Death Dances in the Shadows: Wyndwrayth – Gideon’s Journal extract

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I heard a voice today, one that could curdle milk. Initially, I dismissed it as belonging to just another victim for, ‘The Pale One’ to take care of but upon listening more closely, I could detect the sound of men verbally obeying the commands of a female. Her voice sounded so arrogant and self-assured. I was greatly impressed with her obviously natural and genuinely displayed examples of callous disregard for any of her underling’s feelings. I was instantly awoken to the possibilities of finding my replacement, and why not pick a woman? That would really stick it to the pale old bastard and anyway, why should I dismiss a full half of the population, when trying to find a replacement for someone with the wherewithal to handle Millar?

She’s built strong this one, another natural trait that would stand her in good stead, if it came to holding some control over Millar. I decided this female had to be investigated further.

The minion was far too easy to scare. I passed through him and tasted his soul. He didn’t fit the overriding needs required of a Guardian for Millar. His predominantly good nature was far too easily unbalanced by even the simplest of ‘observations,’ no matter how shallow the probe.

So, I investigated the female in question. From what I could make out, she was the essence of selfish greed. The waves of avarice, just dripped off her. I was instantly awakened to the possibility that my search may be coming to a successful conclusion. So, I brought her into my room and gently tested her desires and failings, as my predecessor should have done to me. All the time, I was drawing her into the world of lost souls’ imaginings. Her ignorance of my existence and the test were essential, if I was to truly assess her potential as my replacement. After the shambles that I inherited, it would be good to re-establish the true order of things in this position.

Christine Lee Jones, as I believe she is called, is unaware that the illusions I weaved for her, are purely to convince her that I can offer her a long life in some paradise of her own vision. She bought the fantasy of opulence and power. Never for one moment did she think that this particular illusion that I’d created, was about to end with my demise. She has yet to realise that it will be her, Christine, who will have to learn how to build another reality, both for herself and Millar.

However, judging by what I’ve observed so far, Christine has a fertile imagination that naturally leans to extreme opulence, power and greed. She appears to learn fast and her desires make her open to my coercions. So, using the link I’ve made into her mind, I’m now able to swell both her avarice and her lust for power. As I send my images, both grow steadily in her mind as her will to resist me diminishes. Soon now, I will be able to surrender to death in peace, knowing that I have done all that is required of me to maintain status quo, in this nether world, which lies between Earth and Valhalla.

I’m so wearied by this existence and I’m just so sick and tired of being responsible for Millar, that death will indeed be a merciful release. After all these centuries, the trouble that the pale devil has caused me, is getting harder to bear as the years drag on. I can almost taste the sweetness of my release, as it draws ever closer. To be honest, I’m not sure if Millar yet realises that when I go, so will most of the imagery of his present world. He knows that he alone cannot access the inner souls of his victims to draw on their images from within their moribund mind’s, or recreate them within another reality, without my assistance and that of my ruby. It is the only reason he shows me any deference at all. Without me, he would be in an interminable void of space and time.

That’s where the Guardian has his, or her power over him.

The Paladin of Souls prevents myself and Millar from accessing the full imagery of the souls he has killed and stored on this island. We are restricted to those more recent souls and those wayward ones on the edges of his protection. Millar alone would only be able to draw on some few faded images. My Ruby ring has been my salvation, combining it with his has allowed me to create a physical reality within this void.

Over the centuries, image collection and recreation has become a skill which I excel at, even if I say so myself. The addition of sounds, scents, music, texture and a sense of time have all been included in my repertoire. I can even create people to converse with…… I don’t expect a new, inexperienced Guardian will easily be able to master that scenario of knowledge, built up over the centuries. It will take time. However, we all have to begin somewhere and at some time, which is oft not of our choosing.

I know that I’m certainly not unique, he’s made that perfectly clear many times during our time together….. his way of trying to exert himself over me.  He often sorely resents the power I can wield in his world. As my predecessors apparently couldn’t read, or write, they have left no record of their time as Guardian, so I have no measure.  It is one of the reasons I’ve written this journal, not just to document my progress through this existence…. No, I hope it will help the next Guardian with the tasks, that will undoubtedly lie ahead of them.

When I tried to talk with him about the transition, he just slapped me down saying he’s,

“…been through these change over’s many times before and managed perfectly adequately.”

Well, time will tell. It would certainly help if I could find the ‘Tears.’ It would ensure my route to Valhalla and its power would help the new Guardian draw out and control the souls trapped here in our world. I must redouble my efforts.

Death Dances in the Shadows: Wyndwrayth Chapter 20 extract.

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“Incredible,” whispered Owen, staring down the length of this underground warren of previous activity. “They must have been like members of a hive, down here in their underground realm,” he whispered, for fear of being over heard. Then realising he was all alone in this oppressive darkness, he yelled, “Yeah, but there’s nobody else down here now!” As the echoes were fading into the rough walls, Owen stopped to listen to the house and its sounds. From within the heavy silence, there was no apparent trace of ‘The Boss,’ so he walked back upstairs to the main kitchen.

Opposite the cellar entrance there was a set of double doors which he assumed led into the dining room. Owen clicked off his flashlight and made his way across the kitchen. Before he opened the doors, he stopped and listened again. Not a sound. He decided Christine must still be upstairs exploring.

Turning both handles at once, Owen pushed the doors gently. They swung open silently, spreading cobwebs between them. The interior of the room suddenly lit up with an ethereal glow through frayed spider’s webs, stretching out before his eyes. Some of the discarded webs hung from the ceiling like great gossamer curtains, as if they were about to open and reveal some kind of stage. In the centre of this ghostly, spider hewn hall, was a huge dining table. It was fully laid out with complete sets of now dust covered cutlery, place mats, glasses and all the other accoutrements that would have been required to furnish the needs of a five-course meal, in the glory days of Wyndwrayth, or Y Wake Gwynt as it was known then. There were even jugs and decanters for wine, or water, whichever bodily refresher the gathered guests required.

