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Five Go to Danger’s Keep

Chapter Text

‘Julian!’ called Dick, running down the school corridor with a piece of paper fluttering in his hand. ‘Hey Julian!’

His older brother turned round in surprise. ‘What’s up?’ he asked.

‘Anne and George are getting a midterm break the same time as us! Why didn’t we notice it before?’

Julian took the telegram from Dick and examined it with interest. It was from their younger sister Anne, and George, their cousin, who was Dick’s age. ‘Gosh, you’re right! We’ll all have four days off over the weekend.’

‘Why don’t we spend it together?’ suggested Dick. ‘We deserve a nice time after all the work we’ve done.’

Julian grinned. ‘That sounds fine. It’s a good thing we haven’t bought train tickets home yet.’

‘Let’s all go to Kirren again,’ said Dick. ‘I miss George’s island, and the sea — and don’t you remember the old farmhouse with the secret ways?’

‘Of course!’ said Julian, smiling to remember the adventures they had had in holidays gone by. ‘But wait a bit, I’ve got another idea—’

Before he could say anything, a schoolmaster came up.

‘Julian, Dick, don’t be late for your classes,’ he said, nodding to a nearby clock. ‘And don’t let things slip just because the break is coming.’

Julian folded the telegram and put it in his pocket. ‘Yes sir. We can pore over this later.’

The schoolmaster nodded approvingly, and walked on, his hands behind his back like a crow.

Julian winked at Dick. ‘Old Henderson has to fulfil his remit. Can’t let his foot soldiers forget their place.’

Dick grinned. ‘Well, we should keep our grades up. Imagine having to stay behind when we could be gallivanting on the beach with Timmy!’

Timmy was George’s dog, and was every bit a member of the Famous Five as the four children. He and George were inseparable.

The two boys parted and went to their classes, trying to concentrate and forget the fun they would have with the other three. When their lessons were over they met outside on the grass, and Julian told Dick his idea.

‘There’s an old ruin in the Dorset countryside, Tolmen Castle,’ he said. ‘It’s roughly between our school and the girls’. Why don’t we catch a bus to the village there, meet up, and go for a hike on the hills?’

‘Well, I’ll miss the beach,’ said Dick, ‘but I must say that sounds super. We haven’t gone hiking in ages.’

‘You might get your beach as well,’ said Julian. ‘There’s a lake near the castle with its own shore. The ruins aren’t like the ones on George’s island, but they’ll do.’

‘I’m up for it,’ said Dick. ‘Let’s telegram the girls and see what they think.’

The two boys walked to the post office in the village by the school, sent a telegram to the girls, and bought an ice cream each for the walk back.

The girls responded the next day, and to the boys’ delight they both thought it was a grand idea.

‘Super!’ said Dick, clutching the telegram. ‘Just one more day of school left and then we’ll be off.’

‘Today’s a Wednesday,’ said Julian, ‘so we’ll pack tomorrow and be ready for Friday. We’ll set off in the morning and meet the girls in the afternoon. Then we’ll have some daylight before we stop for the night. We’ll have to camp at least once before we get to the castle.’

So, the next day, the boys packed one light bag each, and went down to the village again for supplies — some extra bedding for their tents, batteries for their torches, and a few cans of food.

‘I’ve missed this,’ said Dick as they walked back. ‘It always makes me feel excited when we’re getting ready for an adventure.’

‘Who says it’ll be an adventure?’ said Julian, laughing. ‘We’ve become so used to mysterious goings-on that we expect them in the most normal places! No, I think we’ll have a relaxing time of it. Just some walking and a spot of camping. Didn’t you say we needed a break?’

‘Yes, from school,’ said Dick, ‘but I didn’t mean anything dull. Sounds like you’re losing your spirit, Ju.’

‘Perhaps I’m getting old,’ said Julian, grinning. ‘Look, if anything eventful does happen, I won’t pooh-pooh it, but all the same I could do with a few quiet days.’

