Quick Thought on ‘Snare’

So that was ‘Snare’.

It started life as a deliberate attempt to get myself through not so much a writing block, I ‘m not sure I have those as such, but rather an ‘ending’ block.

The basic idea started with a memory of a walk in the Cotswolds which began through a yellow stone alleyway between the back of cottages to an enchanted valley. That was the only bit I had, but taking an idea for a little walk has never been much of a problem. Bringing the stroll through plot and character to an end however is often problematic.

Spoiler alert – I hate endings, I slow down at the three quarter stage of reading a book I am enjoying because I don’t want it to end, I used to hate going to bed and bringing the day to a close etc etc.

But I decided this story was going to end whether I liked it or not.

Do I like it?

Well it’s my least disliked.

There’s a short intro to ‘Snare’ exploring my feelings and thoughts a bit further on the ‘Snare’ page – found in the menu under ‘Writing’ or here if you want to know more and would like to read the whole story in one place without following from blog post to blog post.

SNARE

Part 4

Ed wanted to know what was going on but he was stuck behind his friend, his view of what was happening blocked by the edge of the copse.  To get a glimpse of what a going on he needed to move around Tom but that would mean making a noise and moving the trees and if Tom’s stillness was anything to go by that was probably not a good idea right now.

Tom slowly lay down, his body behind the hazel, his head just poking round the undergrowth. ‘He’s looking downhill. Not moving though’.

‘Can we get across the path?’

Tom shook his head slowly. ‘He’s not got his back to us. He’ll see the movement. Specially if he’s looking for the dog.’

As if to emphasise that the man most certainly was looking for his dog, there was a burst of whistling and shouts of ‘Max! Max!’ from the direction of the path. There was a crashing sound again in the brush behind them in response to the shouts and a flash of brown and white crossed the track going uphill.

‘Bugger.’

‘What?’

‘He saw the dog. I think.’ Tom said.

The circled back round uphill of them and came across the path. It was a Springer, all smile and tail touching its nose as it greeted them with a bark.

‘Fuck off.’ Tom hissed and his hand curled round the handle of the knife he carried tucked away under his hoody.

‘Don’t Tom!’

Ed looked at the dog, excited now by its new friends. It was unlikely Tom would get near enough to kill the dog but if he did or if the owner saw him with the knife that would be the end of Uni, the end of his escape from the village. He dug inside the rucksack, pulled out the rabbit that Tom had dispatched and waved it like a toy at the dog who, smelling the blood and meat, set for it. Ed held the carcass out to the animal and as the dog seized it, he grabbed the dog’s collar. He left the bag at Tom’s side. ‘Stay there.’ He said and walked out onto the path.

The man had been about the start shouting again by the look of it and was a couple of paces down the side path when Ed appeared. Ed put his gruffest voice on, but gave it the posh edge he used when he was talking to the adviser about his options for college places. He hoped it would sound like Chucker’s keeper.

‘Is this your dog?’

‘Oh, er yes.’

‘Well keep him under control will you? Look what he’s been doing.’ Ed gestured towards the dog’s new toy being shaken like a rat as he trotted contentedly at Ed’s side.

‘Oh, God! Leave it Max!’ Put it down!’

The man looked shocked.

‘I’m so sorry. He got away from me. He’s only young and…’

Ed was up to the man now.

‘You got a lead for him?’

‘Oh yes.’

‘Well put it on then.’

The man fumbled for the lead and snicked it onto the collar. Ed let go of the collar and stood up.

‘You should keep him on the lead in the country. There’s lambs about this time of the year and birds rearing in the woods. If I’d had my shotgun…’

‘Oh God! I didn’t think. I am so sorry.’ He looked down at the dog who was trying to eat the rabbit. ‘Max, put it down, please.’

Ed looked at the dog and firmly took the rabbit and said ‘Leave!’

Max was a bit startled at the gift being taken back but he let go and waited.

‘Thank you.’ Said the man. ‘I couldn’t get him to come back. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t caught him.’

‘Get some training, then he’ll come back to you.’ Ed smiled. ‘Might even bring you some more to share.’

‘Oh, I am so sorry. He’s not in trouble is he? Are we?’

Ed looked thoughtful for a moment.

‘Well, it’s only a rabbit and no birds damaged so not this time. No. But if he gets loose again where there’s lambs or birds…’

‘Yes, yes of course. It won’t happen again.’

‘Right then. Where are you headed?’

The man patted Max.

‘We’re headed for Colehampton.’

‘Colehampton! You’re way off.’

‘I thought so but Max saw a deer and dashed off and I had to get him. Got pretty lost to be honest. Could you put us back on the right path?’

‘I reckon.’ Ed gave Max a pat as well. ‘A deer you say?’

‘Yes. Big one, seemed to keep stopping to get Max to follow him.’

‘Big antlers?’

‘Yes. Is he famous or something?’

‘Just a bit odd, antlers this time of year.’

The man was looking at Ed, waiting for more. Ed decided there’d been enough chat.

‘Well, you’re on private land here but if you head down to the bottom of the wood and turn left along the 10 acre there, you’ll come to a lane. Turn right up the valley and there’s a footpath about half a mile on the left will take you into the back of Colehampton, by the church.’

‘Thanks. We’d better get going then. Cheerio.’

‘And keep Max on his lead.’

Ed watched the man and Max, reluctant to leave his furry plaything behind, walk down the slope to the ten acre. He wondered about the deer Max had been lured into the wood by. He waited until Max had disappeared and then walked back to Tom.

