It was a perfect afternoon for John Lewis aged 10 and a bit. There were no adults to tell him what to do and he was doing his favourite thing. That is, he was lying on his cast iron bed in the upstairs bedroom of 28 Duke Barn Field, Coventry, England reading a history book about King Arthur and the Round Table. And yes he was wearing his woollen socks even though it was a warm summer's day because he felt like doing it.
|John Lewis is The Chosen One|
Maybe it would have been even more perfect if not for the tantalizing smell of apple pie being baked by his Mum. In this year of 1948 they were still all on rations following World War II. But somehow, his Mum had got hold of some lard and flour and using home-grown apples from the pantry and some precious brown sugar was baking his family a pie for tea.
'Hey Whiz are you up there?' a voice suddenly called out. It must have been his brother Colin, home at an unusual time.
John was tempted to ignore the call and pretend he was asleep.
But the magic moment went and curiosity got the better of him.
'Why had he come home so early?'
He jumped up from his bed and ran to the bedroom door.
A green spark arced from the worn brass handle of the bedroom door to the fingers of John Lewis.
The acrid smell of ozone added to the already heavy atmosphere of a still hot summer's day.
'Aah, that one got me a beauty!' exclaimed John as he looked ruefully at his fingers. The static in the air had been building for days now. This was coupled with the fact he was lying on his bed wearing woollen socks and totally immersed in one of his favourite history books when the call had come from downstairs. This meant for a moment that the friction of wool in his socks against the wool in the worn carpet would build up a charge.
This time only a small spark as John cautiously used the back of his hand to discharge the electricity.
He flung open the door and rushed down the stairs in his stocking feet. With a bit of luck, he might catch Colin out with the new charge he was building up from the stair carpet.
No such luck.
Colin was sitting on one of the old French style cane chairs in the kitchen drinking tea with his Mum and he took in John's stocking feet with a glance and shook his head.
'You won't get me!' he said with a smile, 'I'm too smart for you.'
John sat on one of the cane chairs too. He knew the charge wouldn't hold for long so he leant forward to hear what Colin had to say. They were all sitting as far away from the old slag stove as they could because the stove was hot even at this time of the morning. The iron kettle sitting on top was a constant source of boiling hot water and his Mum even had a flat iron on top too ready to do some ironing.
'Hey Whiz, want to go for a ride in a car?' asked his brother Colin.
Of course, he said "Yes" straight away.
In the England of 1948, only the rich or the armed forces owned cars. His brother, some six years older than him at nearly seventeen, had been driving since the age of fourteen helping to move spare parts from the aircraft factory, so there must be something special on. The Second World War had finished at the end of 1945 but as well as rationing continuing, the air force was gearing up for something called the Cold War. His dad and lots of other servicemen were still on duty in Germany, so there was still a demand for Colin's teenage driving abilities.
John sat on the edge of his chair as Colin explained.
'You're not going to believe this,' he said. 'I was over at Grandmas and there in the middle of Aunty Minnie, your cousin Sybil, your Uncle Arthur and Grandmother sat a boffin holding his right shoulder and saying, 'I won't even be able to drive to the test tomorrow now my arm's too sore. Who am I going to get as a driver at this late hour?'
'Of course, I piped straight up and told him I still have an army licence. I can drive you as I'm free tomorrow. I normally have to spend all day at the Technical College but seeing as it's on holidays, I can do the job for you.'
The boffin then said to me, 'I've got to be at Burnham on Sea by 10 am for some sea tests. It's about 120 miles so I need to be in the car by 5 am. Can you do it?'
'That's just the other side of Bristol, isn't it? I replied back to this poor bloke who was obviously in pain, and the boffin nodded.
'Smashing', I told him. 'I used to deliver aircraft engine parts to the testing site from the factory here in Coventry so I know the road like the back of my hand.'
And if a man in pain could smile he did and so I when asked if you could come for company, he agreed.
"Bristol! Burnham on Sea!" John could hardly believe his luck.
This was the land of King Arthur!
Most kids knew the story of King Arthur and the Round Table. But he would actually be in his kingdom tomorrow!
'Mum,' explained Colin, 'we have to leave here before 5 am. The boffin promised he would buy us breakfast on the way at one of the lorry stops, so I'll just put the alarm on in our bedroom.'
The Whiz, whose real name was John Lewis, suggested excitedly, 'I've got my atlas upstairs, why don't I look up "Burnham on Sea"?'
Back to grab the Atlas
John jumped straight up and ran up the stairs without waiting for an answer. Unfortunately, he rubbed his woollen socks on the stair carpet on the way and paid the price.
A green spark arced from the worn brass handle of the bedroom door again to the fingers of John Lewis.
'Aah got me again!' exclaimed John as he shook his fingers to reduce the pain.
This time only a small spark as John cautiously used the back of his hand again to discharge the electricity and ran to his bookshelf to fetch his old atlas.
A small favour
Atlas in hand he thought quickly.
If he recharged his socks and handed Colin the Atlas, touching him at the same time he would "get" his brother.
But he had never had an offer like this.
'Would zapping his brother mean he might take the offer back?'
It wasn't worth the risk he decided, so he just ran back down the stairs and plopped in the same cane chair again.
'Colin,' he blurted out, 'I've just been reading about King Arthur and the Isle of Avalon. It's so close we must go there.'
Colin, who already knew that Grandma had suggested they go to Glastonbury Tor and the ruined Abbey on the way, said in reply. 'It's not on the way home.'
John pleaded with him before his Mum could reply, 'We'll have all day to return home and this way we'll see lots of other things.'
Coin paused as if considering what John's argument and said, 'OK then but I'll need a favour in return.'
John agreed without even asking what the favour was.
'I'm going to use the car to go to the Friday dance,' Colin explained, 'It will need a good wash.'
John readily agreed, already thinking of the helpers he could gather that would love to be close up to a military vehicle.
'Mind you go to bed early tonight,' demanded Colin of him, 'because we can't be late for Grandma's place.'
There was no other grandmother like Grandma Robinson. At the moment she lived in a huge Tudor mansion with white cross timbers and tall lead lined casement windows in a typical criss-cross pattern that was some five centuries old. The old mansion with its many red brick chimneys lurked behind a large crumbly red brick wall which enclosed wide areas of spring green lawn and an extensive garden and orchard. A guardhouse manned 24 hours a day by army commandos sat discreetly amongst shrubbery on the winding driveway leading from the monstrous iron gates. For this was no ordinary Tudor mansion. Grandma's house had duoed for the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) since the start of World War II. Firstly as a retreat where scientists from Bletchley Park could come and relax in safety from their rigorous secret scientific coding work; and secondly as a place of safety from German bombing. Under the house were elaborate reinforced concrete bunkers where scientists might sleep safely through the fiercest bombing raid and if necessary do their normal work. Coventry as a major manufacturing centre producing tanks, armoured cars, artillery pieces and aircraft parts, had been bombed more than any other town. MI6 thought the German spies would never believe the mansion would be the perfect place to hide Britain's most important wartime scientists, (Boffins).
Grandma Robinson was used to dealing with large numbers of people. She had run a extensive tea plantation in Ceylon whilst bringing up her 15 children, and then in World War I had entertained her children's friends in a spacious house in Rugby until a ghost forced them to flee. The present situation had all been started by Uncle Arthur, in his role as a boffin at Bletchley Park doing coding. Uncle Arthur began bringing colleagues home at the insistence of his wife Aunty Flo who loved nothing else better than to be a party host amongst clever people.
