Chapters 5-6 Summary
At first everything appears normal in Stromwell. The villagers are at work in the fields, just as always. Then two men on horseback ride into the center of the village. Asta’s son is too far away to see the men's faces, but he recognizes John Aycliffe’s posture on his horse, and he guesses that the other rider is the grey-haired stranger from the forest. The men ring the church bell, loudly and insistently. When the villagers hear it, they stop working and look around warily. Then they all drop their tools and make their way to the churchyard.
When the villagers have gathered, Aycliffe and the stranger begin to speak to the crowd. They are joined by Father Quinel, whom Asta’s son recognizes by his stooped posture. To his frustration, the boy is too far away to hear what the men are saying. He strains to see or hear a clue about the meaning of the gathering. He can discern nothing, but he has a bad feeling that this meeting has something to do with him.
When the speeches are finished, everyone files into the church and the bell is rung, slowly this time, as if to announce a mass. Asta’s son normally follows the call of this bell along with the other villagers, but he is too afraid to do so now. Nevertheless, he decides that the bell is a signal to pray. He bows his head and asks for help from God.
Eventually people come back out of the church. Many return to the fields or stand talking in small groups in the churchyard. John Aycliffe, the stranger, and several other men go to the manor house. As Asta’s son tries to discern their intentions, he thinks about the people of the village and wonders whom he should trust. He has no close friends his own age, but he does have the priest. Father Quinel is a good man who has always helped Asta and her son in any way he could. Asta’s son decides to find Quinel and ask for help.
The men soon reemerge from the manor house carrying weapons called "glaives," which are poles with blades on the end. A few men are armed with bows as well. The weapons confirm all of Asta’s son’s fears: he has been accused of a crime, and these people are coming to the forest to hunt him down. Knowing that his plan to seek out the priest will have to wait, Asta’s son climbs off the rock and looks for a place to hide.