George and the Poison Arrow

Planned publication date: April 2024

If all goes to plan, George’s new adventure, with Yorrick in a starring role, will be in online bookstores in April 2024. Alongside old favourites such as Lermin the wizard and Oroflamm the dragon, the new tale also features a second dragon, a marauding band of Fyekings and a mysterious spy, while George’s band of friends acquires a new member as Marianne from Germany joins the crew. The story, in which our young friends race against the clock to save the life of a key figure in medieval Ingland, is partly set in the maze of tunnels beneath Hamlet but reaches its climax on the distant island of Awknee…

But don’t take my word for it. To whet your appetite, you‘ll find a tasty slice of George’s next adventure below, together with one of Britt’s inspired illustrations.


The arrow sped silently on its way, trailing a spidery-thin thread of fizzing droplets from its tip. It was enjoying the rush of early morning air through its feathers, the thrill of speeding high above the ground, its razor-sharp, poisoned point slicing through the low clouds. This was the last of the five hundred or so that had been loosed from fifty bows outside the walls – the walls of Hamlet on the Hill.

In his library, high up in the tower on Hamlet’s town square, Lermin the wizard had been watching as three Fyeking longships had been run up onto the sandy shore of the River TyeBerr at the bottom of the hill and made fast to the bank. Now the most powerful and respected mage in Middle Ingland was staring up wistfully at a leather-bound book on a top shelf. He had balanced a stool on a chair and was about to start the perilous climb when he suddenly remembered who he was. ‘Heavens, I must be getting old. How forgetful is that?’ he chuckled to himself and, pointing a long index finger at the book, he called out ‘Libroamano!’ and the slender volume flew into his hand. ‘Tss, tsss,’ said the wizard, amused at his own foolishness, ‘how practical a little magic can be!’ He carried the book across the room to where the daylight was brightest, then skirting around his desk, he perched on the windowsill and allowed his eye to rest on the golden letters on the spine: ‘A Hystory of the Fyekings’, he read. He slipped a fingernail under the front cover, flicked left and the first page lay before him. In no time at all, the wizard was lost in a world of longships, runestones and distant lands beyond the great Northern Sea.

The morning air was crisp and cold. The arrow gathered droplets of condensation as it sped through the clouds. If it had been able to look down, it would have seen the town walls pass beneath it, the battlements lined with figures, some with shiny breastplates, others armed with longbows, all hurrying to their posts to defend the town.

Lermin turned another page. If the town was to deal with its attackers, he had to know more about these white-haired folk from the North. What kind of people were they? What were they after? What…  His thoughts were interrupted by the unmistakable creak of an old oak door on rusty hinges. Four floors down, someone had just come in. Someone very light-footed, for his ears, though very old, were still keen and he could make out no footfalls on the stone stairs. He smiled and waited, his eyes on the door to the study.

Suddenly, from the lanes and alleyways of the old town centre, cries of anger and dismay wiped the smile off his face and the wizard spun around to peer down from the window. ‘What on earth…?’ Down below, the town square was empty, not a soul in sight, but the air was dark with a swarm of arrows. Many bounced harmlessly off the solid stone walls of Hamlet’s biggest buildings and fell to the ground. Some found their way into the narrow streets and, judging by the cries, a few had done some harm. He would have to go down and see. People would need his help. Lermin turned from the window as the library door opened to admit a slender, dark-haired girl with remarkable jet-black eyes – his understudy, Leihla, one day to be Hamlet’s first wizardess.

No longer flying level, the arrow was tilting downwards towards the town centre, its arrowhead glowing red, as if on fire, the metal sizzling and spitting. Down it came, steeper now, hunting, seeking, would it find a target? So many of the others had failed. It sensed them on the ground, spent and wasted. There! A flash of movement. A white cloak swirling behind glass. The arrow flung itself forward, smashed through glass and buried its tip gratefully in flesh and bone.

