The Watchers

by Catriona Riordan. Shortlistee of the Best Novel Opening for Children or Young Adults competition 2022

Cheshire 1559

They said it was old Gregory that found her, right next to the Chicken House. The wooden bucket of scraps that the girl was going to throw into the trough for the pigs lay on its side where it had clattered onto the frozen peaks of the muddy earth, its contents spewing forth like a traitor’s intestines.

Mother’s face drained of colour until it was as pallid as a Baker’s roll before the oven.

Father looked over at me.


‘Yes, Father.’

‘I need your assistance,’ he stated and my heart jumped in horror. Animals on the farm was one thing but a body…that was quite another.

‘No William, surely not?’ Mother’s lips were bloodless as she spoke. ‘It’s one thing to have her watching the animals but this…this…it’s too much. It isn’t seemly for a young woman…’

Father cut her off the withering look that I’d seen many times before. As the eldest child, he had decided long ago that I learn, despite being a girl, despite what society dictated. 

I grabbed my boots; fingers shaking a little in anticipation of the sight that awaited me and as I neared the door, I gathered a few items.

I paid Mother no heed as she twisted her kerchief in her hands and reached for me as I moved past her to grab a blanket. Despite my fear, I wanted to go and show Father that I was brave and fearless, a true eldest child.

The body itself was nothing like I expected.

She lay as if asleep on the mud.

On second glance however, she was stiff and the slightly frosty ground had done a good job of giving her a tinge of blue around her lips.