Music: Majestic Nature by Craig Stuart Garfinkle
Artwork by Steve English
Episode 16 – Back to the Manor
When Scragg eventually awoke, it was night, and a beautiful summers’ full moon shone gently down on them. It was probably a flower moon or a strawberry moon in May or June, but it was hard to tell as all they had to go by were the warmth and smell of the air and the appearance of the leaves on the trees.
Scragg didn’t get up very quickly as she still felt exhausted from all the effort of spending who knew how long in that tunnel and then dragging Winefry out with her. At the thought of Winefry, Scragg was suddenly wide awake. What had happened to Winefry? He had seemed all but lifeless as she’d dragged him out. Sitting bolt upright, Scragg started to frantically search around for Winefry. Thankfully, she didn’t have to look far as the bottle was only a little way from her and lying on its side, probably having rolled there after falling out of the tunnel. Gently, Scragg rolled the bottle onto its back to get a closer look. Annoyingly, the bottle didn’t breathe in the same way animals did, so she couldn’t check for a pulse or for his chest rising and falling. So, she looked as closely as she could in the full moonlight at the label, to see what his face was doing.
A wave of grateful thanks washed over Scragg as she saw the peaceful expression that filled the features drawn on the label. Gone were the hopelessness and the lines of deep anxiety. Instead, they had been replaced by a look of peace and strength, and a very distinct animation of the wine bottle’s drawn features that told her he was snoring!
Winefry was going to be ok. It might take a while before he woke up, but he had survived, so Scragg relaxed a little. Then her tummy growled, and she realised how hungry she was. The vermin in the tunnel had been small, and few and far between so, feeling confident that Winefry would be safe to leave for a little while, she headed out to hunt for her tea or breakfast. Whichever meal it might be, it was needed.
When Scragg returned having found much larger and tastier vermin to feast upon, Winefry had still not moved. But as she looked at him, he seemed more robust and healthier as the first rays of morning light flickered through the branches onto his label face. Scragg had been anxious about Winefry, not least because she’d never seen him eat. In fact, she had no idea if he ate at all! What had made it worse was that, while they’d been in the tunnel, Scragg had got the distinct impression that Winefry had been starving. But he didn’t look as if he was starving now. In fact, as the light played on his features, there was a faint impression of a smile.
Then, as the light started to grow in strength, Scragg suddenly found herself on high alert. Something was wrong or different about this place. From the corner of her eye, she caught sight of things moving that shouldn’t have. Then, a moment later, Scragg leapt into the air and backwards in the way only cats can when startled by something unexpected. But there wasn’t anything there.
Again, something caught Scragg’s eye, and she jumped as high, if not higher than before. What was going on? Then she saw it, a shadow moving away from her – but it didn’t seem to be attached to anything. A moment later, it disappeared into the mix of shadows of trees and bushes. Again, for a third time, Scragg jumped as if her life depended on it. But this time, as she looked at what had caught her eye, she couldn’t believe what she saw. It was a shadow of a dog but without the dog. Deliberately coming up to her and acting as if she could understand it, it seemed to be looking at her, while sitting down and wagging its tail!
Now, one thing cats are known for is their curiosity. While Scragg was still on high alert, she was also very curious about this strange shadow. So, moving very slowly, she started to creep towards it. At first, it just seemed to stay where it was, wagging its tail. Then in a flash, the shadow zipped across to Scragg and sat right under her. In a panic, Scragg tried to scratch it away and pulled back from it, rolling over several times. Still, it merely followed, unaffected by the scratching and turning.
It took a while, but eventually, Scragg calmed down enough to examine the shadow properly. As she did, she felt the strangest sensation. This shadow of a dog (and judging by its size and shape, it looked very much like the shadow of Flannel) was the ONLY shadow she had. He own shadow had gone. She tried moving her legs and tail, and to a certain extent, Flannel’s shadow followed, but not completely. It would seem that whatever had happened with that explosion of light before the tunnel closed had done something to her – and presumably Flannel’s – shadows.
Then, Scragg saw another blob of darkness moving through the clearing. Instantly on high alert, again, she allowed her eyes to follow this second independent shadow. She stole a quick glance at her own companion shadow when she realised that the new one was also a dog. However, her new shadow was still with her. So, this shadow was presumably Spanner’s shadow as he had been there as well. Carefully walking over to the still sleeping Winefry, she looked for his shadow in the growing light. He didn’t have one. Then, her new shadow left her and walked over to the shadow Spanner, and the two of them started to play fight!! This was an extraordinary place indeed, and all this shadow hopping made her feel quite queasy.
Eventually, at about midday, Winefry’s eyes opened and, seeming to take a deep breath (although of course, that was his features and not reality), the bottle stretched and sat up.
Turning to the now dozing Scragg, he appeared to yawn before saying, ‘Morning! You know, I had the most unusual dream.’
