When I went to scatter my father’s ashes, I didn’t expect to get kidnapped.
I wanted to be alone to fulfil his wishes and say the last words I’d ever speak to him. At least, that was how I felt that chilly Sunday morning in November. With Dad in my backpack, I climbed up the steep path to the Tor from the hotel in Glastonbury where my boyfriend Nathan and I were staying.
It was just after first light. A thick mist lay over the town, and no-one else was about. The tip of the church spire was just visible above the fog, and for miles around only the odd dark treetop emerged from the sea of white.
It was easy to see why some people believed this hill could have been part of Avalon, that mystical land where King Arthur was supposed to have been taken after he was mortally wounded. My father had been one of those believers.
Shouldering off my backpack, I pulled out Dad’s urn. It was surprisingly heavy for someone who’d only been skin and bone when he’d died. I stood him on the grass beside the roofless church tower on the summit.
“I wish Artie could be here, Dad.”
No answer, of course, and no Artie. My twin brother was on the far side of the world on a prolonged trip with his mates, but I liked to think he was with me spiritually, despite the fact he hadn’t made the effort to get back. Typical of him: never there when I needed him.
It was bitterly cold, and a frost still sparkled on the short grass. For a minute or two, I stood looking at the bleak hilltop, remembering the last time I’d been up here with my father, seventeen years ago. Artie and I were seven. Our mother was already dying, although being so young we weren’t aware of that. I remember that day so well because it was the first time I saw the Fancy-Dress-Man.
It’s winter. The trees are naked skeletons, their branches rattling in the wind, the sky a dull grey and the damp cold is in my very bones. My mother’s skin is parchment pale, her once glorious auburn hair wispy and colourless beneath her hand-knitted hat.
My father is his usual over-enthusiastic self, expounding on the history of the Tor. He looks old, with his bush of grey hair, jutting eyebrows and thick-lensed spectacles. He’s a university professor and obsessive Arthurian scholar, which is how my brother and I have come to be called Arthur and Guinevere. Although my mother shortens those to Artie and Gwennie.
The lone hill that is the famous Glastonbury Tor rises out of surrounding flat land, long since reclaimed from ancient marshes. Dad parks our Land Rover behind it on a rutted grass verge so we can take the shorter route to the summit.
Artie and I run on ahead, our Wellington boots splashing through the puddles. We’re oblivious to the quiet suffering of our mother as she and our father slog along behind us. It’s a pilgrimage for them, as it will be the last time she sees the Tor - but to exuberant seven-year-olds, she just seems annoyingly slow.
We reach the summit together, well ahead of our parents. For a moment the gaunt outline of the tower holds me mesmerised, even though I’ve seen it countless times before. Artie and I have been visiting Glastonbury since just after we were born. It’s almost like a second home to us.
“Race you to the tower,” Artie shouts, giving me a backward push and setting off at a run. I sprint after him, but although we’re twins he’s long-legged and athletic, and taller than I am, and besides, he’s given himself a cheating head start. He wins, of course. I pretend I haven’t been trying. We walk round to the far side of the tower and look out at the view over the Somerset Levels, stretching away flat and featureless and grey..
I look through the arches of the tower as voices blow to us on the wind. Our parents appear at the far end of the hilltop.
“Race you back,” Artie says and sets off, legs hammering down the slight slope. This time I ignore him.
The wind blows through the empty shell of the tower. Below me, the town lies quiet. I turn on the spot, my short arms outstretched, face uplifted to the slate grey sky overhead, eyes closed, soaking up the primitive magic of the place. My long chestnut plaits whip across my cheeks.
Above the whistling of the wind a faint musical note sounds. I close my eyes and open my ears. Such a sweet sound. To a seven-year-old brought up on bedtime tales of Celtic gods, it carries all the allure of fairyland. My lips curl in a smile. My small feet take tentative steps towards the sound.
When I open my eyes, I’m standing inside the tower. The wind has died to nothing. The only thing I can hear is that single pure yet faint musical note. I push loose strands of my hair back out of my eyes. Beyond the stone arches, there’s nothing - the world outside has blurred out of focus, yet within the tower, every stone is crystal clear. I turn around.
He’s standing watching me. A man in strange old-fashioned clothing. He’s tall and slim and as out of place as a hawk on a garden bird table. His clothes remind me of a picture of the Pied Piper of Hamelin in one of my books. A tunic gathered by a wide belt, tall, soft leather boots, and a long russet cloak that hangs below his knees. I’m not afraid.
He smiles at me, his dark eyes crinkling. His face is thin and tanned, his shoulder-length hair a darker shade of brown, his clothes like autumn leaves. I smile back, a little shy.
He extends a hand. Something sparkles in it. Without thinking, I reach for what he’s offering. My fingers close over warm metal. It’s a solid gold open-ended bracelet. He releases his hold on it, and I look down in curiosity. At each end is a ferocious intricately worked dragon’s head. It takes my breath away. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.
