Ross Kolby

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Childrens books

Will O'Phillie and the story of Lord Falconbridge

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Novel, 336 p. 2001, CappelenDamm

Kolby is renowned as a painter. But along with his art he has created the world of 12-year-old William O’Phillie, known as Will. This fairytale novel takes place in London and its outskirts, unveiling to the reader a tale of magic, destiny, Shakesperian sonnets, old spells and the ghosts of historic personaleties - all altering between the year 1622 and present time.

It is a classic fantasy novel, never the less with a higly original twist. And much inspired by Roald Dahl. Kolby writes with humour, wit and a fine feeling for the language. As one critic put it; “He paints with the language.”

The book was first published in Norway at the renowned publishing house J. W. Cappelen. The year after it was published in Denmark by their oldest publishing house; Gyldendal. This fairytale novel is Kolby’s debut as an author after spending 2 years creating the world of Will O’Phillie.

Reviews

Shakespeare and magic

For children:

Ross Kolby
"Will O'Phillie and the story of Lord Falconbridge"
CappelenDamm, 2001

It is hardly necessary to say; magic is in the air nowadays. The publishers' lists are crowded with titles about wizards and magic, most of them translated, and not all of them too convincing. Both title and the author's name could lead you to think that "Will O'Phillie and the story of Lord Falconbridge" is yet another imported magical product, but the debutant Ross Kolby is genuinely Norwegian, though living in Denmark. He is educated as a painter, and has himself created the cover of his first book.

The painting shows a boy who, half hidden behind a tree, looks out on a parklike landscape. Between the place where he is standing and an old estate, there are seen numerous ghostlike appearances. The back of the book shows William Shakespeare's face rising as a cloud over the parklike forest, as well as a little dog.

The boy behind the tree is Will O'Phillie, and the dog is his own and named Romeo. The location is an old English estate, now a museum, and the ghosts Will is looking at play most active roles in this tale.

Will is a typical children's book hero in the sense that he has just has moved to a new place, a new school - and has got a new teacher. Her name is invitingly Miss Sweetie, but when it comes to cruelty, she competes with Roald Dahl's frightening teacher in "Mathilda". Will is without friends, and a potential victim of teasing, and in this post Harry Potter era, it is not atypical that Will, on the top of his physical oddness of having one green and one yellow eye, finds himself to be a chosen wizard with unusually strong magical powers.

Will is dragged into a story that has its roots back in the 17th century. The tale is of a battle between good and evil wizards, and eventually of controlling Will's powerful force. It is a struggle getting exceedingly exiting, as Will seems to lack any understanding of the correct use of magical powers, and seemingly is a n easy victim for his horrifying enemies.

Besides the Hound of the Baskerville, Count Vlad Dracula, King Henry VIII, Tzar Ivan the Terrible and Queen Mary I, the fairytale involves the magical ring of William Shakespeare, his sonnets and his play "Romeo and Juliet". It also involves Shakespeare's old friend Lord Henry Falconbridge, existing in the unpleasant condition of being only a head without a body. Another of Shakespeare's old friends is a cursed 400-year old ex-wizard, Apothecary Biron, who finally, with Will's assistance, has become deadly again. In not long a time, Will's little dog Romeo is able both to fly and talk. There is something for any taste here, one may say.

I am quite certain that old Shakespeare, who did not hesitate to let a ghost or two put his audience in the right mood, would have any objections to lending his immortal reputation to this fairytale. Though one might say there is too much wizardry and magic in children's literature nowadays, Ross Kolby must be credited for telling an imaginative, amusing, exciting and bizarre story. He confronts past and present, he draws upon numerous literary references, and instead of creating a magical universe of his own or copying the Potter model, he leads the magic and the past into the present, and cooks and serves us a certainly delicious course.

The language in the book in a few parts seems to be written unconsciously within a "children's book pattern" but on the whole, the language in this novel is highly varied and rich and will be a great challenge for young readers. The bodylacking Lord Falconbridge, who just has awakened from his 400-year sleep, speaks an ancient sounding language, and Shakespeare's sonnets and parts of "Romeo and Juliet" are translated by André Bjerke.

It seems that Ross Kolby is planning to continue his tale of Will O'Phillie. He is most welcome to.

Nationen, 5th November 2001
Reviewed by Inger Ostenstad

Magical debut

For children:

Ross Kolby
"Will O'Phillie and the story of Lord Falconbridge"
CappelenDamm, 2001

It is not easy to move to a new place, and especially if you know no-one there. This is the experience of 12-year old Will in "Will O'Phillie and the story of Lord Falconbridge". 

Together with his father and the dog Romeo, Will has just moved to the little town Epping

ton outside of London. Will, who is a timid and shy boy, is rather spending his time in the Herkins forest than at the new school, where a grumpy and dreadful teacher along with some unpleasent pupils do their best to darken Will's hours.

Suddenly one day Will receives an old ring in the mail, together with as a message demanding him to show up in an old antiquarian bookshop the same evening. There a spooky old woman gives him an old book with William Shakespeare's plays and sonnets. Back in the Herkins forest, Will sits alone reading out loud one of the sonnets. Suddenly, and totally unexpected, he awakens the head of Lord Henry Falconbridge, who was murdered and decapitated by the dreadful Duke of Salisbury some 400 years ago.

