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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23. Forest Of Arden

Sophia gazed to the east and admired the glowing orange horizon. The sun would soon rise, she thought. Her horse Solitaire had championed the several hours of darkness trotting through the long thick grass covering the overgrown trails as if he knew Anne’s life was at risk. Every time she caught sight of Anne’s horse Eclipse without a rider lashed by a short piece of rope to Lancelot, a lump formed in her throat.

She feared they moved somewhat slower than Jack, giving him at least a few hours’ lead—possibly more. “We are nearly there,” Michael said, “just a few hundred yards from Coughton Cross. We’ll secure the horses here and travel the rest of the way by foot.” He dismounted and proceeded to tie Lancelot to a nearby tree. Sophia followed suit.

Michael led the way as they traversed the narrow dirt trail between the trees in single file with Dash at the rear. A short walk later, they entered the clearing where the Mark Stone lay. Michael rushed over to the stone, crouched down, and began scanning the ground. “Two sets of horse trails, one leading here from the south and the other leading away in a northerly direction,” he said, continuing to scout the tracks. He pointed into the dense forest. “They went that way on foot but only one returned.”

The pre-dawn sounds of various species of birds chirping their morning harmonies washed through the trees as they ventured into the forest. A little way in, the singing stopped. Vibrant trees gave way to the charred and twisted remnants of once majestic oaks. Other than the sounds of the scorched undergrowth cracking beneath their feet, the forest was silent. “This is creepy,” Sophia said, eyeing the trees and wondering if they or something else was watching her. Great cobwebs began appearing spanning between the branches, sparse at first but becoming denser the farther they travelled. Then Sophia halted, trembling, the sight before her was unimaginable. A spider’s web ten times her height spanned across a clearing. The silk threads, thick as rope, formed an intricate web of jagged circles condensing to a center point. Anne, wrapped in a silk-like cocoon two stories above the ground in the heart of the web, stared at Sophia. The chilling sight sent shivers down Sophia’s spine.

Anne’s head barely peeked over her web sheath. She shouted, “Behind you, look out!”

Sophia and Michael spun around to see a large black spider scrutinizing them with each of its many eyes of various sizes. Without warning, sticky web blasted from between its fangs, channeled from its spinnerets. It connected first with Sophia and then with Michael. Dash scampered off into the trees.

The spider reeled in the thread attached to Sophia. She fell to her rear, dug her heels and hands into the undergrowth attempting to halt her advance. Mini trenches formed beneath her palms and feet as the spider dragged her towards its waiting fangs, which secreted a greenish fluid. Her muscles burned as she fought with every ounce of her strength to win the tug of war for her very life. She was losing. One of the spider’s eight long barbed legs reached out to grasp her. She let out a shriek loud enough to startle birds a mile away to flight. The limb descended then latched onto her, and effortlessly hauled her in. With two forelegs, the spider rolled her as if she was a rag doll, while wrapping her with silk thread streaking from spinnerets—securing its meal. Cocooned, she wriggled with all her strength in an attempt to break free. Helpless, she watched as the spider turned its focus on Michael.

On his feet, Michael leaned back and stiffened himself against the pull of the spider’s tow. He readied his staff between his hands. The spider stretched out a leg. With a quick wrist flick, he deflected the limb to the side. Using the other foreleg, the spider swiped towards Michael. He ducked in time for the leg to sweep over his head. Rearing, fangs raised, the spider lurched. Michael dived forwards, rolled onto his back, holding his staff upright. As the spider overshot, Michael thrust his staff into its underbelly. Black, acidic, liquid oozed from around the puncture wound. The great arachnid sprang upwards using all eight of its legs. The thread holding Michael snapped leaving him on the ground, free. Michael rolled to his feet, and then fled for the shield of a nearby tree. He spied the spider in among the treetops near some web sacs. Nine egg sacs exploded, nearly simultaneously, in a white puff. Newborn spiders emerged, each as long as his forearm. In rapid succession, they rappelled by thread to the ground.

Drenched in her own sweat, her arms barely able to move an inch, Sophia continued struggling to free herself. No matter how much she squirmed the threads held her tight. The more she struggled, the tighter the cocoon seemed to become.

In an organized fashion, the baby spiders lined up in a straight line facing Michael. Once in position they scuttled towards him. He stepped from the trees holding his staff firmly between his hands. From out of nowhere, a silver crossbow bolt whistled through the air and hit one of the baby spiders with such force that it threw the oversized creature into a tumble until it rolled to a stop, facing the sky, legs curled inward—dead. A couple of seconds later, another spider suffered the same fate, followed by a third. Michael cut his eyes to the source of the whizzing bolts. Reverend Robinson, crossbow in hand, valiantly fixed his aim on another of the creatures. The remaining clutter of six spiders scattered, seemingly confused by the events. Michael charged. He raised his staff, targeted a straggler, and with a swift strike struck the arachnid. The black orbed abdomen of the spider exploded in a jet of dark ooze. Two spiders charged towards Reverend Robinson. He reloaded his crossbow in time to halt the first attacker before it even left the ground. The second leapt into the air, fangs out, towards the Reverend’s face as he finished loading a bolt. Armed, he aimed. The spider inches from him, he fired, the quarrel hitting its mark and sending the impaled creature scuttling to the ground.