MI6, who had been looking for a backup for Bletchley Park in the event that German spies found out the coding location, interviewed Grandma Robinson whom they found to be a capable organizer and someone who managed to keep secrets. The master spies agreed with her suggestions that the army should provide all the food with the exception of what might be grown on the estate. Working in the dead of night, army engineers spared no expense to bring in lorry loads of concrete and steel to build the bunkers and van loads of the best food and liquor for their valuable boffins.
Of course, the rest of the family said nothing and kept well away on weekends. John had been to the mansion once on a Sunday so Grandma might give them a tin of ham, but vowed never to go again when he almost choked from the cloud of blue smoke from cigarette and pipe smokers ensconced in the very large living room.
What was so strange was that the neighbours never seemed to gossip about the military vehicles which made their way to the mansion each Friday and left early Monday morning.
Sybil was John's cousin but quite unlike him in looks.
John was tall and wiry for his age, with fair complexion, light brown hair, and blue eyes.
She was of an average height, solid build, dark complexion, black hair and dark brown eyes. Sybil's family laughingly said their side of the family had royal blood on their side and left it at that.
John, on the other hand, would have loved to claim royal blood, for his heroes from his history books were Emperor Caesar, King Arthur, Charlemagne and Richard the Lion Heart.
Yesterday Sybil had been in the kitchen of their large Tudor house with Grandmother Robinson, her father, Aunty Minnie, her cousin Colin and one of the scientific boffins who usually stayed the weekend at their place. One could describe the kitchen as cavernous. Over 600 years old, the kitchen retained much of its original features such as exposed blackened beams and a flagstone floor. Down one end sat the original fireplace with its own tiled roof and expansive hearth with some wrought iron implements used for cooking such as a rotisserie and a bulky iron pot on a tripod. These days the fireplace was lit in the winter, but only for warmth. All the cooking was done down the other end of the huge room. Unlike the coal slag oven at 28 Duke Barn Field, this kitchen featured one of the new Attlee gas burners for the stove, an electric wall heater for boiling water and a spacious double stainless steel sink. The boffin, tall and spindly and dressed in a khaki shirt and long trousers, and with a wide canvas triangular bandage supporting his right arm, sat at one of the massive oak trestle tables
'There is no way Arthur old chap,' he had grimaced, 'I can drive myself down to Burnham on Sea for those test on the sands.'
'We might have two cars, but my driver got ill mysteriously and I know you have to get back to Bletchley Park today or there will be hell to pay.'
'Yes you are right,' agreed Arthur, dressed in his army captain's uniform, 'I'll be a bit late anyway and Sybil and Alan Turing are working on something important, so we just have to go as soon as we can.'
At this point, her cousin Colin volunteered to take the scientist to Burnham on Sea. Quite unexpectedly Colin also asked if he could take John along for company. A relieved scientist had answered "Yes" before either her grandmother or her reacted quickly enough to interfere with the decision.
'This is a potential disaster!' she had thought. 'Only her and her Grandma knew the full story about John and why they didn't want him anywhere near Glastonbury.'
As head of a witch's coven, established over 1000 years earlier to protect magic bloodlines, her grandmother identified quite well the people with magic and the people without magic. Her father had magic, her mother and her cousin Colin did not. John, on the other hand, was a special person who came along once in a thousand years. The coven's task had been to keep the men ignorant of their magic and then to use their influence to place the men in professions where their magic was an asset even though it was not actively used. Over the centuries the Shipton clan looked after many prominent clergymen, scientists, and artists -all of whom were totally unaware of their magical abilities. Right now Grandma's son Arthur, Sybil's father, was a leading scientist at Bletchley Park, but the clan was all aware of John's potential. Once he became a teenager, the clan were sure John's magic would reveal itself and the clan had had endless discussions as to how to control his magic when this did happen.
Up until now, nothing had been happening, except the clan members were all aware an external magical influence was at work. John, in particular, had been leading a very normal life and the family were proud of him. Only Sybil could occasionally beat him at cards and John's Mum had carefully fed John lots of old history books and encyclopaedias to keep his mind occupied.
But all this normal life for John might stop if John became exposed to the Old One's magic that existed in the labyrinth around Glastonbury Tor and the sacred well near the ruins of the Abbey. One of the coven's secrets was that they knew where the magical dousing or ley lines travelled through the countryside and that 13 ley lines centred right on the sacred well where John would be going.
In King Arthur's time, the Glastonbury Tor had become known as the Isle of Avalon because it was surrounded by swamps and river. Legend had it Arthur was allegedly buried on the Isle. As Burnham on Sea was only 10 miles away from the Tor, John would know this from his reading and John would be desperate to go to the tor.
'There was even more.'
All of the clan members were increasingly aware of the feelings of unease as a mysterious magic influence had manifested itself recently. They all knew about something in the background of their minds but it could not be defined.
'Ought they take the risk?'
Short of sabotaging the car or adding further injury to the scientist in their care, there was very little in the way of actions the witches could take that would not arouse the suspicions of the menfolk.
All of this had been happening in milliseconds. Sybil had had to make a decision.
She sent a secret sign of acceptance to her grandmother and Aunty Minnie and so Grandmother Robinson strongly supported the idea of John visiting both the Tor and the Abbey after Colin and John delivered the boffin to Burnham on Sea.
The only course of action she thought of was to create an excuse for visiting John and check up on him when he returned home and so now here she stood armed with a camera and some money to give John.
'What would they do if John became the first male in 1500 years to know he had magic?'
'How would a modern world cope with another Merlin?'
Right now, this the morning after the decision, she stood nervously shivering in the early dawn light. The commandos at the inner secure gatehouse looked at her curiously but said nothing. Through the large wrought iron gates leading to the road Sybil glimpsed two figures walking up the leafy avenue, so she scurried to the outer gatehouse to greet her cousins.
Bill, the cheerful looking gatekeeper, was dressed as a gardener complete with his woollen cap and leather work gloves. As the front man, but still a commando, he was the first-line of defence for a most secret facility.
'Hello Colin,' she called out. 'Go straight up the drive the car is waiting for you. I want to talk to John.'
Chapter 2. The most magical place
John prepares to navigate
John stood beside Sybil as Colin walked into a circular iron turnstile. From behind the barred windows of the gatehouse, Bill pressed a lever with his foot and Colin pushed his way in. MI6 took its security seriously because Bill then rang the next gatehouse to tell them Colin had permission to drive the car.
'Are you going to be all right John?' his cousin Sybil asked him as Colin went through the turnstile at Grandma's house.
She seemed to be shivering a bit and he guessed it might be caused by the early morning temperature.
'I'm going to be better than right', he replied enthusiastically. 'This is going to be the best day of my whole life. I'm actually going to see all those places I read about in my history books and encyclopaedias.'
He held up the atlas he was carrying under his arm. 'All these places are just names on a map. But I'm actually going there!'
John could see that Sybil was dressed in her ATS uniform and she had a canvas haversack on her shoulder. 'I wish you were coming too. But I can see you have to go to Bletchley Park again.'
'So do I,' she answered back fervently. 'The best thing I can help with instead is to give you this haversack, my Box Brownie and a few spare rolls of film.'
She took the haversack off her shoulder and passed it to him.
Quickly he opened the canvas straps and looked inside. A brand new camera, four extra rolls of film and an envelope peeked back at him. 'What a beauty!' he exclaimed. 'What's in the envelope?'
'Oh you know Grandma,' explained Sybil. 'She reckons you'll visit the old Roman baths so she's given you some money to spend at the restaurant. By the way, you can keep the haversack it's army surplus.'
