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Phoenix Cottage - Chapter 1

by poemsgalore 

Posted: 02 August 2003
Word Count: 973
Summary: The first chapter of a short book intended for children around 11-14 years old. About time travel.

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Phoenix Cottage

Chapter 1

The Past

As the two horses picked their way between the trees, sixteen year old Simon Cadogan and his younger brother Benjamin looked all around them. Although the valley was steep, the horses were sure footed and the boys excellent horsemen. Then Simon noticed a small wooden building nestling among the trees, this is what they had been looking for.

"So the stories are true" he gathered up the reins and his mount came to a halt. "There is a witch living in the forest." Benjamin drew alongside his brother and peered anxiously through the trees.

"Is there any sign of life?" At fourteen, he wasn't as brave as his brother and Simon noticed the nervousness in his voice.

"She's probably brewing up some vile concoction to cast a spell on you Benjamin" Simon teased spurring his horse on down the hill, Benjamin kept close behind. When they reached the ramshackle hut they tethered their horses to a nearby tree.

"Surely no-one can live here." Benjamin stared at the derelict hovel as Simon leaned with his hand against the door. Immediately it caved in and he fell headlong into the dark interior. Something furry leaped at him, hissing and spitting. Sharp needles dug into his face as he struggled to his feet. A large scrawny cat hung with its claws embedded into the flesh on Simon's cheeks. With a yowl, the animal fell to the ground then fled into the forest.

Benjamin rushed to his horse for the flask of water from his saddle. He took it back to where Simon stood, blood trickling down his cheeks. Using his handkerchief, he gently cleaned the wounds left by the cat's claws. No one had come out of the hut to see what the commotion was about.

"The devil himself must be behind this." He stepped cautiously into the doorway and peered into the darkness. "What a filthy stench!" As his eyes became accustomed to the darkness he could see what looked like a human figure seated in the corner of the room. An oil lamp stood on a rickety table nearby; it still contained a little oil so Simon lit it. Benjamin was about to follow his brother inside, but was knocked over as Simon gave a cry of horror and flew out, dropping the lamp as he did so. Benjamin picked himself up and ran after Simon who was loosing his horse and mounting. "Hurry Benjamin, we must get out of here." Benjamin turned to look back at the hut. The lamp had broken in its fall and set fire to something inside the hut, which was now blazing.

"But what about that?" He called pointing to the fire.

"Leave it and follow me - quickly Benjamin!" he yelled over his shoulder. The horses were straining to get away from the fire and need no spurring on. The two brothers gave them their heads and they galloped up the hill. When they reached the relative safety of the hillcrest, they reigned in their horses. The smell of fire was far behind them now and the horses soon settled.

"What was in there Simon?" Benjamin asked. Simon looked at his younger brother.

"It's better that you never know Benjamin." Simon slowly rode away, his cheeks were hot and throbbing, he needed to get his wounds tended to properly. Benjamin rode behind him; trying to imagine what horror Simon had seen inside the hut. If his brother didn't want him to know, perhaps it would be better if he tried to put the whole incident out of his mind.

As the Cadogan brothers disappeared over the brow of the hill, a troop of Roundhead soldiers made their way down the opposite side of the valley. As they neared the bottom they saw the flames. By the time they reached the hut, it was just a smouldering heap. Captain James Porter turned to his Sergeant.

"Who owns the land surrounding this valley?"

"Sir Richard Cadogan owns them sir."

"A Royalist!" His superior spat the words out; as far as he was concerned all Royalists were devil worshippers and should be burned at the stake. "We had better inform him of what has occurred so close to his land."

"Perhaps he already knows sir." The Sergeant sneered.

Simon and Benjamin headed for home. Their Grandfather had built Cadogan Hall in 1591. Their father, Sir Richard Cadogan, had inherited the house and all its land on his father's death in 1628. As next in line, Simon would inherit it on his father's death, but at sixteen all that seemed a long way off.

The horses were left at the stables, where Samuel the groom took care of them. Sarah the cook was busy preparing the meal when the brothers entered the kitchen.

"Master Simon, what on earth has happened?"

"It's only a cat scratch Sarah, but it is sore. Do you have any balm to put on it?" While Sarah tended to Simon's wounds, Benjamin went to his father's study. He was about to knock and enter when he heard voices from inside. He put his ear to the door and listened for a few moments. The door suddenly opened and Benjamin jumped back, startled.

