Free Sample Chapter Capcir Spring

Here are the opening pages of the novel Capcir Spring by John Butterfield.

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The small settlement, nestling in a wide clearing on the floor of the high valley, was silent after the last activities of the day. The stockade gates were shut and there was no movement in or around the thatched wooden huts inside the boundary of the heavy timber fencing. All was still except for an isolated spiral of smoke drifting up from the glowing cinders of an outdoor earth hearth. The last daylight was sinking above the outline of the distant mountain peaks and the sky, which moments before had been red was turning slowly through purple to blue‑black.

An owl hooted twice and was almost immediately answered by another from the other side of the valley. And then there was fire. Fire was approaching the stockade from up the valley and down. At first there were just a few torches but all the while their number expanded into a mighty army of individual flames that together brought a flickering orange glow to the leaves of the overhanging trees and even to the night sky itself. From the mass of torches flaming missiles flew through the night air and then the roof of first one and then another of the thatched huts was alight.

A sudden anguished cry ripped through the darkness as the sleeping villagers were harshly shocked out of their slumbers. More screams filled the night air as people of all ages were kicked awake and ran at first in blind confusion but then, lemming like, together to find sanctuary in the chapel, the one stone building of the settlement, in the centre of the stockade. The noise and light and fire seemed to be coming at them from all sides. The gates had been broken down and the fiery torches were inside. They were moving closer, advancing slowly, setting aflame all that was in their pathway. Where was safety now? The chapel was crammed full of frightened, trembling bodies. The air was heavy with the smell of fire and sweat and fear.

I too followed the crowds and headed for the chapel. It already seemed full. I could hardly get in; I was standing in the doorway. I could feel the press of bodies cowering behind me and I was facing outwards. The chapel was too small. There were too many people and it was too late to bar the door. They were almost upon us. In the torchlight the approaching faces were gross and distorted. I could see that they were full of rage and hatred.

Then I saw James. There could be no mistake. The same familiar outlines, the gangling gait, the prominent forehead, the weak chin and in the torchlight the usual shadows under his sunken eyes gave his face a menacing quality. He was at the front of the crowd. It was James who was leading them on and they were chanting in unison. He was leading the rhythmic chant. I didn't understand the words but I sensed a pure hatred tinged with fear. His face was distorted in an violent grimace of blood lust that I had seen once before. In his right hand was a sword. Slowly, with small steps and in time to the chanting they moved ever closer.

Angry men with torches and swords and spears and staves were beside him and a mass of hate filled faces came crowding behind. And on they came. The cowering mass behind me in the chapel was now screaming. Voices of young and old united in a crescendo of terror, prayer, supplication and fear. And then they were at the door, a few yards from my face. One from the advancing throng threw a flaming torch over my head and it sailed over me into the crowded chapel. I was conscious of a strong pressure from behind as those inside moved to avoid the fiery missile. Bodies pressed against trembling bodies and I was being pushed inevitably towards the enemy. I was being forced forwards. Forced to move closer and closer to the raw hatred and the swords and the fire and the certainty of death. Oh God! No! Agghhhh!

The scream pierced the silence of the Pyrenean mountain valley. It was a sultry day in early May. The sky was a cloudless blue, typical of that region of France. John was hot. He had been walking for several hours and though it was not long since his lunch break, he was again looking for somewhere to rest. He was ambling gently down a track that wound into a little wide floored clearing in the valley with some ancient stone ruins when he heard the scream. It was a sound he remembered vividly. It started quite softly almost as a low pitched, half‑stifled murmur but it gradually grew louder until a high‑pitched whine flooded the lightly wooded valley and echoed round the rocks and hills above.

John ran towards it. He hadn't seen anyone on his walk all day. The sound seemed to be coming from the small group of walled ruins surrounded by a dense thicket. Could it be that someone was being murdered, he thought? He did not consider what he would do if he discovered a felony in progress and continued pushing his way through the bushes and brambles. As he did so the scream changed into a series of uncontrolled sobs and a distinctly English expression of "No! No!" At that moment he didn't even think it strange that the voice was the first English one he had heard since he had arrived in Capcir eight days before.