‘Has he gone?’

‘Off to Colehampton with his dog, aye.’

Colehampton?’

‘He got lost.’

‘That was bloody brilliant Ed. I thought you was a keeper myself for a minute. How did you know he was just a walker?’

‘Dog wasn’t trained was he? Just a pet like, running all over like that, all that noise, him and the bloke. Not a countryman’s dog.’

‘Like the way you gave the dog the tough old boy been squirming all night. Good thinking that. You’ve got big future here you have boy.’

Ed didn’t answer but picked up the bag and walked off up the hill.

They crested the rise and walked down into the Green lane. They kept well into the hedges along the 30 acre, Tom garrulous with the excitement of their encounter. They reached the almshouses without problem and as they went over the gate they turned and looked up into the darkening shadows of the woods. A figure emerged from the edge of the trees, darker than the shadows, and paused. It was hard to see details with the setting sun over the wooded hill casting fingers of darkness down the field, but Ed was sure he could see points of light on antlers. He pointed the figure out to Tom who grunted. Then the figure tipped back its head and a belling roar echoed in the evening air.

‘It shouldn’t have antlers now.” Ed said.

Tom looked at his friend.                     

‘See you tomorrow?’

Ed kept on looking at the hill. The patch or darkness returned to the wood.

‘Don’t think so Tom. I’ve got to talk to some people about next year.’

END

SNARE

Part 3

‘Come on dopey, first one’s only a few yards.’ Tom said, moving off through the bushes.

Ed had done all right at school once he’ stopped hanging around with Tom and actually done some work. His teachers hadn’t suggested college because they’d had him marked down the same path as Tom, but now he’d got his results, good results, he was thinking about going this year. He’d put an application in and had one offer and needed to talk to someone about a couple of others he was waiting for. The idea was to make some cash this year but so far there’d been nothing. And here he was again with Tom.

He nearly bumped into him as Tom stopped.

‘Here we go.’ He stooped and pulled aside a branch. The snare had looped neatly round the rabbit’s neck and the animal was as dead as it was going to be. Tom unpegged the wire and pulled it out from the rabbit’s flesh. He coiled the wire and peg and pocketed them, giving the animal to Ed who stuffed it in the haversack.

‘Next one’s about five yards over.’ Tom whispered.

They turned their back on the run and stepped under and round the undergrowth to where Tom had laid the next snare. There was no rabbit. The loop of wire was still set open and there was no sign of disturbance. Tom shrugged. ‘Bugger. I thought that we’d maybe get them all sprung today.’ He stood up. Never mind, leave it, we can come up tomorrow and check that one.’

‘”We.” Already apparently in Tom’s mind they were working together again. Ed wasn’t so sure. He had a route out if he was sensible. College. A job in a town or city. Money, independence. Not being a country boy on the edge of existence. Not being a sidekick to a chancer like Tom. Wondering again why Tom’s family was weird and what would happen when the luck ran out.

They checked another three snares on this side of the path, one empty, one with another clean kill and one with the animal still kicking a little as the noose hadn’t broken the neck or throttled it in the time since it had run into the trap. Tom slipped a short lead cosh from his pocket and smacked the animal sharply on the back of the neck which stopped the wriggling.

‘He’ll be a tough old bugger to eat. Give that one to my Dad I reckon.’ Tom laughed.

‘Why?’

‘Why tough or why give it my Dad?’

‘Both I suppose.’

‘They don’t die quick, they get real knotty. All that struggling. Quick kill before they realise what’s happening, they’re all relaxed see. Nice eating. Dad don’t mind, but Carslake’s customers is choosy. I start giving him tough old buggers like this he’ll drop the price or stop taking ’em altogether.’ Tom grinned. ‘Customer care boy.’

Ed took the animal and looked at it. ‘You’ll know which is which?’

‘Yeah. Look.’ Tom flipped its neck over. ‘See. Big bit of fur rubbed off this side where it was struggling.’ He lifted the head. ‘And that mark where I whacked him.’

Ed put it in the sack with the others.

‘How many more Tom?’

‘Another five. Round the other side of the warren.’ He pointed to a patch of thick briars just down the hill. ‘That’s it. Hundreds of the little beggars in there. Not far to the fields in the bottom of the valley. I’d get more trapping that side but you don’t know who’s watching from the wood on the other hill.’

Ed nodded and they moved off around the thicket and uphill back towards the track.

They finished emptying the snares. Four of the five had been good clean kills and one untouched. Tom was setting another snare on a new run when they heard a crashing through the undergrowth somewhere down by the briar thicket.

The two of them looked up and then at each other.

‘What’s that Tom?’

‘It’ll be that bloody buck. It’s getting late and he’ll be off to browse in Chucker’s fields.’

‘You reckon?’

‘Yeah, come on. Set one where you are. You’re more or less standing on a run there.’

Ed caught the wire and peg that Tom threw at him. He crouched down and looked for the tunnel through the undergrowth. He’d tight pegged the wire round a good strong trunk of a bush and was just setting it open at the right height for a rabbit head when the crashing sound cam louder and presumably nearer. Ed half crawled to where Tom was finishing his last snare.

‘Come on Tom. Let’s go.’

‘What’s the matter? Afraid of the spooky deer?’

‘I don’t know Tom, but it’s getting late and I don’t want…’

There was a whistle and both lads dropped down to the ground. They looked at each other. ‘That’s not a fucking buck Tom.’

