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Apollo's Soldiers
by Margo Fallis
Chapter 20

     Midnight came all too soon. With yawns and silent steps they escaped the confines of the school and headed for the loch shore to meet Paisley. She arrived on time, as all had expected and hoped for. The water, though choppy, wasn’t rough enough to stop the determined girl. Leith blushed when he noticed her hair tied back from her face with a green ribbon. Without speaking they helped her pull the rowboat onto the rocks and jogged over to the cemetery. Fraser aimed the flashlight at the Pict cross. Another beam lit up the grass. “I brought my own,” Paisley said. Once safely inside the tunnel, she dared to hold it up. “Which one tonight? How many tunnels have you been in?” She aimed the beam at each one.

     “I haven’t kept count. I think seven; maybe eight. It’s too hard to see the light from the tunnel. Please turn off your flashlights,” Leith said. “It’s only a dim glow. We need total darkness for a few moments.”

     “It’s this one,” Duncan said, looking behind the group. “By the way, how did you get out of the dormitory without Grant or Rory seeing you?”

     Sandy laughed. “They think they are in on a huge secret by knowing about the tunnels under the school. They were both sleeping like dead people when I checked on them.”

     “What tunnels under the school?” Paisley moved closer to the dim light.

     “It’s not a big deal. There are some tunnels that lead from the school to the church. That’s all,” Sandy said, quick to hide the truth. “Do you realize it’s Sunday morning already. It’s three minutes after midnight.”

     “Whoopee. Now let’s get going.” Fraser stepped through the time warp. Duncan and Murray went next. Leith went after them and then Paisley and Sandy disappeared, leaving the cemetery tunnels in darkness.

     “Not another abbey!” Sandy let out a sigh. “What one is it this time?”

     “We’re in England. I can tell. It smells like England,” Paisley said.

     “How can it smell like England? What, pray tell, does England smell like?” Sandy wanted an argument. “You’re as bad as Duncan.”

     “I smell roses; lots and lots of roses.” Paisley sniffed the air.

     “What a lot of rubbish! It’s too dark! Turn on your flashlights and search for a sign. There’s always a sign around somewhere.” Sandy tried to focus and get his night vision.

     “Okay, but we’re in England. You’ll see I’m right.” Paisley grinned.

     With flashlights ablaze, they searched the hillsides. “We are in England, Sandy! Paisley was right. This is Glastonbury Abbey. We’re on the island of Avalon!” Fraser finished reading the sign. “It says here that Avalon was known as the Island of Apples. There must be a lot of apple trees around here.”

     “This place is spooky. There are a lot of legends associated with Glastonbury. The grounds don’t open for eight hours. Let’s go exploring!” Duncan ran up to the top of the hill. “There’s the Tor.” He shouted down to the others. “Come and see this.”

     They ran up to join him. “What’s a tor?” Fraser had never been to the area.

     “I know what it is, but first I want Sandy to apologize,” Paisley said.

     “What? Are you mad? I’m not apologizing. You just had a lucky guess, that’s all.”

     “Come on, Sandy. Apologize to Paisley. She was right. You were wrong,” Leith said.

     “Absolutely not.” Sandy ran up to the Tor.

     “That’s all right, Leith. Just knowing that he knows he was wrong is good enough for me.” Paisley sprinted after Sandy.

     They stood around the 500-foot rock tower. It shot up towards the heavens and could be seen from the surrounding Somerset towns and villages.

     “What is this thing?” Sandy ran his hands over the cold stone.

     “A big rock. It’s purpose? It depends on who you want to listen to. There are legends that say it had to do with fertility rites. Another group says it is full of spiritual energy. I heard fairies live around the Tor. Did you see the terraces? It’s hard to see them, but they are there.” Paisley scanned the slope. “There’s also a maze.”

     “A maze? That would be fun to do. We’ve got a couple of flashlights. Let’s check it out. It will help kill time,” Sandy suggested.

