Each week we bring you some new book titles – and the chance to win them!
Heloise by Mandy Hager
The girl crouches in a field, oblivious to the pigs that rootle at the trough behind her. Not yet five, she has forgotten she is tethered, a rope at her waist tied to the gate to curb her daydream wanderings. She pays no attention to the man who turns off the road and pauses for a moment to stare at her before he spurs his horse towards the dwelling beyond the trees.
She is intent upon the world she builds from carefully placed mud, forming mountain ranges like those she sees to the north, and a river, given life by murky water she has carried from the pigs’ barrel in her cupped hands. Trip after trip she has made, imagining herself God as he formed the Earth, and now she is satisfied with the water’s level she starts to shape crude huts along the river’s banks, mixing in straw to re-create the texture of the walls that enfold her at night.
She does not belong here; she knows this much of who she is, but nothing more. This uncertainty chafes at her daily, despite the care meted out by the woman who has fostered her. The woman has eight offspring of her own, who vie for her attention by taunting and jostling this cuckoo’s child at every turn. The world Heloise builds with such ferocious concentration will have no place for them. It is a world where voices rise only in merriment and hands pass food, not steal it from her plate behind the woman’s back; a world more like the Heaven described by Father Onfroi, the black-robed priest who visits monthly to collect their tithe and instruct them in God’s laws. He reads them stories from the Holy Book; she memorises them to tell the pigs, the only ones patient enough to listen to her imagination’s constant outpourings.
The thunder of an argument erupts from the trees. She drops her smoothing stick and backs into the milling herd. They nuzzle her, bristles tickling, sniffing the tight-strung rope, and she strains to reach for the runt, her favourite. The storm grows louder and the man now charges down the path, chickens flying. Her foster mother chases at his heels.
‘This is not as it appears …’ The woman flushes scarlet as he throws the brushwood gate open and makes straight for the cowering girl, pigs scattering and squealing. He snatches her from their midst. ‘I take great pains to care for her. This is for her own safety. She gets an idea in her head and wanders off …’
‘You call this care? Look at the state of her! She is filthy.’ The girl struggles against him, but his big hands make short work of freeing the knot around her waist. She has failed to loosen it despite prolonged attack. ‘Have no fear, child,’ he says. ‘I have come to take you from this place.’
‘If you had sent me warning—’
‘What? And give you time to hide her?’
‘But her family have paid—’
‘Family?’ He spits, the gob landing by her foster mother’s dirt-blacked feet. ‘You speak to me of family? This is my sister’s child, and those who cast her out will rot in Hell.
He lugs the terrified child across the field, turning his boots on the pigs who cluster by the open gate; a fleeting smile on his lips when they take off at speed towards the trees, snouts low, tails wagging.
Sensing his grit, the girl gives up her struggle, a dead weight in his arms now as he strides back towards his horse. They are chased by the woman’s wailing and demands for proof, and the girl feels the man growl deep in his chest. He lowers her to the ground beside a dappled mare and squats to meet her eye, ignoring the leery children who jostle in the cottage’s dim entrance.
‘I am your uncle, Heloise. My name is Fulbert. I have long been seeking you. Forgive me for the wait; I have travelled one end of the country to the other just to find you’….
We have a copy of this book to giveaway to one lucky GrownUps member.
To enter simply answer the following question in the comments section below:
Can you speak another language (like French)?
The winner will be drawn Monday 23rd October and notified via email.