The other noises got louder and they heard panting. A dog was quartering the wood.

They backed under a blackthorn bush, Ed biting his lip as the thorns scratched his legs.

The dog’s panting got louder and the whistling more strident. Then a man’s voice cut the air.

‘Max! Max, come! Come!’

The dog went away.

‘What is it? A walker?’ Ed whispered.

‘Keeper with a new dog?’

‘It’s bound to find us.’

Tom raised his head a little looking downhill to where the noises were coming from.

‘Move uphill Ed, slow and low like. He can’t have seen us.’

‘What about the dog?

‘Don’t sound too bright if he’s making that noise to get him to come back does he? Come on boy, move!’

The two started to half crawl, half stumble up the hill keeping as low and as quiet as they could while they made their way back towards the path.

They almost stumbled onto it through a stand of hazel that someone had coppiced years ago, now left to straggle. Tom stopped, and froze, still, barely, in the cover of the trees.

‘Bugger’s come up the lane and onto the side path. Standing up there now.’

‘Who is it?’ Ed asked.

‘Dunno. No shotgun, not Chucker or his keeper.’

‘What’s he doing?’

‘Just standing there.’

‘Waiting for the dog?’

‘Maybe.’

Tom was like stone, unmoving, eyes fixed and his voice was the sound of a leaf falling. Ed could tell it as there but he wasn’t sure how he could hear it. It was almost as if he could feel Tom’s thoughts in his head rather than through his ears.

SNARE

Part 2

They dropped down to the side of the field out of sight of prying eyes in the almshouses, into the shade of high old hedgerows. A shallow depression lay between the hedges forming a dark, green lane that ran up the hill by the side of Chucker’s 30 acre and on into Dumbar’s wood. Tom kept up a good pace in the warm Spring air and Ed was sweating by the time they got to the top of the rise.

‘Right, we can slow down now.’ Tom said, his voice quiet.

‘What we doing Tom?’ Ed asked in a whisper.

Tom stopped and crouched by the side of the lane.

‘Right, we’re going to go down the other side of the hill in the wood. There’s a few runs I put snares on last night. Need to check ’em.’

‘Snares? Shit we’re going to be in big trouble if we get caught. That what the bag’s for?’

‘What do you think?’

‘Tommy, what do you want rabbits for?’

‘Dad likes them, nice with a mustard sauce’ He laughed. ‘And old Carslake the butcher takes them for a few quid each.’

Ed considered this news.

‘People still buy rabbit then?’

‘Lots of farmed rabbit about.’ Tom nodded to the woods, ‘But these beauties? Wild, natural, sustainable, organic, all that old bollocks. Sell for a premium to the right type.’

‘Who?’

‘Weekend Barbour brigade. Hippies who aren’t Vegan yet. Knit your own yoghurt types.’

‘Must be mad.’

‘Keeps me in fags. Now are you coming or not?’

Ed looked back down the hill and then at the gap in the bushes leading to the wood, then at Tom. They’d had good fun with the fishing and the money had come in handy. He wondered if Tom might cut him in on some now. He was always skint these days.  Be in big debt if he went to Uni.

‘All right, go on then.’

‘Good lad, let’s get on.’

The two of them rose and crossed the lane, disappearing into the deeper shadows beneath the canopy.

‘Bit creepy Dumbar’s, never liked it.’ Ed confided.

‘Why?’

‘Dunno, feels funny. Lots of kids at school said so an’ all. Loads of bad stories about it.’

‘That’s why I like it.’ Tom said.’ All them daft stories keeps folk away. Lots of things in here you don’t get other places with people crashing about scaring ’em off.’ He stopped, and as if to prove his point a fallow deer buck walked across the path ahead of them. It stopped, half in, half out of the shadows for a moment, sniffed the air and walked on, unconcerned, to disappear in the undergrowth.

‘He’s kept his antlers late.’ Tom said ‘April? Should be shed by now.’

‘Big beggar wasn’t he? Ed said.

‘He was. Maybe he’s come to have you?’ Tom said, making a scary face and raising his hands in claw like manner.

‘Sod off Tommy. Let’s find these rabbits.’

Tom let his hands fall to his sides. He nodded down the track to where the buck had crossed the path. ‘Follow the big lad then’

They moved off down the trail to where the sun dappled the bushes and the path, and turned off to the left into the shadows of the undergrowth. There was a crash of something moving hard through the bushes and Tom pointed as the white patch and black horseshoe shape of the buck’s rump disappeared into the woods’ gloomy interior.

‘Should be lying up, daft animal.’

‘Forget him Tom, let’s find these rabbits.’ Ed said

‘Bit odd though isn’t it?’

‘What is?’

‘Bloody big buck wandering about bold as brass in the day, still got his antlers this time of year. Weird.’

‘You’re not scaring me Tom. It’s just a deer.’

Tom was about to say something else but stopped and moved off.

‘Come on then.’

They descended into the deepening gloom of the trees. There was no more noise from the buck, and no birdsong broke the silence. Tom and Ed moved through the undergrowth as softly as shadows. Tom had said no-one came here, but they both knew game birds lay up in these woods. There was no game shooting this time of year and the rearing pens were on the other side of the valley, but Chucker’s gamekeeper could be planning out drives and seeing what was what anywhere on the land. Both listened for the sound of movement and their eyes swept the depths of the wood for a sign of the keeper. They carried on in this fashion, cautiously following the path across and down the hillside for a few minutes. Careful, silent progress. Then Tom held up his hand and pointed at a small ‘V’ carved into an Ash trunk.

