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The White Tower

Chapter 1

The Summons

“Okay… so why the sudden summons?”
    Hands on hips, the slim figure blocked the way. Jonathan smiled, wryly. One year older but still the same Victoria – direct and to the point. Perhaps it was obligatory with red hair. Whether or not, secretly he was glad she hadn’t changed.  
      “Because…”
      A shrill whistle drowned out his voice. A door slammed. Jonathan decided it was better to wait until the train had pulled away from the platform before answering and bent down to rescue the rucksack she had dumped at his feet.
      “I can manage, thanks. You concentrate on your story.” She grabbed the straps and slung the bag over her shoulder before adding: “…and it better be good.”
    Jonathan snorted. “It’s great to see you as well.”
    Victoria smiled. Immediately her stern expression softened. “Sorry… that was rude, wasn’t it? It really is good to see you. It’s been ages… far too long. But Jonathan, you worried me… I mean that phone call… out of the blue and so… so… dramatic. I just want to know…”
    “… what’s going on?”
    She giggled and linked her arm through his. “You know me too well. Come on… tell… I really do want to know everything.”
    “It’s not that easy to explain,” he said. “Honestly, I told you everything I knew last night. This Tamara turned up at the farm yesterday claiming to be a friend of the Gleeman…”        
      “And you think she’s telling the truth?” Although the main exit from the station was now in sight Victoria stopped so abruptly Jonathan almost fell over her. “Tell me, did you ask her how she knew the Gleeman?”
      He frowned and shook his head. “No, why should I? The way she spoke about him, the fact that she knew all about us convinced me.”
    They walked on.  
       “Sylvene could have given her those details!” Victoria said bluntly, breaking the silence at last.
    “Sylvene…”  Jonathan scowled. The last time they’d met they’d only just managed to escape from her. His eyes narrowed remembering her fury when she’d realised she had been unmasked. “No, I don’t think so. Openness was never her way.  And I can’t believe she’d suddenly change. Why would she?”
    Victoria wrinkled her nose. He grinned glad that she still did that when trying to figure out a problem.
    “To confuse us?” she suggested. “It would, wouldn’t it? Oh do stop grinning, Jonathan… Okay, Let’s assume you’re right and she knows the Gleeman; what else did she have to say?”
      “That the Gleeman had been taken prisoner and needs our help.” The hair on the back of his neck prickled as he remembered the frightened but defiant expression of the strange girl he’d found hiding in the barn.  
      “That can’t be all… there must have been more.”
      Jonathan stopped at the edge of the pavement. “There is… but she wouldn’t say what. She wanted us all to be together before she explained.” He cleared his throat. “At the time it seemed completely logical. She did say one other thing though…” he glanced across the street. “Oh no… this will have to wait. Look, there’s the bus. Come on we’d better hurry.”
      “Bus… what bus?” She stared at him.
      “The one we’ve got to catch of course. Ben’s probably already waiting for us at the bus station. Do hurry up,” and he dragged her across the road as he spoke.
      “No… tell me what you were going to say first.”
      “Once we’re safely on the bus… I promise.” Jonathan pushed her on to the platform and jumped on behind. He dug out a handful of coins from his jeans pockets and handed them to the driver. “Two to Marlborough Street, please.”  
      With the tickets safely in his pocket he hurried Victoria along the central aisle and shoved her into the first empty seat they came to. “Ben’s probably already there,” he repeated sitting down beside