‘Whatever you say, old man,’ said Dick drily. ‘I just hope the weather holds up. It’s been agonising seeing the sun shine when we’re holed up in a schoolroom. If nothing exciting happens, at least we’ll be outside enjoying ourselves.’

But unbeknownst to Dick, something exciting was about to happen!

Chapter Text

It felt like Friday would never arrive, but finally it did. Dick awoke from pleasant dreams to the sound of his shrill alarm. Turning it off, he remembered what day it was, and hugged himself under the covers. He felt like Timmy: longing to stretch his legs. The boy jumped out of bed, got dressed and brushed his teeth, and went outside to meet Julian.

The sun was still shining, giving its nod of approval to the children’s plan. The boys threw their bags over their shoulders and walked to the village bus stop.

‘Off home again?’ asked the driver. ‘Can’t be a long stay.’

‘Not that far,’ said Julian, putting down the fare and taking his ticket. ‘Spot of camping at Tolmen Castle.’

‘Oh aye,’ the driver said. ‘Was a fine place before it fell into ruin.’

The boys found a seat and Julian got out his map. He looked for the spot of blue and found it: the lake next to the castle ruins.

‘There’s our destination,’ he said. ‘I could do with a bathe.’

‘Especially in this weather,’ said Dick, fanning himself.

The journey was hot and dusty, and the boys were relieved to stumble out over an hour later. As the bus rumbled away, they found themselves in the square of a small village. There were a few shops here and there, but mainly houses: old cottages with thatched roofs. The sky burned a brilliant blue.

The girls would be arriving any minute, so Dick suggested getting an ice cream from the parlour. They were just walking in when they heard a wonderful sound behind them.

‘Woof! Woof!’

They spun round, and sure enough, there was Timmy! He bounded up to them, and Dick almost dropped his money trying to pet him.

‘Hallo Timmy!’ he said, pleased to see the big dog again. ‘Where’s your mistress?’

‘Master, you mean,’ said a freckled girl with short dark hair.

‘George!’ cried Julian.

The girl walked up to the boys and slapped them on their backs. Anne was behind her, and gave both boys a hug. The two girls could have passed for sister and brother, because, as usual, George — who refused to answer to her full name, Georgina — had her hair cut like a boy’s, while Anne’s was long and blonde.

‘Don’t give Timmy any more ice cream,’ said George, trying to get a hold on the dog, who was leaping around the children in excitement. ‘He’s already had a whole one.’

‘We arrived ten minutes ago,’ said Anne, putting down her bag. ‘I say, this is awfully heavy.’

‘You can put some stuff in mine,’ said Julian, who was very fond of his younger sister. There’s quite a walk ahead of us.’

‘How far is it to the ruins?’ asked George.

‘Thirteen miles,’ said Julian. ‘We’ll camp before nightfall.’

The two boys bought their ice creams, then all four of them set off in the spring sunshine. Their route, carefully marked out by Julian on his map, took them out of the village and into the countryside, down footpaths, by railways, through fields and over stiles. Flowers threw up their yellow and purple faces as they went, shaking off the winter and embracing the warmer weather.

They stopped for a bite to eat in a sloping meadow, in earshot of gently bleating lambs, with the countryside spread out before them like a tablecloth. Anne had stuffed her bag with food, and now she set it out before them.

‘Golly,’ said Dick, looking round. ‘Fresh bread, cheese, tomatoes, a bunch of radishes — oh, and bottles of lemonade!’

‘No wonder your bag was so heavy,’ said Julian, eagerly breaking open a roll and filling it with cheese and lettuce. ‘Anything else in there?’

‘Plenty,’ said Anne. ‘Scones, jam, apples, and some boiled sweets to suck on tomorrow as we walk.’

‘Yes, we’d better ration our supplies,’ said Julian. ‘We won’t reach another shop until tomorrow afternoon.’

‘I hope there aren’t any tourists about,’ said George, grabbing a handful of bright radishes. ‘They always ruin the nicest spots.’