Will meets the old apothecary and former wizard Hugh Biron, who exhaltedly tells him that he has magical powers that may help them in the hunt for Ophelia, the lost love of Lord Falconbridge. They also face the danger of the ghost of the evil Duke of Salisbury, and will strongly need Will's powers. But the path towards victory is long and dangerous, and Will, as well as learning how to master his magical powers, must avoid being discovered by the duke. At the same time Will struggles with his role as Romeo in Shakespeare's play at school.

Author, painter and debutant Ross Kolby has with "Will O'Phillie and the story of Lord Falconbridge" created an entertaining and most vivid book. His use of Shakespeare and his works as an important part of the story is commendable, as he this way might create a new interest in this "master of poets" among young readers. Numerous other historical persons are part of this fairytale, making it a source of historical knowledge. This does not however, at any time, make the book boring or difficult to read.

But I do have to admit that the story at times reaches a speed too high. Wizardry, spelling, ghosts, flying dogs and teachers cooking fox-stew with the children - there are so many things happening at the same time that it may be too much.

With a book being in the same style as J. K. Rowling's books about Harry Potter, it is clear that Ross Kolby has joined a tough league. But I must say he tackles the competition very well. Although Will's magical powers grow within him with a greater ease than to Harry Potter, they both fight a hard struggle between good and bad. And this is a book that will capture the Harry Potter-fans.

Hamar Arbeiderblad, 15th January 2002
Reviewed by Marthe Hatlen Gronsveen

 

Painting with the language

Children's book:

Ross Kolby
"Will O'Phillie and the story of Lord Falconbridge"
CappelenDamm, 2001
1 2 3 4 5 6

VERY GOOD. Good composition, excitingly told and a unique feeling for language makes the painter Ross Kolby's literary debut a tale rising well above what is usual.
Ross Kolby makes hid debut with the children's book "Will O'Phillie and the story of Lord Falconbridge" - and he does it well. The book is about the boy Will, who gets into an adventure where he co-operates with a 400-year old neighbour, awakens a decapitated head of the same age, makes friends with peaceful ghosts and tries to fight the evil ones.

His enemies are not just anybody. The struggle is against the ghosts of some of the most cruel personalities in history. Or what do you say about Count Vlad Dracula, Tzar Ivan the Terrible and King Henry VIII (who had two of his 6 wives decapitated) The evil side of this fairytale is led by the wicked Duke of Salisbury, and who therefore becomes their main enemy.

It must be said at once; this is a good book. A very good book - almost without weaknesses. I must admit being sceptical when I began reading it. A boy learning magic and wearing a magical ring, its like has been seen before and I feared a copy. But my doubt was instantly diminished, as Kolby from the first page on manages to create a thrilling and clever universe of his own that forcefully pulls you into the book. From the first page Kolby connects the tale to a part of the world's classical stories, thus creating a frame surrounding the book that is being repeated at the end of the tale. Read the book, and you will see what I mean.

With a debut as this it is easy to let pass and forgive possible weaknesses. Some of the characters in "Will O'Phillie and the story of Lord Falconbridge" could be more motivated at the beginning of the book. They enter the story, almost by coincidence and without any particular reason of being exactly there at that exact moment. But I found it impossible to hang onto this criticism. If you give the characters time, they develop and get under your skin. 

After some time they seem to be as natural a part of the peculiar universe of this story as the ghosts do. This tale illustrates that Ross Kolby has a talent also for composing books. (He is educated and known as a painter) But what really makes this book differ from others, is the author's ear for language. Kolby paints with his language, and provides the reader with what is needed to create personal images of the events in the story.

Kolby also manages to place a 400-year old decapitated head in our modern world so convincingly that the reader immediately accepts the absurd situation. He describes the old nobleman's prejudices towards our modern world, and all his remarkable observations mainly based on dialogue. All this, while the reader whipes off his tears of laughter. Ross Kolby signals a second volume of the this tale. And I do look forward to it.

Asker & Baerums Budstikke, 27th October 2001
Rewieved by David Krekling

 

Read three chapters

The Discovery

Things were quiet at school the following day. The lessons crept tediously by, one after the other. Will was itching to get home – and to cycle out to Herkins Woods.

Then suddenly, at the end of the day, Miss Sweetie decided that it would be “fun” to play the geography game. The class looked at each other in commiseration, because they knew it would be anything but “fun”.

The first person to the front was Tom Berkins. Miss Sweetie made him sit on a chair by the teacher’s desk. Then she blindfolded him so that he couldn’t see if anyone tried to give him the answers to what she called “these simple, fun questions”. Each time Tom got an answer wrong, he would get an extra equation for homework, as punishment.

The teacher stood behind Tom with her hands on the back of the chair, so that he was enveloped by the smell of her sweat.

“What is the name of the second largest town in the Kaktjna province in the Czech Republic?” she asked loudly. Tom squirmed on his chair, no doubt imagining the first equation.

“Um, I …”

“…Don’t know,” barked Miss Sweetie. She gave a harsh laugh.

“Trick question! The Kaktjna province doesn’t exist.” Tom laughed nervously, and squirmed a bit more.

“Now, let me see. How high is Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa?” asked Miss Sweetie. Tom swallowed. Then he answered slowly:

“I, I think it is 5895 metres high.”

