Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Skull Percy and the Dragon's Blade. (six chapters)

Skull Percy and the Dragon’s Blade.

Chapter One.
The Beginning.

Once long ago whilst on one of my many fishing expeditions, I was following the way downstream of a rivulet through a dense wood and I came upon a ruined church in a deep valley that stared over a long forgotten graveyard. Festooned in weeds and clutched by ivy, anchoring the very stones to the ground, the mounds still held sway. In many places the ground had given way and collapsed into the holes left by hastily digging men. Once important tombs had sagged towards the church stonework and had fallen onto the ruined path. Some had peeled open like a daisy in the sun and shed the covering onto the grassy beds of weeds and bushes.
There had once been a village that had flourished around the church, many hundreds of years ago. The plague had come and death had stayed until all had coughed their last. Trees and bushes had not taken long to reclaim the places that had belonged to the Greene Lord. Now it was the nesting place of birds and wild creatures. Lost from the outside world, overgrown with brambles and thorny trees this place had not been set foot in for centuries.
I became curious about the state of the church and laid my fishing tackle down against a crumbling wall. Close by, the churchyard wall had collapsed into the grounds of the long dead and I walked through the gap. Immediately I could feel the menace of what had remained undisturbed for many a long year, reach out to me. Shadows moved amongst the tumbled graves. They were in sight for just a few seconds and then gone in a blink of an eye.
This never troubled me, as I had been born with the second sight and had seen past the veil more times than I could remember. What I did know, was that there was gold here to be had with a little luck and digging. In my tackle bag, I always took with me a combined shovel and saw that folded into the handle. There were no roads leading to this ancient village and I had left my car at least a mile or two where the steep hill track, intersected the stream. The stream rapidly broadened out as a myriad number of small streams tumbled into the main cataract at the start of a deep pool. The situation was too good to miss and the chance of some descent brook trout dominated my thoughts. So I followed the stream deeper into the valley casting a juicy worm into likely still places at the side of the current.
It was early morning and I was in no hurry and had not realised just how far I had come as fish after fish was dropped into my bag and I kept wanting to see what was round the next bend. This was when I stumbled into the graveyard’s boundary and the ruined church surrounded by trees. An ancient yew tree grew against the church wall. Much of it has died, but the leaves still sprouted from branches that stubbornly refused to die. It had grown against the double doors that had once proudly defended the interior, but rot and insects has caused one of the doors to fall inwards. I pushed the branches aside and wriggled through the gap and into the deserted isle.
I knew immediately what this deserted place was. It was a plague village that had died somewhere about the mid sixteen hundreds. Bubonic plague had swept through London between 1665 & 1666 and had travelled across the countryside in a virulent wave.  Many villages had closed themselves off to escape the plague, only to find that the buboes erupted amongst those hiding in their houses. Hasty massed burials took place in communal graves, but those of wealth had themselves placed in tombs bedecked with the symbols of their wealth. As the road leading up to this ruined village had long disappeared under three hundred and fifty years of vigorous growth I felt quite sure that I would not be observed whilst I did a little grave robbing.
The first place to look would be inside the church’s walls to see if the local squire and his wife had been placed there by their surviving children. There was very little roof to be seen as rot and weather had played havoc in the building. Many of the rafters had tumbled down into the chancel and smashed against the walls, breaking into the tombs and sometimes spilling their contents onto the flagstones. I had brought a waterproof bag with me as a possible overspill for the brook trout I might catch. This proved invaluable as I could pick the goodies from the spindly fingers without touching them and place them in the bag. The local squire had been quite wealthy on the trading of wool and had used his money on jewellery and gold chains for him and his wife. I stood amongst the gnawed bones and bent down to pick the shiny objects from off the fingers, sometimes snapping them to remove stubborn rings. I helped myself to the silver buckles on the disintegrating shoes and continued to fill the waterproof bag. Silver buttons on the waistcoats were ripped off and added to the plunder.
Suddenly I became aware of a presence observing my collecting.
I turned and spoke to the solidifying figure, “Do not think that you might frighten me. I have seen your kind all of my life and as my father told me, if in life you could not harm me then in death there is nothing that you can do that would do me ill!”
The spirit smiled and replied, “I am fortunate that I have at last met someone of that nature. I do not desire to do you harm. That is my skull that you have in your hand and all I ask is that you treat it with some reverence! Whatever you find here, I have no objection in your taking possession of these trifles. They are of no use to me. In return I only ask that you take me with you when you return to the world outside. You need only take my head. This is a boring place to be, year after year.”
I asked him, “How come you were buried in all your finery and not robbed before interment?”
“My wife and I died before the plague took hold and when it came, it took away so many so quickly, that all thoughts of plundering my tomb for the wealth within it ebbed quickly away. I was called Sir Percival Treggorron during my life here. My wife died just before King Charles the second returned to this land. I saw him arrive and seeing no prospect in London at that time, returned to my holdings to farm wool with my sons. I continued to grow rich and prospered. My sons became successful also and managed the holdings as I grew older. I died here just before the plague struck and my sons interred me in the tomb, not thinking that a whirlwind of misery was embarking from Eyam. As the plague took its grisly hold many died in their homes and this now hidden valley became forgotten and taken over by an impenetrable woodland. It did not take long for the road into this estate to vanish over the centuries and none came near so this place became forgotten.
My sons and the people of the village that served the estate dug communal holes in this graveyard and rapidly filled them as the weeks passed. Soon food began to run out and those who were left, fled and died just as quickly, running away from the pestilence. Every soul that lived here departed and followed the light. I did not and stayed here too long, waiting for someone to discover us so that I could rest in peace. I was here so long that I lost my way. Look amongst my bones and find the Dragon’s Blade that I carved as a boy from the yew tree that hugs the brickwork still. This tree has fed upon the dead in this churchyard for hundreds of years. It has power that can be harnessed by one such as you. It will take you wherever you want to go, leaving your body behind, safe until your return.”
I bent down and searched through the disintegrating skeleton until I found Sir Percy’s belt. There inside the rotting leather scabbard I found a most remarkable object. It had been carved from the hard, dead and seasoned yew wood. The blade was as long as my wrist to elbow and the handle had been carved to a grip that suited my hand as if tailor-made. The wood showed no sign of rot and was hard and shiny to the touch. Towards the end there was an oval hole towards the point of the blade. At the handle end the base had been carved into a dragon’s head with two hollowed out eye sockets that stared deep into mine. The mouth was open and the teeth hidden inside the head. The jaws were wide, like an alligator’s. As I picked it up, I could feel the souls of the people that had died by this knife surge into my arm. I dropped it onto the pile of bones that was all that was left of Sir Percy. I felt a chill run up my arm from that brief contact.
“It has that effect to begin with,” commented Sir Percy. “Pick it up with your gloved hand and consign it to the bag you have placed the jewellery that you have collected. We can deal with that later. Come, the sun will soon go down and you do not want to be in this area when happens. Many here died mad and in terrible pain. They will flock to you and make you share their misery. Your father was wrong. The deranged dead can harm you through your thoughts and dreams. You have much to learn, my new friend, much to learn.”
I picked up the wooden blade and dropped it in the bag of treasures along with the skull and gave a quick poke amongst the bones upon the flagstone floor to see if I had missed anything else of value. I saw the glint of gold around the neck of the other occupant of Sir Percy’s tomb.
“That would be Abigail,” Percy mentioned. “She was my wife of long ago. Take the necklace and her rings as there is no point in leaving them here. She has long gone towards the light and pursues her own way in the after-life. Come, the shadows lengthen and darkness will soon fall. Let us be on our way before you tempt fate and find yourself followed home by such that would do you harm.”
I took his advice and made my way out of the ruined church, picking up my fishing tackle on the way. The sun was slipping down into the wild and unkempt trees casting long shadows across the graves. Something had shared my ghostly friend’s long sojourn in this place of death and was reluctant to see him go. There was an ambiance of hatred seeping out of the communal graves towards me and that speeded up my withdrawal from that village of the dead.
I quickly folded up my rod and slipped it still made up, into my rod-bag and made my way back upstream, carrying my haversack, heavy with brook-trout and precious pieces of jewellery. It was still light as I approached my car with the sun about to slip over the rim of the hill. I opened the door and placed my fishing tackle on the passenger’s seat. The rucksack dropped into the well and I slid the rod between the seats. I was aware of my new found friend as he sat in the empty seat while I sat and fired up the engine.
“Mercy!” He exclaimed, as I began manoeuvring the car to face the way I had come and switched on the lights. “What kind of carriage is this? Where are the horses? What powers this contraption? Good Christ in Heaven where did those lights come from? What kind of candles do you have mounted at the front?”
I could not but laugh and replied, “We have come a long way since you died, three-hundred and fifty years ago. The world has changed beyond anything that you could imagine whilst you have been incarcerated in that ruined church. You will find that many things have changed and not all for the better. There are many more of us on this Earth than in your time and some cities number millions of people living there. We can if we wish travel to all parts of this world by using machines that fly, carrying hundreds of people in them. We will soon enter what we call a motorway and at speeds that you could not envisage. I need my concentration so I ask that you just look at the scenery going by until I speak to you again.”
My ethereal companion became very quiet or was dumbstruck as I navigated the small country roads retracing my journey. I took the approach road to the motorway and was soon hurrying along at seventy miles per hour. It was not too long before we entered a junction and I sent the car onto a country road towards the cottage that I had rented for the week. After about half an hour I pulled into the drive in front of the thatched cottage and switched off the ignition.
“This is where I am staying for a while, Sir Percival,” I remarked as I got my things from out of the car. “I am on a holiday from my work, for a short while and have rented this cottage until the next few days. Come inside while I gut and prepare my fish for my tea.”
I opened the door and my new friend floated along in my wake and was once again startled when I switched on the lights.
“What alchemy is this,” he asked?
“It is not magic, just science that has progressed a long way from candles,” I replied and tipped out the fish onto a newspaper to gut them.
“What is this flimsy book you are going to soil with the innards of your fish? I have seen pamphlets much smaller than this and with fewer words. These pictures are in colour and look real, not painted! Can you spread the sheets out so that I may read what I can understand?”
I explained as best I could what a newspaper was, as I worked on my fish, dropping them onto a frying pan on a medium gas heat. On the floor was my fishing haversack and inside were the bag of valuables, skull and wooden blade. I emptied the contents onto the spare unused pages of the Herald and only then realised what I had picked up from the chancel in the semi-darkness of the ruined church. There was an awful lot of gold and precious stones in amongst the litter of finger bones.     
Once the fish was done I tipped the fried trout onto a plate and buttered some bread staring at the treasures heaped on the newspaper whilst I ate my tea. I made no attempt to touch any of it with my bare hands and pulled my small landing net out of my fishing bag. Placing this on the back of my chair and the table I slid the items into the net and put it in the sink and turned on the tap. Soon all the dirt was removed and hopefully all traces of the plague as I let the hot water run over the items. Just to be sure I soaked them in bleach and rinsed them again drying the objects with a kitchen towel. I also sponged down the skull with bleach and ran the hot tap over it just to make sure. There were broaches, gold chains, pendants, rings, silver buckles and buttons making quite a heap. Many of the rings were firmly held in place by swollen knuckle joints, so I took out the secateurs from the tool drawer and began to snip the bones in half, releasing the rings from their centuries grasp. Once this was done I examined the find and realised that there was enough there to pay a lot of bills and keep me fed and housed for a very long time.
Most of the chains were heavy and chunky making a good weight. One of the broaches had a ring of six pea sized emeralds and a sapphire the size of my thumb in the middle.
“Sir Francis Drake gave that to my great-grandmother, maybe for services rendered, after he took it from a Spanish galleon’s captain. It has been passed down ever since. I kept it in a sealed pocket where my grasping sons would not find it and left instructions that I be interred with the waistcoat buttoned up securely over my chest. The rings would not come off unless they mutilated my fingers and they were not prepared to do that,” he told me and bent towards his skull that was resting on the table and continued. “King Charles the second returned to England and all was in a great turmoil on the day I died in 1660. My sons had hardly settled into running the estate when the pestilence struck a few years later. After that there was no time to be had to go looking for my treasures as all began to die. I saw it all and from the grave could do nothing, but watch, as nearly all of my family and farmhands were buried in the churchyard. The poor souls were grateful to go and leave this realm. I somehow got left behind and had to wait the centuries out until you came. I cannot journey too far from my bones and as long as you have my skull, I can travel with you, if you are willing? I would like to see something of this strange world of the future.”
I laughed and answered, “With what you have allowed me to take from your bones, I shall be well able to travel wherever I want to go. First I think that I owe it to you to disinfect, clean and polish your skull and make a carrying case for carrying your presence around. I take it that you do not need to see through the eye-sockets of the skull, so carrying you around inside a container would be OK?”
“That would do fine my psychic friend, as my essence can travel outside of the bones for a limited distance, shall we say from the church to the graveyard wall! I have spent many days stood just inside that boundary staring into the distance, wondering if anyone would come and break my lonely vigil. You came, released me from that penance and yet I do not even know your name?”
I looked through him and tried to focus my eyes upon his shade and by concentrating I managed to make him more solid than wisp and said, “My name is Luke Johnson and until a little while ago a designer of machines until the need for my talents passed. Now with what you have allowed me to take from your grave, I shall not need to work for a living any more. Tell me about the dragon handled blade, while I clean and polish it.”
The wood was abnormally hard and I needed to work hard to get the polish into the grain of the wood with a urethane compound, while Sir Percy told me the history of the strange blade. I could feel the eldritch power lodged inside the inanimate object seeking my touch.
“I was a King’s man and fought against the pious puritans during the Civil War, leading small hunting parties into Roundhead territory and disrupting their ridged proceedings by killing a few of them in the night. This is when I became aware of the power of the dagger that I carved from that sinister tree when I was a boy. It soaks up life from the blood it sheds. The Dragon’s Blade will slip through a steel vest as if it were cloth. When I carved it from a long dead branch, I felt that my hand was guided by some unseen force emanating from the tree. I blunted many knives in my efforts to craft that blade. It was some time later as a man that I discovered what the blade would do. I found that if I concentrated my will upon the dagger and looked through the knot hole, I could travel outside of my body and see what other people were doing. When my troupe were hunting Puritans I found the eldritch power of the blade a useful talent for finding the enemy and where the guards were. Many a time I wandered through their camps, unseen and was able to arrange a surprising number of deaths without my men and I coming to any harm. I also found that at night, providing I kept a hold of the handle, I could not be seen! With practise and concentration I also found that in my astral form it was possible to move small things. You cannot imagine what mayhem you can cause by taking a flame from a camp-fire and setting alight the munitions tent. My men feared me, but were glad of my powers that kept them safe.”
“You sound as if your civil war was very eventful, Sir Percy,” I replied and gripped the dagger by the handle.
Instantly I felt the strength of the entrapped souls surging up my arm and felt myself judged to be allowed to use the power of its eldritch secrets for my own needs. I would be expected to repay the ‘gift’ at some later date and I agreed to the covenant. What that really meant took some time for me to realise, but I did not regret the bargain that the Dragon’s Blade had made with me.

