Dillion and The Curse of Arminius

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Gilbert, his sister, with Ghostly Druids and Celts against an army of Gothic warriors. Who will keep the boy's loyalty, and can his sister save him Ten-year-old Emelia could be the only to save her brother Gilbert from being transformed into their new war leader by supernatural Gothic warriors of Arminius, with deadly lightning bolts in his supernatural armory, wolves as companions, and terror his pleasure. A young girl against fearsome odds, but Emelia has an army - Dillion, the Irish Wolf Hound, Arth, the bear and the Guardians - Druid, Celtic and Saxon warriors. Their hawks carry Emelia’s butterfly-covered spirit body on this uncertain and fraught mission to the enemy’s castle. But Gilbert could use these new powers against Emelia if she can’t free him from the Dark Web. Emelia has other human company, though. Rebecca and Axel have been kidnapped to force their scientist father to work for the Nazis, and it’s the growing relationship between Gilbert and Rebecca that could also break Gilbert’s chains. Who will snap the bonds of evil? Emelia, Rebecca, or neither? The fate of two families rests on Emelia and Rebecca facing up to Gilbert and the Goths in explosive battles – but who is the enemy and who an ally?

Fantasy / Thriller
Age Rating:

Chapter 1

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11th January, 1936


ure, Gilbert was a little.

He knew it, though, and was content in a situation that most other boys of fourteen hated; and it wasn’t just his unusually long, fair hair, down past his shoulders, and refusal to speak to most people, but more likely the company he preferred, a few of whom couldn’t even be seen by his school mates. Most of all it was the small animals he would bring to school strange in his pockets that caused the greatest mayhem, and specifically a pet snake, which he’d draped around Patrick Delaney’s neck one morning when the bully had kept picking on one of the weaker boys.

That had been a riot.

The boys screamed in delight, especially when Misses Mayhew fainted clean away.

The headmaster had chortled. “Humph, the snake got the rat, eh? Snort, snort – well, don’t like bullies meself, unless of course it’s me doing it, eh? snort, snort. But, duty calls, so don’t just stand there, boy, bend over and make the acquaintance of my favourite cane.”

Out here in the woods around home, though, with the animals he loved, he was king.

Or at least until recently, when they had appeared.

When he first glimpsed them, he had been intensely resentful. Who were these two invading his secret hideaway? Only he, the badger that had shown him the way in, and the birds should be here. In the thickly wooded valleys of the Welsh borderlands, this area in particular had been left untouched for hundreds of years, with no sign

at all of any human encroachment, and the undergrowth sometimes quite impenetrable. But not to Gilbert when he was desperate to see where the badger was making for so, breaking a way through the dense brush and small trees, he followed with great difficulty the faint path along which it had waddled.

That time, three years ago when he was smaller, it had been difficult enough to slither through the narrow opening in the thickets, thorny briars and sharp branches taking their toll. Now he had grown so much bigger he had had to widen the tunnel, chopping away at the branches on either side. It wasn’t so bad in summer, but in winter Muriel always had something to say when he reappeared at the kitchen door plastered in the clinging mud, he managed to get all over himself.

But it had always been worth it, with each excursion an anticipated thrill that would never disappoint, and leave his body tingling with the renewed excitement of discovery.

The first time he made it through, intrigued to see where the badger had its set, it was mid-summer, warm, and quite sultry, with barely a breeze to ruffle the leaves overhead. A pungent, zesty smell smothered the path; of wild jasmine, trampled leaves, lichen and a beehive close by, its presence also announced by a warning buzz.

But it was something else that tickled the back of his throat with a tantalising memory, something remaining just out of reach, no matter how hard he tried to grasp at it.

Where was that scene? Nowhere around here, that was for sure: those trees were far more densely packed and bigger than these, and there was something dangerous threading its way amongst them

Thick dark green leaves did their best to camouflage the route that the badger had taken, only faint scuffs in the dust showing where it had passed, but Gilbert was a master at following these tell-tale signs and, determined to see where they led, he ignored the branches holding him back and pushed through.