“No, most definitely wrong! Kilimanjaro is 8846 metres,” gloated Miss Sweetie. “One equation for you, Tom.”

“Excuse me, Miss,” whispered someone at the back of the class. It was Bridget Pollock.

“M-miss Sweetie, Tom is actually right. Kilimanjaro is 5895 metres,” she ventured timidly. “It’s Mount Everest that is 8846 metres high.” There was complete silence in the classroom. Obviously the new girl didn’t know what was good for her.

“What-did-you-say, Pollockkkk!” Miss Sweetie articulated each word slowly. Bridget began to stutter.

“N-no, I…I j-just…” Will closed his eyes. Why didn’t Bridget just keep her mouth shut? She was bound to get heaps of extra equations now.

“You can sit down, Berkins,” said Miss Sweetie to Tom, “I’ll give you your equation on the way out.” She turned to the class.

“Pollockkkk! Get up here!” Bridget got up slowly, went to the front of the class and sat on the chair. Poor little Bridget. All alone at the front with Miss Sweetie, who believed in death by equations. And Bridget wasn’t even good at maths.

“How many lakes are there in Mbkelliktzerroh, Pollockkk? Quickly!” Miss Sweetie had pulled the blindfold tight around Bridget’s eyes. She was fumbling in the dark.

“I…I, um – a thousand?”

“Wrong! Extra equation for you!” shouted Miss Sweetie, triumphantly. “What is the name of the city gate at the south end of Talikonta?” Bridget was starting to sweat.

“Um … I … I …”

“Another equation,” interrupted Miss Sweetie. “Where is the capital of North Pellenia?” she continued to fire.

“In the s-s-south?” answered Bridget courageously. But she was doomed. Will had never even heard of any of the countries, rivers or mountains that Miss Sweetie was grilling her about. Eighteen equations later she and the rest of the class were allowed to go. Will stomped out, furious with Miss Sweetie for the way she had just walked all over Bridget. Again. Over all of them.

*

As he whizzed home, Will made a mental list of the things he needed to take on the excursion that afternoon. They would leave as soon as they had had something to eat.

Will put the things he needed to take to Herkins Woods into a small rucksack: a good ball for Romeo, a torch, and most important of all, the Shakespeare book. He had a plan. He would recite Shakespeare for the first time - taste the words, see how they felt.

When they had eaten, Will popped Romeo in the box on the back of his bike, and off they went. The sun was still high in the June sky, and the silver ring on his finger sparkled in the light. The warm air enveloped Eppington in a pleasant, drowsy atmosphere. Small insects ventured forth and stretched their wings, colliding with Will as he zipped towards the Herkins Estate.

There were two small, peaceful lakes in the grounds, and the manor house stood surrounded by trees. The yellow sandstone walls glowed in the afternoon sun, and the outbuildings and terraces twinkled as they reflected the light from the hundreds of small panes in the tall windows.

The main entrance to the estate was close to the town. Will swept in through the impressive wrought-iron gates and on down the road. On the gates, there was a huge copper plaque engraved with elegant letters:

HERKINS ESTATE
BUILT IN 1524 BY LORD GEORGE FALCONBRIDGE
RESTORED IN 1997 WITH THE GENEROUS SUPPORT OF
HRH PRINCE OF WALES’ FUND

Further along the road by the marble statue of Venus, Will turned left and cycled through the woods to the clearing. Their clearing. Will and Romeo had passed many a happy hour here, playing and talking. Old oak trees lined the clearing and there were large heavy stones scattered among the trees as if giants had played there.

Will leaned his bike up against a tree, and lifted Romeo down. The dog immediately started to sniff around as usual. Will walked across the clearing and sat down by the big oak; their oak. He whistled:

“Come on Romeo, come over here and listen.” Again, he let the book fall open. And again, it opened at “Hamlet”. 

Ghost: Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast,
With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts –
O wicked wit and gifts, that have the power
So to seduce! – won to his shameful lust
The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen:
O Hamlet, what a falling-off there was! [1] 

The words flowed out and soared to the skies. The whispering leaves caught them and tossed them from treetop to treetop. Will leafed through the book enthusiastically until he came to the sonnets. It was these that old Mary Fitton had suggested he should read.

He skimmed through some of them. They were beautiful, but the language was difficult to understand. As he turned the pages, a sheet of thick paper, yellowed with age, fell into his lap. Will picked it up. The number 36 was written at the top of the page in beautiful, fluid handwriting. He looked at the page in the book. It was Shakespeare’s Sonnet no. 36.

The sonnet in the book had been hand-written on the piece of paper. The elegant writing flowed across the old page, and Will was enchanted by the words. This is it, he thought. This was the one he would recite out loud in the woods.

He stood up, cleared his throat, and started:

“Let me confess that we two must be twain,
Although our undivided loves are one:
So shall those blots that do with me remain
Without thy help by me be borne alone” [2]

Will paused. He liked the sound of the words. They vibrated and melted into the surroundings like a beautiful melody. All at once, he felt a warmth pulsating from the ring, up his arm. Just as it had done in the old bookshop. He looked around, but there was no one else in the clearing. Will touched the ring; it was warm.

He had a peculiar feeling as he put the book down on the grass. He coughed and started to recite the sonnet again. Only louder this time. He walked around the clearing, holding the hand-written sonnet in front of him as he read. Again and again he read it, louder and clearer each time. 
Suddenly Romeo froze and then started to whine.