Skull Percy and the Dragon's Blade.Chapter 2.Wealth beyond the dreams of avarice.

In the morning I rose from my bed still reeling from the events of the night before. I stared at the dressing table where I had placed the skull before getting down to sleep. The strangest thing occurred to me and that was the macabre item seemed to be full of life. There was a brightness about the eye sockets that did not make sense as its recipient was over three-hundred and fifty years old and dead! Of Sir Percy I could see no trace in the bedroom, so I dressed and made my way to the kitchen thinking about breakfast.
To my amazement I could smell bacon as I opened the door and there was Sir Percy at the gas stove busily cooking my breakfast. He was turning the bacon over by picking hold of the rashers with his fingertips and flicking them onto a bed of mushrooms. Two eggs sat in the boiling fat rapidly turning colour and I stood transfixed in disbelief.
“Good morning, Luke, this instant heat is amazing,” remarked the ghost. “I watched what you did to cook your fish. All I needed to do was to turn the knob and flames burst into being, so I thought that I would get you your breakfast. I found food in that cold white box and the rest of the story is in this pan! Hungry?”
“Indeed I am,” I replied and sat down at the table. “I must admit that I never expected that you would cook for me! This morning I have it in mind to take you into the town and visit a leather craftsman who is a friend of mind. I want to have made a leather carrying case for your skull and a scabbard for the Dragon’s Blade. I thought that it should be possible to combine the two items so that I could carry them on my belt. Once that it done I can see no reason not to do some travelling and show you what has happened to our world in the last three-hundred and fifty years! I also need to turn some of this jewellery into money. That will need to be carefully done, as finding valuables such as these does not mean in these times that you can keep them. I would need to establish ownership. That broach for instance would need to be broken down and the stones sold separately at auction. I have a friend who moves in the precious stones and gold mercenary world. He will keep his mouth shut for a percentage share of the sale.”
I began wrapping the ‘Blade’ in Clingfilm so that it could not make flesh to wood contact with the person that would make the scabbard. Once I was satisfied that the effect of the blade had been insulated, I sorted out the precious stones and gold chain, placing the rest, including the broach in a sealed plastic bag. This I then hid in the bottom of a jar of coffee and put it in the cupboard with the rest of the tins and bottles. I slid the blade into the sleeve of my jacket and the skull inside the armpit of the same sleeve, safely bagged up so that it could not be easily seen.
I was careful to lock the front door of the cottage behind us and placed the bundle in the car, with the seatbelt securely tying it down in the passenger’s side. This did not bother Sir Percy and he just sank into the fabric of the chair and watched what I did to fire up the engine and put the car in gear. He was fascinated by the massive changes in housing and roads filled with traffic. For a man who had been imprisoned for three hundred and fifty years from the outside world, he was adapting well. It was only then that I realised that he was looking at the world through my mind! He had started to do this when I had left him with the paper after cooking and eating my tea. I suddenly realised that there would be a massive shift in written English from his time and he had managed to read and understand a modern day paper! He was using me as a sounding board to get answers to his questions about what he could see.
“Sir Percy,” I exclaimed, “I can feel you ferreting about in my mind as we travel along. It would have been better manners if you had asked!”
“Sorry young Luke,” he replied, “but this is the first time I have done this with a living person and I meant no offence. I have not gone looking into your private affairs, just into your understanding of this confusing world. Besides it saves me having to constantly ask questions.”
I accepted that and concentrated on my driving and the hunt for a parking space close to where the two shops were situated. The first place that I visited was a jeweller’s, run by an old friend of mine that had turned precious stones into money for me in the past. The sign on the door said, ‘We buy Old Gold.’ John Kettle certainly did and managed to keep a few steps away from the law in doing so.
I swung the door open on the empty shop and said, “Morning John. Busy?”
He looked up and swiftly slid something into a drawer out of sight and answered, “Luke! As I live and breathe! It’s been a while since you last poked your nose into my business! What have you got?”
You could always be sure that my old ‘iffy’ friend was direct and to the point.
“I came across some very old pieces of jewellery and gold chains very recently. They have to be at least three-hundred and fifty years old. Possibly they are Tudor or Civil War. Not sure, quite, but certainly of that age group. I have more, back at the place where I am staying and I am looking for a fair price and an advance on what you will get through auction. What do you say?”
After some examination with a magnifying glass, he put the pile of assorted rings and chains to one side and said, “You are right. They are very old and the cut on the diamonds tell me the age. You have more, you say? How much more?”
“You would be surprised. I will bring the rest in for your perusal after you have placed these on auction. Now how much are you willing to advance on what we have in front of you,” I replied and sprung the latch on the front door putting the closed sign in place.
John opened the safe and pulled a roll of notes from out of a box, secured with an elastic band and said, “There’s a grand here for starters. What I have seen should fetch at least five, maybe six thousand at the auction. My cut will be fifteen percent of what’s in this bundle, plus the advance, whatever the complete amount will fetch. Bring me the remainder and I will see what I can do. Come back in a few weeks’ time, after the auction with the rest.”
“Thanks John,” I replied and made for the door, stuffing the bundle into my pocket. “What I have left at the cottage will impress you. I have an Elizabethan broach with a centre sapphire the size of your thumb, ringed with six emeralds the size of peas! You might need to break it up and sell the jewels separately.”
With that I made my way to the leather goods shop where another old friend of mine owned and worked as a bespoke riding boot and shoemaker. Aubrey Blanchard had been trained by his father who was a master craftsman in the leather trade and had passed the shop over to him before he died. We had gone to school together and had remained good friends over the years. He was one of the very few people that I had told about my ‘gift’ and would be fascinated by my tale about meeting my companion from the derelict church. I could trust him not to touch the blade with his bare skin, once I had explained the situation to him. We had gone on many ghost hunting expeditions around old manor houses that were open to the public. Sometimes when I held his hand he could see what was revealed to me and that was why I trusted him. The window of his shop was decorated with pairs of riding boots waiting for collection, leather handbags, purses and pairs of shoes.
I entered the shop and could hear the tap, tap of hammer on nails and the sound of the buffing machine as it took off the leather protrusions around the sole. The smell of worked leather filled the air and brought many memories back.
I yelled out, “Aubrey can you spare a minute? It’s Luke and I have an interesting job for you to do for me!”
There was movement at the back of the shop as my friend disentangled himself from the rope and boot-last at his workbench. He kicked his work-stool to one side and made his way towards me. The uneven clomp of his crippled leg came nearer and I could make out the shape of his crooked stance. We had become friends at school ever since I had chanced upon some bullies tormenting Aubrey about his crippled leg and foot. I went straight in and bloodied a few noses and after that the bullying stopped. Besides I had spoken to my long dead grandfather about this and he had gathered together other relatives and began a campaign of seemingly ‘bad luck’ against the perpetrators that kept them busy. Pens got lost along with homework. Aubrey used to think up new acts of misery to inflict upon those who tried their hands at bullying. After a while the penny dropped and they left us alone.
He gripped my by the shoulders and said, “Luke! Long-time no see! Where have you been the last six months? Coffee? Get on round the back and I’ll shut shop and we can talk. What brings you here, old friend?”
I pushed past him and went to the end of the workshop and through the side door being careful where I stepped. Sharp knifes were everywhere. Some had dropped from the bench and stuck into the floor, standing upright. Aubrey had a tendency to get absorbed in what he was doing and would drop the odd knife or two. He would reach for another and suddenly find that he was ‘out of knives. Eventually he would have a pick-up of what dropped upon the floor and do a re-sharpening exercise, collecting other tools that had fallen. As a craftsman he had little equal and was sought after by the gentry and horsey crowd. Money came to him and he was seldom idle.
I went into his living room and sat down at the ancient table and set my knapsack in the middle. Over a mug of coffee with a generous measure of whiskey I told him all about my find, the new friend that I had made and what I needed Aubrey to do. Then I opened the rucksack and fished out the skull and the Dragon’s Blade. I placed my hand upon the skull and gripped Aubrey’s hand and he could see the courtly figure of Sir Percy Treggorren come into view.
“It’s been a long time since I saw the departed. Luke and I used to go ghost hunting when we were teenagers. This is the first time that I have actually talked to one,” Aubrey said and let go of my hand to drink his coffee.
Immediately Sir Percy disappeared from his view.
“That’s what happens when he lets go of my hand,” I laughed and said, “We used to get some funny looks, two boys holding hands in a manor hall, or a flight of stairs. Now Aubrey, what do you think about what I have asked you?”
“Do you mind if I examine the skull, Sir Percy and see just how strong it is?” asked Aubrey and on my nod proceeded to do so.
After a careful examination he turned his attentions to the Dragon’s Blade, being very careful not to touch the wood with his bare hands. He began to measure the skull and draw on paper the various shapes that would best accommodate it in a carrying holster, incorporating the wooden dagger as part of the assembly.
“Stay in here and rest your feet John, while I try something out. I could be a couple of hours,” he said and swept up the skull and dagger, disappearing into his workshop.
Whether it was the whiskey or I was just plain tired, I fell asleep in the chair and woke up in semi-darkness. I made my way into the workshop where there was plenty of light and found my old friend holding aloft what looked like a small bucket, scabbard and a belt.
“Just in time, Luke. I was about to call you for a fitting. The bucket will protect the contents, as it has hardened leather outside and a soft padded interior. The lid fastens down with these leather thongs to keep the skull in place. The scabbard is similarly toughened outside with a soft, lightly-oiled, interior that has a loop over the handle, to prevent it from coming out without undoing it. I suggest that you wear it on the left-hand side with the dagger’s handle behind the skull. A long coat might be advisable to keep it well hidden. I have just such a riding coat that would do nicely. I made it for a gentleman who liked to ride in some difficult terrenes. Unfortunately for him the lion that the horse surprised leapt up and took him to the Promised Land.” Aubrey chuckled and added, “He never did come in for his coat!”
I took the leather-work from his hands and slipped the broad belt around my waist and the loose strap around my upper leg. Then I placed the Skull and Blade in their two receptacles and felt the items ‘blend’ into my body. It was the strangest thing! It felt that they had always been meant to be with me. The coat hid the two items from view, just as Aubrey had predicted. The darker shadow of Sir Percy materialised into view from wherever it was that he went to and hovered by my side.
“An excellent piece of workmanship,” ghost remarked and made a special effort to materialise in front of Aubrey.
He succeeded and the craftsman got to see the baron as he was in life for a few minutes until he disappeared out of sight, with a ghostly, “Thank you,” ringing in his ears.
I stayed the night and slept well on my old friend’s sofa, cocooned in blankets. We had breakfast together and I donned the scabbard with Percy’s carrying case. Giving Aubrey several hundred pounds for his trouble, I donned the soft leather coat and made my way to my car. Sir Percy made some adjustments to his astral form and managed to sit like a normal person instead of sinking part-way into the passenger’s seat. From here he could see the surrounding country-side and the townships that we passed through. The one thing that he could not get used to, were the vast number of people that thronged the streets, of all nationalities and colours. The road traffic made him wince and when we re-joined the motorway, passing the giant articulated Lorries at seventy miles an hour made him nervous.
“What is the matter with you?” I asked as the ghost moved away from the door as we passed an artic carrying crisps. “You’re dead anyway! What more can you have to worry about?
“If this waggon were to come off the road and my skull got smashed, that would be the end of my dreams of travelling! I would be locked to this god-forsaken piece of tarmac for the rest of my existence! No more travelling for me and no more excitement for you either as you would most probably be stuck here with me!”
I replied, “If I were to ease off my speed to that of a horse it would not be too long before one of those huge vehicles flattened us under its wheels. Sorry, Sir Percy, but that is the way it is and I can’t change the circumstances. We will soon be back at the cottage and you can ‘wind down’ while I get myself a coffee. Have you not enjoyed seeing what the future that you are now in has altered from the world that you knew?”
“It has been amazing, young Luke. Truly amazing! This world is nothing like the one I left, but so much more interesting. I shall be very interested in what that old broach of my grandmother’s fetches in today’s money. I looked into several jewellers windows while you walked by and could see nothing with gem stones as large as what are in that broach! It would seem that you will be a very rich man once that money is safely inside your bank account.”
“Well it’s all down to you Sir Percy,” I replied and swung the car around the last bend before we drove up to the rented cottage, only to find it in flames.