     “He’s right. It takes over two hours to find your way into the center of the maze and another half hour to an hour to get out. I’m game,” Paisley said.

     “Sounds like fun,” Leith said.

     “I should warn you; on the slopes of this hill the Celts believe there is an entrance to the underworld. The Lord of the Underworld was named Avalach. It might not be that now, but that’s the name the Celts used. It’s the meeting place of the dead, where people come just before they die,” Paisley said.

     “What blether. There is no such thing. I’m not afraid.” Sandy ran down the side of the hill to the maze.

     “I don’t believe it either. It’s just legend and lore.” Paisley bounded after Sandy. “Come on cowards.”

     They stood at the entrance. “What’s it like in there?” Murray bit his fingernails.

     “I’ve been in it several times. In fact I came here on my birthday this year, August 8th,” Paisley said. “It’s quite a coincidence that we share birthdays.” Paisley glanced at Duncan.

“Maybe. Never mind. Tell us more.” Leith sighed.

“There’s a single path and it winds back and forth around the slope. You need to remember the path because that’s how you get back out. See these toppled stones? This is the entrance. Are we all going in?” Paisley glanced at each boy. “All right. Turn on your flashlight, Fraser, and follow me.”

     Several times while they were in the maze a gust of wind came racing down the labyrinth, flowing over the top of them. “What’s with the wind? It’s like it’s trying to warn us, or stop us.” Duncan grabbed onto Leith’s coat. “This is creepy.”

     “You can go back if you want and stand guard at the entrance,” Fraser said. “We won’t think less of you. I think it’s sort of scary too. As you would say, I feel like ancient spirits are around us.”

     “Stop it right now. This is nonsense. Do you want to go back, Duncan? I’ll go with you if you do.” Paisley took his hand.

     “My choice is to stay with you all and have eerie wind and ghosts around me, or to go back out and have the ghosts of the Underworld take me to hell? I’ll stay with you all, thank you.” Duncan pulled his hand from Paisley’s. “Thanks for offering.”

     Fraser’s light danced back and forth as they moved closer to the center of the ringed maze. “What are we supposed to get from here, Leith? You’ve never mentioned anything yet.”

     “No idea. I’ll know when I see it. Paisley, tell us more about this island. Is it an island, really?” Leith talked as they walked on.

     “This place has so much history. I don’t know where to begin, so I’ll just pick something and tell you what I know. They say it has the oldest Christian church in England. It used to be an island. The sea encircled the place right up to the bottom of this hill, but as time went on, it receded. All that’s left is this lake. It used to be called the Island of Glass. It was supposedly enchanted, hence the fairies.”

     “We had some problems with fairies and goblins when we were at Fortingall. I was in the school library reading up on it and one of the books said they brought a sapling from that yew and planted it here at the abbey,” Leith said.

     “I’ve never seen a fairy before. It’s all just legend,” Paisley said.

     “So is Atlantis, but we know it’s real.” Sandy walked ahead of them.

     Once they reached the center of the maze, they sat for a while. A half moon lit the sky above. “What a clear night.”

     “I feel like telling a scary story,” Fraser said.

     “No! It’s scary enough just being here,” Leith said. “I don’t want to frighten anyone.”

     “Let me finish telling you the legend. Maybe it will help Leith figure out what he needs to bring back. I think the coolest legend about Glastonbury is the story of Joseph of Arimathea,” Paisley said.

     “Who is that?” Duncan scooted closer to Paisley.

     “Joseph of Arimathea was Jesus’ great uncle. In the Bible it talks about Jesus when he was little and then it never says anything else about him until he was in his early thirties. The legend says that he traveled a lot with his uncle. They came here. Joseph had a staff, which was cut from a white hawthorn bush. After he arrived and rested, he stuck the staff in the ground. It sprouted roots and turned into a thorn bush. It’s called the Glastonbury Thorn. It blooms only on Christmas Eve, or so I’ve heard. It might bloom in spring too. The flowers are white and smell pretty,” Paisley said. “It was on that exact spot that they built the first Christian church.”