“W-what’s wrong, Romeo?” asked Will anxiously. It was completely still in the woods, apart from a light breeze that rustled and played in the leaves high above their heads. He glanced down at the paper. Again, a gentle warmth radiated from the ring to the tips of his fingers. Will swallowed, and looked around again, but everything was just as before.

So he continued:

“In our two loves there is but one respect,
Though in our lives a separable spite,
Which though it…” [3]

Will was interrupted by Romeo who was now cautiously moving towards the trees, whining all the while.

“Romeo, what’s wrong with you?”

Will shrugged his shoulders and followed. The dog was standing behind a dried-out trunk a few metres into the woods, peering into a narrow opening under a large stone. Will lifted Romeo up into his lap, as he knelt down and looked under the stone. The old ring was burning against his skin.

“R-romeo, why are you acting so strange?” he said gently, and stroked the dog. All Will could see was a pile of leaves and twigs tangled together in something that looked like an old wig. He put down the piece of paper, grabbed twig and carefully poked the matted pile.

There was a weak groan from under the leaves. Will leapt back, dropping Romeo, who immediately started to bark with all his might. He shot off to hide behind a trunk, so that only his little head poked out. Will stood up, shaking, and stared at the stone. The pulse in his temples was throbbing. Yes, it did look like an old, grey wig tangled up with a lot of muck and twigs.

He moved closer again and once more poked the pile with the stick. Again there was a groan.

Will was paralyzed and his hair stood on end. The warmth from the ring coursed up through his arm, through his whole body. He stepped back, stiff as a board.

“G-good morrow?” said the pile of leaves, weakly. “W-what ho?” Will picked up the small, barking Romeo and held him tight. He felt completely focused and yet untogether at the same time. He was cold, and every cell in his body was on full alert.

Was there really something lying under the stone? Was the old wig actually someone’s head? Will could hear Romeo’s continuous barking somewhere far off in the distance.

The little dog was shaking. He barked and panted like bellows as they stood looking at the macabre mound of leaves.

“R-Romeo!” His voice sounded strangely different. “Romeo, be quiet …”

The silence in the woods was tangible. Will had never experienced anything like it. The quiet melody of the rustling leaves blended into the crisp notes of a bird hopping about in the undergrowth nearby.

The clearing was awash in golden sunlight, and a soft wind caressed the trees. Will and Romeo approached the stone and the tangle of leaves again. Nothing had moved. But now it seemed obvious that there was hair in amongst the leaves and twigs. Something coughed in the pile, and a frail voice croaked:

“In the name of His Majesty, who passes?” Will held his breath. A sneeze burst out from under the leaves, blowing up sand and foliage.

“Who goes there? Pray tell!"

Suddenly Will’s head cleared. That was old-fashioned language. An old man, maybe a tramp, must have fallen asleep under the stone. His immediate response was to help him.

“Hello – hello there. My name is Will … I’m sorry about Romeo. He’s not really dangerous, he just likes to pretend.” Romeo shot Will a cross look. There was another sneeze in the pile, and leaves and dirt swirled around.

“In sooth, what dirt and filth. What be this putrefied bed wherein I lie? I beseech thee, help me arise, and swift as the wind!” The voice was clearer now, and sounded irritated. Once again, Will was struck by the strange, old-fashioned language. He knelt down by the stone.

“I’ll just get some of this stuff off. You’ve really managed to get in a mess with all these twigs and branches,” he laughed nervously. Romeo sniffed the pile cautiously as Will started to brush away the leaves and twigs. Then suddenly his fingers touched skin. Dry, cold skin. He carried on carefully brushing away the mess. Two narrow, dirty eyes looked up at him, and squinted in the light.

“Have the sun and moon entered a blessed pact? What be this burning light?” Two clear blue eyes stared out at Will. They belonged to a man of indefinable age. Shaggy grey eyebrows overshadowed the piercing eyes.

“Pray, do tell! Or does thy power of speech forsake thee as birds on the wing?”

“I – I …,” stammered Will. “L-let’s get you up.” He carried on pushing away the muck and the rest of the man’s face emerged. He sported a tangled and tufted grey moustache and a goatee beard.

The face was different from any other that Will had seen. With the long grey hair and moustache, it looked more like an old painting. The man blinked, and sneezed again.

“Wouldst thou blind me with dust from the earth? And thou shall address me as My Lord, forsooth.” As Will brushed away some more twigs from the man’s neck, his hand sunk down in the leaves to where roughly the man’s chest would have been.

But there was no body there! Will started and jumped back with a cry. Romeo leapt out of the way, terrified, and started to bark again. Will clambered to his feet and ran as fast as they would carry him out into the clearing to his bike. His heart was pounding.

What horror was this? He thrust the barking Romeo into the box and leapt on his bike. They raced down the road and out the main gates of the Herkins Estate. The wind rushed passed their ears and a thousand thoughts swirled around in Will’s startled mind.

 

The Awakening

Will stopped in a field on the outskirts of Eppington and caught his breath. His heart stopped racing and his mind started to clear. Romeo, who had barked himself hoarse, had also calmed down. He gave Will a confused look from his box.

