John Houghton

Oswain's Adventures

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You crash your bike, you visit a cemetery, and before you know it you're in another world!

Follow the adventures of Joshua, Sophie and Andrew as they join forces with Prince Oswain, Trotter and the forest folk in their struggle against the evil tyrant, Hagbane. Discover the secret of Oswain's past and the awesome power of the Merestone.

There's courage and loyalty, laughter and tears, in this cliff-hanger of a story that will have you coming back for more! Click these links to hear me reading from Hagbane's Doom

There is also a fabulous musical of the book called Hagbane's Doom – the Musical, especially written for schools. To find out more and to hear some extracts from the musical Click here

Here is an extract from the book to whet your appetite

Chapter One of Hagbane's Doom

Dreaming of Adventure

 

Our story begins with a young prince who had an unusual dream. It took place one night in the realm that some call The Land Beyond the Far Places but which, like many such lands, is maybe closer than you think - the wondrous world of Caris Meriac. The prince's name was Oswain and this was his dream.

A single candle burned in the empty night. The flame beckoned Oswain and he drifted towards its hypnotic glow until its light filled the dark dream space in which he floated. Three faces swam into the light - a freckle-faced boy, then a girl with deep, dark eyes, and finally a smiling young lad, each one so alive, so real that he wanted to speak to them; but they simply faded away into the flame.

Oswain wondered who they could be.

A gust of wind blew on the flame so that it flickered in a wild confusion of light. Another image began to form and his heart beat faster; never before had he seen such an evil-looking face. For a brief moment it hovered before his gaze, the glaring, red-rimmed eyes so hateful that he would have turned and fled if he could. But our dreams do not let us run away, and so he watched, staring in horror as the face slowly dissolved into ashes, until only the flame burned on.

With a quiet hiss, the tongue of fire parted down the middle to reveal the deep space that lay beyond the stars. It seemed a lonely place. Then Oswain spied a single dot of light in the far distance. The light grew in size, rushing towards him at such a speed that almost at once it filled the screen of his mind with its dazzling brightness. A splendid jewel hung before his eyes.

‘The Merestone,' whispered Oswain.

He awoke with a start and found himself lying on the floor of his bedchamber. Trembling slightly, he rose and crossed to the window. His room was on the third floor of the palace and faced south over the royal gardens. Beyond the starlit lawns and shadowy trees the sleeping city of Castelfion lay quiet and still. Oswain gazed thoughtfully at the shimmering starry skyline of the homeland he knew and loved so well. Then, almost without his being aware of it, he looked up into the night sky. Hanging like a pearl in the velvet blackness, one star gleamed more brightly than the rest. He glanced at the gold ring on his second finger. It was set with a silvery fragment of stone that flickered in response.

He breathed the night air deeply and felt a thrill run through his body. The moment that he had waited for throughout his young life had finally come.

‘My destiny calls me. Elmesh has spoken.' He uttered the words quietly but firmly to himself, and then the prince turned to prepare for the journey that lay ahead.

 

* * *

 

‘If you do that again, Andrew, I'm going to thump your head in!'

Joshua Brown was crouched busily polishing his bike in the back yard. The paving around him was littered with pieces of rag and chrome cleaner and spanners, and the metallic smell of polish hung in the warm spring air. For the fourth time that morning he shoved the annoying football away from him.

It wasn't that Joshua had anything against footballs. If you asked him what his favourite hobbies were he would say riding his bike or kicking a ball - or even both at once. In fact, he had recently suggested to his teacher, Mr Pyle, the idea of cycle football using bikes with engines rather than pedals so that the players' legs were free to kick the ball. Mr Pyle had muttered something about buckled wheels and broken legs and him taking early retirement - and no, it was unlikely to become a new Olympic sport!

No, what irritated Joshua about football on this particular morning was the fact that his brother Andrew kept seeing how close he could dribble the ball to where Joshua was polishing his precious bike and he was fed up with it landing among his spanners and cleaning materials.

His brother laughed at him and ran to retrieve the ball. ‘You shouldn't be in the way of the goal. Anyway, I was here first.'

‘No you weren't. I was,' Joshua countered.

‘Yeah, but you went indoors.'

‘So?'

‘So it's my turn to play on the patio.' Andrew retorted.

‘But I left my bike here. You had no right to move it.'

‘Did.'

‘Didn't.'

‘Oh, will you two shut up arguing. You'll frighten the frogs away!' Their sister Sophie was crouched over the nearby garden pond and was peering intently into the greenish water to see if frogs would eat fish food.

Her brothers ignored her and carried on bickering until in the end Andrew shrugged his shoulders and wandered off, dribbling the ball back down the garden.

Joshua turned his mountain bike upside down so that he could polish the spokes. The bike was a birthday present from his parents and it was his pride and joy. Perhaps it wasn't the best mountain bike in the world, but it was his and it was new with lots of gears and chrome and bright yellow paint work, and much better than the second-hand bikes that belonged to his brother and sister. He recalled how thrilled he had been when he first set eyes on it. Concentrating hard now he polished away at the wheels until they sparkled like diamonds in the sunlight.

