Dr. Dylan Morgan M.A.(Oxon.), D.Phil.(Oxon.), MNCP, MNCH
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Picture of girl on flying donkey

The Everlasting Well

A work of imaginative fiction primarily for children by Dylan Morgan

Chapter 1

Elaine walked up the steep hill side through the snow towards the hut where Assin lived. Assin was a donkey, and his name was simply the Welsh word for donkey. He had been bought by a neighbouring farmer as a friend and companion for his daughter's pony. But the girl had grown up, the pony had been sold, and so Assin was alone in his field. Alone, that is, except for Elaine who climbed the hill to see him every day.

Every day, whether it was bright or wet or cold, she took him some titbit, however small. But this day was special. It was Christmas Day. And so it was a day for special presents. Elaine was carrying, in an old bag, a large piece of Christmas cake, a mince pie, a tangerine, an enormous apple, a large paper bag of the best carrots from the greengrocers along the road, and a bag of assorted substandard fruit and vegetables which they had thrown in free when she had bought the carrots. I would not like you to imagine that Elaine's mother approved of giving Christmas cake to a donkey - she thought that Elaine was going to eat it herself. But Elaine had her own ideas. It did not seem fair that all the nicest food should be eaten by people who were not always nice themselves, while Assin, who was always nice, was given only scraps and left-overs.

Elaine's eyes brimmed with tears of indignation. "And you always listen with your lovely big, soft ears to everything I say," she thought. And I can see in your eyes that you understand every word really understand."

She was now at the field in which the hut stood. There was no sign of Assin. Elaine was surprised, because it was a beautiful day. There was no wind. The sky was blue. And the snow shone bright in the sunlight. "I hope he is not ill," she thought, as she climbed the fence and started to print a line of footsteps across the field with her blue boots. There were no other marks on the snow and so Assin could not have been out since the snow had fallen in the night.

"Or perhaps he has been sold," she worried. That would be even worse. To be sold for Christmas!

When Elaine arrived at the hut, she tapped on the battered wooden door. She listened for movement from within, then tapped harder and said, "Can I come in?" to let Assin recognise her from her voice.

This time there was a brief sound which, Elaine thought, was very like Assin's bray, but different in some way. "Oh dear, I expect he's ill," she worried again as she pushed hard against the door (it had been badly hung) and went in.

But no! There he was, standing as bright-eyed and friendly of face as ever.

"Happy Christmas!" she cried in relief and rushed over, threw her arms around his neck and gave him a tremendous hug.

"Happy Christmas," he replied.

Elaine hardly noticed at first that the donkey had spoken. Assin always seemed so human to her that she could understand, she felt, everything he thought. All the most important things could be said with a gaze from his deep brown eyes, a toss of the head, a soft nuzzle or a laughing hee-haw.

"Welcome to my stable," Assin added, after a pause.

Elaine looked up at this. And then she stepped back in amazement as the words echoed in her mind.

"Don't be afraid." Assin's voice was deep, warm and furry. "There is nothing to fear."

"But...but... how can you talk? Donkeys can't talk. Have you always been able to talk? How did you learn?"

If it had been night-time and she had felt tired, Elaine might have thought that she was dreaming. But this was nothing like a dream. Everything was much more crisp and real than usual. The sunlight falling through the door turned the bedding to gold and she saw each straw clear and distinct. Every hair, every eyelash on Assin's face was bright and his eyes were deep brown pools. It was much more as if she had been asleep before and had now woken up.

"Dear Elaine," replied Assin, "it will take a long time to answer all your questions. Most are not best answered in words. And in truth, that is one answer to your questions. For another answer look at the door. What do you see?"

Elaine turned and looked at the stable door. "Nothing. It is just an ordinary door. Old. Dented. The paint is brown - I would have preferred green - and is coming off. Nothing else."

"Look again. Look deeper, further."

And Elaine looked again at the boards. She had a trick of being able to look at patterns of lines or spots on wallpaper in such a way that she felt that she was looking through the wall. She did this now, and suddenly things were different. She was seeing strange people, strangely dressed. Some wore little more than sacks, while others wore finery. Others wore black. Only the door was the same. It was like flicking through a picture book from back to front. Each page looks the same: only the pictures change. Now the faces were different. They were darker, and more often bearded. But most were leading or pushing or beating a donkey or small pony.

Finally, as if she had come to the first picture in the book, Elaine found her eyes steadying on two strong hands - hands fashioning with care the stable door that was to last for thousands of years. It was funny that she felt tears coming to her eyes as she watched them. The tears blurred the picture, it trembled, and disappeared. The door was just a door again.

Elaine sighed, still remembering the hands piecing together the perfect door, which was now so battered. She turned again to Assin. "But what has that got to do with you talking?" she asked.

"What do you use for talking?" Assin answered back.

"My mouth, of course."

"And what do you use for eating?"

"My mouth."

"One thing. Two tasks." said Assin, and continued,

"What do you use for washing."

"Water, of course."

"And for drinking?"


"One thing. Two tasks. And this one door also has two tasks."

"What are they?" asked Elaine, getting very curious. "I suppose that one is just being a stable door?"

"Yes. But today it was also a world door. Not into a stable but into a world."

"Into a world!" gasped Elaine. "What do you mean? There is only one world, isn't there? How could there be anything different?"

"Am I not different? But come, follow me, and see for yourself."

Assin stepped softly through the doorway and printed crisp hoof-marks on the unmarked snow. Elaine followed. It seemed much brighter than before, and bigger, somehow, she thought. But perhaps it was only the contrast after the dim depths of the stable.

As her eyes got used to the light, there was a much stronger feeling of strangeness. Suddenly she realised that although the lie of the land was just as she knew it, all the details were different. There were no distant roof-tops. Where was the town? All she could see below her were trees. And it was so silent! Even on Christmas Day there should be the sound of traffic driving along the main road and filling the valley with its hum. Where was the noise?

Elaine felt something like fear. Then Assin was beside her and she felt safe again. The fear turned to excitement as suddenly as if a switch had been thrown. Perhaps you have noticed something like this in yourself, for excitement and fear are close neighbours. If you choose to go on a roller-coaster for the first time, then your stomach turns over with excitement. But if you are forced to go on, it is likely to turn over in exactly the same way, but with fear.

The strange silence had made Elaine want to run to safety at first. Now she wanted to run and dance with joy. So she did, in a wild acrobatic way, with many a leap and cartwheel. Assin joined in, and the two of them sent clouds of sparkling white flying up into the sky.

After a while Elaine calmed down a bit and stopped for a minute to get her breath back.

"Listen!" Assin's warm breath claimed her attention.

The only sound at first was the thumping of her own heart in her ears. But then she cried, "It is like music, very, very, very high music. Where is it coming from?" As she listened more attentively, it became louder and clearer. It was a strange sound, but exciting: the sound of a million diamonds scattering rainbows; wild like the North Wind, and as full of joy as the skylark. It sent a new thrill though her body. "But of course!" she cried at last. "It is the snow itself, isn't it?" Assin's wise head nodded. "Of course," she continued, "the song says what I have always felt about snow. Now I know why. Oh! It makes me want to ...want to ... fly!"

"Good. I will teach you."

Elaine turned to Assin with a smile, enjoying the joke. But he calmly continued, "Climb on my back."

Elaine climbed eagerly onto his familiar warm back, and held onto his mane.

"Now keep very still. And listen." Elaine was aware that her arms and legs were all tense with excitement, but now as she listened, they slowly relaxed and the excitement went somewhere deeper, quieter. It became like a light shining deep in the centre of her body, a light which changed colours in harmony with the high music.

"Repeat after me," said Assin presently: "All wings are lifted by the wind."

"All wings are lifted by the wind," echoed Elaine, and then repeated each of the other lines in turn.

Where does it come from? Where does it flow?

Come wind of life, lift the wings of my soul.

Wherever you take me, I love to go."

And on the word "go" the ground slowly and easily drifted down from them as Assin's hooves gently left their prints in the snow. As they slowly rose, they chanted the words again, and they soon fixed themselves in Elaine's heart.

If you have not flown in your dreams and want to know what it feels like, then the best that I can suggest is to take a ride in a balloon and then imagine the basket away.

As Elaine and Assin flew higher, the land grew flatter and spread out wider. There was no feeling of wind and the winter sun warmed them from the cloudless sky. They floated between the blue and the white.

Some of the familiar landmarks were still there. The Cow and Calf rocks, drifting away behind them, were still poised on the edge of the Moor. In the distance, though coming closer, was the summit of Beamsley Beacon. But the valley, which should have held houses and shops, was carpeted by trees with snow-frosted, leafless branches. There was no sound except an occasional bird-call. The peace in the valley was so great that it filled Elaine's heart with a joy and life she had seldom known. And they flew on.

It was some time later that she saw a faint blue column of smoke rising through the clear air. When she pointed it out, Assin replied, "Yes. It is a friend of ours - Christopher." And as he spoke, they began to fly down towards the smoke which rose from beside the river. Close to it was a small figure, unaware of their approach. Then something strange happened to a patch on the hillside - it seemed to be rushing down onto the figure like an avalanche. Elaine caught her breath, willing the figure to move. It did not. But suddenly her eyes blinked and she saw that the avalanche was only a flock of sheep, and then the figure was waving up at them.

They landed a little away from the flock and, as Assin greeted Christopher, she gazed at him in wonder. He was a few years older than she was, but much taller. He wore a long jacket of sheepskin and held his crook with an air of authority. The sun and wind had browned his skin and bleached his hair, and his eyes were a deep and friendly brown.

"Will you join me for a meal, my friends?" There were sweet meadows in his voice, and the echoes of distant hills.

"With pleasure," replied Assin.

Elaine found herself too shy to speak, but nodded. Then she watched in silence as Christopher deftly prepared and cooked two fish which looked as if they were fresh from the river. When they were quite done, he placed them on slabs of bread which served also as plates and said, "It is good to have friends. It is good to have food to share. Will you share with me, my friends?"

And Assin replied, "It is good to be your friend. I accept your gifts gladly."

He then looked at Elaine, who shyly and hesitatingly repeated, "It is good to be your friend. I accept your gifts gladly."

She then took the bread and fish from Christopher's hand, while Assin ate only some bread. It was fresh and crusty and Elaine felt that it and the fish disappeared all too soon. This reminded her of the bag of food that she still carried. She was just thinking of offering some of the cake to Christopher when she remembered that it had been intended as a present for Assin. She glanced rather guiltily at him. It was as if he knew what was in her mind because he said, "Perhaps, Elaine dear, you have something for us as well?"

"Well, yes," she replied hesitantly, " I have got some food. But it was yours really - a Christmas present."

"I accept your gifts gladly," Assin said warmly, "but here, as you can see, we share everything, and I would be happy if you were to share it with your hands."

Elaine took the food from her bag, and prompted by another significant look, said, "It is good to have food to share. Will you share with me, my friends?" And first Christopher, and then Assin, replied with great courtesy, "It is good to be your friend. I accept your gifts gladly."

An enormous glow seemed to fill her whole body at these words. As she handed around the food, she felt herself blushing with happiness and joy. And when Christopher praised the cake, she knew that she had never been happier in her whole life.

When they had quite finished, Assin turned to Christopher and in a low voice asked, "And what is the news from your father and his men?"

Christopher looked grave. "It is not good. The darkness spreads ever wider over the land. All the meadows and low pastures have been lost. The men of darkness grow stronger daily and nothing checks their advance."

"Enough," said Assin. "We will talk more of this at another time. But your father still lives?"

"Yes. And I give thanks for it, for always he rides closest to the danger."

Elaine was not sure if she was supposed to have heard these words. It sounded very frightening. But before she had time to think any more, Assin turned to her and said in his usual warm voice, "And now, it is time to go home."

A few minutes earlier she would have found these words bitterly disappointing. But the talk of spreading darkness and danger had changed her mood, and she felt glad to go.

Christopher bade them goodbye with the words, "A true friend is never lost. I hold you in my heart, my friends." And Assin and Elaine echoed him in reply.

Then she mounted Assin again, but instead of flying he walked away.

"Please, Assin," she pleaded, "wouldn't it be nicer to fly?"

"No. You are too downhearted. We will walk for a while."

And gradually, as they walked through the glistening snow which scrunched softly underfoot, Elaine indeed began to feel better. The bright sun drove away thoughts of darkness and deep breaths of the crisp air cleaned away the fear inside, as they usually do. So quite soon Assin was able to say, "All wings are lifted by the wind...." and they were flying high again, chasing their shadow on the snow.

"But why is it that we can fly here," asked Elaine after a while, "without wings?"

"As long as you know how, you know enough for a child. When you are fully grown you may, perhaps, learn why. But it is better to know how than why. Better to know how to eat than why food gives you strength. Better to know how to think, that to know why you can think. Better to know how to love than to know why you can love.

Not long afterwards the small dark shape of the stable reappeared on the white hillside and they swooped down to land just outside it. Elaine dismounted and they entered. Before she left for home, she threw her arms around Assin's furry neck and whispered, "A true friend is never lost. I hold you in my heart. My friend." Assin said nothing but gave a very gentle donkey-chuckle and rubbed his soft head against hers.

The daylight was more subdued when she left again to walk slowly home down the hill. But her heart was full of bright memories of flying and of Christopher, and so she did not really notice.


Chapter 2

Elaine woke up early on Boxing Day and her first thought was to go and see Christopher again. But the weather had changed. It was raining very hard and the snow was turning to slush. She quarrelled with her parents, who could not see why anyone should want to go and see a donkey in such weather before breakfast. "Why not wait? It might brighten up later," they had said reasonably. But she went.

Assin was out in his field and very wet. She went over to him and said, "I want to see Christopher. Will you take me?" He turned his head to look at her and then returned to eating grass. She pulled at his mane. "Come on. Please. I must see him again." But he just shook his head, in the stubborn way that donkeys do. Elaine was annoyed. Nothing was going right today.

"I'll go myself then," she cried. "I don't need a stupid donkey to take me." She walked over to the stable. The door was open. She went inside and then came out again. The rain was still heavy. Assin was eating his way towards a corner of the field. The houses of Ben Rhydding and Ilkley were still there. For five minutes Elaine walked in and out of the door, shutting it and opening it, but it was always the same. Then she decided that the donkey must be inside for the trick to work. But all donkeys can be stubborn and it took over an hour of hard work, pushing and tempting with juicy bits of greenery, before she finally got Assin inside.

But still nothing happened.

In the end she kicked the door in disgust, adding one more small dent to the thousands there already, and went away.

For the rest of the day Elaine was miserable and bad-tempered. To be miserable only because you are away from a friend can be almost a good feeling. But the bad temper came from knowing inside that she had behaved badly, and this never feels good. She kept imagining Christopher looking at her and saw sadness in his eyes. She wondered if she would ever see him again. The day dragged. Tempers frayed more and more. It was a terrible day.

The next day, when she returned to the field, Elaine was in a chastened mood. The sun was shining again on green grass, but it was not enough to raise her spirits.

"Sorry," she whispered as she gave Assin the juicy carrot she had brought. And his eyes twinkled with pleasure as he crunched it. She then walked over to the stable to clean it out, a task that she did not much enjoy, but felt that she ought to do.

There was an old broom inside and she worked away for nearly an hour, sweeping out all the dirt, every last stale straw and even old cobwebs from the roof. Then she completed the job by scattering a fresh golden layer of straw on the ground.

When, tired but a lot happier, she went out again, the day was brighter still and the grass was greener. But there was no sign of Assin! Elaine was alarmed, fearing that she had left the gate open. She looked, and saw that the gate was not there at all. Neither was the town. With a sudden rush of joy Elaine knew that she was once again in the same world as Christopher.

A few minutes later her joy had faded a little. There was still no sign of Assin. And a strange world is more frightening if you seem to be all alone in it.

But Elaine was no coward, and she knew what she wanted: to find Christopher again. And since she had flown to him before, she naturally tried to fly again. At first she doubted if she would be able to, and was afraid that she might have forgotten the rhyme. But she had an excellent memory for verse and after some hesitation it came back to her.

"All wings are lifted by the wind.

Where does it come from? Where does it flow?

Come wind of life, lift the wings of my soul.

Wherever you take me, I love to go."

And then she was flying. True, it was a clumsy and awkward affair compared with earlier flights. But the satisfaction of doing it herself far outweighed the fact that she could not rise much higher than a table. She was really flying! At once she set off in what seemed the right direction. But after a few hundred yards she landed again. It was amazingly tiring. The tiredness was not like the tiredness of the body which makes you think that it would be nice to sit down and have a rest or a snack. It was more like that weariness which makes it hard to think.

"I would be much better off walking," she thought.

And as she walked steadily she felt her strength returning. She took a course diagonally up the side of the hill towards the Moor, as she knew that if she went down into the trees which lined the valley she would lose all sense of direction and have no chance of seeing any smoke. Her feet led her towards the tarns and the White Wells. She had been sad, on her first flight, to see that the familiar whitewashed cottage did not exist on this side of the stable door. It had been a familiar beacon on the hillside since early childhood. And she had often stood inside it watching the spring water sparkling into the deep, oval, fern-softened pool. People had once come to bathe in the water for their health. Now they came only to look.

She grew warm climbing. It only slowly dawned on her that this was not just due to the exertion. The sun was much higher than it should have been. And then she noticed that the ferns around her were thick and green, and when her eyes turned to the valley, she saw the trees in their summer coats. Somehow the season had changed. She could not work out how.

Even without the landmark of the cottage, Elaine found the lower and upper tarns quite easily despite the absence of man-made paths. Then she came to the level where the White Wells had been. To her surprise and pleasure there was still a bath-like pool in the ground. It was a natural cavity in the rock, with rough, irregular and overgrown walls. The overall shape was that of a key-hole the length of a man. There was an uncannily familiar feeling to it, as if the natural pool and the man-made one she was familiar with were really the same. Or rather, she thought, as if this were the real thing and the other a copy.

From habit she took a coin from her pocket and tossed it into the Well. As it fell she made a wish, again from habit. She wished she might see Christopher again. The coin flashed as it glided, spinning through the water. She watched hard as it slid down deeper and deeper, to see it hit the bottom. Doing this, she became aware of misty shapes in the dark depths. They became clearer. Suddenly she gasped, "Christopher!" For she had seen him: almost as if on a TV screen. He was in a wood, fighting off a band of savage dogs or wolves. He was armed only with his crook and a knife. Even as she watched, he fell and was lost to sight under the surging bodies of his enemies. Elaine's eyes blurred with tears and it became hard to see what was happening.

But after a moment the dark mass of animals moved away and she could just see Christopher's body lying still and bloody. As she strained her eyes to look for signs of life, the picture faded and disappeared.

Elaine wept. She cried from sorrow and loss, but also from anger that she had been able to do nothing. The tears coursed down her cheeks and splashed into the pool.

"My daughter," said an ageless, loving voice, "why do you cry? Why do you call me with your tears?"

Elaine looked up. She saw an old lady in a blue cloak and hood. She was small - not much taller than Elaine herself - and had the frail look of the very old. But it was her eyes, shaded a little by the hood, which drew Elaine's gaze: bright eyes, deep eyes, like the pool itself. You felt that you might dive into them and they would support you like the water, and understand everything that you thought or felt.

Elaine was soon telling her everything. Her earlier visit; her coming again; the wish in the Well and what she had seen: all these poured out in a single stream of words to which the woman listened in silence. Only when Elaine had finished did she speak.

"This Well is a window. Through it hidden things are seen. This Well is a door which leads to many places. This Well is filled with living water, which gives life to many."

She paused and then with a keen glance asked, "Do you choose to save Christopher?"

Elaine looked into her eyes, and on a deep breath said, "Yes."

"Then fill this cup. Give it to him."

Elaine took the cup which the lady held out to her. It was in fact a metal goblet, well used and somewhat scratched and dented, but clean. She lowered it into the Well to fill it with water. But a strange thing happened. When she lifted it out again, all the water flowed out over the rim of the cup and back into the pool. She tried again. And again the water refused to stay in the goblet. She tried filling it a little at a time, using a cupped hand. But the result was the same.

In frustration she turned to the old lady, who had been watching in silence. "It is impossible," Elaine snapped. "I can't fill the cup at all."

"No, not yet." The reply was calm. "Only those who have drunk of this water may bear it to others. And - " she added, as Elaine turned from her and bent to try to get a mouthful of water, "And the only way to drink is to plunge deep. This minute."

Elaine was taken aback. She knew how cold the water was. And she would get soaked to the skin. She could not see the bottom. There might be sharp stones. All these and a thousand more doubts filled her mind like nervous, chattering monkeys. But there also came, distant and clear, one other voice: "I hold you in my heart, my friend." And she jumped.

It was- cold - and dark - and very deep. She seemed to sink down deeper and deeper, as if drawn down by the heavy goblet she was still holding. But strangely there was no fear. Only a kind of wonder and exhilaration. And as she went deeper, it got warmer. Then she was no longer sinking but rising. It grew brighter. Suddenly she was standing on land in daylight again, with a full cup in her hand. But the Well and the Lady and the open moor were gone, and there were many trees all around.

If she had paused, she would have realised how full of energy and life she was. And she might have marvelled at the fact that she was quite dry. But her whole attention was fixed on the sight before her. It was Christopher, lying just as she had seen him in the pool. His face was white. There were terrible bloody wounds on his hands and body and face and his clothes were fearfully stained with red. Now Elaine did feel afraid. For a moment she wanted to run from the dreadful sight. Then the feeling passed and she walked forwards. She raised his head from the ground. It was heavy. The eyes were closed, the flesh cold. There was no sign of breath. Tears rushed to her own eyes. She held the goblet to his mouth since there seemed nothing else to do, and a few drops flowed in.

Then, suddenly, she felt a shudder in Christopher's body. He drew a breath. His eyes opened for a second and met hers. They closed again but a small smile formed as he mouthed the words, "I hold you in my heart, my friend."

A few minutes later his breathing was strong and deep, his face warm and rosy, and he passed into a peaceful sleep. With great care Elaine then began to clean his wounds, using the remaining water from the goblet and her handkerchief. As she washed away the darkening blood, she was amazed and delighted to see how small the wounds themselves seemed to be. It was ten minutes before she really noticed that they were knitting together as she watched and that those she had first washed had nearly disappeared. She continued until all the water had gone and most of the injuries she could reach had healed.

Elaine's heart was great with happiness and life as she sat there with Christopher's head pillowed in her lap. Birds sang in the branches of the trees or searched for food among the fallen leaves and undergrowth.Shafts of bright sunlight turned slowly. A rabbit hopped past, quite unafraid. The afternoon seemed to last forever. You have probably known times like that, when everything seems brighter and clearer and time has stopped. It is like taking a holiday in Heaven. Now whether it was the water in the Well which made her feel that way, or being with Christopher again, who can tell? Perhaps it had something to do with both, or perhaps something else as well.

But in the end, as the shadows grew long and the air cool, Elaine decided that she would have to wake Christopher. His welcoming smile as he awoke was cut short by a grimace of pain as he started to move. Elaine was dismayed to see further wounds, which he had been lying on, oozing more blood.

"I give you thanks. You have saved my life." were his first words. "But we have little time. And I have little strength. We must reach the Good House - before night."

He tried to get to his feet but only managed by leaning heavily on Elaine and his crook. He looked curiously at the goblet on the floor. "You must tell me later," he said, "where you found that. But now, put it in here." He took a soft sheepskin bag from his shoulder and handed it to her. Elaine put the goblet inside and then slung the bag behind her back.

"Which way do we go?"

"I am not sure," replied Christopher. It is somewhere here, on the North side of the valley. But I am weakened. I cannot feel it yet. Let us try this way."

They made their way slowly through the darkening forest. Christopher had little breath to talk further and leaned heavily on his crook.He was losing more blood. It was soon hard to see where they were going, as twilight deepened into night. Then far away they heard a baying.

"They are hunting again," gasped Christopher. "Quick! Run downhill. Cross the river. Lose your scent."

"But what about you?"

"Too slow. Hold you back."

"I am not leaving you." When Elaine made up her mind, she was as fixed as a rock, and this showed in her voice, though it was too dark for the determination on her face to show. Christopher heard it and wasted no time in argument.

"Then find a tree. Climb."

It took some minutes of stumbling and fumbling to find a tree easy enough to climb and large enough to promise safety. And all the time the baying grew closer and louder. Elaine climbed up first and then leaned down to give Christopher a hand. As she did so, the cup slipped out of the bag and fell onto the ground below, narrowly missing Christopher's head. She gasped. He turned to look at it. They both grew still in awe. For the goblet was filled with light. A soft golden light seemed to be pouring out of it as it lay on its side, like a stream of gentlest sunlight, filling this corner of the forest with its glow. Elaine had never seen anything more wonderful. Even in their great danger, with the sound of huge bodies crashing through the undergrowth in her ears, that light was the most peaceful thing on earth.