‘Don’t worry about that,’ said Julian. ‘The ruins are in a pretty remote place. There’s a small village about two miles away, but tourists go to castles with better ruins, or ones that are still standing.’

‘What happened to it?’ asked Anne.

‘It was destroyed during the Civil War,’ said Julian. ‘Apparently they put up quite a fight, but they were besieged for weeks, and in the end it fell.’

‘And not much was left by the end of it,’ George surmised. ‘Maybe we can find out more from the locals.’

‘Oh, I’m sure there are plenty of stories to tell,’ said Dick, opening a bottle of lemonade with a sharp fizz. ‘Local people always have a lot to say about their past, especially small places like that.’

The Five lazed in the tall grass after they had finished, then Julian clapped his hands.

‘Come on,’ he said, ‘we don’t want to fall asleep and wake up in the middle of the night. Let’s go on for another hour, and see if we can find a good place to camp.’

‘Yes, we don’t want to wake up to an angry farmer,’ said Dick.

‘Or an angry cow,’ said George, and they all laughed.

They tidied away their meal, making sure they didn’t leave any litter behind, and slung their bags over their shoulders again. Above them the sun began to wane, as clouds slid smoothly across its face. In the distance the sky grew fiercely orange.

The children passed from fields into woodland. Timmy ran on ahead, and George called to him.

‘Don’t go too far, Timmy. We don’t want to lose you down a rabbit hole.’

Timmy barked back. Every now and then the children could see him darting about amongst the trees. After a few minutes George called again, but there was no reply.

‘Bother,’ she said, crossly. ‘Trust Timmy to get lost just as it’s getting dark.’ Suddenly she put her bag down and jogged off into the gloom.

Julian called after her. ‘George! Don’t get lost yourself! Remember Timmy can smell his way back to us.’

But George ignored him, calling out Timmy’s name and whistling. The other three children stood pensively.

‘Great,’ said Dick. ‘Now we’ve lost two members.’

They heard a distant bark, then another, and finally a call from George. They took off in what they hoped was her direction — and suddenly they came out into a glade, the ground dry and leafy.

‘I say, this looks like a good spot for our tents,’ said Julian. ‘But where’s George?’

His question was answered immediately, as Timmy leapt out into the clearing from the trees, followed by their cousin.

‘There you are,’ said George. ‘Timmy’s made the most wonderful discovery. Listen!’

Julian, Dick and Anne all stood still and listened, and in the silence a most pleasing sound came to them. It was the babbling of water!

‘Timmy wasn’t looking for rabbits,’ said George, with a grin. ‘He was thirsty! Come and look at what he’s found.’

They all followed her through the trees surrounding the glade, and came out on the bank of a small stream. The water chuckled over its pebbly bed, smooth and pure.

‘It’s crystal clear,’ said Dick, crouching down and cupping his hands into the water. He tasted it. ‘It’s delicious!’

‘Well, that’s settled it,’ said Julian, pleased. ‘Timmy’s found the perfect spot for us.’

They went back to the clearing and quickly set up their tents.

‘Golly, I’m tired,’ said Dick, patting down his bedding inside the boys’ tent. ‘A bus ride can be as tiring as a walk.’

‘I know what you mean,’ said Julian, lying down. He called to the girls. ‘Goodnight, girls! Let’s all get some sleep. We’ve a long day ahead of us tomorrow.’

The girls called goodnight, and settled down. As usual, Timmy slept by George’s feet. During term time he had to be kept in a kennel, and after the girl had been caught sneaking him into her dormitory, was lucky he hadn’t been banished outright. Now he could spend all night with his beloved George.

In the quiet wood the only sounds the children could hear were the gentle murmur of the stream and Timmy’s tail patting happily.

Chapter Text

The next day the Five awoke early to the sound of birds singing high above them. Yawning and stretching, they staggered out of their tents and looked around. In the bright sunlight the clearing looked even nicer, and the bright water sounded inviting.

