The Moon Stealers and the Quest for the Silver Bough

The Yorkshire town of Parsley Bottom has a problem…

Peter Crisp, a boy with an unusual gift of being able to see things that others cannot, goes missing after spending the night in a graveyard. Two of Peter's school friends, join forces with a Knight of King Arthur to attempt to find him but come across some mysterious engravings which propel them on an adventure beyond their imagination.

Meanwhile MI6 operative Steven Knight is sent from London to investigate a meteor landing site, but Steven is advised by his own boss not to trust the puppeteers that hold the strings to his investigation. Within the core of the meteor is an alien bacteria that evolves at an alarming rate that not only puts Steven's life at risk, but the entire human race.

By unravelling ancient codes and riddles the children journey within the bowels of Edinburgh Castle as they attempt to find the key to Peter’s disappearance. The children not only need to save Peter, they need to save the world while they’re at

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26. The Silver Bough

Once again Edgar and the children walked down the Royal Mile past the shops to the Queens Gallery and the entrance to Holyroodhouse Palace. Edgar had picked up some sandwiches as it was already late afternoon by the time they arrived. They quickly joined onto the last toured admission to the Palace and walked out into a large square courtyard together with the rest of the tour group. The guide began his well used speech about the history of the palace as well as providing some amusing facts, but neither Edgar nor the children were listening.

The bard’s sweet song turns water to stone,’ Edgar repeated under his breath.

‘What exactly is a bard anyway?’, asked Joe.

‘They were people who sang songs of Knights' courage and adventures,’ whispered Scarlet.

‘Maybe there’s a statue of a bard inside the Palace.’

‘I remember when we went on holiday to the Peak District….’ Max began before being interrupted.

‘What’s that got to do with the Silver Bough?’, asked Joe as the tour group moved across the courtyard towards the entrance to the Palace, above which the royal coat of arms was carved into the stone.

‘Well, I was thinking about the stalactites and stalagmites that grew inside the caves. They had been formed by water which turned into stone.’

‘So you think we’re looking for a cave beneath the Palace?’

‘Possibly, but I was thinking more about that fountain over there,’ replied Max pointing his finger in the direction of a tall algae covered statue that stood in the centre of the courtyard. ‘This map says it’s a Victorian fountain, although there doesn’t look like there’s any water coming out of it. But, if it’s so old, it may not be working anymore, so you could say that the water has turned it to stone.’

‘It’s worth taking a look,’ said Edgar as he started striding towards the large ornate fountain in the centre of the courtyard. ‘We’ll catch up with you in a minute,’ he shouted to the tour guide as the group continued towards the Palace entrance. Edgar and the children now stood on the edge of a well groomed circle of grass looking up at the fountain.

Lion heads protruded from around the stone base whilst above it many different characters supported animals making up the arms of the crown shaped fountain at the top where statues of guards stood proudly holding their weapons. They all walked around the grass looking at the fountain from different angles for clues that might fit Hadwyn’s riddle.

‘Didn’t you say that the Silver Bough was a simple pipe?’, Joe asked Edgar.

‘Yes. But it’s not likely to appear in its silver form.’

‘Well, there’s a piper over here,’ said Joe from one side of the fountain. They all crowded round to where Joe was standing and looked up at the figure he was pointing to. On one of the ornate supports that went up from the base, they looked at a stained green man with a round hat and a flowing cape who was frozen in time, blowing into a pipe.

‘Does that look like the Silver Bough?’, asked Joe.

‘I can’t remember in detail; it’s so long since I saw Arthur presenting it to Hadwyn. It was a simple object with no jewels or gems, just a simple shaped flute with a series of finger holes.’

They all continued to look up at the statue and wondered if this really could be the Silver Bough that was in the hands of the stone piper. The back of the group of tourists had now gone through the main building doorway without them and apart from some tourists taking photographs of the Palace, no one seemed to be paying the four of them and the fountain any attention.

‘There looks like some writing on the base of the piper statue,’ said Joe, squinting. ‘It looks like the same style as the writing on the stones in the Faerie Ring, as well as on Hadwyn’s shield.’ They all squinted upwards trying to make out what was scratched around of the edge of the base beneath the piper’s feet.