As he pushed through the last branches he caught sight of Mary across a heap of stones that had once been a wall of a now ruined building. He saw a young woman, perhaps in her mid thirties, with striking long blonde hair. At first he thought it was a much younger girl because of the length and colour of the hair but there was something about her demeanour that even at a brief glance suggested maturity. She was sitting alone in the square, roofless ruin of some ancient structure. She was cradling her head in her hands and was now weeping uncontrollably. In one glance he took in the fact that she was alone and that her clothing was smart yet casual and perfectly appropriate for the early summer. An open rucksack was at her side and files, maps and a tape measure were laid out haphazardly on the grass. She was so engrossed in her own concerns that she was unaware of John's approach.

"Are you all right?" he asked, in the voice he might have used to address a crying child in a school playground, "I heard you scream and thought something terrible was going on." He then realised that he had spoken in English instinctively and half expected a look of incomprehension to be the result.

She looked up with a start and for the first time he saw her face. Her eyes were deep set and red with tears yet still gave of an impression of the clearest, purest blue.

"Yes, yes I'm OK now. I've just had a bit of a bad dream. I must have dropped off after my picnic. Silly really." She looked a little like an embarrassed child, caught by an adult, sulking over a minor hurt. She continued immediately in a brisk, business like tone. John sensed in her attitude a feeling of embarrassment and a strong need to explain herself.

"I've been working at these old ruins all morning and just settled down here on the grass for a few moments after lunch. It was so hot and I felt quite weary after working all morning that I must have dozed off and then I had a strange and rather frightening dream. I expect it is because I have been out in the sun for too long without a hat. It is all because of vanity. I wanted my hair to be bleached by the strong high altitude sunshine. I have been using a very high factor sun block but I didn't intend to fall asleep." She paused and got up, wiping her face with her shirt's sleeve, and then, looking directly at John, remarked "But you are English!"

John laughed and Mary laughed too. The whole atmosphere of the valley seemed to lighten as they recognised that, in this most Catalan part of France, where few English tourists ever venture, they had met in such strange and embarrassing circumstances.

"What are you doing here?" John asked looking round at her belongings scattered at her feet.

"Historical research," she replied. "I'm completing my PhD and this ruin is a crucial part of the argument that I am making about the last Cathars in the Pyrenees." John sensed as she was speaking, that, somewhere beyond her calm and rational façade, she was still quite disturbed by her recent bad dream. But he knew better than to reveal his intuition.

"Would you like a drink?" Asked John, slipping his rucksack off his back and pulling out an unopened bottle of mineral water. She accepted thankfully.

"I think I had better finish for today. I must remember to bring my hat up with me the next time I come up here. I can't always count on good Samaritans passing with mineral water bottles helping out damsels who have had too much sunshine." After a pause she added, "Perhaps you'd like to walk back to Les Angles with me if you are headed in that direction."

"My Pleasure" John agreed, genuinely grateful to have some friendly English conversation after the first eight days of his French exile. John crouched down to help her gather her belongings and as he did so he realised that he was looking straight into the front of her loose fitting cotton shirt. He froze momentarily, his eyes transfixed on the smooth rounds of flesh that he saw above the fancy white lace. He looked hastily down at the file he was reaching for and roughly brought his thoughts into the present. Keep control he thought to himself. She had not noticed and together they collected up the scattered possessions. She slung the large rucksack easily onto her shoulder and together they strode out along the path down the valley heading back towards the village.

At the back of John's mind an alarm bell was starting to ring. Watch out. Here is an attractive young woman alone with me in an isolated place. Derek wouldn't like this. Thoughts that John had successfully suppressed for weeks now began to surface from the deep recesses of his subconscious. Those thoughts and feelings from the deepest and darkest backwaters of his mind that usually only dared to creep into consciousness in the long, dark, sleepless hours of his many restless nights. But John's training was good. Push inappropriate thoughts back down to the depths where they belong. Concentrate on the present moment. The present moment is all that exists. I will stay in control. I'll prove to Derek the sort of man that I am. The light has overcome the darkness and the darkness will never overcome it.

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