“My God, Romeo, what have we done?” Will spat on the ground. His mouth tasted of blood. He was scared. He pulled the ring off his finger and stuffed it into his pocket. If there really was a man lying under the stone, he needed help. But Will could swear that he didn’t have a body. He looked up at the sky and drew courage from the sun. They had to go back and help the person, whoever he was.

*

Will propped his bike up against a tree, and carried Romeo tightly. The little dog was still shaking. It was completely quiet. From a distance, everything looked as normal by the stone. They walked towards it slowly, breaking small twigs underfoot.

Will could see the man under the stone clearly now. It looked like he was asleep. A branch snapped loudly and he woke up.

“Good morrow!” he cried out again. And once more Romeo started to bark. A voice thundered from beneath the leaves:

“Is silence stir’d as the leaves from my face? Is bother and barking all I am bid? In the name of the King, still that furry beast and reach me thine hand!” Will paled as he stood looking at the stone. He made Romeo stop barking, but the dog continued to pant loudly. Will swallowed and asked in a low voice:

“Who – who are you?”

“I am Lord Falconbridge, servant to His Majesty King James I. And I command thee to tell why thine help is so tardy? Here I lie in cold leaves, a bed unworthy of a servant of the King”. Will was completely taken aback. What was the voice talking about? Why was a lord lying under a stone in the woods? And even more alarming – why did it feel like he had no body?

“Is’t thou bereft of both mouth and mind, boy, is’t thou both deaf and dumb? Come aid me or I will have thee cast deep into the darkest dungeon,” came the shout from the leaves.

Thoughts raced through Will’s mind.

“What are y-you doing here?” he asked, standing at a safe distance. The pile remained silent. The leaves around the old man danced in the gentle breeze, and Will noticed that he had closed his eyes. He edged closer and hunkered down.

“I … I am Lord Falconbridge,” repeated the man. His face was calm now, and he no longer sounded angry. The man sighed softly, and with his eyes still shut, continued:

“Pray speak with me! Am I not Lord Falconbridge? Are we not in Herkins Woods? Is not the wind rustling in the oak leaves about me, and are not mine thirsty ears quenched by the blessed song of birds? Are not the heavens above of deepest blue, and do not the clouds dance delightfully across the great arch of heaven? Does not this earth gratefully drink our Lord’s rain, and the grass grow sumptuous about my head?

I hear the baying of a hound. All this is real to me, or is my poor head turned, and all that was up is down – and down is up?”

Will couldn’t move. He was squeezing Romeo so tightly that he could feel the tiny ribs between his fingers. The words sounded so strange – just like in Shakespeare. Lord Falconbridge? he thought, and looked down at the man. He still had his eyes shut. Will knelt down in front of him.

He leaned forward, and rummaged about in the leaves till he touched the man’s neck. There really was no body! Lord Falconbridge, if that’s who he was, was lying under a stone, but it was only his head!

“Hi,” he said. “Hallo?” The old man opened his eyes, and looked at Will. “This is Herkins Woods, and the sky really is blue,” Will continued quickly. “The birds are singing and the leaves are rustling, but I think I’m dreaming! Romeo found you here under this stone. You’re lying here buried in leaves and twigs and say you are a lord”.

Will took a deep breath, “And if that’s not weird enough, it looks like you don’t have a body.”

“What?” The old man eyes shot open. He coughed, and looked around wildly. He peered down his nose to where his body should have been. And then he wailed:

“I wouldst move but cannot! Am I as stone in the field? Where be the toes of my boots and the tips of my hands? Do I see my good legs, my fine girth? Nay – they are vanished with my proud, straight back and the pounds in my pockets?” He wailed again as his eyes looked down. Will sat stock still and took in the scene. Then a voice that was barely a whisper said:

“The Duke of Salisbury.”

“What?” said Will. “Who?” His questions were answered by silence. Then the man opened his mouth and continued:

“Thou knowst not. The truth lies buried beneath a sorrowful blanket of leaves and darkness.” Will looked at him. He was more than slightly confused, but at the same time he felt strangely calm about the fact that he was sitting by a stone in Herkins Wood, talking to a head. A head without a body.

“Here, let me lift you up,” he said. The head rocked slightly in the leaves when he touched it. Will slid his fingers round from the chin to the neck, and again he felt the dry edge of a wound. The head really had been chopped off. The hairs on his neck stood on end as he took a good hold of the head from underneath, and lifted it up. It was heavy, and twigs and bits and pieces hung from the long grey hair.

“Ooow!” exclaimed the man and opened his eyes. He looked at Will, terrified, as the boy bent down and placed him gently on the grass. You could almost imagine that his body had just sunk into the earth. He looked down at the ground, and his eyes opened even wider.

“Lord have mercy … ‘tis certain I have been robbed of my body, my life, and yet…” He clamped his mouth shut.

“I …” tried Will, but was interrupted by the head.

“Thou must knoweth him, that dastardly duke?”

“I’ve never even heard of him,” Will confessed. “In fact, I’ve never heard of you either.”

“Pray tell, “ said the man indignantly, looking at Will, “be thou Gaul or other? Thine habit is unusual. Knowest thou not thine Lord Henry Falconbridge?” He glanced sternly at Will. “And pray, address me as My Lord, boy, or I shall box thine ears. I do most certain behold mine woods and estate yonder on grassy knowe.” He peered between the trees.