‘It could just be the maker’s mark,’ suggested Scarlet.

‘Or graffiti,’ added Max.

Edgar strained his eyes to see the writing and took out his notebook, jotting down what was written.

The children waited while Edgar studied the letters.

A smile crept over his face. ‘It’s a message from Hadwyn,’ he said excitedly. ‘This is definitely the Silver Bough.’

‘How can you be so certain?’, Max asked.

‘The writing is a series of letters, the first three are HSC, Hadwyn's initials: Hadwyn St Clair. Then a series of dots counting four and the last two are EG, my initials, Edgar Gorlois. It’s a message: Hadwyn St Clair, for Edgar Gorlois.’

‘Then we’ve found it!’, Joe said.

Edgar nodded. ‘All we have to do is take it from the statue.’

From one true touch the stone will part,’ muttered Scarlet as she recalled the next line of the riddle.

‘What does one true touch mean?’, Joe asked Edgar.

‘Have you heard of the story of the sword in the stone?’, Edgar replied. They all nodded. ‘Well, this must be something similar: no matter how strong someone is or how hard they try, only one person can release the pipe from the stone bard. The true touch refers to the person who can remove the pipe, like King Arthur was the only one who could remove the sword Excalibur from the stone.’

The children nodded, remembering stories from their childhood as well as films that showed Arthur pulling Excalibur from the stone.

‘Hadwyn’s riddle said that the stone would part, but only for someone with a true touch so there’s only one way to find out if this is the Silver Bough and that’s to see if one of us can remove it from the piper’s grip.’ He paused as he looked around the courtyard. ‘Keep an eye out for an official,’ he instructed to the children as he stepped over the grass and climbed onto the base of the fountain. He climbed up until he was standing next to the piper. Worried that someone would see him, he quickly examined the piper then tried to remove the pipe, but it was secure and would not loosen from the piper’s grasp. He jumped back down again and went to stand next to the children.

 ‘It didn’t work,’ said Scarlet. ‘You’re Hadwyn’s brother as well as a knight of King Arthur; surely it would recognise something familiar in you to that of your brother? Maybe this is all wrong, maybe this isn’t the silver bough after all and we need to look inside the palace.’

‘But maybe I’m just not the right person,’ replied Edgar thoughtfully. ‘Excalibur couldn’t be pulled from the stone no matter how strong the knight was. An unlikely person in Arthur was the one it was waiting for. If this is the Silver Bough, it will choose the right person. Each one of you now needs to try. It will recognise something in the soul of the person touching it and willingly give itself up.’

Scarlet stepped towards the fountain and Edgar lifted her up onto the base. She then climbed further until she was standing alongside the statue of the piper.

‘Don’t move!’, instructed Edgar urgently to Scarlet as he noticed an official looking man walking across the courtyard towards them. As he approached, they could see from the embroidering on his sweater that he was employed by the Palace. His walkie-talkie buzzed with interference.

‘If you wish to get the full tour of the palace in before closing time, I would suggest that you shortly made you way inside,’ he said to Edgar.

‘Thank you,’ replied Edgar, ‘we will.’

The official glanced up at the fountain that he had seen every single day since he began working at the Palace.

As he was just about to turn and go, he hesitated, as if he had spotted something that was different to the other hundreds of times he had looked at the fountain. Edgar, Max and Joe held their breath, expecting the man to tell Scarlet off for climbing on the statue, but instead he reached up to the nearest lion’s head and picked a hard, stale piece of chewing gum from its forehead. He tutted loudly then walked away towards the entrance of the Palace. Edgar and the children couldn’t believe that the man hadn’t seen Scarlet, but as they looked up towards the statue, they couldn’t see her either. Slowly, from behind the stone cape of the statue, Scarlet’s red hair began to peer out. She smiled nervously and waited for Edgar to give her the all clear sign before she stepped out. Reaching up to the pipe she grasped a hand firmly around it and pulled slightly, trying to slide it from the piper’s grasp.