                                Skull Percy and the Dragon’s Blade.

   Chapter Three.
The Power of the Blade.

There was a large fire engine parked in the drive and a number of men directing the jet of water into the room overlooking the garden. The rest of the cottage had luckily been spared and seemed intact. I quickly parked the car by the side of the road and ran to see what if anything I could do.
A large man in uniform put his hand on my chest and said, “Are you the owner, sir”
“Not exactly,” I replied, staring over his shoulder at activity. “The cottage belongs to my aunt and I was staying in it for a few weeks to do some local fishing and use it as a holiday home. I was away for only one night at a friend’s house sixty miles away. Any idea when the fire started and why?”
“Well sir, we found evidence of accelerant in the furnishings. We think that it was arson as whoever it was left a lighted cigarette pinched between a book of matches, upright in a pan of lighter fluid. A nearby neighbour saw the flickering lights and called us out. Not a very nice homecoming,” he said and stared thoughtfully at my face and added, “Was there anything of value in the cottage, sir?”
“Only my fishing tackle,” I lied. “The furnishings were old and the whole cottage is a bit run down. Looks as if some renovation work will need to be done before it can be made liveable again, I should imagine. It’s a good thing that the thatch did not catch fire. My aunt will not be a happy soul when I tell her the news. What state is the kitchen in. Will I be able to get some food going?”
“Sorry to say, sir, that it had been ransacked and every jar of coffee, tea, sugar and flour has been emptied out on the table along with knives and forks etc. It’s a mess I’m afraid and will need some clearing up before you could get yourself something to eat,” the fire officer said and was given a sign by one of his men that the fire was out and it was safe for me to go inside.
“You had better go,” I replied and stared at the mess in the kitchen through the window, “No doubt there may be other urgent business for you to attend to. I have a lot of clearing round to do and some boarding up the busted windows. I dare say I can find a tin of soup or something to tide me over until morning. Goodnight Officer and thanks for getting here so quickly. The lot of it could have burnt down if the thatch on the roof had caught alight.”
“OK then sir. We will be on our way and you can expect an arson specialist sometime in the near future to examine the origin of the fire, so I would be obliged if you did not enter the room that was set alight. As the damage is so slight you may as well stay here and clear up the rest of the house,” he said and walked away towards the fire engine.
I stood with the sickening knowledge that at the bottom of the coffee jar had been a polythene bag with the broach, assorted rings and several gold chains. Judging by the multi coloured layers of coffee, tea, sugar and flour there was a nil chance that anything would be overlooked. Whoever had done over my rented home had done a thorough search of all those likely places that we honest people (Well mostly honest!) think are safe.
A deeper darkness coalesced out of the gloomy undergrowth and said, “Luke! Do not despair. Have a quick broom round and see what you can salvage and get a mugful of coffee down you while I give you some idea about what can be done with the Dagger’s power.”  
My mind was on fire and full of doubts and recriminations. I could not think straight. I had just lost a fortune that would have set me up for life, only to have some toe-rag steal it from me within days of finding it. I swept the floor’s mess into a tidy heap and gloomily salvaged enough of the brown stuff to make several mugful’s. The kettle was soon on the boil and there was plenty of milk in the fridge so a large mug, laced with whiskey made me feel a bit better.
Sir Percy materialised at my elbow and scornfully remonstrated, “Got over your self-pity? You have things to learn in a hurry. We need to track this thief down and quickly as the trail will soon grow cold. The blade as I said, will take you where you want to go. To save time, I will instruct you inside your mind. During the many campaigns against the puritans I used the blade to find them, not just in the here and now, but in the past. As a psychic and a medium you are aware that time can be bent on the astral plain. The blade will allow you to do this with your astral form. As you have placed me near your ‘living’ body I can add some direction while your body sleeps. We will go together back through time to when this scum entered the cottage and follow him to where he lives. You cannot touch him while you are in the past, but in real-time, you may be surprised by what you can do!”
I drank my fortified coffee and went to the toilet to make sure that I did not wake up sat in a swamp of poo! In the kitchen was a wedge that I hammered into the base of the door frame to, keep it shut. This was usually applied in the summer months to keep the backdoor open. Picking the comfortable old arm-chair I sat down and began un-wrapping the Dragon’s Blade, removing all traces of the Clingfilm from the handle and the knife-edge of the dagger. I could feel an emotion of anticipation begin to flood the room as I picked it up.
I could feel the influence of the long dead Sir Percy enter my soul and I grasped the handle in my right hand and drove the pointed end into the palm of my left. Lifting the wooden dagger to my eye, I stared into the oval hole in the polished wood. A few droplets of blood seeped out from under the point of the blade. Through that hole my consciousness flowed, carrying one other. I found myself floating in a mist that eddied and billowed around the still body of my flesh, but before I became lost I felt the spirit of Sir Percy beside me.
“Use the power of the blade and concentrate your mind upon the cottage and run the scene backwards by following me,” he insisted and led the way.
I watched the events unfold as the firemen arrived backwards at a fire that had gone out. Put their equipment away as the fire began to flare up and then going away as the fire increased as they left. Then I realised that the time frame was running backwards. Flames shot out of the living room and blew the window open. All became still and after some time, just as suddenly the whole place was curtained in darkness apart from a torch-light that wandered around the house. This was my burglar ransacking the kitchen and I found out just as Sir Percy had explained, I could not touch him! I put my hands through his chest twice, but to no avail. So we watched as he set the fire trap in reverse. It was quite deliberate! After shaking it over the furniture he placed a dish full of lighter fluid on a soaked cushion and bound a book of matches to a lighted cigarette and carefully placed it in the middle. He then went into the kitchen and began to search for anything of value, putting the material back into the containers. Now we had what we needed and that was the burglar’s presence so Sir Percy moved us into time forwards and we saw him leave the house. We followed him outside where he climbed onto a motorbike and roared off into the night with me floating behind him, attached to his soul. As I was now travelling forwards in time, although still in the past, I could keep in contact with the bike and hung on. I followed him as he zipped down country lanes and finally turned into the drive of an old end-terraced house on the outskirts of a small town. He got off the motor-bike, opened the front door and went inside. We followed him indoors, unseen, where he made for the kitchen to look at his stolen treasures. Drawing on the dagger’s power, Sir Percy bent time back again and we travelled swiftly forwards until the two time frames coincided. When we entered the here and now, I became aware that I could now touch the surroundings and feel them! By this time the man had gone to bed and was fast asleep with the stolen items placed in a side drawer of an old dressing table.
Now he could feel and see my astral form and I could touch him! I wandered around his bedroom and pulled the draw open to retrieve my property. The wood slid out of my loose grasp and it came out and crashed to the floor. He was up and out of bed in an instant and levelled a sawn off shotgun at me, switching on the light.
“Where the bloody Hell did you come from,” he hissed. “Give that bag to me or I will blow your head off.”
I changed shape as Sir Percy manipulated my image and saw his eyes fill with fear as a fiend from Hell strode towards him. I had no idea if he could do me any harm with the gun and what happened next was incredible. I leant to his side and reached round him and became two people in one body. Sir Percy gave me his strength, purpose and possession, so we struck out with the Dragon’s Blade bringing the unholy and sharp wooden instrument of death upwards. Time seemed to slow down for the burglar, but speeded up for me. I drove the dagger through his chest and up into his heart, rupturing one of his lungs as it sliced through. I felt Sir Percy let go of his control of me and I knocked the shotgun to the side, directing it upwards whilst keeping hold of the handle of the dagger, lifting him off the bed. His dying reflexes kicked in and his fingers tightened on both triggers, causing him to fire two blasts through the window, taking out most of the frame and propelling the shotgun across the room. His body stayed attached to mine through the dagger and my grip upon it.
Sir Percy shouted, “Remember what I told you at the cottage. Do not let go of the dagger while you are in this astral plain, or you could break the circuit to your living flesh and be stuck here.”
 I saw the burglar’s twisted soul depart his body and Percy did something that made the spirit accelerate away from us, leaving his cooling flesh behind. I knelt on the burglar’s chest and pulled the dagger from out of his heart. It had slid right into the man’s body, right up to the hilt as if made of the finest steel! As the blade exited, the skin pulled together without a mark to show what had just transpired, leaving a pool of blood over him and the bed.
When the pathologist opened him up in the morgue, the heart would show the damage done, but with no point of entry. The bloodstains in the room were found to be his, but without any wound to be found. Also as they searched this room for clues they would find no trace of DNA other than the thief’s. The shotgun blast had peppered the wall and had taken out most of the window and through that hole I could see lights going on along the street.
“I think that it’s time that we moved off, my friend. Although they will not see us, it is getting too long for you to stay in astral form; it will chip away at your sanity. Put the jewels in your fist and concentrate on holding on to them. Enter the portal in the blade and take us back to the cottage,” Sir Percy insisted and I raised the blade and stared into the emptiness of the portal. As I concentrated my mind, a picture of my kitchen and my motionless body began to fill the area beyond the blade. I looked around to make sure that all was well and stepped through. I opened my eyes and stared round the kitchen from my seated form, suddenly realising that in my fist was a fortune in diamonds and gold. A matter of a few hours had ticked by while I had gone backwards and forwards in time. The only amount of time that had passed was the time that I had spent in the burglar’s house. The enormity of what I had done filled me with nausea and I felt that I wanted to vomit. I still had the dagger in my hand with the point pressed against the palm of my hand, but added to it was the broach and all the other pieces of jewellery. I stared at the wooden blade that was bone clean and the skull that rested securely in the leather bucket, still trying to come to terms with what I had done.
“I told you that the blade will go through steel like it was rotten cloth! It is an amazing thing and almost alive in its own identity. It is an obedient creature and will do as you require as long as you keep hold of it,” the ghost chuckled and bent forwards to look at the loot that we had retrieved. “You learnt a great deal tonight, young Luke. A lot more than I intended to teach you at this stage, but your psychic abilities smoothed the way for an incredible performance.”
“What did the dagger take from that Man?”
Sir Percy answered, “Only his life force. His soul went on to wherever souls go to, so do not worry about him. If you had been there in the flesh as it were, you would have ended up plastered onto the wall of his bedroom with buckshot. Now the sun is coming up and I think that you should get some sleep. I will keep a safe lookout for possible thieves while you get your head down.”
I stood up and emptied the jewellery into the skull bucket and placed Sir Percy on top of it, lacing the top securely. Riddled with insecurity I took it to bed with me and placed it under the bed in the old china potty, kicked my shoes off and climbed onto the duvet.
I propped myself onto an elbow and asked the ghost, “You told me that you could not travel further than the graveyard wall at the ruined church. How was it that you could travel so far in chasing the burglar?”
“You will need a better understanding of the astral plain for me to answer that fully, young Luke. Put it this way, my bones are my home and the skull contains my spirit. You have placed it next to the Dragon’s Blade and that is a reservoir of arcane energy. Also I am attached to you and can go anywhere your astral spirit goes, providing you wear that special belt. So keep me safe! Enough is enough! Go to sleep before someone comes knocking on your door to examine where the fire started or you get a visit from the police.”
I managed to get five hours of sleep when I heard a banging on the front door and woke to hear Sir Percy say, “Up you get my young friend. Just as I predicted, arson investigators and a detective have come to see what happened here.”
After some hours the investigators came to the conclusion that this was part of a pattern that had been played out several times. Fairly remote cottages had been burgled and set on fire to wipe out any traces of the person responsible. The detective took swabs and finger prints from the living room and kitchen and complained about my clearing up. I told him that little of any value had been taken, if at all and I thought the setting of the fire was down to spite. I thanked them for their efforts and told them I needed to get in touch with a local builder/odd-job man to repair the window, redecorate the living room and remove the burnt furniture. Once that was all done I phoned my aunt to explain the situation and insisted on paying for the repairs myself as I could well afford it.
Over the next few weeks I ferried the jewellery into the relative safety of John Kettle whose eyes nearly popped out of his head when he saw what Drake had given Sir Percy’s ancestor. He gave me a big advance on the selling price of the gemstones and true to his word they fetched at auction (Broken up) a very tidy sum.
It was during this time span that the police pathologist did a full autopsy on the man that had robbed me. First he examined the body looking for any wound that could explain the amount of blood he had found at the site. There was nothing, only a bruise on the man’s chest where I had knelt to withdraw the blade. As he cut his way through the chest cavity and emptied the organs onto the stainless steel tray, he discovered the ripped open heart and ruptured lung. He was baffled that so much damage could be done without breaking the skin, and wondered if the noise of the sawn-off shotgun had given the corpse a massive heart attack. The creepy thing was that his facial features froze into a mask of terror as if he had been attacked by a fiend from hell. In the end the baffled pathologist entered a heart attack as cause of death as the alternative conclusion might cost him the respect of his colleagues and his position. Now that the chest cavity was open he could not easily prove that the burglar had died by massive heart trauma without an entry point for the large bladed knife that had killed him!
The police never did find out why he had demolished his bedroom window with a double blast of his gun, but a search of the premises yielded a lot of stolen goods.
Subsequent DNA examinations flagged up a number of unsolved burglaries that matched his genetic material, scattered around the area, so eventually I had a letter confirming that I was one of his victims. I wrote back saying that as nothing of value had been stolen the matter could end there.
I then invested most of the money and banked the rest. I told the real story to my old friend Aubrey over a few coffees well laced with whisky. I had a lifetime before me and a key to endless wonders and I intended to go there with my ‘spirit guide’ leading the way.  