Sophie watched patiently as one frog after another popped its head out of the water. The flakes of fish food drifted across the surface and she willed them to eat it. At least the commotion had died down. After all, she thought, frogs are very shy creatures.

But things didn't stay quiet for very long between Joshua and his brother. Andrew's football hit the wall with a resounding smack just to Joshua's right. Then again, and again, only this time closer. Joshua began to seethe with anger and Andrew knew it, but he carried on kicking the ball nearer and nearer, just to make his point.

Of course, it was bound to happen sooner or later - one of his shots went wide and the ball struck the back wheel, knocking the bike over with a noisy clatter of metal on concrete.

Joshua was absolutely furious. ‘That does it!' he yelled and with a cry of rage he sprang after his brother. Moments later the two of them were wrestling on the ground like a couple of wildcats.

‘Mum, the boys are fighting again,' Sophie called out.

Mrs Brown appeared at the back door with a tea towel in her hands. ‘Now just you two stop that,' she ordered. ‘Joshua move your bike to that end. Andrew you go and play at the other end. I've had enough of your squabbling. Do as you're told or I'll make you both come inside. Do you understand?'

The boys broke off their fight and nodded sulkily. As soon as their mother's back was turned, Joshua glowered at Sophie.

‘Sneak.'

‘I heard that, Joshua,' his mother called. ‘That's your last warning.'

Joshua yanked his bike upright. ‘I've had enough of you lot,' he muttered to nobody in particular. ‘I'm going for a ride.'

With that he mounted the machine and pedalled furiously down the drive, deliberately skidding the wheel on the gravel as he span off into Winton Drive. He hadn't even bothered to put on his safety helmet.

Sophie huffed. Her shy frogs had disappeared. ‘You can be so irritating, Andrew,' she snapped, and with that she stomped off indoors. Andrew shrugged and carried on kicking the ball against the wall. Moments later, Sophie's music blared from her open window until her mother yelled to her to turn it down. It was just another Saturday morning in the Brown household.

Joshua peddled wildly down the street, imagining that he was riding a world class Superbike in a Grand Prix. Now that would be an adventure! He began dangerously and stupidly to weave on and off the pavement and into the road, dodging between parked cars and the trees that lined the route. Braking hard, he slithered round into Green Lane and pounded up the slope towards the rise and then, crouching low over the handlebars, he freewheeled down the winding hill towards the park. Ignoring the no cycling signs he shot through the pedestrian gate and sprinted towards the T-junction where the path met the main walkway ahead. He would show them!

Then it happened. A mother pushing her baby buggy appeared out of nowhere. She was right in front of him. Horrified, Joshua slammed on his brakes, but it was too late. The bike skidded and squealed and with a sickening, horrifying clunk smashed into the side of the buggy. There was a moment of shocked silence. Time seemed to slow down as he flew over the handlebars. Then he heard a woman scream and a baby's cry and he felt a jolt of pain as he hit the tarmac.

The next thing he knew he was picking himself up, surrounded by a crowd of people shouting at him and scolding him for his stupidity. The buggy lay skewed on its side, as did his shiny new bike. He looked around for the baby and saw that it was in its mother's arms and crying loudly.

Joshua didn't know what to do. Dazed and dismayed, he simply stood there with his head spinning madly until a grim-faced park warden strode across and took charge.

The mother was badly shaken and close to tears as she comforted her baby. An elderly bystander stooped and examined the buggy. ‘A bit scratched, but it don't seem to be damaged,' he announced. ‘Lucky it weren't one of them prams they 'ad in my day. All polished coach work, they were. And you, young lad,' he said turning on Joshua, ‘You would have got a good clip round the ear!'

The park warden looked Joshua over and decided he wasn't badly hurt. ‘You had better apologise to the young lady,' he said sternly. He reached into the inside pocket of his green jacket and brought out a notebook and a silver ballpoint pen. ‘Then I shall want your particulars.'

Joshua, shamefaced and almost crying, mumbled ‘Sorry.' to the mother as best he could. Then he added, ‘I didn't mean it.'

The young mother, still pale from the shock, nodded silently and snuggled her baby close. She didn't look at Joshua again.

‘Now then, young man,' said the warden. ‘Riding a bike in a prohibited place. Riding dangerously. Damaging property. You are in big trouble, my lad. And you're not even wearing a helmet.' He sucked in a breath between his teeth. ‘You can thank your lucky stars the young lady was carrying her baby at the time. I dread to think what would have happened if he had been in the buggy.'

‘I-I'm sorry,' Joshua blurted out. ‘I didn't mean it.'

‘No doubt you didn't. But you didn't think about other people, did you?' the warden replied.' That's the trouble with you kids these days. You've no sense of responsibility. I shall have to report the incident, of course, and I had better warn you that you may be hearing from the police about the matter.'

Joshua was aghast. It was the last thing he wanted to hear.

The warden was speaking again. ‘I need your name and address, and your parent or guardian's name,' he said.

