Chapter One: Goldenwater
William pushed forward with his hands and, spreading his arms, glided through the tingling, ice-cold water. As he did so, the distant trees came a fraction closer, rising in a thin heat-haze above the lake. Sunlight sparkled all around him and a soft breeze wrinkled the surface of the water into a shimmering pattern, like silk.
"William!" he heard a distant voice calling. It was his youngest sister, Alice. Turning his head he could see her standing in the shallow water on the edge of the lake.
"Come on!" he yelled. "It's OK once you're in."
"It's freezing!" Alice complained.
William turned his head once more and, taking a gulp of air, dipped his face into the soft water. Then, with strong strokes, he struck out toward the center of the lake.
"Mary," Alice complained, watching William's receding outline and the thin wake of foam made by his feet. "He's going miles out."
"He'll be all right. He's a strong swimmer," a dozy voice murmured behind her.
Mary lay stretched out on her back in the hot sunlight. As she spoke, the sounds of the summer day faded once more to the edge of her consciousness. The hot sun burned deep into her body, ironing out her muscles and flattening her against the dry turf. A bee buzzed close beside her. A few birds sang in the branches of the trees that she could just see through her half-opened eyes and, somewhere, a woodpecker was drumming against a trunk. Mary sighed contentedly, stretched her arms, put her hands behind her head and sank back into semisleep.
"Oh, honestly!" Alice murmured in a grumpy voice. "I might just as well be here on my own." Then she shouted, "You're so boring, Mary!" and, taking another tentative step away from the shore, she slipped on a submerged boulder and toppled over, falling into the icy water with a splash, followed by a shout.
"Oh! It's agony!" Alice gasped, struggling up and immediately toppling back in again, with another splash and a scream.
"Alice?" Mary called, sitting up and squinting into the sunlight. "What happened?"
"I fell in, didn't I?" Alice replied irritably.
"Are you hurt?"
"Not much." Then she shrugged and giggled. "Oh, well. I'm in now," she said and, lowering herself once more into the lake, she made a few nervous strokes with her hands, her teeth chattering and her head sticking straight up, because she hated getting water into her eyes.
"It's quite nice really," she gasped, calling to her sister. "Mary, come in. Please, Mary," her voice coaxed. "It's more fun swimming with other people."
"You're a little coward, Alice!" Mary murmured. "I'm not coming in just to make you feel safe. Besides, I don't want to get wet. I'd rather lie here in the sun."
Typical! Alice thought, then standing gingerly on another submerged rock, she stared down into the water that surrounded her.
"William!" she squealed. "Come and look! There are tiny fish all round my legs..."
But William was now some distance from her, with his head below the water, and he didn't hear her.
Alice crouched down, scooping water in the cupped palms of her hands and letting it trickle back into the lake.
"D'you think you can drink it?" she asked. But neither of the other two answered her. She sighed again and, shading her eyes with her hands, she looked slowly round at the view.
The lake was surrounded by forest, with only a narrow band of pebbles and mossy ground between the water and the trees. The distant bank was covered by dark conifers, ranged in regimental ranks, which spread up the steep hillside and disappeared from view over the top of a long ridge. On the near side, behind Alice and where Mary now lay dozing among the remains of their picnic, the vegetation was lighter and leafier; broad oaks, birches, chestnuts and other woodland trees and bushes crowded down to the water's edge. Here the sunlight danced and glittered through the branches, casting shadows and making an ever-changing scene of light and shade. In contrast, the top of the lake was marked by a flat area of marshy ground, backed by a steep cliff, covered with bushes and young sapling trees. Among their branches a mountain stream could be glimpsed as it cascaded down from the heights in a series of falls. Distantly beyond this cliff, the peaks of higher mountains were just visible through the milky afternoon light. At the other end of the lake, the land rose gently toward a solitary stone which stood as high as a person, leaning sideways against a holly bush. Behind this stone the branches of a massive yew tree were just visible, marking the edge of the escarpment which formed one side of Golden Valley, where the children were staying with their Uncle Jack. It was in this yew that the children had discovered a secret room, now hidden by the thick branches of the tree, during the previous holidays.
"Let's go and see Meg," Alice said, wading back toward the shore and picking up her towel from the ground near the pile of clothes.
"You out already?" Mary murmured, her eyes closed. "I thought you said you were going swimming."
"I have swum," her sister replied as, drying her back, she turned once more to watch William out on the lake. "He's nearly in the middle now." Then, a moment later, she let out such a shout of surprise that Mary sat bolt upright, very wide awake.
"Alice! What is it? What's happened?" she asked.
"It's William!" Alice cried. "He's disappeared."
Mary rose quickly to her feet, shading her eyes and scanning the lake. The flat, rippling surface lapped gently to her feet. There was no sign of William.
Mary started to run along the shore, shouting desperately.
"What happened? Did you see him struggle?"
"Oh, Mary! Where are you going?" Alice pleaded with her as she splashed out into the water. "He must be drowning. Come quickly."
"No! Alice! You can't go after him. You're not a strong enough swimmer," Mary yelled, changing direction and dashing down into the water in pursuit of her younger sister.
"But we've got to do something," Alice whimpered.
Just as Mary caught hold of her and started pulling her back toward the shore, the surface of the lake in front of them parted and William appeared from its depths, rising up out of the water like a dolphin at play. The girls both stared, open-mouthed with surprise and relief. As if in slow motion they saw drops of water falling away from his body, sparkling in the sunlight like shreds of gold.
"William!" Mary yelled angrily. "You scared us half to death!"
"Why?" he shouted, swimming toward them with strong strokes.