Before they had time to move, the baying of the wolves grew loud and triumphant as they burst into sight. Then their triumph turned to terror. The leader of the pack turned as if burned and fought his way, snarling, back through the pack. The others followed, tails down, howling, scrambling away from the light.

Christopher was quick to understand. He lifted the goblet reverently. As the light streamed further after them, the wolves chased their shadows with renewed panic until they disappeared into the depths of the wood.

Christopher spoke. "Let us go. Their masters may be near. Carry this." And he handed the goblet to Elaine, who had clambered down beside him. She felt nervous at first of the aura which glowed around it, but it sat easily and comfortably in her hand as they moved on.

In the darkness of the forest they now moved more easily because of the soft light which the cup threw, but Christopher was still clearly uncertain which way to go. He would stop frequently, turn his head from side to side as if listening, then shake it, and move on doubtfully. It was during one of these pauses that Elaine noticed a strange thing as she moved the goblet this way and that.

"Look," she said.This is strange. The light does not shine the same in all directions. No matter how I turn the cup, the light always seems brighter that way." And she pointed.

Christopher looked. He took the goblet and tried for himself. Then he said, "That is the way. Follow it." And though it meant almost retracing their steps, he led the way along the path of light. Each step was now causing him great pain, and Elaine again had to carry the cup. As they walked, the way ahead of them seemed to get steadily brighter.

Then the noises started again, over to their left: shouts as well as howls. They were distant at first, but were coming closer. They quickened their steps, but the danger was gaining on them with each stride. It was impossible to run through the trees as there was no clear path and fallen branches were causing them to stumble. The baying was now nearly on them again. But again, as soon as the bright eyes of the wolves could be seen reflecting the light from the goblet, the hunting tone turned to fear. But this time, with the hunters themselves not far distant, they did not turn tail, but circled out of the pain of the light, a tree-length away.

Christopher was now gasping hard for breath, and stumbling frequently. The shouts were drawing closer. Despite her haste Elaine suddenly heard a strange buzzing which grew louder, while seeming to come from within her head. It stopped. But it left a pain where it had been. This happened several times. And each time it happened after a particularly loud shout from the thick of the threatening woods. The pain weakened her will to run on. She was ready to drop - to give up. But with almost his last breath Christopher gasped, "We're here!"

The trees had suddenly ended. Ahead of them was an open grassy space centred on a building - a simple stone building. But it was surrounded by the same light that was pouring from the cup, now with greater strength than ever, like a stream running into a lake. And on the air was carried the sound of voices raised in song - a sweet song; a holy song in those dark woods: and a powerful song. For it, and the light, had created confusion and dismay in the enemy. There was snarling and shouting. The buzzing noises started coming thick and fast, but they only grew and faded away again, as if they no longer had the power to lodge in the brain. Nothing and no one followed Christopher and Elaine as they walked slowly across the open grass to the door of the Good House.


Chapter 3

The door to the building opened as they approached it and a white figure seemed to glide out and then stand still. Elaine thought of ghosts, but Christopher did not falter, seeming rather to gain strength, and so she followed on. But there was a trembling in her body at they walked through the strange light towards the door and its stationary, silent guardian.

Christopher halted a few steps away and spoke. "We come as friends. And we come in need. May we enter your door in peace?"

There was silence for a moment as deep eyes looked into them both. Then, "Friends in need are special friends. Enter our door in peace."

The voice was not loud but had a deep music in it which echoed the song that was still coming from somewhere. As she passed close to the man, Elaine saw clearly that he was no ghost - that the whiteness came from his simple long white garment. And she noticed also a scent which reminded her of the incense in church.

They entered a room bright with firelight and candles. It was small and the roof beams were low, but somehow it had a feeling of openness. But Elaine had little time to explore it with her eyes because they were immediately held by a woman of her mother's age dressed in a long flowing gown of blue.

"Come with me, my child." Again the voice was musical.

Elaine looked inquiringly at Christopher. He smiled and nodded, and so she walked towards the blue lady. As she passed Christopher, she handed him the goblet, which seemed heavy now. Then she followed the lady out of the room and up a narrow stairway to a bedroom. It also was very simple, with a bed, a chest, a chair and a small copper bath set before the wood fire. In a dream-like state, Elaine found herself undressing and slowly bathing. A nightgown and a towel had been taken from the chest, but her own clothes, now very torn and dirty from the flight through the woods, were removed.

When she had finished, the lady returned to brush and comb her long fair hair while she sat on the chair in front of the fire. The fingers were gentle as they teased out tangles, and there was nothing said until, "My child, why did you not mention these pains in your head?" Elaine roused herself. She had been feeling so good and so drowsy that she had half-forgotten the pains, which seemed so much less anyway. Now she said, "Oh, they are not very bad. They will go away. It was only the sound of buzzing in the wood that did it, you know."

But the lady did not seem to take them so lightly, for she said, "They are poisonous. They must be removed or they will bury themselves deeper into your mind. Now - feel them strongly. Picture them as wasps. I am going to take them away." The lady was still standing behind her, and there was no mirror, so Elaine could not see what happened next, but she had the strangest feeling that cool fingers were reaching in towards the pain and removing it. The pain grew briefly worse, then there was a fizzing sensation in her head, and then a wonderful feeling of relief as if something unpleasant had been there, hardly noticed, but was now gone.

This was repeated for each of the three pains. Then the lady said, "There, that is better. You will sleep well now. We will talk tomorrow. Now eat this supper and then sleep."

Elaine did indeed sleep very well and woke with a tremendous sense of health and well being. She soon hopped out of bed and quickly put on a plain smock of uncoloured linen, thinking all the time about Christopher.

What had happened to Christopher was this. When Elaine had left the room, he turned to the man in white and said, "So, Amuel, I return as you prophesied at our parting."

"Even so, Lord Christopher - and bearing our chalice."

"Do not call me Lord. My father is King, but has disowned me. I seek no such title of my own. I am now only a shepherd."

"To his sheep, the shepherd is Lord."

"I return the chalice to its rightful place. Do you know how it came to the girl?"

Amuel took the goblet from Christopher's hand and nodded. "Yes, we know. It was intended so. Now you must bathe and eat and rest and be healed of your wounds, for tomorrow we must talk of weighty things."

The following morning Christopher woke early, well before Elaine, and went from his bedroom to the room below before the sun had risen. Amuel was there already, and with him there were two other men. Christopher walked over to them eagerly. "My Lord Loyan! And Nathan, your son! I greet you, friends."

Both men wore swords and the look of soldiers, but their words were warm and graceful. "We greet you, Lord - and King." And they each went down on one knee, with bowed heads and with the hilts of their swords held forward to Christopher. He stood still as if in shock and then looked at Amuel.

"It is true, my son. The King, your father, is dead. His responsibilities fall upon your shoulders. Do you now choose to care for your greater flock?"

Christopher stood like a rock for many minutes before he finally announced, "I will lead those of his flock who will follow me. But I will not wear the Crown, nor sit on the Throne, nor wield the Sword, for their power is the power of the Enemy."

He then turned to Loyan and Nathan and said, "I swear to lead you with all the strength of my body. Will you follow?"

And they each replied, "I swear to follow you with all the strength of my body."

"I swear to speak to you with all the strength of my mind. Will you listen?"

And they each replied, "I swear to listen to you with all the strength of my mind."

"I swear to love you with all the strength of my heart. Will you love me?"

And they each replied, " I swear to love you with all the strength of my heart."

"I swear all this in the free choice of my soul. Do you also choose freely?"

And they each replied, "I swear all this in the free choice of my soul."

"Then rise, friends. Sit with me and tell me of my father's death.

Loyan then began, "As you will know, the Enemy have been pressing steadily onwards for years, using their customary tactics. Against the King and his Army they have been using crude strength, for they outnumber us greatly. (We are safe in the high places where they do not yet venture, but if we advance down to the valleys and plains, we have no chance.) But in their dealings with villagers they resort to bribery. Rich are their gifts of clothing and objects, all bearing some of the precious Malatite, which we have found so rare that only a King may wear it. These gifts then turn their minds and they change their allegiance, forgetting their old oaths of loyalty. In this way the ranks of the enemy grow monthly stronger."

"Yes, all this I knew."

"Your father saw his army grow smaller, his villages fewer, his fields growing food for the enemy, and decided on a desperate plan. His strength to compel the wills of men rests in the Throne and the Crown and the Sword of which you spoke, each wrought of purest Malatite. For each subject has sworn - you know the formula - "I must obey the Throne, and the King who sits thereon. I must obey the Crown, and the King thereunder. I must obey the Sword, and the King who wields it.

"And so the King planned to use the full force of the Royal Power by bringing, in stealth, the Three from their places of safety to the centre of Undain. Undain, the city which was once the Palace of Kings, high in all the arts which grace the life of man, but long since subject to the Enemy's servants. His plan, then, was to restore the Three to their rightful place in the Old Palace and there, by sheer force of will, made great by the Power of the precious Throne and Crown and Sword of Malatite, to compel his lost subjects to obey again the Royal Will.

"All at first went well. He and we, his trusty followers, made our way, disguised and by various roads, towards Undain. There were no difficulties. Our path was made smooth. We do not know if this was chance, or whether the Enemy knew of the plan and allowed it. After weeks of slow journeying we reached the goal and with still greater stealth concealed ourselves near the Palace itself. At night we entered, and installed the King in the old Throne Room. At the stroke of midnight he held the Sword, donned the Crown and sat on the Throne to proclaim, "I, Gregory, King of all these lands, do now demand by the power of this Throne and Crown and Sword, the sworn allegiance of all who live within the realm.

"The Power that filled the Palace that night flowed out to the bounds of the Kingdom as rivers run to the sea."

"I felt it," Christopher murmured, half to himself, as Loyan continued.

"At first we were high of heart. Scores of city dwellers came and threw themselves at the foot of the Throne, with tears. Then came more. Like the stars in the sky coming out at night, they came. All that day the power of the King waxed mightier. The gifts of the Enemy - the Malatite and the rest - were brought to us and thrown into the coffers. And this increased the King's strength still further. All seemed won.

"But then, I fear, the enormous effort of will, poured out by the King that day, had to be paid for. The light of madness appeared in his eye. Few, perhaps, except myself noticed it at first. My words of caution were dismissed. Indeed my reward was to be thrown into a dungeon."

The muscles in Christopher's throat tightened, but he said nothing.

"I heard later that the madness grew. He began to mouth all manner of nonsense in high language, such as, "The world is mine to command. The very stars in their courses obey me. The powers of darkness themselves are mine to command." And all the time he had been ordering his men to search for the person of the Enemy - the faceless, nameless being who has been overtaking the realm through his soldiers, slaves and servants. But nowhere was he to be found. `Perhaps he has fled these shores,' the King cried wildly, now foaming at the mouth, `but he will never escape my vengeance.'

"But this rage on top of his earlier expenditure was too great a toll on his strength. He suddenly collapsed. And was dead. And his body was shrivelled like an old, old man, scarcely larger than a child again, as if all its substance had been consumed by some inner fire."

Loyan paused for a minute before continuing.

"Soon all our gain was loss. There was anger all around. All demanded their gifts back, with menaces and rage. Then there was the killing of any who had been seen with the King. My own life I owe to the very dungeon which seemed at first the deepest disgrace. There were very few of us indeed who were able to make our way back to our refuges here in the hills. And so the strength of the Enemy is more than fully restored. For he has turned your father's deeds and death against us in the minds of your people. Those who once wavered in their allegiance now turn to the Enemy freely, accept his gifts and succour his soldiers. So, my Lord, you will have but a very small flock to lead, and no merry life."

Loyan fell silent. For a long time no word was spoken. Then Christopher asked, "And the Three are now in the hands of the Enemy?" Loyan and Nathan nodded silently. "It is as well. It was my counsel never to use their power, as you know, and it was for this reason that I was banished from my father's heart and side. Now my words have proved all too true. But yet I wish that their proving had not been so costly."

He paused for a while, then added, "Today I will grieve for my father. And tomorrow I will lift his burden. Will you, good friends, go now and summon all who will hear the oath that I have sworn, to meet me at noon on the aftermorrow. I will then be at the Sacred Yew. All must take care, for the Enemy are hunting us more boldly now, with dogs and the helmets of death. I myself would not have escaped the grave yesterday had it not been for a certain child, brought by Assin."

Loyan and his son began to kneel again, but Christopher stopped them. "My sheep do not kneel to me, though I may kneel to them at times," he smiled, and held their hands. "A true friend is never lost. I hold you in my heart, my friends." And they replied in kind, with tears in their eyes, before turning and leaving.

When they had gone, Amuel said only, "It was well said, my son."

"Thank you for those words, Father. Now I must go to the Chapel to grieve and to pray for a day and a night. But before I do, can I ask if there is a way to return the girl Elaine to her home, or may she stay with you? For my path will be a perilous one indeed, and I would not endanger the life of one who has given me mine."

Amuel smiled gently. "Open the door, for she is coming."

And it was indeed at this point that Elaine, feeling hungry, had made her way down the stairs by the light of the new day, and was about to tap on the door which Christopher opened.

"Good morning," she said, rather shyly.

"And may the whole day satisfy your soul," he replied courteously. "Now, we wish to speak concerning you. Will you join us?" And he showed her to a seat beside the fireplace, and sat on the other side himself.

"You have now seen the dangers that beset me and mine. I must soon face greater dangers yet. But Assin has asked me to care for you. As you were coming, I sought Father Amuel's mind - should you remain within the shelter of the Good House, or should we seek Assin's help to return you home?"

Elaine could be stubborn, as we have seen, though the same character can be called steadfast if it is set on a good path. In this case she had no intention of leaving Christopher and though he wasted a lot of breath explaining to her the dangers and difficulties, it was of no more use than if he had tried to cut stone with a feather. Amuel said nothing but watched with the slightest of smiles on his face.

In the end Christopher gave up and said wryly, "So be it. There is a headstrong ewe in any flock. But will you at least go with Mother Margaret, who will teach you certain arts, until I am ready to depart?"

"Yes," Elaine replied simply, "as long as I can go with you."


Chapter 4

Not long after Christopher and Amuel had left the room, the lady who had helped Elaine the night before entered with a simple breakfast which she placed on the table.

"Are you Margaret?" Elaine asked tentatively.

"Yes, Elaine. Now eat this food, for you have much to do and much to learn."

Elaine sat down to a bowl of creamy porridge, which she ate with a good appetite, and drank milk from an earthenware mug. Then Margaret returned with two plain wooden flutes. One she handed to Elaine: on the other she played a tune that made Elaine's whole body quiver with the beauty of it.

"I will play it twice more. Listen. Then you will try."

Although Elaine could play the flute and recorder, the fingering on this wooden flute, without keys, was unfamiliar, and it took much of the morning for her to learn the one tune without a wrong note. Margaret was patient but persistent. When she was satisfied, she said, "You must practise this one tune each day, so that the strength and colour may deepen. And you must keep the flute safe, for in its music lies the safety of your friends."

After a break for a mid day meal the lessons went on, this time walking on the grass around the building. There was no sign of the glowing light of the night before in the bright sunshine, but the singing was still there, and now Elaine could recognise in it from time to time harmonies and echoes of the tune that she had just learned.

"Now you will learn words to fit the music. Listen.

The love of light is in my head,

The love of light is in my heart,

The love of light is in my body,

The love of light is in my soul."

Elaine learned this very quickly, of course.

"Do you understand the words?"

"Yes. They are easy."

"No. You do not really understand them then. But they will mean more with each singing. And they will deepen as you deepen. And you will learn. For dark thoughts of many kinds may try to fill your mind, as doubts and lies. Dark feelings of hatred, jealousy or anger may seek to enter your heart. Deeds of darkness, of violence, cruelty and theft are done by many bodies. And many a soul chooses the darkness instead of the light.

"But these words are not only words of wisdom, they are words of protection. Those pains of yesterday - are they still gone?"

Elaine searched within her head. "Yes."

"They could never have entered if your mind had been filled with this song."

"I don't understand. I thought that they were just headaches."

"Listen. I will explain. The men who chased you two through the woods were filled head, heart, body and soul with darkness and anger. With their shouts they directed their anger at you. They also wore helmets wrought with

Malatite which makes greater and sharper the powers of the mind over others. Those three sharp pains were places where the darkness that they fired at you found a home, in three shady corners of your mind. Dark thoughts, like spiders, love a shady and neglected house. This song is a daily cleaning of your being. This song is the sun on a dark day and a snug cottage against the worst storm. If you wish to help and not hinder Christopher, then make this song a part of you against the hard times to come.

"I will leave you now. Spend the rest of the day either practising what you have learned or carrying firewood from the barn to fill the great chest by the house, which is falling empty."

The barn was filled half with straw and hay, and half with sawn logs. Sunlight streamed though the south-facing door, and Elaine sat in it on some hay, turning things over in her mind, and from time to time playing the flute or singing the song with her lips or in her mind. She slowly became aware of the way in which the high clear notes that went with the first line did indeed seem to fill her head and make her thoughts clearer. The lower and more breathy notes for the second line aroused deep, sweet feelings - about Christopher and Margaret especially. The deep notes of the third line echoed through her body and created a sense of health and well-being. The last line, very pure and sweet, was hardest to describe or place, but it reminded her of flying with Assin.

And there was his face around the door of the barn. For a moment Elaine thought that she was imagining him, but then she was patting him and giving him some hay. His eyes twinkled until he finished the mouthful.

"Well, Elaine. Are you happy to have returned here at the right time and not before?" She had to think for a moment what he meant, and then blushed a little as she remembered trying to push him into the stable to get the "magic" to work, and her bad temper.

"I'm sorry, Assin," she said, and buried her face in his mane.

"You are learning well. Now come with me."

"Oh. But I am supposed to stay here..."

"It is all right. Margaret and Christopher both know. Now, up on my back. Bring your flute."

Elaine put the flute into its lined wooden case, which was provided with a long strap, slung it over her shoulder, and climbed eagerly onto Assin's back.

"Do you remember your flying lesson?"

Elaine recited, "All wings are lifted ..." and they were flying again, up and over the trees which surrounded the Good House at a distance; up, until the hills began to look flat. Then Elaine saw that they were moving swiftly, though there was no wind in her face. From this height, and with no familiar landmarks, it was impossible to tell where they were going and so she just settled down to enjoy the thrill and beauty of it all. Time did not seem to mean anything when she was close to Assin and far from the earth, and she had no idea if it was minutes or hours later when

the ground started to rise to meet them. From a height there seemed to be a thin, low lying mist which vanished as they descended. A village became visible, but they landed in a rough lane, some distance outside it. At Assin's request Elaine dismounted and walked beside him, with a hand on his mane.

After a few minutes she began to hear voices. One was deep and angry. Another was that of a furious girl. The third was that of a woman. Soon they were close and Elaine could just see, through the hedge, what was happening.

"You wretched, insolent, disobedient girl!" the man was shouting. "Clean them, I tell you!"

"I won't!" the girl screamed back.

"You will. Or it will be the worse for you."

The woman then spoke. "Come on, dear. It is not much to do. Just clean his shoes. Think of all we do for you."

"I won't."

"On your knees at once and clean my shoes." There was the sound of a heavy blow and Elaine saw the girl fall to the ground. Her own hands were clenched and she felt tears of rage rising.

"I am your father! It is your duty to obey me! If you don't, then I will send you to the place where they train bad girls like you. They will not be as tolerant as your mother and I are. Clean them."

"I won't." The voice was muffled but still defiant.

"Assin, can't we do something?" pleaded Elaine.

"Now is a good time to practise your flute, as you promised."

Elaine thought that she had misheard him at first, but as Assin said no more, she followed the suggestion, taking the flute from the case, screwing it together and then placing it to her lips.

The pure notes of the music had an immediate effect. The mother screamed, put her hands over her ears and wailed, "My head, my head! It's bursting." The father roared with rage, "My helmet! My sword! Fetch them, woman. We are attacked. The devils are upon us. I must defend myself." But his wife, moaning on the floor, was in no state to fetch anything, so he rushed off himself to the house that was in the background. Then Elaine looked at the girl, expecting her, too, to be upset. Instead she saw a sweet smile as she turned, looking for the music. Slowly the girl rose to her feet and walked towards the hedge. Then Assin spoke gently to Elaine. "Go to the gateway. Bring her away with us."

Still playing softly, Elaine did as she was told and soon she was looking into the brown eyes of a girl of about her own age, richly dressed in red and with short red hair. The girl followed her unquestioningly as Elaine beckoned her first to follow, and then to climb onto Assin's back, while she herself walked alongside.

When they were a short distance down the path, Assin started to float and so Elaine, saying the words in her mind as she kept on playing, did so too. Soon they were rising high on the wind and on the song."Like a skylark," Elaine thought. She kept glancing at the girl, who seemed to be in a dream of wonder, but did not say anything until they landed back at the barn and the girl slipped off Assin's back.

The girl spoke first. "My name is Umber. What is yours?"


"You two are friends. Help each other. I am going now." And with these words Assin walked away.

It took a few minutes for the girls' shyness to wear off, but soon Umber was asking scores of questions and by the time that Elaine had answered them, she had told all she knew of the world they were now in and quite a bit of her ordinary life, too.

In return Umber told her story. Her father, she said, had once been a small farmer, and she still recalled those days, which had lasted until she was five or six, as being golden. "We were poor, as they keep telling me, with no shoes and only very plain clothes. But though they must have had to work hard, there was laughter and smiles. And I loved feeding the hens and any lost lambs. Then a man came and offered my father a job as what they call a Protector. He was given a helmet heavy with Malatite, and now most people must obey him and give us what he wants. So we are rich. But it does not work on me. I hate him now. I hate everything."

And Umber then furiously tore her red dress off, and ripped it up; took off her shoes of fine, soft red leather and tugged and pulled ferociously until they came apart. Elaine watched, very upset. When Umber was quite naked and had calmed down a bit, Elaine said, "Look, you can't stay like that. Wait in the barn and I will go and ask Margaret for some clothes for you."

But soon after she had left the barn to walk towards the house, she caught a glimpse of a flash of white out of the corner of her eye and turned to see Umber running like a hare towards the woods. Elaine raced after her. But Umber had a long start and was soon lost to sight amidst the trees.

Leaning, panting, against a tree, Elaine wondered miserably what to do. It was terrible to have lost her new friend so soon. And she was worried about what would happen to Umber in the woods. What about the Wolves in the night? A little later she felt discomfort in her back, and realised that she had been leaning against the flute case. This made her think that it would be calming to play something - it might make it easier to think of the right thing to do.

So she sat down beneath the tree and played. She lost herself in the new tune, and came to with a start when she heard a noise coming from deeper in the wood. Her heart leapt with fear, but then steadied rapidly when she looked and saw Umber, with tears coming down her face, slowly returning between the trees.

"I'm sorry," Umber sobbed. "I had forgotten the music. It reminded me of kittens in the barn and home-baked bread and stories by the fireside and .. everything that was good... and is gone."

After Umber had finished crying, they went back to the house together, hand in hand. They were met by Margaret, who seemed quite unsurprised and soon brought out some new clothes. Some of Umber's spirit had returned by then and she protested, "No, I don't want those. They are girls' clothes. I am sick of being a girl." Without a word Margaret went and returned with a simple leather jerkin and trousers, which Umber put on eagerly.

"It is nearly time for us to eat. Come and wash."

Twilight was deepening, and candles were lit in the small oak-beamed room where the girls washed with water from a large earthenware bowl, and then sat at the wooden table which was set for the meal.

Before they began, Margaret said, "It is good to have friends. It is good to have food to share. Will you share with me, my friends?"

And the two new friends repeated together, "It is good to be your friend. We accept your gifts gladly." (Though Umber seemed to stumble over her words as if she had not used them for a long time.)

After the meal they sat by the flickering fire and Margaret slowly and carefully brushed and combed Elaine's long hair (which had got terribly tangled) and plaited it. While she did so she told them this story.

"Once upon a time there was a sweet spring on a hillside, that bubbled out to fill a beautiful pond. Can you see the bulrushes? And the ducks building their nests in the rushes? And the fluffy baby ducklings taking their first swim? And there are silver fish in the clear water. Can you smell the flowers which grow nearby and see the cool green

of the grass? Good. I want you to enjoy lying on that grass or paddling in the pool for a while. For that pool was beautiful for a long time."

Margaret stopped speaking for a few minutes, though her hands were still busy. She saw the small smiles on the girls faces as they gazed open-eyed into the fire, and knew that they were seeing the beautiful place in their minds.

