CHAPTER 15 - Owler Tor

“Leave me alone, Rose, will you? I’m clean, what more do you want?” sighed Will. “I’m nervous enough without you hovering around like a demented mother blackbird.”
“We only want you to do us credit,” said Clover severely. “Stop moaning and let Rose mend your jacket for you.”
“Oh, all right,” he said, slipping it off. “If it makes you happy.”
He didn’t look happy himself. He was feeling awful.
“Have you combed your hair?” demanded Clover.
“Yes I have, actually. But it looks a mess whatever I do, it’s neither long nor short now.”
“There!” said Rose. “Perfect. You want to look smart for the colonel, don’t you? Ace will.”
“That’s different. He’s used to it.”

Rose and Clover were both immaculately dressed in honour of the occasion, and Madge had hinted to them that they might like to see if they could help Will. She was tactfully trying to smarten Dan up a bit, and Phil and Hogweed were sticking close to Aesculus to make sure he kept himself clean.
“Here’s Sally,” said Clover. “I’ll go and tell her where we are.”
Gosh, even Sally’s all dressed up, thought Will. Oh, this is awful. I wish it was over. Here comes David, too. Shouldn’t he be at school like the others? I suppose he’s skived off. At least he looks normal. There goes the 10.45 to Stockport.
He stopped, and blinked, trying to see clearly. He could have sworn someone had just jumped off that train.
In a moment, Madge had seen it too, and gathered everyone together. Ace came out of the house, looking really good, not a hair out of place, and smiled nervously at Will.
Here goes, thought Will. Still, a colonel who catches trains can’t be bad.

Colonel Aberchalder was a beech, tall and very impressive-looking, with thick grey hair and penetrating blue eyes. He quickly spotted the group gathered waiting for him and jumped over to join them. He went first to Madge and took her hands, and kissed her lightly on both cheeks.
“Madge Arley,” he said. “It’s been a long time. I heard about your work at Aviemore. Great stuff. How’s Heather?”
“Working undercover just now,” said Madge. “Safe, so far, but very puzzled.”
“Really? Hope she gets a lead, then. Right, so introduce me to this splendid young team, will you? And their friends,” he added, smiling at Sally and David.
Madge introduced him to everyone, even Aesculus, who amazed them all by shaking hands with the colonel, as he’d seen everyone else do.
“I’m not going to make a great long speech,” said the colonel. “People who do brave things usually hate speeches about it, and quite right too. But I want you all to know that the army is delighted to honour acts of great courage and selflessness by the civilian population. And that is what these two young elves here have so conspicuously displayed. These are the medals,” he continued, taking a case out of his pocket. “The silver star. I don’t suppose this was the first brave thing either of you has done, and I don’t suppose it will be the last. Sometimes courageous acts are not even noticed. But this time, they have been, and I for one am extremely glad. Ace, Will, it is my very great honour to award you both the silver star.”
He stepped forward and pinned the stars to their jackets, as everyone clapped and cheered. Then Phil slipped into the shed and brought out a tray of elegant glasses, filled with sparkling elderberry wine, and offered everyone a drink.
“Who made this?” said Ace. “It’s great!”
“I did,” said Phil. “Thought it would be good to have something a bit special.”
“Honestly, you’ve all been so kind,” said Will. “It’s too much, really it is.”
“Hmm,” said Phil, “what is it you say round here when you want to express profound disagreement? Oh, yes. Give over.”

