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As Nick stepped inside the pub lounge, the old Ace favourite had been replaced by something a little more contemporary that simply washed over him, as he made his way to the bar.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.

**

 

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

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I was ‘summoned’ to Millar’s Tower a while ago, for what the flabby monster tried to make me believe, was simply an invitation to “break bread together,” because it had been quite a while since we had spoken.  He was at pains to assure me, “he valued my ideas.” I was suspicious. Either, he was losing his mind, he wanted to trick me into something or, at best he was worried about something he considered important.

I learnt long ago, that when I was dealing with the devious pale creature, it was better to say very little and just patiently wait for him to reveal his hand. My strategy worked its usual magic and after the expected social manoeuvres were concluded, Millar started to tell me of his, “minor” worries regarding the changes to come. I knew precisely what he was hinting at. Those same terminal concerns are never far from my mind, though for distinctly different reasons.

It didn’t take him long to get around to my Ruby ring and its connection to, “The Tears of Taklamakan.” As I was eating the rather delicious fish he provided for the meal, he enquired as to whether I’d felt any connection between the ring on my finger and the mother stone, that had been lost many years previously? By Oden, he’s so obvious! As if I would fall for that one. Yes, it glows when his ring is close by and as both rings are related to The Tears, I assume it will glow if the parent stone is near too but I was hardly going to tell him something, which may be of advantage to him.

He intends to use The Tears for nothing but ill purposes. With that kind of power, he could free himself from his confinement and top of his list of vengeance, is the murder of his Father.  With the demise of Lord Meklar he would have the freedom and power to wreak havoc and slaughter, on an unimaginable scale.

Whatever happens, Millar cannot be allowed to get his hands on The Tears.  If he does, there will be no end to my slavery, he will keep me as his toy to use and abuse forever. Saying that, I don’t actually know where the Great Ruby is. I only know, that my ring indicates it’s definitely on this god forsaken rock! I’m beginning to think that maybe I buried it along with one of the endless corpses that Millar has tortured to death, in his pursuit of energies to grow and to furnish his world with their agonised imaginings and abject terror. One of those body’s must have been wearing it when I laid it in the ground, or maybe it fell into the earth of its own accord? The ruby is known for its ability to transform and deceive, to desert its wearer just when they need it most.

In truth, I may have occasionally been less than diligent, when I’ve carried out my duties to Lord Meklar but being on the head of a pin, for a thousand years without error, is an unreasonable demand. Regardless of how it happened, the faint glow of my ring when Millar is absent, tells me The Ruby is here. I’ve even tried to use the glow to divine its location but it’s too tricky for that, it keeps shifting its position. 

*

 I have come to the conclusion, that the Ruby arrived during one of the frequent times of hunger to strike this place over the years. At these times, food and your next meal become all-consuming passions, both Millar and I become weakened. Though neither dies, he shrinks in size and I am weak as a feather and seem to fade.

It was during a time great famine across the whole land, that I first heard the legend of a mighty spirit known as, “The Paladin of Souls.” This dread tale was oft told to novices who were recently enrolled into the Brotherhood. It was something of a ‘badge of office,’ when an individual Father was asked to impart ‘The telling of the tale,’ to a new class of inductees. It was always given in the common parlance, warts and all. It was meant to shock the listener into obedience but that was in the days when there were still some Monks left on Ynys y Niwl. Those days are now long gone and that old kind of knowledge, has all but died out. It was said, that all the dead who had fallen and buried on Ynys y Niwl, would be protected by the aforementioned “Paladin.” That one day, he would lead them to their release from the clutches of purgatory, to be welcomed into Valhalla, or heaven or whatever afterlife you believed in.

Well, that’s the bones how the original story goes, belief is not required. However, they do say, “That the true power of legends is felt most acutely around a campfire, with a full horn of ale in your hand and a belly full of food, weighing you down. Then, as the embers turn red and the night comes on, anything is possible.”

Nevertheless, I know that the Ruby is somewhere on this island. I don’t know what form it’s presently assuming but the search is drawing ever closer to home, I can feel its presence crawling in my mind, sense its power rising to some fateful conclusion.

I used to think I could maybe use it to control Millar but these days I’m not so sure that’s possible, I’m more inclined to use it to fashion my own release from this slavery. 