"Then one day a man came by. He took a great stone and covered the spring. Why did he do it? Perhaps he did not like to see things that he could not control. I can tell you that he lived in a house with no windows. But whatever his reason, the stone stopped the spring. Only a small trickle forced its way past it. The pool grew stagnant and covered with scum. The rushes died. The ducks flew away to find a better place. The fish died. All that remained was drying, smelly mud."

Margaret paused again, noticing the girls' reactions - a mingling of sorrow and anger. She continued.

"Most people now ignored the place, and passed by hurriedly, as you might expect. Even the wild creatures would no longer drink there.

"But one day a man did stop. And his mind's eye beheld the pool as it had been when he was a child. And he cried with his child's heart. But his hands were now the strong hands of a man. So he explored and found the damming stone, and moved it, to release the spring once more.

"It took a season before all the mud was washed away. But then, with the help of friends, rushes flourished again, and the fish and ducks returned. And all was as it had been again. And the rock he moved? It was left nearby, with this story written on it, as a caution and a hope: as a warning that there are men who will try to block the very streams of life; and as the certain hope that what one man can destroy, another, with a good will, can restore again."


Chapter 5

The next morning the girls were woken early. When they went downstairs, they met Christopher. Elaine thought that he looked changed - deeper, stronger. She wondered what had happened to him the previous day. Umber seemed frightened of him despite his friendly greeting and sat as far away from him as she could at breakfast.

When the meal was finished, Christopher spoke. "Today I am to begin the journey to the Sacred Yew. It will be a path of danger and adventure. You two have been sent into my life, and but for one of you, I would already be dead. It may be that you will now choose to follow me and join my small flock. If not, you may shelter here; though in these dark days even the Good House may not stand forever. What is your choice?"

Elaine did not hesitate. She had not changed her mind. "I am coming with you," she said simply.

Umber did hesitate. On the one hand she had a friend in Elaine: on the other she was wary of this Christopher. He might (who knew?) turn out like her father and try to make her into his slave. This Good House seemed nice, but again, if she were alone here, things might turn nasty.

Christopher said nothing while Umber thought, her eyes moving from one to the other. Then she put her hand on Elaine's and said very quietly, "Play your song again." Elaine got her flute out and played the song in a gentle and thoughtful way. As she did so, Umber's eyes were fixed on Christopher. It was clear that she had decided to test him by seeing if the music drove him mad, as it had done her parents. But he smiled at her, and in his twinkling eyes she saw that he understood her mind, and was happy.

"That's enough," Umber said with a contented sigh. "Yes, I will come."

"Good," said Christopher. " Let us all three hold hands." And they held hands in a ring. "It is good to have friends. It is good to have a path to share. Will you share with me, my friends?"

And the two girls replied together, "It is good to be your friend. We share your path gladly."

"Now," continued Christopher in a brisk tone, "we must waste no time. Our packs, with food and clothing, are prepared and waiting."

After a brief farewell to Margaret and Amuel - "A true friend is never lost. I hold you in my heart, my friend." - they were soon marching out into a morning bright with the newly risen sun. There was dew underfoot as they walked a path to the woods, but once they were under the trees, it became dry. Christopher indicated with a finger to his mouth that they were to remain as quiet as possible. Elaine noticed that he was moving with a soft, cat-like tread which was almost soundless, and she concentrated on copying it as best she could. It was perhaps harder for Umber, last in the line, to copy. In any case she was the noisiest of the three.

When they had walked for half an hour through the

trees, Christopher halted and stood, listening. Elaine could hear only the sound of her own and Umber's breathing. But Christopher seemed to sense danger for he led them off the path deeper into the woods, and hid them behind some oaks. He himself waited behind a thick holly bush, a short distance from the path, where he could see without being seen.

It was five minutes before Elaine could hear the sound of feet approaching. She did not dare to look. A glance at Umber showed her to be trembling slightly. Thoughts of the Defenders and their dogs were running through their minds, and they felt small and weak.

Then there came a loud cry from Christopher. Another voice re-echoed back between the trees. As is the way of things when you are expecting the worst, both cries seemed terribly warlike and frightening, and the girls were tempted to run for their lives.

"Elaine! Umber! You can come out. It is Nathan, my friend." Christopher's voice was cheerful.

Soon the four of them were standing together, close to the path, and Nathan was speaking urgently but quietly.

"There is danger ahead. My father and I had begun to foregather with our followers, spreading news of the gathering at the Sacred Yew. Then we were surprised by the Enemy in force. They set upon us from all sides. Even as they did so, my father commanded me to fly to warn you. This I did, though my heart called me a coward for fleeing from the battle. And so I am here, but with a very heavy heart,

for when I turned on a crest to look back on the field of battle, I saw only a small knot of action, and many dead or taken prisoner."

"This is grave news indeed," said Christopher solemnly, "For all those the Enemy captures, He makes into slaves, obeying His will through the power of the Malatite. He will now know all our plans, and will undoubtedly be at the Yew before us. Nevertheless I must go there, for I have sworn so to do."

"But that is mad," cried Umber. "If you know that they are there, it is the last thing to do."

"My path, which is now also your path, runs past the Sacred Yew," replied Christopher solemnly. "And if even one of my father's people makes the journey there to meet me, I must be there. But we will not walk a needlessly foolish way. Come! Follow me."

He turned off the path that they had been following, and went deeper into the woods. It was much harder to walk now, as trees and fallen branches were constantly forcing little detours - and they were climbing. The girls started to feel the effort fairly Umber grumbled, "This is hopeless. I can't go on."

Nathan turned to her and said, "You may dress like a boy, but you talk like the silliest and weakest girl I have ever met!"

Umber was furious; the blood rushed to her face and she ran at him with clenched fists. But he only laughed at her and ran ahead.

Much later when the finally climbed out above the trees, they were near the summit of a mountain. Christopher pointed to some rocks.

"Go and rest there. I will view the country ahead and then return to join you for a meal." He then crawled slowly and cautiously up the final slope, with his sheepskin jacket up over the top of his head, and lay near the summit for five minutes.

When he returned, the three asked questions with their eyes.

"I fear," he began, "that we cannot now follow the natural path. The Enemy's web now crosses it."

Elaine was puzzled and frightened. The word "web" reminded her of spiders, which she had always hated. She did not like to ask questions, but Christopher realised her ignorance and explained.

"If you were to look down from the summit with me, you would see a long cloud of thin darkness in the valley below. The Enemy's servants love always to move within such corridors of His power, and His slaves are forced to. The lines of the web usually follow the valley bottoms, but grow thicker and more numerous near the centres of His power. At Undain, the present centre of this web of dark threads, there is scarcely space between them, and the cloud pervades all.

"Within the darkness His power is greatest and it is as if, like a spider, He feels any touching of His web. If we were to cross one, it would at once be known, and an army would arrive in force at once."

Elaine shuddered. A vision of a large and hairy and poisonous spider had filled her mind.

"What can we do then?" demanded Umber. Can we get around?"

"It may be that we can," Christopher replied doubtfully. "But I fear that this new extension has formed a section of net within which we are now enclosed."

"Let us cross boldly then and fight if we must." Nathan spoke strongly, with his hand on the hilt of his sword. "A man must face and not flee danger. Death in battle is no disgrace."

"True, friend," replied Christopher, "and yet blind attack is no virtue. I have sworn to reach the Sacred Yew and intend so to do. There is a way we may pass the web unnoticed. But we must wait until nightfall. Now let us eat."

He then led the way back down into the woods, and in the shelter of mighty oaks he opened his pack, which was by far the largest and heaviest of the three, took out a loaf and a bottle and said, "It is good to have friends. It is good to have food to share. Will you share with me, my friends?"

"We accept your gifts gladly."

He broke the bread into four and handed a portion to each of them. They shared the bottle, drinking from it in turn.

If Elaine had been a bit disappointed to find that there was only bread to eat, and none of the tasty sandwiches and cakes that she was used having on picnics, the feeling soon vanished. Strength seemed to flow back into her with each mouthful of food and cordial; her fears simply vanished and her senses became heightened. She was aware of the scents of the heather and grass, and everything, especially her companions, seemed clearer and brighter. Her spirits rose too, and hope returned.

They talked freely. Christopher seemed to think that they were in no danger of being discovered. "They will feel secure in their own dark paths. They will not freely venture out into the high and bright, but await our certain descent, We can use this time to prepare ourselves."

Preparation for Elaine turned out to mean more practising on the flute. Christopher explained why. "I hear that you have already seen what the music does to an unarmed Defender." He glanced at Umber, who had tightened her hands to fists and was frowning as she remembered her father, "And so you know how it acts. Either it drives the darkness of the Enemy's power from the mind on one who will choose the light; or the pain of resisting good will be so great that His servant will flee. This you have seen."

Elaine and Umber both nodded. "So, in battle, we may find that some of those who are merely enslaved will find the chains of their minds loosened by the music, and turn back to us. Others will flee to a safe distance, where they will remain a danger. But the worst danger of all will be the Defenders, with their heavy helmets rich with Malatite, for the power of the evil one will be strong within them, and the music will have little power. These we must meet with force. But even then we will find it easier to fight within the sound of the flute, which will defend our minds against the poison darts of the fore."

"You talk of fight," interjected Nathan at that stage, "but it will not be much of a fight, with just the two of us."

"Three," said Umber fiercely, but Nathan went on as if she had not spoken.

"There were a score of us at the last fight, which my father asked me to flee to inform you. And we were losing."

"True. And why was that?"

"Some fiendish power was clouding my mind and deflecting my sword."

"Our minds will be clearer within the sphere of the Sacred Tune. And as for swords: we will not use them. It has been given to me that the power of the Malatite flows also into steel. We will fight only with wooden staves. And with them our goal will be first to smash the frontal horns on the helmets, and second to remove and destroy the helmets. We may then have some slim chance."

And so through the long afternoon there was much practising with wooden staffs. Christopher taught them how to deflect or block sword blows, and they all practised striking out at leaves or branches that were at the height of a man's head until they could hit them very accurately. Elaine had the least practice because Christopher insisted that her most important task was the playing of the flute, and had her do it walking and running as well, which was a very difficult thing to do.

There was a lot of fierce rivalry between Umber and Nathan at first. Neither was used to the quarter staff. Nathan felt that, as a soldier, he should be excellent already, and that really he should not be fighting alongside girls. Umber, on the other hand, really took to the new skill, and put into it a lot of the pent-up anger that her parents' treatment had given her. Moreover she did not like Nathan's attitude to her at all. So in certain exercises they hit each other harder than was necessary. But there is nothing like hard work and hand to hand fighting for breaking the ice, and after few hours, when tiredness set in, they all felt a good deal closer to each other and more of a band.

They had another light meal and then rested until nightfall, on Christopher's orders - "For we will be moving all night."

When the stars began to appear, they set off, each now carrying a staff and a lightened pack. The path they followed seemed well known Christopher, and led out onto moorland, while avoiding the very summits of ridges and hills. The moon, past its full, had not yet risen. Have you ever walked the hills by starlight, far from a town? You can see the lie of the land, and vague shapes, but if a wild animal were to be lying still, you would take it for a rock or tussock until you stepped on it. There was no wind, and no sound on the open moor except that of their own feet and breathing. Elaine was following Christopher, Umber was third in line and Nathan was last, to defend their rear.

They had been walking for about an hour when Christopher stopped suddenly, taking the others by surprise.

He said nothing, but seemed to be listening. Elaine looked around in the darkness to see what might be about to happen. Suddenly she heard a rustling, like that of a heavy body moving through the bracken. She gasped and turned towards it, to see a grey form moving steadily towards them, indistinct in the darkness. It comforted her later to remember that Umber and Nathan had also been frightened, and had swung up their staffs ready to defend themselves against the fury of one of Christopher's flock of sheep!

The sheep came right up to his legs and seemed pleased to see him, in its woolly way. Christopher than started calling with a curious, sheep-like call. And as they moved here and there over the hillside, more and more sheep came out of the night to join them, until there must have been about thirty altogether.

When the last one had been gathered in, Christopher spoke. "Now we must make our way back to our path," he said, and began to lead them all back in the direction from which they had come. And hour later they had returned to the hills which Elaine thought must be the Beamsley Beacons, and paused to learn the strategy.

"You can probably guess what we are to do," began Christopher. "the enemy cannot be alert to every animal crossing the web, just as a common spider will not move if a feather or leaf touches its web. It is my plan for us four to move like sheep within this flock as it crosses the line, so that our auras may be hidden from His gaze. So follow me. When I go on all fours within the flock, do you likewise. The sheep's minds will have thoughts only of following other sheep, or of grass or water. We must do the same."

Some clouds had sprung up to cover the rising moon and the stars, and the darkness became almost complete. As they moved forward Elaine lost all sense of direction, but knew only that they seemed to be descending, moving at the slow ambling pace of sheep. Then there came the time when she felt Christopher's hand pulling her down, and she started to crawl. It was almost fun at first, pretending to be a sheep, with the big woolly bodies packed around her. But it was even less possible to see anything, head down in the middle of the flock, and Elaine found that her whole attention was devoted to the task of avoiding thistles and sharp pebbles with her hands and knees.

It seemed a long time before Christopher whispered, "The crossing. Think sheep." Elaine tried to think like a sheep, but a horrible crawling started to grow over her as they ambled on, and she found that thoughts of spiders kept coming instead. Then it became hard to breathe as well, as if there were no life left in the air. She could hear Umber breathing heavily , close behind her, so she knew that it was more than just her own fear. The ground beneath her felt different, too - more muddy and marked and rutted. "This must be the Enemy's roadway itself," she thought, and held

her breath and forced her mind to picture what seemed like Heaven - a sunny hillside with sheep grazing peacefully upon it. But all the time a part of her mind was listening for the stealthy movement of an enemy approaching in the dark on long, thin legs.

It seemed an age before the air grew rich again, though they could not have covered more than a stone's throw. But it was not long afterwards that they were able to stand upright and move freely over the hill beyond.


Chapter 6

The great reward of facing danger is the wonderful feeling you get when the danger is past. The girls felt this very strongly as they walked again over the open moors. Nathan and Christopher, who had braved greater dangers, felt it also, though less strongly, and so the little band pressed on happily and swiftly in the silver magic of moonlight. The clouds too had cleared.

The hours passed; and their legs grew weary. The sheep were left behind in a grassy spot. The children's stomachs started to ask for food again. But still Christopher led on. "I want to have sight of the Yew before daybreak," he replied to a question from Nathan. "The Enemy will not expect us yet."

Finally he gave the signal to stop and left them in a grassy hollow carved by a small, tree-set stream. He moved carefully to the top of a nearby crest, which was outlined against the lightening sky.

"Are we here now?" demanded Umber rather petulantly. "My feet are sore."

"Yes," Nathan whispered back shortly. "Soak them in the stream if you must. But be silent or you may soon be suffering from far more than sore feet."

Ten minutes later a grim-faced Christopher returned. "They surround the Sacred Grove in force, not daring to enter its virtue. I see none of our fellows within it. But,"

and here he looked at Nathan, "I saw one captive, kept as bait or hostage, who from his build and aspect is, I fear, my friend and your father."

Nathan leapt to his feet, white of face with anger.

"Wait!" said Christopher. "I know your mind, but we must first plan what we are to do."

This was the problem they faced. The Sacred Yew, a large and ancient tree, was set in the middle of an open area the size of a sports arena. Surrounding this area was a circle of lesser trees, to one of which Loyan was tied. Outside these the Enemy were camped in a ring, over a hundred strong. Christopher judged that Loyan would be badly wounded by the battle in which he had been taken, and would be unable to fight or run far. "And neither would we be able to make a surprise attack and carry him off to the hills in safety. Their numbers are far too great. So this leaves but one path. We must approach with stealth; cut him free and then move within the shelter of the Yew, which they do not yet dare approach."

"But we would then be trapped," protested Umber, "with no way of escaping!"

"Truly it looks so," Christopher replied gravely, "and yet the true path, however narrow, is always the best. I will lead the way. Now, before the sun is yet up, we may gain a few moments of surprise."

They made use of the shelter of the little valley for as long as they could, and then there was a small stand of trees which gave them shelter as they moved closer yet to

Loyan. There came the time, though, when they had to walk out into the open. They were not noticed at first. As Christopher had judged, a small group walking slowly did not attract attention in the half-light. But when they were within a stone's throw of their goal, a Protector noticed and turned his head towards them. Elaine heard the familiar buzzing in her ears. Christopher shouted, "Play! Run!" She lifted her flute to her lips and started to play as loudly as she could while running.

Christopher himself made straight for the Protector, his staff whirling in a great circle around his head. The Protector, taken aback by the speed of the attack, barely had time to draw his sword. One sweep of the staff knocked it flying, and another had the Protector reeling to the floor and his helmet rolling away. Umber had the satisfaction of jumping on it and crushing it so that it could not be worn again. Meanwhile Nathan was working furiously at his father's bonds, while Elaine stood by, enveloping them all in the sweet strength of the Holy Music.

As soon as he had lost his helmet, the Protector started to whimper like a child and crawled away.

"Strange that the Enemy should choose such great cowards for his chief servants," mused Christopher. But soon other Protectors came running up, and with them crowds of the common soldiers, without helmets. These the Protectors were driving ahead. But as soon as they got within sound of the flute, they started to cry out in fear and to hold their heads and try to retreat. They came like waves up a beach,

carried forward at first by their own speed, and then falling back in pain. But all the time more and more were being driven forward, and the waves got closer and closer; and the louder their cries, the more the sound of the flute was drowned. And the more it was drowned, the closer they could get. The Protectors were directing from a distance so that they themselves would not be in the slightest danger, and the tide of bodies closing in on the small band was too thickly packed for Christopher to get through to attack the Protectors themselves.

Only one good thing happened in this affray: as Elaine gazed at the heaving mass of bodies approaching ever nearer, with their faces distorted in agony, she saw one which was somehow different. Its owner was a young man, scarcely more then a boy. She looked him in the eye - and he looked back whereas all the rest, like zombies, had eyes which slid away soullessly. Then - and it was a sweet magic to watch - the look of almost unbearable anguish faded from his face, a smile of peace appeared, and he struggled became only to emerge from the tortured crowd into the light of the Holy Song. Umber nearly attacked him, but Christopher, also aware of what had happened, stopped her.

At that moment Nathan finally managed to cut his father free. Loyan slumped to the floor.

"Help me to carry him," Nathan gasped. Between them he and Christopher, Umber and the young man lifted the body easily and carried it within the circle of trees and into the Sanctuary of the Sacred Yew.

I wonder if I can describe what it felt like in that place? You may be able to imagine being in a large palace, surrounded by lords and ladies in rich clothes and gold and jewels. In the centre are the Thrones of the King and Queen, bright and shining. And you are having to walk across a thick carpet laid across a marble floor, with all eyes on you. You would, I think, feel nervous or even frightened, but there would also be a good feeling that came from being is such a wonderful place. Next I want you to imagine the people away, but keep the feeling of their being there, ghost-like smiling at you. This will put an extra tingle of something like fear into the picture, but also a kind of happiness because they are glad that you are there. If you can manage all this, then you may understand the word numinous. The Sacred Grove was a numinous place.

As they walked into the open area, it was as if the noises coming from the Enemy outside were absorbed and deadened by thick blankets. Elaine stopped playing. There was already something like music in the air which sent shivers up and down her spine. At first there was a lot of fear, like the fear of ghosts, and she understood why the Enemy could not enter, but as she followed the others in towards the centre, the fear faded in waves, to be replaced by great joy.

Close to the Yew there was a slab of stone, as large as a bed and high as a table. Christopher led the way to it and with care the four lifted Lord Loyan onto it. Tears were falling from Nathan's eyes as he looked down and whispered,

"Father." The others stood around, silently watching the very slow and slight rise and fall of Loyan's breast. "Father," said Nathan again. Then, almost imperceptibly, the eyes opened and looked up at Nathan's face set against the green background of the Yew. At this sign of returning consciousness, Christopher brought a small flask from his pack and put it to Loyan's lips. Drop by drop the cordial went down, and little by little colour returned to the white face.

"It is good" - the voice was weak but warm - "to come to this Sacred Place... to die... as my fathers did... before me."

"No, Father, you will get well and strong again. Do not talk of death."

"My time has come. My prayer is answered. My one fear... not to be here to die... in the heart... of my fathers." Then his head turned slowly to Christopher. "Will you... be my bridge?"

Christopher's voice was vibrant with life after Loyan's fading tones as he replied, "I will be your bridge gladly." Then he stood tall and, turning to the Tree, with his eyes set above the topmost branch he said, "This Tree is a living bridge between Earth and Heaven. May I also be a living bridge whose strength may carry my friend?" The branches above him moved in response to a strong wind that seemed to come from nowhere, and swept down to toss his hair and shake his clothes. It seemed strange to Elaine that she felt

nothing but the slightest breeze herself. It reminded her somehow of flying with Assin.

Then Christopher turned again to Loyan and said, "I have been accepted. Now we must prepare you for your journey. You must travel light. May I lighten your soul?"

For some minutes Nathan then spoke in scarcely more than a whisper. Christopher had to bend low to hear what was said, then he rose again. "By the power which I have been given I remove from your soul these burdens. You are free." Then he dipped his hand into a small spring of water which Elaine had not noticed before amid greater things, and sprinkled some on Loyan's face.

"May this living water wash away all stain -

Free you from all pain;

May this living water wash away all dirt -

Free you from all hurt;

May this living water wash away all tears -

Free you from all fears."

Then he took from his pack the loaf of bread, and picking up the flask, he lifted them both up high and said, "I hold this food and this drink between Earth and Heaven. They were made by the meeting of Heaven and Earth. May they now give strength to our friend on his journey between Earth and Heaven."

Turning to them all he continued, "It is good to have friends. It is good to have these gifts to share. Will you share with me, my friends?"

Loyan's lips moved silently as they all replied, "It is

good to be your friend. We accept your gifts gladly." With gentle hands Christopher broke off the smallest of morsels and placed it in Loyan's mouth. And a few minutes later he poured in a few drops of the wine. The others took a share, though they were not hungry, despite the long time which had elapsed since their last meal.

"Are you now ready for the journey?" Christopher had turned again to Loyan.

The silent lips mouthed the word, "Yes."

"Then we will begin. Hold my hand. I am your bridge."

Seeing Christopher's strong brown hand holding the weary white one reminded Elaine of something that she had seen, but she could not remember what. She found her eyes flowing with tears, though she was not sad. Looking surreptitiously around, she saw that most of the others also had wet cheeks, and felt better about it.

Then as she looked up at Christopher's face, something strange started to happen. Everything around it became grey and misty. She could not see anything else. Then it was as if she were being drawn upwards, along a tunnel in the mist. She lost sight of the face, but was aware that she was not alone. The journey seemed to go on and on. She was floating or flying through cloudiness. Then the tunnel walls became clearer and started to change colour: reds came, and then greens and later on a beautiful blue. Suddenly there was brightness at the end of the tunnel, and she was out in the open.

At first she noticed only greenness underfoot and

Christopher and Loyan standing to one side of her. But Loyan was standing strong and healthy again, with a happy smile on his face. "Has he been cured then?" she thought in confusion.

Then her vision broadened and she saw a great crowd of people approaching over the grass, brightly dressed, and heralded with music. She felt scared. She did not know if she was allowed here. So she moved slowly until she was hidden, she hoped, behind Christopher.

Lord Loyan moved forward with open arms to greet a man and a woman who were foremost in the throng. "Father! Mother!" There were joyous smiles and the spirit of laughter was in the air. Then more and more people came forward to greet him, until he could no longer be seen in their midst. All the people seemed so happy and so big, somehow, Elaine thought, that she at once wanted them to notice her and let her share in the party. At the same time she was terrified that they would notice her and be angry with her for coming and spoiling such a wonderful time.

Christopher was just watching calmly as if it were all the most ordinary thing in the world, but since he, too, seemed unaware of her presence, this did not help much.

Then, just as her fears were reaching their peak - she was imagining either that all these people were only ghosts, or, even worse, that they were real and she was the ghost - there came a very friendly and familiar sound from behind her. She thought of straw, warm and golden in the sun. She thought of an old but cosy stable. She thought of Assin. And

there he was, close beside her. She threw her arms around him and hid her face against his neck.

"Do not be afraid." The familiar voice was wonderfully soothing. "You are right, you do not belong here - yet. When the time comes you will be welcomed also."

"But - Is he dead? Or alive?"


"But I don't understand."

"Have you forgotten your lesson? Is your mouth for speaking or eating?"


"When you see a butterfly coming out of the chrysalis, is the caterpillar dead or alive?"

Elaine pondered a bit. "Well, sort of both. The caterpillar is no longer there, so I suppose that is like being dead. But the butterfly is alive and was the caterpillar."