John smiled even more. 'I think the day is going to get even better.'
Just then they heard the sound of tyres on the gravel drive and Bill hurried out to open the huge gates for the biggest sedan John had ever seen. Painted in camouflage black and olive green with huge driving lights like dinner plates, a Humber Super Snipe rolled majestically forward. Along the long bonnet was stencilled M1488273 and a securely tied canvas package on the curved roof rack made the car look even larger. Bill opened the passenger door for John.
'Don't stand there gaping,' said a hugely pleased Colin, 'hop in and sit on some real leather seats.'
John sat proudly in the front seat of the Humber Super Snipe limousine, opened his Atlas and prepared to navigate.
He wasn't really navigating as his older brother had said he drove to Burnham on Sea during the war with aircraft parts and knew the way like "the back of his hand".
The first part seemed easy. Colin drove on the Coventry Road to Kenilworth. John cycled on this road himself with his mates as they went to explore the tunnels underneath the Castle ruins. Past the ruins and through the old town, they turned right at the big church and were on their way to Warwick. The large old Warwick Castle went back to the times of King John and Robin Hood but it was still being lived in and they weren't allowed to explore it. Passing through the town centre with its marketplace and old black and white hotels, they turned into a narrow country road and then everywhere became new for John.
Then Colin said in a whisper, 'It's Redditch next and then Kidderminster. I remember the way there alright, but after that, look out for signposts and stuff. It is two years since I did the trip and most of the time I drove in a convoy just following the truck in front.'
The Atlas just showed straight lines between dots that were major towns. Nothing was further from the truth as the road twisted and turned and in right angles that were certainly not on the map in his Atlas. The first sign he looked at said "Henley in Arden 10 miles" and that wasn't even on the page open in front of him. It wasn't until they crossed over a busy canal and the railway line that he saw a sign with a name he recognised.
'Do you remember Bromsgrove?' John asked anxiously.
'Yes, it's not far from Kiddminister,' replied Colin, coming to a skidding halt to let a farmer and his hay wagon get past on the narrow road.
This trip was rapidly turning into a nightmare for John. After the next couple of towns, they could easily get lost. The boffin, fast asleep in the back, would not get to his tests. Colin would be caught out because of his boasting. He wouldn't get to see King Arthur's country.
John thought about waking the boffin then decided against that. He wouldn't probably know anything about maps and routes and that sort of thing as he would always be driven everywhere.
'This is a military vehicle,' he thought, 'maybe there could be maps somewhere!'
As the giant car hurtled towards the last known place, he opened the glove box to have his nose assaulted by a strong oily smell. Inside lay a large parcel wrapped up in oilskin. John opened it hopefully. It contained a large book labelled 'War Office Top Secret'.
'Should he open it?'
The war was over. 'Surely they wouldn't arrest him for opening a book?'
To his relief and delight, there sat a Road Directory. When he looked at a few pages it was as though the sun had just come out. He could see all of the villages and the towns and there were even dots on the map showing houses alongside the road. He quickly found Kidderminster and traced his finger down.
'Do you remember Worchester,' asked John hopefully.
'Yes, just before Great Malvern I think,' responded Colin.
John sighed with relief. 'Things were going to be all right.'
After that, things did go quite well apart from a few missed turnings, near collisions with trucks on narrow roads and frequent stoppings to let other traffic pass on the narrow roads of the many villages. John even located Gossington on the map but was surprised at how small it showed the village where they were going to stop for breakfast.
Eventually, Colin drove into the Gossington truck stop, pulled on his handbrake and turned off the motor.
'You'd better put that top secret stuff away before we wake up the boffin,' suggested Colin with a smile. He had known all along what John had used for navigating.
As Colin opened his door to get out and stretch, John quickly wrapped the directory back in the oilskin and put it in the glove box. 'There,' he thought, 'no one would be the wiser.'
The opening of the back door woke up the boffin, who first looked puzzled and then he grimaced as he realized that he still felt pain.
He looked down at his watch and said wondering, 'I see you made good time. You must have found the Road Directory. I know I promised you breakfast but if we were running late we would have had to skip it. The tests are too important.'
Colin answered, 'Let us help you get out Sir.' He wasn't going to let the boffin know that they nearly hadn't made it at all.
All John ate for breakfast that morning was a cup of sweetened tea in his enamel mug and he was starving by the time they got to the truck stop.
Again another first for John. His family were so poor they never went to restaurants and to see rows of gleaming tables and modern chairs on which were seated all men drivers mostly wearing old army gear became quite an experience. But being hungry became worth the wait. The boffin produced a special ration book and ordered three breakfasts. John's eyes goggled at the portions brought by a pretty waitress dressed in a blue and white striped uniform.
On each plate were two sausages, two rashers of bacon, a piece of black sausage, two eggs and baked beans. As well they had huge thick slices of toast with real butter. To wash the breakfast all down they drank large mugs of coffee made with condensed milk. The rest of England might have been on rations, but the lorry drivers were well looked after.
Back outside, as he stood in front of the gleaming Super Snipe limousine with its large headlights and extra driving lights, John enjoyed the envious looks of the lorry drivers as they, in turn, stood there in the early morning sun smoking their fags. The British Government gave free cigarettes to the soldiers during the war and now it seemed that most men smoked. As they filled up the car, Colin got a bunch of petrol coupons to use.
'Make sure that you have enough to come and get me next Saturday.' became the only comment the scientist made as he handed them over.
Delivering the boffin
At last, they reached a rather imposing gatehouse at Burnham on Sea with lots of high fences and rolls of barbed wire complete with a few white seagulls hoping for some scraps of food. A burly red-faced sergeant immaculately dressed in a crisp khaki uniform walked up to the car. He wore a smartly tilted beret, prominent vee- stripes on his right sleeve and a broad canvas belt.
'Your papers Sir.' he asked as the boffin wound down his window. He took his time looking at the photo identification and the authority card and then said.
'Your papers are in order Sir, but I'm afraid I can't let you in. He is a civilian driver.'
'Best I could do at the time,' explained the boffin. 'He drove here before delivering parts from a factory in Coventry.'
'Does he have any papers Sir?' asked the sergeant unflinching in his attitude.
'Only his army licence,' replied the boffin.
'Sorry Sir, that won't do.'
'But I must go in,' protested the scientist. 'Here is my equipment for the test this morning. Can we transfer it to another vehicle?'
'Sorry Sir, budgets are slim. We don't run to having spare vehicles.'
Things were getting desperate again for John. If they couldn't get in, they would have to return home and he would not see the places he wanted to see.
He spied two privates complete with tin helmets, gaiters, ammunition pouches and rifles slung over their shoulders. 'Perhaps they could drive the car?'
'Excuse me, Sir,' he said, 'why don't you ask if the privates can drive you to the test site?'
'Sergeant, what do you think of that idea?'
'Good idea,' replied the sergeant, 'But I happen to know they are not drivers.'
Colin piped up then, 'We are happy to wait outside the gate whilst they drive the car slowly. They might be some trouble with the gears so it would be safer if I drove. However, there's plenty of room in the back seat. They could guard us whilst we were inside.'
'The test must go on,' said the boffin firmly. 'I'll leave it to your judgment.'
The sergeant stood there for a while weighing things up. He would lose both ways. If the privates damaged the car, he would get the blame. If they found out he'd let in a civilian he would also get the blame.
Eventually, he relented, 'Jones take off your battle jacket and your beret. The driver can wear those.'