“Here have I hunted with His Majesty, and…,” he trailed off, “here did I rendezvous with her whom I loved most deep.”

Will was utterly confused now.

“What are you talking about? Gaul? Which duke – what king? The queen is called Elizabeth! Elizabeth the Second.”

“Nonsense, boy!” thundered the head. “I knew Her Majesty well. And may she rest in peace, Her Majesty Elizabeth the First. She was succeeded to the throne by James, James the First of England and Sixth of Scotland. Is thine wit weakened by wine, or perchance thou ist smitten with feverish delusions?”

“You …” Will started again. “My Lord, you say you are Lord Falconbridge, and you live on Herkins Estate, and you know both the Queen and King James I. So, when – when was he King?” Lord Falconbridge stared at Will in disbelief.

“Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I passed from this world in the year of our Lord 1603, and her relation and heir, His Majesty King James I was crowned that very year. He was my dear friend till …” The man clenched his eyes closed, and was silent. His lips trembled. It seemed that time stood still and only the quiet murmurings of nature disturbed the small gathering. Romeo sat motionless beside Will.

“Lend me thine ear, and I will tell thee a tale,” said Lord Falconbridge finally, “of treachery, murder most foul and the greatest injustice. Never before hath such a louse - such deceit, such sickness crept upon this earth as in the form of the Duke of Salisbury. And never have more treacherous plans and evil deeds been hatched under our Lord’s sun.”

 

Lord Falconbridge’s story

The head looked Will straight in the eye.

“I am Lord Henry Falconbridge, born on the twelfth day of September in the year 1562, third heir to the estate of Herkin. Mine father’s father, Lord George Falconbridge did build this illustrious manor in 1524, and the glorious lineage of Falconbridge hast resided here since, in times of war and peace, in full loyalty to our monarchs.

I am the humble servant of King James I, counsellor to the king – and a poet.” He sighed, and looked around him. “In these woods have I ridden and dallied as long as my heart recalls, and in these woods did the greatest pleasures and sorrows unfold.”

Will stared at the old man, open-mouthed.

“ I did inherit this, the loveliest of abodes, when mine father, Lord Humphrey Falconbridge, was taken by our Lord in 1614. Here, I treasured each day ‘til that fateful journey by the side of my King in early summer 1622.” He fell silent and shut his eyes.

His story sounded like a fairytale to Will. It felt unreal to be sitting here in the shadow of the trees, looking at a dry, long-haired head that appeared to be poking up from the earth, listening to an incredible story.

Even Romeo was spellbound, and watched Lord Falconbridge without blinking. Will glanced over to the clearing; it was bathed in the golden evening light, and two squirrels were squabbling over a nut. He started when the lord spoke again:

“Hear now, my young knave, that King James had commanded that I ride with his company to meet the Archbishop of Canterbury. Little did I wish to forsake these woods for my head overflowed with pleasurable thoughts, and my heart was aflame with desire. But a lord dare not disobey his King, and I rode with a heavy heart.” The nobleman moistened his parched lips and continued:

“The good monarch had with him the Duke of Salisbury, and …” He stopped suddenly and sighed. “Once was the time when the Duke and I enjoyed a close alliance. Our friendship we treasured and nurtured, but his temper was quick.” Lord Falconbridge swallowed.

“Many years gone in 1602, the duke broke with his monarch, Queen Elizabeth I. Such deeds go not unpunished and Her majesty revoked his title and took from him his land. He fled to Eppington and to my hearth a broken man. I gave him lodging in the town hard by and prayed that all would be well, but ‘twas not.” Lord Falconbridge looked sad.

“My dear friend’s mind was tarnished, and he entered the dark realms of magic.” Will gave a start.

“Magic!” he cried. But the nobleman did not hear him, and continued.

“And that which was bad became worse,” he said sadly. “My fellows and I scare saw the good duke, and he was feared throughout all Eppington. A sorcerer.”

The nobleman spat dryly on the ground. “His narrow, glittering eyes resembled most a wolf, and ‘twas rumoured that he was the foulest and most deceitful of the new monarch’s men. And to our dismay, His Majesty did appear to favour him.

Aye but the duke did now hate me with all his heart – that frozen organ nestled in his breast.” The old man sighed deeply.

“For many a year had his eye turned favourably to the fair Lady Ophelia Gower. Though long before had she captured mine own heart. As a peasant cherishes his land, I too worshipped her beauty and treasured each moment in her company in the but too short a day.” Lord Falconbridge’s thoughts started to drift.

“And she received me gladly,” he said in a gentle voice.

“Ah, the sweetest of times and tenderest of hours did I share with my lady love.” He gave a heartfelt sigh. “But too few. A lady-in-waiting at the court of the king, her own time was scarce.” He smiled softly. “Ah, but her lips were as the loveliest, sweetest red berries and her perfume as gentle as the flowers of spring – though no longer in the throes of youth.” Will looked at Romeo and rolled his eyes, suppressing a smile.

“’Twas there, by the great oak we did met. The silver oak – our oak.” He gazed out at Will and Romeo’s tree in the middle of the clearing.

“Silver oa…” said Will, but was again interrupted by the lord.

