In the darkness, high on a hill overlooking a city stood an army. Row upon row of armoured soldiers waited in silence, all facing forward. The left and right flanks stretched out either side of it as far as the eye could see to a distant vanishing point. From the bottom of the rise came another army, marching determinedly ever upward to meet with and engage the silent legions; their shields were held to form a defensive wall above, and in front of them as they advanced. There came a shout from the crest of the hill which was followed by a volley of arcing arrows that showered down ineffectively upon the approaching army. On they came like an unstoppable force, the thudding of their feet hammering on the ground in perfect unison, like a giant drum beating out a rhythm. With their battle cry sounded, the marching army then broke into a trot which changed just as soon as it began into a full blooded charge. The clashing sounds of sword upon sword, sword upon shield, sword upon helm and bone, filled the night air with a terrible clammer as the two armies collided into one another. The battle raged on for hour upon hour, and ever was the defending army driven farther and farther back toward their city. A retreat was sounded, the defending army rallied and gathered at very gates of the city for one final offering of resistance.
Then came the storm, a huge crack of thunder sounded on high, heralding the arrival of a torrential downpour that turned the ground beneath the soldiers’ feet to a slimy mud. There they all stood, waiting, peering through the grey, murky sheets of rain water falling all around them, drenching them to their very core. The attacking army then rallied themselves together and prepared for the final assault to claim the city. Then, a huge bolt of lightning streaked across the sky followed by the reverberating crack of thunder, it momentarily lit up the night as if it were day. The lightning bolt shot earthward and grounded out in the gap between the two armies causing huge lumps of turf to fly upward by the force of its explosive impact; the soldiers raised their hands instinctively and covered their eyes from the glare. After grounding out, the lightning vanished and the aftermath left everyone temporarily blinded by the sheer intensity of its sudden light. The soldiers of both armies began to blink away the after image of the lightning from their eyes as their vision readjusted once again to the darkness. As both the armies sight slowly returned to normal, they could all plainly see, that where the lightning had moments ago struck, a lone, armour cladded figure now knelt on one leg, resting his hands atop the hilt of an upright, gigantic sword, its tip piercing the earth.
The two armies watched in disbelief, paralysed, pinned to the ground where they stood in total shocked surprise as the figure slowly rose to a standing position. Then he was revealed to them in all his glorious magnificence. There stood a Knight in shining golden armour, tall and erect with the pride of a nation captured in his mien. His golden helm was festooned with wings at either side that fanned out gracefully behind his head. His armour was smooth and emanated a ghostly golden hue; the rain bounced off it making no sound. His sword glittered in the darkness like a highly polished, flawless mirror, and the reflection of unseen stars ran along the blade. The figure reached up to his visor and lifted it from his face; he then turned to the army in front of the city. With no more than a bow, he turned back around to face the aggressors, then with a voice that came with the power of countless ages and the ferocity of thunder, he screamed his battle cry with sword held high. He strode purposefully toward the stunned army, casting them aside as if they were nothing more than mere rag dolls as he cut a swath through them. On he strode, and there was none who could resist his strength or suppress his iron will.
“It’s Stormhelm!” A soldier suddenly yelled out. “It’s the Stormhelm!. . .the old legends are true! Praise be! We are saved! Follow the Stormhelm! . .Follow the Stormhelm!” . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .Hannah gasped and suddenly sat bolt upright in her bed, not really knowing where she was, her heart thumping. She stared around in the semi gloom, streaks of daylight shone through the gaps in the wooden shutters of her bedroom, painting the wooden floorboards yellow. The faint sound of chirping birds could be heard coming from somewhere outside. She clutched at her chest while her head darted left, then right, until her gaze settled on Editha who was still sound asleep in the opposite corner of the room. Hannah let out an enormous sigh and dropped her head back down onto the pillow, raising an arm and bringing her hand to rest on her forehead in her relief. She stayed that way for several moments, then threw the bed covers back and swung her legs out landing her feet on the floor. She grabbed her robe and quickly put it on, then went straight to the children’s bedroom to find them both still sound asleep. She quietly walked to the scullery, found a clean goblet which she filled with water, then pulled out a chair at the table and plonked herself down on it. She took a few gulps from the goblet then placed it on the table, she then buried her head in her hands trying to make sense of everything in her semi conscious – still half asleep – state. She propped her elbows on the table, lifted her head and rested her chin in the palms of her hands, blowing at a lock of her hair that had fallen in front of her face as she vacantly stared into space, looking at nothing in particular.