'You young fellow,' and he pointed at John, 'you will get on the floor and hide. Private Jones and Private Watson will sit in the back and guard you. If anything goes wrong I will lose a stripe. But remember boys I will still be a corporal and your life will be hell. So no mistakes.'
John sighed with relief once again as he crawled under a blanket provided by the boffin. If they couldn't have delivered the boffin to his tests they would have returned straight home and he wouldn't have got to see all the places where Arthur had been. An hour later they drove out of the gates and on their way to Glastonbury Tor.
John crawled out from under the blanket and looked out the window. It was white. A sea mist had rolled in from the sea.
The Sea Mist
'Phew,' said Colin, 'we were lucky to find the gates again now this sea mist has rolled in.'
'We might be stuck here for a while I'd say, it's dangerous driving in this thick a fog.'
John felt sick to his stomach. 'First the maps, next the sergeant and now this fog'.
'How could he now get to see the lands of King Arthur?'
'Hang on,' said John 'I remember seeing some hills on the map and perhaps the fog won't be up the hills'.
'Yes here they are; the Polden Hills and they start about five miles away and the road on them leads to Glastonbury.'
'How can I drive in this fog?' exclaimed Colin, 'I can hardly see the road!'
'I'll help,' suggested John, 'by winding down the window and watching the edge of the road.'
Driving became torturous on the narrow country road with so little visibility. John's face became cold and wet from the fog as Colin drove slowly in a low gear. But as soon as they reached the village of Dunball and turned left they ascended up a steep hill and were soon driving above the mist. The first part of the road was forested until they finally there, in a break in the trees, rose the tor.
The tor soared over a dense bank of fog so only the top part of the hill, the tower and some of the pattern of the labyrinth was visible as a set of grooves marching up the side of the hill. In the foreground lines of dark green hedgerows divided bright green fields and the ghostly outlines of trees emerging from the mist. Not a building could be seen. It felt like a moment frozen in time. Such a beautiful view and somehow he felt drawn to it.
He felt he could just walk over to it and touch it.
Then Colin stood next to him. 'Nice view,' he remarked and the moment became broken.
'The camera!' John shouted, 'we must take a picture.'
He raced to the car and got it out.
Colin showed him how to use it. 'Pity we don't have colour,' he remarked. 'I heard that they found some colour films taken for Hitler. We could certainly use his movie cameras right now.'
'Not much use going to the ruins first. It will still be covered in fog. Let's go and climb that hill Whizz and take some more photos.'
The Giant Tor
As yet the day had not warmed up and the air seemed pregnant with expectation. The fog felt wet on their faces and there was no wind as Colin pulled up in a well-defined car park at the foot of the tor. They got out, being careful not to walk through the long grass and get wet shoes.
Here the hedgerows and ironstone walls surrounding the fields were only chest high so they could easily see the outline patterns of the old labyrinth. Ahead they glimpsed the pathway to the tower and some tiny figures of people on their way up.
'Look,' called out John excitedly to Colin as they neared yet another gate, 'could that be the thorn bush of Joseph of Aramethia?' He and the other boys at Sunday school knew all about Joseph of Aramethia. For a start, it had been rumoured that he brought Jesus to Britain when he traded for tin. The Bible recorded that Joseph took Jesus from the cross and used his own family burial cave for the dead Jesus. Then there were more rumours that Joseph of Aramethia came back to Glastonbury and founded the first Christian church. They all knew the legend of Joseph of Aramethea's staff being stuck in the ground and turning into a hawthorn bush. This they accepted as fact because their beloved royal family had received a holy white twig of blossoms from the bush for centuries.
This was their favourite hymn and they always sang it with great fervour.
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England's pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England's green & pleasant Land.
'No,' replied Colin, 'if it was the bush, there would be a sign or something.'
Too excited to be disappointed, John scrambled quickly up the long pathway and then climbed the steep stairs of the stone tower at the top. The tor afforded a fabulous view as most of the sea mist had lifted and John could now see that large amounts of land had been reclaimed from the sea. The fields to the west were all a patchwork quilt of dark green hedge rows and colours indicating various states of farming. There were lots of greens but equally lots of browns and yellows where the grains had been cut or were nearly ready to be cut. Conically shaped haystacks seemed everywhere. Even though it was going to be a hot midsummer's day, farmers and Clydesdale horses were already in the fields.
From the top, John could even see the outline of the coast in one direction and the bluish outline of far hills in another direction.
This appeared not to be the Isle of Avalon that featured in his history books. Today there were no rivers and no mists. In fact, it looked like any other farming land.
He had never been up in a plane, but he could imagine a Spitfire pilot flying over the fields looking for a German plane to attack. He looked at the stonework of the old church tower. The tower didn't look any near as old as Coventry's St Michaels church in Broadway which had been bombed during the war, but it had the same name. So John imagined instead that the tower became an old fort and he looked out waiting to light a beacon if Saxon invaders came into sight.
'This is absolutely fabulous!' thought John. 'I bet no-one in my class or even anyone in my school has come up here!'
John pointed back to the edge of the long rocky path they walked up, 'Did you know that the sea came right up to here in King Arthur's time?' he asked Colin. 'This big hill we are standing on was known as the Isle of Avalon back then.'
'Com'on Whiz enough of history,' called out Colin, 'let's go and have a look through the abbey ruins.'
'Hope there's a water bubbler there,' replied John, 'I'm getting really thirsty.'
The waiting was over
Thirteen ley lines of magnetic force focused with geometric precision at the centre of the sacred well in Glastonbury.
In the shadow of the giant tor carved into a mysterious labyrinth the magic waited.
Over the years the sacred well in turn welcomed the builders of Stonehenge, the designers of the 10 mile wide Glastonbury Zodiac, the old ones who had urged their followers to build the mysterious labyrinth, the Druids and their schools, Joseph of Aramethia the builder of the first Christian church where now the abbey ruins lay, King Arthur searching for the Holy Grail and the Shipton witches.
The one thing all these people had in common was that they had all drunk the water from the sacred well.
Now the waiting was almost over.
Running down the hill towards the parked car came the Chosen One.
'Was he going right past the Holy Well and not be drinking from the silver cup?'
The magic had influence still. A bright shaft of golden sunlight from the rising sun highlighted the bluestone well and caught the eye of the young boy who hesitated as though deciding.
Intrigued, the young boy walked across the grass to the well.
Thirsty, he picked up the silver goblet chained to the stone.
The waiting was over!
Mrs Shipton and the Ghost
Back to the car park, down the steep narrow street, round a couple of corners in there in front of them lay the main street of Glastonbury.
On the right behind a wall lay the ruins of the Abbey but there were barricades up at the entrance of what appeared to be a new car park, so Colin looked for a parking spot further along and found one in front of a really old sandstone building.
Hillary Shipton was the equivalent of Grandma Robinson in Glastonbury. Amongst her roles, she acted as a welcoming committee for any of the coven who came to visit the Holy Well on Mid Summers day and wanted to add Old One's magic to enhance their abilities. As part of her disguise, she ran the local museum. It could hardly be suspicious if a group of ladies from out of town visited the local museum. Right now she struggled to put out the A-framed notice board telling visitors that the museum was open for business.
She was surprised when a large military vehicle pulled up in front of the museum. They didn't get many of those these days. She was even more surprised when a small boy with a very bright magical aura opened the front door and stepped out to examine the old museum building.
'Look at this Colin. It's over 400 years old and it's a museum. Can we go in?' asked the small boy.