Skull Percy and the Dragon’s Blade.

Chapter Four.

The Blade’s Price.

As time went by my skills with the blade’s power, enabled me to travel on the astral plain and step out of it anywhere and any-when. The only place I could not go to was the future, as Sir Percy explained; you cannot go to somewhere that does not exist yet. I bought a top of the range metal detector and began a hunt for ‘buried treasure’ by hopping back in time and witnessing the hasty burial of precious artefacts. I then came forwards in time until I was able to locate the burial place of the items that had been hidden. Sometimes to my annoyance the site was covered over by buildings or a motorway and the ‘loot’ was deep underneath the foundations. So I walked the ancient paths over the downs and between the burrows. The reformation of the churches and abbeys often yielded gold in various disguises underneath heavy stones that had been toppled over to hide the contents beneath.
I was rich enough without adding extra money to my bank account and investments, but became consumed by the thrill of the chase. Besides I had the willing help of a three-hundred and fifty year old companion whose memories of Tudor times and the republic often came in useful. I bought a deluxe motorhome and travelled the country in it, visiting at will anywhere that seemed of interest.    
Some years later I decided to pay a visit to the ruins of Fountains Abbey to see what had perhaps been secreted away when the abbey had fallen under the mantle of Thomas Cromwell, whose pursuit of the riches owned by the Abbeys was legendary. The last abbot at this huge place, William Thirsk had been taken, along with Adam Sedbar, the Abbot of Jervaulx to the Tower of London, where they were both found guilty of treason and suffered traitors' deaths -- hanging, drawing and quartering. What I needed to do was to travel back in time and witness the wealth of the abbey some time before the long greedy arms of Thomas Cromwell gathered them in. I was sure that whatever sat in that place of worship of real wealth would have been spirited away long before the soldiers came. Most of it would have to be left, so that when the abbey was ransacked, all that was found would satisfy Henry’s minister as he tallied up the spoils.  
I began a tour of the district looking for a farm B&B with evening meal not too far from the Abbey. I soon found out that Yorkshire hospitality leaves little to be wanting. The farm that I stayed at was only a few miles up the road and the amount of food placed upon my plate in the morning was small compared with the evening meals. I could have lived on that farm quite contentedly, but I think that my heart would have given up the ghost within several months! Meggan, the farmer’s wife, seemed continually concerned that I was on the edge of starvation. Sir Percy spent a lot of time in her kitchen just to watch her cook! After a while she began to get edgy and began to look around, so Percy being a gentleman left her to prepare my food. 
During the day we explored the extensive ruins trying to get a ‘feel’ for the ambience of the stonework and the many hands that had laboured here. Every time that we crossed the river I could feel the Skull twitch in the bucket that I carried him around in.
“Whatever is the matter, Sir Percy?” I asked as I crossed the bridge.
“I do not like crossing water. It makes me anxious, young Luke. If anything were to happen and I fell into that swiftly flowing stream, I could end up fixed in some dark hole under the river bank, far from your good self. My worst terror is being dropped into the sea. Could you imagine spending eternity a mile or more down on the dark sea-bed with nothing to do, but stare into the abyss? So whenever we cross water that thought comes into mind and I feel uncomfortable,” the ghost replied and twitched again in his bucket.
As I walked through the ruins of this magnificent Abbey I could only marvel at the thousands of bricks that were used to make up the walls and arches. The Abbey was founded in 1132 by 13 Benedictine monks from St Mary’s in York seeking to live a devout and simple lifestyle. The man-hours spent building this place beginning then and centuries after must have been staggering. Within three years the little settlement at Fountains had been admitted to the austere Cistercian Order and with that came an important development – the introduction of the Cistercian system of lay brothers. Nevertheless over the centuries the worshippers had given much to the Abbey and the monks had secreted many of these riches away from envious eyes, keeping their vows of poverty. Hence the Abbey was decorated with a lot of the wealth acquired, but the brothers still led a simple and austere life.
However during the Visitation of the Monasteries in 1536, Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's chief minister, had begun to take account of the riches that the monks had secreted behind their monastery walls, and to look for ways to relieve them of it. Cromwell's protestant zeal and his practical desire to please the king were united behind the cause of showing the monks to be corrupt and superstitious. Thirsk was forced to resign as abbot and went to live at the nearby abbey of Jervaulx. Instead of living quietly on the pension that he had been provided with, however, Thirsk became involved with the Pilgrimage of Grace. This was a revolt led by Northern Catholics in 1536, who sought to force Henry VIII to return to the Catholic Church, reopen the abbeys and get rid of Protestant reformers. Henry VIII, however, was not to be stopped. Abbot William Thirsk and the Abbot of Jervaulx (Adam Sedbar) were sent to the Tower of London, where they were both found guilty of treason and suffered traitors' deaths -- hanging, drawing and quartering. They had died without releasing the knowledge of the riches that they had salted away. As they had furnished Cromwell’s investigators with all that Fountains offered, there were rich pickings for the Crown. There were fine ecclesiastical vestments and vessels - copes, mitres encrusted with silver gilt decoration, silver-headed crosiers and chalices; plate, jewels and relics – including a piece of the True Cross that brought to the Abbey, pilgrims from all over Christendom. Another highly prized material was the abbey’s lead, and this was stripped from the roof, pipes and elsewhere, and melted down to form ingots, or ‘pigs’, which were easier to transport. Each pig weighed nine hundredweights. Not all of this was carried off as the Abbot William Thirsk a year or more before Cromwell paid him a collectors’ visit took what could be carried easily and secreted that away. This was what Sir Percy and I were going to hunt for. What made this difficult was that the public came here from all over the world to see what was left of this magnificent Abbey, so any digging would have to be discrete. How we would achieve this remained to be seen. First we had to find what had been hastily hidden. 
I had walked through the ruins from end to end and Sir Percy had ‘nosed’ into the stonework to see if the hoard was secreted in the walls, without success. With dozens of square miles extending from the Abbey walls across the countryside, wandering around with a metal detector would not do! So there remained one other solution, use the Blade and go back in time and follow the monk who buried the Abbey’s secret assets. Hopefully this would not be in the public eye and a quick workout with the metal detector would enable us to transfer it to the motorhome. This would then find its way to John Kettle my good friend and fence, who would then turn it in for cash. Ever since I had released to him the hoard from the plague village church, we had both become quite rich.
Returning to the farm I spoke to Meggan and told her that I had some things to do in my motorhome, so I would appreciate having the evening meal at the farm, but instead of sleeping in my room I would be using that instead. I paid her upfront, including the unused room adding that I might go early before anyone was up and about, so not to worry if the vehicle was gone. She was used to guests coming and going and thanked me for the extra money for the unused bedroom.
After I had put away, roast chicken and apple sauce with fresh vegetables from the farm garden I felt ready to start our hunt for the hidden fortune. I walked across the farmyard and entered my motorhome, locking the door behind me. Making sure that my bladder was empty and I was comfortable, I sank into my well-padded armchair. I had in my pocket a piece of the stonework, taken from the abbey wall. This I placed into my left hand and holding onto the carved handle I placed the point of the Dragon’s Blade into the palm of that hand, just enough to draw a small amount of blood. Immediately I felt the power of the Blade surge into my soul and the life-force from the plague’s graveyard and all the victims of the knife were mine to bend to my will. Keeping hold of the piece of stonework I stared through the hole and oozed through it towing the willing Sir Percy with me. Using the stone as a direction finder I took us to the walls of the Abbey where I had the stone from. I spun time back.
Night and day became a blur as the centuries peeled away and still the Abbey remained in ruins. I suddenly felt the stone tug itself from out of my grasp and place it into the wall and the glass windows replaced themselves. I slowed the spin of time, still going back to a time before the Abbey had been stripped of all things of value by following Thomas Cromwell’s collectors putting everything back to where they had rested for hundreds of years. Some of the monks resurrected as they were put to the sword in reverse. The great doors swung shut and there was turmoil as those inside tried to hide. Abbot William Thirsk came walking backwards away from the main doors. From that vantage point I directed our fall through time to a point two years before this sacking of the Abbey took place.
We entered through the same main doors that we had seen being opened with great force in reverse. The inside of the nave glittered with gold candlesticks with the flames of hundreds lighting up the fine tapestries. Our way towards the Abbot’s house would take us through many rooms, halls and the cloister passage. Eventually we came upon the heavy dark wood door that was the entrance to the private quarters of William Thirsk. Sir Percy threaded himself through the door and entered his study. There he found the Abbot knelt in prayer. Sir Percy took on the form of an angel and appeared in front of the terrified Abbot. 
“Open the door without being seen and shut it again once you are sure that there will be no-one coming this way,” my ethereal friend insisted. 
As soon as the door opened I brushed past him, unseen. My powers of passing through solid walls and wooden doors still needed some extra effort and skill, so I relied on Sir Percy to do this for me. Nearly five hundred years in the future my flesh and blood avatar sat in a comfortable chair frozen in time until I returned. If I died here then so would he, so I did not take anything for granted.
I materialised in front of the Abbot, with the form of an angel, spreading my wings and said, “The lord is merciful and has a message for you abbot Thirsk. In about two years’ time, Thomas Cromwell’s men will ransack this holy place. When they come as come they will, allow them to think that they have taken all of the Abbey’s riches. I am entrusting you to take these holy objects you keep in your study to a safe place where Tomas Cromwell’s spawn of evil will not find them. As for your future I can only tell you that the Lord waits for you and once you leave these holy walls expect to meet him soon. Your King will have no mercy, but be assured Hell waits for him. ”
He was to meet a cruel death, but out of mercy I could not bring myself to tell him how he would die. I had given him two years to prepare and to plan the secretion of the very best treasures of the Abbey. Knowing that King Henry would turn everything that the Abbey possessed into money to pay troops and his own use, I had no qualms about tricking the gullible fool into collecting together the ‘cream’ of the wealth collected here over the centuries. Now all we needed to do was to watch and wait. Eventually he sent for one of his most trusted monks and pulled out from his desk what we had been waiting for. It was an iron studded box lined with lead, filled with precious stones, jewel encrusted crucifixes and gold coins. It was nailed shut so that it could not be opened easily.
I had spun time forwards to this point, tediously listening in to all Abbot Thirsk’s conversations with his devoted followers and racing on to the next. The strain of repeatedly doing this was beginning to take its toll, so I heaved a sigh of relief when at last our goal was in sight. 
Sir Percy and I listened as the Abbot instructed his acolyte in what to do with the hoard of religious objects that he did not want to fall into the new churches’ hands. He was to harness one of the order’s donkeys and set off for the stone formation known as the Witches’ Pygge. He was to mark the place by chiselling the sign of the cross on one of the stones near to where he buried the box. It was already an unfrequented place with a bad reputation amongst the locals, who, riddled with superstition, believed that the devil by riding the Pygge could enter their miserable homes and take them off to hell. Only a holy man could endure the forces of evil that gathered there. I loved superstitions, as they made the manipulation of ignorant fools that much easier! 
I felt that I had done enough in this time frame and left Sir Percy to shadow the monk while I returned to my flesh and blood body to recuperate. Once I had a good night’s sleep under my belt I would set off in the early morning and find a parking space as close to the stone formations that I knew existed. I would then lock it securely and re-join my partner in crime in the deep past to stand guard over the plot until the present day. We would weave a legend of things partially seen at the situation that would keep the curious from ever coming back. Once in the present of the here and now I would use my metal detector and find the Abbot’s hoard and relieve the reluctant earth from its sentinel duty!
It took a little longer than I expected to find a place nearby to park the mobile home, but that would not affect the outcome. I had a decent breakfast and once again sat in my comfortable arm-chair. I took up the dagger and stared through the hole and became reunited with my ethereal companion. He had stopped time on the astral plain and was standing by the monk’s side waiting for me, lighting up the mists of time like a beacon.  From now on we had to be careful not to influence the monk in any way or make him fear the place that he had been instructed to take the religious artefacts and bury them before he had done so! I recognised the unfortunate monk as one of the first ones to be put to the sword when Thomas Cromwell’s’ men burst through the double doors into the Abbey. This would take place in a few days’ time. I felt a short spasm of pity, but realised that this had all happened before and our interference in the time-lines would make no difference. When William Thirsk was put to the question, he would babble about visitation by angels and would be just laughed at. He would die, hanging onto the knowledge that he had outwitted the inquisitors and they would be satisfied with what they had found at the Abbey. 
The abbot Thirsk had told brother Aldous that the box contained a piece of the true cross and must on no account be taken by King Henry’s new church. Here in this unholy place the relic would be safe and might even become a shrine when Catholicism returned.
We held back as the cowled monk plodded across the field towards the strange formation of a dolmen. This consisted of two sarsen stones that supported another on the top, making a doorway. Another stone lay flat within the formation. The one at the top that made the arch had the weather-beaten shape of a face that had fallen out of the hard material. This could be seen only at sunset as the shadows chased across the stonework. Thousands of years ago the druids had made this their alter and conducted sacrifices upon the other odd looking grey stone laid inside the dolmen. The end facing out had indeed the features of a wild pig that seemed to be emerging from the standing stone. The obelisk had the appearance of ‘something’ brooding over the grassy hill as the mid-afternoon began to turn towards dusk. The arch seemed to invite ‘something’ to come into the world and out of the darkness within.
Brother Aldous felt the first feeling of dread as he approached the stones when the donkey flatly refused to go any closer. He tethered the donkey by roping its front legs together and undid the harness holding the small chest. The sheer weight of the box brought him to his knees and he strained towards the stones by dragging it along the grass. All the time the monk prayed aloud and held his crucifix aloft to deter any demons that might be lurking by. Looking up at the movement of the sun across the heavens, the brother began to frantically dig a hole a few feet along the side of the ‘Pygge’ and fortunately found the soil soft. Satisfied that the hole would cover the box with at least a foot of earth he dragged the small chest into the cavity and watched it descend down into the earth. He had carefully separated the turf from the bedding and made sure that there was no mound to give the position away. The excess earth the monk scattered around. 
Remembering what the abbot had insisted he do; he took out the chisel and a hammer and began to inscribe a crucifix in front of the ‘Pygge’ leaving the stonework by the box undisturbed. If anyone came looking for the Abbot’s treasure and dug there, they would soon find out that the earth was empty. 
The next thing we watched brother Aldous do, was to brush the grass back into place where he had dragged the box, churning up the soil. In places he planted apple pips from the fruit that he had brought with him. These would grow and help hide the ‘Witches Pygge’ should anyone come here years in the future, in case something of this hidden treasure’s whereabouts came to light. Now he needed to return to the abbey and tell the Rev Father that the box of relics had been buried away from un-pious eyes. The sun began to sink and the shadows began to chase across the standing stone. 
With some help from me on the astral plain, I altered the face to become more prominent by laying a false image overlaying the shadows. The ‘face’ moved and turned round seeming to stare at the monk with a baleful glare. The far off sound of a rooting pig appeared to be coming closer to the aech, grunting and snuffling in the deepening shadows.
This became too much for brother Aldous and he grabbed the donkey by its halter, undid the hobbled front legs and hurried away from the accursed place. He sat upon the fearful animal and galloped away across the fields as the donkey bolted. The monk was too afraid to even cast a backward glance. When he returned to the abbey he would tell the other brothers of what he had seen and spend several hours on his knees in Christian devotion. 