‘Jesus,’ Owen thought as he squinted down the room, over the central table and beyond. Finally, avoiding the glare cast by the broken blinds, his eyes were unavoidably dragged down towards the floor. Right there at his feet, was a single set of foot prints made by someone who appeared to be wearing winkle picker shoes, and seemingly heading from this ghostly dining room, into the kitchen behind him.

A little freaked by the sight of those strange footprints, Owen quickly turned to see if the tracks led into the kitchen. Strangely, there was no trace of them beyond the spot where he now stood. It seemed as if they ended at his feet and disappeared. Behind him, only the steps that he himself had taken, were visible. So, he turned back to consider the path of the prints in front of him. They looked as if they had originated from somewhere near the head of the large table. Who, or whatever had made these clear marks on the dust laden floor, had advanced to this position, stopped, ‘and then what?’

“What indeed,” he whispered into the silence. Shielding his eyes from the chinks of blinding light, it was still almost impossible to see anything clearly as he drew closer to head of the room. Once, or twice he thought that he saw something move, out of the corner of his eye.

‘Get a grip Llew, it’s just the light fucking with your vision, that’s all,’ he tried to reassure himself. A few steps more and then something made Owen jump to a halt. ‘Christ what the fuck’s that?!’ His mind screamed, as he saw a form start to take shape, before his very eyes. There was something moving silently in the shadows. It was difficult to see because of the shafts of sunlight piercing the broken Plantation blinds. Owen held his breath and stared, transfixed as the vaporous vision became clearer. Slowly, it coalesced and rose from the seat at the head of old table. It looked straight at him.

‘This can’t be happening, it’s just not real,’ his higher mind was screaming at him but his deeper senses, were even now, looking for a way out. He wasn’t the bravest guy on the force and his eyes stayed fixed on this intruder, as he tried to anticipate its next move. His senses screamed fight or flight but he remained mute and rooted to the spot.

The white-haired figure, on the other hand, effortlessly glided towards him…..

Death Dances in the Shadows: Wyndwrayth – Gideon’s Journal excerpt.

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Millar, has taken three more souls recently and has grown considerably. Yet, although I must admit that I am finding it ever more difficult to control him, I cannot deny I am feeling the benefits accruing from his insatiable hunger. It has been many years since he last ate and this latest slew of passing nutrition, is beneficial to both of us. Yet, my time as his guardian is drawing to a close. Despite the sustenance, I can feel the darkness creeping ever nearer.

I took a young girl’s life recently because I could not allow him to feed, I shot her with my pistol. Unfortunately, the energy Millar wrought from her partner was enough for him to force me to ferry him across the lake last night, just so that he could satiate his need for the “Life Energy,” of others. Although, I suspect in this case it may have been to take the last soul of a male Gunderson, though he called himself Gordon, Millar could smell his lineage.

His lust for ‘fresh Gunderson brain meat,’ outweighed his desire to retain the victim’s soul and we left the carcass behind in his house on the lakeside. I was forced to calm the victims dog, while he drank it’s master’s very essence and now he wants more…..

I must find a replacement, while I still have the strength to resist him.

*

 Millar claims to have originally appeared in what was to become The Roman Empire, long before the alleged birth of the Christian faith. He claims to have emerged shortly after Hannibal’s victory at The Battle of Cannae, during the Second Punic War, which took place on 2 August 216 BC in Apulia, southeast Italy. This was when the army of Carthage under Hannibal, decisively defeated a larger army of The Roman Republic, under the command of Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Gaius Terentius Varro.

It was said, that the carnage of that day, alerted the ancient Reapers of Meklar, who descended upon the place, to harvest the souls of the dead and escort them to Hell.

Millar enjoyed all the warfare that men created and all the killing that was involved. When young and strong he roamed all across the northern lands, looking for one bloody conflict after another. I am informed, that when Lord Meklar learnt of his son’s wayward behaviour, a stronger guardian, with enhanced powers, was created. Hoping this new ‘Watcher’ could better control his son, Lord Meklar foolishly allowed himself to be distracted and even though he was now under stricter scrutiny, Millar ran amok for many millennia. It wasn’t until he washed up on Ynys Y Niwl with my erstwhile self as his appointed Guardian, that the killing mercifully slowed down.

I am aware that there had been many Guardians before me and that not all of whom completed their tenure in the position. Mainly due to their ward killing them with some past regularity. It appears they had little chance of survival if Millar grew tired of them. I believe that Lord Meklar simply kept on replacing ‘The Watchers,’ with ever more powerful Guardians.

I have read how the original saga of ‘Meklar and the Millar of Souls’ was written by the Scribes. Over time, it became a much-favoured tale that parents told their children, often to scare them into behaving. Over the years, I began to hear my own story added to saga. They tell it something like this:

 Around 1035, a Viking raiding party was washed up on the shores of North Wales, after the flight from The Orkney Islands aboard their Longship, The Red Wytch. The Guardian, Rolf Ingersson and a greatly weakened Millar, were stow away’s on the last longship to leave the North. Millar drained what was left of the life force of Rolf Ingersson on the trip but Meklar appointed a new, young and strong Guardian called Gideon, who could control the enfeebled Millar. Eventually, after being stranded on Anglesey they found a home of sorts, with Olaf Gunderson and The Norsemen, on Ynys y Niwl, Llyn Isaf.

As the power of The Vikings waned, Millar found himself marooned on the island with Gideon, his guardian. In this new world, that now sought peace over the chaos of warfare, he diminished as time passed. Lord Meklar had presented Gideon with a Ruby ring that gave him certain powers over the souls taken by Millar. It was said this ring was a chip from a far more important stone, that went by the name of “The Tears of Taklamakan.” The Guardian’s ring would glow if the Motherstone, was close by.

 Essentially correct and as the years slowly passed, the saga gradually became a folk tale and then during the middle ages, was slowly forgotten. For several hundreds of years, nobody ever mentioned the old tale, in the face of the rising tide of Christianity.

