The Spirit of the Greenwood

                                                                  The Spirit of the Greenwood

Stephanie Scofield

The first book of The Elements quintet

(suitable for children/adults 12 years and upwards)

Owen Shepherd’s lonely existence on an isolated island comes to an end when he and his mother move to Cornwall. He hopes for a more normal life with friends his own age, but it soon becomes clear that this is not to be when on Midsummer’s Day, Owen’s 12th birthday, he receives a mysterious key; a key which leads him on a journey into a world of magic and intrigue.

Meanwhile the world is rocked by a series of bizarre natural disasters. But are they entirely natural? Is there a link between Owen’s key and the fate of the world?

Published October 2008; 210 pp. ISBN 978-0-9545786-4-0. Price: £6.99. £3.19 for Kindle or EPub as download


 < Below he could hear the preparations for the play well under way, crashes, swearing, shrieks of laughter. Normally he would have been down there in the midst of it, enjoying the chaos, but the key had changed everything. He felt removed from it all, a dispassionate viewer looking down from his lofty observatory.

The heat of the day still lingered over the garden, despite the late hour, and the hypnotic hum of bees in the honeysuckle below sent him drifting off. He woke with a start as something buzzed past his face. He could have sworn he had seen a tiny silver ball of light. A shriek of laughter rang out from the garden below. The guests were arriving, excited, expectant, not so very different from the guests of Nana’s long ago memory. Gloria and Owen’s mother had worked hard to create the right atmosphere in the garden. Floating candles were strung out across the Millstream, which ran alongside the house, ready to be lit as the last light faded, whilst the garden itself was to be illuminated by hundreds of tiny Victorian fairy lanterns, produced from an attic by Nana.

An excited buzz floated up to Owen’s perch in the tree house, animated voices, the clink of glasses as Nana’s punch was poured liberally down thirsty throats, and the high shrill laughter of children, chasing between the rugs spread over the lawn. The sweet haunting note of a flute drifted up over the cacophony below and he craned his neck over the platform edge to look for Gordon, a local flautist, whom Gloria had roped in to provide pre-play entertainment. Strange…there he was, sprawled on the grass, glass in hand…but no flute. The music though continued, a lilting, gentle tune that captured perfectly the magical air of the evening. Owen’s ears strained to hear where it was coming from. Somewhere near Nana’s herb garden, it seemed. As he turned to get a better look, he caught a glimpse of a figure disappearing through the lavender bushes into the foxgloves beyond. It was someone from the play he thought, although he didn’t recognize the costume of holly leaves and branches. He scrambled down the tree, determined to catch up with the mysterious flute player and find out what he was doing at the wrong end of the garden.

“Hello?” He called softly, pushing through the tall swaying foxgloves. “Is there anyone there?” Silence. No trace of the man he had seen a couple of minutes earlier. The voices from the garden seemed suddenly muffled and distant. Beyond the border of foxgloves lay the woods, normally so welcoming, but tonight there was something slightly threatening about them, an air of untamed wildness. The trees that usually beckoned him in stood tonight, as giant sentinels, keeping him out. Owen shivered and turned back towards the house. He could hear clapping and cheering from the garden and the sound of so many people filled him with relief. He broke into a run, needing the reassurance of the crowds. As he reached the edge of the garden, on the edge between the wildness of the woods and the comfort of other human beings, he stopped motionless. There sitting in front of him calm and at ease, was a fox, staring wide eyed, but unafraid, straight at him. >


<  Owen stumbled, narrowly avoiding a long spindly root protruding from a densely packed hawthorn hedge. Finn grabbed his arm and pulled him away just as a head poked out from the thorny bush.

Watch out! That must be Dillya’s hedge hag!”

A dark green, wrinkled face with black beady eyes glared out of the hedge at them, her wild tangly hair caught fast in the hawthorn. She belched loudly emitting a foul stench of rotten eggs.

Urgh.” Owen couldn’t help turning away in disgust.

Oh, I see!” The whiny, nasal voice grated on his ears. “Too good for me are you? How do you think I feel, stuck in this horrible hedge with only myself for company. You!” The beady eyes swivelled round to take in Finn. “Stand up straight! You’ll end up a hunchback if you go on like that.”

Finn turned away with a groan, “Owen….” Before he could say any more, she broke in again.

Owen, is it? Silly sort of name that. Your parents must have had too much wine the day you were named. What happened to your hair? I’ve never seen such awful hair. It looks like the mice ate it one night. And why is it that horrible colour? It makes me feel quite ill.”

Owen!” Finn tried again. “Come on. We need to find Dillya, or at least someone who knows where she is.”

Don’t leave me.” The hedge hag’s voice rose to a pitiful wail. “Just come and untangle my poor hair from this thicket. You can’t just leave a helpless old lady like this!”

Owen moved a step closer. “We can at least help untangle her, Finn. It must really hurt having your hair caught like that.”

Are you crazy?” Finn exclaimed. “I’d think you’d been eating spira if I didn’t know better. She’s a hedge hag!” He spelt it out. “If you go near her she’ll grab hold of you and you’ll be stuck there. If you’re lucky she’ll crush you straight away and eat your bones. If you’re unlucky, she’ll drag you away and nag you to death.” He grinned at Owen’s shocked expression. “That’s what they do, hedge hags. They nag and moan. If one moves in near you, you might as well move out. You need a hag-extractor like Dillya to get rid of them before they take root. Once they’re rooted, they won’t go till they’ve eaten.”

Owen backed away from the glowering hedge hag, appalled.

Don’t believe him!” she screeched. “I’m just a poor little old lady who got stuck in a hedge and who needs a hand to get out.”

I don’t think so!” he said, noticing for the first time her snaggly black pointed teeth. A string of curses followed, as Finn and Owen hurried away to look for Dillya. >


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