Colin who looked like a teenager, and also looked far too young to be driving a military vehicle in peacetime, reluctantly agreed saying what he really needed was a cup of tea.
Hillary Shipton became quite shocked. Glastonbury was after all the most magical place in England and here on the most magical day was an unsupervised male person with the strongest magical aura she'd ever seen.
'She had received no messages to say he was coming, so was the magic already in him or did he pick it up from being here in Glastonbury?'
In contrast, there seemed to be no magical aura at all around the young driver.
As a member of the Shipton coven, it was her duty to repress rogue magic and/or protect the bloodline of their coven. This child had huge magic abilities. If she tried one of her spells it might backfire and worse still she could be interfering with the plans of another coven member. Like many of her sisters, she'd become aware of changes in magic occurring around Glastonbury, but nothing more definite than a strong feeling. Now out of the morning mists had arrived an extremely powerful child magician and there was nothing she could safely do.
'Or was there?'
She decided to invite him and his driver into the museum and find out as much as she could.
'Hello there', she said to Colin, using as much witchly persuasion as she dared, 'why don't you come in? We are just opening.'
The small boy followed them inside and asked immediately, 'I was hoping you might have something about the legend of King Arthur.'
'We are still gathering things about him,' Hillary Shipton replied, 'but you do know that he was a real person and it's only the books that are legends.'
'You mean that Excalibur might not be true?' cried the small boy.
'No I wouldn't say that,' Hillary Shipton explained. 'Swords were hard to make in those days and all famous swords had names.'
'I can show you something that might help you understand what I mean.'
She opened the sliding door on a glass cabinet and pulled out a blue stone rock. 'It's believed that Excalibur was made from meteorite rock and swords made from this material were much stronger than swords made from local iron ore deposits.'
'I recognize that rock,' the small boy said earnestly, 'it's the same rock that the Holy Well is made from.'
'You are absolutely right,' agreed Hillary Shipton twirling the rock in her fingers.
'Now there is a legend that says only on Midsummer's day a silver cup on a chain appears at the Holy Well so that you can drink from it.'
'That's no legend,' scoffed the small boy. 'I drank from that silver cup myself. It was the sweetest and best water I have ever tasted.'
Hillary Shipton looked at Colin, the young driver, and asked, 'Did you drink from the cup too?'
'No,' replied Colin, 'that's probably why I am dying for a cup of tea.'
'I might be able to help you there.' Hillary Shipton said. 'First, tell me your names and where you come from.'
'I'm John Lewis,' answered the small boy, 'and this is my big brother Colin. We have just come from Coventry for the day.'
'They must be related to Grandma Robinson.'
'Do you know a Marjorie Lewis?'
'That's my mum's name.' cried John. ' How did you know that?'
'And do you know a Matilda Robinson?' continued Hillary Shipton.
'John wouldn't know this answer,' said Colin, 'That's our grandmother's name.'
'Well next time you see them,' suggested a relieved coven member, 'say hello from Hillary Shipton.'
Whatever plans the coven leader had for John Lewis she didn't know but she was glad that she had not tried to interfere. They may have sent them to her so that she would give John Lewis access to the ghost too - an important part of anyone's magic. Anyway, whatever happened would be in her report to her coven leader in a specially coded letter.
'Now for the cup of tea.'
She picked up the phone and dialled a number.
'Maurice, tell me. have you've put the kettle on yet?' she inquired.
'That's excellent. I've got two friends here who are dying for a cup of tea. Look after them well. The treat's on me.'
Turning back to the boys, she enquired, 'Do you believe in ghosts?'
'Of course, we do,' replied John for both of them.
'Well St George and the Pilgrim Hotel is the same age as this building and it has a resident ghost. Maurice the owner will make you a cup of tea and if you feel the presence of the ghost just say, "Glad to make your acquaintance"'.
Hillary Shipton moved from behind her counter and gestured to the back door. 'Go out the back way and turn right. You can't miss the entrance of the pub. It has large cobblestones. Go right down the passageway to the last room on the right. That's the bar. Maurice will bring you some tea.'
St George and the Pilgrim
John had never been in a pub before either. This one was simply amazing. The large cobblestones ran down a hill. It was as though the pathway had been there first and the pub built around it. Bordering the cobblestones were a number of large windowed cabinets full of ancient implements such as swords, daggers, helmets, chain mail and wooden plates. There was even a full suit of armour near the entrance.
As they turned into the last room on the right, the light streamed in from the Gothic windows facing the street so Colin raced ahead to check on the car. An old ornate pint pot sitting on the bar attracted John's attention until he felt a strong presence of a ghost.
'Pleased to make your acquaintance,' he stammered, and the room got noticeably warmer.
'Merci,' said a warm voice behind him. And there on a seat in a fireplace was a man dressed in coarse brown monk's clothes, leather sandals and complete with a fringe of hair surrounding his bald pate. To John's eyes, it looked as though the fireplace was at least 400 years old. He imagined small children sitting in the large fireplace with its nook seats tending the iron cooking pots. Large high-back benches and a heavy solid oak table, well scarred from long use, flanked the fireplace.
Too amazed to think about what he was seeing, John responded with, 'Hello I'm John Lewis.'
He pointed at Colin peering out the window, 'That's my brother Colin Lewis.'
The monk smiled broadly, stood up from his nook seat and held out his hand. John shook a large muscular hand as the monk replied with a strong foreign accent. 'Henri Partridge'.
Just then a tall thin man dressed in a black waistcoat, lace shirt and black trousers came in with a large tray of tea and toast. The monk let go of John's hand and hurried back to his seat as the man continued on to the bench where Colin sat.
'I see you have met our ghost,' he said conversationally as he began to unload the tray. 'It's noticeably warmer this morning.'
'My name's Maurice and Hillary Shipton said I should look after you. So tuck in and help yourself.'
The bench Colin sat on near the window had patterns of light scattered all over it from the tiny lead-lined panes of glass in the window. The windows themselves were surrounded by worn sandstone blocks and there were massive blackened oak beams in the low roof.
'Is this pub really 400 years old?' asked Colin.
'Yes,' replied Maurice proudly. 'It has been in use as a pub for all those years. There may be lots of wars, but men still like to drink their beer.'
'Do you know much about Glastonbury?' he asked.
'I'm the one who reads all the history books,' interrupted John. 'I know that Joseph of Aramethia was supposed to have built the first church here and as he was the uncle of Jesus he may have brought his nephew here. It's my favourite hymn at Sunday School.'
'It was mine too,' laughed Maurice. 'Go on.'
'After that' the Romans were here for 400 years until they had to go back and defend Rome and that's when King Arthur was around. He was fighting against the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes and might have won if it wasn't for his half-brother betraying him about the same time as he lost Excalibur.'
'Then after another 400 years of fighting, the Celts were finally defeated and we ended up with Anglo-Saxon Kings of England until 1066 when William the Conqueror defeated King Harold and we haven't been invaded successfully since.'
'That's very good,' said a surprised Maurice. 'Did you know that pilgrims stayed here in the pub?'
'We guessed that from the name,' contributed Colin who was proud of the Whiz. 'But that was only 'til Cromwell burned the abbey down I guess.'
'When was that Whiz?'
'In 1539,' answered John who knew all the grisly details of how the Bishop was hung drawn and quartered in the Tower of London.
'Look eat that lot up as quick as you can and I can give you a special treat before the pub opens seeing as you are friends of Hillary and I know something you don't know.'
They weren't really friends of Hillary Shipton as they had only just met her, but a special treat was a special treat.