The colonel went round chatting to everyone, but finally he came back to Ace and Will and said to them,
“Is there anywhere we can talk privately?”
“Er, yes,” said Will, “in our house,” though he was trying to remember how much of a mess it was, and if there was anything illegal lying around.
Ace led the way in, and hastily knocked a heap of junk off a chair so the colonel could sit down.
“What I’d like to know, of course, if you can tell me, is how you did it.”
Will shut his eyes.
“I was afraid you were going to say that,” said Ace.
Colonel Aberchalder looked at them both. “If it’s too painful, then don’t,” he said. “But it would be of great value if the details could be recorded - anonymously, of course - in medical textbooks. It’s never been done before, you see.”
Will looked up. “We’ll have to, then,” he said. “You have to publicise discoveries.”
“Is that a science thing?” said Ace, and Will nodded.
“OK,” said Ace, and haltingly, he explained what they’d done.
“Astonishing,” said the colonel. “But how did you know that Will was like enough to Mal to do it, when you’d never known Mal as he was?”
“Well, Cory and Cyril had known him. Cory said it had worried him, you see. How alike they were. And, well…”
“Take your time,” said the colonel.
Will looked across in concern, wondering why Ace was struggling.
“Well, Mal hated me. He tried to kill me one day, by a nightmare when I was windsurfing. It nearly worked, too. But he knew exactly what to do and when to do it. There’s a thin line between love and hate.”
“There is indeed,” said the colonel. “So when you were sure, how did you actually tackle it?”

“We stood in a triangle,” said Will. “Phil was holding Mal, to keep him still. Then Ace started transforming me. It felt very strange. I thought it would drag things out of you, but it wasn’t like that. More like you could say…say anything you wanted.”
He closed his eyes again, and his knuckles were white in his hands.
“There is no need,” said the colonel quietly, “to repeat what was said.”
“Good,” gasped Will. “Anyway, I could feel Ace had stopped, and was holding it, so I turned to face Mal, and I could feel what he needed to let go of, and what he should have said. It was as if it was one person, not two. And when he did let go, it was so much, and so sudden, I suppose we both passed out.”
“You did,” said Ace. “I only just hung on, myself. Phil came and helped me. I thought he could fix the bruises when you’d finished beating me up.”
“Don’t be daft,” said Will. “I didn’t want to beat you up. Just crawl in a hole and die.”

The colonel smiled. “Thank you both very much. That wasn’t easy, I could tell. So now we know the cure. You need someone whose personality matches the warped person’s, who can do a transforming while being transformed himself. And someone else who can hold a transforming at a certain point. Hold it, for goodness’ sake! It’s hard enough doing it! How on earth are you supposed to hold it?”
Ace laughed. “It wasn’t that bad!”
“Extraordinary,” said the colonel. “It’s extremely difficult and dangerous. Will could have ended up like Mal, or you could both have gone insane. You took a huge chance, and you certainly deserve those medals.”
“Taking chances is what it’s all about,” said Ace. “Would you like to meet Mal? He’s only round the corner.”
“Thank you, I would. I’d like to meet the first person to be cured. And I hope he’s the first of many - if anyone else can actually do it.”
Ace and Will escorted the colonel to Hilton Street, and then to the railway embankment. While they waited for the next train, Will asked him what was the nearest station to this Owler Tor, feeling sure that the colonel would have been there at some time.
“Grindleford,” he said. “Sheffield line. Nice journey, I think you’ll like it. Listen,” he went on, “I know from Madge what you’re trying to do here, and I hope you succeed. But if anything goes wrong, I want you to know that the army could really use elves like you.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Ace. “We’ll remember.”
The train was coming. The colonel took his place on the sleepers, which impressed Will very much, jumped on the train, and was gone.

They walked back down Wildside in a companionable silence, each thinking his own thoughts. There was a lot of laughter going on. Sally and David had gone home, and everyone else was watching Aesculus.
“What’s Aesculus trying to make?” called Rose. “Can you work it out, Will?”
Will crouched down beside Aesculus.
“You’ve made a right mess here, haven’t you? What’s this meant to be? A wheel? It’s not very round, is it?”
“Round,” said Aesculus.
“Right,” said Will, “see round.” He drew a circle in the air with his finger. “Round, smooth, that’s it! Well done. Now, how many wheels do you want?”
“Many,” said Aesculus.
“How many?” said Will patiently. “One? Two? Three? Four?”
“Four many.”
“OK, make three more. One, two, three, four. Very good. Now what?”
Aesculus jumped up and put a foot on the wheels.
“Ah,” said Will. “I get you.”
“It’s more than I do,” said Clover. “But I might have known it was wheels.”
“He’s trying to make a skateboard like Adam’s. Here, try this piece. Make it big, and flat, and pointed. No? Too difficult? I’ll do it, then.”
He made the wood the right shape, and showed Aesculus where to put the wheels.
“Now all you need are some bright colours and a jazzy design.”
Aesculus managed that himself, a livid lime green with jagged black stripes, and zoomed off excitedly.