Leihla heard the cry and was just in time to see the old wizard stumble. She darted across the room, caught him as he fell, and lowered him gently to the ground. Wide-eyed, she gazed at the arrow and knew instinctively that it had to come out. ‘I’m sorry, Lermin,’ she said, as the wizard’s eyes began the glaze over, ‘but I can feel so clearly that this is causing more than just pain.’ And with a sharp tug, she heaved out the arrow, dropped it instantly, sensing the danger, and used her scarf to bind up the wound. Behind her, the tip of the discarded arrow was already blackening the wooden floorboards in a ring that spread until the power of the poison was exhausted.

Summoning the last of his fast-failing strength, Lermin raised his head: ‘Book…’ he said, flicking his fingers in the vague direction of the windowsill: ‘Fyekings… islands…Awknee…’ then something that sounded like ‘Auntie Dot…’ and he slumped into a deep, deep sleep, his heart beating slower and slower until Leihla could hardly feel a pulse at all.


Earl Aric Asulf’s pulse was hammering in his ears. Things were not going to plan. Raising his axe, the giant Fyeking leader waved it towards the walls of Hamlet and roared his people on. Approaching Hamlet from the River TyeBerr, where their longships were drawn up on a sandbank, Aric and his hundred white-haired followers had expected little resistance from the townsfolk. From the moment their feet touched dry land they could see the place perched up on its hill. Tiny, it looked, and very, very old. But the closer they got, the steeper the climb became, and those puny little town walls turned out to be mighty high when you were almost beneath them. The defenders’ arrows had begun whistling around their ears and unless they could get close enough to break down a gate, this expedition was doomed to fail and they would be leaving empty-handed.

The story that had set them on their way from their home island of Awknee, way up North, had been too good to resist. It told of a small Inglish town, not far from the coast and easily reached upriver, that had been threatened by a huge dragon. Knowing how dragons love gold, to persuade the beast to leave them in peace, the people of Hamlet had started to collect all the gold they could find. Even the King of Ingland had sent sacks of sovereigns to help heap up their hoard. And while the dragon had eventually given up and flown away, instead of returning all the gold to its owners, the mayor had decided the town should keep it in reserve. ‘My spy says he’s got it stored in a strongbox, locked away in the town hall,’ said Earl Aric with a wicked grin as his liegemen met in their longhouse to plan the season’s raids. ‘Won’t take us long to persuade him to give it up – and no strongbox is a match for Fyeking axes!’ and he laughed his famous belly-shaking laugh – ‘Har har har!’

‘Who’s this spy then?’ croaked his short, broad and battle-scarred second-in-command Gisbert Groysir, raising a hairy eyebrow. ‘How do we know we can trust him?’

‘Never you mind about that,’ said the Fyeking chief, ‘he knows the place, knows the mayor – and hates his guts – that’s all you need to know,’ and he slammed his ale horn down on the thick oak table. ‘Know what? You ask too many questions, Gisbert Groysir. Too many questions for your own good. Now get back to work preparing our longships – and don’t forget the empty chests for all that gold we’ll be bringing back! Har har har.’

Now here they were, outside the walls of Hamlet, the high, strong walls of Hamlet, as it turned out, and it was beginning to look like those empty sea chests were going to stay that way. An arrow fired by a defender from the top of the walls thudded into a tree beside Aric Asulf, causing him look left to where most of his men were grouped in a clearing, preparing a ram with which to attack the South Gate. Beyond them, on the crest of a low hill, he saw a large house ringed by a wall, though not half as high as the town walls before him. Figures could be seen peering over the wall. Sunlight glinted off armour. Perhaps they could capture that place, use it as a base, and work out from there how to get into Hamlet. It was worth a try.

‘Groysir!’ he yelled, ‘That house over there!’ and he pointed. ‘We’re going to take it. Get the ram over there now. Move!’ and he ambled into a heavy trot. As his men grasped the new situation, they turned and followed him. Up on the walls of Hamlet, cheering broke out. It looked as if the Fyeking raiders were giving up…