Meanwhile, the remaining three arachnids focused their attention on Michael. The first one leapt towards his chest. He sent the spider flying with a great looping swing of the staff. The other two prepared to leap. Michael readied his staff. Together they launched. He swung the staff, deflecting one with a swift hacking blow that slammed the spider into the ground. The other landed on his shoulder, sinking its large fangs deep into the left side of his neck. He reached over with his right hand, grabbed the spider and squeezed, crushing its life away and then throwing its carcass to the ground. Blood seeped from two puncture wounds on the side of his neck.

Sophia stopped struggling to free herself from the constraint that she imagined must be like wearing a strait jacket. A flushing sense of relief cascaded through her body as Reverend Robinson hovered above her. “I’ll get you out, Sophia,” he said. He swiped a silver dagger from a sheath under his left trouser leg and sliced through the striated strands of the cocoon.

Michael, his face contorted with pain, turned a shade of blue as he clutched the side of his throbbing neck. He staggered towards them, each step clumsier and slower than the previous. A body length away, he collapsed to the ground.

Her arms free, Sophia wriggled out of the cocoon and scrambled over to Michael. As if by instinct, she placed her hands over the side of his neck and closed her eyes. As expected, the white light radiated from her hands into the side of Michael’s neck. Several seconds later, the white glow faded. Sophia removed her hands—the wound was gone. Michael’s eyes slowly opened. “I thought I was on my way to the afterlife,” he said, rubbing the side of his neck.

“Not while I’m around,” Sophia replied, helping him to his feet.

“We have a bigger problem,” Reverend Robinson said, pointing.

The giant spider, seemingly recovered from the earlier wound, lowered from the trees by a thread.

“Not again,” Sophia said. “Let’s split up.”

The Reverend reloaded his crossbow. “I’ll draw the loathsome beast towards me. Try to flank it.”

Michael darted left, Sophia right. The spider stalked Sophia and shot a line of sticky silk towards her. This time, Sophia anticipated the move and easily dodged the attack.

Reverend Robinson fired. The bolt cruised through the air and landed in the larger of the spider’s right eyes. When the arachnid spun towards the Reverend, Michael seized the opportunity to sprint, leap onto the beast’s back, and plunge his staff deep into the unarmored abdomen. Black ooze gushed out of the wound as he withdrew his weapon. Wasting no time, Michael sprang forward and whomped the spider with tremendous force. The blow crushed the spider’s thorax, instantly putting the creature down. “Team work,” Michael said, leaping off his conquest. The spider squirmed from muscle memory, nothing more, before rolling onto its back with its legs curled inward in a death pose. Several seconds later, the dead arachnid began to dissolve into a dark charcoal-colored mist before disintegrating in a single puff.

“Hey!” Anne shouted. “Don’t forget me!”

Michael retrieved the knife from his haversack. “Cut her down,” he said, facing Sophia.

She took the knife, raced over to the web and climbed up the sticky mesh. “I’ll have you out in a sec’,” she said, cutting through the sac imprisoning Anne.

 “I’m sorry,” Anne said.

“For what?” Sophia said, as she helped Anne down from the web.

“Running off. I thought I could do something and be someone important.”

“You are plenty important, especially to me.”

“How so?”

“You are like my sister,” Sophia said, contemplating whether she should tell Anne what she knew.

“Really?”

Sophia pulled her close and hugged her tightly. “Yes, really.”

Dash, fresh from her hiding place in the trees, came scurrying over.

“Guess you’re not one for spiders,” Sophia said. Dash turned her head side to side as if to say, “Who, me? I was here the whole time.”

Michael turned to Reverend Robinson. “Your timing was impeccable. How did you know where we would be?”

“It’s the strangest thing. A dream, a man, Dan, Dun,” he scratched his chin, “Diniel, I think, told me you might need my help. So I tracked you.”

At the sound of that name, Sophia’s eyebrows raised, but she did not say anything.

“Right,” Michael said. “Well, we owe you and this Diniel fellow abundant gratitude.”                                                                                                     

“What about the man who took you, Anne?” Sophia said. “Do you know where he went?”

“No, sorry. He took off running after the spider attacked.”

Sophia turned to Michael. “What now?”

“We continue on our way to Hermitage Castle.” Michael turned and faced Reverend Robinson. “Will you be joining us?”

“No, I would love to. I must say I have enjoyed the action. But I do have a church to run. It’s my calling.”

Michael nodded before turning to Anne. “Did the man who abducted you give a name?”

“Jack,” she said.

Sophia gritted her teeth to stem the gruesome chill running down her spine. The name came as no surprise. Although, the thought of him being that close to Anne made her cringe. An anger fuelled a fiery passion inside her. Jack’s back. It’s going to be either him or me.

“Should we pursue Jack?” Sophia asked.

“Hmm. I doubt he was behind the giant spider. That appeared to be the work of a sorcerer,” Michael replied. “Jack is likely to be his servant. Let’s head back to the Coughton Cross and make a decision there.”

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