Will lay on the ground with his hands behind his head, gazing happily at the sky.
“Thank goodness that’s over,” he said. “Honestly, Madge, did you have to?”
“Yes,” said Madge. “It wasn’t that bad, was it? Don’t you like your medal?”
“Yeah, it’s lovely,” said Will. “But you know what he wanted to talk to us about, in there?”
“I can guess,” said Madge. “He wanted to know how you did it.”
“Dead right,” said Will.
“Cheer up,” said Ace, aiming stones with deadly accuracy at a menacing magpie. “It’s going to go in a textbook. We made a real discovery. That’s pretty cool, isn’t it?”
“Yes, I suppose it is,” sighed Will. Then he sat up. “And now we know how to get to Owler Tor. When shall we go? Tomorrow?”
“Why not?” said Ace. “As soon as the postman’s been. If there’s no news again tomorrow, we’ll get off. Does anyone else want to come?”
He caught several exchanged glances, and pounced on it immediately.
“What?” he said. “What’s going on? What are you all up to?”
“Never you mind,” said Clover. “We may have a plan on the go, but it’s a surprise. You go off on your train and leave us to our plotting.”
“That’s right,” grinned Phil. “You’re not the only ones who can make plans, you know.”
“Well, great!” laughed Ace. “But tell me what it is! I won’t interfere - I just want to know!”
“Well, you’ll have to wait,” said Rose. “But I’ll give you a clue. It’s nothing to do with saving Wildside.”

Next morning, Phil came jumping back from the railway line to join the others, who were watching a train out of sight.
“It’s OK,” he said, “they both got on all right.”
“Let’s go then,” said Dan. “You go first, Hogweed, and wake it up, in case it’s in a bad mood.”
“That’s fine,” said Hogweed, “so long as someone else talks to it.”
He crept forward through the long grass, towards a heap of dried leaves, and poked the heap with a stick. The whole heap shuddered and gave a loud snore, then suddenly a pink snout appeared, and the heap stood up and stretched its legs.
“That’s a hodgepig,” whispered Phil to Aesculus. “Very dangerous.”
“Hodgepig,” said Dan, in a voice that only wobbled a bit, “we’ve got an offer for you. We know a really nice place that you can have to sleep in, much better than a few old leaves. But we want you to do us a favour.”
The hodgepig snorted and turned its back on them.
“A real house, hodgepig,” said Dan softly. “Warm, dry, comfortable.”
It stopped in its tracks.
“And you do owe us one,” said Hogweed. “We didn’t leave you to get roasted in the bonfire, did we?”
The hodgepig’s snout drooped, and it stood there listening.
“All we want you to do, is let us transform you for a couple of days,” said Dan. “You’d be perfectly safe. Madge would do it, she’s really good.”
The hodgepig looked far from convinced.
“D’you want to see the house?” demanded Clover. “Follow me.”
She led the way to the goblins’ abandoned lair.
“There it is,” she said. “It’s all yours if you want it. No-one else needs it any more.”
The hodgepig had a close look at the house, and turned to face the sprites, nodding its head. It was so tired. A couple of days’ work, and it could really get its head down, safe from wind and rain.