The legend of the Abbot’s treasure would be told over and over again and handed down as a ‘secret’ over the centuries. Very few ever came close to the whereabouts of the William Thirsk’s box of relics. Those that did, did not stay long and Sir Percy and I kept a careful watch over the years. I was able to spin time forwards at a quick, steady rate and only slowed the ascent through space/time when prospective treasure hunters decided to seek if the stories about the Abbot’s hoard were true.  
A hundred years or so later, during the Civil War, a scouting party of Puritans decided to camp nearby the standing stones. Some of the men were local and knew the legend of the Abbot’s treasure and decided to have a look around the stones to see if they could find any clues to where it had been buried. They all had heard stories about the Devil’s ‘Pygge’ that stole souls whilst Satan himself rode the creature back and forth from Hell to the Christian world through the arch. None of them ‘believed’ these tales to be true, but deep down they all shared an uneasy respect for the possibility that there might be something that had started the old stories going. They began to talk about the legend as they made camp.  
“I tell thee, Amos the knowledge that Abbot Thirsk had some of the riches of Fountains Abbey salted away, comes down through my family. Before he died, brother Francis told my great grandfather that the abbot entrusted one of his faithful to take a large box and bury it by the Witch’s Pygge nigh on a century ago,” the sergeant insisted. “Here we are for some days camped close to a possible fortune and you will not come with me to look?”  
“Tis not that I won’t, Sergeant Blake,” replied Amos, “But I be a feared of this place. I be a Christian man and this place is not called a place of the devil for nothing.”
Several of the others in the scouting party began to laugh at Amos’s fears and taunted him, but he stayed resolute.
“I will go with you, but I will not step on that unholy ground. I will hold the horses while you dig with your short swords and that is all I will do! I want nothing to do with the digging up of holy relics and in such, no part of the dividing of the spoils,” he replied.
In the centuries after Brother Aldous had scattered the apple seeds a small orchard had sprung up around the stones, hiding most of it from view. Sir Percy and I took up our position under the arc of the dolmen and waited to see how things would develop. My ethereal friend took on a skeletal form with curly horns growing from his forehead, clad in a monk’s cloak and habit. I altered my appearance to a being similar to his, but with my horns projecting out making wearing of the hood difficult. Both of us made our bony figures over seven feet tall and moved over to the shadows of the apple trees. I spread a layer of Ectoplasm over the stone ‘Pygge’ so that the creature would ‘rise’ from the prostrate grey stone as if it were the creature’s home. 
We watched as the small band of horsemen rode into sight and reached the copse to dismount. It was mid-day, but overcast with dark rainclouds gathering above the dales. In the thicket of feral apple trees, it was dark and quiet. The men left the mounts with Amos outside the edge of the trees and pushed themselves into the brambles and tree-trunks, making for the stones. They hacked and slashed their way right up to the side of the stones. Several of them got down on their knees and examined the stones close to the ground and when one of them saw the crucifix chiselled into the front of the pig-stone he called the others over.
“Look at this,” he said in triumph, “This is the location mark that the brother hammered into the rock to neutralise any evil spirits. Get your short swords out my lads and dig. There could be a fortune under here.” 
Two of the men began to dig in the soft soil and soon were scooping out the earth with their hands to no avail. Sergeant Blake pushed them away and plunged his sword down into the sandy bottom. He could feel nothing like a small chest and pulled himself out of the hole.
“That crucifix had to mean something or the monk would not have spent time cutting it out in this fearful place. Take your swords and push them down into the earth around this stone and see if you can feel any resistance. Start right by the edge and work out. Do not give up hope yet. I can feel that there is something here.”
The clouds darkened even more and the thicket became very oppressive, as the sun was cut off by heavy dense clouds. Rumbles of thunder began to roll across the plains. There was an audible grunt that bounced off the trees, followed by a snuffling sound. A dark shape began to take form as it ripped itself from out of the stone ‘Pygge’ and lurched towards the soldiers. 
From out of the shadows emerged what looked like two demons from the depths of hell. They were much taller than the men and moved towards them with shuffling steps. Naked skulls adorned with horns and glowing eyes filled the trapped men with insane terror.
Sergeant Blake screamed and lunged at my skeletal form with his sword only to be met by a wooden blade that slid through his ribs like rotten cloth, drinking his life force and turning him into an old man. He began to come apart and fell off my blade onto the ground as he rotted away. The rest of the men tried to flee from the scene but became entangled by the wild blackberry brambles. At the icy touch of Sir Percy’s skeletal hands, two more died of terror before making it to the edge of the thicket. The one that made it to the horses became completely maddened by what he had seen. Lightning split the sky and heavy rain began to fall. The terrified horse reared up and kicked him in the head as he dropped to the ground. Amos managed to remount his horse and released the rest, as he caught sight of a huge wild boar with tusks as long as his feet, come stamping out of the apple trees. He would never forget the glowing eyes and the thing’s companions. It would have been as tall as the shoulder of his horse. Two impossibly tall monks came out of the undergrowth with skulls adorned with horns similar to a ram’s where their heads should be, dressed in black and shadows. 
Amos never did re-join his regiment and went missing believed killed. He made his way over the sea to Ireland and made a life for himself there.
As for Sir Percy and myself, we stayed where we were and watched the seasons come and go. Nobody came for the treasure seekers and they soon bedded down in the thicket, their souls long gone to another place. I spun the centuries on and stopped some inquisitive devil worshippers from coming too close to what they wanted as a shrine of sacrifice. A few visitations of the real ting soon made them change their minds.
It was sometime during the 1680’s that a witches’ coven took an unholy interest in the “Pygge’ as a means to strike back against the persecuting clergy that had condemned to death one Elizabeth Morse. 
Therefore, on the 20th of May, 1680, at a Court of Assistants held in Boston, she was indicted by the grand jury for, “not having the fear of God before her eyes, being instigated by the devil, and having familiarity with the devil contrary to the peace of our sovereign lord the king, his crown & dignity, the laws of God, and of this jurisdiction.” 
The result was a verdict of guilty, and Goody Morse was sentenced to death by hanging, but reprieved at the last moment by the governor of the parish who did not share the beliefs of the clergy that had persecuted her.  
The coven that was really operating around the ruins of the Abbey decided that the events at Newbury should be punished by a curse levelled against the accusers. To do this required a sacrifice of a child, preferably a girl below puberty. Even better would be the daughter of a clergy-man. One of the local churches had as a minister, the Rev James Clagg who had a large family. He was one of the Coven masters who held allegiance to  his belief in Satan, rather than to the diocese that had placed him there. 
So it came to be that Sir Percy and I witnessed a procession of a ‘High Priest’ followed by his acolytes dragging a small cart towards the stones. On the cart was a child bound and gagged. As they came closer we could discern that the figure was a little girl of about eight years old. The leader was holding an upside-down crucifix in one hand and a sickle in the other. The congregation were chanting in Latin as they trudged through the long grass of the field. 
“They are chanting a litany to bring forth the Devil and tie him to do their bidding in exchange for the child,” Sir Percy exclaimed and moved round the ‘Pygge’ to face them. 
“Not if we give them what they ask for before they harm the child,” I replied and sank back into the dark shadows of the stone arch of the ‘Witch’ to wait for events to unfold.
The leader used the hook to clear away the undergrowth leading up to the ‘Pygge’ and the others took out billhooks to do the same. Once a pathway had been cleared, they turned their attention to the little girl. She was stripped naked and spread-eagled across the stone on her back with her legs apart pointing to the entrance through the dolmen. Ropes were bound around her ankles and wrists. On the other end of the ropes heavy blocks of stone hung down the sides of the ‘Pygge’ making the movement of the child impossible. 
The reverend Clagg began to chant a litany, pausing every so often to let the others of the coven answer him. As he chanted, the ‘Devil’s priest’ climbed onto the top of the ‘Pygge’ faced the arch and bowed his head in allegiance to the evil force he believed inhabited the stones. He raised the sickle above his head meaning to bring it down, cutting through the young girl’s vagina to send her to Hell, in a ‘pure’ state. Fortunately she had by now become totally unconscious as the drugs that had been fed to her to ‘purify her soul’ had taken effect.
I emerged from the darkness within the dolmen, the Dragon’s Blade firmly gripped in my right hand. I had adapted my image to the same guise as to when the soldiers had come to steal the chest. The robes that I was wearing opened to show the bones beneath them. I was at least two foot taller than the crazed minister and bent my skeletal face down close to his. I stank of death and filled his lungs with corruption as I reached out for him with my left hand and grabbed him by the wrist, sinking the points of my skeletal fingers into his flesh. He rocked back and looked up, unable to take his eyes off the spirally pointed horns growing from my forehead, as they towered above him. The Dragon’s Blade was in my bony hand and it sliced down, severing the hand holding the sickle. Both hand and implement I dropped to the side of the ‘Pygge’ and James Clagg stared in horror, as his amputated stump pumped blood all over the rest of the coven who were stood transfixed to his right. Sir Percy then reared up behind them and folded his cloak around three of the faithful and squeezed them out of existence. He then began to suck the life-force from them one by one. This he fed to the blade to give it the strength that I would require. By this time the Rev Clagg had dropped to his knees staring at his amputated wrist still pumping blood. I reversed the blade and drove it through the top of his head and he fell off the ‘Pygge’ onto the ground. I was grateful for the extra energy released by the blade as I took hold of the minds of the people that were left of the coven and showed them Hell or my version of it. They would take the little girl home to her mother and would only remember what I allowed them to. Fortunately she had remained asleep during the horrific episode. They loaded the bodies on the cart along with the child and retraced their steps across the field. There was only one thought in their heads above all others and that was the will to go home. They found that they could not speak about the events that had taken at the ‘Witch’s Pygge’ only to reveal that the locale was an unholy place and best left alone. The dreams that beset them reinforced the instructions that Sir Percy and I had implanted in their minds.
Once again I left the scene and travelled through time back to my still frozen; ‘flesh and blood’ body sat in the chair. I was shaking like a leaf and placed the dagger and Percy’s skull on the table. I helped myself to a large tumbler of single malt and sipped the liquid, pulling my shattered nerves together. I had no regrets in rescuing the girl from the crazed fancies of the Rev Clagg. If there did exist a region of the after-life called Hell, I was certain that he would have earned a place there. I took my body to the toilet and gratefully used it and went from there to the kitchen in the motorhome to cook myself a bacon roll. Feeling more settled I sat in the chair and picked up Sir Percy’s skull and placed it in the carrying bucket. Next I selected the Dragon’s Blade and stared through the hole, sending my avatar speeding back through time and space to reappear by the side of my friend.
Once more the years sped by and John Aislabie inherited Studley Royal in 1693 but really set about transforming the grounds in 1720. He added lakes and ponds, classical statues, follies and small buildings all carefully placed in the landscape. He then bought the Abbey ruins in 1767 and incorporated them into the gardens to provide a stunning feature. We watched this process with some concern as the armies of workmen altered the landscape around the ‘Witch’s Pygge’, putting in ponds and water features. When they started to plant trees they began to take interest in the standing stones. It took some time to clear the apple thicket, but when all had been cleared away, the skeletons of Sergeant Blake and his men soon came into view as scattered bones. They had provided a great meal for a variety of creatures foraging through the undergrowth. No attempt was made to dig or disturb the soil around the two unusual formations and once   John Aislabie had paid a visit to see what his men had unearthed in the thicket, he gave the instruction to leave the stones where they were. John soon realised that the remains scattered through the grove were Puritan soldiers and dating back to the Civil War. Most of the armour had rotted away, but enough was left to identify. He got the workmen to gather up all that they could find and have them blessed and buried in a local church graveyard. As the formation was located at the top of small hill, it would blend in perfectly with all the other landscaping projects. He was completely oblivious about the legend of the Abbot’s treasure, so had no interest in the stones other than their scenic view and the fact that they were an ancient item that had been placed there thousands of years ago.
We watched as the countryside around the area altered. Civilization began to catch up to the present day, as I allowed the centuries to pass more quickly. Apart from a very few picnickers, the stones remained in isolation. When the time reverted to the ‘here and now’ I returned to my motorhome leaving Sir Percy’s spirit at the burial site. I brought his skull with me along with the Dragon’s Blade and hired an even tempered horse from a local stable. We set off across the fields until the megalith came into sight. I then felt the presence of my ethereal friend re-join me on the horse as we got into range. There wasn’t a soul about that early in the morning so I had little fear of being seen. A quite thick early morning mist hung about the stones making a wonderful ‘smokescreen’ for my activities.
I swept the metal detector back and forth and was rewarded by a steady beep at the left hand side of the ‘Pygge’ so I began to dig. Two feet down, the outline of the studded box came into view. As the earth was sandy and mostly well drained the iron nails had not rusted out and the box was intact.  Now was not the time to open the small chest so I strapped it to the side of the saddle, packed away the metal detector and rode the horse back to where I had parked the motorhome. 
I tied the horse to a fencepost at the side of the car park, taking the box and metal detector inside away from prying eyes. There were a few cars parked some way from where I had left the motor home and no sign of the occupants, so I was confident that I had not been seen. I nearly ruptured a hernia getting the chest onto the kitchen table; it was so heavy. The box looked as if it were made of weathered oak and oiled iron brackets had stood most of the test of time, protecting the corners. Whoever had put this box together had not intended for it to come undone! A certain amount of rust had eaten away at one of the top corner pieces so I attacked this corner with a crowbar after drilling several holes around the metalwork to weaken that corner. Slowly the wood began to yield and I forced the first bracket from the corner. The oaken sides had to be over an inch thick and did not easily come apart. I had to be careful opening the box, so that I did not damage the contents.
Finally I managed to pry the lid from its fixings and now the lead sheathing came into view. A hammer and chisel soon split the lead away from the sides and the top come off like a sardine can’s lid to reveal an alter cloth covering the contents. My hands shook as I ripped the ancient clothe from the contents underneath. Sir Percy leant forwards to view the contents as he could not see through lead and began to laugh.
There underneath the cloth for nearly five hundred years lay a piece of ‘The True Cross’ that had been one of the Abbey’s great crowd attractions. It even had a substantial blacksmith’s nail driven into one end, with a large forged head sticking out, although how anyone could have removed the feet without taking out the nail baffled me. Underneath the lump of wood were rosary beads, ornamental scrolls that fell apart when I tried to unroll them and a bag of gold coins. Of the riches that we had seen the Abbot place into the box there was no trace. It was then that we realised that William Thirsk had asked one of the monks make a separate box and had buried this somewhere else. Logic told us that somewhere under the Abbot’s ruined house was a vault with a fortune in gold and jewels. They were we would never be able to get at them without a bulldozer and a crane to lift those great heavy flagstones with an audience of onlookers crowding around. The vault would have been built when the Abbey was being refurbished and a chute into the vault would be a one way trip. Typically the Cistercian attitudes to wealth would have directed the Abbot to put all such extremes out of reach forever!
Unfortunately we could not return to those turbulent times and change anything because of the repercussions that would ensue. We could not revisit the astral plain in case that in that time period we met each other’s doppelgangers. At least I had a bag of mint fresh gold coins that would more than pay for our excursions around the Cistercian wonder of Fountains Abbey.  
I locked up the motorhome, returned the horse to the local stable and walked back to my vehicle, still grinning with wry humour at the turn of events. When I got home, my friend Aubrey would see the dourness of the tale and laugh fit to split his sides when I told him of our latest escapade. I would take him the lump of wood and nail as a keepsake.

