Twice Born: Sequel to Tom's Inheritance

By T J Green

Action & adventure, Young adult, Fantasy

Paperback, eBook

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313
10 mins

1 Exile


Tom sat cross-legged on top of Glastonbury Tor wrapped in a blanket, gazing into the middle distance. The soft grey light of dawn revealed the mists that lay across the plains below, blurring the landscape.
According to the myths and legends he’d been avidly reading, Glastonbury Tor was Avalon. This was the third morning in a row he’d waited, holding the silver bough that Vivian had given to him when he first arrived in the Other; the bough that had allowed him to wake King Arthur. He held it tightly, hoping its magical properties would reveal Avalon to him.
He had also sat here at noon, dusk and midnight, the times when the walls between the worlds were at their most fragile, willing himself into a trance-like state as if that would help. But it was in vain. Glastonbury Tor and the surrounding plain remained unchanged. A couple of times he’d imagined he’d seen water lying across the green fields, but then the light shifted and the illusion vanished, along with any hope that he could make his own way to the Other. He might as well pack up his tent and return home.
His visits to the Tor had been born from frustration and boredom. It had been more than twelve months since his return from the Realm of Earth, and he’d heard nothing from Beansprout, Arthur, Woodsmoke or Brenna. And now he wondered with regret if he ever would.
A few days later he was back in the woods near home, and had returned to his old routine. The folly, which sat above the hidden entrance to the Otherworld portals, loomed out of the trees, jagged and black against the early evening sky. It was now cleared of debris. The ivy had been chopped back, the fallen rocks stacked into a pile, and the floor swept clean, revealing old cracked flagstones. In the centre of the half-collapsed building was Tom’s tent, his occasional home of the last few months, ever since the weather had started to get warmer.
He poked his head through the tent flap and grabbed a towel, rubbing himself dry after his evening jog. He really needed a shower, but that could wait until tomorrow when he returned to the cottage to freshen up. Instead he splashed his face with cold water from a bucket next to the tent.
The evening was chill, and the light was fading quickly. Autumn was well advanced and he wouldn’t be able to camp out for much longer. He lit a couple of lanterns he had secured to the wall and then lit a fire, putting a saucepan of sausages and beans on to heat.
He’d been so sure at the time that he didn’t want to stay in the Otherworld, but within days of returning he knew he’d made a mistake. He and his cousin Beansprout had been there for six months, and their families had been panic-stricken. And to turn up without Beansprout had been insane.
He’d been about to tell them all about the Other, but they’d looked at him with such suspicion, and his aunt with such open hostility, that he’d known he couldn’t. So he’d lied, saying they’d travelled around looking for his granddad. This excuse seemed lame, but his family were more prepared to believe that than anything else. His aunt had accused him of “doing something” to Beansprout, and he’d been genuinely terrified that he’d be arrested and charged. The police had interviewed him for hours, but a lack of evidence that he’d done anything wrong meant he’d had to be released. His father had calmed his aunt down, and he had told them all a half-truth – that they had found his granddad, who was living a new life with new friends and didn’t want to come home. He’d told them Beansprout was staying with him.
It had been a nightmarish time. Even now he could see the doubt in their eyes, their lack of faith in him.
His entire family seemed to have aged. His dad looked cross with the inconvenience of it all, and although he seemed pleased that Tom had returned, he quickly returned to his own preoccupations and his new girlfriend, who now lived with them at the cottage.