"You will find that many questions have the same answer. Even in your own world you will find that if a scientist is asked if atoms are like grains of sand on the beach, or like the waves on the shore, he will answer, `Both.' And if you ask a poet which of two meanings his poem has, he will answer, `Both'" also."

"Now look. Are you in Heaven or by the Sacred Yew?"

As Elaine looked around with this question in her mind, she saw at first the crowd around Lord Loyan; but they seemed to fade a little, and a shadowy tree appeared and grew more real. And Umber and Nathan and the stranger were there too. Then they faded and she noticed the people again. For a while the two pictures faded in and out like that. You can see what it was like if you place two photographs on a table to touch each other. Then look at them with one eye on each side of a third photograph or piece of card running from your nose to the line where they touch. After a while you will notice a sort of tunnel opening up with two shadowy walls made by the card, at the end of which the two pictures seem to overlap. If you keep on staring you will at times find that the right hand picture becomes ghostly and you notice mostly the left. At other times it will be reversed. Sometimes you see a ghostly mixture of both.

And this is how it was for Elaine as the two visions faded in and out of each other. The clearest thing of all was Christopher, who was the same in both, and so stood out boldly. She watched as Loyan returned to him to give him a last farewell. "We will be watching over you. Fear not," said Loyan as they embraced. "A true friend is never lost. I hold you in my heart, my friend." And then, as the two men drew apart, the pictures switched quite suddenly and Elaine found herself back in the Sacred Grove with the others. She felt that she had been away for half a day, but they had scarcely moved. The only change she noticed at first was that Nathan was weeping openly. Then she saw that the body on the stone table was quite still. But she was no longer frightened as she would once have been.


Chapter 7

Christopher went over and put an arm around Nathan. "He is well, and was welcomed. Fear not. Now we will lay his body to rest in accordance with the ancient customs. Come."

The funeral procession was a short one. At Christopher's request Elaine improvised a slow and solemn music on the flute while the others carefully lifted Loyan's body and walked with it around to the other side of the Yew. There they came to a stone-set opening in the ground within which were wide steps leading downwards. As they walked steadily down them, the air grew chill, and the hewn stone of the entrance walls gave way to the natural pale walls of a limestone cavern, which had been widened here and there by masons.

At first it grew darker, until Elaine feared that it would soon be possible to see nothing at all. But then it seemed to get easier - she could make out dim shapes at least, and avoid bumping into things. It was hard to say if this was because of some change in her eyes, or some natural luminance in the walls, or even the air itself.

When they reached the bottom of the stairs, their path continued along a natural tunnel, hung with stalactites, in which the music echoed and re-echoed as if they were accompanied by a ghostly band of flautists.

After some quarter of an hour the tunnel opened out into a large cave in which a lot of work seemed to have been done, for there were many regular openings in the walls, and many carved slabs. "You know where your family lie," said Christopher to Nathan, and Nathan led the way to a certain part of the huge chamber. There, at his direction, they lifted the body up and slid it, feet first, into one of the hewn openings in the limestone wall. Finally they lifted a large rectangular slab which fitted the opening like a lid.

Nathan then looked around and found a hammer and chisel, and with them cut into the soft limestone slab the simple words: "Lord Loyan, son of Neri." When he had finished, they all retraced their way back to the surface and the sunlight.

After all that had happened, Elaine was now quite ravenous and so was delighted that they were to eat before doing anything more. The newcomer, whose name they found to be Timothy, joined in the sharing shyly. But even though they emptied all their packs, when the food was shared among the five of them, there was not enough to really fill them up.

When the meal was over, Umber spoke from the lingering hollowness inside. "If that was the last of our food, what are we going to do? Are we going to starve to death? We are trapped here. I wish I had never come. It may be all right for an old man like Loyan to want to come here to die. But I want to live."

"Peace." Christopher spoke. "Life comes but one day at a time. You can eat but one meal at a time.You are safe for the present, and have eaten. Be content with what you have and your heart will grow stronger. I counsel rest or sleep for the present - our bodies are weary, and the Enemy is still safely outside."

These words reminded Elaine that she had not slept all night, and she at once felt very tired. Nathan, a seasoned soldier who knew how to sleep whenever time allowed it, found a soft place in the shadow of the Yew, lay down and was soon fast asleep. Timothy followed his example, and so Elaine copied them, using her empty pack as a sort of pillow. She did not think that she would get to sleep at first, after all the strange things that had been happening. But there was something in the aura of the place that, now she had got used to it, made her feel totally safe, as if held in warm and loving arms, and she soon drifted off.

Christopher did not at first join them. Instead he walked around the boundary of the arena. "Come with me, if you choose," he said to Umber, who was still too restless to sleep. "Let us survey the Enemy's ranks together."

When they approached to within about ten paces of the encircling small trees, it was like stepping out of the peace of an ancient church into the roar and bustle of a city street. The Protectors had been on watch, and sent their men forward. It was not pleasant to watch, for it was clear that for them the only quality of the numinous that they felt was a fear which amounted to terror. And yet they were being driven into it by the mental commands of the Protectors behind them. So, just as they had done before, they came forward in waves and fell back, never getting far inside the trees.

Christopher and Umber walked the circuit at a safe distance within the boundary, and the Enemy followed them as they went. There seemed to be only four Protectors, whose tents were pitched well outside the Sacred Grove, on rising ground to the South. The others, it seemed, slept rough. Christopher noted also that only the Protectors wore swords. It was clear that they had mainly relied upon the power of Malatite over the minds of men, and the crude force of the numbers of their slaves, to gain their victories.

But after a while the pattern changed. Most of the men drew back to a distance, and when they returned they were carrying stones. These they started to throw at Umber and Christopher, and this forced them to move deeper into the Grove.

"Well, since you seem happy to stay awake," Christopher said to Umber, "you can take the first watch. Wake me if anything happens. You might climb a little way up the Yew, if you choose."

Now Umber was very fond of climbing, and also enjoyed the thought of being on the look-out while the rest slept, and so she shinned up the mighty branches with great eagerness, and perched high up where she could see all around. If it had not been for the Enemy it would have been a wonderful place. The sun was high and there was a pleasant breeze, and gradually she felt more confident. It was indeed enough to be alive in the present moment, gently rocking with the movement of the branches. From her height the Enemy seemed small and insignificant; her fears too seemed to grow small, and she rose above them.

It seemed that only a little time had passed, though it was close to two hours, when Christopher woke again and took Umber's place. By then she, too, was ready to sleep gratefully. Two hours later Nathan took the watch. By the end of his watch it was late afternoon, and they were all awake and growing hungry.

"Perhaps," Christopher suggested, "we might hear your story, Timothy. There is no way opening up before us yet. It is just possible that night's dark cloak might well give us secrecy to leave. Until then it would be good to know each other better."

It took a little time to persuade Timothy to talk. He seemed more interested in what had happened to the others, and so they each told something of themselves first. Then, finally, he began, uncertainly at first, and then growing more fluent.

"I was a sickly baby. My mother tells me. My father was a smith. He was big and strong. He wanted me to be a smith. But the smoke made me cough. I could not breath. And the noise gave me a headache. He called me terrible things. He shouted at Mother. And said that it was her fault. All her children were girls, he said. Even me. He would force me to stand by the forge, to "toughen" me. I could not breathe, and felt faint.

"As I grew older, I kept out of his way, and he wanted nothing to do with me. He got an apprentice - a boy from another village - who was big and strong. After some years my father adopted him, and called him his true son.

"My room was a garret, where Mother fed me in secret. I did some hand weaving and knitting, which she was able to sell as her own. But I was not unhappy then, for I could see the most wonderful pictures with my inner eyes. My small attic was lit only by such scraps of light as came through holes in the roof, but it made the inner sights brighter still. I could be sailing in a bright red boat, wearing cloth of gold, and a purple pennant would be waving our way ahead. I would be a robin, red of breast, perched on the green holly, or flying around the garden. Or I would be surrounded by the Shining People who were admiring the golden robes that I was weaving for them." He smiled a deep and glorious smile. "No, I was not unhappy then.

"At times, too, on warm days I would wander in wonder far away from the forge, into the magic of the trees and wild things. I tired easily in those days, and might spend long hours sitting by a stream, watching the ever-changing ripple shadows cast on the soft brown pebbles and the speckled trout. No, I was not unhappy then. I would try to bring my pictures outside and put them onto stone with the white of limestone, the black of charred wood, or the red and green of juices from plants. It was fun - but never as good as my inner sight.

"Once my father saw one of my pictures. He took his great hammer and smashed the rock on which I had made it. I think it made him very happy to do this, because he laughed as he went away.

"Then one day a man in long dark robes came to the village. He was a scribe, and was looking for apprentices. He spoke with the men of the village. My father came back to the house, shouting for me. I was asked to copy shapes that the scribe drew on a slate - at that time I had no idea what they meant. He seemed pleased with what I had done. The next day I was told by my father that I had received an undeserved honour - I had been chosen as one of the scribe's new apprentices. I learned later that he himself was well paid for giving me up. I was very sad at having to leave my mother and the places that I knew.

"It was a long journey to Undain, where my new master lived. He was a harsh man. We apprentices worked very long hours in the one room copying, always copying, parchment after parchment. My clothes were better, my food was better, I was given a bed of my own in the dormitory where we boys slept, but my inner sight had gone. Perhaps it was because there was no time by myself. Wake, copy, eat, copy, eat, copy, eat, copy, sleep. And if any spare moment arose there were always the others all around. I was not happy then.

"One day I had to follow my master on some business to a great house in a strange part of town. I was left to wait in an ante-room. It was the most beautiful room I had ever seen, hung with marvellous paintings. It made me cry to see them, they were so perfect. And there was one showing people gathered around a tree which almost made my heart break, there was something so magical about it. My tears closed my eyes, and then I saw one of the Shining People, for the first time since leaving home. She had never been so bright, for even when I opened my eyes again she was clear. She beckoned me, and I followed. We left the room, and the great house, and then took a way through the streets of Undain. Some people gave me strange looks, but none so much as glanced at the Shining One - I don't think that they can have seen her.

"I was led out into the countryside again, where I could breathe more easily. At first I could walk but a little way before tiring, but as the weeks passed, I became stronger. I had nowhere to live, my clothes were getting ragged, I lived on the charity of those who took pity on me mostly, and never knew where the next meal was coming from. But I was happy."

Christopher's eyes turned to Umber after these words, and she looked rather sheepish.

"At times I would be able to earn my keep in a small way - perhaps some weaving. And in time I discovered that some people liked my poor pictures, and even wanted me to stay with them to do more. But the Shining One would not let me stay long. I must have travelled all over the country and visited every village in the last two years, and it has certainly changed me from the frail and feeble boy that I was."

Elaine looked at the sinewy figure before her, with his lean muscles and tanned face and hands. It was indeed hard to see the weakling child. But there was something in the fineness of detail in fingers and face which suggested great sensitivity, and in the great brown eyes there was the depth of the seer of visions.

"One day I was mending a fence for an old lady, when a Protector and some of his men approached. He told me to knock it down again. Now I had often met Protectors on my travels, but they had paid me little attention because I was always very servile towards them, and did whatever they asked. But this time I was angry, because of the injustice to the old lady, and resisted them. It was then for the first time," and Timothy shuddered at the memory, "that I felt the full and dreadful power of what they call the Greatest, and you call the Enemy. It was like a band of iron fast around my head, and tightening. A myriad sparks exploded in my eyes as if my face were plunged into the very heart of my father's furnace. My limbs were no longer mine.

"I do not remember much of what happened after that. There was marching. There were many others like me, held in the bonds of the Enemy. Then there was the approach to this place. I remember it because of the pain, for I recognised this Yew" - and he put out a reverent hand to caress its bark" - as the Tree that I had seen in the picture. It gave me some strength to resist the evil power for a while - but in my resistance I found only agony, as the Protectors willed inexorably that I should obey again."

"Then I remember our bodies being thrown into the battle against you. And then there was the battle between their Orders and the Music of your flute." Timothy looked shyly at Elaine. "My head was splitting with the pain of it, and I was scarcely aware of the struggles and yells all around me. But I was still willing myself forward, towards my Tree, while the others were willing themselves back. Then there came a great shove in the back from one of them, I plunged forward and...Joy...Freedom...Life." A smile lit up his face, as he remembered it.

"And you know the rest. But when I saw the Bright People come to take Lord Loyan home," - Umber and Nathan looked puzzled at this - "then it was as if I were seeing the picture of the people around the tree that led to my freedom. I am happy now. And if I die here, I will be even happier."

There was a silence when Timothy had stopped speaking. Then Christopher spoke. "It seems that you have been brought to join us. Let us hold hands." And, as on an earlier occasion, they held hands in a ring, as he continued, "It is good to have friends. It is good to have a path to share. Will you share with me, my friends?" Timothy's face showed his deep joy as he joined in the general reply. "It is good to be your friend. I will share your path gladly."

Twilight had grown upon them while Timothy had been speaking. And though appetites had been forgotten while he spoke, they now returned with new force. The girls, who were least used to going hungry, found it hardest.

"Is there nothing we can eat?" Umber asked.

Timothy looked at Christopher. "There are many Bright People near. Should we ask them?"

Elaine looked around but she could see nobody, and neither, judging by their expressions, could the others. But the thought of there being people near that she could not see gave her an eerie feeling again, like the feeling that she had when they entered the Grove.

After thinking for a minute Christopher nodded slowly. "You are indeed gifted with an inner sight. We will do as you say. They will hear us here. They may be pleased to grant our request. Let us hold hands again."

They formed a circle between the Yew and the Great Stone and Christopher spoke.

"We come to your Table as friends. And we come in need. We ask if we may share your bread?"

Elaine expected something dramatic to happen, and was disappointed. Then Timothy said, "Come, let us do as they ask and put those on the Great Stone." He pointed as he spoke towards some round stones which were lying near the foot of the Tree.

"I think that this is some silly game of make-believe," grunted Umber as she lifted one. But as she placed it on the Stone she gave a gasp of amazement. "It worked! It has become a loaf of bread!"

She quickly bit into it and was chewing with delight when she stopped: Christopher, followed by the others, was lifting the bread up high, saying, "We accept your Bread gladly." Sheepishly she stopped eating and did the same. Then they all ate eagerly. Elaine thought that she had never tasted anything quite so delicious in her life.

When they were all satisfied they lay down to sleep, taking turns to be on watch, as before.


Chapter 8

It was during Nathan's watch, in the middle of the night, that the lights appeared. From high in the Yew he saw them approaching silently along the Enemy's road. After a while he woke the others and they watched without a word as a thousand men, each carrying a burning torch, came closer and closer and then encircled the Sacred Grove.

A despair settled on the small band as they saw men with axes step forward and begin to chop down the encircling trees. It was clear that they had to be forced to the task by the Protectors, who could now be numbered in their scores. Each man seemed to work only for a few minutes before having to be replaced by another.

But in less than twenty minutes all the trees were down, each falling sideways to make a sort of thick hedge.

Then some more men came forward and in the light of the torches poured over the trees something black and sticky. Finally torches were plunged into it from all sides and flames leapt high.

Elaine felt the scorching heat on her face and hands, as she watched in horror while the beautiful trees turned into an inferno. From time to time she followed the others' example and cooled herself in the spring and poured handfuls of water over her hair and clothes.

"Is there nothing we can do, my Lord?" Nathan asked Christopher.

"We are not yet in real danger. Any of you who wish may withdraw to the Caves, where it will be cooler. But I will wait and watch."

No one moved. But there were tears in Timothy's eyes. He was looking at the branches of his beloved Yew. The leaves were beginning to shrivel, and in the light of the flames he could see them turning brown.

The most eerie thing about it all was that the great flames were almost silent. The peace of the Grove absorbed nearly all the roar and noise, so that the sound was no more than that of a gentle fire in the hearth.

But just as a sponge will go on absorbing water for a long time, then suddenly it will take no more, so the peace of the Grove seemed to reach its limits. They heard a sudden roar, then peace, then another roar, longer this time. And soon the waves of noise came closer and closer to them until they were drowned in the roar of the flames and a thousand wild voices.

"Enough!" shouted Christopher above the roar. "Our Defence has been destroyed. When the flames die down, they will advance - to destroy the very Yew itself. We now have only one path." And with these words he beckoned them to follow him down the steps and into the Caves again.

The silence and cold that they met underground came as a welcome relief. They walked along in single file, more swiftly than the first time because they were unburdened. Christopher kept looking keenly at the sides of the tunnel to see if there were any unnoticed side tunnels which might offer refuge or even escape. After a while there came a fork. He turned to Nathan.

"Have you ever been up this other path?" he asked.

"No," replied Nathan. "I have never heard that it led anywhere."

Without further hesitation Christopher entered the side tunnel and the others followed, as it wound and twisted deep beneath the surface of the ground.

Suddenly there came a ferocious growling from ahead of them. Christopher struck forward with his staff and there came a dull thud as he hit a flying body. But there was little room to wield his staff in the Caves and he shouted, "Nathan! Your sword! Elaine! Your flute!"

He moved behind Nathan and they all watched as his sword slashed and stabbed in the dimness of the cave. It was too dark to see how many wolves there were, but the snarls and howls were deafening. Nathan was an experienced swordsman, but he needed all his skill that day, for no sooner had one dark body hit the ground, than he had to wrench his bloody sword free to defend himself against another and another wolf. He was not always quick enough, and was soon bleeding from the bites of many teeth.

A battle like that is much faster than words. He had killed or wounded half a dozen wolves before Elaine had even managed to get her flute out of its case and screwed together. The others could do little but wait in the narrow cave, with their staffs at the ready, in case Nathan should fall, but once Christopher, second in line, was able to crack the skull of an animal which had managed to get past the curtain of steel.

The wolves were still raging forward in ravenous waves of muscles, claws and teeth, when Elaine finally managed to start to play her music, with shaking hands and racing heart. The first few notes had no effect, and she was afraid that it was not going to work. But then, with the sound concentrated by the cave walls, and the echoes, it began to affect the nearest wolves. Their tails went down, their ears went back and they began to scramble their way through the pack. Soon afterwards the whole horde was disappearing down the tunnel.

"Shall we follow them?" Nathan asked, still gasping for breath.

"Yes," replied Christopher. "We should find where they came from. We may find a way out, or at least the source of the danger."

He went forward fearlessly, and the others followed behind. The roof was very low in places and it was hard for them to avoid bumping their heads as they walked, stooping, as fast as they could manage. Elaine stopped playing because of this difficulty, and they moved forward to the sound of their own footsteps, heavy breathing, and the distant sound of the wolves.

Some time later they started to get closer, as if the wolves had stopped. But at the same time there seemed to be fewer of them. Christopher signalled to the others to wait, and went on stealthily by himself. He was just in time to see the last of the wolves disappear through a narrow crack at the very end of the tunnel. It was high up, near the roof of the cave, but the wolves had scrambled up a scree slope of loose stones to get to it. Carefully Christopher followed and looked though the crevice. He felt a breath of cold night air on his face, and saw a single star at the far end of a narrow passage.

But then the star was covered by darkness, and he heard a harsh voice say, "Block their bolt hole. We will enter the main door soon. They will be trapped." Then there came the sound of picks and shovels, and some soil and gravel showered down onto Christopher.

He walked back to the others and soberly reported on what he had seen and heard. "So we had better return," he concluded.

It was a very downhearted band that returned along the path they had come. Christopher kept probing into cavities with his staff, looking for other exits, but to no avail. After what seemed an age they finally got back to the branching of the ways, and then turned into the tunnel which led towards the burial chamber. They walked on, going slightly downhill, following the way that they had taken with Loyan's dead body.

Timothy's voice broke the silence. "What beauty there is in some of these shapes!" He was running his hand over the pale lustrous surface of a limestone stalactite. "How were they made? Did some fairy form them from a dream? And how was the cave hollowed? By long-dead goblins?"

There was silence. Then, since no one else answered, Elaine, who wanted to get the idea of goblins out of the air, explained.

"I have been told that caves like this were made by streams which found cracks in the rocks, and made them bigger as they flowed through them. These limestone rocks are quite soft, and dissolve in the water. That is how the cave was made, and not by goblins. Then in other places, where water drips slowly out of the roof, it evaporates, and the limestone that was dissolved in it is left as a thin layer. As these layers build up over thousands of years, they make the stalactites and stalagmites that we see."

"What a silly idea!" scoffed Umber, who was happy to cover her fear by criticising. "I've never heard of such a silly thing. Rock is hard. Water would never wash it away. My hand is harder than water, but I could never rub away stone. It's rubbish."

None of the others said anything in Elaine's support, and Umber went on. "Anyway. If this was made by a stream, where is the stream, I'd like to know?"

"I suppose it must have gone somewhere else," replied Elaine.

"I see. It just walked away, did it? Do streams have legs as well as strong hands then?"

"No, of course not. It may just have ... well, perhaps... it may have found another deeper tunnel to run through."

Christopher then spoke. "I have never heard of your ideas, Elaine, but they have a certain sense to them. There are places I know where streams will suddenly disappear underground. And others where they will arise as suddenly. I had never thought of the underground passages that they must follow. But it seems to me that we may easily prove your idea. If we are following the path of a stream downhill, then we must come to some sort of way out. Streams do not stop dead."

They walked on and in time returned to the cave of the burial.

"Now, if Elaine is right, there must be some way further. Let us all search."

The cave was large and they separated each to a different section of the walls to hunt for an exit. It was exciting at first, like a treasure hunt, but it was not long before they had felt their way all around without success. And then to make things worse, faint noises became audible down the entrance tunnel.

"Well, there is no better place to die!" exclaimed Nathan. "Though I had not looked to join my father so soon." And he drew his sword and went to the entrance.

But Timothy seemed not to have heard anything, and was gazing at a spot near the centre of the cave. Then he walked towards it and stooped down to examine the floor.

"Fetch a chisel, and give me a hand." His words competed with the rising noises from the passage.

Christopher and the girls came over to him. Timothy pointed and said, "Look! There is a slab in the floor here. They are telling us to lift it."

Between them they managed to raise the large slab, which had been set flush with the floor. At once they heard the sound of flowing water a staff's length or so below their feet.

"We seem to have found your stream, Elaine," said Christopher. "But though this may once have been the way out for the stream, is it also the way out for us?"

Timothy turned to him. "Yes. The Shining Ones are smiling. I will go first. You follow."

And he promptly leapt down into the hole. They heard a splash, and then his voice rose out of the hole. "The water is very shallow, and the tunnel down here is very low. I am going to slide along it feet first."

There was some more splashing, and then just the sound of the water again.

"Right," said Christopher. "You next, Umber." But she was frightened and held back for long minutes.

"I'll go first," said Elaine. And she lowered herself as far down the hole as she could and then dropped. The water was cold and barely came up to her ankles. She stooped down and felt for the tunnel that the water was flowing through. It had very smooth walls, and was nearly circular, but not even as high as her waist. She could see why Timothy had decided to slide. It reminded her of the water chute that she had very much enjoyed - it seemed centuries ago - at a swimming pool in Bradford: except that this time she had no idea how long it was and where it led to.She lay down. The water was very cold.

"I'm going!" she called up to the two faces she could just make out above her as they peered down the shaft. Then she let go her hand-holds and started to slide, slowly at first, down into the unknown.

Up above in the burial cave things were rapidly getting worse. Nathan was fighting desperately to stem a tide of men pouring down the tunnel towards the cave. Umber had still not found the courage to drop into the hole; the sound of the battle frightened her still more, and she was paralysed by her fear, stuck with her feet down the shaft, but her hands and arms rigidly clutching the edges. There was nothing that Christopher could do or say which could move her. So he turned to help Nathan.

The two of them fought valiantly in the gloom. For a few minutes they managed to hold the enemy back from entering the cave, but then one or two managed to slip past them, and they had to turn to protect their backs. The battle was then lost, for soon the Enemy was entering by scores and by hundreds, and though they carried no weapons but fists and feet, they were no longer held at bay by the music of the Good House.

Nathan and Christopher were soon disarmed and seized by a dozen rough hands. Others grabbed Umber and brutally plucked her from the shaft. As soon as she was away from the hole she struggled like a wild cat, kicking and biting with fury, so that it took many men to restrain her. All three were then manhandled out of the cave and up to the surface where the Protectors were waiting in comfort.

They stood in a semicircle, now over a dozen strong. Their faces were stony. On each head was a helmet with the single pointed horn in the forehead directed at the three who were now being tied to stakes at the focus of the arc of Protectors.

When all their bonds were secure, and their captors stood back, the Protectors spoke in chorus.

"Do you obey the Greatest?"

"What do you call the Greatest?" returned Christopher.