The dream remained fresh in her mind, she felt as though she had been touched by something divine, something powerful and pure. Inwardly, once her mind attained some waking clarity, she found herself undisturbed by it, after all – she thought to herself – it was just a dream, wasn’t it? But having thought that, she had to admit to herself, that never before had she had such a dream so rich in detail, or, indeed. . .one that she could clearly recall after waking! A multitude of thoughts then competed for her consideration as parts of the dream played themselves out again in her mind’s eye. She became overwhelmed by them, so with a soft sigh, knowing she would never understand it properly, she mentally brushed the weighty significance of it all aside and focussed her attention on the day ahead.
The sound of soft footsteps made Hannah turn round as Editha came into the scullery. She looked at her daughter quizzically, raising an eyebrow.
“Good morning Hannah, are you all right?” Asked Editha, she placed a kiss on Hannah’s forehead then pulled out a chair and sat down next to her. By this time, Editha knew, Hannah would have had breakfast cooking, but all was quiet in the scullery.
“Morning Mama,” Hannah replied. “I’m fine, it’s just taking a bit longer for me to get going this morning.”
Editha looked hard at Hannah for a moment.
“And why is that, daughter. Are you unwell?”
Hannah smiled at her mother and reached out her hand, resting it on Editha’s.
“No Mama, I am not unwell,” she replied, with certainty.
“Then what is it child?”
“Mama. . .I?”
“Hannah, I see as easily through you as if I were reading the pages from a book,” Editha said, matter of factly. “Now tell me, what’s on your mind?”
Hannah sighed, it was pointless trying to hide anything from her mother.
“To tell you the truth, Mama. I had a dream during the night that will not go away. And I have been sitting here since waking, trying to make sense of it all.”
“Oh!” Said Editha, her face forming a surprised smile. “Go on then, tell me about it.”
Editha jumped up and opened all the closed window shutters in the scullery to let the low morning sunlight in, then set about preparing the breakfast that Hannah had failed to start, all the while listening to her daughter explain, in intricate detail, the events that happened within her dream.
. . .”Follow the Stormhelm! . .Follow the Stormhelm! . .It was then that I woke up,” concluded Hannah, slightly shrugging her shoulders.
Editha looked deep in thought as she brought a large wooden board to the table full of cut bread and cheese, she then sorted out some eggs placing them aside until the fire she had just set in the open hearth reached a higher temperature. Hannah watched Editha and waited for some reaction, any kind of reaction from her, but her mother appeared to be still deep in thought.
“Mama?” Came Hannah’s enquiring voice.
“Sorry Hannah,” said Editha. “I was just lost in thought there for a moment.”
“So what do you think?”
“Well,” said Editha, sounding impressed. “That was definitely some dream, wasn’t it! Perhaps – the way I see it anyway – is that you can look at it in one of two ways. Firstly, the legend, as I told it last night would have been fresh and foremost in your mind before you went to bed, and thus, caused you to dream about it. And secondly. . .”
Editha paused and regarded her daughter thoughtfully.
“Yes, Mama. . .and secondly?” Hannah prompted.
“The second explanation you will probably dismiss as nonsense, an old wives tale,” said Editha, flatly.
Hannah’s eyebrows shot up in surprise as she looked upon her mother with curiosity.
“Well? Are you going to tell me, Mama?” Asked Hannah, her mouth forming a wry smile. “I can’t dismiss anything as an old wives tale unless I hear it first.”
Editha washed her hands then grabbed a cloth to dry them before sitting back down next to Hannah at the table.
“The second way of looking at it is that your dream was a prophetic premonition, your dream was a window allowing you to see events yet to come, events of the not too distant future. Hannah, you have been touched by something divine, a higher power came to you during the night and showed you a truth, a truth you’re reluctant to see, or do not want to believe in. Now it is up to you to decide what you really believe in, or what you believe is possible in the world where we live. You have been given a gentle reminder, a reminder that there are forces at work we are not really meant to understand, but should accept their existence nonetheless, even in these times of extreme fear and doubt. Rarely are people blessed like that, you are a very lucky girl, Hannah.”
Hannah’s face showed no expression after her mother had finished. She reached out for a piece of cheese and began nibbling at it while lost in her own thoughts. Editha stood up and walked over to the window and looked at something she had noticed whilst preparing the family breakfast.
“Hannah, do you remember that storm you thought was coming, last night when we stood on the porch?”
Hannah’s mouth suddenly stopped chewing and became still, her eyes darted over to where her mother stood.
Editha pointed out of the window at the sky with her chin, she gave Hannah a knowing smile, then tended to the fire in the hearth. Hannah slowly rose from her chair and walked over to the window, peering out and upward at the morning sky. She stared up a the most unusual cloud formation she had ever seen. For all intents and purposes, the storm clouds as she saw them last night had barely moved, they still hung threateningly over the same area of sky regardless of the fact that she could feel a steady breeze coming into the scullery. Also, she had no way of knowing if the storm clouds looked like they now did on the previous night, because at that time it was dusk, the sun had gone down and the sky was a deepening blue which made every cloud in the sky appear black, but this rather dense looking patch of cloud was definitely not black.