her.
      “Never mind about Ben; what were you going to tell me?” Victoria said firmly.
                                                                             ***
Two hours later Jonathan led Victoria and Ben into a farmyard that was empty except for a sheepdog sniffing at the barn door.
      “Move Fog.” Jonathan pushed the dog out of the way and lifted the heavy old-fashioned wooden latch. The door, creaking loudly, opened. Holding it open he added: “Right, let’s go and find out what this is all about.”
      Victoria was the first to step into the barn. She sneezed and sneezed again as clouds of dust swirling up from the floor engulfed her. Wiping her streaming eyes she glanced back at Jonathan. “It’s no good… there’s too much dust… I can’t see anything.”  
      “Don’t move… it’ll soon settle,” Jonathan said.  He closed the door and the single shaft of sunlight streaming into the barn disappeared.
      “Great!” Ben protested. “Now I can’t see anything.”
      Jonathan flicked a switch. A light bulb flickered into life.
      Looking around, Ben and Victoria saw was a long line of straw bales stacked against the back wall. Cobwebs covered in dust dangled from the roof above their heads. An ancient plough lay abandoned in one corner; a manger with only three legs tilted crazily in another. But there was no sign of any girl.
      “Tamara, we’re here,” Jonathan said softly.
      A tiny rustle… like the scampering of a mouse over straw or leaves falling in the autumn… was the only answer.
      He walked over to a pile of straw, bent down and scattered it. “It’s quite safe. You can come out.”
      A small, grubby hand reached up.
      Taking it Jonathan pulled the young girl from her hiding place. Her face and arms were streaked with dirt; her long brown hair a tangled, matted knot. She couldn’t have been more than twelve… thirteen at the most which meant at least two or three years separated her from them.
      Ben and Victoria watched the two figures approaching in silence. Despite her dirty face there was something about the girl… something that demanded respect.
      Tamara stared back, her dark brown eyes cool and calculating. “You’ve come,” she said, stating the obvious while at the same time pulling at pieces of straw caught up in her hair.  
      “You told Jonathan you wanted to see us,” Victoria said, “so we came. Now you can tell us why you’re here.”
    “Did Jonathan tell you about the Gleeman?”
    They nodded.
     Tamara studied them for a moment then said: “Good!  Let’s sit down.”
      She dragged a bale of straw into the centre of the barn, perched on it and waited for them to find somewhere to sit. When they were comfortable she continued: “I’d better start at the beginning. My name is Tamara and I’m a gypsy.” She tilted her head proudly.  “I come from a long line of gypsies… proper gypsies… Romanies. Over the centuries my family has travelled backwards and forwards across Europe and Britain seeking work. The reason I’m telling you this is so that you can see how my life has always revolved around travel.”
      Her voice dropped and they had to lean forward to hear what she was saying.
    “I was six when I discovered that there was another form of travel… the kind that allows you to wander through time.”
    Ben opened his mouth and then closed it again.
      Jonathan frowned.
    “Time travel was fun.  At least, that’s what I thought when I was too young to realise the dangers. Tobias warned me about those…”
    “Tobias?”
      Tamara glanced at Victoria, her expression inscrutable. “Tobias… you know him as the Gleeman.”
    “You call the Gleeman Tobias?”
      She shrugged. “Why not?  It’s what my parents call him.  Anyway, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that he is the reason I’m here.”
    “Because you believe he’s been taken prisoner?” Jonathan asked.    
      “Because I know he’s been taken prisoner. I saw him arrested in London. No wait… don’t keep interrupting. Ask the questions when I’ve finished. We’d been camping in Norfolk for over a week – Mum and Dad were working in the strawberry fields – and I was bored. So I decided to go on one of my trips. After they’d left for work I sat down and closed my eyes. It was the awful smell that made me open them. I knew then I was somewhere in London… an old London… a London I’d never been to before…”
    “How did you know that?” Ben’s tone was sharp.
    She shrugged. “I just did. I’ve been to London lots of times, either on my travels or with Mum and Dad. It was quite definitely London. I decided to explore a little… then I saw Tobias walking towards me. He grinned and sort of bowed. I guess that’s why he didn’t see the men in the shadows. They were wearing fancy dress… at least I thought it was fancy dress…until I saw the swords.
    “They leapt out and surrounded him then marched him away…”
      “I don’t understand,” Victoria said interrupting her. “Why didn’t he just escape?  Surely with all his powers that wouldn’t have been too difficult?”
Tamara shrugged. “I know. I don’t understand that either. But he didn’t; so I followed making sure they didn’t see me. We’d gone some way when suddenly Tobias pushed the man on his left away but another of the soldiers grabbed him before he could get away. He turned, saw me and called out – ‘…tell the Guardians…tell the Guardians...’ as two of them held his arms and a third punched him in the stomach. The last thing I saw was him being dragged, unconscious, around a corner.”    
      Shocked, Jonathan said: “What did you do?”  
      “I went home; caught a bus and came to find you.”
      Ben drew in his breath sharply. “Are you saying the Gleeman told you about us?  When? And why?”
    Tamara stared at him. “When I was about eight; does it matter?”
    “Yes because he never said a word about you to us.”  
      “Surely that’s not important?”
    “It is to me.”
      “Tamara’s right.” Jonathan shook his head, warningly at him. “Honestly Ben, it doesn’t matter. What’s important is that it seems, this time, the Gleeman needs our help.”
    “I don’t see how we can help him. We don’t even know which century he’s in,” Victoria said.  
    “We know where he is,” Jonathan said doubtfully.
    “Oh… right… somewhere in London. London’s huge…” said Ben.
    “None of this is a problem.”
    They stared at Tamara.
    She held out her hand. “This will take us.” For the first time they saw the simple gold band on the middle finger of her left hand. “This, helped by the power of your Sun, Moon and Stars, will take us to the exact place where I last saw him.”