At last, on his knees still and wiping the perspiration from his forehead, he had pushed the last of the tangled branches and vines aside and scrambled to his feet, glad to get back into the dappled light.

And froze.

The incredible and magical beauty of the scene that met his eyes made him gasp in astonished wonder. A deep pool lay in the middle of a clearing, perhaps thirty feet or so across, its dark water crystal clear in light filtering through the fluttering leaves of surrounding trees, and the surrounding area paved by slabs of weathered sandstone. Set back some eight feet from the stone lip of this pool, a ring of beige coloured standing-stones stood sentry as though to watch what went into and out of the spring water. They were perhaps eight feet or so high, and stocky rather than thickly made, but placed at a distance from each other so that if they had kept all of the arms once there, they could have touched fingers. Now, just stumps showed where these might have hung.

And this was not just cool spring water, it seemed, but one of the many thermal vents that popped up in parts of the valley, for in the centre Gilbert noticed bubbles swayed up from the depths, to pop in the air and release steam, whose white blanket swayed and undulated gently over the pool, protecting it from any unbelievers who might have dared to stray into this forbidden place.

A sudden gust of wind rustled the leaves and in the distance a dog howled.

Beware, beware. Turn back unless you are one of us!

Behind this dark pool, the trees that formed its guardian circle were all oaks, many of them hung with the gleaming leaves and berries of mistletoe. And behind that, in a horseshoe forming a natural amphitheatre, steep stone cliffs made any entrance other than through the badger tunnel impossible. It was here in a deep crevice the bees had made their hive, the winged trails of their foragers spreading out into the surrounding forest, and their humming droning back from the walls like violas tuning up for the theatre below.

No wonder it had such an aura of intense spirituality about it, Gilbert had thought; it must have been where Druids gathered for their secret ceremonies, their stone guardians forever on guard.

And now it was just his, except perhaps for a lone animal or bird that came down to peer wistfully at the water several feet below, inaccessible because of the sharp stone lip.

But now, to his intense irritation, these two strangers had dared to intrude.

For some time now he had seen two figures, a boy and a girl, seemingly about his own age, shadowing him around in the woods. And shadowing really was the right way to describe this, because they were never quite there. Even when he had noticed them out of the corner of his eye, and swung abruptly around, they would simply fade into the air; not behind a bush or tree, but just – well, not there anymore.

After a week of this, he had pretended an injury to his leg at school, the limp becoming more exaggerated towards the time when sport practice came around, just so that he could get back home and dash out into the woods and see if the two would reappear. Only rarely had he spotted them again over the summer months, as though they were teasing and tantalising him with the inexplicable appearances, and just as sudden disappearances. On one occasion he thought he had caught a faint echo of a giggle, followed by a muttered grumbling, as though one of the figures was being told off.

It was so incredibly frustrating: why didn’t they just come out and say hello?

But it was midwinter now, and he had thrown on his warmest army jacket, thick, green corduroy pants, an Arran Isle scarf Muriel had knitted for him and Wellington boots; and still he wandered around shivering, determined, though, to see if they would appear.

After an hour of patiently wandering through the woods with no sign of them, he sighed irritably and decided to go and sit in his secret spot. No one would find him there and they would have to wait for some other time to play their silly games. So he pushed through the tangle of bushes and kicked aside a fallen branch at the entrance to the amphitheatre. But in doing so, that snapped back against the trunk of the tree it had fallen from and the shock sent a cascade of icy spears from the branches above, to land right where he would have been had he not stopped to look around.

Whew, that would have been nasty – right on my head Something howled not far away.

A fox’s human-like scream echoed it from the top of the rocky cliff face.

Gilbert shivered and it was not from the cold: there were still secrets here and he would have to be more respectful in future, but for now he walked over and sat down carefully on an old, moss-carpeted fallen log, with his back to one of the sentry-stones, its tan hide warmed by a stray ray of sunlight, crossed his arms and grinned in pleasure. This secret and special place was his alone: no one else in the world knew about it, and he wasn’t about to tell anyone. But if the ancients were still here then he would be careful.