When Leihla’s mind-message reached them, causing the customary tingle in their ears, George and his best friend Mo, short for Mohammed, were straining their brains to complete an angryword puzzle. The magic game had been invented by Lermin. The moment you opened the box, out flew all the letter tiles, buzzing around like bluebottles until you unfolded the angryword board when they would fly down and settle in random groups. All the players had to do was put each group of letters into the right order to make a word – or what might be a word – then say what it meant in a way that rhymed. But the boys were getting nowhere. To at least make a start, Mo had taken the smallest small group of three letters, A, C and R, and rearranged them to spell CRA, but that wasn’t right because the letters spun back into their old order. He tried CAR – and the letters stayed put, but what on earth was a car? Maybe a cart without the T? Maybe the T was the shape of the yoke to which the horses were strapped? ‘A cart, without the horse, of course,’ rhymed Mo. The letters lit up and settled onto the board.
‘Great,’ said George, ‘we’ve made a start. But what about this one – it’s huge,’ and he pointed to a cluster of tiles: I V E T L N O E S I.
‘We’re going to need some help with that,’ said Mo and turning to the angryword box he spoke the magic word ‘Gizzaklu’.
‘Use your eyes and look at me, and you will see what you can’t see,’ came what sounded like an old woman’s voice from the box, followed by a cackling laugh.
‘Use your eyes…’ said George. ‘Maybe the V comes from visible, visibility – I’ve got it: VISION!’
‘What does that leave us with?’ asked Mo, ‘L E E T. What’s the name of that thing Lermin has on a tripod, up in the tower? ‘
‘You mean his telescope?’
‘That’s it! T E L E V I S I O N – it’s what you can see through a telescope. Quick, a rhyme… To see things far away, you dope, all you need’s a telescope!’ shouted Mo and, hey presto, the tiles lit up and settled onto the board.
‘Now we’re getting somewhere,’ smiled George, but at that very moment the back door flew open and in rushed George’s terrier Yorrick, barking fit to burst. Leaping onto the table, he skidded on the board, scattering tiles in all directions. The letters flew into the air, buzzing furiously. ‘Oh Yorrick, you…’ began George, but a tingling in his right ear made him stop in mid-sentence. ‘It’s Leihla,’ he cried, ‘she needs us at Lermin’s place!’ But he was talking to himself because Mo and Yorrick were already out of the door and storming up the narrow street towards the town square.


In his parlour in the town hall, Montague the Mayor of Hamlet was gazing at the heap of gold he had tipped out of the large and sturdy sack he had just taken from his strongbox. ‘Well, the strongbox of Hamlet on the Hill, to be precise,’ he reminded himself. On top of the pile lay his own heavy gold chain of office. ‘Hmmm,’ said the Mayor who loved to talk to himself, ‘what difference could a single gold chain make? I know we’re storing the gold in case that dreadful dragon comes back but just one chain more or less… would he even notice? And in any case,’ he went on, as his hand reached out, almost of its own accord, to pluck the chain from the pile, ‘a mayor is not a mayor without his chain of office.’ Moving to where he could see his reflection in a glass window, he slipped the chain over his head and stood there admiring himself. ‘Yes,’ he said happily, ‘yes, that’s much more like it.’ And he began scooping handfuls of treasure back into the sack.

When it was so full that not another gold sovereign, ring or bracelet would fit, Montague heaved the sack around the back of his desk, puffing and blowing with the strain. He dropped it gratefully into the strongbox and closed and locked the lid. Then, reaching up, he took down a gilt-framed portrait of King Boris the Bold to reveal a shelf, recessed into the wall. The Mayor pushed the front of the shelf at both ends and it slid out towards him, complete with four different-coloured tumblers − red, yellow, green and blue − sunken neatly into sockets on the top. Opening his desk drawer, Montague took out a cloth bag with a drawstring around the top. Without thinking, he eased open the string and reached inside. ‘Aargh, ow, ouch, let go! All right, all right, I’ll say it, stop it, ouch!’ And with his hand still stuck inside the bag and his face slowly turning purple, he said, very quietly, so that no one could possibly hear:

‘I’m Montague, mayor of Hamlet,
As greedy a soul as you get,
I’ve kept all the gold,
from King Boris the Bold,
and they haven’t caught up with me yet!’ 