**

 

Death Dances in the Shadows: Wyndwrayth Chapter 11 Excerpt

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Once, or twice, Alan stopped whatever he was doing and stood upright, to listen out for a recurrence of something that he thought he’d heard, coming from away back down the far end of the drearily lit cellar. ‘Just stop it,’ he thought. ‘There’s nothing in here and there hasn’t been for a long time, so just get hold of yourself and stop being such a big girls blouse,’ he said to himself, sternly. That pep talk, made him feel better for a while but as they were leaving, he was sure that he heard something shuffling about, just out of sight, down there, in the deep shadows. He stood motionless, trying not to breathe, for fear of spooking, the ‘whatever it was,’ he was beginning to seriously suspect, was in the cellar with them. For some unknown reason, Alan just knew, deep down, that this unseen ‘stalker,’ could somehow hear his heart beating in his chest and was able to easily disappear, back into the darkness from whence he came, if he spooked it. However, he quickly dismissed it as just another paranoid moment in his bizarre life. ‘One for the increasingly large, phantom perturbances file,’ he thought, ‘engineered by your own furtive mind.  Oh well, never mind, even Carter mentioned in his biography, that when he was alone in Tut’s tomb, he always felt as if he was being watched, so you’re in good company.’ He reassured himself.

Another sound, a soft dull thud, resonated through this ancient, secret and seemingly forgotten cellar. Alan instinctively turned to look in the direction the noise had emanated from. For a moment, he thought he saw a form, attempting to manifest itself within a swirling dust devil, which was dancing its way across the stone floor.

“Oh, come on Turnbull. What’s it they say about seeing shapes in clouds?” He spat out loud, “You see whatever you want to see, depending on your mood at that time,” he cried a touch too loudly.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Nick called back, from thirty yards ahead of him, behind some casks.

“Nothing, worth fuck all really, you know what I’m like in lonely dark places.”

“Yeah, a big girls blouse,” Nick responded with a chuckle.  Then, after a few seconds of silence, his head popped round the barrels, “Go on then, we’re all waiting with suitably baited breath, spill the beans,” he added sarcastically.

“Fuck you Nix! And if you must know, I thought that I saw a ghost, or something, moving around down there,” he said, pointing in the direction of the apparently growing darkness at the far end of the cellar, while moving towards Nick. Nick turned and looked into the gloom while Alan caught up to him. As his eyes acclimatised to the darkness, something almost invisibly, moved in the mirk behind his friend.

Nick suddenly stopped and Alan watched as he speechlessly tilted his head to the right. Experience had taught him that this meant that Nix was either, looking at something he couldn’t easily explain away, or he was considering something heavy, that was going on behind his back. Either way, Alan didn’t want to be jumped, he seriously doubted that his heart would be able to withstand a shock on that level, so he quickly turned and looked back down the cellar, in the hope of seeing what was intriguing his compadre. Seeing nothing sinister, he let out his breath then took in a great gulp of air and in relief, put both his hands on his chest.

“There’s nothing there, Nix. This is what happened to me earlier. Perhaps we’re getting a little drunk, with all the alcoholic vapours, or fungal spores that are undoubtedly in here with us. Perhaps we’re just viewing this place, through proverbial beer goggles?”

It seemed logical to Nick, that there would be some kind of a residue in the air left over from all the barrels, some of which were obviously damaged by the passage of time and had seeped away onto the floor, or completely evaporated into the dry air. He knew spores could also be affecting their judgement so, any visions had to questioned more than once, if they were ever to be verified. “O.K, let’s get moving and remember, only what we can carry of the best vintage’s go back across the lake with us. Remember, you’re the expert, so I’m relying on you, to only pluck the sweetest nectar for us to carry off,” Nick pointedly stated.

“Yeah, yeah, I get it,” answered Alan caressing a small keg of something called ‘Cullen Skink,’ and slipping it into his pile of ‘treasure,’ ready to be transported back to Bethyn Bryn, onboard Venezuela.

 

Death Dances in the Shadows: Wyndwrayth Chapter 10 Excerpt

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Nick reached for the gate latch and turned it.  The gate swung open easily, like it had just been oiled, to reveal the pathway to the imposing front entrance of Wyndwrayth.  Nick frowned momentarily as he looked down the path. ‘It looks like it’s been brushed clean,’ he thought, ‘I’m sure it wasn’t like this the other day……’