"This," the voices, harsh and cruel, replied.

Nathan succumbed first. His body started to go into convulsions as if electrical shocks were coursing through him. Then, after a minute he became very still and rigid. Finally, with a horrible lifeless monotone his mouth spoke: "I obey the Greatest."

Umber resisted longer, perhaps because of the practice she had had in fighting her father's will. She felt horrendous pains in her head, and a repeating voice saying, over and over again, "Obey... Obey... Obey... Obey.. " Between gritted teeth she managed to force out the words, "I will not... I will not... " at intervals, until in the end she blacked out and knew no more.

Christopher alone seemed unmoved. He made no attempt to resist, but stood relaxed, keeping the words and the tune of the Sacred Song flowing through his inner self. Since there was no dark anger or hatred in him, there was no point where the darkness of the Enemy could find a home and grow. His house was filled with light, and so no darkness could enter. He stood, supported by his bonds, with a small smile on his face, as the Protectors' faces grew more and more charged with anger and rage. Some went white and others red. Some broke out in sweat while others began to shake. But still Christopher stood still and unmoved as the minutes passed.

There began to be signs of unrest among the slaves. It was as if the Protectors' power over them was weakened by having to focus all their strength on Christopher. Or it may be that a glimmer of hope broke into the dark night of their slavery at the sight of one who could resist. A murmuring started at the front of the crowds, and a slow moving away into the night could be noticed at the back.

Then one of the Protectors fell, perhaps through exhaustion. The others reacted as if he had been attacked, and turned on their slaves, who were soon cowering, with hands to heads, and kneeling on the ground.

The Senior Protector then spoke. "No matter that we have not broken his will. We will take him to the Greatest Himself. He will be happy to feast on so strong a will. In the meantime he can do us no harm. We will travel on the morrow and carry him to Undain to proclaim the strength of the Greatest, and the capture of His last enemy."


Chapter 9

Elaine slid slowly at first. I cannot say that she was happy about her journey. There is a big difference between, on the one hand, sliding down a well-designed chute in a swimsuit, with warm water flowing under you, in the confidence that you will end up safely in the pool down at the bottom, and on the other hand, sliding down a narrow underground tunnel in clothes and icy water, with no certainty that you will not end up in a tunnel filled to the roof with water, or find it narrowing so much that you get trapped like a cork in a bottle, or suddenly go over a ledge and drop a hundred rocky feet to your death below.

Elaine did, however, have the sense to keep her mind from thinking about such possibilities.

You may find that from time to time in your life you get to a narrow passage where you are just being carried along by events, and there is nothing at all you can do about them. The only sensible thing to do then is, as far as possible, to relax, let things happen, and wait until you get to the end of that bit of your journey through life.

There was nothing Elaine could do, so she just tried to pretend that she was on the chute at the Sports Centre she knew. Memories started to flash through her mind. There was the time when the Headmaster had taken the members of the School Band there for a treat after they had won a trophy. Then she remembered band practices in school, and that reminded her of her flute. She put her hand on it to check that it was still slung in front of her where she had put it at the start of her descent. There was no chance of her playing it, but it comforted her to feel it there.

The slope steepened. The water was faster, shallower but still cold, and memories of sledging down the snowy hillside under White Wells flashed into her mind. Then she started to be swung from side to side as the course of the channel ceased to be straight and began, snake-like, to bend first to the right and then to the left and then back again. All sorts of earlier memories entered her mind, of being pushed on swings and roundabouts, and then, earlier still, she seemed to be in a pushchair with her father running along behind her over grass. Then she felt as if she was lying in a pram - or was it a carrycot? - but moving, always moving, with nothing that she could do about it.

It was a very strange sensation. With one part of her mind she was aware of the hardness of the stone channel and the coldness of the water. But another part of her brain seemed to be playing back videos of her early life, in reverse order.

Then, quite suddenly, the water level rose, covering her face. But before she had time to be frightened, she was carried forward by the momentum of her descent out of the submerged mouth of the tunnel into a subterranean lake. In seconds she had swum to the surface and lay there on her back.

If you can imagine being alone in an indoor swimming- pool in the middle of the night, then you will have something of the feeling. The darkness was deeper than it had been in the burial cave. The water was as black as it could be, and of course Elaine had no idea how deep it was, nor how wide. She knew that she was in a cave because of the echoes which came back to her of the small splashing sounds her hands and feet made as she kept herself afloat. She had never felt more alone.

After a while she began to think. Timothy should be here ahead of her, and the others should be following soon! These thoughts gave her some reassurance until she realised that she must have been in the lake for over ten minutes and there had been no sound of the others. Perhaps Christopher had got stuck in the narrow part of the tunnel? But this could not have happened to Timothy, or she would have bumped into him. Perhaps he was drowned. Did dead bodies float? Would she find herself bumping into his corpse in the darkness? Or perhaps he had been killed. Could there be creatures in the water? Piranha fish? Her skin cringed.

I don't know if you have ever been lying awake at night, and feeling worried? If so your mind can start to play the sort of games that Elaine's was playing then - imagining more and more terrible things that might happen, and getting more and more frightened because of them. If you are at home the only thing to do is to get up, put the light on, and then do something. Elaine would have dearly liked to be able to wake up as if out of a bad dream and do just that. But it was not possible. She could not even bring her limbs to swim into the unknown: it was as much as she could do to get them to keep her afloat.

She finally remembered the Song, and began to sing it first in her head, and then in a whisper and finally in a real voice which echoed sweetly all around.

"The love of light is in my head,

The love of light is in my heart,

The love of light is in my body,

The love of light is in my soul."

In the deep underground darkness the words took on a new meaning and slowly, as she repeated them, she began to relax. The feelings of panic began to subside. Then a few courageous thoughts returned. After all she was still alive. And nothing really dreadful had happened to her yet. She was in no pain. And she relaxed a bit more as the Song in all its richness of tone and tune became more and more a part of her.

Then she even became a little drowsy and closed her eyes. This shut out the darkness, and behind her eyelids she could see light - warm and pink and very soothing. She became unaware of the coldness around, as the inner warmth grew and grew. Her legs and arms moved gently but with no conscious effort to the rhythm of the Song. She seemed to be floating weightless in the middle of an infinite pink space, filled with the slow rhythm of the lines of the Song. Thought disappeared and a feeling of being loved grew and grew.

Then a slight sound roused her a little and the thought, "I wonder if I am dying?" passed though her mind like a cloud on a summer's day, leaving no mark. Then she became aware of other sounds, splashing sounds. They were coming nearer. She became wide awake then, and opened her eyes to the darkness. The coldness at once returned and with it the fear. She sculled around to face the sounds. They were still approaching - and now there was something to see: two bright lights. Were they eyes?

Elaine found that she could not bring herself to turn her back on the twin lights to swim away, but instead started to tread water while watching them.

As they came closer they seemed to be coming straight for her, and her panic mounted.

"Elaine!" The voice was sweet and familiar.

"Margaret!" Elaine gasped in return. It was the last voice she had expected, and the most welcome.

Soon she was sitting in a boat, which was being rowed by a man she had never seen before.

"Have you found Timothy? Or any of the others?"

"Timothy has arrived. He is safe. No one else is coming." Ruth's voice was a sunshot stream between lush green banks.

"Why aren't the others coming? Are they safe?" Elaine worried.

"They are to follow another path, but you will meet again. Never fear."

There was something about being close to Margaret that took away all anxiety, and Elaine accepted her simple words as a complete answer to her doubts and worries. She closed her eyes in weariness and the pink-hued enveloping love returned in greater richness than before.

She was just falling into a deep sleep when the boat reached the shore, and had to be roused to get out. Margaret and the man each held one of the two lanterns high to show the stone-cut path which led gently upwards. There were no stalactites or stalagmites here: the walls of the cave were regular and as smooth as silk. It was a pleasure to caress them with your fingers as you walked. And they played with the light of the lanterns, throwing it into shimmering rainbows.

After quite a long walk the tunnel ended in a stout door which nevertheless opened smoothly to the touch. There was a flight of stairs; another door; a passage. Margaret and Elaine went on alone: another door and Elaine found herself back in the bedroom that she had spent the two nights in. It seemed years ago.

There was a fire already lit, throwing its friendly light over the simple room. It was all as it had been on the first night, even up to the small copper bath gleaming in the firelight. Elaine bathed drowsily and then Margaret brushed her long hair again. All the recent adventures seemed like a dream.

"I didn't lose your flute," she murmured.

"No, you didn't. You did very well. But don't bother to think now. You can listen for the Music."

And distantly at first, and then closer, Elaine found the Music that she had first heard when arriving at the Good House with the wolves on her heels. And the more she listened, the more she got lost in it.

At first there seemed to be just a simple melody carried by voices and a simple instrument. But the more she listened, the more she found richness and variety within and around the simplicity. Then that richness too became sweet with the sweetness of simplicity, before giving way to an even deeper subtlety of inner variety. If you have ever seen some of those abstract pictures which are generated by fractal patterns, particularly if they are in colour and moving, then you may have some idea of how the Music moved within Elaine.

She only half-remembered getting into bed. When she woke the next day it was late and she had had the most wonderful sleep of her life.

For the next few days Margaret insisted that she did nothing but eat and sleep, look and listen.

At first Elaine was very worried about Christopher and the others, and wanted desperately to do something about their plight.

"There is a right time for everything," Margaret had said. "You cannot reap what has not yet grown, you cannot harvest what has not been sown. This time for you is one of growing."

And so after a while Elaine gave herself up to the peace of the place. She was left alone a lot. Timothy was spending most of his days with Amuel. He did not talk much at meal times, but his face was radiant with ecstasy. It was clear that he was finding something which nourished the very roots of his soul.

The summer was giving way to golden autumn, {later the river is at its "summer low"!} and Elaine wandered under the nearer trees of the woods, watching the leaves turn red or gold, watching the squirrels gathering their winter stores or the rabbits foraging near the forest's edge. And all the time the Music of the Good House was enfolding her until it became a part of her.

If Umber had been able to overcome her fear of the tunnel, then she would have been sharing Elaine's happiness. (You would be surprised how many people get into terrible trouble because they are too frightened to go the right way.) As it was she was hungry, footsore, in chains and very angry.

At the head of the marching column were two Protectors on horseback. Umber was chained between Christopher and Nathan, who were walking in single file in the middle of the main band of some hundred foot-soldiers. At the rear another two mounted Protectors kept an eye on them all.

Food was seldom given to the three captives. When it did come it was because it was too bad even for the soldier-slaves, hardened as they were to harsh conditions. Any complaints that Umber made were, at best, ignored and at worst answered with blows.

By contrast Elaine was eating three good meals a day, sleeping in a sweet bed, and was growing stronger in body and soul.

After breakfast on the third day Margaret spoke. "You are going to learn something new today. Follow me."

They walked together in the autumn sun towards some of the nearer trees. "Sit there." Margaret indicated a mossy tree trunk. Then she walked a few paces away and stood, looking up at a tree.

For a while nothing happened, but Elaine had slowed down over the days of peace and was not at all impatient. Then she saw a squirrel. It was coming down the tree in that scamper-and-stop way that squirrels do. Now it was at the foot of the tree. It rushed across to Ruth's feet. It paused, its bright eyes looking at Elaine. Then, as swift as lightning, it was on Ruth's shoulder, gazing down at the world as if from a small tree.

Elaine watched the bushy little tail and marvelled at how tame it seemed. Margaret put out an arm as if it were a branch, and after a little while the squirrel scampered out along it and rested on the palm.

They played together in this way for perhaps ten minutes and then, for no obvious reason, the squirrel went back to the woods.

"Would you like to be able to do that?" Ruth's smiling voice broke the silence.

"Oh, yes," Elaine replied. "Is it tame?"

"I have not trained it. We have never met before. In that way it is wild. But all creatures are happy to come for a while to be with me. In that way it is tame."

"Will it come to me?"

"Can you see that wild rabbit on your lap?"

Elaine gazed, startled, at the place where Margaret was pointing. For a moment she almost felt that she did see a rabbit, so convincing were Ruth's matter-of-fact tones. But there was nothing there! "What do you mean?" she said in bewilderment.

"Look at its nose whiffling! Feel how soft the fur is." Elaine decided that this was some sort of game, and played along with it, imagining how lovely it would be.

She became so involved that she did not at first notice the real rabbit hopping slowly closer. Then, when she did, it seemed at first to make the imaginary rabbit more real - as if there were two rabbits. A few hops later the two seemed somehow to melt into one and there was a real rabbit sniffing at her and rubbing its chin on her legs, and allowing her to stroke it.

Like the squirrel it stayed for a little while and then went back to its own business.

"Very good, Elaine. I was helping that time, of course. Do you think you could do it yourself?"

"I don't know. What did I do? I was just imagining the rabbit was there. Did that make it come?"

"Say instead that you invited it to come. Or that you were making a rabbit-shaped place in your heart to which a rabbit would be drawn as to a deep, dry burrow. The Enemy uses words like make, force or order when he is doing something similar. He too imagines how the world could be, and forces it to be so by fixing his will ruthlessly. But if you do it my way you will never be Ruthless."

Elaine smiled at the joke. Then she said, "I think I will try to imagine a squirrel now, eating an acorn from my hand."

After a minute or two, when nothing had happened, though she looked around in all directions to see if a squirrel was coming, she turned to Margaret in disappointment. "It isn't working."

"You are in too much of a hurry. The Enemy is always in a hurry. You are expecting love to work like a machine. Or as forcibly as muscles. Think of a flower unfolding its petals - slowly - beautifully."

This time Elaine sat imagining her squirrel for perhaps quarter of an hour until it had come to seem quite real. Then an acorn fell from the oak against which she was leaning. It was a real acorn, but she picked it up without thinking, as if it was part of the game. A little later a small upside-down face was peering at her from above. Then slowly, and with many hesitations, it came down until it was right at her side and the two squirrels became one.

It took the acorn from Elaine's hand, held it between its paws for a moment, and then dashed off.

"Oh, but I wanted to watch it eating it!" Elaine was a little disappointed.

"You invited it to eat it. And it will. But at this time of the year it will store food before eating it. You did very well. Did you notice that acorn come when you needed it?"

"Did I do that?"

Margaret nodded. "You can do almost anything if you believe in it strongly enough, and follow with love and patience the path that opens before you. Indeed that was how you found Christopher to rescue him, if you remember. Your heart held his image. Your path led to and through the Well - though I had to urge you in."

"You!? But it was an old woman!"

"There are many things you have yet to forget before you can understand more," replied Margaret with a smile. "You must learn to unknow before you learn to know. But all that is not yet. For the next few days learn the ways of nature's children, and play with them."


Chapter 10

The Protectors who were with Christopher, Nathan and Umber fed well - on meat. Their favourite sport was, of course, hunting, a delight that they shared with the wolves which accompanied them on the long march to Undain.

Their three captives had either seen or heard of how the Protectors hunted - Umber had been forced by her father to accompany him on hunting trips at times - so it was not new to them; but it was still horrifying.

The first time it happened on their trip, it was like this. One of the two leading Protectors spotted a deer with her fawn in the woods. He gave a cry, and at once the column stopped and all the Protectors rode together to focus on their prey. Umber could see that the deer wanted desperately to run away, but the Protectors were forcing them - willing them - to approach. Trembling in every limb, panting with fear, the deer came, step by unwilling step, closer to the four compelling horns of Malatite, and their wolves who were baying, though still held in check.

Then, when the deer had come to within about ten paces of the Protectors, the pack of wolves was released. The most horrible thing to see was perhaps the look on the Protectors' faces. On each there was a smile which was a snarl, and their jaws worked as if they, themselves, were sinking their teeth into the soft flanks of the mother and child, and licking the blood off their lips, and sniffing the hot-blooded scent of death.

They did not even eat any of that kill themselves, but left it all for their animals.

All along the way there was no form of animal or bird life which was safe. They would force birds down from the sky into their very hands, and then wring their necks. Many of these they kept, to be cooked and eaten later. They were strung together to be loaded onto the captives or the soldier-slaves.

Squirrels, too, they liked, because they could be forced to jump from the trees right into the murdering hands. Rabbits, which they would have to dismount to kill by hand, they would force under their horses' hooves, then crane their necks to see the blood and guts and eyeballs spurting. Occasionally, for a change, they would collect scores or even hundreds as they rode along until they came to a pond or river. Then they would delight in willing them all into the water until they drowned.

I am afraid that the wild life suffered more than usual on that journey. I wonder if you can guess why? It was because on top of their usual pleasure the Protectors now had the cream of watching the anguish in Christopher's eyes, and the whiteness of his face, as he strained against the chains in a vain attempt to do something. They therefore made a point of killing more animals, slowly and cruelly, right in front of his eyes.

Every so often they would come to a small village. The column would then stop and the Protectors would exchange news and goods with village Protectors. They would hand over some of the dead animals and in exchange the villagers, who would themselves not taste meat at all, would be ordered to hand over some of their bread or vegetables to feed the soldier-slaves. Their captives would get only the rotten and the mouldy.

If the Protectors were staying for any length of time - for a meal, or to spend the night - the captives were thrown into the village prison. Every village, no matter how small, seemed to have one: round, stone-built and windowless. The entrance was a small hole through which they had to crawl. No effort was wasted on a door: a hungry wolf was tied just outside the doorway.

On the third evening, when Christopher crawled into the prison that was awaiting them, he heard sounds in the darkness within. He had no idea what was making the sounds, but called out in an open voice, "May we enter?"

Somewhat to his relief a man's voice replied, though in a rather guarded way, "Aye."

When they had all crawled in, and their eyes had got used to the gloom, it was possible to see that there was just the one man there. He was approaching sixty, strong and stocky in build and somewhat taciturn at first.

Christopher introduced themselves. "My name is Christopher, and these are my friends Nathan and Umber. We have been captured and are being taken to the Enemy at Undain."

"Hm," the stranger replied, "That's as may be. But there's many a wolf that says it's a dog!"

Nathan interjected, "How dare you speak like that to the King!"

"I don't see a crown. And those chains don't look like they're made of gold. Anyways, we have no time for rulers of any kind, be they Kings or Protectors. We do the work. They get their way."

"There is truth in what you say," Christopher replied calmly. "Let us say that my father was King, and then forget it. You remember, Nathan," and he turned to face him in the gloom, "that I swore only to look after those sheep of my father's flock who would follow my voice. This man has a right to follow his own will."

"Aye, that's true enough: the right - but precious little freedom."

"That is not of our doing," Nathan, who was still angry, replied. "We are as much prisoners as you. And if it is your mind that we are really cats'-paws of the enemy, acting as prisoners only so as to befriend you by deceit, you must think as highly of yourself as if you were a King. Tell us then what is so special about yourself - it is not your clothes, nor your manners, I am thinking! - that would make the Enemy go to such trouble as this over you."

The man rubbed his unshaven chin thoughtfully, "Aye. You're right there. There's naught special about me. Maybe I have grown over-wary. My apologies. My name is John. Here's my hand."

And, with a strong and work-hardened hand, he took in turn the three proffered hands and shook them warmly.

Christopher, when he did so, said, "It is good to be your friend. I accept your hand gladly," and the other two followed his lead.

"Aye." John replied gruffly, but with a certain pleasure in his voice. "But fine words don't fill the belly, as we say. Well," he continued, "I may be no special body, but you've a right to hear about me. You're not going anywhere for a while, I judge. So if your Royal Highnesses would like to make yourselves comfortable like, I'll begin.

"I'm a miner. Always have been - always will be. In the old days I mined the coal. It were hard work even then, but I never minded hard work, so long as it were honest work. And coal gives honest heat and cooks honest meat. Which is a lot more than can be said about this cursed Mallet-Tight which the Pest is so cursed set on.

"When I were a boy, I were proud to follow my father down the pit. It were a man's job then. You held your arms high. It would be in your father's time, lad, I'm thinking," he said to Christopher. "Mind you, we were very poorly paid for our labour even then. But there were soul in the village, and laughter and songs of a night. We pulled together, and helped each other in the hard times.

"But since Him they call "The Greatest" - The Great Pest is the best I call him, and I usually call Him much worse, but not in front of the ladies," and he turned his head to Umber. "Since He came, things have gone from bad to worse.

"For a start we have those cursed "Protectors" everywhere. Humph! All they guard is their own fat bellies. Why, before the Pest, they were all wasters, no-goods, lazy cowardly naughts! Then along comes one of the Pest's men and before you come above ground what has happened? They are all wearing fine clothes. Wearing those cursed helmets that turn a man's body traitor. Moving into the best houses. And half the village is licking their bloody hands like starved hounds. And the rest are forced to work like slaves in the new mines to get even more of the cursed Mallet-Tight."

He paused for a while, seemingly overcome by an anger which was too great to be put into words. Then he continued, "Aye, well. What can't be cured must be endured. But I could not endure it any more. And so I escaped. I'm no loss. My children are grown - though into a poor sort of world to my -thinking - and my wife has been bought by the Mallet-Tight, and has no time for me. So I escaped. It were not easy. But I'm not so stupid as I may happen to look. And where there's a will, there's a way. And I do have my own will still, though there's many as doesn't, and I found a way."

He smiled happily for a moment, and then the smile faded into a frown. "Small good it's done me, though, seeing as I'm back in chains. It beats me how they bastards found me!

"Did you know that the Enemy - the Pest - can feel along each of his roads like a spider along its web?" Christopher asked gently.

John thought for a while. "Aye. That makes sense. It were a bit after I had crossed one - in the dead of night, mind - that they came at me out of the dark. A spider? Aye, that makes sense and all. Never liked the creatures. Too sly. Well, well! You live and learn, and I've learned something today. I'm not too proud to say thank you, even if you are a King - and I never thought as I would say thank you to a King! It's a long road that has no turning, they say. I've travelled quite a long road already, but I'm thinking that meeting you may be the turning."

"Well said!" responded Christopher. "Now then - you have escaped once, you say. Could you teach us how to escape a second time?"

"Well, now," John replied slowly and thoughtfully, "I'd never thought of it. I'd fair lost my spirit before you came along. It all seemed hopeless like. But where there's life there's hope, and you've put new life into me, there's no doubt." He paused for a moment in thought and then continued."There's no trouble about getting out of here, of course."

"But what about the wolf?" Nathan interjected.

"Never forget that there's more than one way to skin a cat. I wouldn't leave by yonder door, when the roof is as weak as a windle."

They all looked up, but in the gloom it was hard to make out the structure of the roof.

"Aye. They don't bother. They don't understand the making of things. Now in the mines, if your props aren't strong your life won't be long, as we say. My Dad taught me how to build strong and true, but they Protectors only see the show of the thing. Well, they've never done a day's work in their lives, so how could they know better? Anyways, I'm telling you that we can get out of the roof as easy as winking. But what then? I've no mind to be caught again."

"I have been thinking about that," Christopher answered. "There are a number of possibilities. We have already found one way of crossing His lines which works, and that is to cross in the middle of a herd of sheep. It might also be possible, with your skills, to dig a tunnel under them."

John rubbed his chin again doubtfully. "Aye. Maybe. But that would be the work of many days. And the Protectors would not be sat smiling at us like."

"True. And that is why I would like to take to water. I am certain that the Enemy's paths will not cross more than fordable streams. On deeper water we should be safe. It is my intention then to float down to the sea, where we will be completely free. We will then be able to travel around to Undain on the ocean, and find the Enemy where he least expects us."

"Well, now - as to the going by the water, that makes sense. But as to Undain! I thought that the Protectors were after taking you there now. Why go where they want you to go?"

"It will be the one place He will not be looking for us, to begin with. And secondly, it is the only place where we have a chance of cutting the roots of His power."

"Brave words, lad! But we'll have to walk before we can run, and there's many a slip `twixt the cup and the lip. However, I'm thinking. And what I'm thinking is that I have a brother-in-law who works the river. If we can flee this place, and if we can escape the wolves they'll put on our tracks, and if we can reach the river, and then if we can find him, then, I say, he is like to take us down to the sea with him on one of his trips. He's a not a bad lad, even though he's not a miner."

"Excellent. That's settled then. I suppose that the best time to leave will be late, but not too late, tonight. When most are abed, but the sound of us moving could still be taken for late-homers."

They were interrupted then by half a loaf of very stale bread being hurled through the doorway, followed by an earthenware bottle of water.

Umber sneered a little to herself when Christopher, having broken the bread into four, repeated the words, "It is good to have friends. It is good to have food to share. Will you share with me, my friends?" But whether it was hunger, or something else, she found the meal strangely satisfying.