Nothing happened.

Edgar lifted Scarlet down, checked once again that no one was watching them then helped Joe up to the statue. He too reached up and grasped the pipe with one hand and gave a gentle pull, but nothing happened.

After a couple of seconds a faint but high pitched mellow whistle erupted into the air, as if the stone piper was actually playing the pipe. Joe quickly withdrew his hand, but where his fingers had been it appeared as if he had left an imprint on the pipe like a shimmering coating. It reflected light like the mirrored surface of a pool of mercury and slowly the green algae discolouration changed into a shining silver pipe. Joe looked down at Edgar who gave him an encouraging smile. He reached up once again and this time the silver bough slid effortlessly from the piper’s stone grasp and into the surprised hands of Joe. The sweet singing of angelic voices filled the air, making Joe feel like he was floating in a dream.

‘You’ve done it!’, said Scarlet in amazement, bringing Joe out of his dream-like state. ‘You’re the one the Silver Bough has chosen.’

He jumped off the fountain and immediately the others crowded round him to get a good look at the Silver Bough. They were all surprised to see how plain it was. There were just a few simple carvings etched into the shimmering surface around the mouth-piece and the exit.

‘The Silver Bough chooses its owner,’ explained Edgar to Joe, ‘there must be many good reasons why it has chosen you.’

As they looked at the Silver Bough in Joe’s hands, there seemed to be something magical drawing Max and Scarlet towards it. They felt an overwhelming urge to touch the surface, but before they got the chance, Edgar threw an old cloth over it. The distant sound of soft voices that sang in a language Joe did not recognise stopped suddenly as if the Silver Bough had been turned off at the touch of the cloth.

‘We need to leave as quickly as we can,’ said Edgar urgently. ‘Joe, you need to hide the Bough where no one can see it.’

They left the courtyard of Holyroodhouse Palace and walked back towards Waverley Station, where they had arrived in Edinburgh only the day before. Inside the station the children stood together whilst Edgar went to get the tickets for the next train back to Harrogate.

‘It will be nice to see our families again,’ said Scarlet to the other two.

‘Can I have another look at it?’, asked Max curiously. ‘I wonder if it would have released itself for me too.’

‘I think I should probably keep it hidden,’ said Joe as he nervously looked over to where Edgar was talking to the lady inside a ticket booth.

‘It can’t do any harm just showing me.’

Joe reluctantly lifted one side of the cloth from around the Silver Bough and almost immediately the angelic sounds started to fill the air like wisps of smoke circling around them. They received some odd looks from people as they walked past to get onboard a train, but everyone was too busy to stop and see what was producing the noise. Max looked longingly at the highly polished surface of the Silver Bough. His hand reached out towards it and his fingers lightly brushed the surface. Suddenly, the inside of the train station was filled with an ear piecing screech like an animal crying in pain. Joe nearly dropped the pipe as the scream pierced his ears, whilst other people in the station instinctively put their hands up to cover theirs. Max immediately removed his hand from the metal surface and took a step backwards. Although the sound had only lasted for a second, they could all hear it ringing inside their heads.

Joe was suddenly aware of an adult standing next to him, a look of fury on his face. ‘Don’t ever touch it again!’, said Edgar in anger to Max as he threw the cloth back over the Silver Bough. ‘Put it away!’, he spat to Joe.

‘What happened?’, asked Joe nervously.

‘Once the Silver Bough has chosen its owner, anyone else that attempts to use it will become tormented by the screams and curses of the lost souls that are trapped between the two worlds. Souls of those that are neither dead nor alive. Eventually they would drive you mad until you choose to take your own life and join them.’

They all sat in silence waiting for their time to come when they could board their train. It was now getting late and as the train pulled out of Waverley station, they could see that the greyness of the day had now turned into the darkness of the night.

The train rumbled along the track and soon all three children had dropped off to sleep. Edgar forced himself to stay awake, the train now carried an important cargo on its journey to Harrogate; a magical instrument that could only be used by its chosen owner. It was his duty now to protect and guide the children into a world they could not possibly imagine, but for now he let them sleep.

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