Maurice walked over to the bar and picked up a brass lantern with mesh around it. 'This is a miner's lamp,' he explained. 'We use it whenever we go down the cellar. It tells us if there are any inflammable gases down there by burning much brighter. It also tells us if there are any dangerous concentrations of carbon dioxide by going out.'
'If either of those things happens, run like mad to the steel ladder and get out. I'll be right behind you.'
'Follow me,' he ordered.
John smiled at Henri Partridge, but the other two ignored him.
"That's a bit strange he thought to himself.'
Pulling back two steel plates the other side of the passage, Maurice descended a steel ladder saying, 'remember what I said and don't hesitate.'
Down in the cellar, it was full of beer kegs and lots of pipes and valves. Even here the flagstone floor slanted downward and Maurice moved swiftly to a large bricked-in entrance.
'I bet you didn't know that we had a tunnel from the pub to the old abbey,' said Maurice. 'See how we had to brick up the tunnel because there were dangerous gases in it. '
John thought about the old tunnels he and his mates played in at Kenilworth Castle and decided that he would not do it anymore.
Once they had safely ascended the ladder, Colin asked where the lavatory was and left the two of them in the passageway.
'I think your old pub is absolutely smashing,' gushed John. 'There can't be many other pubs with a secret passage and a French monk for a ghost.'
'What do you mean by a French monk for a ghost,' asked a puzzled Maurice.
The penny dropped then for John. He could see the ghost and the others couldn't!
'Would he make a fool of himself if he revealed this fact to Maurice?'
John decided to take the risk as perhaps he could help both the ghost and Maurice.
'When I said "Pleased to make your acquaintance," as Mrs Shipton suggested, he answered "Merci."'
'Then when I introduced myself and shook hands, he said his name was "Henri Partridge". He has a very strong accent.'
'You actually saw him?' asked an amazed Maurice.
'Yes,' replied John, 'he sits in the first fireplace as you come in the bar. He looks a bit like a Friar Tuck in the Robin Hood stories.'
Maurice stared at him for a moment and then hit his head with his hand. 'You might be able to help me here John. Sometimes our ghost gets angry and the bar room gets really cold. We put a beer out for him every day and I wonder if it's the right beer.'
'Could you ask him?'
They went into the bar together and Maurice got behind the bar with the tankard. The ghost watched them.
'Henri Partridge,' John asked, 'which beer?' and began pointing at the beer taps.
When he pointed at the Somerset cider tap, Henri Partridge smiled and pointed.
Maurice poured the cider, placed the tankard in its usual spot and with a happy smile shouted, 'Bon appetite Henri Partridge.'
John could have sworn there were tears in the ghost's eyes as he took John's hand in both of his hands and muttered, 'Merci , Merci.'
Wells and Bath
After the old pub and the ghost, the old ruins of the abbey did not seem so important and after a bit of a look around, they drove the short distance to Wells that John knew a lot about from his history books and encyclopaedias.
Entering an arched one-way road they pulled alongside the most magnificent church John had ever seen. They were at the Northern end where the famous clock was on display.
Right on time, the figures of knights on horseback came out waving their lances as though they were on a roundabout at a fair. But it was a seated figure with long curly hair and a beard dressed in a faded red jacket, short pantaloons and white stocking that caught John's attention the most. This figure drummed his heels against bells to tell the time and then the figure stuck another bell with a cross held in his hands. What a marvellous piece of machinery!
'Thanks Colin, I would not have liked to have missed that. That's another story I can tell to the class after the holidays.'
'We have time, let's see if we can get in,' said Colin as he walked south looking for an entrance.
But construction was going on there too, so that the entrance to the church was closed. Instead they walked through a fortified gateway and saw the Bishops Palace which was just like a castle complete with moat and drawbridge.
'I'll tell you what's really interesting,' said the Whiz, 'This castle is at least 200 years older than that pub we were in this morning, but the cathedral which was started about the same time took 400 years to build. Anyway, about the time they completed the church in the 1600's, there was a war between Cromwell's army and the Royalists who defended Wells for a long time. Eventually, the Royalist fled and Cromwell's army used the church as a stable for their horses and practised shooting at statues and things.'
'And I know something too,' replied Colin. 'The next place we go to is even older and there's scones and cream waiting for us there. If I remember correctly Grandma's paying.'
Visiting Bath was a dream come true. John loved reading about the Romans and here he was with Colin listening to a guide from the Roman Baths telling them that what they saw in the way of statues and domed buildings with columns were in fact re-creations.
'Down there are the real Roman ruins,' she explained, 'see where the brickwork changes colour, everything under that is at least 1600 years old.'
There were more surprises when they went down to the pool level with its green algae and its hot water. The pool was full of old coins that had been tossed in for luck and there were old statues of Roman sun gods, inscriptions in Latin and a model.
The model, made of solid red timber, showed how big the complex was in Roman times and agreed with some of the drawings that John had seen in his history books.
Later as they sat eating a double serve each of scones, local cream and delicious strawberry jam, John became aware of a group of men furiously arguing about a Roman battle. He knew one of them was quite wrong in his assertions as he had the sequence of dates wrong as well as the outcomes of the battle.
Finally, he could stand it no longer.
He didn't know what got into him, but he stood up, walked over to the group of men who went quiet for a moment.
'Excuse me interrupting,' he said. 'I couldn't help but overhear what you were arguing about. One of you has got it all wrong.'
Now there was a deadly silence as the four well-dressed men looked at this small boy who had dared to interrupt.
John had that sinking feeling in his stomach again.
'What had he done?'
'Should he just apologize and go back to Colin?'
Finally one of the men said gruffly, 'Explain yourself, boy!'
They were grownups. He could just apologize and sit down. But he knew he was right. No, stay and tell them what he knew.
Then John discussed the details of the battle for about ten minutes as the men listened in silence. When he had finished they all clapped him and an embarrassed John bowed and went back to his seat with Colin.
'How did you know all that stuff?' whispered an awed big brother.
â€˜Itâ€™s all in my history books,â€™ returned John defensively. â€˜Anyone could read about it.â€™
Chapter 3. Witch's dilemma
Scene 16. Sybil waits for John.
Sybil did not stop to change out of her ATS uniform after she arrived home from Bletchley Park, as she wanted to be at Aunty Madge's house before John got home.
Racing out of the circular iron gate in front of the Tudor mansion, she waved goodbye to Bill, saying as she did, 'I'm just going up to Aunty Madge's house. Be back soon.'
Apart from John and his possible exposure to magic, she had much to think about as she walked across the common towards Headborough Road which led to Duke Barn Field. Today she and Alan Turing made another breakthrough in his new unofficial intelligence machine. They successfully entered a complex calculation and got a result in minutes. This result was so much better than the results from the large computing machine called Goliath that the team used to win World War II. It used to take overnight to do the same complex calculation in the modelling for advising the generals as to which battles to win and which battles to lose. The Bletchley Park team were so successful in working out German codes and how to win battles; they planned how to lose battles again and again so that the enemy would not guess that behind the Allied successes were a dedicated group of scientists aided by a small schoolgirl.
Right now they were fighting something called the Cold War and the new enemy had become Russia. But there was a big problem. At one stage in World War II, Russia was on their side and their way of thinking, called Communism, created a lot of supporters in England. Unfortunately, secrets were being passed to Russia and definitely, some had been passed on from within the team.
The question was, 'How were the secrets being passed on and was there anything being passed on about this new artificial intelligence machine?'