"Benjamin, what are you doing there?" Benjamin wasn't afraid of his father, as he was usually a gentle man who seldom lost his temper, but the expression on his face was so angry.

"I was looking for you father." He said nervously "Simon has been hurt." As he spoke three men emerged from the study behind Sir Richard.

"I will contact you in a few days time Sir Richard." One of the men said, "We will see ourselves out." Sir Richard nodded then turned to Benjamin, his face softening as he did so.

"Now, what has happened to Simon?"

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Comments by other Members

Becca at 13:30 on 02 August 2003  Report this post
Hi kathleen,
I like the way this story doesn't reveal the time it's set in immediately, - I had not imagined it in any particular time before the soldiers appeared, so it's a nice surprise when it places itself as it does.
Maybe if there was a little bit more of a description of the forest to tease out the tension and the growing nervousness of the boys, or the younger boy, it could give it a tad more weight.
With the roundhead soldiers, children reading it might want a bit of detail around them, who were they, what did they wear? Perhaps this comes later in your story anyway, - and the different perspectives of the royalists and the roundheads. It's a good beginning, looking forward to reading more. If it's a short book, and you were to post the next pieces on the fiction site, you might get more readers, than on the short story site. But I don't remember if you're signed up to one of them, as I write this. You could also flag it up on the 'Introduce your Work' forum.

poemsgalore at 16:19 on 02 August 2003  Report this post
Thanks Becca, I only belong to poems 1 and the short story group, so I was a bit worried about whether I should put it here at all. More is revealed later (about roundheads etc) so I will think about putting more up somewhere else.

Becca at 06:42 on 03 August 2003  Report this post
Well I wondered that, Kathleen. Have a word with David about no space. Not that it wouldn't be welcome here, but what about the Children's book site?

Sarah at 12:01 on 04 August 2003  Report this post
Hi Kathleen,

What's great about this is that it gets right into the action, straight away, and i think that's important for children's fiction. When Simon sees whatever he sees in the house... this is done a little too quickly. I was lost in it and confused as to why he would storm right into the place and light the lamp, having seen a figre sitting there.

Anyway, that's a minor detail, and already this is very exciting. i think the tone is perfect, and not patronising (which I think could be a danger when writing for teens).

I agree with Becca that a little more description wouldn't hurt What do the boys look like, what does Sarah the cook look like? Perhaps these things will all come out later...

I loko forward to reading the next bits.

JohnK at 02:00 on 10 August 2003  Report this post
Great style, easy to read and fast moving. I guess the name Phoenix Cottage gives a clue to what is the outcome of the fire.
Assuming it is an illustrated book, I think the line 'A large scrawny cat hung with its claws embedded into the flesh on Simon's cheeks' would be an illustation to catch the eye, so to speak.
Illustrations would help to indicate the approximate time it is set in, as Becca mentioned.
All the best with it, Regards, JohnK.


I've just noticed that it is about time travel. Looking forward to that bit.

matheson at 22:28 on 13 August 2003  Report this post
Hi Kathleen

I liked the sense of the sweep of landscape and the tension around the boys entering the interior of the cottage. The shape of the story was well established and the sense of events which might unfold (witches, Royalists & Roundheads, the 2 men with the boys' father). Great setups for a first chapter.

As some others have commented, a little more detail about the boys and their relative ages (16 and ?) might have helped. Simon would be a young man rather than a boy in the 17th cent. wouldn't he...which makes sense of the resolution in "you don't want to know" but I felt he recovered too quickly from the shock, the event jumped in and out of focus too quickly and would bear a slightly slower account.

I was also a little jarred by the revelation that there was a witch in the woods...without the 17th cent. context at that stage I couldn't tell if the boys were playing a game of make-believe. There didn't seem enough evidence to jump to this conclusion. Knowing it was "their" wood and they would know if anyone normally lived there might help.

One last thought: given the state of history education etc etc I'm not sure kids would immediately place the piece in history simply from the roundhead/royalist allusion (but perhaps "the english civil war" is not as significant in the curriculum up here in Scotland despite the battle of Dunbar and the fact we started it ;-)

These are issues of pace and detail. A good first chapter. Look forward to more.



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