I lift my eyes, words of surprise and, I like to think, of thanks on my lips. But he’s gone. The wind whistles through the tower again, and my parents are coming up the grassy slope towards me, Artie between them.
There’s nothing secretive about me at seven, and the first thing I do is show my parents, proudly, what I’ve been given.
What a fuss this causes.
“The Fancy-Dress-Man gave it to me,” sounds feeble, even though it’s true.
Artie scowls with envy and runs off round the tower looking for the Fancy-Dress-Man until our father brings him back and anchors him down with a firm grip on his hand.
“A stranger?” My mother asks, rising panic in her voice. Her sunken eyes dart over the empty hilltop but find nothing.
“Haven’t we always told you never to talk to strangers?” Every father would say the same.
My mother goes to the edge of the hilltop and looks down the path to the town, but there’s no-one to be seen. Artie tries to free himself from Dad’s iron grasp and can’t. He whinges that his hand is hurting.
My mother comes back, and my father holds out his hand for the bracelet.
I hesitate, not wanting to let it go. It’s mine. The Fancy-Dress-Man gave it to me. I’ve seen in his dark eyes that he’s kind, that the gift is meant for me alone. My jaw juts rebelliously.
“Let me see it,” my father says.
With great reluctance I hand it over. Immediately I feel naked without it, my hand where it nestled warm against my palm, cold and lost. A tear sneaks its way out of the corner of my eye and runs down my cheek.
My father’s voice is full of awe. “Look at the work on the dragon head terminals. This is exquisite craftsmanship. It’s old, very old.”
“It’s mine,” I say tearfully, “the Fancy-Dress-Man gave it me.”
My mother’s gloved hand, tight around mine, is reassuring rather than admonishing. “Of course it’s yours,” she says, and I don’t hear the strain in her voice or see the unhealthy flush to her thin cheeks. “You shall have it as soon as Daddy has taken a good look at it.”
So I do eventually, after my father has completed his research and shown it to his fellow Dark Age scholars. He never tells me what he’s concluded, and I never ask. It’s enough that it’s mine again, my present from the Fancy-Dress-Man.
Too big for my wrist for years, I keep it in the little wooden jewellery chest my mother gives me before she dies. I have her to thank for it. She insists my father let me keep the bracelet, so I feel it’s a present from her as well as the Fancy-Dress-Man.
That isn’t to be the only time I see him, though.
I stroked the warm gold of the bracelet, and it chased away the cold.
“Well, I can’t stand here all day reminiscing,” I said to Dad’s urn, “or someone’s likely to come up the hill, and then I won’t be able to scatter you.”
I bent and picked him up, remembering how, last night in the hotel Nathan had made me put him away in my bag when he’d wanted to make love. He’d joked and said he couldn’t possibly do it with my father watching. I’d laughed with him, but now it didn’t feel so funny. Dad was here, in this urn, still with me.
I unscrewed the top.
This was something I’d vowed to do, something I’d promised Artie. I walked the few steps to the brow of the hill.
I cleared my throat. “Dad,” I began, my voice husky with emotion, “I’ve brought you here just like you wanted. You’ll always be a part of Glastonbury now. You’ll be here for all eternity….” A tear trickled down my cheek and my voice trailed off. Shimmering through the cold air came a musical note, high and pure and lovely. It felt like a salutation to my father.
I wasn’t going to let it interrupt me. “I’ll never forget you. You were the best dad ever. I know you’re with Mummy now, and one day Artie and I will see you again. I love you, Dad.” I upended the urn, and a breeze took the ashes, spreading them across the hillside in a veil of dust.
The musical note swelled. Was I just overcome with the emotion of the moment and imagining it? Or was the Fancy-Dress-Man up here, stalking me when I most wanted to be alone? Anger welled up in me at the thought.
Because that’s what I believed he was. A stalker.
The summer after my thirteenth birthday, there’s a dig at Glastonbury Abbey.
We miss the last two weeks of school. Piled into our Land Rover amidst all the paraphernalia of archaeology, we travel from our home in Berkshire, and set up camp in a couple of ridge pole tents on site.
Like dutiful little budding archaeologists, Artie and I set to with the mix of students and volunteers to scrape away, millimetre by millimetre, the layers of soil in the trenches that have been opened. In shorts and t-shirt, I’m soon bronzed by the sun, and my long hair is streaked with blonde.
The end of the summer holidays rolls around, and we only have days left on the dig. It’s evening. Everyone else has gone home or to the pub. I sit outside my tent twirling the bracelet in my fingers absently. Under my touch the warm gold throbs with unexpected heat, and I find I’m thinking for the first time in years of the Fancy-Dress-Man.
From where I’m sitting, the taped off area of the dig is between me and the deserted abbey ruins. Something, some slight movement glimpsed from the corner of my eye, draws my gaze, and I turn my head. A faint ringing starts in my ears. Standing just beyond the far tape barrier is a lone figure. A man. He’s in fancy-dress.
