From up there, he saw the village spread out below him, just behind the small narrow beach and trapped there between the sea, the cliffs, and the swamp behind the village that kept Shakesbridge separate and isolated. Up here, his ancestors had built the Tower; they claimed to watch out for invasion from the sea. But now, Jim wondered if the castle wasn’t also here to watch the village as much as to stare off towards the horizon.
At this time in the morning the village, as usual, was covered by mist. Various buildings, houses, shops and the pub emerging and disappearing as the sea breeze blew in, trying to drive the morning mist back to the marshland.
Occasionally, Jim heard voices too, like the whispers of plotters on the breeze. Down there, the village was coming to life. Up here, he was away from it, above it all. He knew a fair few of his ancestors, the Guardians of the village had been paranoid, or at least wary, of the village. He now wondered if this was why, living up here, looking down on the village often shrouded in mists and hearing the voices caught on the wind like ghosts or assassins whispering in their ears.
In a way, he was glad he’d grown up in the village. When Jim was young, his father was the village Guardian, but he chose to live down there. Jim’s great-great-grandfather had built the Guardian’s house on the edge of the village. It was a large house, on a slight rise above the village, much as the village rose above the swamp a few feet, depending on the season. The house, like the Guardian himself, was of the village, but also above and separate from it.
Jim had never felt the same attachment to Shakesbridge that his contemporaries did. Even people from the nearby villages and the town, across the long bridge that now joined the village to the rest of the country, were regarded as foreign, as outsiders, as they. It had been those the Tower had been built to protect the village against, they and – of course – the hated Revenue.
The Revenue had built the great bridge, ending Shakesbridge’s isolation from the area around it. The authorities had hoped the bridge would bring to an end the piracy, the poaching, and the general villainy of Shakesbridge. The Revenue hoped to bring the wayward village into the fold.
But Shakesbridge men could never be sheep, they always had been and always would be the wolves. Creeping out of their secret routes through the marshes to rob, steal, poach and plunder the rest of the villages and even the town around but always apart from them.
There were stories, confirmed as true by his father who had access to the village records, that many of the women in the village in those times were stolen too, kidnapped. More often, it was said, willing than not. Stolen by the men from Shakesbridge, who the outsiders said would not think twice about stealing anything and everything.
Now Jim’s father was dead, and Jim would become Guardian of Shakesbridge village, even though it was the last thing he had ever wanted.