Numb with shock Joshua said, ‘ Joshua Brown. My dad's name is, um, Michael, Michael Brown.' Then he gave his address as 32 Winton Drive.

At last the bystanders began to go their different ways, some of them still muttering among themselves about ‘kids these days'. The park warden had put his pen and paper away and Joshua made to pick up his bike. ‘Oh no you don't. You can leave that,' said the warden. ‘I'm confiscating it. Your father can come and speak to me about it if and when he's ready. And by the look of this front wheel it's in no fit state to be ridden anyway.'

Joshua tried to protest but the park warden was having none of it. ‘The best thing you can do my lad is to get off home and tell your parents what's happened before you get yourself into any more trouble,' he said. ‘Now go on, be off with you.'

But Joshua couldn't face going home. ‘How can I tell my parents?' he said to himself. ‘Mum will go spare, and Dad'll kill me when he finds out.'

The thought that he might never see his bike again, his birthday present of only two weeks ago, upset him even more and he was really struggling not to cry. Then aware that he was still standing at the scene of the accident and people going past were looking at him curiously, he shoved his hands into his jeans pockets and shambled off along the path that led to the lake.

‘What a mess. What a stupid, stupid mess!' he thought to himself. ‘And it's all Andrew's fault. If he hadn't kicked his stupid ball none of this would've happened.'

By the time he reached the lake, Joshua had planned to puncture his brother's football, his bike tyres and his head, but then realised that he wouldn't do any of that because it wouldn't solve the problem. What was he going to tell his parents? He thought for a moment of lying. Some kids had stolen his bike and ridden off with it. They had caused the accident. Well, that wouldn't work. Obviously.

How about brake failure? ‘I don't know how it happened, dad. I pulled on the brakes as hard as I could but they didn't work, and the next moment...' He could hear the question now: What were you doing riding on the path in the first place, son?

No, he would just have to tell the truth and be done with it, he decided.

But what was the truth? He had ridden his bike in a rage and crashed into a mother and her buggy. Supposing the baby had been in the buggy? He could have killed the child. The park warden had spoken about the police coming round. The more he thought about it the more gutted Joshua felt.

He had reached the railings of the lake by now and there were lots of people feeding the ducks and generally enjoying themselves the way people do on a Saturday morning. Joshua was hardly aware of them but suddenly someone shouted.

‘Hey, there's that kid who smashed into that push chair.'

He glanced to his right. A bunch of boys were pointing at him and laughing.

‘Looks like he's lost his bike, don't it?'

‘What a nutter!'

‘Yeah! Head case!'

‘Going for walkies, then?'

Joshua glowered and clenched his fists. They were asking for a fight. Well, if they wanted one, he would give them one. Right now.

He opened his mouth to shout back at them, but then he thought better of it. There were a lot of people about, and he was outnumbered about five to one by the gang. His scuffed hands were sore as well. That might not have stopped him from laying into them, but then he spotted the park warden coming back along the path towards the lake. The last thing Joshua wanted was to be in more trouble. He turned and stalked off, muttering ‘Bog off!' under his breath while several old ladies tutted at him.

To his relief no one bothered to follow him and he soon found himself walking in an unfamiliar part of the park. Not that Joshua really noticed. The boys' taunting had reminded him that his precious bike, his best ever birthday present, was wrecked and had been confiscated. He would probably never see it again. The more he thought about it, the more upset he felt and, because no one was about, hot tears came into his eyes. Everything had gone wrong. This was the worst day of his life. He stumbled across to the shelter of a tree and began to sob bitterly.

How long he remained like this Joshua neither knew nor cared but at last he stopped crying and began to wipe his eyes. Slowly, he became aware of his surroundings.

He was standing on the edge of a small grassy clearing surrounded by trees just starting to show their bright spring leaves. On the far side under a canopy of trees he could see a two-bar iron fence, and beyond that a cemetery. Wiping his nose on the back of his hand and sniffing as he did so, Joshua wandered over to the fence. Anything to delay going home to face his family.

The cemetery looked pretty overgrown and the gravestones were so old and crooked that Joshua thought the place must have been neglected for years. Maybe it was just his mood but it looked as sad as he felt. Hardly thinking about it he climbed over the low fence and began to wander among the graves, glancing idly at the faded epitaphs on the weather-worn stones as he did so.

He was just on the point of turning back to the park when a much larger tomb caught his eye - the sort that he had heard were called mausoleums. This one had an arched roof and green marble walls. Joshua decided out of curiosity to see who was buried there.

Following a narrow sandy path he walked round to the entrance where he found an unusual archway of grey stone. In the centre of the arch he saw carved in stone an eagle in full flight and above that a single star. The pillars of the arch were rounded and were wrapped around with animals like squirrels and rabbits and stoats and badgers, all climbing up towards the eagle and the star.

None of this interested Joshua very much - until he peered inside the archway to look for the name of the person buried there.

What he saw absolutely took his breath away. In clear gold letters on a black plaque against the green marble he read, unmistakably,

The tomb of Joshua Brown

and written below it was today's date.