Hannah tilted her head in wonder, not understanding what she was seeing. She looked back inside the scullery at Editha who was looking directly back her, amusement showing clearly on her face. Hannah was about to ask her mother a question when the children came running into the scullery and hungrily attacked the bread and cheese waiting for them on the table. The moment was lost, so Hannah made a mental note to ask her mother about the strange looking cloud later on in the day when an opportunity arose, for the time being though, the children needed their mother’s undivided attention so it would have to wait. Editha cooked and served up the eggs, the whole family then sat down to eat breakfast.
After breakfast, Hannah got the children washed, then sorted out some clean clothes for them to wear; the children then went outside to spend some time with their pet rabbits at the hutch situated behind the house. Editha tidied up the scullery then went to get herself washed and dressed. Having tended to the children, Hannah turned her attention to all the household chores that needed doing. She went outside with her wash basket and checked to see if the washing from the day before had dried. She felt her way along the hanging clothes not really paying much attention to what she was doing, her eyes had been drawn upwards at the strange storm cloud creeping slowly across the sky, and for the time being at least, she couldn’t help herself to think about anything else, her mind was totally preoccupied with it, somehow, it seemed to hold secret, a mysterious connection with her dream. She continued to stare up at the cloud, removing the washing from the line and nonchalantly dropping it in the basket.
“Hannah, try placing them in the basket.”
Hannah spun round, snapped out of her daydream by her mother’s voice. She looked down at all the clean clothes that were strewn randomly about her on the ground. Hannah held a hand to her mouth in shock as she realised what she had done. She quickly gathered them up and placed them in the basket, feeling foolish and embarrassed.
“I’m sorry, Mama,” said Hannah, slightly red in the face. She picked up the basket and walked towards the house. “I don’t know where my mind went just then.”
“I would say that it went to the sky, Hannah. Wouldn’t you?” Said Editha, almost laughing. She stood at the doorway with arms folded watching her closely, but obviously amused by her daughter’s latest antics.
“Mama, what was it you said the other day about making fun of someone?”
Hannah stormed passed her and into the house with the laundry, Editha casually followed her inside. On reaching the scullery, Hannah put the basket down on the table and began sorting the clothes out.
“Daughter, I am not making fun of you,” said Editha. She walked up to Hannah and helped her with the clothing. “But surely you can see the funny side of what you just did out there?”
Hannah tried to keep a serious face, but failed miserably as her embarrassment was washed away and replaced with her own sense of humour when the realisation of what she just done hit home. She looked at Editha and giggled girlishly, then playfully pushed her mother’s shoulder with her hand.
“Mama, how can you be so detached and self-controlled all the time? You act as though whatever that thing is,” she pointed toward the window, “is a common everyday sight. Well, it is not! I’ve never seen anything quite like it before, have you?”
Editha finished folding some clothes, placing them in a neat pile on the table, then looked at Hannah.
“Daughter. Have you not listened to anything I have said to you over the last few days? I know you don’t see things as I do – there’s nothing wrong with that – but there are times when perhaps, you should consider that not all the things that happen in the world are for us to understand, or to have explained to us in such a way as to remove the want of question.”
Editha walked to the window and pointed up to the sky.
“Hannah. You want to know what that is? It is a cloud! An unusual cloud, yes. . .but a cloud nonetheless. And if you’re wondering what I think, I think it’s a sign. A sign showing us that something is coming, something more powerful than anything we have ever known, or have ever imagined could exist in our world, something as powerful and commanding as nature itself. Now, you might laugh at that, Hannah, that is for you to decide. But even you must see and realise, that the mere appearance of that cloud would suggest the weather of the world has been changed, altered by another force and its power to influence the very elements.”
Editha folded her arms and stared at Hannah, she had a serene expression on her face, and no shadow of doubt could be seen on her face that what she had just said, she believed without any reservations whatsoever.
Hannah studied her mother’s face and remained silent, she could find no words to say. She placed an item of folded clothing on top of the pile Editha had made and picked the whole pile up. She carried it towards the children’s bedroom, but paused at the scullery door turning to face Editha.
“I love you Mama.”
She gave her mother a soft smile then disappeared into the bedroom.