Tom’s mother looked drawn and anxious. She pleaded with him to live with her in Downtree village, but he refused, wanting to stay close to the folly, where he could be found by whoever came looking for him. The only thing he wanted from his mother was information about family birthmarks.
“Yes Tom, I have got one actually, very similar to yours and your sister’s,” she’d replied when he finally asked, and she showed him the long slim mark at the top of her arm.
“Must be genetics,” he’d murmured, brooding on his strange legacy and family bloodlines.
If anybody did come for him, he had every intention of going back with them. He couldn’t really understand why he’d left such an amazing place. The most frustrating part about the whole thing was that he had no one to talk to. He’d tried to get back into normal life; he’d sat exams, played football, and enrolled to go to college, but it all seemed pointless. His old friends looked at him with a sort of respect for his absence and curiosity about where he had been. Just when he thought he could tell one of his friends, he realised he didn’t want to. He wanted to keep his secrets close.
Over the past few months he’d realised they might never come for him. He’d taken to visiting the folly once a week, examining it for signs of life and checking where the passageway opened, and then when it was warm enough he moved there for days at a time. He classed it as training. He went jogging, and used an old stick as a sword to practise with. He still wasn’t very good, but he was improving.
It was now fully dark, and the moon was hidden behind thick, low clouds. He finished eating and scrubbed out his pans with water and leaves, and then threw some more logs on the fire and pulled a blanket round his shoulders. He tried to ignore what was worrying him most; that perhaps they hadn’t come for him because something was wrong. The alternative, that it was because they had forgotten him, was too unbearable to think about.
He was woken in the middle of the night by howling winds and lashing rain. The tent flapped and snapped, but was sheltered from the worst of it by the tower, so he rolled over, plumped his pillow and tried to go back to sleep. As he closed his eyes a flash of bright white light illuminated the tent – lightning. He snuggled down further into his sleeping bag, trying to block out the noise and light. Then he heard a thud, low voices, and the clanking sound of a pan rolling across the ground. All of a sudden he was wide awake and sitting up, staring wildly into the dark. More talking, coming closer, into the tower. And then the sound of someone tripping.
“What the hell is all this stuff doing here?” someone muttered. “And what about this damn rain? Seriously, of all the times! I’m soaked.”
“Sshhh.” And then there was silence.
But he knew that voice. Leaping up, half tangled in his bag, he opened the zip and stuck his head out. And there in the entrance of the tower he saw two slight figures, barely visible in the dark. His heart leapt with huge relief. “Beansprout! It’s me!”
“Tom? Oh thank God! I was not going to walk to the cottage in this weather!”
He grinned. “You’d better come in,” he said, and he scooted back to make room.
Tom couldn’t stop grinning. It was fixed on to his face like a mask. Now and again he tried to straighten his features into a normal expression, but then the grin just slid back into place and stayed there. It had been a long time since he’d been so happy.
He lit his lamp and the shadows sidled up their faces, making them look ghoulish. They sat cross legged – Tom, Beansprout and Brenna – knee to knee in a small tight circle.
“What are you doing in a tent, Tom?” Beansprout was almost breathless in her enthusiasm, and was grinning as much as Tom.
“Waiting for you! It took you long enough. Where have you been?”
“What do you mean? How long has it been?”
“Longer than a year!”
“I’m sorry, Tom, but you know it’s impossible to judge time accurately in our world,” Brenna apologised. “We have been delayed too, by certain events.” She shrugged.
“What events? Is everyone all right?” He squinted at her and held up the lamp. “And what have you done to your hair?” There were feathers braided through her hair and along her hair line, adding to her otherworldly appearance.
