The Warlocks Chair, Shropshire 1734.
Part way down the meadow that fronted Ravengaard Manor was a small copse of willow trees and a thick growth of low shrubs. Hidden within was a pool of crystal clear water. Its gently sloping banks were ringed with soft grass and clusters of tall reeds and irises grew around its edge. Water lilies dotted the pond's smooth surface and the bowing fronds of the willow trees tenderly kissed the water.
The pool had been there for as long as anyone could remember. No one knew for sure why, but even in the hottest of summers, it did not dry up. Nor in the harshest of winters, did its surface ever seem to freeze over. Some suspected it was fed from a warm spring somewhere deep underground. Others warned of strange cries and lights that plagued the area, blaming magic and witchcraft, they stayed clear of the pool and its surroundings.
But for all that was said, an abundance of wildlife used the leafy shade of the willow trees to shelter from the elements, be it the heat of summer or the cold of deep winter. Spring saw birds using the trees and thick foliage to build their nests and raise their young. While beneath the pools surface frogs spawned among the strands of pond weed and tadpoles wriggled and tried to hide from the mouths of the many hungry fish that swam in its depths. In the soft earth amid the roots of one of the willows a family of foxes had made their den and in the cool of the evening, the cubs could be spied playing catch me around the tree trunks and bushes.
It was mid-morning on an early summer's day, the rain of the previous days had given way to bright sunshine. Young Henry Harcourt shielded his eyes against the glare of the sun and squinted back towards the house. He saw his father deep in conversation with another man. Henry thought the man was in charge of the workmen who were putting the finishing touches to the renovation of the building. The original house had been almost destroyed by fire and his father had brought the land relatively cheap. Now a new three-story house stood on the site, risen from the ashes of the old building. Its elegant limestone façade dazzled in the bright sunlight. It would soon be finished according to his father and then they could all move from the bustle of the city and settle in the quiet of the country.
They had come from the city at the beginning of summer and were staying at lodgings in nearby Coblynbridge until rooms in the house were completed so they could move in. Mother had stayed in the city making the final preparations for the sale of their home and the removal of their belongings from old to new.
Henry swung his gaze away from the house and out over the valley that stretched away in front of him. His eyes followed the dirt track from where he stood beneath the gate posts, down to the stone bridge that spanned the River Coblyn at the bottom of the slope. It sparkled, flowing off into the distance. The main road, little more than a deeply rutted muddy trail after the recent rains, followed its course off towards the market town of Ludlow. The heavily wooded slopes of the Wiccanhyll rose up almost opposite the house and to either side, the trees of Whytewytch Wood spread their green canopy almost as far as the eye could see. Further out, he could just make out the figure of Farmer Price and his dog rounding up some sheep. He watched for a while as the dog zigged and zagged across the field in response to some unheard commands until the sheep were gathered into a tight pack flock.
Laughter dragged him from his reverie. He turned and watched his sisters chasing each other across the remains of the rose gardens.
They raced up to him. 'Come on Henry,' Dorothy breathed heavily. 'Join in, we are having fun.'
Dorothy was his older sister. At twelve, she was two years older than him. Slim and pretty, she was dressed in a simple cotton dress and petticoats that reached almost to her ankles and a pair of ornate slippers were on her feet. A lace cap covered most of her light brown hair which was pulled back from her rosy-cheeked face.
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