She got a few strange looks as she entered Headborough Road, but she didn't care as she had earned her ATS uniform by helping solve the German Enigma code.
'Enough of Bletchley Park,' she thought to herself, 'what am I going to tell Aunty Madge?'
Like all of the womenfolk, Aunty Madge was part of the coven, dating back to before the Romans, that protected the bloodline, but she was not privy to all secrets and that's what Sybil knew all about. Sybil had been groomed from an early age to be the next leader after Grandma Robinson and one of her prime duties was to look after her cousin John.
All too soon, she arrived at number 28 Duke Barn Field and walked through the battered wooden door that separated John's house from the duplex next door.
'Hello, Sybil,' called out Aunty Madge as she entered the back door.
'I can't stop now. I've got a dozen things on preparing for dinner'.
'Take a seat or make yourself a cup of tea. The kettle on the stove is just boiled and I could certainly do with one.'
Someone gave Aunty Madge an ancient tea caddy. It was made in the shape of a boat and still had the key in the lock from the time that expensive tea had to be locked up so that servants didn't steal the valuable tea leaves.
Patiently, Sybil went through the routine; one teaspoon for each person and one for the pot, and then she poured in the boiling water, got some condensed milk from the pantry and made each of them a cup of tea.
'Should she tell Aunty Madge how really special John was and what might have happened to him today?'
Just then she heard the bang of the wooden door and the voices of John and Colin.
'It was too late!'
John came bursting through the kitchen door, with his magic aura brightly shining. It might be invisible to John and Colin, but not to Sybil and his Mum.
Sybil held her breath.
'What changes had occurred?'
'Mum,' shouted John excitedly, 'I've had the most smashing day a boy could ever have.'
'I can't wait to tell you all about it.'
'Hello Sybil,' he said, at last noticing, she was there and then he was off again.
'We ate the most amazing breakfast at this truck stop. There was bacon and eggs and sausages and baked beans and lots of toast and even coffee made on milk.'
'Yes and he ate the lot!' interrupted Colin.
'Mum you should have seen the coupons these scientific blokes have got. No ordinary ration books for them. Colin's got a whole stack of petrol coupons and he doesn't have to go back until the end of the week.'
'And Mum, I can use the road directory to navigate with and I am certain that Colin will need me to navigate for him when he goes back again.'
'That's nice dear,' his Mum replied, as mothers generally do.
'And Mum, you have no idea how much the land changes. Colin and I stood on the top of the Isle of Avalon which 1500 years ago was surrounded by water. Today it is surrounded by wheat and barley fields and you can't even see any water. These days they call it the Glastonbury Tor and they built a big tower on it to give you an even better view.'
'Anyway we were walking down when I got thirsty and there just over to my right was a sacred well, a silver mug and the sweetest water you have ever tasted in your life.'
'Colin missed out big by not having any.'
'The lady in the museum knows you and Grandma Robinson and she said that the silver mug was just a legend in that it only appears on Midsummer's Day for someone special. That's a load of rubbish because I've drunk out of it and I am nobody special.'
As he paused to gulp in some air, Sybil asked, 'What was the lady's name?'
'Mrs Shipton.' replied John. 'She is really nice and she organised tea and sandwiches for us at the St George and the Pilgrim pub in the main street.'
Sybil said nothing but she knew Mrs Shipton as one of their coven leaders and she would get a report within the week.
'Mum the pub is the most fabulous place. It seemed to be built around an old sloping street made of large sandstone flagstones. On each side, there are lots of cupboards full of really interesting things like old weapons, wooden plates and helmets and leather clothes and stuff. They even have a full suit of armour and a real ghost.'
'I was really surprised when the ghost spoke to me and told me that his name was Henri and that he used to be a monk at the Abbey.'
'Get away with you,' interjected Colin, 'I didn't see any ghost, although the owner seems to believe it was real.'
'Well he was real enough to me,' retorted John. 'And Mum, the owner Maurice showed us the secret tunnels that connected the pub to the Abbey.'
'That was pretty spiffy,' agreed Colin, 'as were the Roman Baths and John's performance there.'
'What do you mean by that?' inquired a mystified Aunty Madge.
Sybil thought she saw John blushing.
'Well,' said Colin, 'we had just finished scoffing our strawberry jam and cream in the restaurant when these men nearby began arguing loudly about the Romans or something.'
'And John got up and went over to them and put them straight. I know he reads a lot but I never thought he knew his history so well that he could argue for about 10 minutes with a bunch of blokes.'
'They stayed really quiet whilst he was talking and afterwards, they thanked him. Now I know why we call him the Whizz.'
'I don't know what got into me,' said John, suddenly shy, 'but one of the men had got it quite wrong and it just seemed logical to explain to him what had really happened in that time in history.'
'So if you ate all those scones and things, you won't need much tea then,' teased his Mum.
'I'm absolutely starving,' came the reply.
'Are you staying for dinner Sybil?'
'No thanks John, even though that apple pie smells absolutely delicious. Give me all the film from the camera and I'll get the photos developed for free.'
She did not explain that this would give her another excuse to come back and check on him. However, she was relieved that there were only small changes in his magic. For now, John could continue being just an ordinary schoolboy and the women of the family could breathe a collective sigh.
Scene 17. Sybil's choice
Tomorrow it was Mid Summers Day again. 365 days after John had his magic awakened at Glastonbury. As John's cousin, all of the coven members knew she was a very special person possessing strong magic, but not all of them knew about John.
Her magic was under control.
The problem was that John's magic, as gauged by the brightness of his aura, was far stronger and completely untrained.
She had almost gasped out loud last year as she waited for John and Colin to return from their trip to Glastonbury. As John entered his mum's kitchen, she could see the brightness of John's aura and she guessed immediately that it the changes were a result of Old One's magic.
The good thing was that he appeared to have changed very little in the way he talked and acted after that. John was still the same cousin that beat her at cards and made jokes. His magic lay dormant for now but for how long?
What did change was that he became an even more obsessive reader. The coven managed to "find" some more old history books. But he quickly devoured those. Fortunately, he had begun to visit the Coventry City Library where a friendly librarian, who just happened to belong to the coven, introduced him to the stack. The stack is a set of books held in reserve and away from the public's eyes and normally only available to scholars. Now he was an avid reader of scholarly books about King Arthur and the Romans.
Hillary Shipton's report had been useful but it didn't go anywhere to help solve the problem of the containment of John's magic.
For the last 364 days, they had been successful in containing John. Now it was Mid Summers Day once more and they had planned carefully to keep John away from any magical influences that might activate his magic. Merlin had been the last of the bloodline to have his magic activated and together with Morgause they created Excalibur, the magic scabbard and the Celtic ring that protected King Arthur until personal jealousies intervened. There were no written records about what actually happened or any way of measuring Merlin's power against John's. The coven only knew that modern Britain was not ready to learn that magic was real and that they had a powerful magician in their midst.
'Was it her destiny to work with John on some magical adventure?'
There was no indication of anything that required magic. Britain and her allies had just won a world war with about 20 million casualties without using magic and the threat of Soviet Russia looked like it would not require magic to solve anything either. So the answer seemed to be "No".
'Would there be some other event today that would trigger the release of his innate magic?'
The answer to that question also had to be "No" because they had planned for John to go on a long walk whilst all of the immediate family witches, gathered from around the world, met to discuss how to contain him. There was always remnants of Old One's magic around in remains of standing stones, but the nearest ones of any importance were located at Thornton over thirty miles away - much too far for John to walk there and back in a day.