“The Duke of Salisbury saw that my heart did burn for Ophelia, and it displeased him greatly. None would separate the wretched duke from his heart’s desire, be it roasted venison or the fair Lady Ophelia. Not least the thorn in his side that was I.” The nobleman glowered at Will.

“Mine ear was witness to business most foul that eve in June 1622.” He grimaced. “The duke had partaken amply of wine. His sly eyes fixed me as a hawk where ere I moved. King James had retired to his chamber above, and his escorts were but drunken oafs.

The dining quarters of the inn reeked of rank air, sweat and fat and the duke’s unrequited love.” Lord Falconbridge pursed his lips.

“The Duke of Salisbury declared of a sudden that one hundred pounds in gold were mine, if I but give him Lady Ophelia, and swear ne’er to see her more!” The nobleman rolled his eyes. “I knew not that the duke had such monies, but he deemed this a fair deal, and was all the more surprised when my quick fist smot him ‘twixt the eyes.

"The dog! This foulest of beasts would eat his sick words, and I thrust coin after coin of the hundred gold in his gasping mouth!” Lord Falconbridge’s eyes flashed with anger. “He did neigh choke on his very wealth, but I repented and freed him of the deadly gold.” Will, wide-eyed, tried to ask something, but the lord just continued.

“The duke, too intoxicated to take up arms, but lay on the floor drenched in fat, with the bitter taste of gold in his mouth. His blood-red eyes glittered with a hate intense. They spoke of revenge - revenge worthy of a Salisbury!” Lord Falconbridge swallowed uncomfortably.

“I spoke not a word to the wretched duke more – one shunned t’other as the rich shun the poor. Our King observed this difference, but knew not the cause, and spoke not a word.

We met with the Archbishop, and concluded our business.” He laughed bitterly.

“By my sooth, the holy man was more akin to the devil than our Father in heaven. Ne’er have I seen the like of whoring, swindle and drunkenness.” He was no longer laughing.

“The King’s company rode southwards thereafter, and I returned to Herkins Estate. My great frame did shudder with joy at the thought that mine eyes would soon behold the fair Lady Ophelia – aye, the very next morn.

That eve, the rain did fall in evil collusion with the wind, and neigh drowned my chooks and blasted my stalls. I sat before the burning hearth and warmed my soul with the finest sherry, when of a sudden the old butler, ‘twas only him in the house that night, entered in haste.” Lord Falconbridge stared intently at Will.

“His wit and reason fled with fright, he but stammered that my old friend, now foe, was at the door with his men.” Again he swallowed and looked into the distance.

Will listened to Lord Falconbridge with bated breath. The sun had sunk behind the trees, and there was a chill in the air. It was as if nature was conspiring with the story.

The squirrels had disappeared, and the birds had flown. Not a dog barked, and the treetops were still. Only the wind murmured quietly around the three as they sat there on the grass.

Lord Falconbridge widened his eyes.

“Fear gripped me as I recalled the intent that lit the duke’s eyes – and then they stormed in,” said the nobleman hoarsely. Will shivered.

“But, how could …”

“In an instant ‘twas uproar in the great hall, the old butler struck to the floor by a merciless hand. The Duke of Salisbury was here.”

*

Lord Falconbridge’s eyes glazed over. He was lost in his own thoughts. Further adrift than Will could ever imagine. Romeo, who had sat motionless until now, whined and stretched himself, as if encouraging the head to continue. The wind was chilly and it was starting to get dark.

“My Lord?” Will interrupted the nobleman’s reverie and he muttered to himself.

“Ah, the floodgates of memory have opened as if ‘twere but a few wretched moments since.” His eyes opened wide with fright and he looked at Will.
“Of the duke’s men, Balthus, seized me and the duke put his face to mine. “Aye, first lover,’ he rasped, “it grieves sore me to kill the fire that burns in your heart and the dream that lights up your eye.”

“”Your Honour, you think not to please His Majesty when you so rudely break into my home to beat my servants and threaten me, ” I spoke courageously. But the pointed politesse served but to anger more, and his glittering eyes pierced me thro’.

“We shall ride to the woods, to your lover’s tryst at the silver oak”, he rasped. Mine life was filled with fear. I understood his intent and only my wit could spare me.” Lord Falconbridge furrowed his brow.

“With force they drove me through the stormy night. ‘Twas as if the earth would burst with every raindrop, and the wind of force to blow down a man, was taunting and merciless. The moon shone its mean light upon us as I was dragged to the great, dripping, dark silver oak.”

Will quickly glanced towards the ancient, grey tree in the clearing. Lord Falconbridge blinked as he delved further in his darkest memories.

“”Here shalt thou end thy days, thou wretched, love-stricken hound,” cried the duke above the howling wind. “And here shalt thou lie for all time beneath the damp earth and cry for want of thine Ophelia!”

Two men held each an arm, and the rain fell mercilessly on us. ‘Twas mire and mud underfoot. Fast snaked the wind the duke’s hair round his cruel countenance and I witnessed the nod to those behind.

I recall the words ‘damp earth’ echo’d as I turned to Balthus and saw the stone come down upon me.
Then all was dark.”

*

Lord Falconbridge closed his eyes again. His breath was ueven, and disturbed the dust around him. Will played absently with a twig. He was completely entranced.