“Splendid,” said Madge. “Now then, hodgepig, I’m going to transform you into a large dog, but you’ll still have your own cunning and intelligent brain. Are you ready?”
The hodgepig nodded again, and Madge stood stock still, pouring everything into her imagination, until the spikes shrunk, the dark brown lightened, and the legs grew and grew, followed by floppy ears, a long tail, and a big red tongue. Madge staggered a bit from the effort, and Rose gave her an arm to lean on.
“Barking Mad,” said Aesculus. He looked around, puzzled. “Where Tony?”
“Have you got the chocolate, Phil?” said Dan.
“Oh yes, it’s in my pocket. I hope it hasn’t melted.”
“OK, hodgepig,” said Dan. “Now you’re a dog, you’d probably like one of these. Try one!”
The hodgepigdog sniffed a chocolate drop, then gobbled it in a second, its eyes gleaming.
“Good, are they?” said Dan. “Well, you get one every time you do a dog thing right. You have to learn a load of words and obey them, OK? Let’s start with an easy one. Sit!”
Instantly, the hodgepigdog sat on its haunches, alert and still, and Dan threw it another chocolate drop, as all the sprites applauded.
“We’re on to a winner this time,” said Madge, rubbing her hands.
They kept at it for a couple of hours, until the hodgepigdog knew every command a boy could give his dog. Then the sprites gave it a bowl of water, and told it to have a rest and go to sleep.

“Now for the tricky part,” said Clover. “Capturing the real Barking Mad.”
“The first thing is to get into the house,” said Phil. “Hogweed, you stay and keep an eye on the hodgepig, will you? And we’ll go and see if there are any windows open. Come on, Aesculus, jump. We’ve got to keep up with the fairies.”
“Nothing open,” said Rose, as Phil and Aesculus joined them.
“Have to be the letter box, then,” said Phil. “So we want Madge in there to shrink the dog, and it’ll have to be Dan to open the door.”
“Why me?” said Dan.
“Because I can’t fly, and you’re the strongest fairy. That door’s very stiff. If you can turn the handle, I can help you by shoving it from the outside.”
“Rose and I will hover and hold the letter box open,” said Clover. “Then Madge and Dan can get inside.”
Madge and Dan flew through the tiny gap, and went to search for Barking Mad. He was fast asleep in his basket at the back of the kitchen, and Madge shrunk him as he slept, into a perfect miniature of himself, and picked him up and carried him to the front door.
“OK, Dan! Turn the handle!” she panted.
Dan turned the handle and braced her feet against the wall, tugging with all her might. The door moved a bit, and Phil saw it, and began shoving with his shoulder. It gave suddenly, so that Phil tumbled into the hallway, and Dan lost her balance and fluttered untidily down to join him.
“Very messy, Dan,” scolded Madge. “You should have done a back flip to put yourself right again. You have to think faster in the air.”
“Sorry, Madge,” said Dan, glad that the other fairies hadn’t seen her make such a hash.
“I thought you did very well,” whispered Phil. “Is she always that strict?”
“Always,” whispered Dan. “She’s a good teacher, though. Come on!”

They rushed out after Madge. Clover was fastening a tiny lead to Barking Mad’s collar, and they joined Hogweed and the sleeping hodgepigdog.
“What’s the time, Phil?” asked Madge.
“I’ll have to look at the clock in the shed.”
In two jumps he was back. “Nearly half past three.”
“Good. Tony will be home in about half an hour.”
The real Barking Mad was awake now, and barking happily. He had no idea that he’d been shrunk, though he vaguely wondered why everything looked bigger than it had this morning.
“I’ll take him for a run,” said Phil. “He ought to have some exercise before we shut him up in Rose’s house. You coming, Aesculus?”
They both went running off, Phil holding tightly to the lead and being dragged along by Barking Mad. By now, the hodgepigdog was awake too, and Madge explained the plan, giving him a chocolate drop now and then.
“You live at number eight,” she said. “Your sleeping basket is in the kitchen, and you do a lot of barking. And you’re very obedient. When Tony says come, you come. When he says sit, you sit. When he says stay, you stay put. You’ll be with Tony and his family tonight. Tomorrow’s Saturday, and in the afternoon, when Tony’s playing out, we’ll give you the rest of the chocolate and transform you back into yourself.”
The hodgepigdog nodded, not too bothered. As a dog, it didn’t feel the need to hibernate, and that horrible sleepy feeling had gone. It was quite enjoying itself.