‘Down this way.’ He whispered and slid off the track to the left.

Ed could see the animal run emerge onto the path as he followed Tom.

‘Why didn’t you trap it at the end?’

Tom stopped and looked at Ed. ‘And have Chucker or one of his boys see it? Don’t be daft Ed. I thought you was a country boy.’

Ed nodded. Tom always made him feel like this. Never quite as smart, quite as sharp, quite as at ease with the wilder end of life as Tom. Tom hadn’t been phased at all by the police calling about the fish. Never bothered about the teachers on his back. Never directly rude but always challenging. Always one better behind the back of anyone in authority. Hadn’t got him a job though. Hadn’t got him out of the village. Hadn’t got him the exams to go to Uni. He was smart in other ways; ways teachers and coppers didn’t approve of. Ed wasn’t sure he did any more. There was something attractive about Tom’s wildness but it scared Ed at the same time. Tom was like the buck, part of the same natural system, but unusual, larger than life, belonging to a disappearing world. Whereas Ed wanted to get out of Dumbar’s wood and away from the buck whose antlers should be long gone.

SNARE

Part 1

Ed thought he recognised the figure almost as soon as it turned into the narrow alley behind the almshouse cottages. His immediate reaction was to jump off the wall he was perched on and escape down the path at the side of old Mrs Joiner’s place. He could get back to the road that way without having to speak to Edgworth. It wasn’t that he disliked Tom Edgworth. He didn’t. They’d been friends of sorts at school, not that long ago, but Tom was an odd one Ed thought. Not aggressive as such, not mean really and not even particularly unruly at school. Some of the teachers had had it in for him. Bit odd of them really when you thought about it. They were ‘green’ and ‘animal lovers’ but didn’t seem to like Tom’s country ways at all. Ed remembered a ‘show and tell’, some daft American idea, where Tom had brought his ferret. Didn’t like that animal did they? Ed smiled. Not really that bad a bloke Tom. They’d spent one summer fishing for trout and selling them on. Trouble was they’d gone fishing with gunpowder packed in tins. ‘Bang!’ and all the silvery bodies floated up to the surface of old Turbemere’s lake and you scooped a nice bit of earnings. Tom said his granddad had showed him that trick. Better than sitting there all day with a line and getting nicked for poaching and no licence. One bang, five minutes frantic netting and off before Turbemere’s water bailiff could get a look at you, never mind catch you.

Ed looked up the alley again. Definitely Tom. You could tell by the strut in his step that he’d seen and recognised Ed too. Couldn’t walk off now without offending him.

 Problem had been the police were a bit hotter on explosions than in grandad’s day. Lot of bother, but no charges in the end. Couldn’t prove it, and Tom and Ed had just denied it all. Tom reckoned they just visited all the kids in the village. Ed hadn’t liked it. His mum and dad had been furious having police round the house. ‘I told you them Edgworths were no good didn’t I boy?’ his dad had yelled at him. Ed had nodded. ‘And that Tom is worse than any of ’em.’  Ed had nodded again. ‘Stay away from them boy. Won’t go wrong if you stay away from them. Weird buggers they are.’

‘Why weird Dad?’ Ed had felt emboldened to ask now Dad’s ire was turned elsewhere. His father had glanced at his mother who gave one small shake of her head. ‘Never mind boy. You find some other friends that’s all.’ So he pretty much had. Couldn’t avoid Tom completely in a village mind. But there had been no more fishing trips. And now they’d left school and both found that there was no work in a village anymore, with good exams or no exams. Time lay heavy on Ed’s hands. He’d more or less decided to go to Uni next year after all. Tom didn’t have that option.

Tom bounced down the alley between the back of the cottages and the tall yellow limestone wall of the old Sterven estate, long ago split up into its constituent farms and the hall sold off. Tom drew level with where Ed was sitting.

‘You going somewhere Tom?’ Ed asked.

‘No, rooted to the spot me.’

‘Sarcastic bugger.’

‘Well don’t be a prat then Ed Bayfield. Course I’m going somewhere. Why would I be walking down here otherwise?’

‘Going for a walk?’

‘I’d be going somewhere then, wouldn’t I?’

‘Nah, you’d be walking, but not to anywhere. ‘Cept back where you started of course.’

‘Well I’m not. I’m going somewhere.’

‘Where you going?’

‘What’s it to you? You me mum are you?’

‘She doesn’t care where you are.’

‘That’s true.’

Ed jumped down from the wall he’d been sitting on and fell in step beside Tom Edgworth.

‘Where we off?’

‘Oh it’s “we” now is it?’

‘Don’t mind a bit of company do you? I’m bored out of my skull.’

Tom looked his companion up and down.

‘No, that’s okay Ed. You can make yourself useful though, carry that.’ And with that he slung the old fashioned haversack he’d been carrying at Ed.

‘What’s in it?

‘Nothing.’

‘Why you carrying it then?’

‘I’m not. You are.’

‘Very funny. You know what I mean. Why am I carrying it?’

‘Cause you’re a prat and you’re bored.’

‘Ta very much.’

Tom turned left at the end of the walled pathway and vaulted the gate that blocked the way. Ed climbed after him.

‘This is Chucker’s land. He’ll go spare if he catches us.’