 *

 I feel, that I must make these notes for any Guardians who follow and stress again how important it is that Millar does not get control of the Tears.

 Note 1: Millar’s and mine own ruby, are pieces of “The Tears of Taklamakan.” They transmit the thoughts and experiences of all the souls killed by Millar and buried on Ynys y Niwl. Millar feeds off those energy waves, in an attempt to escape the confines of this island. Our rubies are only sufficient in consort, to be able to furnish our world with their imaginings and experiences. Should Millar grasp the Tears for himself, then its power could set him free of this island, free of this realm and free of me. Should this come to pass I will be condemned to eternal purgatory and torture and Millar will be free to wreak havoc across dimensions and throughout time.

 

Note 2: In 1348, The Black Death arrived on the shore of the lake and after a long and prosperous period of calm, that event provided another glut of victims for The Pale One to exploit. With so many corpses piling up, pickings were easy to come by and Millar could take his time over regathering his strength. What had started with a scrap of flesh, soon became much more but like all the pestilences that had gone before it, the Black Death ran its course. Since then, as Guardian I have learnt that allowing Millar to feed when he wished, is not a good idea. It’s very important that you control this aspect of his hedonistic nature, for your own benefit.

 

Note 3: One thing, that I feel as though I must mention again, is the small matter of Wolves. Millar is terrified of them. He has, on several occasions, referred to them as “his nemesis.” Possibly useful knowledge but there have been no Wolves in Wales for hundreds of years, so I fear it’s hardly practical information.

 *

 The days are now growing short and the time is rushing by. I feel the chill of death on my shoulders and I am, alas, no nearer to finding a suitable replacement for my ancient stewardship. Over the time of my bondage, I have faithfully, if at times somewhat reluctantly served this entity, for both mine own and his personal benefit. Now, after all these years, my strength is failing and finding a fitting replacement, has now come to be a rather pressing issue. There are so few visitors to the house these days, that I fear my promise to Lord Meklar may not hold good, when I pass over. I dread the outcome should this come to pass.

 

**

 

 

 

Death Dances in the Shadows: Wyndwrayth Chapter 17 excerpt

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“I’ll have to have something prepared for Alan to look at, or at least listen to over dinner, or it’ll just be two blokes having a boozy lunch and we’ll end up having to do it all again,” he said under his breath. He’d already looked into the published documentation regarding the house, so he was going to have to be a little more inventive about this investigation. He ran his eyes down the list of possible sites to check out and dismissed everything he’d tried already. It was not an easy task, trying to discover the history of a people who didn’t like to ‘take notes.’

Nick was about to give up with this search, when he spied a link that he’d not tried before. “‘The Dark Archives,’ who could resist a name like that?” He remarked to Heddi and quickly clicked onto the site. At first, it disappointingly appeared to have been put together by a young man, who was purposely cocooned in his imagined cave, complete with posters of Bela Lugosi on the walls and plates with half eaten Pizza shoved under his single bed. “Well, I’ve come this far, it would be a pity to spoil the job for a lick of paint,” he said with exasperation, “so let’s have a gander at the goods,” and placed the curser on, ‘Dark Events’ one of the dozen or so options he was presented with and opened the link.

Suddenly, there was a rather impressive Knotted Celtic Design on the screen, with “In The Beginning” written below it. Nick was hooked, things like this intrigued him on a very youthful level and he’d never learnt to resist this kind of naive invitation. Though, as he discovered when he investigated further, his initially somewhat comedic impression was a long way from the truth. It began by mentioning much of the early history of the lake and its island, information that was already in Nick’s possession but then, just a little more reading revealed a strange tale, which rang some bells a little too close to home.

During what, as Nick knew already, were The Plague years, ‘a pale creature’ was reportedly seen, feasting on the exposed brains of those about to die. One report, given to the sheriff’s clerk by John Carpenter, intriguingly told of a ‘cutting and removing of the cap.’ This phrase was gruesomely explained later, when Nick came across eye witness accounts of the trial and subsequent execution of John, the Carpenter, who was condemned to suffer, ‘Animus.’ This was a truly grim way, to meet your death. None of the local Burgers had believed there was a ‘pale creature,’ involved and instead, laid the blame for the defiled bodies, squarely on the shoulders of the unfortunate carpenter.

These were not the kindest of days and ‘The Pestilence,’ had left ugly scars on the populations’ consciousness. So, they were not feeling too merciful at the time of his judgement. Animus, inflicted an identical punishment to that which the perpetrator had inflicted on his, or her victim. It was a particularly popular sentence, often handed down when dealing justice out to women who had offended the populace. Adultery, was the favourite offence but not the only one covered by this particularly brutal piece of legislation. The offense of ‘Defilus Mortem,’ which John Carpenter faced, was exactly the kind of crime, that it was supposed to deter.

He was delivered to the platform and introduced to ‘The Mercy Seat’ as it was parochially known, in an open cart, with his hands bound and his head shaved. His path from the delivery vehicle, to the point of execution, was up a long narrow pathway, with the crowd lining both sides of the road, throwing both faeces and buckets of urine, mixed with sputum and any manner of vile substances, over the condemned as he slowly passed by, towards the inevitable end of his life. When John, eventually reached the centre of the stage, a single rope was placed around his neck and winched up. This exercise lifted him a mere couple of inches clear of the ground and he started to thrash around futilely, as his air supply was restricted. They let him choke, for about one minute and then, when he’d lost control of his bladder and bowels, excrement running down his legs and pouring into his boots, they cut him down and bound him on the heavy wooden chair.

Then, they got one of the victim’s relatives to cut off his still twitching fingers and stick them in his still gasping mouth. Then, they fitted The Animus Cap, onto his head. The executioner started to turn the ingenious threaded top, which with each turn, cut deeper into his skull. When the turns became easier to apply, the cap was removed and the executioner parred away the top portion of the skull, revealing more, or less the whole of his brain, for the crowd to see. The guilty individual, was then left there to die, unable to move as the birds pecked away at his brain and shit into the cavity. One victim of The Animus Cap, reportedly lived for hours with his brain exposed to the crowd’s curiosity and they, in turn picked and prodded at the drying organ, until long after he died.