He was rewarded by a shriek of laughter from inside the bag and out popped eight brightly coloured balls, each marked with wide-open eyes and a full set of small sharp teeth. They lined up on Montague’s desk in two rows of four but were constantly moving around, changing position. The Mayor felt dizzy just looking at them. ‘Concentrate, Montague!’ he said to himself, ‘You only get one chance to get this right.’ His job now was to select the correct two balls to go in each tumbler and insert them in the right order. To help him remember what went where, he had made up mnemonic, a sentence in which the initials of the colours – r for red, y for yellow, g for green and b for blue  − appear in the right order. He wrote it out now on the parchment in front of him and underlined the letters that counted: ‘I’m Montague the Mayor, bold as a lion yet strong as a bear.’ It didn’t make much sense, wasn’t exactly poetry and there was an extra ‘r’ at the end, which could be confusing, he supposed, but still it served its purpose. He placed the two rows of balls in the right order and shouted ‘Stillgestanden!’, the magic word that Lermin had taught him to stop them rejumbling themselves. Then taking one ball from each row, starting on the left, he dropped them into the coloured tumblers. As the last ball fell into place, the tumblers sank swiftly into their sockets and at once, a door-sized section of the wall behind the Mayor’s desk swung silently outwards, revealing a dark, square strongroom, empty at present. Reaching down, Montague grabbed a handle of the strongbox and took four heavy steps into the strongroom, dragging it behind him across the complaining floorboards. Once inside, he spun on his heel and stepped smartly back into his office before the massive door could swing back into place, his chain of office still hung around his neck. He replaced the portrait of the king with a whispered ‘Sorry, Sire!’, watched the coloured balls fly back into their bag, pulled tight the drawstring and dropped the bag into his desk drawer.


Up in the wizard’s tower, Leihla had half-carried, half-dragged Lermin’s limp form onto a bench and pillowed his head on a cushion. Holding a small piece of glass beneath his nose, she watched as it clouded and cleared again. ‘Well at least you’re still alive,’ she said. ‘But I need more help than George and Mo can give me.’ And closing her eyes to concentrate, she reached out with a mind-message to George’s uncle Artemis, the Keeper of the Alphabet Tree and Lermin’s closest friend, asking him to come at once. Ever since she was first apprenticed to the wizard by royal decree, Leihla had been fascinated not so much by the power of magic as by how it affected and worked within people’s hearts and minds. When Lermin had told her of his great uncle Mysterios who was able to send messages to people many miles away simply by the power of thought, she’d at once begun reading and researching everything she could find on the subject. Early attempts to mind-message her brother Mo had proven infuriating by failing entirely, then amusing, as she teased him with simple messages like ‘Wake up, it’s snowing!’ at the height of summer. In the meantime she had extended the range of her messages from across Hamlet to well beyond the town and as far as the coast and could reach just about everyone – at least everyone she knew in person. 

‘Now, where’s that book you were reading?’ she asked Lermin, as if he could hear her, and, stepping quickly over to the windowsill, she picked up the volume on the Fyekings. It took her quick mind only minutes to tell that even ten such books on Fyeking history and culture would never reveal the cure she was looking for and, closing the book, she looked over to the shelves that lined the walls. Quite how Lermin had come by all these books she had no idea, but he had a bigger library than even King Boris the Bold. Leihla moved to the shelves on medicine, herbs and spices. There, high up beyond her reach, were three leather-bound volumes: ‘Poysons y Ciures,’ she read, then ‘Gyfte und Gegnmyttel’ hmm, that’s in Doitsh, I’d need George’s help to make much sense of that, and ‘Awl Sortes of Antidotes’. She pointed a slender finger at the first: ‘Libroamano!’ she commanded and the book flew to her hand. She placed it on Lermin’s desk and turned back to point at the third: ‘Libroamano!’ – but nothing happened. Leihla tried again – to no avail. The book seemed to be stuck. She pulled up a stool, and reaching up, tugged the top corner of the spine towards her. As the book began to tip, she heard a grinding, sliding noise to her left and, turning, she saw a narrow section of shelves, complete with books, slide back into the wall of the tower, opening a doorway. Leihla was so surprised she almost fell off the stool. A dry, musty smell of age-old dust drifted into the tower room from the dark space behind the wall. Peering in, all she could see were the top steps of a steep spiral staircase, descending into the blackness. But just then, the scrabbling of Yorrick’s claws on the steps leading up from the main door announced the arrival of George and Mo. Without stopping to think, Leihla quickly tipped the book back into place and the entrance to the secret passage vanished from sight.