‘Well he isn’t going to is he? It’s Tuesday, he’s up the market in town.’

‘I thought they’d shut that?’

‘Nah, they closed the old one, the one that sold useful stuff. It’s what they call a farmers market now. Chucker takes stuff up there.’

‘What, lambs and stuff?’

‘Can’t.’

‘Why not?

‘Can’t kill his own these days, gotta go to an abattoir.’

‘What’s he sell then?’

‘Few veg his missus grows, few birds he shoots, potatoes, and a load of crap he buys in and slaps Sterven Farm labels on.’

‘Cheeky bastard.’

‘Ah well, gives us a chance for a little enterprise, doesn’t it?’

Ed hefted the canvas sack and looked at Tom.

‘Enterprise? What? Like the fish?’

‘You can chuck us the bag and go back if you like.’

‘I didn’t say that.’

‘Good. Let’s get down in the lane.’

THE END

Part 4 (posted 10 March 2020) was the last episode of ‘SET THE WORLD ON FIRE’.

I should have said so perhaps, but I thought it was obvious. Having tried it on a group of people this morning, I guess it wasn’t!

They all seemed to enjoy the story and liked the last episode, but there seemed to be a desire from a fair section of them to know more about the background and also to know: what happens next?

SPOILER ALERT – if you want to read it without hints and giveaways to the plot go to SET THE WORLD ON FIRE in WRITING on the menu bar before reading on (don’t worry it won’t spoil it too much if you just read on for now I think).

 

I have a very clear idea of how the protagonists got to the beginning of the story, including the placement of the kudurru in its hiding place before they moved house, but I didn’t see that as part of the story. I wanted the writing to be quite tight and felt that long sections explaining how they got where they are would simply have slowed the start down and removed he tension from later sections.

Some people felt frustrated by the man in the story being what they saw as too passive. They wanted him to say: `now hang on love, stop right there!’ at several points along the journey. I had hoped that it was clear from the story that she was the one in control of the relationship and that anything of that nature would have resulted in the car pulling over and him being firmly told he could get out right now if he didn’t like it. My feeling was that any friction of that type in the relationship would have been resolved a long time ago. He is in awe of her, physically and emotionally and completely besotted.

What happens next? The big question was how does this resolve itself?

This is probably the one bit of the story I don’t know – because it isn’t part of the story.

I wanted to take this couple, apparently successful and happy in a quiet moment in their life – she has recently come to the end of a big turning point in her career, they are in a committed loving relationship, they have a new house which they are looking to fill with their belongings they have had to put in storage for a while, and throw it all up in the air. The destruction of the storage facility prompts a reaction completely beyond what the man expects. This leads to a sudden expedition which changes his perception of where he thought he was in his life, his understanding of his relationship with the woman of his dreams and his perception of her as a person.

Where it goes from there depends on many things which would turn this into a much longer piece and perhaps is as dependent on the reader as the writer.

I have several possible scenarios in my head about where it might go depending on what sort of a story it wants to develop into. It could be a genre horror story, a psychological horror, a crime fiction, a love story etc.

However, if I did follow any or all those threads with the plot twists that immediately spring to mind (who did start the fire?) it wouldn’t be a short story anymore and I wouldn’t start it where I did, pace it how I did or lead to such an early denouement of sorts.

So the short answer is – it’s over. If anyone would like to run with it and think of an ending, a different start and flesh out the various plot strand, feel free (and I only want 25% of the royalties too!).

SET THE WORLD ON FIRE Pt 4

The room was as anonymous as the hotel. We showered and my pre-breakfast idea finally got an airing. Charlie seemed very enthusiastic, but I confess my heart wasn’t really in it. Call me an old romantic but the previous eight hours hadn’t really been my idea of foreplay.

In what for me was normally a period when that euphoric post coital glow left me feeling without a care in the world, all I could think about was how to broach the subject of what was in the back pack.

As usual she was way ahead of me. She raised her head from my chest.

‘You want to know what it is?’

‘Well…do I want to know why we abandoned everything to raid a burned out warehouse two hundred miles from home and get something out of my mother’s wrecked sideboard I never knew was there? Er let me think.’

She nipped my chest with her sharp little teeth, making me yelp. She leaped off the bed to rummage in the back pack.

The leather bag still stank of burning but the box looked okay.

‘You ready?’

I nodded. She opened the box and placed the contents on the small bedside table.

It was black, but not through the effects of the fire. It was polished stone, covered in carvings. It stood almost a foot high but somehow looked bigger in the room. Charlie handled it almost reverently.

‘What is it?’ I looked from it to her. ‘Can I touch it?’

She nodded. ‘Just be careful. It’s very old.’

It felt heavier than it looked. I didn’t know what kind of stone it was made from. I peered at the carvings. On the top half were exquisite pictures of what looked like a temple and stylised lions and someone with a curled beard in a chariot, riding over people on foot. The lower half was covered in pointy lines in a geometric pattern. I wasn’t any wiser.

‘What is it? How did it get in my mother’s sideboard?’

‘It’s a sort of Kudurru.’ She said, as if that explained everything.

‘I’m a simple soul.’ I said ‘I’m not the one with the degrees in archaeology and ancient languages. What’s a whatever you just said?’

She took it back from me and put it back on the bedside table.

‘It’s sort of Babylonian title deed. They kept the stone ones like this in the temple and gave a clay copy to the landowner to mark his boundary.’