It seemed that Winefry had no recollection of anything that had happened since the moment the tunnel had been closed by the Lady of Light. To him, it was little more than a quickly fading nightmare, while Scragg could remember everything! And, because of that, she was in a particularly bad mood – made even worse by Winefry’s ignorance and platitudes!
Winefry abandoned trying to cheer Scragg up and decided to go and explore their surroundings. After a while, he returned and asked, ‘Is it me, or are we in the same place we were before we went into the tunnel? And,’ he added, appearing to be completely unphased by it, ‘why have we lost our shadows? And where did these replacement shadows come from? They don’t seem to be attached very well!’
Scragg hadn’t noticed they were back in the same place as the whole area was far less overgrown and there were fewer trees. Yet, as she looked, at first unwilling to believe it could be so, she started to see it. The cliff wall was still there too, just friendlier than it had seemed before. So, reluctantly, she had to agree with Winefry that it was the same place. However, it felt very different.
No sooner had she agreed, than Winefry started to walk away while watching his ‘new’ shadow, which was giving its ear a good scratch.
‘Where are you going now?’ Scragg shouted rather impatiently.
‘Aren’t you coming?’ Winefry asked. Which, to be honest, didn’t help lift Scragg’s mood.
‘Coming where?’ she snapped back at him. Her shadow was already following.
The bottle turned back to the cat with a slightly confused look on his label face while his shadow kept walking. ‘Well,’ he started, ‘if this is where we went into the tunnel, then it stands to reason that this,’ as he said ‘this’, he pointed to the path Spanner’s shadow was trotting along, ‘is the way to the Manor.’
The Manor! Scragg had forgotten entirely about the Manor and the whole purpose of their adventure. The Lady of Light had sent them to find a key that somehow would help to end the enchantment of Manor Rott, Grott and Snott. She could have kicked herself for being so slow, especially after the wine bottle had been ‘out of it’ for so long. But there was no time for even more grumpiness as the wine bottle strode away on its long legs after Spanner’s shadow. Scragg and Flannel’s shadow found themselves scurrying to catch up.
It was late afternoon as they made their way to the Manor. As the sun shone on the bottle, he seemed to get stronger and stronger until Scragg realised what it was. She fed on vermin and scraps, but the wine bottle must somehow feed on light. That would explain why he had struggled to survive in the tunnel, which for him was total darkness. It would also explain why his strength had started to return in the moonlight and continued to grow as they marched in the sunlight. The wine bottle needed light as she needed food.
The vistas and sights on the trip to the Manor were dramatically different from the views they had left. There was no denying that this was the same place but at a different time.
They got their final confirmation when they crested a ridge, finally seeing the Manor. Once it appeared, they stopped to take in the view. As they did, the shadow dogs sniffed around other shadow items in the way ordinary dogs sniff around trees and rocks. As they looked at the Manor, they realised they’d travelled much further into the past than they’d first thought because the ground was so much more open and free from gnarly forests.
There was no denying it was the Manor, but this Manor was so different from the one they’d left. It was beautiful! It rested in its surroundings like a precious jewel in an elegant crown. The sun seemed to want to play with the windows and the stonework, as well as glistening off water sprinkling from fountains they’d never seen before. It was enough to take your breath away.
It took a moment or two to realise, but there were people outside the Manor, a family, young children, dogs and cats playing or resting in the shade of graceful trees.
But as they started their journey once again, following the shadows who had got impatient and headed off, the strangest thing happened as they walked towards the large country house. As they moved forwards, the scene in front of them changed. Little children became older children. Then, they were the adults with new children and different animals playing in the grounds. The vista around them seemed to grow and change. Trees sprouted up, animals appeared in fields and then they were bare again. In the distance, other fields were ploughed, crops grew and were harvested before the brief arrival of what looked like snow and then back to ploughing. It was as if by walking further along this path they saw the history of the Manor fast-forward before their eyes.
When they realised what was happening, they stopped in their tracks. And, as they did, the whole scene around them also stopped. Birds were frozen in mid-air, rabbits rushing away stood like statues, some on only one foot, caught mid-bound.
When they moved forwards again, everything around them raced ever faster in time. And, when they tried walking backwards, so too, time seemed to reverse.
Winefry found the whole thing fascinating and wanted to race forwards along the path to see if they could get to the time they’d left. But Scragg held back, unsure of why they were having the dubious privilege of witnessing the rise – and no doubt fall – of the Briggswath family. And all the change around her was giving her motion sickness!
As Scragg lagged behind, Winefry glanced back and paused. His instinct was to rush ahead, after all, isn’t that what knights are supposed to do? To rush into danger, regardless of whatever it might be. Yet something else, something more was at play here. He knew the Lady of Light had given the cat an extraordinary gift. And, although he couldn’t remember the events himself, he knew that the gift Scragg had was what had saved him from that tunnel. So, going against his natural instincts, the wine bottle wandered back to stay with Scragg, who had an uncomfortable look on her face and was turning a little green.