Even then, the defilement wasn’t over.  The mutilated corpse was then beheaded and the severed head along with what was left of its exposed brain matter, was placed on a pike and left on the platform, until the birds had reduced it to a hideous empty vessel.

“Yuk,” said Nick. “Talk about fucking horrid, these devils take the biscuit and then some,” he said wincing. “Typical,” he exasperatingly commented “and I thought The Celts were bad but they’ve got nothing on The Vikings! Yuck, yuckety yuck yuck!”

Death dances in the Shadows: Wyndwrayth – Chapter 16 Excerpt

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Seth Gordon, was having a great deal of difficulty dropping off to sleep. He was blaming, those last two mugs of coffee he’d drunk while he was watching a really bad film on the television. He should have known it was rubbish from its title alone. Anything that happily goes by the name of ‘Zombie Attack. Part 3 The bloodbath,’ should have been avoided but he couldn’t resist a movie he suspected was a Grindhouse classic. Seth may have been eighty-four years old, come next January but he had a lifelong love of really bad cinema. This fascination began with Bela Lugosi and his, “Children of the night” line in Dracula, which he himself, had repeated too many times to count for the benefit of his sheep and ‘Tess,’ his faithful sheep dog.  Unlike his sheep, Tess started wagging her tail furiously and jumped up at him, whenever the broken eastern European accent appeared in the house. It was due to his increasingly bizarre taste, that Seth had been forced by lack of product to move on from Bela.

He passed through the entire catalogue of Ed Woods, the winner of many Golden Turkey Awards and then he had accidentally found George Romero and his rather spasticated members of the undead, who it seemed had a great deal of trouble chasing down their intended victims.  Much to Seth’s pleasure they seemed to have an unhealthy interest in, ‘Brains.’ Laughter, which had always been simmering just below the surface, erupted when an old V.H.S. copy of, ‘Revenge of The Living Dead’ found its way into his possession. He must have watched that movie over and over again, until he knew literally every little nuance and eyebrow movement in the whole ninety-three-minute production. At this moment, he was wishing he’d watched the damn thing again tonight, instead of the extremely disappointing ‘Zombie Attack. Part 3.’ At least he’d have got a good laugh out of, ‘Revenge’ and he wouldn’t be tossing, turning and occasionally sleeping fitfully, in this blasted and persistently overheated bed.

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“Bollocks,” he cursed loudly as he swung his old gnarled feet out of bed and put them in the always comfortable Donald Duck slippers, that his grand-daughter had given him for Christmas, several years ago. As he looked down at his feet, Seth remembered his response to the unexpected gift and her words rang in his head, to this day.

“For you Granddad,” she’d sweetly said and then looked so hopefully at him, awaiting some kind of reciprocal recognition, that would display even a shred of real heartfelt gratitude on his part. In truth, he’d always hated The Disney Corporation but swallowed his political pride and smiled warmly at her.

“Thank you, I think they’re lovely and I’ll wear them every morning.” As he rose from the bed, to make his way towards the dark kitchen, he stated quite justifiably, “You see Ellyn, I’ve got them on right now.”

These slippers had seen better days and many of them. He would be eighty-five next January and lived in his own past for much of the time. All of his old friends had shuffled off this mortal coil, as of last August. It was then he’d learnt of the unexpected death of James, or Jimmy, as he had always preferred to be called, Stockwell, from a massive heart attack. Jimmy, was the go-getter in the bunch and it was no surprise, to any of the others in the clique, when he set up the rather mundane sounding traffic cone business. Jimmy bought the rights to the company, when the original owners chose to sell ‘The Rubber Cone Company,’ to stave off bankruptcy. He’d bought it for a pittance from the accountancy firm, who had been uselessly employed in a futile attempt to try and fend off the inevitable. He’d changed the manufacturing process to plastic moulded cones and a little more of his imagination, when he came up with, ‘Wizard’s Hat’ as the trading name but what did people expect from an ex-goalkeeper, in a rather successful school football team.

After a slow start, ‘Wizard’s Hat,’ simply grew exponentially and pretty soon, Jimmy Stockwell was raking in multiple millions of £’s per annum, in profit. However, all his money couldn’t save him from The Grim Reaper and now Seth, the erstwhile Centre Forward from that bunch of young lads, was the last member of the team still standing.

“Well somebody had to be,” he said, as he filled the kettle and lit the gas hob, to make his latest cup of ‘Night Time Tea.’ In his opinion, the liquid had to be boiling before another step in the process could be undertaken, so Seth settled himself down at the table and prepared to wait for a few minutes, while the water reached the required temperature.

Tess, like him, was getting on in years. She preferred to simply lie on her blanket by the stove, rather than chase after sheep these days. Loyally, she looked up at him as he opened the paper at any old page and pretended to be interested in what it said.

“Look at that girl, some fucking idiot crashed his car into a lamp post and killed his girlfriend in the process,” he read to the equally disinterested Collie. Tess, for her part, had learnt many years ago, that to appear as though you gave a damn, often earned you a tasty treat from the master’s table. So, even though she never lifted her head from the soft blanket, she never took her eyes off her owner, in case he chose the next instant to look down and check whether she was paying attention to his inane ramblings.

Suddenly, there was a noise coming from outside of the cottage. It sounded like someone casually dragging their foot through the dead leaves that were piling up outside. Tess, who had also heard the uncommon sound issuing from right outside the back door, lifted her head off her bed and was quietly growling from the back of her throat. Seth, now convinced that there was an intruder on the premises, quietly moved over to the pantry and almost silently opened the door. Standing on the floor in front of him, was his trusty 12 bore shotgun, cracked and just waiting for the cartridges to be loaded into their presently empty barrels. He rapidly located the cartridges and after slipping them into their respective chambers, snapped the gun closed.

“Bring it on, won’t you,” he snarled, then sat down in his favourite chair again and waited for the suspected thief to show themselves.