‘I’m parched,’ said Dick. ‘Let’s fill up our water bottles before we go.’

They all dipped their bottles into the gurgling water, then packed their tents away. The birdsong increased until it was a consistent chorus between them and the sun. Julian checked his compass, then pointed the way.

‘Quick march, everyone!’ he said. ‘We should reached Tolmen Village by one o’clock.’

They set off again, Timmy sometimes walking with them, sometimes galloping off at a perching bird or a dark rabbit hole. Their journey took them through footpaths, past lakes and over hills. After a few hours of walking, George gave a shout.

‘Hey, I think I can see the village!’

From the crest of a rocky tor, the children gazed down at a snug congregation of shops and houses in the middle of the tawny countryside.

‘We’ve made good time,’ said Julian, taking a swig of water. ‘There’s plenty of daytime left, so let’s wander down slowly.’

At the foot of the hill was a narrow country road that led into the village, a dark green ditch on one side and a field of rapeseed on the other. Soon the odd house appeared, and finally the main high street with its post office and bakery. The smell of warm bread met them. The sun was rapturous.

‘What a sleepy place!’ said George. ‘I say, let’s buy some rolls for later.’

‘Good idea,’ said Julian, and they all trooped into the dim building.

The woman behind the counter smiled at them. ’Shouldn’t you be in school?’ she teased.

‘We won’t cause any trouble, I promise,’ said Dick, with a grin. ‘This shortbread looks heavenly.’

‘It’s fresh today,’ said the woman. ‘I expect you’re camping or hiking?’

‘A bit of both,’ said Julian. ‘We’re going to investigate the old ruins. They’re near here, aren’t they?’

‘Yes,’ said the woman, putting some shortbread into a paper bag. ‘Just follow the signs. There’s not much to them, you know, but the lake is very nice, especially in this weather.’

‘For sure,’ said Dick. ‘But we like looking around old ruins. George even has her own castle!’

The woman gave him an odd expression, as if she weren’t quite sure if he was joking.

The children walked out of the bakery laden with cakes and bread. Julian looked around and immediately saw a signpost with a small pictogram and ‘2 miles’ written next to it. They headed down a footpath and were soon back in the countryside again.

‘It’s good to be within walking distance of the village,’ said Anne. ‘I don’t want us to be too out of the way.’

‘I like being far away from anywhere,’ said George, with a shrug. ‘Just the sun and the water, with no one else about.’

‘You must have loved growing up in Kirren,’ said Dick. ‘I bet you took your boat out to the island all the time during summer.’

‘And spring and autumn,’ said George. ‘I didn’t go to school until I met you.’

‘Sorry about that,’ said Dick, and they all laughed. ‘This lake won’t be as nice as the ocean and the wreck, but it’ll still be great with all this sun.’

Soon the footpath opened out to hilly land, and at once the Five could see the haphazard remains of the castle dotted about: the bases of towers, turrets long gone, and fallen stonework smoothed by the centuries.

‘Not too spectacular,’ said Julian, as they climbed a gentle slope. ‘But on the other side…’

As he spoke, the children reached the centre of the ruin at the top of the hill, and saw beneath them the bright blue shimmering lake. It was much larger than they had imagined.

‘Gorgeous!’ said Anne. ‘Let’s take our shoes off and paddle.’

They let their bags slip to the ground, and ran down to where the gentle waves glistened and lapped the shoreline. The sun produced a golden belt from one side all the way to the other. Far away the lake turned into a river and vanished behind trees.

The children took off their shoes and socks, and enjoyed the cool feeling on their feet. Timmy ran in with a splash, and showered them with drops. Then they went back to their backpacks, and got out the paper bags from the bakery.

‘What a spread,’ said Dick, approvingly. ‘I’ve got my eye on those flapjacks…’

After eating entirely too much, they sat back and lazed in the sun.

‘Not a soul around,’ murmured George, lying on her back with her eyes half closed. ‘Just the way I like it.’

