?” she asked.

“First, to the stables,” Michael replied. “We will leave our steeds there. The rest of our journey will be on foot.”

“Then?”

“To St Hubert’s Church where we’ll spend the night.”

“Another church?” Anne said. “Why all the churches?”

“Safest place to be when dark forces are about,” Michael replied.

“True,” she said, nodding.

At the stables, a man in his early thirties with a slim build and blond hair approached as they dismounted. “Good to see you again, Michael.”

“And you, too, Marcus,” Michael said. He introduced Sophia and Anne.

Sophia turned to Michael, her eyes rolling with curiosity, said, “How do you know so many people?”

“I get around, and many come to visit the Cistercians.”

Marcus said, “And what can I do for you, young sir.”

“I need these three steeds returned to the Cistercians in London.”

“That is certainly something I can arrange,” Marcus replied. “Richard would be very proud of these fine stallions.”

“And well he should be,” Michael said. “They have served us extraordinarily well.”

“Who’s Richard?” Sophia asked, as he stroked Solitaire’s shoulder.

“Richard Eastwood, a horse breeder. The last Bowbearer of the Forest of Bowland,” Marcus replied. His voice saddened as he continued. “The old bugger passed away four years ago.” He pointed into the distance. “He is buried over at St Hubert’s.”

Michael nodded. “Condolences, Marcus. He was a fine man and I know you miss him.”

“Indeed, but I think he was ready to move on.” Marcus glanced towards the sky. “Somewhat looking forward to the afterlife.”

“Well, speaking of St Hubert’s, that is where we are off to,” Michael said, extending his arm. “Thank you for taking care of our steeds.”

“Anytime,” he replied, firmly shaking Michael’s hand.

Sophia whispered to Solitaire, “Goodbye.” Her horse nuzzled closer to her. “I’m going to miss you.” Solitaire let out a nay, as if to say, “I’ll miss you too.” Her eyes welled, half from the joy of knowing Solitaire and half from the sense of losing a friend.

“Come, Sophia,” Michael said, cutting short the farewell.

On the path to St Hubert’s Anne asked, “So who is St Hubert? That’s a saint I haven’t heard of before.”

“Oh,” Michael replied. “St Hubert is said to be the patron saint of hunters. Many royal hunters used to hunt in the Forest of Bowland. Some still do. Legend has it that St. Hubert converted to Christianity after seeing a vision of a crucifix between the antlers of a stag while hunting. During the apparition, he heard a voice telling him to seek faith. The event happened on Good Friday. He went on to become a bishop.”

On approaching St Hubert’s church, Sophia gazed at a life-size statue of a female angel standing on a large stone block adorned with a crucifix. “She’s beautiful.”

“Indeed,” Michael replied. “She stands over the Towneley’s family vault.”

Anne circled the statute, glancing up and down at it. “I love angels. They are so majestic.”

Sophia turned her attention to the surroundings. Various tombstones, randomly placed and each dissimilar to the next, pocked the garden around the church. Some were square slabs with rounded tops, while others were stone crucifixes of varying sizes mounted on masonry bases of every type.

Michael approached the arched entrance of the church, with the girls and Dash close behind. Inside the foyer area, an open wooden doorway provided a way in. “Is anyone here?” Michael shouted. No reply. He stepped through the door. The interior of the church was exceedingly elegant with traditional Roman Catholic appointments—archways edged with golden borders, hand-carved alcoves for statuary, and exposed beams with lovely wood grains. The golden borders were themselves objects of art. Large hexagonal gas lanterns hung from the ceiling by silver chains casting a warm light on the interior. Additional lanterns not lit were mounted on short protruding bars high in the side walls.

Michael pointed to one of the stained glass windows. “There’s a depiction of St Hubert.” The window consisted of shards of colored glass fashioned in the likeness of a man dressed as a huntsman accompanied by a stag.

“Right, stash your back packs, and find a pew to sleep on,” Michael said. “Or, if you like, you can rest on the floor as you did before.”

Sophia and Anne slipped off their haversacks and tossed them onto a pew.