 

Death Dances in the Shadows: Wyndwrayth – Chapter 15 excerpt

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Before he even approached the newly laid driveway of The Poacher’s Rest, Nick could hear the inviting sound of Ace’s only hit coming from the bar room. ‘How long, has this been going on,’ his head sang as he reached for the handle of the door but before he managed to push it open, an exiting punter, pulled it away from his grasp, which just left Nick reaching for fresh air. The refrain of:

“Hi Nick, bye Nick,” could be heard, as Bob Alhorn departed the premises and made his unsteady way home.

“Hi Bob, bye Bob,” Nick called after him and smiling, watched him trip over the single step which led up to the road.

“Fucking step, who put that there?” He heard Bob chunner, as he wandered off.

As Nick stepped inside the pub lounge, the old Ace favourite had been replaced by something a little more contemporary that simply washed over him, as he made his way to the bar. At this time of night, there were only about ten souls in the place and Evan, the landlord, was just waiting for the rush to begin. By 9.30, the establishment would be packed, well that is if fifty people warrant being called a crowd. Many of The Poacher’s regular cliental had their own favoured tankards hanging behind the counter, on special hooks, with their names printed on stickers above them. This privilege was only granted to a select few, those who Evan invited onto his ‘Roll of Honour.’ Nick had been invited to join ‘The Hoppers,’ as they were known, at the beginning of this last summer and he hadn’t needed to be asked twice. The Poacher’s Rest was the oldest public house in the area and had been a coachhouse during the reign of Henry the Eighth. As Prince of Wales, he had taken something of an interest in the welfare of the country and had piled money into the coffers of The Principality. This had been mainly used for establishing a number of wind and water mills, alongside several Coach and Ale Houses created in their shadow, to keep the workers well-watered.

His portly regality was the motivating reason behind Evan instigating the roll of honour, more as a bit of a laugh than anything else. He had discovered an ancient parchment in the cellar, bricked in behind a wall. It had been unearthed during an archaeological investigation by the Welsh Heritage bods, prior to modernisation of The Poacher’s. At first, they had written off the document as a fake but when it was closely examined, it was found to be an original copy of the deeds, complete with King Henry’s Seal, dating from around 1575. So, the Society raised money to purchase and refurbish The Poachers, as authentically as possible.

The records suggested that the establishment was originally named, “The Three Graces Coachouse” but after the reformation that name was considered too Papist and it was changed to, ‘The Huntsman’s Rest,’ a name which it bore until 1807. Then, by popular consent, it took on the epithet of its famously heroic son, Winston Davies, who was nicknamed ‘The Poacher’ for his uncanny ability to trap enemy ships in his net, without them realising their peril, until it was far too late to respond. Everybody in the area knew about the exploits of ‘The Temeraire’ at Trafalgar, so substituting ‘The Poacher’ in place of ‘The Huntsman,’ went through without opposition. Above the door, it now read, Established 1575 by King Henry XIII and Rededicated 1807 to honour Gunnery Sergeant Winston ‘Poacher’ Davies.

“A pint of heavy,” please, called Nick and slapped the correct money down on the hard, wooden counter.

“Right you are,” responded Evan, picking up the cash from off the polished oak and placing it carefully in the till. “Just give me a tick,” he said as he tried to find Nick’s tankard on the rack. “Ah, there you are,” he mumbled and brought it down towards the taps. “Pint of heavy, wasn’t it?” Nick, just nodded and watched as Evan slowly began pouring the dark liquid into his rather tacky, ‘Welcome to Anglesey’ pewter Stein. He watched spellbound, as the millions of tiny bubbles settled within its creamy pot.

“Thanks, Ev,” chimed Nick as he picked up his drink and headed off towards his favourite perch, over in the corner by the jukebox.

There was always a feeling of calm and warmth in The Poacher’s Rest at this time of year, when the visitors had all gone home and the nights were drawing in. Nick, took a sip of his ‘heavy’ and checked the time on his watch, before sitting back in his seat and looking aimlessly out of the squared window at The Skerries lighthouse, some three miles out to sea. He watched as the now deserted beam, flashed its warning of a hazard out towards the horizon. In the not too distant past, the light from this station had warned many vessels about the existence of ‘The Rip,’ a savage current, that if it got hold of them would drag their vessel onto its teeth and rip the bottom out of their hulls. These days, all they needed was a Satellite Navigation system and a computer to keep them safe. So, it was deemed that the light was to be unmanned for eleven months of the year, only reopening for its annual service in April, ready for the next influx of tourists at Easter.

The Seals, which used the rocks around the tower for breeding purposes, greatly outnumbered the humans for much of the year. Recently, a few of the locals had arranged daily visits to see the seal pups, which for a while, had made a fairly profitable side line to fishing but the last economic recession had greatly dented trade. Nowadays, only two boats ran such trips in high summer. When the mists descended, every minute or so, the automated siren gave an emasculated, sonic ‘beep,’ which had replaced the once mighty deep and mournful booming sound, of the original horn.

Occasionally, when it was very quiet inside the old Pub and the spaces between the tracks and the beeps coincided, it’s weak signal could be heard on the wind like a banshee seeking solace after the storm had passed. Nick sighed, he missed the old comforting booming sound of the great sentinel and looked towards the door, as the sound of someone entering the Pub, caught his attention.

“Hi Wendy, didn’t think you’d be in tonight,” called Evan from behind the bar, “what can I get you?” Nick, didn’t recall hearing that name too often before and he turned his head to try and get a better look but a pillar obscured his view.

“A cold pint of L and G, please Ev,” came the reply. Wendy, was one of those names that regularly came in and out of fashion but these days, it was mostly out. The curious rarity of that moniker in the present day and age, tweaked his interest. From his friendly greeting, Evan obviously knew her. So, Nick just sat at his table and tried to look fashionably disinterested, while he idly waited until the landlord served her the drink and Wendy emerged from behind the column.