Just before four o’clock, Madge sent the hodgepigdog to run about by itself at the bottom of Wildside, while Phil and Rose shut the real Barking Mad into her house, with a bowl of water and a blanket to sleep on.
“It’ll need more than water before tomorrow!” said Rose suddenly. “Dogs need meat!”
“You and Clover go and nick a tin of dog meat out of number eight,” said Phil. “There’ll just be time, if you’re quick.”
Just as they got back, and had hidden the dog food in Rose’s kitchen, the Junior school children ran onto Wildside, on their way home, Adam and Joseph, Tony, Gemma and Laura. Dan flew over to them.
“Oh, I’m glad you’re home,” she said. “The door of your house is open, Tony. Barking Mad got through it, somehow. He’s still around, somewhere, though.”
“Help,” said Joseph, “I hope Mum doesn’t hear about this. We were last out. We mustn’t have shut it properly.”
“Take my bag in, will you, Joe, and come and help me find him?”
“We’ll come too!” shouted Gemma, as she and Laura ran off to their homes.
Tony started searching near the main road, worried that his dog might be near the traffic. The others had joined him in the search before they all suddenly heard the sound of barking.
“There he is!” shouted Tony joyfully. “Right over there! Come on!”
They raced off down Wildside, and Tony shouted,
“Here, Barking, come here!”
Everyone stopped in amazement as Barking Mad instantly galloped towards them and sat panting at Tony’s feet.
“Wow,” said Joseph. “He’s never done that before!”
“Tell him to stay, Tony,” said Gemma. “See if he does!”
Tony knelt down and fondled the dog’s head.
“Good boy,” he said lovingly. “Stay there! Stay.”
The children walked off slowly, casting glances behind them.
“He’s staying!” muttered Joseph. “I don’t believe this!”
Fifty yards down Wildside, Tony turned and shouted, “Here, Barking!” and the dog charged towards him. Tony hugged and stroked him, a smile of pure happiness on his face. The hodgepig was feeling strange. It had never been loved and hugged before. This was even better than chocolate, and chocolate was a million times nicer than slug. It began to hope the sprites would leave it as a dog. It liked this very much.

By the time David, Rowan and Dominic got home from the Senior school, Tony was putting his dog through its paces as if it were the star performer in an obedience class.
“Look at that!” gasped Dominic. “I don’t believe it!”
“It’s the sprites,” said Rowan. “It must be.”
“How can it be, though?” said Dominic. “They can’t change the way a dog’s brain works, can they?”
“I don’t think so,” said David. “But I think Rowan’s right, all the same. They’ve done something. Don’t say anything, though, to spoil it for Tony. Just look at him. I’ve never seen him so happy.”

“Well, tell us all about it, then,” said Clover.
The sprites were all in the shed, with the door shut against the cold, sharing the last of the wine. Aesculus was asleep, in the bed Phil had made for him, and the others were all lounging around comfortably.
“I might,” said Ace. “If you tell us what you’ve been up to.”
“We will tomorrow,” said Rose. “It all happens tomorrow. Tell us your news, now.”
“He’d better,” said Will, “or I’ll do it, and put in all the bits he’d leave out.”
He suddenly choked with laughter and said, “What’s your name?” He was holding his sides, he just couldn’t stop laughing. Ace looked very sheepish, and threw a ball of string at him.
“Shut up laughing,” he said. “OK, OK, we had a great time. On the train all the way to Manchester, then we had to get across this huge station to get on another train. How Will knew which train to get on, I don’t know, but he did.”
“It said Sheffield on the front,” said Will. “That’s where it was going after we got off.”
“Trains are very confusing,” said Ace. “But they don’t half go fast. It was great. When it stopped at Grindleford, we jumped out fast and headed north, through this gorge. Oh, it was beautiful. There was a brook, a little river, really, and it was so clean! And the trees - well, you wouldn’t believe how old they were. Oak, mostly, and birch. I could have stayed there all day, but we thought we’d better get a move on. We started climbing after that, up onto open moorland, and headed for the great boulders, like you said, Madge.”
“The moorland was nice too,” said Will. “You could really get a good speed up on open country like that. All the plants were different, too. And it was so quiet! We couldn’t think what it was, at first, then we realised - no cars, no aeroplanes.”
“So we found the entrance to the hill, under the big boulder, and followed the steps down, down, into this huge hall, all lit by fairy lights that actually worked.”