The shadows of Spanner and Flannel took a moment to realise that the others had stopped. When they did, they drifted back, eventually sitting by Scragg and looking up at her with their heads tilted to one side as if trying to work out what was wrong.
The uncomfortable expression had appeared on Scragg’s face at the point when the country house, that had started off looking so beautiful, had begun to transform more into the Manor they knew. As they’d walked towards the house and time had raced forwards around them, Scragg had felt a cold chill.
‘Are you ok?’ Winefry asked. ‘You look like something’s wrong. In fact, I thought I saw you shiver slightly just then.’
Scragg had indeed shivered and, as she was about to answer, she took a few more steps towards the wine bottle. Then, from the corner of her eye, she saw a flash of light and stopped dead.
Winefry realised that something important was happening. So moving back, he watched time rewinding while the cat tried to find the origin of the flash.
‘What did you see?’ he asked the cat.
‘I’m not sure,’ she confessed. ‘To be honest, I’m getting motion sick at all this history racing past me. But I thought I saw a flash of light and …’ She let the sentence drop, knowing Winefry would understand.
‘Try moving backwards and forwards,’ Winefry offered after they’d stood still for a few moments. ‘Maybe you’ll only see it at a specific time, and you need to find that exact time by going back along the path a little.’
This was a brilliant idea but, rather than thank Winefry, Scragg thought about how nauseous it would make her feel, and turned a little greener. But there wasn’t anything else for it, she was going to have to try, so she started to move slowly backwards little by little along the path. Retracing her steps, she saw it again. It was a distinct flash that seemed to be coming from an upstairs window.
As she moved her head forwards and backwards slightly, she realised that the flash was just for a moment and coming from the large round window at the top of the house. If she moved only slightly one way or another, she couldn’t see it any more.
‘I’m not sure what to think,’ Scragg said in a slightly raised voice to Winefry who, along with the two shadows, was giving her a quizzical look. ‘I can see a flash for the briefest moment coming from the round window at the top of the house, but I don’t know what to make of it.’
Winefry never ceased to amaze Scragg, as the matter of fact questions he then asked made the whole thing crystal clear. ‘What’s the sun doing?’ he asked. ‘Is it shining at the window? Could it be the sun, or is it something else? If it’s the sun, then maybe it’s one of those things. But remember, the Lady of Light said you would see light that no one else could. Maybe this is one of those times you see light, and we need to pay attention.’
Scragg looked at the wine bottle, open-mouthed. Then, shaking her head slightly (and immediately regretting it because of the way it made her feel) she looked back at the moment when she could see the flash of light. Then, very carefully, without moving her head and only moving her eyes, Scragg looked around as the glint stayed visible. Looking up at the sky she realised that the sun was behind the house. This couldn’t be a reflection. This must be why the Lady of Light had led them to this point. But what to do now?
It was Winefry who came to the rescue once again. Looking at the cat, he said, ‘Scragg, we need to be bold. The Lady made us her knights and knights are courageous. So, we must go towards this light. I can’t see it, only you can. I propose that you turn towards the flash of light and fix your eyes on it. Then, I will hold your tail, and you must step off this path to stop time moving, and lead me towards the light. As for the shadows, I don’t think we need to worry about them. Somehow I don’t think we’ll get rid of them that easily.’ At this, he gave a little laugh before carrying on. ‘Then, when we find ourselves where we’re supposed to be, where the Lady of Light is leading us, I will do everything I can to protect you. But we cannot stay here now we know. Having the truth revealed to us is our invitation to follow. So, trust in the Lady of Light, that what she told us is true.’
Winefry could be so insufferably righteous sometimes! He not only acted like some kind of virtuous knight, he thought like one as well. Scragg knew he was right, of course; she just didn’t want to do it because she didn’t know what to expect or what dangers they might face. That took courage, courage that at this precise moment, she didn’t feel she had. However, while he’d spoken, Winefry had taken a firm grip of her tail and was now waiting expectantly. So, with a slightly grumpy shake of her head (which she instantly regretted – again), Scragg refocused on the glint of light. Then, turning towards it, she walked off the path directly towards the glow as Winefry held fast to her tail.
No sooner had they moved off the edge of the pathway towards the glint of light than the whole world to seemed to swish and swirl around them. There was a gentle popping sound as they were pulled into the mayhem. Scragg saw it all, the twisting and turning of time and space, light and darkness. Colour, sky and Manor compressed, expanded and then finally exploded, followed by a much louder popping sound. Then, Scragg and Winefry (still holding firmly onto Scragg’s tail) found themselves standing in the attic of the Manor with two people they didn’t recognise.
Scragg threw up. Thankfully it was silent and didn’t attract the attention of the strangers.
As Winefry quietly consoled Scragg, he noticed two dark shapes exploring the attic. He’d been right about the shadow dogs; they would be tough to misplace!