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Chapter One


There were only faint murmurs from among the members of the crowd as they shivered in the afternoon chill. On the wooden scaffold, the man in the white shirt made a short speech that only those closest to him could hear. He then spoke with the bishop standing beside him, handing the religious official his black cloak before turning to address the masked executioner. After securing his long hair beneath a simple cap, the man in the white shirt stooped to lay his head upon the block. Moments later he thrust out his hands and the executioner’s axe fell, severing the man’s head from his body with a single stroke.

Thomas woke up in a cold sweat. The dreams were getting worse, or at least more vivid. He glanced over at his desk by the bedroom window. The book still lay open at the pages depicting the battles of the English Civil War. He wasn’t required to study the military aspects of the conflict for his classes at school but had nevertheless found the war’s battles fascinating. Thomas had always been interested in military matters, including weapons, warfare, and military equipment. Over the years he’d read a great deal about the Romans and the medieval era but the Civil War, with the widespread use of firearms and cannon, combined with the employment of swords and the cavalry charges that had been common in battles that took place in previous centuries, had been a revelation.

And yet the dream he’d just experienced hadn’t specifically concerned the battles but had featured the makeshift camps that adjoined the battlefields. Thomas had heard the cries of the wounded and seen piles of bodies waiting for burial. What he remembered most clearly was the terrible stench of death. He hadn’t read anything about the state of medicine during the 1640s so had no idea why he’d been thinking about such things, simply attributing it to his active imagination. In some of the scenes there had been a grand country house in the distance, seemingly unaffected by the battles nearby. The final section of Thomas’ dream had been very disturbing, as a silent crowd watched King Charles step out onto the scaffold on a bitterly cold day. Thomas was too far away to hear what the king was saying as he addressed the crowd. However, Thomas clearly heard and almost felt the thud of the axe as the king’s head was severed from his body, waking Thomas abruptly.

He slowly recovered his composure. It had only been a dream, admittedly a terrifying one, and one that he was eager to forget. There was something else though, nagging at the back of his mind. He tried to concentrate but couldn’t put his finger on what it was. He could picture some kind of device, circular in shape, with wheels within wheels, possibly made of wood. Yet as hard as Thomas tried to bring the image into focus, the more quickly it faded away until it was gone.

“Thomas, hurry up. You’re going to be late and miss the bus at the school.”

Thomas was startled by his mother’s voice calling from downstairs. He’d forgotten that his class was heading out on a school trip to central London that day. Normally he’d easily be on time for school, even if his mother had to deal with the early morning traffic. However, on this occasion Thomas had to be at school earlier than usual to catch the bus that had been specially organized for the trip. He quickly climbed out of bed and gathered his things into his backpack, before heading downstairs.