Clover stuck her tongue out at him, and Ace continued,
“All around the edges were fountains of spring water, and in between them, loads of signs and notice-boards. In the very centre was a huge hole, that was the way to go deeper into the hill. When you looked down, you could see the different levels, with landings leading onto corridors. You could fly down, or climb down a ladder, or just jump from landing to landing.”
“Which you did,” said Phil.
“Got a bit carried away,” said Will. “We didn’t stop till we got to the bottom. It wasn’t quite so pretty down there. There were signs with arrows, saying things like, ‘Courtroom Number One’, and ‘Remand Cells’, and ‘Police Interview Room’.”
“Homing instinct,” said Clover.
“Shut up,” laughed Will. “We were just going to slip away quietly, when this bossy young elf came over and asked us what we wanted, very suspiciously. So, cool as you like, Ace just said, ‘Oh, we want to visit one of our sprites in custody. Goblin called Ragwort’.”
“And they let us!” said Ace. “He didn’t look very pleased to see us, though. So we told him about Nightshade, and wished him luck, and buzzed off quick.”

“Then we had a look at the next level up,” said Will, “and that was interesting too, because it all looked old. The top part all looked new and shiny, but here it was all panelled in polished laburnum, and the signs were gold lettering. It was very quiet, though, there was no-one about, and we were just going to go when we saw this room that said, ‘Registration and Allies’, so we thought we’d go and put everyone’s names on the Register of Trustworthy Humans.”
“Oh, that’s lovely!” said Rose. “Did they let you?”
“When we’d woken them up,” said Ace. “There were two old elves in there, both fast asleep. I don’t think they get many customers. So I asked them what it meant, to be an Ally, and they explained. It means a human agrees to help any sprite that needs them, not just ones they know, and any sprite should help them, too. They get this star thing, to put on their roof as a sign. They have to be at least fourteen, apply for it themselves, and be recommended by, what was it, Will?”
“Seven sprites, including three different orders and three different places.”
“Complicated, hey? So I thought we’d work that one out later, and asked for three forms, for Sally, David and Cyril. They nearly fell off their chairs. Then I asked if we could put some children on the Register, seeing they weren’t old enough to be Allies, and they asked how many?”
“When we’d counted up, and said seven, they really did fall off their chairs,” said Will. “But they were glad to do it, all right.”

Madge was muttering softly to herself, but when the others looked at her, she just said cheerfully,
“So, all the children are on the Register in their own rights? Excellent. They’ll be thrilled. But did you ever actually find Registering Births and Deaths, or did you just mess about, exploring?”
“Eventually,” said Ace. “After getting lost a few times. But we kept bumping into this same Guard, and he sent us to the second level down. It was so busy, and it was nearly all fairies buzzing about, knowing where they were going, and the signs were so confusing, it was hard to work out where to go.”
“It was really busy on that second level,” said Will. “The rooms were huge, and the one we wanted had all these desks with queues in front of them. So we joined a queue for a desk that said ‘Registering Deaths’, and when we got to the front, there was this fairy sitting there, looking stern. She was about 120, I should think, daffodil or something sensible like that. Anyway, she got this form out, and said, ‘Have you got a pen?’ And Ace went, ‘Not yet, but I’m working on it’.”
“I thought she said, ‘plan’,” said Ace. “So then, when I understood, I said no, but I had a bit of pencil somewhere.”
“So then he started emptying his pockets all over this beautiful clean desk,” said Will, “looking for a pencil. But when he pulled out a greasy old spark plug, this fairy got cross and told him to put it away, she’d lend him a pen.”
“Yeah, well, it’s getting late, Will. Hadn’t we better speed this up a bit?”
“No, you don’t,” said Phil. “Go on, Will. What happened?”