She had grown to like John as she had listened to the talk. There was something about him that reminded her of her grandfather who had lived with them until she was five or six - the time at which her father had become a Protector. She had never found out what happened to him after that. Of course, he had been a farmer and not a miner, but there was the same feeling of strong and simple honesty about the two men which drew her now to say, "I am glad we've met you. You are the only nice thing that has happened since I got stuck in the cave."

"Aye, well," replied John, who seemed unused to and embarrassed by such remarks. "You're a nice well-mannered lass yourself. Not always throwing in your pick where others are working. But what cave were that? Some sort of mine?"

And soon Umber found herself telling him all about her adventures, skipping about from the burial cave, to her childhood, the Good House and her meeting with Elaine and Assin and the change in her parents when her father became a Protector. "Poor lass," said John and put a strong arm around her shoulders. Somehow this simple gesture made Umber cry - though she never cried in that way. But the tears passed in a few minutes, and she continued her tale with a stronger heart to tell of the trip to the Sacred Yew and the battles and the fire and the burial of Loyan.

She was not a brilliant story-teller, repeated herself a lot, and mixed up the order of things in her first telling, but John did not seem to mind. He listened intently, with no more than an occasional grunt of sympathy or anger.

She was running out of new things to say when Christopher interrupted, "I think it is now about time for us to start. So if you don't mind, John, perhaps you could show us how to get out?"

John rose slowly to his feet and eased his stiff limbs. Then he walked to the wall opposite to the door, and felt as high up it as he could. "Give me a hoist up, could you, lads?"

Christopher and Nathan together lifted him on their shoulders until he could readily reach the beams. There was then a time of heaving as he lifted and moved the loose-laid beams to one side or the other. The chain which linked his wrists together was quite long enough not to be much of a problem.

Then he whispered down, "It'll make it easier for the lass if we take down a few of these stones. There's no mortar `twixt one and the other."

Between them they worked carefully until the opening was large enough for John to squeeze through and for Umber to reach up to.

Then, as quietly as they could, they climbed out into the starlit night. It was a nerve-wracking business leaving the village. On the one hand instinct demanded that they get into the safety of the woods, where they would not be seen by any of the Protectors. But Christopher had a strong hunch that the Enemy Himself would detect them if they moved off the web of his roads, which included the village. He therefore planned to take what felt like the most dangerous path - to walk openly out on one of the roads.

"Come on," he spoke in a quiet but natural voice, "walk together, side by side, as if we are just going home to the next village. Picture the Protectors snoring off their gluttony in their feather beds. They aren't bothered about a few common villagers. And you know that the poor villagers themselves are by now concerned mostly to keep out of trouble. If any do have any doubts about us, they won't risk the Protectors' displeasure by waking them. For all they know we may be their friends. And if a wolf or dog gives warning - remember that there is nobody who will want the trouble of doing anything about it. They will most likely just tell the beast to be quiet and let them sleep. And just keep your hands at your sides so that the chains don't make a noise, and are hard to see."

His words were true. They did see one or two villagers, who simply slid past without a word, as if they themselves were guilty of being out so late. There was no other alarm and soon they were well outside the village and walking briskly down the open country road.


Chapter 11

"Well begun is half done," remarked John as they made their way through the silence of the night. "We're safely out, but where do we go next?"

"I know this road," Nathan spoke up. "It will lead us to a fair river some time tomorrow. And all rivers lead to the sea," he finished with a smile and a proverb, turning to John to see how it was received.

John simply nodded. "Aye."

The journey was not a pleasant one, though in the later hours a moon rose to lighten their way. If you are travelling on a rough road with the eerie feeling that some distant Evil Being might all the time be aware of you, and wolves might at any time be sent after you, then you can imagine that it does not feel like a holiday trip to the seaside.

There was no wind, and there was a deathly silence all round them. There was not even an owl. Christopher guessed that most of the wildlife had learned to be extremely wary of the road and of any travellers along it. The blood shed on it since the Protectors had taken control must have burned like a hot iron into the senses of all creatures who came near.

They had plenty of time to think and talk about their plans. It did not look good. They had no weapons. They had not yet been able to get rid of the chains which loosely bound their wrists together. If Nathan's memory was correct, their road would lead to a village where there would undoubtedly be Protectors. There seemed to be no way to get through.

Dawn was approaching, and with it a distant view of rooftops. Then, in a nearby field, Christopher noticed some grazing horses. "You can ride, I know, Nathan. What about you others?" John and Umber both looked doubtful.

"Well, now, I've more use for two legs than four," John admitted.

"My father tried to get me to ride, and so I didn't, of course," added Umber, who was beginning to wish that she had not been quite so stubborn.

"Then you, Umber, can ride behind me, and John can try to hold on behind Nathan."

Christopher opened a gate and went into the field. He did not go up to the horses but instead made a strange whinnying sound and waited.

After some minutes the horses came over, and it was quite a time later, after they had made friends, that Christopher finally mounted. It was with some difficulty that the others got up, but in the end they were all seated and rode around the field a few times to get the feel of riding bareback.

There had been five horses in the field, and when they set off on two, the remaining three followed on. Christopher seemed to be encouraging this, if anything.

"I am trusting that the Protectors are still not awake," Christopher said softly, "and hoping that they have only these horses in the village. Ride on quietly until I give the word."

As they entered the outskirts of the village all was silent. Smoke was rising from one or two chimneys, but no one came out of the cottages to investigate the sound of the horses. Towards the centre the houses got larger and there they first saw a woman, going about her business. She cast a sidelong glance at them, and then went inside. Still there was no outcry. They passed the prison, a twin to the one they had left with its wolf at the door. The houses were beginning to get smaller again. Two men saw them and stared, but did nothing. Then a howl came from behind them. Turning, they saw a man standing, half-dressed, with his hands busy at the wolf's chain.

Then things happened quickly. The wolf came after them. "Gallop!" cried Christopher. Voices were raised behind them, angrily shouting. Umber and John could think of nothing but hanging on as the horses accelerated into a gallop and the ground started to flash beneath them. They were soon far from the sound of all voices but that of the wolf, which seemed to be gaining. It was no longer necessary to urge the horses. They were running as if for their lives, in the brightening day.

A quarter of an hour later they approached a crossroads. Near it was a forge, with its anvil and other tools of the trade lying near.

"Stop here!" John shouted in Nathan's ear.

"We follow my Lord," was the reply.


Christopher heard him the second time and slowed down, despite the wolf which was now very close.

John tumbled off the horse, and fell with a heavy thump. It is hard to keep your balance if your arms are chained. But he was quickly up, and seized a pick which was lying against the wall of the forge. The wolf may have been expecting an easy kill, like most it had experienced. What it found was a pick wielded by an expert which not only went straight through its skull, but pinned it to the ground as if it had been a butterfly pinned to a board.

There was a moment of peace, to mark the death. Then the door opened and the smith filled the frame with his mighty body. He took in the scene.

"Now, lad," John began, "I'm sorry to have made such a mess of your yard, but needs must when the devil drives. I thank you for the kind use of your tool. And I'll thank you again for the use of a hammer and chisel to rid us of these baubles."

He held out his chains. The smith looked slowly from one to the other. Then a slow smile dawned. "It's good to see that there are still men in the world. Aye, I'll help you, though it cost me my life. Better to die a free man than live a slave."

It was only a matter of minutes before all the chains had been removed, and melted down into a mass of iron in the furnace.

"It will maybe make someone a ploughshare," the smith said with grim satisfaction. The wolf was buried.

After a discussion, the horses were then driven off in one direction, leaving their hoof prints in the mud of the road, while the four continued on foot down the track which would soon reach the river.

The smith had promised to direct any pursuers after the horses, and so give them breathing-space. He waved them on their way with a merry smile.

The river bank was soon reached. There was still a mist lying over the deep and slow waters as they turned to take the footpath which ran alongside it.

"Our next step," Christopher said, "is to reach the sea. I like your plan of seeking help from your brother-in-law, John, if it will not put him into too much danger. But how can we possibly find him? I suppose he could be anywhere?"

"Nay, lad. The water folk stick together like. If we can find one that trusts us, we'll soon hear of the whereabouts of Bill."

I don't know if you have ever walked through the morning mists? It was a thick and clammy one they had that day to begin with. They could see only a few yards ahead. At times the river disappeared. Trees would loom suddenly, black and overshadowing, then disappear mysteriously behind them. Once or twice Christopher lost the path and nearly ended in the river.

Then there came the time when they heard sounds on the path ahead of them - heavy sounds, coming closer. Christopher, who was in the lead, stopped and indicated that they should move into the comparative safety of the trees which lined the river.

But John stayed still and said in a clear voice, "Ahoy there!"

"Ahoy!" A voice came back out of the mist ahead of them, closely followed by the figure of a man. A horse's head was floating beside him. Then the rest of the horse followed.

"I'll walk alongside you for a step, if I may," John said to the man, and then to the others added, "The lad's towing. If he stops, the boat will lose way. I'll be back in a few minutes."

The others waited, hearing John's voice slowly growing more distant.

"Aye, I've a kinsman on the river. Big Bill they call him - him being so short like. On the Marguerite." And then his voice faded into the mist. The others saw the towing- rope as it passed, but the boat they knew only by the sound of its wash as it slid past, invisible in the mist.

Five minutes later he returned. "Well, we're in luck. Bill passed down the river not above an hour ago. Best feet forward and we'll be with him before the sun's high."

And he was right. On the way the sun had broken through the mist and then scattered it, to create a gloriously fresh day. They passed several other boats being drawn up-river, and wished them good day, but John did not seem to feel that there was any need to ask them for more news of his brother-in-law. "Least said, soonest mended, in these dark times," he said to Umber when she asked him about it. "And even walls have ears."

Umber found herself feeling a great deal better, and breathing more easily. She remarked on it, and Christopher replied, "Yes, it is because we are free of the poison of the Enemy's web. It is one of those poisons that you notice at once when you come to them, but which act to dull your fear of them, the longer you breathe them. We are now breathing free air again. But remember that it is a mixed blessing. The Enemy Himself will have noticed when we left the web, at the river. He will now be stirring up His minions to reach out for us, to seize us again.

"He has many ways of reclaiming victims: to some He will say, `Come back and you shall have comfort and riches,' to others, `You know that you will have to come back in the end, so why struggle?' Others again He will attack by the force of His will, acting through the Protectors and their helmets. The pains in the head and body will bring most back into the web, where the pains fade again. In other cases He will use friends or relatives who are under His power to bring back His lost prey."

Christopher stopped, seeing that Umber was growing glum. He smiled. "I am sorry. I wanted to warn you against His wiles. But His power is nothing like as strong as He would like you to think. Be of good cheer, and breathe in the air of life."

At that point he was interrupted by a distant shout.

"That'll be Bill," observed John, and he was proved right ten minutes later when they caught up with the Marguerite.

Big Bill was under five foot high, and only a fraction taller than Umber. But he was not a man you would argue with. What he lacked in height he made up for in sheer muscular width, not to mention a voice like a foghorn. In fact they had heard his voice many bends in the river before they saw the man himself.


"Aye, I had. Then I was captured. But since then I've escaped, as you can see, helped by these friends of mine. So perhaps you had better not talk quite so loud."


"Don't mind Bill," John whispered to Umber as they stepped onto the boat which had pulled over for them. "That's just his way. There are no rats - he's got the best terrier on the river - and I'll warrant that there'll be more than a few biscuits too."

He was right. On a small stove was perched an enormous cauldron, as round-bellied and generous as Big Bill himself. Out of it he helped his guests to great bowlfuls of a stew which would have been delicious at any time. Since none of them had eaten more than a little, and that stale or rotten, for several days, it was like being in Heaven.

When Bill ladled out their third helpings he chuckled, "WHEN MY BISCUITS RUN LOW, I FIND THAT CHEWING ON THIS ANCHOR KEEPS THE PANGS AWAY."

John smiled, and said in a low voice, "He means the cauldron. It's like this. Now and again the Protectors come and `inspect' the boats - looking for anything they can take, like. Well now Bill hates them, like we all do. But he is crafty. He calls out, "I'll lower the anchor, then you can come aboard and share a bite." Then over goes the cauldron - you'll notice that tight lid, and the chain on the handle? Out comes the tin of special biscuits, and he's all hospitality. The Protectors go away hungry of course. His biscuits are famous. Hard as rock. Baked flour and salt."

Umber stared at Big Bill to see his reaction. He winked, a slow and knowing wink. "I'M GLAD YOU'VE GOT STRONG TEETH, LASS. STRONG TEETH MAKE A FULL BELLY, AS JOHN HERE WOULD SAY."

After the meal was over Christopher, in a quiet voice, outlined his hopes of making their way south to Undain by sea, secretly.

Big Bill took it all in, his eyes bright with intelligence. When Christopher had finished, he bawled, though with another wink, "NOW, SHIPMATES, YOU'VE FEASTED ON MY BISCUITS. I EXPECT SOME HARD WORK IN RETURN. I'M SHORT-HANDED FOR A LONG TRIP UP NORTH. YOU'LL COME WITH ME?"

Christopher smiled and said, "Yes, we'll come."

Umber found nothing but enjoyment on the trip down the river. If you can imagine having a holiday after knowing nothing but school for almost as long as you can remember, then you may know how she felt.

She loved the feeling of freedom that came from being always on the move; she loved the feeling of adventure as new places kept appearing; she loved the men she was with who all treated her with respect; and she loved helping around the boat. "YOU'RE THE BEST CABIN-BOY I'VE EVER HAD!" These words glowed in her heart.

She scrubbed the decks, she polished the brasswork until it shone, she learned to steer and to moor the boat, she could drop "anchor" as fast as lightning; she learned to catch fish and to prepare them for the pot; she scrubbed and peeled vegetables; she washed up. There was nothing she did not do: she was busy from morning to night.

And that was a girl who did absolutely nothing when she was at home! You will perhaps notice this happening many times as you go through life: people work a million times harder at things that they want to do than they will ever do at things that they only have to do.

She made special friends with Big Bill's terrier, Tiger. Tiger was one of the smallest terriers that she had seen, and was soon as friendly as a lamb with her. She naturally thought that his name was another of Bill's jokes.

But one day a stray dog wandered onto the boat while they were moored, and started to sniff around in an interested sort of way. It could not complain that it had no warning: Tiger's anger would even have drowned his master's voice. But the warning did not last long. Tiger turned himself into a brown and white missile which exploded into the intruder, whose leg was soon in danger of being chewed off. Moments later it was in the river, yelping piteously, while Tiger was standing on the side of the boat uttering the most dire warnings about what would happen if the stranger should dare to intrude on his boat again.

After that Umber had a new respect for Tiger, and an understanding of his name.

Their progress was not fast. None of the river boats seemed to be in a hurry. At times they seemed to be moored for a long time for no reason. When asked, Big Bill might say, "THE WATER'S TOO DRY JUST NOW. WE'LL WAIT A WHILE. IT'LL WETTEN UP IN ITS OWN GOOD TIME." But he would give a wink as he said it.

No matter how much Umber questioned him, he would give no more sensible answer. But John took pity on her and explained that Bill had gained an excellent idea of the times and places the Protectors were likely to come and search craft. He was simply pacing their progress to avoid as many of such incidents as possible.

After a couple of days the river opened out into the beginnings of a wide estuary, where it was possible to use sail easily and freely. Umber's heart soared inside her at the sight of so much water - she had never been to the sea. She tried to tell Big Bill how she felt about it.


Umber was pleased, but asked, "What do you mean?"


She turned to John in doubt, but he nodded in agreement. Bill just laughed in delight at the look on her face. She had never been so thrilled in her life!


Chapter 12

After a couple of days Elaine had made friends with scores of wild animals, following the ways that Margaret had taught her. She also spent happy hours learning the kinds of music that each animal and bird liked most.

The rabbits loved deep music, like the sound of the wind echoing in the organ pipes of a burrow. The birds of course preferred high music, like their own calls.

With practice and patience Elaine learned to bring larger animals to her as well. Badgers come only come if it was nearly dark. Foxes would come at any time, but would seldom stay long. Deer were very fond of coming when they learned to trust her, and would sometimes leave their young fawns while they went off to graze by themselves further afield.

Late on the third day she was wondering what other animals she could call to herself with love. She thought briefly about horses, but that reminded her of donkeys, and of Assin.

She was not altogether sure if it was right to ask Assin to come in the way that she had learned to do with the other animals. But she thought she would try. So she stilled herself. Then she made an Assin-shaped space inside her heart and outside in the world: and held them there for what must have been about half an hour.

The picture she was using was of Assin having just walked out of the wood. So she was rather surprised that the first sign of his presence was the familiar deep voice. "You wanted me, dear Elaine?"


She looked around and asked, "Where are you?" There was no sign of him anywhere.

"What do you want with me?"

Again she looked around, but there was nothing new to see. She thought back to the voice. It had not seemed to come from any one place. It was more as if it was just inside her own head.

"Please show yourself!" Elaine was beginning to get a little frightened. It was a bit too much like talking with a ghost.

"Very well."

And then quite suddenly, there he was again, in front of her. She ran up and put her arms around the warm familiar neck. "Oh, it's so nice!"

"Do you like me better this way?"

"Oh, yes!"

"That is well. But it is better still not to be frightened if I am not here to hold. Are you frightened talking to someone you can't see on the telephone?"

"Of course not!"

"Then why be afraid when I am talking but cannot be seen?"

Elaine's arms were empty again and she nearly stumbled.

"Now then, let us start again." She could still hear the warm and patient voice in her head, and was not now as frightened. "You have a lot of furry friends that you can call when you want a cuddle. Why, especially, do you want me?"

Elaine thought hard, and spoke slowly. "I suppose .. because you are special ... you make me feel safe ... you help me know what I am supposed to do next."

"Yes. Why not ask me then?"

"Assin, what should I do next?"

"A good question, dear Elaine. Go to Amuel and ask him to let you have The Book."

"But why?"

"Remember what I told you a long time ago. Most of the answers to your questions are not best given in words. Go. Do."

"All right then, I will."

"Goodbye. Now, when you need me, you know how to call."

"Yes, I do. Goodbye."

"I hold you in my heart..." and in her head the two voices, the deep and the light, merged, " ...my friend."

When Elaine found Amuel, she thought that he might be cross or puzzled by her request for "The Book". "After all there are thousands of books, not just one," she thought. But he calmly walked to a bookcase, took out a book and handed it to her.

"Here you are," he said, with a gentle smile.

"Thank you," Elaine replied, with no enthusiasm in her voice. She had, without knowing it, been expecting something special. "The Book" suggested the best or biggest or brightest of books. In fact the book she held in her hand was an ordinary black book, with far too many pages for her taste. She quickly flicked through some pages. As she feared! All words, and small ones at that - and no pictures.

Amuel was still looking at her with his smile. She tried not to show her disappointment, said "Thank you" again, and walked outside. I am sure that you have been in that position. You have been promised a present. You are expecting a special one. It turns out to be something completely hopeless. But she had expected that Assin at least would know what she liked!

It was a bit of a problem, that book. She did not know what to do with it. She did not like to put it down in an odd corner, but it was a burden carrying it around with her. In the end she took it up to her room and put it on the bed.

Margaret noticed it there at bedtime, when she was, as usual, brushing and plaiting Elaine's hair. "I see you have been given The Book."

"Yes." The reply was flat.

"Perhaps you would read a little to me while I am brushing?"

"If you like." Elaine politely, but with no enthusiasm, went over to the bed and picked the book up. "Where shall I start - the beginning?"

"No. It is not that sort of book. If you are going to have a swim, you do not have to start at the beginning of the river. Just let it fall open. Begin where your eyes rest. You can always swim back a bit if you want to."

Elaine did as she was told. She read for a minute or two without finding any meaning at all, the way you do at times when starting. Then suddenly some words seized her: "I call you friends."

The memory of that first meal she had shared beside the river with Christopher and Assin flooded into her. The book disappeared. She was again holding the Christmas cake, and about to share it. And all the happiness of that day was hers again. She held it for long minutes, until it slowly faded.

"Oh, sorry!" she said, when she returned to the bedroom. "I did not mean to stop."

"Do not be sorry. You did right. You are learning to read The Book in one of the important ways."

"It makes me want to find Christopher. Where is he? You said he was safe. But where?"

Margaret gave no direct answer, but replied, "Read again."

Elaine, a little crossly, did so. But of course her mind was not on it, and she read several pages like a robot, while her heart was busy with Christopher.

Then, "... a Well of living water..." These words came alive as she spoke them. It was as if Assin was saying them with her. And then she seemed to be at the White Wells again, peering into the depths, looking for Christopher. She could not make a picture come clearly. It was waving about a lot. But it did seem as if she was looking at a boat, tossing about on the sea.

"Yes." Ruth's voice brought her back again. "This Book is a window. Through it hidden things are seen. This Book is a door which leads to many places. This Book is filled with living water, which gives life to many."

"But the old woman said that about the Well."

"Yes, I said it about the Well. Remember. Listen, Elaine. Learn. See the same spirit in different bodies; the same purpose in different things. Know the many uses of one thing; the many answers to one question."

"How shall I find Christopher?"


Again, though with less irritation than before, Elaine picked up The Book and started to read the words. They seemed warmer somehow, as if the meaning was coming closer to the surface. Then her eye seemed to put together words from two parts of the page: "Follow me," and "sheep" Again the page dissolved and there was a clear picture of a flock of sheep, with a ram leading them. She was in the picture herself, following. And in the distance was a figure that she knew to be Christopher.

"What have you seen?" Ruth's gentle voice dissolved the scene. Elaine told her.

"That is an answer to your question. Tomorrow you may choose to take that way."

"What way?"

"Follow the ram."

"But... it might lead anywhere. I don't know where to find it..."

"Elaine, you sometimes seem like a ram to me." Elaine's mouth opened in bewilderment. "Do you know why? It is because you "but" me so often! You have asked a question. You have been given an answer. Try it. If there are problems on the way, ask again. Now it is time for bed."

The next morning was another bright and sunny one. After breakfast Elaine wandered outside and after a while realised that at least she did know how to find the sheep. It puzzled her that she had not thought of calling them to her before. And within quarter of an hour she saw a flock coming towards her. At their head was the magnificent ram of her vision!

She petted the sheep for a while. The ram, however, did not seem to want to remain, but kept walking purposefully off, calling to the ewes with a deep bleat. At first Elaine was annoyed because they kept following him and going away from her. Then the words "Follow me" came into her head, and her heart changed.

She rushed into the House and gasped out, "Margaret! I have found the sheep! Shall I follow them? I will need some food."

Rush smiled and handed her the bag and the flute that were ready in her hands. "Go in peace. I hold you in my heart, my friend."

Elaine gave her a quick hug of thanks and returned the words of parting. Then she dashed out after the disappearing line of sheep.

They were taking a path down the hillside and into the trees which filled the valley. Elaine had realised some days ago that she was on the North side of the Wharfe Valley, not far from where Middleton Lodge had been if not at the same place - and so they were now going down towards where the town of Ilkley had been.

The path through the woods was cool and green. Her heart was high that morning and she felt fit to walk a thousand miles.

They reached the river with no difficulty. It was at its summer low, and where the path met it, it could be easily forded by anyone who did not mind wet knees.

The ram entered without hesitation, and the rest of the flock followed. Some of the lambs of the year, who were not yet fully grown, lost their footing; but after a brief panic they managed to scramble through.

The path then began to ascend the gentle slope of the South side of the river.

Soon after that something changed. For no reason at all that she could see, Elaine started to feel panic. Her heart raced; she wanted to scream and run away; her stomach started to protest; her hands were sweating. It was a terrible feeling, and all the worse because there was nothing to explain it. The sheep were still walking their woolly way just as before. She wondered if she was going mad.

Then just as she was on the point of running back to the river screaming, she found that the trees had given way on each side. The sheep were crossing a rough roadway which was running along the valley. It was hard to breathe. And then she realised where she had felt like this before. It was when crossing the Enemy's web-path. Only that time she had had Christopher and the others with her and so the fear had not grown to a panic.

For a moment there was a great relief. A fear that you understand is always much less frightening than one you don't. Elaine did not exactly feel happy. There was still that horrible feeling of being watched by small evil eyes and the fear that a giant spider might come down the road at any time. But at least she knew that as soon as she was well over the road, the fear would pass.

Her relief did not last long. For while she was still half way across, she heard the sound of hoof-beats, and before she had reached the cover of the woods on the far side, she saw - and had been seen by - a horseman.

She ran as fast as she could into the trees, stumbling past the sheep as well as she could. Behind her came shouts, and with them the buzzing sound that was all too familiar. But this time she remembered the words of the Song she had learned and filled her mind with them - "The love of light is in my mind..." So that although the dark anger of the Protector came very close at times, it failed to lodge within as it had done the first time.