But no sooner had the words left her lips, than a voice called out from behind them.

‘Hello there!’ it said.

Chapter Text

The children sat up abruptly, and Julian got to his feet. Two men were standing amongst the stones of Tolmen Castle, one middle-aged, the other younger. Both were dressed in shirts and slacks, and resembled professors on a lunch break. The younger man took off his round, thick-rimmed glasses, and cleaned them with his shirt while the other man spoke.

‘Nice spot you’ve found here.’

‘Yes,’ said Julian, squinting. The two men were almost silhouettes against the bright blue sky. ‘We’re camping for our midterm break.’

‘Good idea,’ said the man, though he seemed disinterested. The other man looked diffident. ‘We’re studying these ruins. I’m an historian, you see.’

‘Really?’ said Dick. ‘We were hoping to find out more about them ourselves.’

‘Odd for a bunch of kids,’ said the man, surprised. ‘I’d have thought you’d be more at home in a fair, or playing football.’

George felt patronised. ‘We’re not ten,’ she said curtly. ‘Besides, don’t you want people to be interested in history?’

‘Oh, of course,’ said the man smoothly. ‘We can all learn from the past.’

There was a silence. Dick addressed the other man. ‘Are you an historian, too?’

‘Oh no, I… I’m just helping out Mr Grey here,’ said the man, a little flustered. ‘How long are you going to be here?’

‘Oh, for a while,’ said Julian, vaguely. The two men were giving him a curious feeling, and he sensed their irritation at the children’s presence. ‘We’ll set up camp tonight, and maybe head into the village tomorrow morning.’

‘Yes, that’s a good idea,’ said the older man. ‘There’s an inn there that does a wonderful breakfast.’

‘Thanks,’ said Julian, losing interest and wishing the men would go away. ‘I think we’ll set our tents up now, if you don’t mind.’

‘Of course,’ said the man, looking over the stones around them. ‘We’re staying at Tolmen Farmhouse, so perhaps we’ll see you again sometime.’

Julian nodded amiably, and the two men wandered off.

‘Curious fellows,’ he said, with a frown.

‘There would be other people the minute we got here,’ said George, crossly.

‘Well, we don’t own the place,’ said Julian, shrugging. ‘Hopefully our paths won’t cross again. If need be we can always camp somewhere else.’

The children unpacked their tents and put them up near some of the more intact walls, to guard against the evening wind, which was picking up. After that they sat between the tents and had a light meal of apples and shortbread, as the sun slipped below the horizon and the evening gloom turned the lake from blue to navy.

Julian looked at the sky. ‘Clouds are coming in,’ he said. ‘We’d better turn in. Tomorrow we’ll go to the village, and maybe find out more about Tolmen and its history.’

After a long day of walking, the children were glad to lie down and shut their eyes. Only Timmy remained half awake. He was the best guard they could have.

Chapter Text

Julian was the first to awake in the morning. He liked those puzzling moments of trying to recall where he was when he was away from home. The image of the lake came into his mind and he remembered: he was lying amongst the remains of an ancient castle.

He stretched himself, got dressed, and left Dick sleeping in the tent. Outside the weather was more subdued than the previous day: a weaker sun peeked out from silver clouds, and a cool wind blew over the hill and into the former courtyard.

Julian looked around. He had visited castles before, most in better condition than this one, and now he tried to identify where everything had originally stood.

‘Let me see,’ he thought. ‘This was the courtyard, or bailey. The great hall and kitchen were over there, with two or three gatehouses on different sides of the hill.’

The boy knew that the castle must have had a fortified building known as a keep — a place of last refuge during attack from an enemy — but he could not see the remains of one. He gazed to his right at a crop of trees, and rubbed his chin. On a hunch, he took off, striding over the grass, and reached a slope on which the trees stood. It was quite overgrown, but through the branches he could see grey stones. He had to break a few branches to find a way through, but after a minute he was standing by the base of a stone tower. In contrast to the rest of the castle, it was in good condition. Julian wondered if it had stood the test of time because of its construction, or because the trees had helped keep invaders out. Perhaps the trees had grown up after the place was abandoned. A few feet away was the entrance: a dark opening in the stone, its wooden door long gone. It gave him a creepy feeling.