She waved her hand as if to brush him off. “It’s how it’s supposed to look, now I don’t have to hide.”
“Oh, OK. So the others, they’re all right?” he persisted.
“Yes, they’re fine. I’ve been busy with certain duties in Aeriken, and Beansprout’s been helping me. Jack’s still with Fahey. But Vivian asked Arthur to do something for her and we thought we’d help. And we thought you’d like to come too?”
“Yes! Yes, yes, yes! You’re not going back without me. What are we doing?”
“Vivian asked Arthur to search for one of the other priestesses from Avalon. She disappeared a short time ago. He’s already started the search with Woodsmoke, and we’re supposed to join them at Holloways Meet.”
Tom had no idea where Holloways Meet was, but he nodded enthusiastically. “So when do we go?”
“Whenever you’re ready,” Beansprout said.
“I’ve been ready ever since I got back here! But …” Tom thought awkwardly of his aunt and her anguish. “You should see your mum before we go.” He recounted the nightmare of his return without her.
“Crap. I had no idea it would be so bad. I’m sorry, Tom. But really, do I have to? It might make things worse.”
“Yes, you have to. You really have no idea. She looks at me like I’m a murderer.”
Guilt flickered across Beansprout’s face. “Now I feel terrible, I’ve just been having so much fun! I didn’t even think. All right. In the morning then. And until then you can tell us what you’ve been up to.” The next morning the wild weather had passed and Tom and Beansprout started the walk back to the cottage at dawn. Brenna remained at the tower; she looked far too odd with her feathers to go with them.
Tom glared at her, “Don’t you dare leave without us.”
“Don’t worry, Tom. I’ll be here,” she said, full of her usual calm efficiency, and she stretched out in the entrance to the tower in the pale dawn light and closed her eyes.
They trudged back along the leafy paths, finally coming to the old yew and the stream. “I’ll stay here to pack a few more things; you go on and meet me back here when you’re done,” Tom said.
“I think you should come with me.”
“No chance. Call me if you need help.”
“But I feel so nervous! What if she doesn’t let me go?”
“Well, the good thing is that you look fine! Better than fine, actually.” And it was true, Tom thought. Beansprout looked healthy and happy, as if she carried a residual glow from the Other. “Good luck!”
He watched her walk along the path towards her house, her shoulders slumped and her head lowered. He wished he could help, but knew this was something she had to do alone. And if he was honest, he didn’t really like seeing his aunt any more.
He passed through the back garden into the kitchen. His dad and his girlfriend had already left for work, their breakfast things piled in the sink. Good. It would save awkward goodbyes. He put the kettle on and headed upstairs to his room, emptying his backpack onto the bed. He propped his folded tent in the corner of his room. He wouldn’t need that again. But first he needed a shower.
Refreshed, he packed some clean clothes and a few other things he thought would be useful, and then wandered around the house, checking to see if there was anything else he wanted to take. It was strange, but he already felt distanced from the cottage. If he was honest, it wasn’t a world he’d been fully engaged with for a long time.
In the kitchen he washed the pans he’d brought back from the folly, leaving them on the drainer. He even tidied his bedroom. He wanted to leave everything tidy, no loose ends. This was probably how his grandfather had felt. He laughed to himself. He’d been so mad at him, and here he was doing the same thing. Anyway, he had plenty of time, so he raided the fridge and cooked a huge breakfast while he waited for Beansprout.
An hour later Beansprout arrived, flushed and red-eyed with crying. “I never want to go through that again.”
“I did warn you.”
“No, you did not. That was awful. I’m on the missing persons list!”
“Are you sure you want to go?”
“Yes,” she said, nodding distractedly. “Are you ready?”
He nodded towards the note he’d left on the table. “Deja vu.”
He paused and took a long look round. He might never see this place again. Satisfied, he locked the door, pocketed the key and followed Beansprout up the path.

