Jessica Jones & the Gates of Penseron

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Jessica Jones & the Gates of Penseron

A novel for young teens; a timeless adventure in time


Excerpts




Chapter 8


“It is a long story, master. Perhaps we might go inside and tell of it.” Abeth dipped his head in deference, and gestured to Jessica to step forward. “The child apologizes for startling you with her vision. She is proud of her world.”

“Hmmph,” the druid growled, and peered owlishly down at Jessica, then back at Abeth. “And what makes you think either of you was the best apprentice I ever had? Bah!”

Sencab gruffly motioned them into the hut. The inside was all that Jessica could have imagined of a druid’s lodge and more, far more. Her imagination could never have allowed for the smells. Some came from the druid himself, which she did not find surprising, because he wasn’t nearly as freshly scrubbed as his former apprentice. His robe was a menu of a month’s meals. His streaked, tangled beard badly needed a good wash and comb, and his bare feet were calloused and grimy. The lodge itself was no neater, and heavy with ripe odours: the chalky aroma of half dead ashes, the fumes of a full night pot, the salty odour of crudely tanned hides, and the acrid stink of a hundred potions.

“Sit down.” Sencab tossed an armload of kindling on the smoldering ashes in the firepit and motioned to the animal hides on either side. “I’ll find something wet to wash the dry from your throats.”

The druid pushed a wooden board aside with a grimy foot, revealing a dank hole in the dirt floor. He reached down and pulled an earthenware jug from inside, ignoring a dozen mice that burst from the pit in panic. Each found sanctuary in the hides, jars, and rough furnishings scattered about the room. Sencab never gave them a second glance. Jessica couldn’t help thinking of the orderly behaviour of Freddie the paperweight, still unconvinced the tiny creature was not actually real.

The kindling quickly took light. A bright, crackling blaze lit the gloom, and the inside of the hut grew cleaner and friendlier, an illusion created by the flames. Sencab passed the stone jug to Archie, who took a long, satisfied pull and smacked his lips. Jessica politely declined and passed it on to Wulf. The old druid, meanwhile, creaked down onto a tattered wolf hide directly across from Jessica, and stared at her with eyes that mirrored his puzzlement. She began to feel uncomfortable.

“Tell him you admire his lodge,” Abeth’s voice whispered in her mind. “I’ll form the words for you.”

“You’ve got to be kidding.”




Chapter 13


Several voices rang strong and clear above the general din. One in particular seemed to be shouting an order. The boys looked up at a small group of men, all dressed in long, white robes, who stood inside a special, boxed-in area. A score of helmeted soldiers stood at rigid attention behind them, each holding a spear and a brightly painted shield. A thin-faced man with a receding hairline and a green laurel wreath on his head seemed to be in charge. He, too, was pointing and shouting. None of the boys could understand a word, but they did understand that they had to get out of there - fast.

“What’ll we do?” Jacob was close to tears, and would have cried if the twins had shown the least sign of doing the same.

“We gotta move,” Dobar muttered as the roar of the crowd rose to new levels.

“Where?”

“Back the way we came. Quick.” Dobar started toward the passageway, then stopped dead in his tracks. “Uh-oh. I forgot.”

Two lions trotted from the tunnel and crouched low to the ground, confused by the brilliant sunlight and the roaring crowd. The largest swung its head until its yellow eyes peered in their direction. The boys edged slowly backward toward the safety of the stone island in the centre of the arena, but the movement caught the big cat’s attention. The animal raised its nose, sniffed, and loped toward them. The crowd roared louder. The lion paused, its fierce yellow eyes shifting sideways to the track curving around the end of the huge stone island. The earth began to shake.

“Oh no!” Damon wailed.

Jacob and Dobar turned. They could only stare in horror as a half a dozen chariots careened around the curve. Wheels skidded sideways on the hard-packed track and hooves flailed in a cloud of dust as six screaming charioteers cracked their whips over the heads of twenty four squealing, snorting horses.

They’re brown, Jacob thought nonsensically, his mind numb as the wild stampede bore down on them, not white like the ones on the screen in Penseron.




Chapter 18


Tullus sneered, and clambered to his feet. He slid the rest of the coins across the table toward Sally. “Here, keep the change.”

Sally’s face split in a broad smile, and she bobbed her head at least a dozen times as she swept the money into her apron. The large windfall seemed to make her chatty. “Are you gentlemans ’ere for to see the ’angings?”

Tullus stopped in his tracks, intrigued. Jessica groaned. “’Angings?”

“Aye, sir.” Sally blushed, as if afraid she was being too forward. “‘Daring Jack ’Awkins is up for the big stretch, along wiv a few others. They says the crowd will be bigger than it were for Dashin’ Dan Merryweather when ’e got ’ung last March. Weren’t as well-liked, Dan weren’t. Then there’s the weather, of course.”

“The weather?” Tullus repeated, his attention full on the serving wench.

“Aye, sir, the weather.” Sally gestured toward the open door. “It looks to be a fine day. That always fetches a crowd. Why, Moor Field will be packed wiv merrymakers. I’d love to go.” Her pretty face briefly turned wistful. “I ’aven’t seen a good ’anging since I were a sniveller.”

“A sniveller?”

“Aye, you know—” Sally ran a sleeve over the end of her nose and giggled “—a little ’un.”

“I see,” Tullus drawled in fascination. “Well, you’re far luckier than me, my girl. I’ve never been to an ’anging in my entire life. What time does it happen?”

“Oh, an hour past midday, or thereabouts. It depends on the show ol’ Jack puts on.”

“Hmm.” Tullus glanced at his watch and pulled thoughtfully at his lower lip. “Norman, wanna go see an old-fashioned hanging?”

"Not really, Tull.”

Norman was plainly unhappy with the idea, but not nearly as much as Jessica. She tried to convince Tullus that such an event would be repulsive, her thoughts running the spectrum from feelings of outright disgust to plain Do not go!, but she may as well have poured her wishes down a bottomless pit. Tullus sensed her every thought and feeling, and found them all delicious. Each one served only to reinforce his morbid desire to go and see a hanging.




Chapter 24


“I don’t think he made it,” Damon said.

Shocking as such a thought might have been only days ago, Jessica sighed in relief. “Wulf? Ravi?” she asked.

Damon turned his eyes to the broken wall on the far side of the farmyard. “Wulf’s stretched out on the ground. Ravi’s bent over on his knees. I think he’s puking.”

“The control could be anywhere!” Jessica groaned.

Dobar wasn’t worried yet. “Jake, what does the pen say?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Jacob replied, his voice jubilant. “I can see it.”

Jessica turned in time to see her brother streaking through the doorway. As he raced across the yard, she scanned the ground ahead of him. Sure enough, the control unit lay perhaps fifty yards away, a black dot that sat like a bull’s-eye in the centre of a small sea of sand. Jessica stared after her brother, the hair suddenly rising on the nape of her neck. Something was wrong! Dreadfully wrong! A sense of foreboding flooded her mind.

“Jaaaaake.....”

Jacob stopped in mid-stride, as if snapped back by a leash. He whirled to face his sister, standing like a deer caught in a headlight. The final shell of the barrage, a late stray, struck the ground several yards ahead of where he stood. It filled the air with dirt, shrapnel and a deafening roar. Something whined and smacked against the edge of the doorway, missing Jessica’s small body by a fraction of an inch. What it was didn’t matter. It could have gone clear through her heart for all she cared. For when the dust finally settled, there was no sign of Jacob.