But for all that, he was coming closer - and with him, his wolves. In one way that was a blessing, for at the first howl the sheep really took notice and started to run. And even though they were going uphill quite steeply now, they made very good speed indeed.

Ten minutes later they had climbed out of the woods and were on the lower slopes of Ilkley Moor. Elaine was very badly out of breath. The sheep were still running on and up ahead of her. Just at this point the wolves caught up with her. She heard the panting of their breath, and the thump of heavy bodies on the ground. She was expecting the tearing teeth to pull her to the ground, as she had once seen them do to a reindeer on television. But I suppose that they had been trained not to kill children unless ordered to, and the sight of the fleeing sheep was too much for their deeper instincts. So they flew on after the flock, leaving Elaine shaking and panting.

In this respite Elaine had a few moments to take out the flute and screw it together. There had not been elbow room on the narrow forest path.

Some of her breath had come back by the time the Protector's horse had forced its way up and out onto the moor. So though the tune she played was quite breathy and unsteady, it had enough spirit in it to shake the man badly. He put his hands to his head, to try to cover his ears, and then galloped some distance away until the music was too faint to hurt. There he started to call to the wolves, angrily and repeatedly.

Reluctantly they turned from their prey (which, with many a bleat and baa, continued onto the high moor) and came down the hillside to his side.

The Protector repeatedly set them on to attack Elaine. "Kill! Kill! Kill!" Time and again they would run towards her with fierce eyes and dripping jaws. But each time, when they came within about ten paces, the sound of the flute would become stronger than the shouts of the Protector, and they would fall back.

I wonder what you would do if you were surrounded in that way? Elaine thought hard. She was safe as long as she could blow. But she would have to sleep some time, and long before that her mouth would be too tired to blow accurately. And on the flute that means no music at all.

In the end she started to climb. She did not quite know why at first, but after ten minutes she realised that unconsciously she was making for where the White Wells had stood. Probably the vision of the night before guided her. But on every step of the way she was surrounded by the wolves in close attendance, howling with the pain in their heads, as the two voices fought. And further away, but following, was the Protector on his horse, directing his fury at her through the will-forcing horn of Malatite.

When she reached the level of the Well, she saw the pool as it had been the first time. She looked in. She saw Christopher. He was not on a boat, as she had expected. He was standing beside a wide river. There were people near him, and he looked relaxed and happy.

"Strange!" she thought. "Last time I saw him, he was surrounded by wolves. This time the wolves are going to kill me!" And she remembered the terrible wounds that she had seen.


Chapter 13

As Elaine stood on the edge of the pool, a voice came into her mind. "This Well is a door." She could not tell if it was Ruth's voice, or the Old Lady's. In fact she was not sure now if there was a difference.

With only the slightest of hesitations - the wolves were very close - she jumped. Her feet hit the water first, and soon the water was swirling over her head. She had forgotten how cold it was, and dark. Again she seemed to be sinking forever. All thoughts of the wolves and the Protector were centuries away. Then came the exhilaration and the growing warmness. For some reason the thought, "I wonder if dying is like this?" came into her mind. She began to rise. Light returned. Her head broke the surface. She took a great gasp of fresh air. "Christopher!" she cried.

Christopher, standing on the bank of the river where she had seen him, turned to find a fully clothed Elaine struggling to climb out of the water. His strong arms soon lifted her up beside him. "Welcome, Elaine!"

It was wonderful to be back with her friends, and to find that Umber and Nathan were safe and alive also. She wanted to hear all that had happened to them but Christopher stopped her. "We have newly landed. The Enemy will at any moment become aware of our existence. But as yet He will have made no plans, for this is the last place He would expect us. We will move on swiftly to the centre of the Kingdom."

They marched together down the road to the city of Undain. Big Bill led the way. He was swaggering and even louder than ever. The real reason for this was that he was feeling unsafe as he moved away from his boat and the water. But he always hid his fears with greater shows of confidence. After him, Christopher and Nathan walked side by side. Umber and Elaine came next. Christopher had asked Elaine to play the Sacred Tune, so she was unable to talk, but Umber made up for it by chattering most of the time about her adventures. A pace or two behind them was John, last in line, looking around in wonder at the strange places he had come to.

Tiger was running about in high excitement - sometimes up in the lead with his master, sometimes off to one side to explore some new smell, sometimes running up and down the line as if to check that he had got all his people in order, and that none were straggling. He was having a wonderful time.

As they approached the city walls there were more and more houses beside the road, and more and more people on it. To John's amazement, though, none so much as looked at them."They're right strange folk, hereabout." he muttered, "They might be so busy as not to pass the time of day, but I never heard of folk that wouldn't even look at a stranger!"

But in a little while they did at least get some children's attention. Attracted by the music, they walked along, shyly at first.

"HELLO LITTLE LAD, WOULD YOU LIKE A RIDE?" Big Bill's invitation was irresistible. He soon had a couple of boys on his broad shoulders. They were quiet and nervous at first, but Bill soon had them smiling, and then laughing. They laughed as if they had a lifetime of unlaughed laughter to use. Other children were soon patting and fondling Tiger despite, or because of, Bill's jocular warning. "YOU MIND THAT BEAST. TIGER, HE'S CALLED. EAT YOU ALIVE, HE WILL, IF YOU'RE NOT CAREFUL!"

Other children were soon demanding rides, and first Christopher and then Nathan and John were called into service to help. Umber was not to be left out and was soon carrying a child on her back as well. Their progress was becoming more like a carnival every moment.

Some mothers, concerned for the safety of their children, were the next to take notice. They came with drawn and anxious faces. But within five minutes the music and the almost unknown laughter softened their hearts, and they relaxed. Many smiled and looked a good ten years younger.

And so, as the sun rose in the sky, the small band grew larger and larger as men and women became infected by the mood and joined in, without having the slightest idea what it was all about. For the children it was like the holiday of a lifetime. You know how noisy it can get in a swimming pool on a hot summer's day, when hundreds of you are screaming and shouting and laughing? Imagine that multiplied by itself as thousands of people were released from as much as a lifetime of joylessness.

As the sun was reaching its highest, the whole crowd reached the City Walls, high, hard, dark and ominous.

The mood sobered a little, and people stepped aside to let the small group of six at their heart walk up to the mighty gate. It was closed. Christopher approached it. There was a small grill let into the oak.

He spoke. "I and my friends would enter the City."

A harsh voice from within replied, "No entry except to those with a Mounted Escort."

"Then will you provide us with such an Escort?"

"Mounted Escorts obtainable by personal request to The Greatest."

"Then may I see The Greatest?"

"He will receive all who come to Him."

"Where is He, then?"

"In the Palace, the heart of the City."

"Then may I enter to ask Him?"

"No entry except to those with a Mounted Escort."

Christopher turned to the crowd, and with a loud voice called, "Does anyone have a horse I could borrow?"

There was a silence. Clearly only the Protectors had horses. And presumably these were all within the City Walls.

Elaine longed to be able to help. A moment later she realised that she might be able to do so. She had learned to call animals. So she put her whole heart into calling for a horse. It was hard not to get too impatient or anxious, which would have spoiled it, by making her desire an order and not an open-hearted asking.

But it seemed that her prayer was answered within minutes, for voices were being raised from the outskirts of the crowd. "Here's a mount for him - Let it through - Out of the way - But it's not... - It'll do - Let it through."

Minutes later the distant swirl of movement in the crowd came closer to reveal - a donkey. A donkey! Could it be...?

Christopher, who had a better view, being taller, decided first. "Assin!" he cried happily. The donkey did not speak, and in no way that Elaine could see did it behave differently from the Assin she had known all those years ago - as it seemed - in the field. But in her mind the deep voice spoke. "You called me, Elaine. Not for yourself but for another. That is good."

Christopher mounted. Then he motioned to Nathan, who went forward to the door.

"Open!" he shouted loudly. "We have a Mounted Escort. Obey the rules or suffer the punishment."

A startled eye appeared at the grill. It took in the sight of a man riding. Such was the power of the training that the Gate-Keeper had had in obedience to the mounted Protectors that that one glance was enough. At once there was the sound of sliding bolts. The door slowly and massively swung open. Christopher rode through.

"How... How large is your party?" the Gate-Keeper gasped.

"All those who follow me are of my party."

And a great wave of people followed him into the City, cheering and waving.

Within the city walls there were many great buildings. They were of two sorts. There were some which were grand and noble and satisfied your eyes. There were other, more recent ones, that made you feel that they could easily crush you.

Nathan, because of his soldier's training, was very much on the look-out for the Enemy. To his surprise there was very little sign. He had expected a massive attack before now. He sometimes thought that he glimpsed a helmeted head through a window, or just disappearing around a corner. His heart was filled with foreboding. "Rats in a trap!" was what he was thinking to himself, but he said nothing. Indeed it would have been hard even to make himself heard above the noise of the crowd.

Finally they reached the Palace. In front of it there was a large open space, and in the middle of that there was a stone podium, the height of a man. Christopher dismounted from Assin, climbed the steps, and stood silently on the top of the podium. There he waited until all the mighty sea of people had washed into the space around him and grown still. Then he asked those close to him to sit. Those behind sat as well, and the wave of motion spread out until the whole crowd was sitting comfortably and expectantly.

Then Christopher raised his hands high and spoke.

"Friends, open the ears of your hearts to me! Children, listen to me!

"Once upon a time there were two brothers. In the land where they lived there were many wolves who preyed on their sheep. One day the elder brother said, `I will fight these wolves and kill them.' He went into the hills; he learned the ways of the wolves; he learned to track; he learned to kill. He taught other men to follow him as wolves follow the leader of the pack. They learned well, and in time all the wolves were dead.

"But what happened then? Did these men become shepherds again? No. They had grown to love the hunt too much: the thrill of the kill. They began to attack the sheep themselves, and then the shepherds. They had become the very wolves they had thought to destroy!

"Let your hearts understand my words."

Christopher paused for a while. Then he continued. "In this world there is darkness and there is light. There is good and bad, hatred and love. It is for each of us to choose which path to follow. But do not think that you can conquer darkness by yet more darkness, nor that you can overcome evil by evil nor yet master hatred by hating. For the battle-ground is within yourselves, not without, as you imagine.

"My father fought the Enemy using the Enemy's own weapons - domination through Malatite. You know what happened. It killed him, which is no tragedy: we all die. The tragedy is that before his death it turned him into one like the Enemy himself."

Again he paused. There was silence for a minute and then the low sound of murmuring in the crowd. "Is he the new King then?.... I didn't know ... But what about the Protectors?.... I like him... He'll be no better, you'll see. Better stick with the devil you know...He makes sense somehow... But look how young he is..."

"Listen. I have not come to be your King: I am only a shepherd. But I have come to set you free. Listen, any of you who have been given rich things by the Enemy. He has enslaved you to himself not through the riches, but through your desire for riches. Listen, any of you who have been given power by the Enemy. He has enslaved you not through the power (which is in any case an illusion - you do only His will): He has enslaved you through your love of power. Listen, any of you who have been enslaved through weakness. Where is the weakness? Is it not in you? Listen, any of you who have been enslaved because you follow others. Where is the desire to follow? Is it not in yourself? Listen, any of you who have been enslaved through fear. Where is the fear? Is it not inside you?

"Brothers and sisters, the battle with the Enemy is won or lost within each of us. Like a spider He does not mind which dark corner of your being He gets into. Once inside He will work to darken the windows of your soul with further webs of deceit and lies, until the whole place belongs to Him.

"Brothers and sisters, the path to freedom lies open before each of us, and is within each of us. I have come to show you the way. I have come to bring light into the inner corners of your living homes. Listen."

Then he motioned to Elaine to play, and once she had played the Tune the first time, he joined in with the words the second time. Very soon the crowds of people all around began to join in with the simple words, "The love of light is in my mind....", and with growing power the words and music filled the whole square. They sang for hours. Some quietly; some with tears in their eyes; some with dancing and laughter; but all with a deepening joy.

Finally Christopher stood again with his arms outspread. "Now you have come to the light. May you remain children of the light, even when darkness falls around you. Go in peace."

As the crowd began to disperse, Big Bill caught Christopher's arm. "There is a woman here," he said, "who had very kindly offered us a place to stay in the City. What do you think?" Christopher looked her in the eyes for a few seconds and then smiled and nodded.

As they started to move after her, Elaine looked around for Assin. He was nowhere to be seen. But the dismay passed quickly - she knew now that he would never be far away. They followed the woman away from the Palace and the square through a maze of streets that got smaller and humbler around every corner. Finally they came to a plain wooden door, and the woman led them in.

"I have little to offer you, but all that I have is yours," were her simple words.

Christopher replied, "It is good to be your guests. We accept your gifts gladly."

After washing they sat down around the one wooden table and talked about all that had been happening, while the woman - her name was Mary - was busy preparing food. They were all now feeling hungry since no one had eaten since breakfast-time. Thinking of this reminded Elaine of Ruth's pack, which she had been carrying on her back all day. She opened it and put onto the table a loaf of bread, a flask and - the goblet that she knew so well.

It held everyone's eyes. In the fading light of day it was already possible to see the inner light which seemed to fill the bowl and flow softly over the table around. Only Christopher and Elaine had seen it before. The others all grew still and gazed on it with awe.

"It is good," Christopher said, "that we should all drink together from this cup." He looked at Mary. "I see that our meal is ready. I hope that you will be eating with us?" She smiled happily, and sat at the bottom end of the table.

Before eating they gave thanks in the usual way, and shared both the bread from the Good House and the hot but simple meal which Mary had prepared for them. Christopher was at the head of the table. On one side sat Elaine and Nathan, while Umber sat on the other, choosing to be squashed between John and Bill.

When they had finished eating, Christopher took the cup and carefully emptied into it the flask that Elaine had brought. It was not a large flask, and he added to the cup some of the water that Mary had provided for their meal.

Then, in the deepening twilight, softened by only a few candles, he raised the glowing goblet and said, "Friends! All fruit on the same tree drink from the one sap. When we drink from this one cup, it will make us one."

He drank first, and then in silence passed the goblet around them all - Elaine, Nathan, Mary, John, Umber and finally Big Bill, who finished the last drop.

The empty cup still shone as it stood in the middle of the humble table. In its glow Elaine looked at the faces around her. They were so different. John's was lined with age and labour, scarred from accidents in the mines, and white through lack of sun. Umber's was so fresh and young: indeed she looked younger than when Elaine had first met her - she was so much happier and more relaxed with her new friends. Big Bill's head on his massive shoulders was another complete contrast: his white hair topped a red and weather-beaten face, while Umber's red hair framed the natural white of her skin.

Christopher looked the best of them all, to Elaine's eyes. He had not changed since she had first seen him beside the small river. He looked young beside the two other men, and yet, she thought, there was something about him which was much older - wise older, not old older. She looked at Mary more closely than before. Again she noticed the differences: the plump softness of her middle-aged face and figure; the long flowing hair - a total contrast to the lean, hard-muscled young soldier next to her, with his tight-curled black hair.

They were all so different, and yet - and yet it seemed to her as she looked around that there was now something in all their faces which was the same. Just as it is the same sun which brings to life all the different pictures in a church's windows, so it seemed that there was the same light shining through each face.

And she thought how very, very lucky she was to be allowed to be with these people. She did not realise that each of the others was feeling the same about her and the rest.

A deep, deep silence had fallen on them all, woven from peace and unity. It was torn apart by the noise of loud banging at the door and harsh voices demanding entry.


Chapter 14

"Open the door, Nathan, before they break it down." Christopher's voice was calm. "And follow my lead. We are not going to fight."

In through the opened door surged a dozen or so common soldiers who seized them roughly. Then a Protector stepped inside after them. They could see that he was a Protector from his helmet, though it was styled in a much more elegant and beautiful way than those they had seen before. In other ways, too, he was very different from the other Protectors. His clothes were colourful and much decorated with gold and silver. His voice was cultured, open and quite friendly.

He spoke to Christopher as if to an equal. "I must say, my dear boy, that your coming to Undain has been in much better taste than that of your dear departed father. I do so hate those flamboyant displays of naked force, don't you? It is a pleasure for me to welcome you, and your little friends, to the first City in the land."

He then seemed to notice for the first time the harsh gripping hands of the soldiers and said in tones of command: "Let them go! Is that any way to treat the honoured guests of The Greatest?"

He continued in his gentle voice, "For it has long been His wish to meet you, Christopher. I fear that His men in the North country are little better than barbarians - what can you expect of such people! - and undoubtedly misrepresented His will towards you. For He recognises your many virtues and wishes you well. It is my pleasure to invite you, and your little friends, to accompany me tonight into His presence - which I may say is a very rare privilege, given to few!"

"It has long been my desire to meet Him also. We will come," Christopher replied, in even tones. Elaine looked searchingly at him, but could not tell what he was thinking or feeling.

She also noticed the Protector, just as he was turning to leave, take a swift glance at the glowing goblet, and for a second a look of pure hatred showed on his face. It was as if a mask had slipped. Elaine felt that if that look had been directed at her she would have shrivelled up and died, there was so much evil in it. But it did not harm the cup - it simply seemed to brighten. Then the Protector turned his head and the pleasant mask was in place again. No one else had been in a position to notice.

They were led through the streets, almost retracing their steps as they passed between grander and grander houses until they were at the Palace again. They climbed the mighty steps. Mighty doors were opened with much ceremony and bowing by well-dressed servants.

Finally they came to a great room where their eyes were led at once to the High Throne which dominated it. The throne was empty. They were all rather shocked at that. Subconsciously they had all expected to find The Greatest, whoever He was, sitting on it. But there was no one on it. A crown was on the seat, and a naked sword was lying across the arms.

As their eyes dropped they came to rest on a table and a dozen or so men sitting around it, watching them expectantly. They were all wearing helmets, but their clothes were more subdued than those of the Protector who had escorted them. After a moment that personage spoke again.

"Welcome, Christopher, to your father's Throne Room. Will you not come and take a seat with us at the Great Table, that we may discuss what is best for this Country of ours?"

"I will sit, for the good of the people of this Country."

"Good. Perhaps your little friends would like to go next door? Matters of state are so tedious at times, are they not? And sadly there are no comfortable chairs here. Be assured that they will be well treated, as friends of yours."

Christopher turned to them. "What do you choose?" Umber did not want to stay and managed to persuade John and Big Bill to go with her. Mary also chose to leave, but both Nathan and Elaine far preferred discomfort to leaving Christopher. There was a fleeting look of displeasure on the face of the Protector, but he concealed it and merely said, "Well, make yourselves as comfortable as you can. I hope you will find our discourse enjoyable."

The two went and sat on the lowest of the steps that led up to the Throne, and watched and listened.

"Let me introduce myself," said the Protector who had done all the speaking. "My name is... or rather you may call me... Cipher. Do take a seat here beside me." And he indicated a chair for Christopher next to his own seat at the top of the table.

When they had sat down, Cipher continued. "I am at present the High Steward, and so I will do most of the speaking, but I speak for us all. Those of us who sit at this table are the Great Protectors.

"I understood," Christopher interjected, "that I was to meet The Greatest himself: that He wanted to see me."

Cipher replied with a slight, condescending smile, "My dear boy! The Greatest, as you call Him, is simply a convenient myth for the benefit of the common people. They see our real power which is far greater than theirs.When we tell them that we are in the power of One who is as much greater again, they are naturally overawed completely. But you may know the truth. We at this table are The Greatest. What we will is done. Each of us in turn wears these baubles" - he indicated his rich clothes - "and acts the Steward, but we act from a Common Will.

"A Common Will which is no common will. For each of us, before being found worthy of a seat at this, the Greatest Table in the land, has had to prove himself. Each has had to show he has a will strong enough to withstand the combined power of the rest of us for six minutes. Naturally no one would be able to stand much more than that - ten minutes would be the death of anyone!

"Now your father was a man of mighty will, as we all know. But he tried to defy us. A less selfish man might have seen sense and joined us. You, as we have heard, have what is perhaps an even mightier will. You are younger, and possibly wiser. We have invited you here to join us. I may say that if you pass our little test, then you would also be King - a title so much better for impressing the populace than High Steward! I confess that I am weary of the boring duties of being the figurehead. You would be seen as the Highest in the Land, and would be free to do anything you liked and have anything you wanted - subject only to not stepping on one of our toes."

He paused. Christopher's face was impassive, showing no feeling.

"Now you know what is about to happen, we will begin. For there is now no choice. Fall after six minutes and we let you recover, to join us. Fall before six minutes and we will of course kill you."

Elaine watched in horror as all the men around the table slowly rose and fixed their gaze on Christopher. On each head the gleaming horn of Malatite pointed directly at him. Nathan trembled. He knew how terrible it was to be in the power of such forces. It all came back to him: the convulsions, the feeling of electric shocks, the powerlessness. He felt sure that even Christopher would not be able to withstand it this time.

It seemed an age later that Cipher's hand moved and a bell rang. "One minute," he said.

Christopher was still sitting. He seemed relaxed and easy, and his eyes were looking upwards, as if he were unaware of the men around him.

"Six minutes," thought Elaine, "and each second seems as long as a day. How many days would that be? Six sixties. Three hundred and sixty days. That is a whole year!" Her heart was beating faster and faster.

The very silence was sinister. A hand to hand fight would have seemed more honest somehow. Here they were at the centre of the web. There was no spider. But these men were like one, trying now to pour their poison into Christopher's very soul.

The bell: "Two minutes."

Christopher rose lightly to his feet. Then he walked with his easy shepherd's stride in a circle around the room. As he moved, the horns all followed him, turning clockwise. He was still paying no attention to them, and might have been walking the Dales with his eyes set on a high horizon, for all the concern that he was showing.

The bell: "Three minutes."

"Half-way there, now," thought Elaine. "He looks much calmer than I am. I wonder how he is staying so calm?" Then she remembered the Song that she had been taught, but had neglected in all the excitement and bustle. She began to sing it in her mind. As always, it made everything different, like a ray of sunshine breaking through a thunder- cloud. She was able to think more clearly, and slowly and surreptitiously took the flute out of the bag which had never left her, and began to screw it together.

"Four minutes."

Nathan's mind was in a tumult. He did not know what to want. He did not want his friend and King to lose and be killed. But neither did he want him to win and become a part of this evil gang. He could read nothing in Christopher's face.

Christopher was not faltering in the slightest, but continued his steady mile-devouring walk around the Table. On the other hand there seemed to be some slight signs of irritation on one or two of the faces following him. Nathan noted this and one half of him was very pleased.

"Five minutes."

The tension was extreme. Each time that Christopher passed in front of the two sitting on the steps, they felt the fringes of the power that was being directed towards him. It made the hair stand on end. It was like being within feet of an enormously powerful electricity transformer. You felt that at any moment a bolt of lightning would flash and destroy.

"Six minutes!"

Cipher's voice held a note of congratulation. Elaine smiled with relief, expecting the trial would now end. But it was not to be.

Cipher continued: "You have now proved yourself worthy to join us. You may give in with honour. You can now escape the pain by falling on your knees in front of each of us in turn and swearing allegiance."

Nathan watched in horror, but Christopher did not appear to have heard. He continued his circling.

A few moments later Cipher spoke again with grim amusement. "Very well. I see you wish to test yourself to the limits. Suffer if you choose. We can afford a few more minutes before you drop."

Elaine looked closely at Christopher's face, but could see no sign of the suffering that Cipher spoke of. She remembered what Margaret had told her - it seemed an age ago! - about the power of the enemy lodging and hurting only if there were dark corners in the mind where they could find a home. She slowly lifted the flute to her lips.

"Seven minutes!"

Her heart was pounding. She did not know if she dared play in this company. Her fingers seemed frozen.

"Eight minutes!"

The faces of the Protectors were now heavy with thunder as they concentrated with ferocious intensity on their killing work.

"Nine minutes!"

For just a moment, as Elaine was watching him, Christopher lowered his gaze and looked directly at her. She did not know what this meant but it warmed her through and through. Her fingers unfroze and her lungs took a deep breath of fresh air. And she blew into the flute the first few notes of the Sacred Tune.

A chain which is under tension may look the same as one which is lying loosely. But if a link should snap, then a vast amount of energy is released in a lethal backlash. A canister of high-pressure gas may look the same as an empty one. But if it is punctured, it can explode and destroy.

Those few notes of music were enough to destroy the total concentration of the Protectors. The intense psychic field that they had been creating with such care snapped and recoiled on them. Some fell in agony. Others were howling like animals in torment, with blood-stained saliva dripping from their mouths. Others again were aroused to the most violent fury. One of these, with bloodcurdling yells, leapt for the flute, tore it from Elaine's hands, bit it in two with his bared teeth, then jumped on the pieces until they were nothing but splinters.