“She gave us the form, and the pen, and Ace looked at it. Then he goes, ‘What does this mean, name of deceased?’ So she says, ‘The name of the sprite who’s died, of course’. So he writes, Cory. And she sighs, and goes, ‘Full name’. So Ace sits thinking for a bit, and writes, Corylus avellana. And she says, ‘Is that it? Didn’t he have a place-name?’ And the queue was getting longer, and neither of us could think what to put. I said, would Wildside do, and she just glared and said that was no better than just putting hill, or field.”
“But I knew Cory had mentioned it, and not long ago,” said Ace. “I just couldn’t remember it. So I chewed the pen a bit, thinking, and she tapped her fingers on the desk. Then it came to me. It’s the name of the farm, and the wood before that - Moseley. So I wrote it down, and moved on to the next question.”

“Which said, ‘name of senior sprite’,” said Will. “So he whispered to me, ‘I can’t remember’. So I said, ‘Your name’s Ace, you halfwit, what’s the matter with you?’ And he said, ‘No, it’s the next bit I can’t remember, the long bit with the funny spelling’. Well, I couldn’t remember it either, it is difficult. So this fairy looks at the stone round Ace’s neck, and says in a very loud voice, ‘Surely you know your own name?’ And Ace had to say, ‘I can’t remember it’. So she says, ‘Well, you’ve held this queue up long enough. You can go away until you’ve remembered your name, or found another sycamore with a bit more sense than you to help you. If you’re a senior sprite the rest of you must be demented’.”

Everyone was laughing so much the tears were rolling down their cheeks.
“It wasn’t funny!” said Ace. “I felt so stupid. But I really couldn’t remember. So we sat on the floor in a corner and tried to think. But it was no use. But then that Guard spotted us again, and asked us what we thought we were doing, sitting on the floor, so we explained, and he said there was a sycamore in Maintenance, he’d go and ask him, and he did, and came back with a bit of paper with it written down. And here it is,” he finished triumphantly. “Acer pseudoplatanus.”
“What does it mean?” asked Dan.
“It’s Latin for poser,” said Clover. “So did you get the form finished in the end?”
“We had to queue up again,” said Will. “So we had a good think before we queued up at Registering Births, in case there’d be anything we didn’t know. Ace practised writing Aesculus hippocastanum Moseley, so we joined the queue feeling we’d cracked it, now. But then it said, date of birth. So we had to ask what date it was today, and work backwards. So Ace is going, ‘Right, if today’s the 10th, it was the 9th when we got the medals, and it was the day before that he was born, that’s right, the morning after we nearly got arrested’.”
“I really hate forms,” said Ace. “Even when you think you’re ready, they still catch you out. Well, I was feeling pretty dead by then, so we went back to the top, where the fountains were, to get a drink. We filled some cups, and started walking round, while we were having a drink, looking at all these notice-boards. One said, Recent Notable Births, and one said, Recent Notable Deaths. And then it hit us. A board saying, Recent Awards. And there were our names, staring us in the face. Silver Star, Acer pseudoplatanus Moseley, Willow Salix caprea Moseley. For conspicuous courage and services to medical science.”
“How we got home, I don’t know,” said Will. “The rest is just a blur. But how did they know our names, Madge? Did you tell them?”
“Indirectly, but yes,” gasped Madge, fighting for breath and wiping her eyes.
“Huh,” said Ace. “You might have told us, too.”