I must have looked less than impressed.

‘But this one’s more than that.’ She said.

I nodded as if I knew what the hell she was talking about.

‘That,’ she pointed to the pictures, ‘is the defeat of the Elamites by Nebuchadnezzar I, about 3,000 years ago.’

Now I had heard of him. I wasn’t sure why. He didn’t come up in serious crime briefings very often.

‘And this, says their land is now his, his title document.’ She pointed to the lower design. ‘This is cuneiform script.’ She traced her finger around the stone, ‘and this bit tells you how he did it. This bit wouldn’t be on the clay versions.’

‘So it’s worth a fair bit?’

Her eyes blazed at me. ‘Worth?’ She snorted. ‘Everything.’

‘A million? Cos whatever, it isn’t worth getting…’

She laughed.

‘You don’t get it. This isn’t just another artefact, just a title deed or a military manual, or a history book, this is a gateway to power. This tells you how he really did it. ’

She gazed at me and for the first time I realised that I was a bit afraid of her.

‘This is about power. Real power. How to summon it like he did. Whoever owns this stone can wield it for real power in this world.’

I really didn’t want to ask the next question.

‘So who does own it Charlie?’

‘I do.’ She smiled at me. ‘We do.’

‘And where did “we” get it?’

She looked at me and the craziness I had seen had gone.

‘You know where, you saw me get it.’

I shook my head. ‘No, I mean before it was there.’ I had a fair idea where it had come from before it made its way into my mother’s sideboard. ‘This is from the Minassian case isn’t it?’

She smiled some more.

‘Never catalogued. Recognised it at once. More than that slob did. He’s not going to need it where he’s going is he?’ She got off the bed and started dressing.

‘But Charlie…’

‘What? Come on get dressed, we’ll go home now.’

‘Who does it really belong to?’

She looked at me like I was the densest pupil in a remedial class.

‘Me of course.’ She smiled at me. ‘Us darling.’

‘What was the fire about? Who knows about this?’

She finished dressing and put the stone back in the box in the bag.

‘Might be anything. Could be a gang war. Could be somebody burning evidence. You know what gets left in these storage facilities. Who knows what went up in flames in there?’

I raised my eyebrows.

‘I doubt Minassian knows. He never mentioned it, and it was in a box marked “assorted stele”. It was still full of them when it was catalogued by the evidence team.’ She shrugged. ‘There are a few loose ends. You don’t need to worry about it sweetie. Trust me. And the stone. Look at the Minassian case. I’m being promoted for that and it won’t stop there. With practice following the text I could be commissioner in ten years. Maybe politics? Maybe PM in twenty years. Sky’s the limit Sweets. We’re rolling now.’

She pulled a black automatic pistol in a pancake holster from the bag, tucked it into her jeans belt and pulled her top down over it. She swung the bag onto her shoulder and reached a hand out to me

‘Come on darling. Time to go.’

PENDRAGON 6

The silhouetted figure sat back a little.

‘What do they want?’ Came the voice out of the darkness. Davies was surprised to hear a chuckle in the voice.  ‘Oh the same old thing, you know: “… by degrees, and in silence, possess themselves of the government of the States, and make use of those means for this purpose.”’

Davies struggled for a moment, realising Pendragon was quoting someone. It sounded familiar, but as he had read pages of drivel about secret associations supposedly taking over the world recently he couldn’t place it immediately. He looked to Pendragon for help and raised one eyebrow in silent supplication.

‘Weishaupt. The supposed founder of the Illuminati.’

Davies considered this for a moment. Weishaupt was the Bavarian philosopher normally credited with establishing the Illuminati.

‘Supposed?’ he echoed.

‘Do you think the idea sprang into being in 1776?’

‘The Bavarian Illuminati were real, the Freemasons kicked them out and the Elector of Bavaria banned them.’

‘He banned everyone.’ Laughed Pendragon. ‘But yes, they were real. They just weren’t the first. That was their first attempt at being more open, at hiding in plain sight.’ There was a pause. ‘Is that really what you have come to ask me about? The Goleudigion?’

‘I’m not sure. I think so.’ Davies took a deep breath as he considered how much he should, how much he could, tell Pendragon. He was so far over any lines of formal procedure that may exist for his office that he had virtually nothing to lose. In for a penny he decided. ‘Do you know about Owain Blundell?’

‘Yes. On Sanctified ground too, between uchelwydd and criafol, mistletoe and rowan. Not your doing then?’

‘Us!?  No. We don’t do that sort of thing.’

Pendragon snorted.

‘I’ve heard that said often enough after someone has had an unfortunate accident’

‘It’s true.’ Davies said controlling his anger at the supercilious tone with all the strength he could muster. ‘Anyway, Owain was working with us, why would we want to kill him?’

‘With you? Pendragon snapped.

‘Yes. That’s why I’m asking about the Goleudigion. It was his material that gave me the first real evidence they might be behind what I’m investigating. Until then it was just hints and whispers.’

‘What was he doing for you? I wouldn’t have thought you needed any help from him in esoterica.’

Davies smiled in acknowledgement of the joke.

‘No. But I was looking at some disturbances which looked to be aimed at something a lot bigger than the normal meddling. Something that could reach far beyond us here. There were people in the Assembly involved.’

‘And you used Owain to find out who they were and what they were doing. Did you have any idea of the danger you were putting him in?’

