The Ghostly Ship is the fifth book in the Bertram Bile time travel adventure series and takes place at the source of the River Thames in Tewksbury Mead (Thames Head) and Lyd Well. I decided to base the magician on a Welsh character from folklore called Gwyddien, and the story is based on a fairytale about two brothers. The story of the politicians arguing over the source of the Thames actually happened.
Peggy-Weggie pie is named after a local Gloucestershire dish that I came across during my research of local foods through history.
The Ghostly Ship Blurb
During a visit to the witch's tree where his aunty Hester lives, Bertram learns the origins of the REAL source of the River Thames and the story of an evil magician who sought revenge of the Kings and his sons. Is this the reason why brothers fight?
Bertram gave Molly a worried glance. He really wasn’t sure that putting up an umbrella during a thunderstorm was a good idea.
‘I don’t know Molly? Isn’t it a bit, well…DANGEROUS?’
It was usually Molly who was the sensible one of the two best friends, but Bertram wasn’t a great fan of thunderstorms, especially when they were as violent and sudden as this one.
‘It won’t be for long. If we run fast, we’ll be back at the old ash tree in no time at all. At least we won’t get wet through. This rain is immense. I don’t think I’ve EVER seen anything like it!’. Molly grabbed the handle of the umbrella, and set the catch, careful not to pinch the skin on her finger in it. Umbrellas could be nasty sometimes.
Molly coaxed Bertram to join her under the shelter of the umbrella. It was quickly becoming the driest patch of the entire meadow. The rain was falling fast and heavy, with nowhere to go with the soil and rocks so cracked and dry from the summer heat.
It had been gorgeous weather when they set out on their walk along the dried-up bed of the River Thames. The air had felt hot and humid, with large rolling clouds in the clear blue sky above them. Neither of them had expected the weather to change as fast as it had, but the weather had been incredibly hot the past few weeks, especially by the standards of the typical British summer weather.
A large, warm, raindrop landed on Molly’s hand as she held the umbrella, the ball of water rolled down her bare arm, soaking her t-shirt as it met with the fabric. Molly didn’t like it at all.
There was a large flash of bright, white lightning, followed by the echoing BOOM, BOOM, BOOM as the thunder bounced off the dark black clouds.
‘What was it Hester said about lightning and trees; ‘beware the ash, it draws the flash’, and here we are planning to hide INSIDE the trunk of an ash tree!.’ Molly laughed at the ridiculousness of their situation.
Bertram agreed completely. It did seem ironic.
The two of them linked arms so as to be sheltered by the umbrella, and ran as fast as they could towards the tree, hearts racing from the sound and energy of the raging thunder storm around them.
The water was gathering on the ground around their feet, forming large puddles of warm water, soaking through their socks and sneakers as they ran, and splattering mud up the backs of their bare legs.
They felt very guilty as they arrived back at the tree, and entered the warm and cosy kitchen of Bertram’s aunty Hester. She had been kind enough to let them stay over, and now they were trailing mud and water through her home. It didn’t seem like the best way to thank her for her hospitality.
‘I’m so sorry aunty Hester’. Bertram made a pitiful attempt at trying to clean up the mucky trail behind them, but his efforts were in vain. No sooner had he wiped off a mud spatter, when more water dripped from his hair to the floor, making the floor even more slippery and dirty.
‘Oooh don’t you worry about that young man. I’m a witch remember, and that means I’ve got a magical spell up my sleeve for just about any occasion. We’ll have the place spick and span in just a jiffy. Come on in now. You two must be wet through’. Hester pulled her wand from her twig covered hair, and pointed it at Bertram and Molly and the trail of mud behind them.
‘There, all done’. The witch flashed them both a kind and toothless smile. Bertram’s aunty really was the greatest a nephew could have. He was glad that she always saw the best in them, even when their efforts to be as good as they could be, didn’t work out as planned.
‘Now then. Who’s for a nice cup of tea and some Peggy-weggy pie?’. Hester opened the oven door, and pulled out a large brown pie. The sweet aroma suddenly making them feel very hungry after their walk along the river bed.
‘Peggy-weggy what? Asked Bertram, looking a bit confused. He’d never heard of such a thing before. ‘What’s a Peggy-weggy pie?’
‘What? You mean to tell me that you’ve never had a Peggy-weggy pie before? What, NEVER?’ It was rare that the witch seemed surprised about anything, but she looked utterly astonished. Her mouth and eyes were open so wide that they imagined she might have seen a ghost.
Bertram and Molly looked at each other for reassurance, just to check that neither of them had heard of the strange sounding pie before’.
‘Um, no. Never. I’ve never even heard of it. What’s in it?’ Bertram was still in shock at Hester’s expression and surprise, but he was curious to know more.
It was exciting to learn and to try new things. It wasn’t long ago that the witch, aunty Hester had taught him how to magic up pancakes and to use his wand to do all the washing and drying up. It would be nice to have a new recipe to cook for his mum when he got home, especially now she was so busy with his new baby brother Clarence, or ‘Lar’ as Bertram liked to call him for short.