2 The Holloways


They stood beneath the folly in front of the portal to the Realm of Earth, and Tom looked around, recalling the first time he had stood here with the strange carvings of birds and beasts looking down at him. Then he’d been nervous at what lay before him; now he was excited to be going back.
Brenna pulled a flat disc the size of a small plate out of her pack.
“What’s that?” Tom asked.
“A gift from Finnlugh,” she said.
Tom remembered the prince from the ancient royal fey family who had helped them defeat the queen, Morgan Le Fey. “He found it in his library. It’s a portal compass.”
She passed it to Tom. It looked much like a regular compass, but on it was a map of the other Earth in tiny detail, and a marker that could be set to a specific place. “That’s fantastic!” he said.
“I know, and it should save us a lot of time. We’re going to Endevorr Village. We have horses there.”
Tom passed the compass back and Brenna set the marker. “Ready?”
They nodded, held hands and stepped forward into blackness.
Again Tom experienced the falling weightless sensation, and the strange jolting and pulling feeling in the pit of his stomach. And then there was grass beneath him and light dazzling his eyes, bouncing off the water from the river in front of him. On the opposite bank he could see the village and the high bridges and walkways that spanned the buildings. Relief washed over him. He was back.
How could he have ever doubted that being here was the single greatest gift of his life? Everything seemed to have an intensity he hadn’t noticed before. The air was perfumed with a delicate blossom and honey scent, and the colours seemed bright and sharp with a richness that his earth didn’t seem to have. He could hear bees buzzing and birds singing, and the sounds of fey from the village drifted across the river with a clarity that startled him.
“You all right, Tom?” Beansprout asked, smiling.
“Absolutely,” he said, unable to restrain a grin. And then he added quickly, before he became too embarrassed, “Thanks for coming back for me.”
“S’all right,” Beansprout said, punching him playfully on the arm. “I missed you. Sometimes.”
They crossed the bridge and weaved through the maze of small alleyways and streets until they reached a large building with a sign reading “The Emperor’s Tears” hanging above a double-fronted doorway. Passing through, they reached a courtyard with stables lining the left-hand side.
“I’ll speak to the manager, you wait by the horses,” Brenna said, heading to the far side of the courtyard.
They crossed to the dim warm interior of the stables. The pungent smell of straw and manure made Tom wrinkle his nose, but Beansprout seemed oblivious as she strolled to a chestnut-brown horse with its head over the gate of its enclosure, and patted its nose.
“Hello, Brownie,” she murmured. “Have you missed me?”
The horse snickered softly in reply.
“You named your horse after cake?” Tom scoffed, but Beansprout shot him a withering glance and he moved swiftly on.
“So how long has it been for you since I left?” Tom asked.
“Nearly twelve months, I guess, it’s hard to tell,” she said. “And no winter!”
Tom looked at her thoughtfully. “It’s weird. You look older, as if you’ve been here for ages. You’re sort of … mature,” he said awkwardly.
She shrugged, unperturbed. “Maybe it’s the air. It makes granddad younger. Everything’s odd in the Other.”
“What have you been doing?”
“I’ve spent some time with Woodsmoke, some with Brenna. After you left I stayed at Vanishing Hall, just exploring being here, really. But then Woodsmoke announced he was going back to Aeriken – he was worried about Brenna. So I went with him. And when we got to the Aerie, Brenna and the Aerikeen were still cleaning the palace after mourning their dead.” She shrugged. “I wanted to help, so I stayed on.”
“Doing what?” he asked, wondering how much cleaning they needed to do.
“Just helping. The others who had fled the queen kept returning with their stories of what had happened. Really awful stories. And the dryads returned. A couple of satyrs turned up too. Wow, they are really odd.” She shook her head in disbelief. “Such amazing things here! And then Arthur turned up. He had met with Vivian, and she asked him to help her find that priestess we mentioned. I think her name was Nimue.”
“Who? Oh, wait. I think I know that name.” He had been doing lots of reading about Arthur while he waited.
“She lives on Avalon too, apparently.”
Tom nodded. “Yes, she had some sort of love affair with Merlin, I think.” He could hardly believe that these people had really existed. That some still existed. “But I didn’t see anyone else on Avalon.”
“Apparently she remained in the temple buildings while you were there. Anyway, she’s gone and could be in trouble, so Arthur has to find her. Woodsmoke went with him, and we’re meeting them somewhere over there.” She gestured vaguely over Tom’s head.
“And granddad, how’s he?”
“Just fine! Looking forward to seeing you. Not sure when, because we’re going soon, but you’ll see him at some point.”
“Yes I will, because I’m staying here now,” he said with determination.
Beansprout smiled. “Me too. I feel a little guilty, because I don’t miss home at all. I’m glad you’re back, though!”
They were interrupted by Brenna’s return. “All settled. Tom, we brought a horse with us for you. Don’t worry,” she said, looking at his alarmed expression, “it’s the horse you had last time, the calm one. Midnight.” She pointed to a stall in which he saw a medium-sized black horse with a streak of grey down her nose.
“I don’t remember her being that calm!”
“Oh don’t start already!” Beansprout groaned.
“What do you mean, ‘start already’?”
“Well honestly, Tom, you really can be such a grump.”



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