He’d had it!
Will decided that he had every right to run off and be alone for a while. He was tired of his sister never understanding why he wanted to get revenge on soldiers, rich people, and anybody that was better off than they were. And he was tired of his father’s religion–which had caused all their problems in the first place. He just wanted a normal life-as normal as it could be in this silly little town.
Will spent an hour or two pelting soldiers with rocks and racing away to safety. He borrowed—without asking—a woman’s bucket of wash water
and drenched another of the king’s men, who was riding innocently along the street on business.
He wished yet again for a slingshot, or any weapon, and finally saw a knife lying on the cobbler’s bench outside his shop. The man had been taking advantage of the beautiful day to work outside for a while.
Will snatched it up and sliced the harness of a horse hitched to the carriage of a wealthy woman. She was shopping, and her driver had his back turned.
Will slapped the horse and it raced off, causing quite a commotion in the town square. Will laughed as the woman came running out of the shop, outraged, and the driver raced after the horse.
But as he hid in an alley well away from the ruckus, Will realized that the escapade had not satisfied him. Again, these were only pranks—until he could do something real to pay back those who had hurt his family.
For now his mischief was aimed at the rich, the king’s soldiers, even the high and mighty bishops and priests whose rigid rules and absorbent demands for tithes had caused a good part of the problem. Not necessarily the little priest who worked hard to help his people, or the monks who went around nearly as poor as Will’s family. But the ones who dressed in fancy robes and-
He scrambled up, but there was nowhere to run in this closed-in alley. Oh, why had he hidden here?
A big form blocked the sun.
“I been watching you.”
Will tried to see the man’s face in the shadows of the alley.
“All these things you been doing. Not bad…for a child.”
“I’m not a child!” he growled.
“Then how about helping me—and getting a share of the money. You hungry? I’ll bet you could use a little extra.”
“Who are you?” Will asked, belligerently.
“Maybe you’ll help me with a little job.” The man loomed closer and Will gripped the handle of the knife in his pocket.
“Saw the way you let that horse go. But what if you went a little further and lifted the money pouch of that driver—or the purse of that rich lady.”
Will straightened angrily. “I’m no thief.”
He forgot about the knife he’d just taken.
“Ah.” The man started to turn back. “My mistake. Thought you were a brave lad that might want a few extra coins. Never mind then.” The man paused a moment, as if he wasn’t ready to give up on him after all. Then he said slyly, “what do you want then? Everyone wants something.”
It came out before Will could stop it. “Revenge.”
“I can help you with that, too.” said the stranger. “But first…come here, boy.”
He moved to the entrance of the alley. Will followed him, warily.
“See that merchant coming out of his shop? I happen to know that he has a pouch of gold on his belt. I’ll give you ten of the coins if you get the bag. I know you’re clever. I’ll cause a distraction. We’ll meet on the ledge up past the bridge, and then you’ll tell me your story and I’ll help you get revenge.”
Will suddenly realized that he had never faced such a temptation before. Yet, it was his family, his father, who hated stealing. And only because God hated it.
If I don’t care about God, why shouldn’t I steal? The thought suddenly came. And, I can buy some decent food. Bridget would never have to know where it came from, I could tell her I got some work…The idea made him feel quite good. Was stealing all that bad, when you were as poor as they were?
“Decide quickly, boy. He’s heading home. His house is across the square.”
And decide he did.
He burst out of the alley at a run, making it around the cobblestoned square. Nobody noticed or cared. There were always people coming and going, and small boys running here and there. Then Will slowed down to a walk, ducked into another alley and watched.
The merchant had stopped to talk to another businessman. Will glanced back.
The man he had spoken to was walking toward them now. He was rather grubby looking, and Will was startled at his sharp expression and cold eyes—more than that, it was an evil look. This was who he was helping? Yet….why not? Some of his sailor friends didn’t look much better—and they were all right.
What was the man doing? He was lingering near a cart full of chickens. A servant was haggling over a price with somebody in a wagon that was filled with a load of fruit. Will didn’t see when the man unlatched the small gate on the cart, but suddenly chickens were fluttering their wings and landing on the ground and running every which way, squawking excitedly.
Will looked toward the businessmen. They were staring. One was laughing. Will made for the other, bumping into him full force. His hand found the pouch. He pulled and it broke loose. Will ran, but not before he’d looked full in the face of the other man.
“He’s one of those rebels! Grab him!”
“He stole my gold! Get him!” The businessmen were after him. Two of the king’s soldiers looked to see what was going on and took up the chase!
“”You’re right! I recognize him!” shouted a soldier. “He’s the son! Get him! We’ll make him tell where the old man is—and the rest of the church members, too.”
“They act so holy,” cried the merchant, “and one of them’s stealing! From me! How dare he?”
Will lunged between two houses and raced through a yard where women were washing clothes. He narrowly missed a huge tub of water. As he sidestepped it, he lost his balance and dropped the pouch. But the soldiers were right behind him. He kept going.
“Follow him! He’ll lead us to the old man. We’ve been looking for him and they have a Bible in English. Our spy told us so! We’ll put him in prison this time—or worse!”
In horror, Will swerved into a servant girl carrying an armful of clothes. She fell and clothes scattered everywhere. He dived into some bushes and then ran across a meadow, glancing behind him.
The soldiers were stumbling over the clothes and shoving the girl. They hadn’t followed yet. He ran toward the riverbank rather than the ledge that led to his house.
He couldn’t go home. Oh, how could he put his father and sister in this kind of danger?
Will presently climbed down the bank of the river and followed along on dry ground and rocks, until he came to the woods. Soon he came to a small chapel.
Outside, the local priest, a good man and kind to all, looked up in surprise from where he was working in his garden.
“Will! What is it, boy?’
“I’m in trouble. My father’s in trouble. Send them word to get out. Now. They’ll search the forest until they find them!”
“I’ll tell little Davy. He’ll warn them!”
“I have to leave—I stole—but I lost it! I can’t go back, they’ll follow me. It wasn’t Father’s fault. He hates stealing. But they’ll find him because of me.”
But Will didn’t. He disappeared into the woods.
He knew Father Andrew didn’t agree with the Separatists. But neither did he condone killing or throwing people in prison for merely having a different religion. Some, like Father, had even been in his parish years before. And the pastor of the Separatist group in the area had been a close friend. Little Davy, the pastor’s son, sometimes came for food, welcome to raid the priest’s garden, and was often given a loaf of bread, too. It would be all right. Father Andrew would contact Davy. They would all escape before the king’s soldiers found them.
Will raced on through the thick woods.
What had he done? And could he ever go home? Would he even have a home if he did come back?
He didn’t know but he kept on running as fast as he could go.
To be continued….
Separatists-Christians in the 16th and 17th centuries who chose to separate from the state church because of differences in beliefs about Jesus and the Bible
Troubadour-A musician who sang and played instruments for entertainment, especially love songs
Congregation-a group of people worshipping together in a church