Skull Percy and the Dragon’s Blade.

Viking Silver.

Chapter Five.

After the crushing disappointment of standing watch over a large box that had little of value inside it except a bag of gold coins and a lump of wood with a large nail in it, we  decided to do a little research into the Viking raids that had penetrated deep into the English countryside. We knew where the other box had been placed at Fountains Abby, but had no chance of retrieving it from Abbot Thirsk’s untouchable treasure vault. Deep under those flagstones was a small crypt with a one way chute that deposited anything down into a sealed pit. You would need mining equipment to get down to where a fortune lay in the darkness. There was a fat chance of getting that out unseen, so we left it alone.
The river Thames flows from a spring in Gloucestershire that is rapidly joined by others as it progresses through the countryside until it reaches London and spills into the sea. It can be made navigable for a great distance towards its source. The old Roman road known as Ermin Street crosses the marshes at a point where the Saxons built a small town. Just here several streams and small rivers merge with the Thames forming a flood plain which, especially in winter, made the area difficult to cross if not impassable. Here it was that King Alfred decided to construct the fortified town of Cricklade in 878, to hold back the advance of the Vikings, South-Westwards. Any advancing army would have the flood plains at their right-hand side and farmed land at their left. Many times, attacking armies had been forced into the marshes and been sucked under, unable to shed their armour quickly enough. The Roman road made it easy to march along, but all too soon they would find themselves trapped against the icy waters of the upper Thames. Nevertheless a Viking raiding group managed to occupy Cricklade with the help of the rebel Saxon, AEthelwold, for a year.
 From this stronghold they raided Braydon and any settlements that lay in their way. They stacked the silver and gold in iron-bound boxes, strapping them each side of their treasure horses. These, the Vikings continually moved about, to prevent their own people from stealing them for themselves. The war-chief would divide out the spoils once they were back into their territory, but human nature being what it is, things would go missing. 
When the Viking and rebel Saxon forces withdrew from Cricklade, as Alfred drove them down the Thames, back to London and then to East Anglia, they left with all the plunder they could carry. It was this hoard that we were sure that we could intersect as battle after battle would be fought in the retreat. It was a Viking axiom that they travelled with their treasure, so they would bury it before the conflict and dig it up after the battle. If they lost, the hoard would remain in its hiding place for over a thousand years until the present day. Several miles downstream the Thames was joined at Lechlade by three other rivers that swelled the flow to a navigable size. This was the ‘jumping off’ point for the attacking forces and was an easy way to travel back to other fortifications all the way to London. Who controlled the river controlled all trade and troop movements, as far as the sea to the East. A night raid by Alfred’s forces several years later secured a good number of boats from the Vikings billeted there and allowed him to step up the battle against the plunder driven Norsemen. 
My ethereal friend had been a quick learner in the whys and wherefores of the modern world that he now existed in. He soon became quite adept at using the internet and explored the wonders of Google’s seemingly endless stores of knowledge. Sir Percy had enough energy within his ghostly frame to operate the keyboard of my computer.  He liked to travel, although he still became nervous when I drove up and down the motorways. He preferred quiet country roads and villages or small towns. The big cities bothered him and as he cited once to me, that they were like reservoirs of death. There was a constant stream of souls making their peace with this world and leaving it. I asked him once why it was that he did not join them and depart?
He became very solid after drifting towards my armchair and answered, “Are you tired of my company, young Luke?”
“Oh no, it’s not that old friend,” I replied and looked at his semi-transparent figure, as it strengthened his position in our reality. “It’s just that you and I have been together now for over twenty years and I sometimes wonder why you still stay here with me? Is there something that you are keeping to yourself?”
Sir Percy sank deeper into the chair, as he lost a little of his presence, cupped his beard in his hand and answered, “When I was alive, I lived in an extremely hostile world, full of the possibility of losing all that I had wrought by the hand of man. Here in this half-life I suffer no pain and am privileged to be able to walk the Earth and see all of the wonders that my descendants have brought into being. Not only that, but I have gained a true friend to spend my time with. I have seen more of this world dead than I ever did when I was alive! You and I have mastered the art of travelling back and forth through time leaving your flesh and blood body in the here and now, whilst my spirit remains safe and ‘anchored’ inside my skull, can travel with you. When you take yourself through the portal in the Dragon’s Blade, I am able to come with you as you take the quintessence of me by your side. There is still a great deal that I do not understand about the psychic path that we both tread when we travel through the portal in the Blade. I do not question the fact that when you go through, you are somehow able to take a doppelganger of my skull with you, along with the very essence of the Blade. In that astral plain it becomes a life drinker should you need it and your ticket back to your body that freezes in time while you are gone. We have both mastered the art of shapeshifting whilst gone from this world. I am more than content with what we enjoy doing together and my ‘life’ is full of wonders. Besides, I still find existence here interesting and have no wish at this time to make that final leap into the unknown.”
I remembered that small speech over the years and did not ask again. I had become exceedingly rich over the finds that we had been able to track through time and had become something of a celebrity. The treasures that we had uncovered over the years had alerted envious eyes and at times it had become difficult to shake them off. Sometimes it became necessary to make these irritants vanish or if possible to destabilize their minds so that they no longer wanted to be anywhere close to our company. As those who would have stolen from us what we uncovered, would have killed me without regret, we were more than able to return the actions. There were a number of corpses that had ended up on the pathologist’s dissection table that had died of a great rupture of the heart without any sign of entry. The Dragon’s Blade always closed the wound on withdrawal without a trace. 
As for the money that the unearthed artefacts produced; I found that there were plenty of good causes that I could support. I could see little advantage to storing it up and dying ‘filthy rich’ so I used the wealth by donating scanners and other useful items to worthy charities and hospitals.  
We had followed the Vikings’ retreat all up and down the East coast, noting where they had buried their plunder and returning to the present age to dig it up. Now we were after a massive treasure hoard that was the spoils of many years of plunder. When the Vikings had been driven back by Alfred’s armies they had not had chance to get the Wessex gold and mostly silver anywhere safe. 
Unfortunately for my ethereal friend it meant that we had to travel down the M4 motorway so he spent most of the travelling time inside his skull. It did not take too many hours to reach the turn-off above Swindon and get onto the dual carriage-way towards Cirencester. We had made sure that we had not been followed and had spent a few days lodging in a small village pub before travelling on. We were surprised at the age of the buildings and the contrast of new building estates that were shooting up around the outskirts of the little country town. The main street had two excellent seventeen-century pubs and I chose the Red Lion and soon found where to park the mobile home.      
In the morning we took a stroll down the main street to the museum and entered. I walked around the display cabinets searching for the coin display and found them. There were roman coins that I ignored as they would take me centuries further into the past than I needed to go. What we needed was to ‘acquire’ one of the silver ones, preferably a King Cnut penny. Hundreds of these were on display in museums in Scandinavia where the Danegeld had been paid. Now and then the ‘odd’ penny would be found and were very valuable. These were out of our reach, but a find closer to home had presented an opportunity. There were two in the Ashmolean museum, but the security there would have defeated our efforts. Besides the Cricklade museum would present an easier acquiring and a perfect starting off point.  
 These coins had been minted sometime between 979 to 1100AD. With one of those in my hand I could enter the astral plane and fly back through the centuries using the coin as a talisman. We would need to come at night and substitute a silver coin similar to the one we would take from the cabinet. I had my friend John Kettle make me a copy of the Cnut silver penny from photographs of the recent find at Cricklade. This was now housed in the local museum until the auction that was planned for later in the year. 
That evening after an excellent evening meal we set about replacing the silver penny with one of our own! As I had done so many times before I sat myself in a comfortable chair and placing the coin in Sir Percy’s skull inside the bucket. I picked up the Dragon’s Blade and concentrated my thoughts into the portal. Taking something solid through the astral plane takes a lot of energy from the Blade and we had made sure that it was thrumming with energy before we translated into that strange, grey misty world. As we passed through the portal I ‘felt’ the coin come apart in my friend’s skull and hover partially in this world and also in the netherworld we were about to enter. I took us back in time to the Sunday evening before we had arrived at the Red Lion. The room was occupied, but as usual they could not see us as we materialised, although I could see that the young man sat on the bed with his lady-friend became uneasy. Maybe he shared some of my ‘gift’ and was briefly aware of the two of us? 
Leaving my flesh and blood body behind a few days into that future, we made our way out into the street towards the museum. In this state we could plainly ‘see’ each other and my friend preferred to materialise in the dress code of his era, whilst I remained clothed as was the body I left behind. I was over six feet tall, but my companion just came up to my chin and was of a slighter build. Although, as he had long ago mastered the art of transformation, he could be however he wished. To fill those people with terror that had strayed too close to the many treasures we had ‘liberated’ from the ground, we sometimes adopted the form of horned demons. One glimpse of what we could become had sent many a poor soul over the edge and fed the Blade. 
It was steadily raining when we stopped outside the museum and slipped through the space between the door and the frame. This took less energy than forcing a way through solid matter while the coin continued to exist in both realities. To penetrate the glass and swop the coin would mean that for a few moments we would be seen by the CC TV cameras. What the observer would make of a man dressed in the fashion of the Stuarts with his hand inside a glass cabinet, I could only guess! As for me; I would briefly appear with a glowing skull in one hand and opening the bucket to place the coin inside. This would take just seconds to accomplish and then we would vanish into the shadows. As the glass would remain unbroken, the coin in place and none of the burglar alarms had been triggered; the curator would be faced with a conundrum and would have to decide if anything had happened at all? 
Once the coin was securely in place, we kept to the shadows and slipped through the door and onto the street. With Sir Percy leading the way he opened the portal in the Dragon’s Blade and we materialised in my room at the Red Lion. I fell back into my flesh and blood body only a few seconds after I had left. I took out the skull of my friend and reached in to touch the silver penny. This would take me to the moment that it was forged when I was ready.
As we had planned for this moment there was small room for dallying about in this era and so I picked up the coin, gathered Sir Percy to my side and pressed the dagger to the palm of my hand, trapping the coin between flesh and wood. The life of the coin ‘danced’ in my head as the centuries rolled back to somewhere around 990 AD. The coin existed a few more years in the past, but I did not want to be too close at the point that it was struck as two bodies could not exist in the same time frame. As the timeframe solidified I immediately concentrated my mind and thrust us back beyond the moment of making by several years before the mint existed. Gripping the Dragon’s Blade I continued to roll back the years until we could see that the town of Cricklade was in an upheaval as a fulltime evacuation was in process. The Vikings were pulling out and making their way back along the old Roman road of Ermin Street, leaving a small party to carry the plunder along the left hand side of the river to the settlement at Lechlade. It was obvious that King Alfred and a Saxon army were in hot pursuit. 
The Saxon king must have mustered a vast army if the Vikings were willing to relinquish Cricklade without a fight. They would be more interested in saving the plunder that they had ‘liberated’ from the people of Wessex than fighting a battle that they could not win. That logically meant that somewhere in this retreating army of men a well-guarded treasure chest would be strapped on a stout cart, heading towards London. Several miles downstream from the town another small river joined the Thames, but as yet not enough water was flowing together to enable the Vikings to float a barge to Lechlade.  Once there at that settlement, where four rivers entered the main flow, the forces could regroup and load up the boats that would be waiting and make their retreat downstream. Although the river twisted and turned, the speed of the flow was consistent and unlike a horse, did not need to rest. The trick was to keep central in the river to avoid grounding on a sandbank and the further downriver, the less likelihood of this happening.  The only problem that the Vikings would have to solve was getting the carts over the many tributary streams and small rivers that fed into the Thames. They would have to fell trees and drag them into position so that the heavily laden carts could cross without sinking into the soft edges. Having fished along the miles of riverbank I knew where every stream entered the river so I was well aware of all the stopping points. As the land on the right hand side rose into a sizable hill and also had the river Ray entering from that bank, then the left hand side would be the logical side to take. This would take out two considerable rivers and streams leaving the Viking hoard to push on keeping the river to the right.
The drawback with this was that the old Roman road went from Cricklade up and over the hill of Blunsdon and took the straightest line for most of the way to London and did not come any nearer to the Thames until Reading. With the weight of the plunder taken, trying to haul it away from Alfred’s forces all the way by carts along the Roman road, would take too much time and effort. I knew that somewhere along the way the horses dragging the laden carts would be defeated by the terrane. I knew this area well as I had fished the upper Thames for over thirty years and knew each and every bend all the way to where the river Colne flooded into the Thames, just upstream of the settlement at Lechlade. Even when I fished this river in the autumn and into the winter, the Thames would regularly burst its banks and flood the low-lying areas each side of the fields for mile after mile.