‘Obviously not. It’s no benefit to me to have a dead practitioner on my hands. I wanted to know what it was, not evidence that it was serious enough for murder’

‘I suppose so.’ Pendragon acknowledged.

‘He knew it was dangerous. He didn’t pick the farm as a meeting place by chance. He was protecting himself from the one form of attack he was fixated on.’ Davies sighed. ‘He forgot you can kill people with kinetic energy as easily as with thaumaturgy.’

‘The Illuminati’ have always been pragmatists. People think they have a Grand Design that everything is working towards.’

‘And they don’t?’

Pendragon snorted.

‘They may have an aim, which is pretty much what I told you when I quoted Weishaupt. But a universal plan with every link in the chain laid out? I think they would have made it a shorter chain if they had, don’t you?’

Davies considered this for a moment before replying.

‘I don’t know. Until a few months ago I thought they were a group of Enlightenment Masonic wannabes who died out two hundred years ago.’

‘And now?’

‘I think I may have a semi-mystical sect on my hands, who’ve killed once to protect their plans.’

‘You’re under rating them.’

‘Yes?’

‘Yes. They’ve been around for centuries. And after their brief flirtation with openness they’ve gone back into the woodwork. And, as you have seen, one hint of exposure and they’ll strike without mercy.’

‘Yes.’ Davies chewed his lip as he wondered how to ask Pendragon for help. ‘I’m sorry about Owain. I would have offered him more protection if I had realised.’

‘He wouldn’t have accepted it, I don’t think.’

‘Oh! Why? How do you know what he would have done?’

‘How do you think he gained his esoteric knowledge?’

Davies paused as the implication of the question sunk in.

‘Yes,’ Pendragon answered the question he could sense was about to tumble out of Davies’ lips. ‘He was of the Ancient Order. If it’s any consolation, he hadn’t told us he was working with you. I would have advised against it if he had.’

Davies nodded his head. He knew that despite their common interest in this matter it was almost unheard of for the Office and the Order to work together since the parting in the nineteenth century. He was surprised though. Owain had not been suspected of being with the Order. Not that that would have prevented his post in the Assembly, but the Office liked to know who had allegiances other than their own in the esoteric arts when they were near Government.

‘You have no love of the Goleudigion then?’

‘Love? Only that of a sad parent who watches a child gone astray.’

‘Parent?’

‘The Goleudigion were once part of the Order.’

‘In Wales?’

‘Across those lands where the Order had once guided knowledge.’

‘The Illuminati are druids?!’

‘They were. Many years ago.’

‘But you are not..?’

Pendragon laughed.

‘There are no feuds so bitter as those between family.’

PENDRAGON 5

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The words hung between them like a portent. What did Davies want to know? He had thought about that question himself, even before Blundell had died in the yard of Kennixton Farm at St Fagan’s.

Owain Blundell had worked for the Assembly and before that for the Welsh Office, and with his knowledge of how things worked in the labyrinth of political machinery in Wales, he had been as well placed as any to help Davies. He hadn’t been unique in that though. There were many others who knew as much, and some who knew more. The problem for Davies was; the more they knew the more they were likely to be the target of his investigation rather than an ally. He had known Blundell was clean and that made him reliable, but what had made him unique was that he was both clean and already aware of the continuing interweaving of past and present, the reality of things the vast majority of the world had abandoned or never known. Davies didn’t have to explain, to cajole, to convince Blundell of the reality of what he was telling him and asking him to do. And now Owain was dead.

Davies felt a twinge of guilt for dragging Blundell into the firing line but only a twinge. Anger was his dominant emotion. Anger that what looked like his best lead had gone and anger that he was now forced into a line of action that could be infinitely more dangerous for him and less direct. It wasn’t as if Blundell had gone into the business unsighted. He had clearly been aware of some of the more arcane dangers when he arranged the meeting with Davies.

Kennixton farm had stood on the Gower for four hundred and fifty years before being brought to the folk museum at St Fagans on the outskirts of Cardiff. The museum had repainted the walls in the bright protective red under instruction from an antiquarian who happened, also, to be a druid. He had also very firmly recommended the planting of a Rowan in the garden. He hadn’t mentioned it to the museum staff, but this aided the locking of the spell he had rewoven as the house was reconstructed and painted. He had ensured that the carved figures inside the doorway were properly aligned and reblessed with mistletoe and birch before he left.

Owain had no doubt hoped these measures and the past mystical connections of the building would secure him from spiritual attack. Well, thought Davies, it was true no supernatural harm had ended his life. That had clearly been the physical work of man. A blow that had left Owain physically dead whatever his spiritual condition. Dead before he could tell Davies in person the results of his ferreting in the banality of the paperwork, that he had believed revealed so much.

What Blundell had managed to do before he died, was to conceal in thefarmhouse a flash drive holding thousands of documents culled during his work for Davies. In there, Davies believed, was the key to unlocking the conspiracy. How to use it was, so far, beyond him. The papers were unencrypted and perfectly readable but, as far as Davies and his team could tell, their meaning was far from clear. They appeared to be a collection of the normal documentation of government business. If there was a theme, a thread running through them Davies could grasp the end that would unravel it. The only solid confirmation of what Davies had had inklings of from the beginning, was one document, an internal memo between officials, suggesting the overarching involvement of the Goleudigion in something of extreme importance to the Government.