A moment later, she heard the boys’ voices as they ran up  the stairs. ‘What was all that about, down in the street?’ gasped George, trying to catch his breath.
‘No idea,’ panted Mo ‘but I saw three broken arrows on the ground and I think it was old Agnes Mort, sitting on a doorstep with a knot of people round her, trying to calm her down! Is Hamlet under attack?’
‘We’re under attack all right,’ called Leihla. ‘Is the Keeper on his way, too?’
‘What?’ said George. ‘No, we came because you… hey, what’s the matter with Lermin?’ and he knelt beside the Wizard. ‘Don’t tell me he’s dead…’
‘No, he’s still alive – just − but for how much longer I don’t know,’ replied Leihla. ‘He was hit in the shoulder by this’ and she held up the spent arrow. ‘Seems like it was poisoned.’
‘Poisoned? Who would do such a thing? And anyway, who’s attacking us?’
Mo had moved across to the window. ‘There are groups of people outside the walls – from their helmets I’d say they’re Fyekings,’ he said. ‘But they’re moving away from the town, heading – oh, someone’s in for a surprise – heading straight for Ronny’s place!’ And indeed, the large house beyond the wall, soon to be attacked by Earl Aric’s men, had long been the home of the Burke family.


George and Mo were as open and friendly as two youngsters can be, but there were still one or two people with whom they simply could not get along. First among them was Hieronymus ‘Ronny’ Burke who was in their class at school. This, though, was the only kind of class that Ronny would admit to sharing with them. They weren’t rich like him – far from it. They weren’t born in Ingland. How low was that? One had a smelly little terrier and lived with his uncle, like an orphan. The other had to share a room under the roof with his sister. Just having to spend a few hours in a classroom with such losers was almost more than a self-respecting Burke could bear. Right now, though, Ronny had other problems – like the best part of a hundred Fyekings bearing down on the front gates of his home. His father’s men – a troop of mercenaries or paid soldiers − were guarding the walls, but although their bows were strung and arrows nocked, strangely no one was firing.

Hieronymus wasn’t the only one wondering at their behaviour. Aric Asulf was watching carefully too. He had sent off scouts to see what shape the walls behind the house were in and while he waited for them to report back, he couldn’t understand why there were no arrows coming his way. His warriors with the battering ram were lining up to attack the front gate, protected by a line of heavy wooden shields − the famous Fyeking shield wall. Suddenly, the soldiers defending the house sprang into action, bowstrings twanged and arrows flew thick and fast, but landed so far from Aric’s men that he almost laughed. What were they playing at? He would soon find out: ‘Break down that gate!’ he yelled and, axe in hand, ran towards the house. But as the heavy ram trundled towards the gate, it began to open of its own accord. Suspecting a trap, Aric called out ‘Stop!’ just as a figure stepped quickly through the open gate, lifted his visor for a moment and raised a hand in greeting to the Fyeking chief. ‘Alyk Byrkk!’ called Aric, amazed. ‘This is where you live?’
‘Get your men inside quickly,’ came the reply, ‘and make lots of noise – this has to sound like a real battle!’


High up in the mountains, a lazy hour or two’s flight from Hamlet, Oroflamm the dragon was expecting a guest for lunch. He’d already swept the floor of his cave with his gigantic tail and scorched the worst of the moss off the walls with his fiery breath. Now he needed to find something to eat – and that was going to be a challenge, because his visitor, Orotella, was no ordinary dragon. Sheep and goats were scattered all over the hillside, and cattle were easy to find and catch, nicely locked up in fields with stone walls and big wooden gates by those thoughtful humans. But they were not on the menu when it came to Orotella. Because unlike almost every other dragon in Oroflamm’s world, she was not a meat-eater. In fact, she called herself not a dragon but a dreegon. The ‘EEG’ in dreegon, she once explained to him, stands for ‘eats everything green’. ‘Oh dear,’ said Oroflamm to himself in rhyming Dragonspeak, ‘finding something green to eat, really isn’t up my street!’ But stifling an enormous yawn, he stretched his great wings, ambled a few ponderous steps down the mountainside and launched himself into the air.