We had arrived during the evacuation of the fortress town at the end of September and I knew that all we needed to do was to keep pace with the retreating army as they made their way towards Lechlade. They had arrived during a session of dry years along the old Roman road during which the Thames had ‘behaved’ itself, but as luck would have it, the rainy season would soon be upon us and the many springs would fill, from deep underground and pour their contents into the many tributaries of the Thames. Sigewulf the leader of the invading force had no idea what hardships they would have to face dragging those plunder laden carts across the soon to be flooded lands. 
Sir Percy and I followed the Vikings across fields that had been ploughed by the Saxons for the last hundred years. The occupying force had not bothered themselves with growing crops in the fields while they had the Saxons enslaved and had relied on what food they produced. Raiding and sacking every settlement near to the captive town had kept their larders full, but they knew that sooner or later Alfred’s army of Saxons would take back what they had wrested from the occupants of the town. The fact that it had been constructed as a fortress town had benefited them once they took it, but it could not withstand a vastly superior army for too long. 
This, the Saxon slaves understood too well and waited to see when their captors would leave the town and re-join the main force. Knowing that they would be leaving by the left side of the river they ploughed the fields accordingly so that instead of the floods running off the land the water would not drain away during the annual rainfall. This would slow them up as soon as the first real rainfall commenced. The distance following the river was not too great somewhere around twenty miles following the bends and twists of the river and I knew where the streams fed into the river. The greatest obstacle would be where the river Colne entered the Thames just before Lechlade. To get across the river at this point would entail building a bridge as it would be too deep to ford. I reckoned that it would take at least two to three days to follow the river to the settlement at Lechlade.  Looking at the black clouds forming to the west and according to the archives we had read, a great storm has unleashed itself upon the time of the retreating Norsemen,
We agreed to do nothing until the men, horses and carts were half way and camped for the night. Once they had left the shelter of the fortified town there would be no going back as Alfred’s men would have rapidly secured the town. As I had read up on Alfred’s campaigns I knew that he would be cautious and consolidate what he had taken, before tracking the Viking’s retreat. The weather turned for the worst and heavy rain began to fall upstream of the river and the feeder streams began to bulge. The river began to rise. 
Once they had passed the no return mark, Sir Percy and I changed shape to that of two large were-wolves and began to howl outside of sight, ranging up and down. This panicked the horses and the mounted Vikings began to break ranks as some of them lost control, knocking many of the foot-soldiers into the mud. As the draw-horses could not run away because of the weight of the laden carts they began to rear and plunge, their eyes rolling in terror. As dusk began to fall the men built a stockade of shields around a large oak tree and managed to get a fire going by sheltering it from the rain after divesting their armour. All that iron made the wearing of it dangerous as lightning split the sky over and over again. Eventually a white-hot thunderbolt hit the pile of armour, melting most of it into a heap and killing at least twenty men. 
This was something that I had not foreseen, but could make use of. Sir Percy and I watched the souls swarm up towards Valhalla or wherever they were going. The men that were left would not leave the dead to rot above ground so in the morning they dug a large deep grave and laid them inside. All around them, the oak-tree became an inland sea as the river burst its banks and flooded over the cultivated fields and through the woods. Ploughing against the drainage made sure that the water built up a lot more quickly than normal. 
The Saxons left in the town were quite happy to see their King and pass on the news that the drainage of the fields would take till next spring to seep away and there would be no point at all chasing the retreating army through the floods. As Alfred wanted to retake London then this would suit him fine to allow the occupying force to drown, so he made his preparations to forge ahead along the old Roman road. At least the going would be better on well drained land along the Ermin way and his forces would travel quicker on horseback.
Sigewulf gloomily watched the mass grave began to fill as the water-table rose through the sodden soil. Soon those at the bottom began to disappear under the flood. Now all attempts to haul the plunder were shelved. The floodwater was no deeper than knee level at worst and inches deep in other places, but it was impossible to guess what was firm ground or a deeper hole. As far as the eye could see a carpet of bitter cold water stretched across the land with small islands poking above the floods. The exact position of the river was getting difficult to assess as it twisted and turned. Several men had ‘walked’ over the edge and had been swept away. 
The Viking leader called the men to him and broke open the iron bound chests to show them the total of the plunder that they had amassed and said, “Men, we have a choice to make with the treasure that you earned. I will dole out a reasonable amount to each of you, leaving the bulk of the silver here under this tree guarded by our dead. When we drive the Saxons back into their fortified towns we can return this way and retrieve what is ours. Every man was given five silver coins each and that was worth ten horses to any man. Sigewulf took a bag of coins for himself and strapped this to his horse and directed the men to fill the grave. The river was a raging torrent by now and still rising so the Vikings pushed the cart into the river and watched as it disappeared downstream. The iron bound chests were dropped on top of the dead men and earth shovelled into the hole. There were a number of large stones nearby that they piled on top of the earth to help retain the soil. The rain began to ease off and the men retrieved what armour was salvageable from the lightening-bolt strike. 
Sir Percy and I watched them reluctantly retreat, from the relative safety of the astral plain. We were going to make sure that they would not be coming back this way in the future. King Alfred would make sure of that, by constantly harrying the tail ends of the invading forces and always letting them escape to further north, expanding the kingdom of Wessex and consolidating the territory taken back. They would soon enter higher ground, but as they got closer to where the river Colne joined the Thames the going would get tougher. In the dry season the Vikings had traversed this area easily, but with the winter floods it was a different matter. All manner of wild animals would make their way to the higher ground including wild pigs. Sir Percy and I made sure that the several herds of wild pigs wintering out, were unsettled by our influence. We could get into their tiny minds and make them even more aggressive than they normally were. The closer that the Vikings got to Lechlade the more difficult the travelling would become as three rivers poured their contents into a confluence.
As the day wore on and the cold began to bite, as those that were on foot waded through water up to their knees, many began to weaken. It seemed that every knoll rising above the bitter cold water had its share of evil humoured wild boars intent on driving the Vikings away from their territory. There had been no mention of the survival of the retreating occupying force so Sir Percy and I had no qualms about shortening the lives of Sigewulf’s army and working along the lines of history without creating any paradoxes. By now the Viking leader was beginning to wish that he had stayed in Cricklade and met an honourable death fighting, than to become lost in these endless seeming wetlands. Valhalla would not accept them if they died by drowning in these circumstances. The howls of the tracking wolves were an unnerving presence. Never seen, but heard all night, they reminded the Viking of his home. Home was a dry place until the snows came and never like this. As the sun went down and darkness flooded the land, the remains of the army collected together. Many were missing and some had sustained wounds that would not stop bleeding after trying to ward off the wild boars. 
That night it was impossible to light a fire and many of the Vikings, soaked through to the skin and shivering with cold, gave up the spark of life, remaining slumped together in the morning. Another storm blew up and it proved impossible to move during that day as the driving rain pounded down causing the floodwaters to rise even more. What had been ‘dry’ land yesterday disappeared under the downpour. The horses were weakening as they had not been fed for some days now and were incapable of carrying any load, let alone a rider in full battledress. 
Half in and half out of this reality, Sir Percy and I were untouched by wind, rain and cold and did not suffer the misery that the flesh and blood warriors endured. I must admit that I gave many a shivering wreck a one way ticket to the happy lands with the Dragon’s Blade that night. This infused the Blade with energy enough, to carry our souls back to the present day when required. Sir Percy returned to the avatar of his skull to replenish his energy stocks from time to time and rest. I collected the coins from the dead that were given out to the plundering Vikings by Sigewulf and placed them under the skull and placed them into our timeframe. To my knowledge no-one had ever found any silver coins in this area so the collection of what would have remained lost, now belonged to me! Considering how many of this Viking raiding party had died here I was surprised that nothing had been found and then I remembered the wild boar. Pigs are omnivorous and will eat flesh and small bones if offered. The weapons left scattered over the fields would have rusted away over the centuries and this area had soon reverted back to a farming community without any battles taking place on its soil. Even now in the 21st century the land was prone to flooding and where there were fields, vast water filled gravel pits had been dug out and the water-table was easily located a few feet down. Give a few days with heavy storms and even as well-drained as the land had become, floods soon built up.
Sigewulf gathered the remaining men together and doggedly struck on towards the influx of the river Colne, little knowing what a powerful force the flooded river would be. Only the tops of the willows could be seen poking their heads above water. The torrent of water that had drained down from the higher ground made it impossible for them to cross unless they could find a better wading place upstream. I knew this area well from my childhood and was quite certain that higher ground would not be found for several miles and still the raging torrent would have to be crossed. In the weak state that all of the raiding party were in, due to running out of food, defending themselves from attacks by more wild boar that had claimed dryland proved impossible. The enraged squealing of the pigs when they sighted the exhausted Vikings trying to drag themselves onto ‘dry land’ filled the men with fear. Anyone that went down ended up in the swine’s digestive system. A herd of pigs can strip the flesh from a man in ten minutes. A short sword has little chance of killing a boar when you are on your knees; you need a long lance to do that and a great deal of luck. 
Sir Percy and I followed the remnants of Sigewulf’s army as one by one hypothermia took its toll along with extreme hunger and weakness. They never made it across the river Colne and the last bag of coins I took from the Viking leader’s cold body. I now had a considerable amount of silver coinage along with some gold ones in my possession. I had far too much to be able to haul them through time to the present day. The Cnut silver penny that had got us to the timeframe close enough to continue downwards in time to when the Vikings were forced to give up Cricklade, had enough inertial resistance to require great effort travelling back in time. When we returned to the oak-tree I would need to hide the coins and pick them up a thousand years or more into the future. Each dying man had contributed his life energy to the Dragon’s Blade and I had taken pity on Sigewulf and had ended his misery by cutting his throat before he relinquished his hold on the bag of coins. 
As we approached the oak-tree I saw a Viking helmet lying in the mud and stowed the coins into that and wrapping it around with the leather chinstrap. We slipped back into the astral plain and sank beneath the earth, placing the coins underneath the large stones that the Vikings had placed above their plunder and dead. In the future this land would be good grazing ground, but due to the high gravel content never over-ploughed, as crops did not do well with periodic flooding. Eventually the gravel was dug out further to the west and an almost inland sea of gravel pits occupied the land. 
Now we needed to return and watch the centuries fly by, keeping a watch on the oak-tree’s eventual death and what the field would be used for then. I concentrated my will into the Dragon’s Blade and we saw the seasons come and go as Alfred drove the Vikings all the way to East Anglia and then the retaking of England by King Cnut and eventually the Normans came. All through this expanse of time the oak-tree flourished, the floods came and went, decreasing as time went by. Eventually some time during the Civil War the ancient oak rotted through and fell. The farmer tending this area did a little ploughing to turn over the grass and got a team of horses to drag the stones and the tree-roots away, little knowing that a fortune in silver lay beneath his feet, on top of an army of Viking warriors laid to rest. The whole topography changed as ditches were dug to allow drainage into the river to dry out the land. The routing of the Vikings passed from telling to stories, until it became forgotten.
Once we took back command of my flesh and blood body by returning a split second after we left. Although we could feel neither cold nor heat, once transferred into the ‘spirit’ world, I shivered and made myself a hot coffee laced with whisky. I allowed Sir Percy to remain attached to my breathing self and enjoy the sensation of that mug of warmth while I began to plan the extraction of that Viking grave.
It took a little planning and spreading some money around, but I was able to buy the field that Sigewulf’s men lay and got some earth moving equipment and archaeologists to remove the top soil over the grave. I managed to get hold of the Viking helmet that was stuffed full of silver coins and secreted it away. The boxes had rotted over the centuries but what they held was mostly silver and a surprising number of gold roman coins came to light un-tarnished. The archaeologists were overjoyed with the proof that the Vikings had, as was thought reached Cricklade and that Alfred of Wessex had driven them out of this area before ploughing onwards to London. What puzzled the historians were the fact that none of these worriers had died by violence. All of them were classic Viking men, well built for warfare and more than willing to die in battle. What was left of their weapons lay still rusting away in the pit underneath the buried plunder.
Sir Percy and I knew that they had died of cold, drowning and being attacked by wild boars, but how could we tell these learned men, that we had seen these brave men die ignobly in a bitter cold flood. Once again the authorities were forced into allowing us to dispose of the treasure by auction as it had not been lost, but buried with the idea of returning, made it treasure trove and since 1996 treasure no longer became the property of the Crown Estates if over 300 years old and more than 5% precious metal. What I had found was over a thousand years old so rightfully mine.