At this point, Alan pulled out his iPad and rustled up a copy of the layout, that Nick had sent to him in the last e-mail. “I showed this, to Phil Drake, a history bod who I’ve known nearly as long, as I’ve known you. I met him at Magdalen College during my student days and we’ve kept spasmodically in touch, ever since. He’s now a professor at Christ’s in Cambridge, ‘n he reckoned he’d only seen one other place honeycombed like this, located on The Hebrides, up there in ‘Jockland.’”  Alan paused as he realised Nick was moving towards the house, before following. “He thought, that if we could find the hidden route, from the lowest to the highest point of the house, then we would have cracked the mystery, of Wyndwrayth,” he said, while studying the layout of the place on his pad. “Cool name by the way. It’s Viking, you know and the best translation, into English, is ‘Ghost Wind’ but that hardly covers it. In ‘The Saga of Hummolt,’ it’s described as ‘a supernatural wind from hell, that carries all before it.’ In Norse mythology, Hel, with just one L, was Loki’s daughter, whose upper half resembles a human while the lower half is a rotting corpse. She was assigned to receive the souls of the dead who died of sickness, or old age. However, in Norse mythology, evil doers and oath breakers were sent to some place called Niflheim, where the dragon Nidhogg will gnaw on their corpses. I just thought you’d like to know that,” grinned Alan.

Nick, for his part, just kept on nodding his head, more to disguise his ignorance, as anything else. The silence only encouraged Alan to carry on with his insights, into the history, of what his friend knew as Ynys y Niwl, or Fog Island.

“Here’s another thing for you to contemplate,” he proffered, as Nick, just looked at him askance. “This dot of land was known as The Isle of Niflheim, or the island of fog, for centuries and in Norse Mythology, it was the door to what we would call, Hell, with two L’s. According to the legend, there’s a creature who lives here, who eats the souls of the dead, how cool is that?”

Alan’s information, somehow rang slightly true in Nick’s mind, what with the fog thing and the inescapable fact, that the lake was formed in the crater of a long extinct volcano. “Hmm and I suppose, that it wasn’t too great a leap from all that fire and brimstone, to Sto-vo-cor,” he said and laughed.

“Well, only as distant as Klingon is from actual ancient Norse mythology,” replied Alan.

“Shall we go inside, then?” Asked Nick?

“You bet,” came the response and they both reached for the enormous brass ring, that hung directly above their heads.

 

Death Dances in the Shadows: Four Star Reviews for Powderfinger and Wyndwrayth by J Bronder Books.

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https://jbronderbookreviews.com/

My Review of Powderfinger

4 stars

Nick Swann works at the St. Joseph’s Hostel. Some of the guys want out to celebrate a couple 21st birthdays. Nick has to write several late passes but doesn’t think too much about it. But when a girl is found murdered, his guys are blamed. He doesn’t think they had anything to do with it but then finds himself suspended for issuing too many late passes.

But when another woman is murdered he starts working with the detectives and doing some research. It seems there is a supernatural creature called Powderfinger that has been killing people for numerous years.

This was an interesting read. The story starts out like a regular thriller but takes a paranormal twist. It seems Powderfinger is a demon that has been killing those that disturb it. The group plans to stop it but it is quite powerful and they are going to have their hands full.

This was a good read that kept me interested the whole time. It had some good twists and turns and of course I was not expecting the ending. Definitely check out this book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. I voluntarily chose to read and post an honest review.

My Review of Wyndwrayth

4 stars

It is three years after Nick’s adventure with Powderfinger and two years since his mother has passed. He now lives on the shore of Llyn Isaf in Wales. But he finds himself curious about the island in the middle of the lake, Ynys Y Niwl. He has researched it and makes plans to explore it and the crumbling mansion on it called Wyndwrayth. But Nick is going to find himself wrapped up with the supernatural once again.

We also follow a man that accepted a god’s offer at a better afterlife as long as he was the guardian to the god’s troubled son for a thousand years. Gideon soon finds himself on an island with a hate filled being that is intent on escaping and getting revenge on his father.

This was a great sequel to Powderfinger. I felt for Nick with the move to the country and the loss of his mother. It seems to be a habit of him to get himself neck deep in trouble. Of course his friends are there to help him but things don’t always turn out like he would like.

This is a good series and I’m curious to see that Nick is going to get himself into with the next book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. I voluntarily chose to read and post an honest review.

Death Dances in the Shadows: Wyndwrayth excerpt Chapter 9

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Karen stopped as she reached the huge and imposing carved wooden doorway. It had an enormous latched entrance with a suitably impressive knocker, which appeared to be a huge breaching whale, made of brass. By the look of it, this piece of ‘fools’ gold’ hadn’t been used for many years, for it had a number of apparently mature pieces of Ivy, running through and around it. It only took Matt a couple of seconds and he joined her, looking up at this almost monumental entranceway.