"We thought you'd drowned," Alice said.
"I just went underwater," William protested.
"A place where a human being doesn't naturally belong," a voice behind them said sternly.
The sound was so completely unexpected and seemed to come from somewhere near to the girls. They swung round in astonishment.
Stephen Tyler, the Magician, was sitting on the ground, under an oak tree, a short distance from where they were standing.
"Mr. Tyler!" Alice gasped.
The Magician stared at them silently. His thin red hair circled his head like a cloud and his eyes flashed gold in the sunlight. He was dressed in his long black coat and leaned forward, holding on to his silver cane with the twining dragons at the top. His other arm was supported in a sling made of rough material. He sat so still that he seemed more a part of the trunk of the tree than a separate being, but he glared at them so fiercely that they felt his presence almost more than they saw him.
"Is he really there?" Mary whispered.
"Speak up, child!" the Magician snapped and, as he did so, his body came into sharper focus -- like the image through a pair of binoculars which becomes clearer as you adjust the lens. Slowly he rose to his feet, leaning heavily on his cane. "And you, boy," he called to William, who had reached shallower water and was wading toward the shore, "come to land at once!"
"You gave us such a shock," Mary said, taking a step toward him.
"I have been here for some time," the old man told her.
"Where?" Alice asked.
The Magician shrugged.
"Half here. I am finding the concentration is becoming more and more difficult. Tempus fugit! 'Time flies!'" Then he sighed and said irritably, "You're always popping backward and forward. Never here when I need you. Shall you be staying long, this time?"
"Ages and ages," Alice said excitedly. "It's the summer holidays."
"Then we must put them to good use."
William was drying himself vigorously with his towel. Now that he was out of the water, he felt cold and was having difficulty stopping his teeth from chattering.
"So, my fish," the Magician said, looking at him, "you have been exploring Goldenwater. And what do you make of my lake?"
"Your lake?" Mary asked him, surprised.
"Of course," the Magician answered. "All this land belongs to Golden House. It is part of the estate."
"Well, it isn't in our time," William said, fixing his towel round his waist and struggling into his pants and shorts. "I remember Uncle Jack telling us when we first arrived here that he only owned two acres. I remember thinking that sounded quite a lot. Our house in London only has a back garden."
"Two acres?" Stephen Tyler exclaimed. "Two acres? What has he done with it all? He must get it back at once. Goldenwater is essential to my plan; as is Goldenspring and the twin view points. Two acres? How can one hope to balance the universe on the head of a pin?" Then he shrugged and nodded thoughtfully. "It might be possible," he said. "The universe is beyond comprehension and as such is open to infinite possibilities. But if Jack Green does not own Goldenwater, who does?"
"I don't," William replied.
"You remembered Uncle Jack's name!" Alice exclaimed. "You don't usually remember things like that."
"Don't be impertinent, child!" the Magician snapped.
"But it's true. We're always having to remind you of that sort of thing. I bet you don't remember my name."
"I only remember important matters," the Magician told her, in a withering voice. Then he added, "Your name is Minimus."
"No, it isn't!" Alice said, indignantly. "It's Alice."
"Well, you're Minimus to me," the Magician retorted, and he walked slowly away from them along the shore, tapping pebbles with his cane. "At least we know the next step now," he said, thoughtfully. "You must find out about this land ownership -- and get it back."
"Is it so important?" William asked. "It sounds rather boring to me."
"What would you rather be doing?" the old man inquired, not sounding too stern.
"Going in animals!" Alice exclaimed.
"Flying!" William cried.
"And you, girl," the Magician said, turning to Mary, "what do you hope for?"
Mary shrugged and blushed.
"She's in love with Uncle Jack's builder," Alice told the old man in a confidential voice.
"I beg your pardon?" the Magician asked, mystified.
"I am not, Alice," Mary whispered furiously. She could feel more and more blood rushing to her cheeks until they were burning.
"He's called Dan," Alice said, "and she worships him."
"My Mary," the old man said, gently, putting his good arm lightly round her shoulders. "Don't be in such a hurry. Tempus fugit."
"What has happened to your other arm?" Mary asked, desperate to change the subject.
"I had a nasty encounter with a wild dog," Stephen Tyler replied.
"D'you mean at the badger meet? When we were last here? When you had to fight that foul Fang?" Alice said breathlessly.
"Ah, I had forgotten you were there then," the old man said.
"But that was ages ago," William protested.
"It still has not healed."
"Have you had some penicillin?" Mary asked.
"What is this stuff?"
"After your time, I'm afraid." William sighed. "Don't ask it'll be so difficult to explain."
"But you must try."
"Well, it's...medicine. I think it comes from mold -- or something like that. It kills germs."
"From mold?" Stephen Tyler pondered the thought. "Fascinating! We use much the same technique. Cobwebs are very effective."
"Cobwebs?" William repeated doubtfully.
"I must go. I have to conserve my strength. This period is going to be intensely productive. Oh, a word of warning. Morden, my assistant, is very close to time-traveling. Be on your guard!"
"How would we know him?" Mary asked.
"How would you know Morden?" the old man snapped, as though it was an absurd question. "Why by his aura, of course. Morden is the dark to my light. Wherever there is evil -- look for Morden!"
"What's an aura?" Mary asked.
"No time now," the Magician answered, raising his hand to silence them. "I must away." And he walked back toward the trees, saying, "Find out about that land!"
"But -- where will we see you?" Alice called.
"I'll be about," the old man replied, without turning his head, and he disappeared from their sight into his own time from the middle of a patch of sunlight.
Copyright © 1991 by William Corlett