Above him the steam had formed a cloud over the pool with a hole right in the centre through which the sun glowed weakly, a reminder of long, hot summers when a dip in the crystal water would have been wonderful. But he had never quite dared that, the feeling of trespassing on something spiritual too strong to break.

On the other side of the pool, where the warrior-stones stared back expressionlessly, he saw two owls drift soundlessly down through the trees and perch on the heads of adjacent stone brothers. When they had finished ruffling and settling their feathers, they peered, sleepy-eyed across at him, as though to say, ‘Alright, we’re here now, what are you going to do about it?’ It was strangely like being in a theatre, with he the audience, and no idea at all of what the play could be, but whatever it was, this time was different from when he had been here before. An all-over tingling in his body, and trembling of the air itself told him that something was about to happen, which would be important, and perhaps life-changing. This wasn’t the thrill he always felt when he had previously entered the ring, it was different somehow now, with the air brimming, as though it would burst at any moment, and although he looked around apprehensively, he could see nothing that appeared any different. But something deep inside told him to be patient, and wait.

And Gabriel was incredibly patient in these woods, where animals and birds took flight at any sudden movement.

But when it happened, it wasn’t anything he could have imagined, and it did so quite quickly. There was a sudden movement, a human shadow passing to his left, quickly covered by one of the oaks.

“Oh, no,” he huffed in irritated fury. “Don’t tell me they’ve found my hideaway, and just when something really important could have been revealed.”

But while he might have been intensely irritated at someone discovering his secret, he also knew that they would have a difficult time getting out with him positioned right next to the only exit: he would force them to say who they were and why they were following him. He was patient; he always had been out in the wild. Most of the animals on the estate had got used to his presence over the years, and now, although they generally ignored him, he had got into the habit of keeping as still as he could not to startle any of them. And from experience he knew he could outwait anyone else, and thought that if he did the same with these two strangers they must be fooled into reappearing: they would just have to come out some time.

So he sat and gazed across the pool whose surface, strangely, seemed to have taken on a shimmer as though a breeze ruffled across, but when he glanced up, even the surrounding leaves had stilled. Was the pool going to erupt like he had seen a geyser do at Yellowstone? If it was, he had better make a run for it, and tensed to jump up. Then when nothing happened and the vibrations just stopped, he leaned back, puzzled. This eerie place was throwing more questions at him the longer, and more often he was here. But nothing on earth would get him to leave before he had solved the mystery of these two strangers who had invaded his secret place. These mysteries were his alone, so he pulled the scarf tighter around his neck and waited.

And waited - this was what he did so well.

But even for Gilbert, the wait was now becoming a trial. The ground under him was freezing, he had started to shiver in uncontrollable spasms, and was about to give up in frustration, the image of Muriel’s warm kitchen fire beckoning, when he caught a glimpse of long red hair swirling past a holly thicket. He staggered creakily to his feet and his eyes followed the movement to an old elm tree in the middle of a hawthorn thicket where they disappeared.

A couple of squirrels swarmed up the tree’s trunk and peered down curiously at the figures below.

He smiled in triumph. These two strangers had not been able to outwait him after all, but knowing that if he made it clear he had seen them, they would again disappear, he did what he normally would around the animals he cared so much for: he waited, again not looking directly at where they stood motionless in the middle of the thicket.

It was a little difficult to see them clearly, even accounting for the thick foliage, as though they were enveloped in a faint, flickering haze, and it wasn’t from the pool. In front was a boy looking uncannily like Gilbert, with the same slender build, blonde hair framing a sharp-featured face, and just behind him a girl, a little shorter than he, her long, dark red hair pressed up against her friend’s shoulder. They were clearly not beggars, both having the proud, confident bearing of people who were used to the finer things; even their clothing, which to Gilbert’s eye looked like it belonged to another age, was of good quality. To add to the strangeness, though, both were dressed as boys, in dark brown knee-breaches and torn stockings, with slashed and puffed sleeves on their jackets, but it seemed as though they had been in a terrible accident of some sort, their clothes torn and stained. Perhaps, he mused, they had been part of a travelling fair, with a theme of seventeenth-century courtiers.