They were safe.
The next worry she had was whether the family group might decide to take drastic action against John to protect the family bloodline and she would fight like mad to prevent anything happening to John.
Scene 18. Grand Union Canal
Today, as John Lewis rushed out into the bricked passage of their council flat just after a very early breakfast, his Mum shouted, 'Don't you be too late John.'
He walked up Duke Barn Field with its rows of semi-detached council houses, past his favourite conker tree in the Charlesford Arms Hotel grounds to the gypsy site in the oak tree woods and down the leafy Blackberry Lane in what seemed moments. Then vaulted over his favourite wooden stile and meandered along what he called his friendly hedgerow with its elderberry trees. A few minutes later, he crossed the footbridge over the main northern railway line briefly pausing to get out his ABC Train Spotters Handbook and admire a majestic green LNR express train thundering past. This was a 60019 Bittern and he quickly marked it off and added notes as to where he saw it to discuss at school and then he arrived at the canal lock. John loved canals and in the summertime, he and his schoolmates caught newts and tadpoles which they kept in glass jars until their mothers finally talked them into releasing them back into the canals.
In the Grand Union Canal he saw a royal blue barge with cherry red family emblems just coasting gently out of the lock. The old lady in sole charge was dressed in blue canvas trousers but also wore a crimson jumper and a plaid woollen cap.
She seemed to be catching her breath.
'Are you OK?' asked John anxiously.
'Not really Dearie,' replied the old lady, 'I've just done three locks and I'm fair worn out with two more to go.'
'I'm getting too old for this,' she sighed.
John felt really sorry for her. 'I've seen the bargees turning the wheel to let the water in and then swinging on the lock's lever arm to open the next gate. Doesn't look too hard to do. Let me do the next two. I've got nothing to do all day.'
'Would you Dearie?'
'I'll bring the barge over and you can hop on board.'
John ran eagerly up the towpath to the next lot of moorings, caught the rope she threw him and expertly fastened the rope to the stanchion.
Once the barge stopped completely he loosened the rope and hopped on board and scampered around the narrow way to the stern of the boat.
'You made a right good knot there Sonny,' remarked the old lady.
'I learned knots at Scouts.' replied John proudly.
'My name is "Old Mary'', the old woman said. 'Let me explain about the locks. The first one is pretty close, but the second one is about 25 miles away at Thornton. There are plenty of barges on the canal today so you won't have any trouble getting a lift back if you offer to do the locks for the other bargees too.'
'What an adventure,' thought John, 'riding on a beautiful barge on a great day.'
He would see parts of the countryside that he would never have seen from the pathways.
'Wait 'till I tell them at home. They'll never believe I made it all the way to Thornton and back on the one day!'
'The first lock's just the other side of that bridge ahead,' shouted Old Mary, over the putt-putt of the diesel engine.
They travelled upstream so John nimbly jumped on to the steel ladder once they eased into the lock and ran around and used the wheel to close the big wooden gates behind the barge. Then he ran to the front of the lock and began to turn another wheel to let the water into the lock. It began pouring in and the barge rose slowly. Eventually, the lock became full and Old Mary gently eased the barge through and steered towards some stanchions. John used the large wooden lock lever to close the gate and ran back to the barge. Here he did the same trick with the rope and then they were off on their way again.
'Help yourself to a cup of tea,' said Old Mary pointing down the stairs, 'the kettle's always on.'
'So you have condensed milk?' asked a hopeful John.
'Of cause we do,' replied a smiling bargee, 'there are no shops around here.'
It was a long pleasant journey, drinking sweetened tea and seeing new sights even if from the blackened steel chimney in front of him came fumes of paraffin that fuelled the putt-putt diesel engine. John learned that the barge was empty and that explained why they make such good time.
'Not like during the War,' commented Old Mary. 'We were always full then. I don't make much money when I have an empty barge.'
Finally, John saw a much larger sandstone bridge in the distance with a spire peeping over it.
'That'll be Thornton Dearie,' shouted Old Mary. 'Once we go under the bridge you will see the lock and an old pub where I'm going to have a steak and kidney pie for lunch after I have had a rest.'
Once they eased into the lock, John did the same as before except this time he didn't have to close the lock gate as there was a barge waiting to go downstream.
Meanwhile, Old Mary pulled up alongside the prettiest thatched pub John had ever seen. With its low doorways and lead-lined bay windows jutting out from creamy-coloured limestone blocks, it deserved to be on a postcard.
Next, he helped Old Mary tie up, waved goodbye and hurried to the steps leading to the village. He was quite excited because he had never seen Thornton before.
Scene 19. The village of Thornton
Such a strong feeling of deja vu filled his mind as if he'd been there before, but John knew it wasn't true and at least not in his living memory as he entered the small English village from the narrow hedge-lined way. Every detail became sharp in his mind. The uniformity of the weathered yellow stone in the buildings as though they were preserved in time, the steep church roof covered in grey slate and the faded clock-face in its turreted nave. Scarlett and purple geranium bushes contrasted with the faded wooden gate under a thatch-covered welcoming lych gate and the curved path through the old tombstones. A Celtic cross stood out. He remembered reading about them. Because he was an avid reader with good recall, he knew they were hundreds of years old. The feelings of deja vu grew stronger as he entered the village proper. He was quite sure that he'd seen that lady in the floral dress coming out of the post office before. The big red P seemed a bit incongruous in this village where time appeared to have stood still and yet the scene was so familiar.
'How could that be?'
Not much had happened in his life before now. His real mother died during the war when he was a baby, but his "Mum" who was Dad's sister and loved him anyway simply added him to her family. Of course, now that it was the middle of summer he was able to crib some extra time. He was proud of the fact that he had become a bit of a family legend. He was a wanderer from the time he could walk. When he turned five, John had simply caught a bus at the top of the street and had a great time travelling around the city until someone noticed that he was alone. A trip to the Police Station where bobbies rewarded him with ice cream until Mum arrived worried, did not deter him from further adventures. At eight he rode his bike right through the city centre dodging double-decker buses and navigating straight to where his dad lived when on leave. By the time he made it there it was late afternoon and too late to go back alone and his dad had to organize his big brother to walk him back home and boy was in trouble when they finally arrived home. That episode and other adventures gave him some standing within his family which he really enjoyed. Now he was nearly 12 and managing to keep out of trouble most of the time.
Today he had wandered further than he had ever been in this direction and walking up the steps from the towpath he finally reached the village of Thornton and that's why he knew he had never been there before.
By now he stood in the centre of the village looking at the six bluestone monoliths arranged in a circle and surrounded by a manicured green lawn.
It was almost midday on this, the longest day of the year. He had planned this trip for a while, wanting to see how far he could walk before he had to turn around and get home by sunset. Even though he had to include his canal rides, surely that meant not before nine. During this longest day, it would still be light and Mum wouldn't be too upset as tea tended to be later during the summer. His big brother would be getting ready to go out dancing at the Palladium so no one would take much notice anyway. When they did it was usually to say,
'What got your nose in a book again Whiz?'
But he didn't mind that, the family owned some fabulous stories in the house and, after all, he was a little different to the rest of them.
At this moment, he was walking around the monoliths. They were huge. They seemed to be at least 10 feet tall. They were not only huge they were also magnetic in the attraction he felt as he moved around them. His skin began to tingle and he could sense his hair standing on end.
His eye became attracted by one of the monoliths that featured horizontal grooves cut into it and he reached over to touch the shape and instantly found himself in a strange wood standing next to the monoliths.