“There you go,” chirped Evan as he pushed a pint of Lager over the bar and a tall blond woman, in a pair of faded dungarees emerged from behind the pillar.

“Thanks man, I needed this,” she enthused and turning in Nick’s general direction, took a long, deep swig of the liquid in her glass relieving it of a full half of its contents. Nick smiled at the sight of someone really enjoying a drink and raised his stein to her, in recognition of another alternate soul.

“Hi, my name’s Wendy, Wendy Finch,” she said sitting down opposite him and placing her drink on the dimpled copper surface of the table. “You must be Nick Swann,” she postulated, “Evan, says you’re a computer geek, or something like that.”

 

Death Dances in the Shadows: Wyndwrayth- Extract from Gideon’s Journal

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In my youth, I heard tales of a great hero who led his mighty army into a merciless desert where temperatures reached 140 degrees. It was reported by the few travellers who survived the passage, that the wind alone could desiccate a man in less than an hour and the heat take his mind within a matter of minutes. As the army attempted to cross a notoriously parched area, which was known as ‘The Devil’s Anvil,’ all 28,000 of his men disappeared. Their deaths were described in detail by a soothsayer thus:

 “Their flesh was flayed away by an almighty storm of searing hot wind and grains of sand. At the end of this scouring, only a gleaming pile of bones remained.”

 It’s an old tale, one that has probably been elaborated by many of the raconteurs, for dramatic effect but essentially, it is correct. Then there was another, similar tale which always intrigued me. It tells of a mighty warlord, who crossed The Devil’s Anvil with his army of 70,000, yet survived the transit, more, or less intact. Following that remarkable feat, he was victorious at The Battle of The Two Gorges, defeating the incumbent ruler and taking control of all the lands to the south of the desert. As a young man, I was fascinated by this story and sought all the knowledge that was available on the subject. How could an army of 28,000 perish almost to a man, yet one of 70,000, pass apparently unhindered across that same Devil’s Anvil?

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One day, I met a Seer who had travelled the desert lands. Curious, I asked him about the story. He thought long and hard before telling me about an object of great power, which was discovered in the sand. It was this talisman that had allowed the warlord to cross The Devil’s Anvil, without losing a single man or beast from his huge army. The Seer, called the ruby amulet, “The Tears of the Devil’s Anvil.” He had no explanation for exactly how it worked, just that it enabled the wearer to cross between worlds. Over the years, I have become convinced that this is the same talisman as, ‘The Tears of Taklamakan.’ A ruby of great and capricious power which now resides somewhere on this isle.

**

 

Death Dances in the Shadows: Wyndwrayth Chapter 13 Excerpt.

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Nick, having dispatched the ‘Crispy’ report, had spent much of the last two days gathering more information on Wyndwrayth, for his ever-growing file on the old house.

“Knowledge is power,” he self satisfactorily told himself, as he opened a lead furnished by The Druids Handbook, a title that made him smile as he clicked on it. “Handbook, online? Brilliant!” He declared and read the A to Z of topics running all the way down the left-hand side of the page. He was beginning to lose faith in the thoroughness of The Handbook, when he spied something which read, ‘The Lost Scrolls.’ His waning interest piqued almost instantly.

“I’ve got to see this!” Nick feverishly clicked on the tab. “Oh yes, now we’re getting somewhere,” he murmured happily, when he saw what the search engine had thrown up for him. The Lost Scrolls were the collected history of amongst other things, Ynys y Niwl and the Granite House, that sat upon it. Initially, the accounts were very sparse and they were rarely followed up with any concluding evidence. It seemed, that from their inception The Lost Scrolls, hadn’t been intended as a blow, by blow account of life on the island but more a catalogue of the processes involved in setting up a new Norse colony in Wales. An inventory counting the numbers of bails of wheat for making bread, the gathering of a corresponding numbers of cattle, goats and fowl, made up the bulk of the entries, complete with the cost of everything. The debts and the payments were all intricately logged, it looked like there was a link which said, ‘Complete Register.’ Nick took a quick look and it was many pages of such lists running from the start of the colony up until it’s abandonment in 1939. It wasn’t exactly a page turner, ‘could be useful for proving provenance though,’ he mused and bookmarked it. Then flicked back to the Lost Scrolls and carried on reading.

In 1298 Sigurd Olstrom was appointed as the new scribe. In that year, around the lakeshore and the island, there were thirteen residences; including The Leaders House, or Den Ledere Huset, Wyndwrayth and more were being planned. All appeared to be going quite well around the lake until in 1302, when there was a murder, which really disturbed the colony. Sigurd noted the accusations and mistrust that developed.

However, for the next ten years, until 1312, there was peace on Ynys y Niwl. Then one stormy night, Rolf Larasonn went missing. His disappearance was easily explained away by the Chieftain, who decreed that Rolf had succumbed to the natural feelings of homesickness and returned to The North. At this point, Sigurd Olstrom seemed to become a little obsessed with the population numbers and Nick noticed that during the next thirty years, the population had noticeably diminished. By the year 1342, the number of Norsemen on and around the island, had fallen from 136 to 87 and that wasn’t the end of the decline.

Nick noticed that during this period, mentions of something which Sigurd referred to as, ‘The Pale Wanderer,’ grew in frequency. What or who this Pale Wanderer was, never seemed to be explained. There were many more tales of ‘something moving silently,’ or alternately, of ‘something creeping about, in the light of a full moon.’  All these later reports, relied on hear-say and solo sightings, so Nick had no choice other than try and discern the one, or two grains of truth from within the fields of chaff displayed before him.

One report submitted by Helga Gudronsonn, caught on the briers of his excited imagination. It mentioned her seeing a goblin lurking in the undergrowth around The Glade, during one moonlit night in the early winter of 1346. Five weeks later, Helga is reported missing by her husband and nothing more is heard of her in the remaining Scrolls. Nick’s understanding of this situation, was not helped by the untimely death of Sigurd Olstrom, from what is called in the Seventh Scroll, ‘The Black Pestilence,’ which hit the area in 1349. So, to make matters worse, the settlement had to find a new scribe to keep a reliable record of the happenings of the colony, during this pestilence.