Up in the wizard’s tower, help had arrived in the shape of Artemis, the Keeper of the Alphabet Tree, and Matt Carter, who, seeing the Keeper in such a breathless rush, had given him a lift on his cart. Together, they had carried Lermin downstairs, laid him gently on Matt’s cart and, on arrival at the house beside the South Gate where Artemis lived with his nephew, George, settled him comfortably onto a settle – a sort of sofa. Meanwhile, Leihla was leafing urgently through the books of antidotes, trying to find something that would counteract a Fyeking poison, while George was trying to open a small metal pill box that he’d found on a shelf. ‘Listen to this,’ said Leihla, speaking over her shoulder to her brother and his friend: ‘Among the most toxic substances known in the Northern Islands is foxbane, extracted from the root of the foxshoe plant and brewed with the waters of the Sacred Spring on Awknee,’ she read. ‘A fast-acting poison, foxbane sends the victim into a deep sleep with a very low pulse. This alternates with bursts of high fever until, after no more than two lunar cycles, death ensues.
‘Hang on,’ said Mo, ‘There were lots of things that I didn’t understand there, like what does ‘toxic’ mean?’
‘And what’s all that about ‘two lunar cycles’?’ added George, looking no less puzzled.
‘Toxic is another word for poisonous or harmful,’ said Leihla, ‘and I guess that their lunar cycles are like our months, lunar means ‘having to do with the moon’.’
‘So if we don’t find the antidote, Lermin has only two months to live?’ gasped George.
‘Maybe not even that!’ said Mo. ‘What does it say exactly? ‘…no more than two lunar cycles’ – so that’s the best case – we have to do something fast!’
‘Would these be any use?’ asked George, holding out the open pill box which held half a dozen small white tablets.
‘No,’ said Leihla at once, ‘they’re just something Lermin and I were working on for fun. A herbal recipe that turns your hair whatever colour you think of when you swallow one. But watch this, you two: when I was looking for books of antidotes, this happened…’ and she reached up for Awl Sortes of Antidotes and once again the bookshelf slid silently back into the wall, opening the entrance to the passageway. Mo and George stood there open-mouthed. ‘I don’t think it’s just by chance that the book of antidotes opens a door for us,’ added Leihla. ‘I think Lermin is somehow guiding us.’
‘Then we’d better find out where the passage leads,’ said George, ‘but we’re going to need some torches. Gosh, it smells dusty and musty in there. I can only see the first three steps and some pretty impressive spider webs.’
‘Lermin must have a torch somewhere, or at least a candle,’ said Mo.
‘I doubt it,’ said his sister. ‘Whenever he needs more light, he just uses a magic spell, like ‘luminoplus’…’ and as she spoke the word, the whole tower room took on a brighter look. ‘That’s about as bright as I can make it,’ she said, hanging her head, ‘I don’t have anything like his power yet. But wait – there are always the lumistones,’ and opening a drawer in a cabinet, she took out two large black pebbles, each with a white line down the middle. Passing one to her brother and the other to George, she said, ‘All you have to do is hold them tight and they use your energy to create light. But only use them when you need to or you’ll soon feel very tired.’
Mo looked at the light coming from between his fingers as he grasped the lumistone. ‘Right,’ he said, ‘what are we waiting for? Let’s find out where this takes us!’
‘Hang on,’ called George, slipping the pill box into his pocket, ‘where’s Yorrick?’ As he spoke the terrier’s name, an answering bark came from deep down below, then another. ‘He’s way ahead of us!’ said Mo. ‘Let’s go’ and the boys stepped through the open door and picked their way carefully down the steep spiral stairs.
‘Take care!’ called Leihla, ‘I’ll see what else I can learn about the Fyekings and their poisons.’ Her voice echoed back from the empty space beyond the wall. The boys had gone. Wherever would the passage lead?

Copyright © Paul Boothroyd

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