“Can you imagine, having this thing built as your front door?” Karen postulated. “It must have cost a fortune.” Matt was looking at the strange lettering which adorned the stone arch. He wondered if it was runic. It was difficult to decipher covered in lichens, it was almost as if it was attempting to blend in with its surroundings.

“Speak, friend and enter,” he uttered and spread his arms out in front of him, almost in a gesture of adoration.

“O.K, so now what,” Karen asked, as she smiled and stood looking up at the latch, which was about eight inches out of her reach. “Got any more lessons from Middle Earth that might, at least, be of some practical use?”

“Leave it to me,” Matt said slowly, in a fake ‘deeeeep’ voice. He set his feet slightly apart, for better balance, suspecting that the doorway would be rusted shut, or at least stiff through lack of use. He braced himself for the impending strain and with a grunt, he reached up and at full extension, turned the old clasp. “Fucking hell,” he exclaimed in surprise as it swung open easily and he almost fell on his face. “Jesus,” he groaned, regaining his composure. “A small child could have opened it!” He took a few opportune deep breaths, then stood up straight.

“Strange, look how high off the ground it is……” They both just stood there in a state of confusion, as the door swung back and almost closed. Karen reached up and gently touched the unlatched door with her finger tips, which swiftly swung back open. Despite her bravado, underneath she felt alarmed.

“I barely touched it,” she whispered defensively and with a touch of abject astonishment in her voice. “I thought it’d be harder than that, to get into this place,” Karen muttered to herself, as she boldly took the first step inside. She slowly walked up the hallway, with her head turning from side, to side in an attempt to take in every detail. Matt, still on the threshold, watched her carefully and peered into the shadows on either side, looking for signs of danger. Then, Karen suddenly stopped. Before he could ask why, she called back to him,

“You really should come and take a squint at this place, it’s fucking amazing.” To hear her swear like that was quite unusual and in his state of heightened awareness, Matt could almost hear his heart beating in his chest.

“You swear beautifully,” he inappropriately offered, as his part in this curiously disjointed conversation. Matt, not wishing to lose her in this slowly decaying edifice, strode on through the open door and instantly looked for Kaz. “Christ, that’s bright,” he said, holding up his hand as a temporary shield against the shattered sunlight, which streamed into the dusty hallway, painting countless pin pricks of almost florescent light on all the surrounding surfaces.

Through those splintered slivers of luminescence, he could see her, standing some twenty yards in front of him. She was looking up a flight of pristine, white stone steps, leading gracefully to the floor above.

“Are you O.K?” he called out to Karen, with a tone which insinuated concern. When she didn’t answer, he continued clumsily, “You’ve been motionless, for what seems like ages…. I was getting worried you were hurt, or something…..” Just then, the front door swung closed behind him, with a resonating thud. Matt swung round quickly but there was no one there. Just a gust of wind, which swirled into a pile of dead leaves by the door, making a skittering sound.

“What?!” She suddenly blurted out, as if she had just been woken from a dream. Matt noticed the tone of her voice, this time had something close to an edge of wonder within it and ever more intrigued, he increased his pace towards her.

“I know this is going to sound really stupid but I can’t get away from the feeling that someone, or something, is watching every move I make in this place,” said Karen quietly. “It started the moment I walked in here. It just hit me like a wave of emotion and for a few seconds, I felt slightly disoriented.” Then, almost without taking a breath, she continued with the same train of thought but in a slightly higher register. “I’ve got this fucking weird feeling …..,”

He knew instinctively, what she was talking about.

“It’s this place,” he said but nothing else followed. He could sense that Karen had more thoughts to reveal but he wasn’t going to push her, so he waited for her to speak again.

“It seemed like the door closing, sealing us inside, brought this old place back to life. Like sealing us in, was just what it wanted,” she explained. “I feel like there are millions of pairs of unblinking dead eyes, just staring at me.” He moved towards her, intending to bring reassurance but as he moved closer, her disquiet grew. “It’s just fucking freaky in here!” Karen hissed and her eyes burned with fear.

Matt realised this was no hoax and the way Karen was talking, actually disturbed him. “Believe me, Matthew, it’s plain old fucking weird in here and I mean weird, to the max!” Then, instead of waiting for reassurance from him, or heading back to the doorway, she inexplicably began to ascend the stairs.