Unfortunately, from the angle of continuity, the two-year delay in appointing a new scribe; a certain Bjorn Svaldrom, lead to unfortunate gaps in the records, which nobody fills in until at some later date, which appears to be 1382. Then, there was a brief entry, which spoke of “a haunting,” by some spectral presence. After that, the accounts became strangely dark and slightly mythical in the telling of what became, “The Legend of The Black Lake.”

Nick frowned as he scanned the left-hand side of the page. “O.K, so where’s that then?”

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Death Dances in the Shadows: Wyndwrayth- Gideon’s Journal Excerpt

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There is more to these ‘Tears of Taklamakan,’ than I initially thought. I’ve been probing Millar’s knowledge. It appears its present form is only one of many incarnations. Many years ago, Millar mentioned in passing, that The Great Ruby had been set in a great golden torc, which reputably gave the wearer undisputed power.

Millar, being vastly more ancient than I could ever hope to be, can be a mine of generally useless information once you get him talking. He told me of the many great and powerful men who had temporarily thought they had total control because of the brilliant but capricious, Ruby. Then, just when they needed its power most, it let them down. Maybe I could still use this gem stone as a means of controlling Millar, without evoking its darker leanings, should it ever come my way. A little hallucinatory deception, with the full consent of the deluded, is a simple matter but the stone’s power to deceive is legendary. So, a smidgeon of caution and a good deal of respect would be required on my part.

If I am to make further use of the oft restless spirits of The Dead, I will have to be careful in this endeavour, I have no wish to arouse The Paladin of Souls from his slumber beneath the earth. So far, I have limited the use of mine and Millar’s rubies, so as not to arouse him, using only those fresher souls with a black heart but the power of The Tears could alert him. The dead who have had many dealings with Millar, will not wish to be exploited by him again.

The Host of Dead Souls, all of whom were slaughtered by the monstrous pale creature, are growing more powerful. They yearn for release from this island and Millar’s enslavement. There are countless numbers of them and they have been imprisoned on Ynys Y Niwl for almost a thousand years. Like me, they are sensing the date of my departure and maybe theirs, is drawing ever nearer.

It’s at moments like this, when another day is drawing to a close, that I sit and often wonder what Millar would do if he had control of The Tears? It doesn’t bear thinking about too often. From what I have learnt, the ownership of The Tears has oft times changed hands and violently. This exchange would either begin, or end with the obliteration of the previous possessor. Then, The Tears remodelled its mounting, to suit the circumstances to which it now found itself. Lastly, it would choose who it wished to be its next ‘owner.’ Only those with a sister ruby like those of myself, The Paladin and Millar can seize it for use against its will.

According to Millar, it was once the centre piece of a huge and heavy shield, which was wielded by The Uglar of Trefor. Both he and the remainder of his tribe, which numbered anything up to three thousand souls, simply disappeared during an electrical storm and were never seen again. The shield was eventually found by a shepherd boy, almost buried in the sands of the Mongolian Desert by The Gate of Peace. The boy could not lift the shield, so he prised the ruby from its setting and hid it. For many years, all traces of The Tears of Taklamakan, were lost.

Then, legend tells of it moving to Rome, before coming to Britain with the Emperor Hadrian, only to disappear again into the mists of time. The Tears are now being sought by three individuals, all of whom, including me, are resident on Ynys y Niwl. Namely, my erstwhile self, The Paladin of Souls and of course, Millar. One day we may fight it out, to see who amongst us, will get the freedom of their choice.

This apparently open conversation with Millar regarding The Tears, was obviously designed to put my mind at ease concerning the true power of the Ruby and what each of us would do with it, if we possessed its power. However, I’ve known the pale creature for long enough now, to see right through that ruse. I will need to dig deeper on this one. I’ve often thought about that younger, rasher version of me, who dived straight in when “more years” were offered, these days I’m less convinced of my choice. Maybe The Tears could be used to release me……

 

 

Death Dances in the Shadows: Wyndwrayth – Chapter 12 Excerpt

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The Four Winds, was an old coaching house that had an air of long dead Highway Men and a faint whiff of some scurrilous behaviour, or other.  It also had the advantage of being half way between their two homes. ‘I think he’ll like the vibe of the place and the Jukebox, ain’t bad either,’ Nick considered. ‘There’s a couple of tracks missing but nothing that’s really important, I can live with that.’ He’d been in the place, twice previously. Both times had been in the Summer, when he’d been on one of his ‘get to know Anglesey,’ trips. He would leave Bethyn Bryn and just drive, letting the spirit of the day dictate the direction of travel. That was how he came across The Four Winds coaching house. He recalled the first time he’d been there. He was driving through golden fields of swaying barley, when he first saw the place rising at the intersection of four fields. A single white house, with what appeared to be old refurbished stables at the rear. The clock on the dashboard had read 13:05, in digital figures and he was feeling hungry, so he had stopped outside this lonely looking Public House in his new red Volvo, Trev 2, with the intention of spending some time inside.

As Nick disembarked he noticed how the Volvo, somehow matched this particular setting, as if it was all part of the same picture. A cobbled forecourt, red post box and a real vintage Telephone Kiosk, which looked as if it may have been the site of the first ever call in 1921, and Trev 2. This was Kismet! He had to go inside and see what other delights lay within.

As he walked through the door, the music and the fragrance of the hoppy beer, mixed with home cooking, hit him and he was won over. Nick picked up one of the Lunchtime Menu’s and took a look at what was on offer. On seeing that everything was apparently themed, he called over the waiter and asked for a little assistance.

“I know that it might be me being a bit dim, but what exactly is, ‘Wrecker’s Pie’ and what’s in the ‘Musket Ball Pasty.’” His questions, raised a wry smile on the stewards’ face, producing an answer he’d undoubtedly given a thousand times before:

“The Wrecker’s, is a savoury fish pie and The Musket Ball, is a pasty with a punch, Sir.” He imparted the requested information, in an almost deadpan tone, as if he were a servingbot.