“Who wants to come hunting?” Michael said, holding a bow.

“I do,” Anne replied.

“Where did you get that bow?” Sophia asked, looking at the striking weapon, string taut and ready for the hunt.

“A church named after the patron saint of hunters was bound to have a few hunting supplies around.”

“I’ll come along,” Sophia said, with a hint of excitement in her voice.

“We’re off, then,” Michael said. He slung the quiver of arrows he had found in a crate filled with them over his shoulder, and the trio left the place of worship with Dash in tow. After a short walk, they ended up on the bank of the River Dunlop. “Let’s follow it upstream.” The last light of day grew dimmer and the trees of the forest denser by the step. “We don’t have long,” Michael whispered. Their pace slowed to a crawl as they attempted to move with stealth through the thick undergrowth. He stopped. “Over there,” he whispered, pointing off into the trees.

“I see it,” Sophia said, gazing into the distance.

“Where?” Anne said.

“See those two trees beyond that large rock?” Michael said, pointing with his head. “Look a little beyond those to the right.”

“Ah, a deer,” Anne said, eyes wide. “Are we going to kill it? But she looks so friendly.”

“Indeed,” Michael said. “They are lovely creatures, but so are you two, and to stay that way you need to eat.”

The deer raised its head from grazing and gawked in their direction, sensing their presence. Michael ducked behind a tree and motioned for the girls to do the same. He loaded a steel-tipped arrow with a feathered tail into the bow, pulled back the drawstring, stepped out from behind the tree, took his aim, and released the wooden missile. With a thwap, the arrow impaled the left side of the deer, just back from its shoulder. Instantly, the deer collapsed to the ground. “Clean kill,” Michael said, “through the heart.”

“Oh,” Anne said. “One part of me wanted you to miss.”

Michael ruffled Anne’s hair. “I understand. Taking the life of a beautiful animal can be difficult.”

“Didn’t you kill the rabbit, Anne?” Sophia asked.

“But that was different. I don’t like rabbits.”

“Oh… And why is that?”

Anne wriggled her nose, like a rabbit. “They are creepy little creatures.”

Sophia laughed, thought about asking why, but decided to let it go.

“Can you girls gather some firewood?” Michael said. “Meet back here at the side of the river. I’ll fetch the deer. Dash, you stay with me.”

“Okay,” Sophia said at the same time Anne said, “Yeppers.”

“Plenty of wood around,” Sophia said, picking up several dry fallen branches and loading them onto Anne’s awaiting arms.

“Sure is.”

Several minutes later, they arrived back at the riverbank. “That will certainly be enough wood,” Michael said as the girls emptied their arms onto the ground.

“Nice campfire,” Sophia said, gazing at the circle of stones around the blazing fire. Next to the fire was a large portion of fresh deer meat. Over on the grassy patch, in a world all her own, Dash gnawed on a large bone. Glancing at the now three-legged deer, Sophia guessed they were eating its hind leg.

“What are we going to do with the rest of the deer?” Anne asked.

“I’ll drop it at Marcus’ house on the way back to St Hubert Church,” Michael said, wrapping the cut meat carefully in some large green leaves. With a stick, he created a clearing in the middle of the flames, placed the covered meat in the open spot, and then roofed the wrapped food with some small rocks and soil. Then he enclosed their uncooked meal with the burning wood of the fire.

Sophia found a fallen log off to the side of the campfire and sat down, still close enough to feel the warmth of the fire kiss her skin. The sound of the river cascading over the rocks and the crackle of the fire combined with the view of the sky changing from day to night with the richest orange hue she had ever seen filled her with profound contentment. “I could sleep right here,” she said.

“We could,” Michael said, “but we’ll be safer at St Hubert Church.”

Anne jolted at the sound of a wolf howling somewhere deep within the forest. “I prefer the church,” she said.

Michael threw additional sticks onto the fire to fatten the hungry flames. “Shouldn’t be long until the meat is cooked.” He glanced at Anne. “Don’t worry. We’ll eat at the church. We’ll be long gone by the time that pack of wolves gets here.”

“That’s a relief,” Anne replied.

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