Author: Lesley Wilson
Title: Oric and the Lockton Castle Mystery
Series: The Oric Trilogy, Book 2
Genre: Medieval Adventure/Romance
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Lockton Castle is in the grip of a mysterious epidemic. Recently promoted to the position of apothecary, Oric is sent to administer to the sick. Upon his arrival at the castle, he suspects something far more sinister is afoot. The dangerous secret he unearths, sends him racing back home to Bayersby Manor.
An elderly soothsayer adds to the tension, prophesying that a plague of demons is about to descend upon the earth. Wondering what the old woman hopes to gain, Oric attempts to calm the terrified locals. Ignoring his advice, gentry, tradespeople, and peasants, leave their homes in droves.
The situation rapidly worsens, and Oric battles to save all that he holds most dear.
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Trade slowed, and Ichtheus stood back to watch Oric examine an elderly peasant. The old fellow pulled back his sleeves to reveal crusty scabs on both arms. “Looks like leprosy to me, Master Oric. I am a goner for sure.”
“Nay, Master Tweedle! Where would you have contracted leprosy? You never leave the district, and, to my knowledge, there is none of the disease hereabouts.” Oric rubbed his patient’s scabs with a forefinger to prove his point. “Your rash is not infectious. I reckon ‘tis naught but an allergy to your mangy cat.” Selecting a small bottle of extract of Celandine, Oric offered it to the old man. “Rub this juice upon the affected area twice daily and your affliction will soon disappear.”
Master Tweedle dragged his sleeves down, and shook his head. “Thank you, Master Oric, you have put my mind at rest, but I lack the wherewithal to pay for your potion.”
“You could always get rid of your cat,” said Oric, his blue eyes twinkling with good humour.
“Get rid of my tomcat!” exclaimed the scrofulous old man. “He might be a bit mangy but he is the best ratter in the district. I could never part with him.”
Oric nodded toward a wispy little woman with a basket of eggs on her arm. “I would gladly swap my medicament for two of your wife’s nice brown eggs.”
“There are more ways than one to skin a cat, Master Ichtheus.” Oric tittered at his own joke as he carefully wrapped Mistress Tweedle’s eggs in a piece of sacking.
Four and twenty moons had passed since Oric first arrived at Bayersby Manor. Already able to read and write the homeless youth had swiftly learned the apothecary’s trade and, with no family to call his own, Ichtheus had grown to love the quick-witted boy as a father loves his son. Impressed with Oric’s ability to learn, Ichtheus had recently elevated him from apprentice to the position of fully-fledged assistant. Thus far Ichtheus had no reason to regret his decision.
The villagers eventually overcame their squabbles, folk settled down in their chosen spots, and noontime passed without further trouble. Money handed over in exchange for pills and potions flowed into the apothecaries’ coffers, raising Ichtheus’ spirits. But his euphoria was short lived.
From her vantage point on the steps of the elevated village cross, an ancient soothsayer clanged a large handbell. “Hark all ye serfs and sinners!” she screeched. “On Summer Solstice Eve a plague of demons will rain down upon the earth. They will kill everyone that crosses their path.”
A collective gasp rippled through the crowd, and trade around the market stalls ground to a halt. Despite her unsavoury appearance, most folk set great store by Mother Olive’s words, for they believed her to be a wise woman.
“What can we do to protect ourselves from this dreadful onslaught?” yelled Aidie Kirtle from the depths of her well-stocked stall. Somewhat eccentric, the Kilterton haberdasher had tied up her frizzled grey hair with bright ribbons and swathed her body with so many different fabrics she looked like a brightly coloured ball. Today no-one laughed at her bizarre appearance.
Taking advantage of the villagers’ stunned silence, Mother Olive jabbed a bony finger at a bracken-clad hill that rose up in the near distance. “If you wish to save your lives every man, woman, and child must depart the village on Summer Solstice day. Climb Rosederry Hill and build beacons upon the summit. When the sun drops below the horizon you must set light to the piles of timber.” Mother Olive let rip with a blood-chilling cackle and twirled around on her bandy legs. “Fire is the only element that will stay the wicked demons.”
“What is yon silly old trollop on about?” bawled a cocky youth. He winked at his friends and pointed to the cloudless, sun-bleached sky. “We shall get no rain come Summer Solstice let alone a downpour of demons!”
Mother Olive hawked and spat. “Stupid boy! Disregard my warning and you will die. The demons will kill any adult that crosses their path, and they will take children to use as slaves.”
The young troublemaker paled at the thought but, rather than lose face, he made a defiant gesture and strutted after his cronies with as much bravado as he could muster.
Her job done, Mother Olive climbed down from the monument. She gathered her ragged clothes about her thin frame and ambled away. No one attempted to stop her.
Business along the high street resumed but, thanks to the intense heat of the day and the soothsayer’s worrisome prophecy, the villagers’ tempers frayed once again.
“Lord knows what Mother Olive is on about this time!” Ichtheus pushed irritably at tendrils of silver hair that escaped the confines of his bonnet. “Yon old harpy causes trouble where-ever she goes.” Tutting loudly, he returned to do battle with bunches of herbs he had tied together too tightly.
Excused from her duties at Bayersby Manor, Dian Cole sought gewgaws for her mistress. Lady Myferny had also given Dian a copper or two to spend on herself and the little maid had bought a comb from Mistress Kirtle’s stall, plus a length of red ribbon to tie back her abundant chestnut curls. Dian had enjoyed the first part of the morning, but Mother Olive’s words frightened her. Clutching her purchases, she sidled up behind the apothecaries’ stall, loath to move on. “That old crone did not speak the truth about a deluge of demons, did she, Master Ichtheus?” Dian’s hazel eyes searched Ichtheus’ blue ones for reassurance.
“Argh! Yon soothsayer’s demons pose less threat than many a mortal,” snapped Ichtheus, visualising Esica Figg’s cadaverous features in his mind’s eye. “Pay no attention to Mother Olive – she is naught but a nasty old trouble maker.”
Oric jigged from foot to foot, poked out his tongue and crossed his eyes. “If any demons dare to threaten you, Dian, I shall scare them off.”
Dimples indented Dian’s rosy cheeks as she smiled. “Thank you, Oric, I feel a good deal safer now; nevertheless, may I travel back to Bayersby Manor with you and Master Ichtheus at the end of the day?”
“You are most welcome,” replied Oric, his heart beating a little faster than normal. He had developed a soft spot for the pretty, hazel-eyed young maid and he could imagine nothing nicer than to journey home with her. “Meet us beside our stall later this afternoon and you can ride home upon our cart.”
Comforted, Dian scurried away to visit her siblings and her parents, Eadbald and Frida Cole, who lived in a rundown cottage at the far end of the high-street.
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Born in North Yorkshire, Lesley Wilson was inspired to write stories at an early age. She turned her father’s garage into a theatre and produced juvenile dramas. Local kids who watched her shows were expected to donate a penny to the RSPCA. In her early teens, Lesley joined a theatre company and took part in many productions.
On a train trip to Italy in 1957, Lesley met a young man. A whirlwind courtship followed before he joined the British Army. Fifteen months and hundreds of letters later, Lesley, aged seventeen, boarded a troop ship bound for Singapore, where she married the love of her life.
Lesley’s careers have included fashion modeling, market research and running her own business but writing has always been her true passion. She completed a course in Journalism with the London School of Writing and has been an active member of a writers’ group.
She now lives with her husband in North Queensland and enjoys frequent visits by her two teenage grandchildren. When Lesley isn’t writing, she loves to read, entertain friends, and travel.