“And what was that,” Nick enquired, grinning at the young lad who was attempting to fulfil his given roll, “Dead man’s droll, or perhaps, it was a Gunners groan,” he asked, while smiling to put the young man at his ease.

“No Sir, it was delivered in an obscure dialect of Ancient Pissed Off Waiter, that was last spoken, I believe, by The Druids.”

His answer made Nick laugh and splutter at the same time as he caught the edge of his glass, in an unexpected fit of the giggles. The neatly arranged table cloth then came to its own, saving the entire area from a righteous splattering. The highly amusing Maitre D’e, was now standing silently by the condiments, with his pen at the ready, waiting for Nick to order.

“Phew, that was a close call,” he said apologetically. “A foot, or two closer and you’d have been a goner,” he added, then ordered the Wrecker’s Pie with a side serving of fresh Green Salad for his lunch.

“Thank you, Sir. Will there be anything else?” Mewed the man servant and patiently waited for any rejoinder that may follow. He was about to move away, when Nick spoke up and enquired as to the blend of the coffee. “We have Arabica Black Bean and Barista Novo and if I may say, taking it that you are an experienced coffee drinker, may I suggest the Arabica Black. I think you’ll find it more satisfying than the Barista, which I must admit, I find a little insipid.” Nick nodded in agreement and he turned and headed off towards the kitchen.

Nick, watched the waiter as he departed and shook his head, as much in wonderment, as dismay. ‘I hope this is just a Summer job and a sharp bloke like that, isn’t here permanently,’ he thought and waited for his Wreckers Pie, to arrive. The place was filling up with farm and other manual workers, when Nick’s meal arrived. The rich smell of fresh fish and minted New Potatoes, wafted up and made him even more ravenous. The arrival of the bread and butter, with the sauce boat and its lemon enhanced contents, almost drove Nick mad.

“I think Sir will enjoy this,” said his waiter, as he turned away “and the coffee, is freshly ground and served, just a few degrees below the boiling point.” Nick, just smiled as in unison, he and the waiter said, “We wouldn’t want to scald the beans, now would we?” With that, Nick nodded his head in recognition of a kindred spirit and turned his attention to the steaming portion of Wrecker’s Pie and his aromatic drink, on the table before him.

For one reason, or another he hadn’t returned to The Four Winds, until the following year and unfortunately, much had changed. Though it still looked much the same from the outside, the interior had been given a complete makeover. The new proprietor had jazzed up the lounge and replaced the old photographs of the place, with a selection of rather indifferent contemporary oil paintings but at least he’d left the food, beer and Jukebox alone. The Wreckers Pie and the Musket Ball Pasty, were still on the menu but several new and undoubtedly delicious meals had been added, along with quite a few exotic blends of tea. There were now five standard coffee blends on the list of beverages and Irish, Scottish and Jamaican variations, were also available. The staff had increased in number but his laconic waiter, seemed to have departed, only to be replaced by a rather dipsy female and a ludicrously young lad, who took the desert orders and served drinks with an insipid smile permanently plastered across his face. Any enquiries, as to what had happened to the previous staff members, were met with a simple, “Before my time.” It was clear, that any further conversation, if it could be described as such, was pointless. Any consideration of further discourse, was curtailed as ‘Satisfaction’ finished on the jukebox. Nick had just drunk the last of his coffee and with that, he’d cast his eyes politely around the room, inhaled one deep breath in order to ‘take in the essence of the place,’ then made his way to his car in an incredibly good mood.

It was that visit, that he decided The Four Winds was more than likely the finest eating establishment on the island and if he got the chance, he would invite any friends, or potentially valuable clients, to the place for a meal. So far, he’d invited nobody to his, “Secret place in The Corn,” as he was starting to refer it, so it only seemed fitting, that Alan should be the first.

“Memories, memories,” Nick mused to himself and sent his reply to Altorro, with the invitation. Nick now attempted to remember exactly where he was in Crispy’s report, before the day had got in the way. The night was drawing in and as the last shred of light was extinguished over Ynys y Niwl, Nick began to type.

*

As he was finishing his e-mail to Alan, suggesting they meet at The Four Winds, Lady Clarissa Cleaver, who was trying to find her driving license, quite by accident, discovered an unsent note obviously written recently by her husband:

“Clarissa, you ungrateful Harpy, I wrote this to inform you that I’ve gone to the Villa in Portugal and I won’t be coming back. You can have the house, land, lake and the bloody children. I will keep the Villa and be seeking custody of the dogs. You never liked them and I can assure you, that the feeling was mutual. I will be placing our affairs in the hands of J.P.K. Cruikshank, (Solicitors) and wish to have nothing more to do with you. I have filed for divorce and your copy of the papers, should be arriving forthwith. I think that you will find the arrangements most satisfactory and I trust, that there will be no unnecessary squabbling over any money’s that you feel you are owed. 50% of my not inconsiderable assets should be well enough, even for an acquisitive beggar like you. They will just need your signature and then we can be free of each other. Forever.”

 Curiously, Clarissa was somewhat relieved to read this note. It had saved her from having to do the same thing to Cuthbert, or waiting for him to be missing, declared dead. The proposed settlement seemed amicable enough and she certainly had no intention of doing anything other than taking the dogs to the Vet and having them ‘put down.’ So, his request to have the ghastly beasts with him in Portugal, was fine by her. She loathed Baskerville and Cerberus, so he could have them both, so long as he paid the costs of flying them out there. All she had to do now, was casually inform all of her friends of the situation and just carry on, as if nothing had happened. Because in truth, it didn’t matter anyway.

“I believe this calls for an impromptu bonfire! I think Cuthbert’s wardrobe will provide me with all the tinder I’ll be needing for a damn good blaze,” she snorted. “I think, I’ll begin with the bastards favourite Dinner Jacket,” she hissed and readied her lighter for the task ahead.

**