‘EVERYONE in these parts eats Peggy-weggy pie, it’s like a local tradition. Well, I suppose mine isn’t REALLY Peggy-weggy pie at all, but it is to me, and that’s what matters. You see, a real Peggy-weggy pie, one that’s made properly like the people around these parts enjoy, is made from the stillborn young of the long eared sow, a particular breed of pig. But I don’t like to eat meat that much. It seems a bit cruel to me. So I make my pie with parsnips, swede, potato and carrots instead. It tastes yum yum, especially when it’s baked fresh and is hot out of the oven. Come on, let’s enjoy it whilst it’s just right’.
The witch divided the pie into three large portions and gave a slice each to Bertram and Molly. The witch wasn’t wrong. It tasted DELICIOUS.
‘Mmmmm, that’s, that’s, cor…’ Bertram scoffed down his pie, savouring every bite. He was trying hard to be polite and to keep his mouth closed when he spoke, but the pie was incredible. Too good not to rave about it as he ate.
‘You see. I told you Peggy-weggy pie was the best’. The witch poured them all some tea, and gave a little bit of her pie crust to her big ginger cat, who was trying his best to remain well behaved, but wanting to make sure his presence was known, just in case he missed out on a bit of pie.
The cat gobbled his pie crust down, not dropping a single crumb. He looked hopefully at Molly, his eyes growing bigger and sadder.
‘Sorry puss, mine’s all gone. See, not a crumb left. I promise I’ll bring you something as a treat next time I see you though’. Molly showed her clean plate to the cat. It didn’t take much for him to cheer up. Aside from the witch, Molly was his second most favourite person in the world, and he loved it when she came to stay.
’Now then. Since the weather is so frightful outside, what are we to do this afternoon? Is there anything you fancy? I’ve got some puzzles we could put together, or we could play some board games, I think I’ve even got a pack of cards around here somewhere’. The witch pulled a pack of cards from her sleeve and placed them on the table, waving her arm as the plates marched themselves across the table and into the sink, where they proceeded to wash, dry, and put themselves away.
Molly and Bertram didn’t know any card games, but they were eager to learn. They were just happy to be spending time with Bertram’s aunty Hester and getting to know her better. After all, it hadn’t been that long since they had first met her when Bertram had first discovered that he even had an aunty. But they felt in other ways as if they had known the kindly witch forever.
Hester shuffled the pack of cards with her long witchy fingers, and put the pack in front of Bertram.
‘The first thing you need to do Bertram, is to cut the pack. Anywhere you like, so that you know I haven’t cheated as I shuffled them’.
Bertram wasn’t sure what the witch meant by ‘cutting the pack’ but he followed her gestures, split the pack of cards in two, and put one pile under the other.
It didn’t take them long to get the hang of the card game, and it turned out they were both quick learners, and were soon getting sneaky and trying to beat the witch. The three of them were equally competitive, and they laughed and smiled at each other as they won and lost each round, Bertram keeping score on a pad of paper next to him.
‘Yep, according to the scores this round, I am currently in FIRST place. The champion of champions it seems. Re-match? Bertram rarely won at anything in life, and it felt good to enjoy his success with the two people he cared deeply about.
‘Aunty Hester? You know that the River Thames starts here under the old ash tree?’. Bertram had been wanting to ask the witch this question for ages, ever since his geography lesson with Miss Petrenko at school. Now seemed like as good a time as any to get her input on a question that had been bugging him.
‘Yes. That’s right’ answered the witch, curious as to what Bertram would ask her next.
‘Well, it’s just that…well, Miss Petrenko told us that the River Thames actually has two sources, not one, and that this one is wrong, and the other one is the right one. Is it true? Is she right? That there really is more than one source? And if there is, does it have witches and a tree guarding it, like this one does?’. Bertram had been mulling this prospect over for some time. He was completely fine with there being one source, but he couldn’t quite get his head around there being more witches living inside a tree at another source.
‘Ahhh. Well, now, that’s a VERY good question Bertram. I’m glad you’ve asked me that’. The witch gave them both a smile. They were looking very worried, and there was really no need for them to be afraid.
‘You know, people have been arguing and fighting about the very same question for hundreds and hundreds of years, right from the beginning of time’. The witch was gentle with them, not wanting them to be afraid of EVER asking her ANY question they liked. She wanted them to know they could come to her with anything at all, after all, that was what aunties were for.
The witch continued. ‘According to some people, there are indeed TWO SOURCES of the River Thames, but there is ONLY ONE tree of life and you are sat within it right now. You might find a few trees with elves or pixies, witches or spirits living inside them, but none have a well of destiny, or three sisters guarding the well. Only the tree of life, this here ash tree has that’.
The witch realised she still had a lot of information to pass on to her young nephew Bertram, especially since it was his job, and his job alone, to make sure that the tree was always watered and cared for.
At one time, almost everyone had been a norn; a user of magic, but now there was just ONE norn left in the whole world, and that norn was Bertram. He had a huge task ahead of him, though he wouldn’t know the full extent of it until he was much older and faced with death. The witch would need to teach him everything she could about their world, and the tree, otherwise he wouldn’t be able to protect it.
‘Come you two. Let’s go and sit by the fire and I’ll make us all some mugs of hot chocolate. Then I can tell you more about the source of the River Thames’. The witch waved her arm towards a saucepan on the stove and a jug of milk, and led the two eleven year olds towards the cosy, cushion filled Inglenook fireplace.
Bertram found a comfy spot against a large beanbag and the ginger cat was already making himself at home on Molly’s knee. Two large mugs of steaming hot chocolate arrived by magic, and the witch began her story of how the River Thames got its source.