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Kellie Dennis: Book Covers By Design
Release Date: 06 November, 2015
Warren Blake is an accountant at the pinnacle of his career. After accepting a new position he decides to settle in the scenic Cotswold village of Walmsley Hackett. A village with a colourful history of myth, old wives tales and mystery.
One morning during his train ride into work, Warren notices a small quaint church which he becomes enchanted with. Curiousity compels him to find the church and when he finally does, he discovers an unmarked grave in the corner. Feeling sorry for its occupant, Warren becomes a frequent visitor.
Little does he know that the young man inside the coffin needs a champion and Warren is chosen.
What follows involves a ghostly medieval joust, witchcraft, love, and Warren risking his life.
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WARREN BLAKE relaxed before the fire and wriggled his toes in appreciation of the heat rising up his legs. He swirled the cognac in the glass cradled in his hand and saw images of aged stone in the single piece of ice like it was a reflection of his thoughts. Flickering ambers and reds from the flames reflected off the walls and surrounded his recliner.
Close by, a beep from the kitchen clock interrupted his musings, signalling the turn of the late hour.
He’d once again seen the place that intrigued him; a place that increasingly occupied his mind. From the train carriage, he’d noticed the building had the outline of a small church. Every day, the sight raised questions in his mind as he travelled to work in Cheltenham from the scenic village of Walmsley Hackett.
The large rocks used in its construction suggested it was old. Yet well-groomed plants covered its aged body. Perhaps it was a church converted to a cottage. That type of renovation had been popular in recent years.
It would seem Warren had some exploration in his future.
A LITTLE over two years previous, during the spring quarter, Warren’s life had taken quite a turn. It changed from business-centric to putting down roots with more of a focus on life.
Since leaving the education system, Warren’s career had been his top priority. He’d enjoyed university life like everyone else, but once in the workplace, every move he’d made either gained him experience or was a step up the ladder. His latest job was no exception. It was a post he’d worked hard for and sacrificed much to get—Financial Controller for A-Genet, a multinational corporation that developed and installed guidance software into anything that flew or floated. Warren had always enjoyed a portion of his money and successfully invested the rest. However, if he stayed in his current post for five years, he would be set for life. If he chose to do so, he could retire at forty with a seat on the board and enjoy the finer things in life.
After years of living in cheaper rented accommodation, he’d been ready for a snug of his own. All he had to do was find a place for sale, a task that proved simple in concept but extraordinarily difficult in execution. Whenever he had a day free, he’d driven to surrounding villages and towns with certain criteria in mind, on the lookout for that perfect place.
A train station was a must. Driving around any major town was a nightmare, especially one like Cheltenham where history mixed with modern day—not that Warren regularly left the office at rush hour. That being said, there were many festivals throughout the year whose attractions (and attendant traffic) continued well into the evening. As well as the Literature, Jazz, and Science Festivals, there was the Cheltenham Race Festival. Every year since 1815, the course held the famous event attended by royalty from around the world. At such times, it also seemed that Ireland emptied while its inhabitants descended upon the city.
Eventually, Warren discovered the quaint village of Walmsley Hackett. Surrounded by fields and trees, the village seemed heaven-sent for him. It had roads marginally wider than single track, while fawn-and-grey walls of Cotswold stone separated lush green fields. There was even a single-platform train station accommodating all arrivals and departures. It was a far cry from bustling, rarely sleeping London, where he’d previously worked.
London—a place full of people, many of whom rarely talked to each other. Millions travelled the underground in silence, listening to their escape through headphones. London, a place where everything happened, yet one could feel so lonely amongst the masses.
Walmsley Hackett was the polar opposite. It was the type of place where community spirit was essential if one was to be liked. Every other lane housed stables, which accommodated one of his passions: horse riding. And in Worcester, not far away, there was a lake where he could brush up on his windsurfing techniques.
After weeks of viewing the few places for sale in the village and its immediate surroundings, one fact became apparent. Being taller than a hobbit meant many old traditional properties weren’t suitable; he would have to walk hunched for fear of hitting his head on a beam. He’d already left a couple of residences with a burgeoning case of concussion. If he didn’t watch out, his forehead would flatten and give him a caveman look.
New houses didn’t have enough land, or facilities for him to store his windsurfing sails, booms, and boards. Older places requiring renovation came with a different set of hurdles, including covenants and development restrictions—a minefield with no guarantees of satisfactory exit.
When his realtors became aware of his struggles, they suggested building a place of his own. And so a different search began.
The place he settled upon was a plain acre field on the outskirts of the village. Many years ago, archaeologists had unearthed a building beneath the grass surface. It was at the opposite end to the road, and only the lower parts of the outer walls were intact. The site was thought to be part of the old manor house, whose lands in times past stretched far beyond the limits of the modern village. The council stipulated, provided they didn’t build on the ruins and the outsides of the buildings were in keeping with the area, he could do as he pleased with the interior.
Therefore, during spring, almost two years after starting at A-Genet—two years of searching, purchasing, planning permissions, and building—Warren had moved into his new home. It was a single-floored, high-ceilinged cottage built in local stone. It had a slate roof, and the walls facing the road were adorned with small round windows. Facing the hills, valleys, and woods there was floor-to-ceiling triple glazing. Arches edged the higher echelons of the windows, giving it a church-like feeling. There was even an annex housing a private spa.
Inside, the surfaces were a combination of oak and marble. The classic materials masked the latest gadgetry that allowed Warren to have a man pad with security to rival London’s finest. It was a true melding of old and ultramodern.
Outside there was a stone barn large enough to store his surfing and riding gear with space to spare. Next to it was a matching building suitable for three vehicles.
