Linda Hutsell-Manning

Author

Excerpt from Chapter Two

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Moments later, the fog cleared. The creek was much wider now, a river flowing past them. The pasture was not so different but the distant hill was further away than the one they'd left and it rose up to some kind of fortification.

What Jason noticed first was Charlotte's white bonnet. She wore a long, full skirt and a blouse with puffed sleeves gathered in at the elbows and wrists. He and Squid had on knee breeches, homespun shirts and black peaked caps.

"I didn't want to do this," Charlotte said, staring down at her buckled shoes and white stockings.

"Don't worry, Lottie," Squid chimed in, stomping back and forth in his knee-high boots. "Where did we slip to this time?"

"I don't have a clue. Germany again?"

"How about Luxembourg?" Jason looked questioningly at Charlotte.

"Why Luxembourg?"

"It looks a bit like the postcard." Jason waved toward the fortification.

"I've still got my pack," Squid said, banging at a brown cloth sack hanging from two ropes hooked over his shoulders. "I'll still have my juice pack in there."

They all still had packs but they were roughly woven cloth now. Hopefully, there might be snacks left, though likely quite different from what he and Charlotte had packed. Squid found a small flask and before Charlotte had time to check it, drank it down.

"Sweet Lottie, like grape juice."

"I hope it was juice," she replied.

"I wouldn't worry," Jason added, hoping he sounded reassuring. "How's your flute?"

"Wooden like last time. What about the horn?"

"I think it's a bit longer and shinier." He undid the belt at his waist, securing the bugle. "Charlotte, I know you didn't want to take off again yet. Are you sorry?"

" Not much point being sorry. I played too. Anyway, we're here and whatever happens, happens."

"Maybe we'll be smarter this time," Jason said.

"We don't even know where we are."

"What do you think we should do?"

"We have to find some place to spend the night," Charlotte said. "I don't want Squid getting sick like he did on our first trip."

"We go march over the hill," Squid cut in, giving his now wooden drum a few rat-tat-tats. "And find the castle again." He grinned and marched off, pounding full force.

"Might as well do what Mr. Optimism says," Jason replied.

They followed the river bank for a while and when it came out onto a road, they turned and crossed a solid wooden bridge toward the hillside. Near the top of the hill. Squid stopped. "Hot," he said, pulling off his cap and sitting by the side of the road.

"Listen," Jason said. "I hear voices. Quite a few of them." They all froze.

" Down in the valley," Charlotte whispered. "I don't think we should play." She listened again. "Even better, let's hide the instruments in our packs."

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Excerpt from Chapter Five

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They were almost at the top of the hill, Charlotte and Squid in front, Jason following. Without warning, someone grabbed him from behind, a muscled arm pinning him across his chest. "Ou allez-vous," a bass voice hissed in his ear. He blinked to see a second person had jumped in front of Charlotte and Squid. "Asseyez-vous," a woman's voice told them. Jason glanced at her rough cloth pants and jacket, a peaked cap hiding her face. It's not two men, he thought, feeling somehow relieved. Maybe we stand a chance.

Charlotte sat on the road and pulled Squid down beside her. Jason was pushed roughly toward them so that he half fell to a sitting position against Squid.

Their captors stood a short distance away, whispering and obviously deciding what to do next. Jason wondered if they were part of the group they could see below. He wished the bugle was tied to his belt. What if they confiscated their packs?

"Ils sont espions," man said out loud. He removed his peaked cap and ran his fingers through wavy brown hair.

The woman shook her head. "Ils sont plus probablement voleurs." She was trim and with the cap on did look like a young man.

More whispering.

"What did they say, Lottie?" Squid grabbed Charlotte's hand and his bottom lip quivered.

"They think we're thieves or spys," Charlotte said quietly. "It's French, Jason."

"I'm getting it ," Jason replied grimly, "and I hated French in school."

"Are we in France, then?" Charlotte said, putting her arm around Squid.

Jason shrugged.

"Get up," the man said roughly, pulling his cap back on. "For now, we'll take you to the camp."

"They won't be wanting three more mouths to feed," the woman added.

The children scrambled to their feet and were escorted down the hill, the man pushing Jason ahead, his hand around the back of Jason's neck . The woman walked ahead of them, holding firmly to Charlotte and Squid's arms. Jason noticed her uneven gait, as if one leg was a bit shorter than the other.

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