Davies, despite the nature of his day to day work amongst things living, dead and in between that were not generally acknowledged to exist, had considered the existence of the Goleudigion as a myth. There was something so silly about the idea of them that led rational minds to dismiss them, and at the same time, if they were more than a lingering fantasy they were almost too sinister to contemplate. The thought that they were real was so fantastic that he had no idea of how to start the enquiry through normal channels, even if such things existed within his remit. How could he trust anyone in the established order, if the thing had lasted throughout the years hidden in secret from even those tasked with investigating mysteries? Paranoia was the problem. But if they were real, it wasn’t paranoia, it was prudence.

Hence this meeting with Pendragon. He had put out tentative feelers to see if Pendragon would meet him with the aim of a temporary truce and alliance for their mutual benefit. Pendragon could of course be one of them himself, but the general tenor of what he was, suggested that was unlikely. He didn’t fit the profile of the membership in as far as it was known.

 

Given the widespread belief in the existence of an organisation bearing that name, in English, at least on the Internet, it was surprising that the profile on the books of the department was so thin. The vast majority of the Internet material, Davies put it at ninety nine percent at least, was the maunderings of neo Nazi fantasists and of deranged conspiracy theorists. As he had read some of that material he had laughed and wondered what the authors would make of the truth of his work if they heard of it. Probably dismiss it as fantasy, as he dismissed, with more justification, their nasty little anti-Semitic ramblings.

Pendragon sat waiting. Davies hadn’t really come to a conclusion about what to say to Pendragon even now, as he sat before him in the dark collections room in the National Museum. There were some things in which you had to rely on instinct in the moment, and he hadn’t known how he would feel until he sat here. He had said the word to provoke a reaction on which to judge the next stage. He hadn’t expected histrionics but he had half expected a sarcastic dismissal. If Pendragon were one of them, a simple way of deflecting Davies would be to mock him about believing in such silly myths. On the other hand if Pendragon knew nothing except the myth, he would not spare Davies’ blushes for believing in such popular hokum. His actual reaction suggested there was more to the matter of the Goleudigion in Pendragon’s view than simple myth. Davies hadn’t come this far to simply back away. He looked Pendragon in the eye as best he could given that the light was shining in his, Davies’ face.

‘I always thought they were a myth. It seems I may have been wrong. I want to know if your side of the hill thinks they are real.’

Pendragon had obviously had enough time in the moments in which Davies had made his decision. He answered without hesitation.

‘I thought you would know more than me. They are more on your side of the fence than mine you know.’

‘So they are real?’

‘Oh certainly.’ Pendragon paused and must have caught a hint of the scepticism in Davies’ face. ‘Not the New World Order drivel on the internet. Not the fantasy Zionist conspiracies of pathetic right wing fantasists.’ He explained. ‘But the real order? They are still very much alive’

‘And what is the “real order”?’

‘Good question.’ Pendragon said. ‘You’ve obviously read all the basic material? Done the standard research?’

‘I’m not sure there is any standard research on them.’

‘Oh be serious. You’ve read all about the groups known as Illuminati in the normal historical circles. You’ll have read enough of the gibberish on the net to discount that and no doubt you will have searched your own organisation’s records.’ He paused and Davies got the impression of a smile in the shadows. ‘How thin were they?’

Davies nodded in recognition of the accusation. They had been very basic indeed compared to the accounts of other secret societies and mystical groups. There had been the barest acknowledgement that the historical Illuminati had been active in Wales and fewer references still to a group going under the name Goleudigion. The records skated over their practices and hinted that they were a harmless and slightly deluded sub branch of Freemasons. The organisation’s hierarchy regarded Freemasons quite favourably, as at worst harmless, and at best a good thing for the binding of society under charitable intentions. Davies had no feeling about Freemasonry one way or the other. They weren’t the Templars of common mythology and they seemed to him to be a useful outlet for a desire for philanthropic deeds by stealth. However, whatever the common misgivings about them, they were hardly a very secret, secret society. Their halls were clearly marked and it wasn’t that difficult to join.

The sheer sparseness of detail about the Goleudigion however, had made him dig deeper, and the deeper he had dug the less benign that group appeared. But real leads to their current activities were very hard to come by. They had no halls on the high street, no charitable dances, no pictures of officers of the group in the papers. They lived far deeper in the shadows and appeared a lot less approachable than Freemasons.

‘You seem to know more about their working than I do. How can they cover their existence even from us?’

‘You know about Iorwerth ap Rhys?’ Pendragon asked.

‘He was our commander for the middle of the nineteenth century.’

‘He was. He was also a high ranking member of the Goleudigion. That’s when your organisation and mine fell out.’ He paused for a moment. ‘I always thought someone would have noticed how that split came just as the Blue Books were published and draw their conclusions. I suppose there was too much distraction and not all of it accidental. I underestimated the power of the Goleudigion.’

‘So tell me: who are the real Goleudigion, how do they fit into the Illuminati and what are they doing now?’

PENDRAGON INTERLUDE 1

Well what is going on?

Davies, if that’s even really his name, is sat in a dark basement full of stuffed things in a Welsh museum talking to some mysterious cove about Goleudigion who according to Davies’ musings have some plans for Wales, and perhaps the wider world, he doesn’t much like the look of. But what are Goleudigion? And who is Pendragon and why should he know anything about them?

And if Davies is the good guy in all this, why does he have a different name from the one Pendragon once knew him by? And is he really a police Superintendent? And what did happen to all those people on the train and at Cathays station?

Will all be revealed in the next episode? Or will something disturb the narrative flow?

Decision, decisions!