Settled in his new house, he’d spotted the church from the train within the first few days of travelling to work, and once he’d spied it, he sent it a silent greeting when the carriage passed. Something about the church was familiar. There was a possibility he’d seen the same place previously while out in the countryside. Maths was his strong suit, not geography.
DURING THE previous summer, midway through the building process, Warren had found a local stables and indulged his love of horses. The facility had both indoor and outdoor schools, a field full of jumps, and a cross-country course. Warren chose the place not only because of its impressive amenities, but because he immediately struck a chord with its aging owner, Carl. He and Carl rode together often. Their friendship developed during Sunday-afternoon rides through the vales and hills of the Cotswolds.
It was during one of the pair’s lollops into luxurious green canopies and winding trails that Warren first spotted a small church spire. But it was in the distance, and was soon out of sight. Even then, Warren was intrigued. Sadly, they never rode close enough for it to be anything but an image veiled by trees and for one reason or another he never asked about it.
Often, he and Carl didn’t talk at all when they rode together. They simply enjoyed the relaxing, mind-clearing experience of milling around the countryside on horseback. Short of the odd bird flying out of a hedge and scaring the bejesus out of them, or a rabbit making a dash for cover, riding was a time of compatible solitude, away from the rat race.
When Carl was in the mood to talk he regaled Warren with the origins of Walmsley Hackett. And when Carl spoke Warren stayed quiet, enamoured with his stories.
As it turned out, the 1800s was nowhere near the start of Cheltenham life. Unearthed historical finds suggested several villages in the Cotswolds dated back to Roman times, long before the Saxons, Vikings, and mediaeval Normans.
The historical tales were of varying believability. Carl often rolled his eyes while he glossed over the fables he considered ludicrous. Among those were stories of a jousting competition reenacted during the summer solstice. It was believed to take place in a field on the village border, and Carl had never met anyone who’d seen it. Other stories told of winged fairies in the woods during spring and a Roman army on the march.
The lack of belief in those particular yarns didn’t mean Carl was a sceptic to all other accounts, as demonstrated one bright summer’s afternoon.
The men were relaxed, almost dozing off as they ambled through a small walled field, when Warren noticed something strange. Despite there being plenty of flowers, a few bushes, and a dozen trees, not a single bird flew within the field’s borders. They occupied the flora outside its walls, but not one feathered animal ventured inside. The sensations invading Warren’s subconscious were not of eerie evil emanating from the dark side. They were ones of respectful space. It was as if someone had kicked the kids out of the house, turned the volume down, placed a glass of wine in one’s hand, and said, “Enjoy the quiet.”
When Warren looked over to Carl, the man had his eyes shut, serenely enjoying the surroundings. Even the horses seemed to tiptoe through the grass. Only bees pollinated the dandelions, daisies, and other meadow flowers. Warren himself could feel his heartbeat laze as if he’d had enough wine to relax but not enough to be tipsy.
“Why is it so quiet in here?” Warren whispered while looking for other signs of life.
Carl took a deep breath, opened his laughter-lined eyes, and pointed to the raised areas of the field. “Those mounds are believed to be Saxon burials.” He chuckled. “We can’t bring that gelding, Dusty, through here. He tries to lie down before we get to the gate at the other end.” Carl spoke like the scene was as natural as walking around the supermarket. Briefly, Warren imagined Carl around Tesco’s. The man wasn’t fat, but he was by no means thin. He enjoyed the comfort of a belly filled with his favourite foods. He’d hang onto the trolley, grumbling and limping his way around on a leg that had been kicked a few times over the years. Then he’d run his hands through the grey hair of his receding hairline that he covered with his flat cap. Warren smiled to himself before he stopped his musings and continued with his enquiries.
“Why don’t you get the Time Team in to find out for sure?”
Carl turned serious. “No. It’s not good to disturb the bones of the dead. It upsets ’em.”
Before Warren could ask anything further, they rode through a row of willows and out the gate to where birds twittered once again. Over the small road, the men launched into a canter, opting to jump between fields instead of opening the gates.
After the exhilaration of galloping through several fields, Carl readied a handful of pebbles for the valley walk to the stables. Down the valley’s centre ran a series of stone falls. At the bottom, the area opened out to reveal a sizeable pond, which ran into reservoirs throughout Walmsley Hackett and beyond. The bridle path edged the water, and the adjacent land was the winter home of many geese.
Unfortunately, in the spring and summer months, the area was dominated by Salem, an enormous mute swan, who protected his territory with ferocity and frequently attacked those on horseback. He didn’t restrict his ire to equines, either. Carl, who was a couple of birthdays away from sixty, had witnessed dogs, hikers, and even a few sheep get harassed by what he termed “the evil beak of the belligerent bird”.
Fortunately, on that day, Salem was not in his usual place, and the men passed through without difficulty. However, as they turned the corner to the safety of the covered bridle path, they heard the swan’s unmistakable buzzing. It was a weird snoring sound. The noise, coupled with the flap of wings, was the signal to anyone around to move along quicker. Looking back, they saw Salem glide in and land. The men upped their pace and broke into a final smooth canter before walking the last mile to the stable.
Warren loved that the village had plenty for him to learn about. He was sure modern technology and the sciences explained much of what those in ancient times had considered witchcraft. However, his local riding experiences highlighted some stories he was sure the Discovery Channel would be interested to investigate. His excursions had opened his mind to the possibility of other forces. After all, most myths and tales had some foundation in truth.
Warren looked forward to the day when he had a horse of his own to go searching the countryside on. The day when he could be Sherlock on horseback and find the little church; find what it was about the place that enamoured him so much. Until then, his ingrained privacy setting stopped him asking questions that in a small village would probably create more gossip than answers.
Warren knocked back the remains of his cognac and went to bed.
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