I know it’s him. The bracelet burns hot against my skin as though it too recognises him. I remember the earthy shades of his clothing, the russet cloak, the soft brown boots splattered with dried mud. For a long minute his dark eyes hold mine across an acre of open ground, and then he turns and walks towards the path up to the Tor.
Without thinking, I follow him.
There’s no-one on the path. On a warm summer’s evening, to encounter not a single person on my way up to the Tor is strange. Ahead of me the Fancy-Dress-Man, his russet cloak swishing as he walks, is always out of reach, no matter how I hurry.
It’s quiet, too. No noise penetrates up from the town as I climb. There might be no cars down there and no people. I’m inside a bubble of silence broken only by the lonely cries of a colony of rooks in the treetops.
Emerging from the trees, I see him above me on the summit, silhouetted against the evening sky. He turns away, vanishing from sight over the brow. I want to shout “wait for me” but can’t find my voice.
Out of breath, I reach the top of the hill. And there he is, leaning against the wall of the tower.
I approach him in curiosity. In the background the thrumming musical note I remember from our first encounter swells to fill the air.
“Who are you?” My hand automatically goes to the now hot bracelet on my wrist.
He smiles, and his eyes crinkle just as I remember, and I can’t be afraid of him. But now I look at him with more interest than I did as a seven-year-old. Brown wavy hair reaches his shoulders, and there’s the shadow of stubble on his chin.
“A friend,” he says, with a lilt to his voice that’s pleasant and reassuring. Like no voice I’ve heard before. A voice for reciting poetry.
“Why are you watching me?” I ask, still unafraid, despite the fact that I’m alone with a strange man. He doesn’t feel like a stranger to me, though.
He tilts his head to one side. His face is unlined yet full of wisdom. “To make sure you’re safe.”
“That’s a funny answer. Why wouldn’t I be safe? I’m with my dad.”
“Not now you’re not.”
I frown. “That’s because I followed you.”
He grins. “How do you know you’re safe then?”
Of course, I don’t. Any amount of danger might be lurking. He can’t be the source of it though because for some reason I know he means me no harm.
A different tack is needed. “What d’you want? Why me? Why do I need a guardian angel?”
This makes him laugh out loud. “No-one’s ever called me that before.”
I scowl because I don’t like being laughed at. “Why me?”
He doesn’t answer but indicates the bracelet on my wrist with a nod of his head. “I’m glad to see your mother let you wear it. Never take it off. It’s your protection when I’m not here.”
With all the wisdom of my thirteen years, it begins to dawn on me that he might just be a teeny bit nutty. After all, this is Glastonbury, and he is wearing Fancy-Dress as though he’s off to a party, or is maybe an actor playing a part. But there’s also something deep within my mind that’s urging me to believe him.
“My mother’s dead,” I say. It’s a ploy I’ve used a number of times to put people on the back foot. It usually works a treat.
It doesn’t with him. He just nods. “I know.”
“How do you know? How do you know me? Are you a stalker?”
He holds his hand up to silence me. “Your name is Guinevere. You’re thirteen years old. Your father is Professor Andrew Fry. Your twin brother is Arthur Fry. Your mother Alison died when you were eight.”
“You are a stalker.” I’m still not afraid, even though he knows so much about me, but I take a wary step back, just the same.
“I don’t know what a stalker is. I’m here to keep you safe. Go back now to your father and brother. Never take your bracelet off. One day we’ll meet again, but not until you’re ready.”
He straightens up from where he’s been leaning against the wall and steps inside the empty tower. I follow him, to have it out with him. He hasn’t answered my questions properly at all. He’s only left me with more, and I’m angry. I look inside the tower. It’s empty.
The memory blew away.
My father’s ashes settled, and the air was empty once again, but the musical note continued. I put the open urn down beside my backpack and walked around the tower, half expecting to see the Fancy-Dress-Man lurking there, intruding on my grief. But there was nothing. Not a soul. I looked down the frosty hillside in every direction. Still nothing. Yet that musical note swelled until it filled the crisp early morning air.
“I know you’re here,” I called out, my voice lost and small in the stillness of the morning. Anger made me bold. “Come out right now.”
Nothing. I walked around the tower again, then paused and looked inside. Low sunlight slanted in across the uneven paving slabs, but it was as empty as everywhere else.
Or was it?
Something shone on the ground in one corner.
I stepped inside. The note, loud in my ears, rose to a crescendo. A ring. Lying there on the flagstones.
I took another step. The morning sun filled the ancient building, bouncing off the uneven walls, magnified so much I had to screw up my eyes against the glare. On the floor at my feet, the ring shone as though a star had fallen from the sky. The musical note rose. I bent, reaching for the ring. It looked like solid gold. Carved on its face was a dragon, identical to the ones on my bracelet. My outstretched fingers touched it.
Bright lights exploded like fireworks. Some powerful force yanked me forwards, and I fell, arms outstretched to save myself, fingers clenched tight around the ring. A high-pitched wailing filled my head and the sunlight was extinguished. All around me the stone walls of the tower melted and vanished.