* * *
Throughout the remainder of the morning the two women, in earnest, began the preparations for their planned and agreed flight for the city. Neither of them spoke too much about it other than deciding on what to take, and what to leave behind. As each hour passed, Hannah’s stomach became tighter and tighter in her nervousness and uncertainty about leaving home. She knew in herself that in order to keep her family safe from harm it had to be done, but now the harsh reality of it was hitting her hard, it was happening, it was real. She could also tell that Editha was as nervous about it as she was, regardless of the fact that her mother would never admit to it, she would continue to show a brave face. The children though, not having to bear the concerns that their mother or grandmother bore, were lucky enough to be able to view the whole thing as an outing, an adventure, so in a way, Hannah was more than grateful for that.
Editha, being very methodical, effortlessly demonstrated her organising skills when it came to packing all their belongings. She packed things that Hannah would never of thought to pack. She even thought ahead to the morning and kept some food back for their last breakfast before setting out. By midday everything that needed packing was packed and stowed away, the things of lesser importance they loaded onto the horse cart so they didn’t have to worry about them come the morning. With all done and dusted, Hannah prepared a simple lunch for them all, then after that was done she spent the early part of the afternoon with the children.
Editha meanwhile decided to take a stroll to the river. She needed some personal time to gather her thoughts for the days ahead, but she went mainly to see for herself how much closer the smoke from the fires of war had advanced since yesterday. There was still a steady mild breeze blowing easterly through the land, and Editha’s path to the river meant that she was directly upwind of it. Editha could smell the scents coming from all the flora around the local area, but subtly mixed into these scents was the unmistakable acrid aroma of smoke. Her pace quickened slightly when the smell of the smoke hit her nose, maybe the war had got closer than expected over night, or was it just a trick of the wind? The answer, Editha saw as she cleared the forest and came to the river bank was a mixture of both. The war front had definitely moved nearer, now only a few miles away going by the plumes of smoke that she could see with an uncomfortable clarity. The home armies were obviously suffering huge casualties trying to stop the enemy’s advance to the capital, and the naked truth of the matter was, that they were losing the war, and more worryingly, losing the battles.
Editha stood motionless, staring out across the country, not aware of time or the passing of it. She crossed her arms and caressed her shoulders, lost in a private moment of thought. She gazed upward, twisting her neck slightly to view the storm cloud above her, it was without doubt moving inexorably toward the city, and by her own reckoning, it would reach it in no more than two days time. She unfolded her arms then knelt on the ground bringing her hands together and offering a silent prayer for her family’s salvation. She stayed that way for a long time, so long in fact that when she came to stand up, her knee joints registered their complaint by giving her pain and discomfort. She chose to ignore the pain knowing that she would walk it off on her way back home. She gave another hard long look at the lands way beyond the river then turned her back on it and headed into the forest.
Editha arrived home mid afternoon. Everything was quiet in and around the house, there was no activity. When she reached the door, Hannah came out to greet her.
“Mama! You’ve been gone for ages, I was starting to worry where you got to.”
Editha placed a hand on Hannah’s cheek and smiled.
“Well I’m back now, so there’s no need to worry yourself anymore.”
“How are things at the river, Mama?” Hannah enquired, looking concerned.
Editha looked into the doorway, peering through the semi darkness of the scullery.
“Denholm and Abby are both sleeping, Mama. Afternoon nap.”
“Things are developing faster than I imagined. There is no immediate danger, but come morning we are definitely leaving. Not only can you see the smoke, Hannah, but now you can smell it in the air. The war is not going well for us.”
Hannah cupped her mouth with her hand in partial shock.
“Is it safe to wait until morning, Mama?”
“Yes Hannah, we will keep safe until then. An army needs to rest just like anyone else does.”
Hannah took a modicum of comfort from her mother’s words, but her eyes had started to glaze over the enormity of it all.
“Mama,” she said, her voice emotional and shaky. “Are we ever going to see our home again after this?”
Editha held Hannah by her shoulders and looked into her eyes.
“That is something we will not know until the end, Hannah. Invading armies will always pillage and burn, it’s the easiest way to rout a population. That’s why I said to you yesterday that once we leave, we do not look back. If our home is destroyed another can be built in its place. The only thing we need to concern ourselves with is our own survival. But it may be, that when the war has played out, we might just find ourselves returning home. We will just have to wait and see, and hope against hope that things fall favourably for us.”
“But what do you really think will happen, Mama?” Asked Hannah.
Editha smiled, confidence written all over her face.
“My daughter, you already know what I think will happen, do you not?”
Hannah hugged her mother tightly.
“Yes, Mama. My only hope is that he comes in time.”
They both shared a private moment between each other with their eyes, then entered the house and closed the door on the remainder of the day.
Disclaimer: any similarities in names to persons living or dead is purely coincidental and are fictitious characters invented by the author.