For at least half an hour, a strange contest played out between Gilbert and these two, with neither moving nor acknowledging the other’s presence; at least with a movement of any sort toward the other. It was quite strange and unusual for him, because for the first time in his life, even with the game keeper he sometimes kept company, he was not the only person with the patience to sit and do nothing. Most of the children he knew would have got bored, snapped and gone off ages ago.

Charles was thinking exactly the same, and turned to Octavia.

“He’s good, and as Nemeto said, has the patience of one of us, but I think it’s time that we introduced him to Dillion. I can feel the old man back in the grotto getting impatient, and we need to have Gilbert meet our friend so we can all meet formally.”

Gilbert finally knew when he was beaten. This had never happened to him before: children who could beat him at his own game. He was intrigued, and with nothing to lose, had decided that it was time he stood up and waved them over, and perhaps clear up the mystery, when out of the shadows behind them a huge, shaggy-haired dog appeared; an Irish Wolf Hound, which came and stood between the two shimmering figures.

Unable to resist now, with one of his favourite animals in the mix, Gilbert turned and stared, and with that the three disappeared, fading into the air as if they had never been.

“Aaaah,” he screamed in frustration, and stamping his foot, flung his arms into the air before kicking out at the rotting trunk on which he had been sitting; which only led to a couple of startled doves clattering away through the dense branches above.

“Who are you, and why don’t you just stay around for once?” But even as he said that he knew that these were no ordinary children: no one could simply disappear from this place without coming past him, and when a shiver of dread ran down his spine, decided it was about time he also left.

In the Crystal Grotto, Nemeto, the Druid chief had watched this playing out on the surface of the pool in the mystical cavern that had been their refuge for thousands of years, a grim smile on his wrinkled face. “Our plans are coming together now with our young friends making themselves known to Gilbert. But we will have to hurry or the enemy will act first, and that could be calamitous for everyone involved.”

Emelia, reaching for a leather-bound book on one of the higher shelves in the library, felt a strange rippling shudder in the air, as though someone had slammed closed a soundless door somewhere, a tingle of fear running down her back.

“Oh, no. There is something strange happening to Gil, and I don’t even know where he is.”

Gilbert’s sister had always been right with her presentiments about her brother, but this time there was fear for someone else, and she didn’t even know who.

In Amsterdam, Axel and Rebecca sat with two of their fellow refugees from Frankfurt talking about how excited they were to be seeing their English friends, Gilbert and Emelia again.

“Papa is going to ask them over here for the holidays,” Axel said, grinning over to where Anne and Margot Frank sat next to Rebecca, his sister. She looked up and smiled in delight at her brother. She thought he had no idea of what she was up to, but he had seen the sidelong glances she had sneaked at Gilbert the last time they had been over to England, to the Oakholm house of their friends.

Well, he was glad her first would be their best friend. Perhaps their new life was going to be all right after the terror of the last years in Germany at the hands of the Nazis.

Little did she know how desperately important the young English girl and her brother would be to the whole family.

In a tower room of the castle looming over dark German forests, twelve ghostly warriors were enjoying the discomfort of the little man, unused to being kept waiting by anyone as fretted irritably in the centre of the chamber he had specially fitted out. This was the most feared man in Germany, the head of the SS, but here he was just a comical and despised little runt who had to be tolerated for the sake of their joint plans.

They would announce themselves to him when it suited them, but in the meantime they would have a little fun at his expense, watching him fidgeting and fuming, the silver deaths-head insignia on his black uniform ridiculous to these enormous, flaxen-haired men who carried around the scalps of their enemies on their belts.

Circling around the steeply-pitched roofs of Schloss Wewelsburg, six eagles kept their eyes peeled for any more intruders into the skies they so successfully defended against the visitors from the west.

g here…

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