Meanwhile, alarmed by the furore, a guard had put his head around the door to see what all the noise was about. After freezing in open-mouthed horror for a moment, he called for others and they all rushed into the room and seized Christopher, Nathan and Elaine.

They then waited for further orders. These were a long time coming. But the Great Protectors finally recovered and regained their seats and some composure. Cipher then spoke, with blood-stained icicles on every word.

"For that, Christopher, you will die. You will die slowly. You will die the death of a slave. Your little friends will suffer, watching you die. Without you they are nothing."

Then he spoke to the guards. "Take him to the dungeons. Prepare the stake. Make it from the dead trunk of the Yew.

"Yes, Christopher. Know that we have killed the Yew that you foolishly called sacred. Now it will kill you, too!"

Christopher was taken away. Nathan and Elaine were led roughly out of the building and pushed down the steps of the Palace into the night, and left.

Just as they were picking themselves up, the doors opened again and their four friends were thrown out to join them.


"I'll tell you all about it later," Nathan replied. "All you need to know for now is that they have put Christopher in the dungeons and are going to kill him."

Dismay showed on every face. John spoke slowly. "Aye, well, 'twas only to be expected."

Nathan then turned to Mary. "Do you know how they are likely to kill him? Where are the dungeons? And what is the stake?"

Mary shook her head slowly. "I know nothing of the dungeons. As to the stake - anyone will tell you. In this square: that's where they kill murderers and anyone else that they want to be rid of. They tie them to a large stake, in the middle over there. Crowds go to watch and throw things. They are left there until they are dead. Sometimes they burn them first - if they want it over with quickly."

Horror showed on the faces of her listeners.

"When will they do it?" Nathan was insistent.

"Not tonight. They like to start before noon because it gives more fun. But a holiday is long due. They only give holidays for executions. So probably it will be tomorrow. We'll hear at curfew."

"Is there any chance of rescuing Christopher from the stake?"

"There is a wall built, waist-high, around the place where the stake is set. People can come to the wall, to throw things. But anyone who crosses it is killed at once by the soldiers who are on guard."

There seemed no way; there was nothing to be done, as far as they could see. With very heavy hearts and feet that dragged, the little band walked wearily back through the night to Mary's house.

When they were nearly there, a loud voice came echoing after them through the narrow streets.


"Hurry!" Mary gasped. "We must be inside or be caught. But I was right, did you hear? They will kill Christopher tomorrow.


Chapter 15

The next day found them wretchedly miserable and very tired. No one had managed to get a proper sleep. No one felt like any breakfast. John said, "Where there's life, there's hope." But having said that, there seemed nothing else good that could be said.

They went out into the cold grey light of the morning, walking close together, fearful of accusing eyes. The Enemy clearly regarded them as of little account compared with Christopher, but this did not greatly lessen the sense of danger that they felt.

As they moved towards the square which was their goal, they found it impossible to avoid getting close to other people. But after some worrying moments it became clear that these others were taking no notice of them: they were too intent on their own purposes. Soon the small group of despairing friends was caught up in the growing crowd, and carried forward towards the square.

"You can feel the holiday mood," Mary whispered.

Elaine could only detect a sort of grim excitement in the people around her. It was nothing like the mood of release and joy that had filled this same square only the previous day, when Christopher had been addressing the crowd. She could not believe that it had been so recent, or that it was the same crowd. She might have cried, had she not used up her tears the night before.

The crowd was centred on a spot not far from the plinth that it had swarmed around yesterday. Elaine had not noticed the spot at the time. Now she saw the stone wall: a circle some twenty paces across. Scores of soldiers were busy with ropes and pulleys, levering an enormous log up until it was vertical. She supposed that it was the trunk of the Sacred Yew. It was charred by fire. There were a few stumps of branches left. No leaves remained at all.

It took an hour before the tree had risen, inch by inch, to the vertical and then dropped into the hole prepared for it, to stand alone, black and grim.

Umber, who remembered how good she had felt up in the branches of the tree when she had been on watch, had her fists clenched and was shaking with anger as she watched. She might have tried to rush to the front and stop it, but John restrained her. "Nay, lass. Look before you leap. There's naught we few can do now. But things may change. It's always darkest before the dawn."

But things only seemed to get worse. There was a fanfare of trumpets, and soldiers cleared a path through the crowd, from the Palace to the Yew. Along it a high cart was pulled. And on the cart, where all could see him, was Christopher, with his hands bound, between four soldiers.

On a second carriage, painted with red and gold, was a Protector. He seemed to be reading from a scroll in his hands.


And from the many-throated crowd came the cry, "KILL HIM!"

"But," Elaine could not help saying, "it is the Protectors who are the thieves!"

"Hush, lass. It's always the crow that calls the robin black."



It was the most terrible thing in the world to be in the middle of that crowd. There was a blood-lust in their eyes. All humanity had gone from their faces. They were one animal - waiting, open-jawed, to pounce.



Perhaps you think that such things could not happen in our world? One of the good reasons for exploring history is to discover that people have behaved like this - quite often.

The most vicious dog is one which is treated very cruelly by its master. It may long to attack its master for years, but is held back by fear. But if its master sets it onto someone else then all that anger comes out - worse than that of any wild animal - and the dog will tear the innocent stranger to pieces if it can.

Do you remember how the Protectors treated the animals of the woods and fields? They had been just as ruthless with the people who were now in the crowd.





Every muscle in Nathan's body was knotted with suppressed fury. He knew there was nothing he could do, but the inner battle was almost unbearable.

Finally the cart reached the wall, and Christopher was roughly hauled down from it, out of sight. They could see nothing of him then for a while, because they were some distance from the wall. All they could see was the black column of the Yew rising to the sky.

Then came rising, raucous cheers from the crowd, and a pair of hands became visible, white against the dark trunk. They were Christopher's. They had been tied together at the wrists and he was being slowly hauled up the Yew by means of a pulley fixed to the top.

The Protector was still high on his carriage. When Christopher's bare feet were high enough for most of the crowd to see, the Protector shouted, "AT HIM!"

At once the air was thick with rubbish of all kinds. Elaine had noticed without noticing that people were carrying bags. Now they were reaching into their bags and bringing out stones or sticks or muck or filth of all kinds and hurling them at the defenceless form of Christopher, hanging and swaying gently at the end of the rope.

Elaine could not bear to watch. She hid her head.

It was in any case becoming hard enough just to keep her feet. The crowd was surging and pressing hard. Everyone was trying to get close enough to throw. The crowd was going mad. Anyone who fell was simply trodden underfoot. Umber and Elaine were in danger of going under. The shouting and jeering were so loud that they almost drowned even Big Bill's voice when he said, "TIME TO GET OUT OF HERE. I'LL TAKE ELAINE. JOHN, YOU TAKE UMBER. NATHAN, HELP MARY."

He then grabbed Elaine in his mighty arms and began to plough his way out through the crowd. Tiger, amazingly, had escaped being trodden on and was still at his side. Indeed he seemed to be enjoying himself, giving many a sharp nip to ankles that got in his way! The others followed close behind in the path they were making.

But despite the danger to herself on that desperate journey, Elaine could see only the last picture of Christopher which was burned into her mind. He was filthy and bloody, and must have been in great pain, but his eyes were open and looking upwards to the sky, not down at the raging crowd. And the look on his face was peace.

Much later they reached the outskirts of the square, where the crowd finally thinned out. They were totally exhausted and wretched. They had thought they were at rock bottom last night, but this was a thousand times worse. Everything good had vanished from the world.

An angry-looking man came over to them and spoke to Nathan. "Didn't I see you cheering that Murderer yesterday?" Nathan's courage had been sorely weakened by all that had happened, and he shook his head. But Bill still had his wits about him and bellowed, "I'M SURE I SAW YOU SINGING LIKE A LARK YESTERDAY. MAYBE YOU SHOULD BE STRUNG UP AS WELL!"

The stranger might have been struck by lightning. His anger vanished, to be replaced by an awful fear. He turned and slunk away - though not without the odd nip from Tiger.


Big Bill had realised that he would now have to take the lead. The others followed him silently as he made his way back to Mary's small house.

They stayed there for the rest of the day. They were in a state of shock. They could not eat; they could not sleep;they did not feel like doing anything. Bill tried to rouse himself and the others to some action, but it always fell flat - there seemed no energy in any of them. Nathan was perhaps in the worst state of them all. Not only had he lost his King and closest friend, but he was bearing the guilt of having pretended that he knew nothing of Christopher. He felt like dying. He wished he had admitted that he was with Christopher and been killed with him - at least he could have fought like a man and a soldier on the way!

Towards the end of the day there came the sound of distant cheering. "That is the end," Mary whispered. "When the victim is dead, the Protectors round off the holiday by throwing free food and drink to the crowd - outside the walls of the City. It is a way of getting rid of them. They get drunk and usually get up to all kinds of mischief which the Protectors turn a blind eye to for once."

"When the cat's away, the mice will play," said John, and then, after a pause, "But what will happen to the body?"

"It is usually left there for the carrion birds to feed on, and the bare bones fall down."

There was nothing more to say. They were again submerged in grief.

Even the blessed relief of sleep was denied them that long, dark night, and the first light of dawn found them weary as well as wretched.

There came a knock at the door. They looked at each other with dismay, certain that this was the end for them as well. Bill managed to regain some of his spirit and spoke, quietly for him. "Come in, but look out for the Tiger."

The door opened, and in walked - Timothy.

Elaine, who had often been half-dreaming in the night, thought that this must be another dream. Nathan and Umber, who had not seen Timothy for over a week, were even more confused because they could not be sure if it was him or not. He had changed a lot. When they had met him, he had been very quiet and haggard after his time as a slave. Now he was bursting with life and radiating vitality.

"What...?" - "Where...?" - "How...?" Mystified voices rose to question him.

Timothy laughed. "There will be plenty of time to tell you many things. Know now that I have been sent with a purpose: that I have been taught how to fly - as you were." And he smiled at Elaine. "I have come here first to collect the chalice. And if you come with me, you will see why."

Bill, John and Mary, who had of course never met Timothy, were the most bewildered, while Elaine, who had known him most and best, was the most delighted. But they all found themselves being caught up on the stream of new life that he was bringing into the room.

It was so good, that feeling, that none of them could bring themselves to spoil it by telling Timothy that Christopher was dead. They kept quiet as he took a flask from his pocket and poured clear water into the goblet. They expected him to drink, but instead he turned to the door and purposefully went out.

Tiger was the first to follow - he seemed to like this stranger. Then Elaine and the others rose to their feet and followed in turn. They had to walk briskly to keep up. In a few minutes it was clear that they were heading for the central square, and a feeling of dread crept into their hearts at what they would see.

But Timothy was unstoppable. He sped on, with the cup steady as a rock in his hand so that not a drop was lost.

The square was empty of people. Against the brightening sky the stake stood, stark, black and grim.

As they marched towards it, some shouts were raised behind them - angry, commanding voices. Nathan turned and saw what he took for Protectors and some soldiers. A part of him was glad. He wanted a fight to the death: he wanted to die to wipe out his shame - here - where he had turned coward. So he turned his back on the stake, picked up a stout stick which must have been dropped the day before, and stood ready to face the attack.

The others marched on, following Timothy through the litter of the previous day to the terrible sight ahead: a dead body hanging as the only fruit of a dead tree.

The entire space within the wall was filled with the rubbish and filth that had been thrown at Christopher and had then fallen down again.

I won't describe the effect on a body of having been pelted with stones and sticks and dirt for the best part of the day. It was too horrible for Elaine to look at as she stopped at the wall, feeling sick.

But Timothy carried on. He leapt lightly onto the wall and then across the rubbish. He seemed unaware of the horror of it all.

The others watched dumbly as he reached the foot of the stake. He stood silent for a while, looking upwards and holding the chalice high. Then he walked clockwise around the black trunk pouring water onto it as he went, so that small streams ran down on all sides.

Big Bill was thinking to himself, "THE MAN IS MAD." And all of the others, except perhaps Elaine, who knew him best, were thinking pretty much the same.

"Out of the frying pan into the fire," John said, quite calmly, pointing in the distance. As they turned away from Timothy to look, it was clear that he was right. From all sides of the square soldiers were approaching. Nathan had been overcome by numbers and they were marching him forward with them. They were in no hurry, and why should they be? They advanced in their thousands against three defenceless men, a woman, two girls and a dog. Only Tiger felt that this was an even match and growled eagerly. The others waited hopelessly for the end.


Chapter 16

In that desperate state Elaine called inwardly for Assin. She did not do it in the calm and loving way she had learned, but in anguish and despair. She did so with no real hope that he would be able to help or even hear her.

But at once there came into her head the deep familiar voice and the words, "Do not be afraid. All will be well! Look behind you!"

She turned to the tree. Where Timothy had poured the water onto the scorched black trunk, she could now see healthy bark. And it was growing upwards - a rising tide of life. Soon she was watching a new branch begin to grow, and then another.

"Come!" cried Timothy cheerily. "Climb with me."

Umber joined him first on the freshly growing branches. She loved climbing in any case, and it also seemed to offer a little more safety from the approaching soldiers. Elaine was right behind her and soon enough branches had grown for the others to follow - all except Tiger, of course.

They were too busy climbing to notice the buds forming at the ends of the newly grown branches, but it was not long before the buds burst into fresh leaves. "Look!" Umber cried in delight. "It is greening again!"

It was wonderful to watch: like an artist painting in the leaves on a tree, but very much quicker - or as if spring had come over a tree in a few minutes.

As they climbed higher, Elaine kept looking upwards, in a kind of dread. For at the top the trunk was still black, and against it the lifeless body of Christopher was still hanging.

But Timothy had no such fear, and was climbing easily up the ladder of growing branches until he was beside Christopher. There he paused, as the life in the tree went on soaring upwards. He called to Elaine.

"You have done a lesser healing. Your reward is now to do this greater healing. Come."

Elaine climbed up beside him, while Umber scrambled past. He handed Elaine the goblet, and as the tree grew greener around them, she remembered clearly the time that she had found Christopher in the wood, wounded. This time he was much worse. There were hundreds of wounds, and where his skin showed between the dark and clotted blood and the dirt, it was a dead white. She looked helplessly at Timothy.

He smiled with understanding, and handed her the goblet. There was a little water left in it. "Just pour it on his head."

Elaine did so.

She could never quite remember how it worked. The change came quicker than it had with the tree. Within a minute the tide of healing and cleansing had spread from Christopher's head to the whole of his body. All the wounds closed sweetly as they had done the first time. Soon, though he was still hanging and not breathing, you might have thought that he was simply asleep.

Then Timothy spoke - to what seemed to Elaine to be empty space: "Welcome."

She felt a breeze which carried a rare scent. But she had little time to notice it, because the next moment Christopher's chest heaved and he took a deep breath. Then he opened his eyes. They were deeper with wisdom than before, and smiling. And he said, "A true friend is never lost. I hold you in my heart, my friends."

Elaine did not know what to say. Neither did Bill nor John, who had just come up to them.

"Will you kindly help me to remove these, my last bonds?" As Christopher spoke to the men, he put his feet on a branch to take his weight off the rope which was still around his wrists. After a moment's hesitation the two men came closer and soon managed to free him.

"I give you thanks: all of you. You have done well in the bad times. I ask you to join with me in the good."


They all looked down and found that the leading soldiers had just reached the wall around the Yew. "Aye. One swallow doesn't make a summer," said John quietly to himself.

But Christopher and Timothy seemed quite untroubled. They looked upwards, past the still climbing Umber, at the very top of the tree, which was still growing. Elaine turned with them and watched as the very topmost branches and twigs formed and put on leaves. A breath of fresher air came down to her. It made her realise that she had been breathing the polluted air of the Enemy for a long time without noticing.

Moments later she was overwhelmed by that feeling of the numinous that she had first met in the Sacred Grove. Again there was the feeling of music in the air, and of being surrounded by thousands of invisible, but good and great people. She felt very small. But then Christopher put out his warm brown hand and held hers and smiled. "Fear not. You can be at home here."

It was a shock for Big Bill and John, too, who had never felt it before. But that was nothing compared with the effect on the crowd below. You will remember how the Yew had affected the enemy at the Sacred Grove. Now, down below them, the angry shouts of the soldiers were turning to cries of terror, as those who were closest struggled violently to get away, while those who were furthest were still intent on pressing forward.

In this mêlée Nathan seized his chance to break free, and was soon climbing eagerly towards the others. He nearly fell out of the tree again when he saw Christopher alive and well. But the sound of Christopher's voice steadied him. "Welcome, Nathan, best of friends. There is no need to fear or be ashamed."

Soon the riot down below turned to a rout as all the Enemy started to run away, with a triumphant Tiger running after them, snapping at all the heels he could reach.

It was Umber who first mentioned the next change. "Look!" she said, pointing to the ground at the foot of the Yew. "Grass is growing."

And indeed it was. A wave of green was moving slowly away from the tree. There was grass, but also thousands of other plants, from buttercups to shrubs and trees. The square had been set with cobbles, and the greenery appeared first between the sets. But it was not long before the stones sank out of sight in the softening earth, and the new life rose triumphant. The wall around the tree stood for a little while, but the creepers that grew over it, and the roots of trees that grew under it, soon brought it down to the ground. And still the greenery spread.

The green life in Undain that day did nothing that could not be done by Nature in your town or village if all the people left. It is only the continual movements and efforts of people which keep gardens free from weeds and towns free from trees. The railway line I rode on as a boy has now long since been reclaimed by Nature and is thick with shrubs, saplings and trees. If everyone left your town, then within the lifetime of a single oak tree all the buildings would have crumbled, roads would have disappeared, and nothing would be seen of the town except some mounds in the woods, under which the stones of some of the largest buildings would lie buried.

If photographs were taken of this happening, one a day, and then played back as a moving film, you would be able to see the whole process happening in an hour or two.

And this is what Elaine had the privilege of watching that morning. Many thoughts went through her mind during those glorious, sunlit hours. Among them was the memory of the story that Margaret had told about the spring that had been blocked for years, but when one man removed the stone, it came to life again and brought life to the country around.

After a while they left the Yew itself and wandered, picking and eating the fruit and nuts that were appearing in abundance. Pigeons and other birds were gathering to feast at the cornucopia, too. The news must have travelled fast on the wing.

Slowly, too, other people were gathering to them, shyly. The spirit that was flowing outwards from the Yew was separating the sheep from the goats. There were those who, like Timothy, knew the goodness and light in the numinous and turned to it even though they might be nervous of what it might all mean. These were the people that Christopher was now welcoming. Those who, like the soldiers, were filled with darkness which they chose to cling to, found only the fear in the numinous and fled.

So as the hours passed their little party grew into a happy crowd. It was a little like the day that they had entered Undain, but there was a deep peace in the woodland glades which had not been there on the dusty road, and the laughter when it came was more relaxed and joyful. Eventually they reached an open heath. Christopher motioned to the crowd to sit on the grass, and when they were settled, spoke.

"Friends! Today you have witnessed the destruction of a city which was not a city. A person is not a thing of bones: a city is not a thing of stones.

"You are the living stones of a new city. All real cities are built with living stones, and all that is not real must be done away with.

"The true beauty of a city lies not in the harmonious lines of its buildings: it lies in the harmony which exists between its people. The true strength of a city lies not in the thickness of its walls: it lies in the bonds of love between its people. The true wealth of a city lies not in gold or statues, in palaces or fine clothes: it lies in the hearts of each of its people. The wisdom of a city does not lie in the numbers of its books: it lies in the power of each person to know and to love the good, not the bad; the true, not the false; the light, not the darkness.

"My friends, listen to me. You have tasted with me today the stream of living water which has come to cleanse and renew us all. If a stream ceases to flow, it becomes stagnant and poisoned. Build nothing that will dam the flow: build nothing in fear; build only in love. Then you will always have life which is worthy of the name.

"Soon I must go to others in this land. But I will return. Meanwhile go in peace, to serve in love the Highest you know."

Christopher raised his hand in blessing, and the crowd began slowly to disperse. He then turned to the small group of close friends and said in a quieter voice, "Our next task is to plant the Yew in many places. Timothy, you have been led for years to wander this land. It is intended that you should retrace your steps, planting wherever it seems right to you."

Timothy replied with a great smile, "It will be a joy to me. The Shining Ones are already beckoning me, and will always be with me."

"I," Christopher continued, "am to return to the North Country, and to begin by replanting the Yew where it once stood. And I believe that you," he turned to Umber, John and Bill, "will all want to return there too." They nodded happily.


Umber smiled. "Yes. I'm going to work with Big Bill now. I'm never going home again. Bill says I must have the river in my blood."

Christopher nodded and turned to John. "And what will you do?"

"I'm thinking that there's always work for willing hands. And there'll be a fair bit of tidying needed back North with them Protectors gone. I'll do my share."

"Very good. You can sail back up with the other two."

"Three, you mean," cried Umber, and Tiger barked.

"You, Elaine, will be flying North with me."

And so it happened that a few hours later, after all the farewells had been said, Elaine and Christopher were flying North together. Elaine was feeling very light- hearted, which made the flight very easy, though it was by far the longest that she had made. They did not speak much, for there is the most wonderful feeling up there - of space which is infinitely large and yet infinitely gentle, of pure light which fills the whole being, of great distances and yet greater closeness: of love.

Hours later they arrived at the Good House, to be welcomed by Amuel and Margaret, who seemed to be expecting them. They ate together that evening, and afterwards talked of all that had happened.

Then Christopher turned to Elaine and said seriously, "The time has come, dear Elaine, for you to make a choice. It will not be an easy one."

"Time has been stretched for you, but it cannot be stretched much further without snapping. If you stay with us for another day, your life will be of this world. You will be dead to the other. Your body will be found there, but you will never return to it. As to what will happen to you here: who can say?

"On the other hand you may return to your other life.This will now appear to you to be a great loss. But it will be made easy for you. You will remember all that has happened as you remember a dream. In a dream you can have great adventures and enjoy many things. The good that you find in a dream at night lasts with you through the days to come, though you no longer remember the dream world. In the same way the things that you have loved and learned here will stay deep within you, colouring all that happens there.

"The choice is yours. It will seem a very hard choice to you. But I would like you to remember what you have learned: You can often find the Same in the Other; One thing can serve Many purposes; there are doors where you least expect them; the most solid walls may crumble in hours. There is no final separation between this world and others."

Elaine thought hard. At first it seemed easy: she wanted to stay. But then she started to think of her life at home, her family and friends, school and her familiar bedrom and playthings. As all these things flooded back into her memory, it became much harder to decide to give them up forever. And she was not at all happy with the idea of her body dying there.

Finally she called inwardly for Assin. She heard his voice at once: "Yes, Elaine Dear?" But again she could not see or feel him.

"Which shall I choose?"

"You are old enough to choose for yourself. I will tell you if you have made the better choice, and help even if you make the lesser choice."

Elaine made her decision and had the comfort of Assin's deep warm voice saying, "Well done."

At bedtime Margaret brushed her hair as usual and then plaited it, sending her to bed with a kiss. She went off into a deep and peaceful sleep, free from all worry now that she had made up her mind what to do.

When she woke, she looked at the clock. One minute past eight! Time to get up, or she would be late for school!

She rushed to wake her mother, who opened a sleepy eye. "There's no rush. It's still the holidays!"

"Oh! Brilliant! Then can I go up to see Assin?"

"How are you feeling today?"


"Good. But you didn't seem at all well yesterday, when you came back from the field!"

"Didn't I? I don't remember."

"Are you sure you're all right today?"

"Yes, of course." Elaine spoke emphatically, and jumped up and down vigorously to prove her point.

"Stop it! Very well then, you can go. But I'd better do your hair first. Wait till I've had a cup of tea."

"But, Mummy! It's plaited already. Can I go as soon as I'm dressed?"

"That's funny! I didn't think I'd done it last night. But it's untidy again now, so you'll have to wait a minute."

Mummy sipped the tea which I had just put on her bedside table.

"If I just undo these plaits and comb it, it will be lovely and wavy," she said.

Twenty minutes later Elaine was tearing downstairs.

"Don't stay too long," called Mummy. "We're going shopping this morning."

"I know!"

When she was at the stable with Assin, feeding him some titbits, Elaine had the strangest feelings. She could not understand them. There was something magical, wonderful about the place and the day. It was telling her something enormously important, but she could not quite pin it down. In the end she stopped trying and just enjoyed the day for itself.

I wonder if you have ever had or will ever have a feeling like that? If so I hope you may wonder for a while about what it could mean.

St. David's Day, 1991.



Chap 1.
Chap 2.
Chap 3.
Chap 4.
Chap 5.
Chap 6.
Chap 7.
Chap 8.
Chap 9.
Chap 10.
Chap 11.
Chap 12.
Chap 13.
Chap 14.
Chap 15.
Chap 16.