He looked up. Though the tower was quite tall, it had been completely hidden from view by the treetops. He remembered the village and its potential lore, and decided to return to the tents.

The other children were up and about when he got back.

‘Where have you been?’ asked Dick.

‘Exploring. I found the old keep. It’s in pretty good condition. Rather a lot of undergrowth around it, though.’

‘Well, let’s clear it away and go inside,’ said George.

‘Later, perhaps,’ said Julian, putting his wallet and a bottle of water into his rucksack. ‘I don’t want us climbing up a staircase that crumbles underneath us. Let’s go to the village and see if we can find out more about the place.’

They zipped up their tents and set off down the footpath, each crunching on a juicy apple and enjoying the sunshine, which by now was beating down with more confidence. It was only a half hour’s walk to the village, and soon they found themselves in its sleepy high street again.

They looked around. There was a junk shop, a hairdresser, a butcher’s, and a pub with a slowly creaking sign — The Owl & Otter. Julian led them to the junk shop: a dingy building full of paintings, ornaments and knick-knacks. Inside it took a moment for their eyes to get used to the dimness, then the curious nature of the place revealed itself.

‘What a load of rubbish!’ said George, looking round.

‘You never know,’ said Dick, picking up a dusty sword. ‘Some of this might be quite valuable.’

‘Don’t get your hopes up!’ said Julian. ‘All the same, it’s an interesting place.’

From behind them a hoarse voice shouted.

‘Thieves! Pirates!’

The children spun round in alarm. From a back room loomed a large old man with a walking stick, his face surrounded by a bushy white beard. He shook his stick at them and repeated, ‘Thieves!’

Timmy growled, and George grabbed hold of his collar. They were lost for words, but then a young woman walked up behind the old man.

‘Now now, grandad, these kids can’t be responsible for that! Sit you down and I’ll make you a cup of tea.’

The old man grumbled something under his breath, but allowed the woman to lead him back. The woman looked at the children, and said, ‘Come inside. He’ll be alright.’

Julian smiled and followed her, and the others followed suit. The back room was filled by sunlight through French windows; outside was a small patio with a table and chairs. “Grandad” sat down in an old rocking chair in a corner of the room while the woman filled a kettle with water.

‘Don’t worry about grandad,’ she said, as the children filed in cautiously. ‘He’s just upset about a robbery we had.’

‘What happened?’ asked Anne.

‘A painting disappeared the other day. Nothing valuable, though the thief seemed to think it was, whoever they were. I didn’t notice it had gone, but grandad knew instantly. He knows every artefact here!’

‘He’s a bit of a relic himself,’ muttered George, and Dick gave her a prod in the ribs.

‘Well, needless to say we had nothing to do with it,’ said Julian, smiling. ‘I don’t blame him, though — we are strangers here.’

‘I know,’ said the woman, getting an odd assortment of cups from a cupboard, and milk from a fridge. ‘Lucy from the baker’s told me about you, and how much you bought.’

‘Can’t march on an empty stomach,’ said Dick, grinning. ‘We’re camping at the castle ruins.’

The old man perked up at that. ‘Castle? Tolmen Castle? I could tell you a thing or two about that, young man.’

The kettle began to whistle.

‘Now now,’ said the woman, in her friendly south-west way. ‘We’ll be here all day if you start telling tales.’

‘Oh, by all means go ahead,’ said Julian, keen to know more about the castle and its milieu. He sat down on the floor and so did the other children. ‘How did it fall apart?’

The old man seemed to soften. Holding his walking stick like a venerated symbol, he made himself comfortable, and gazed off above their heads, as if conjuring the castle as it once had been.