     “Is that really true? Where is the tree? I would love to see it,” Duncan said.

     “We’ll look when it’s lighter. I know that the original bush is dead, but they had several cuttings from it and they’ve kept them alive. They say that Joseph and Jesus, who were carpenters, built Glastonbury’s first wattle. Before you ask, a wattle is like a bunch of poles bound together with tree branches. It’s a crude building. They cover it with mud.”

     All ears were glued to Paisley’s words. “This place is sacred. Maybe we need to take one of the thorns back with us.” Leith gulped, his throat dry.

     “I’m not sure about that. It’s a sacred tree to many. You probably can’t get near it.” Duncan thought back to the yew of Fortingall.

     “What else do you know about Glastonbury, Paisley?” Sandy smiled at her.

     “You should all know the story of the Last Supper. Jesus and his disciples gathered in a room and he taught them things. Part of the legend is that the Holy Grail was used at the Last Supper. It was also used to catch Jesus’ blood when he was crucified. I hope you’ve paid attention in church to all this,” Paisley said. “Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus in his private tomb. Legend says Joseph took the Holy Grail and brought it here, burying it below the Tor. A spring known as Chalice Well, bubbled from the ground at that spot. They say if you drink from it you can have eternal youth.”

     “Is it still here, Paisley?” Murray’s eyes bulged with excitement.

     “Yes. It’s in a nice little garden area. The water is red, representing Christ’s blood,” Paisley said.

     “Maybe that’s what you should take, Leith. Fill up a wee bottle with some of that water. Does it work? Does it make people young?” Murray chuckled.

     “I don’t think so. It’s just a legend; a story. But it is an interesting thing to see. I love coming here with my mum. It’s so peaceful and tranquil.” Paisley sighed.

     “What else?” Sandy glanced at his watch. “We’ve killed a bit of time. Tell us some more of the story.”

     Paisley cleared her throat. “Glastonbury is also associated with King Arthur; you know him, the guy with the Knights of the Round Table. He was raised by Merlin, who was a wizard. Arthur is the one who pulled the sword, Excalibur, out of the stone. He’s the only one who could do it, and he was just a boy. He was buried here. Rumor had it that he was buried deep in the ground. Centuries later some people dug down looking for his grave and found a headstone that said ‘Here lies buried the renowned King Arthur in the Isle of Avalon’. They also found some other bones and hair and those supposedly belonged to Guinevere. They put the bones in two caskets and took them to the abbey. Someone stole them and they’ve never been found. There’s a post marking the spot where he was buried. We can see that too, if you’d like. Another legend says that a ghost haunts the ruins of the abbey. He’s a black-armored knight and his eyes glow red.”

     “Is that it? I’m sure we can find something to take back,” Fraser said. “Phooey on the ghost!”

     “That’s not all. There are other things. I didn’t pay much attention to any of them until I met you lads. They say that some of the people who escaped from Atlantis came here to live. There’s your Atlantean connection. There are a few others. The Sumerians made a landscape zodiac here with lions and that sort of thing. They came here from Iraq. I forgot to tell you the maze is Cretan, from the island of Crete. Some people call Glastonbury the heart chakra of the planet.”

     “That’s all a great help. I think maybe the water from the springs might be the best thing, unless we can manage a thorn,” Leith said. “We should head back. We’ve still got to find our way out of this maze.”

     “No problem. We go back the way we came. They made it so nobody can get lost.” Paisley rocked her head back and forth with a smile.

     “Can’t we just stay here for a while? I’m dead tired,” Murray said.

     “Me too,” Duncan added.

     “All right. Curl up and find a comfortable spot. At least we’re protected from the wind.” Leith yawned.

      Within a few minutes all six of them were sound asleep.

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