“I recall no more,” whispered the nobleman, so quietly that Will nearly didn’t hear. “’Twas the seventh day of the sixth month in the year of our Lord 1622. And afterwards, darkness – darkness.” He looked up. Will and Romeo both nearly jumped out of their skins when he cried:

“Gracious Father! The duke hath chopped off mine head – and cursed me!” He wailed to himself, “That evil sorcerer must have cursed me. A curse of the third degree. How else could I live with no body?” He scrunched up his eyes. “I was lain beneath this mossy stone so that none may find me.” He groaned. Will felt his eyes prick.

“And where be my beloved Ophelia?” A dark cloud passed over his face. “I shall cry for her for all eternity. But – but I recall not…how did she fare? Was she too slain by the duke in cold blood?” His voice broke.

“Ah what pitiful, heavy fate is mine!”

*

Will was befuddled by the incredible story, and a thousand questions whirred in his mind. Who was Balthus who had hit him, and what was a curse of the third degree? He was just about to ask when the atmosphere was shattered by a piercing ring. Romeo sprung up and Lord Falconbridge’s eyes popped out of his head. It was Will’s mobile phone. He quickly checked the display and saw it was his father. He answered.

“Hallo, Dad.”

“Will, where on earth are you?” barked a metallic voice. “It’s getting late.”

“I’m in Herkins Woods with Romeo. It …”

“Well, get yourself home, Will,” came the reply. “Straightaway!”

“OK, Dad, I’m coming,” He sighed and turned off the phone.

Lord Falconbridge’s face was a big question mark.

“What pray is that there, and with whom do you speak?”

“Oh, that was my dad. But please carry on with the story, My Lord.”

“Thy father? Pray, what meanst thou? I see no father.” Will was taken aback.

“No, of course not, because he’s at home. He phoned me, on the mobile.” Lord Falconbridge looked very confused.

“Phoned? Is there man here or no?” he asked, irritably.

“Well…” Will didn’t know what to say. “He phoned me on this.” He held up the phone. “I spoke to him on this.” The old man squinted at the phone.

“Must I understand that your father be in that peculiar little box? Doest thou take me for a fool?” he shouted. “And who art thou? How didst thou find me? And why you? The words thou proclaimed were William’s thirty-sixth - where didst thou find it? ‘Tis the sonnet of mine heart! Art thou perchance sent on command of the terrible duke?”

Will looked down at the angry lord. His silver hair hung heavy and curled along the ground. Small twigs were ensnared in the tangles, and the once elegant moustache looked like an old washing-up brush. In the dusk, he looked more like a wax doll, or a prop from a play.

“I am William O’Phillie, but just call me Will,” he proclaimed calmly. The nobleman looked startled.

“William, sayst thou William? Ah how long it is ere I heard that noble name. I…”

Will interrupted him and continued:

“I live in Eppington, and come here quite often with Romeo,” he nodded towards the small dachshund that was stretching and making a show of himself. “May I present Romeo, My Lord!”

“I pri’thee!” spluttered Lord Falconbridge, “Romeo? Such a noble name, but for a man not a mongrel. The name from good William’s play…. ‘Tis an offence!

Thou should’st hang for it, my young knave.” Will was offended.

“No-one gets hanged in Britain anymore,” he muttered. “Not for years.” The head eyed him sharply.

“And by whose decree?”

“I don’t know,” said Will. “Maybe the Queen…?” Lord Falconbridge shook his head.

“But my good man, the queen passed away in 1603! ‘Tis James the First who rules this land.” Will was starting to feel a bit sick in the face of all this confusion.

“My Lord, I don’t understand a thing. In fact, perhaps I’m dreaming. All I know is that we’re sitting here in Herkins Wood, you, Romeo and I. And it is Thursday 7 June 2001, and we …”

“Two thousand and what?” broke in Lord Falconbridge. Will paused – the hairs on his arms were on end – it was starting to dawn on him.
“2 – 2001, yes,” he said quickly, “it is the year 2001.”

Silence ruled in the woods. Lord Falconbridge’s pale face shone out in the dark. He made a strange sound.

“The year 2001? Bu-b-but, in God’s name … h-have I lain as decaying fruit beneath this stone these years since 1622 – since the seventh day of June?” The wind was chilly, and he shivered and sneezed. “Bereft of limbs beneath a withered mound of pitiful leaves.”

Will tried to clarify his thoughts. So Lord Falconbridge’s head had lain untouched far beneath the stone since the Duke of Salisbury buried him there on that stormy night in 1622. And he had been woken up nearly 400 years later by Will proclaiming a hand-written version of Shakespeare’s thirty-sixth sonnet.

But what had happened to Lady Ophelia?

“Aaaaahh,” Lord Falconbridge gave a tearful cry, “I wander forever lost, but where is my Ophelia?”

It was now completely dark beneath the trees. The light in the summer sky was fading, and a few delicate stars had started to shine. It was as if the light was calling the three out of the dark, and away from all the weird and wonderful things that Will had experienced that evening.

Suddenly he had a lot to think about – he had a mission.


[1] The Works of William Shakespeare, ed. William George Clark & William Aldis Wright, MacMillan & Co. Ltd London, 1921, p.868
[2] Ibid, p.1100.
[3] The Works of William Shakespeare, ed. William George Clark & William Aldis Wright, MacMillan & Co. Ltd London, 1921, p. 1100.

The author Ross Kolby