Skull Percy and the Dragon’s Blade.
Chapter Six.
King John’s Treasure.

Around the area of Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire, England, farmland stretches flat and green and the River Nene lies brown and shallow. When the North Sea tide rises, 6 km away, it flows upriver as fast as a human can run. Around the time of the full and new moons, the water can outrun a galloping horse as it races across the low, flat landscape.

Somewhere near here in 1216, ‘Bad King John’ – a monarch so incompetent and evil that his name is still preserved in folklore, films and nursery rhymes, was running from his enemies. When his army crossed the ‘mudscapes’ of the tidal estuary, that Britons call the Wash, rising waters caught his baggage train that had travelled a different rout. The wagons and their contents, including the king’s treasure, were lost along with the guards. During that time, the Wash cut much deeper into the countryside and many of the small towns and settlements would have been under water in those days.

More than 800 years later, King John’s hoard has still not been found. But it still lures believers and one local man thinks he can find its location. That man was me! All I needed was an article from that time period and Sir Percy and I could travel back through time to see what actually happened to the hoard of gold and jewels that was swallowed up by the i ncoming tide.                                      King John set off from King’s Lynn taking the road towards Wisbech to avoid being trapped in the fens with the idea of returning to Spalding.
He sent his baggage train along the causeway and ford across the mouth of the Wellstream. This route was usable only at low tide; the horse-drawn wagons moved too slowly for the incoming tide, and all were lost.

This tale of lost treasure had fascinated me for years and the thought of all that gold, silver and jewels lying somewhere under the shifting sands was enough to raise my interest. One evening I approached the subject with my friend and companion, Sir Percival Treggorron. I had carried his skull around this land for over forty years and by using his knowledge of the astral plain had amassed a considerable wealth. The majority of the riches we had unearthed we had given away to various charities and hospitals. No matter how much money you acquire on this world, you enter the next with nothing! So we hunted for treasure for the fun of it and the aspect of time travel that involved leaving this plane of existence for another using the power of the Dragon’s Blade.
What we needed was a talisman to take us both back to the time of King John’s death in 1216. Sat in the King’s Lyn town hall was an item that would take us very close. The so-called King John’s chalice had been made about a hundred years after he had died of dysentery in Newark Castle. It had been presented to the town in 1548 by an unknown donor. All we needed to do was to touch the chalice and the timeline would open for us to travel swiftly down it and then travel back another hundred years, until we came to around that time he had perished. This was one method of cheating time, but there were other means of harnessing the astral plain.
I had the motor-home fully checked over at ‘my garage’ before we left. They were very discrete about my comings and goings, as there were many people that were interested in our whereabouts. Over the last forty years we had uncovered many hidden hordes of gold and silver in the most unlikely places. Should our disappearance be seen they would leave no clue unravelled in their efforts to spy on our endeavours. Those that had tracked us down had suffered mental crack-ups as Sir Percy and I had a ‘method’ of dissuading them to keep silent. Few people are equipped to deal with the spiritual world when it comes knocking on your bedroom door at Two in the morning.
My ‘gift’ is very rare amongst humanity and in all the years we had been together we had found only three other people ‘blessed’ with this gift and they worked the crowds as mediums. They were very good at what they did, but were nowhere near my talents and also they did not have the help of Sir Percy.
We set off early and made our way across the flat lands, fens and marshes leading towards King’s Lyn. I had arranged for the parking up of the motor home in the courtyard of the White Hart, a 12th century coaching inn with five letting rooms boasting plenty of history and charm located near the river front. There is still some 13th-14th century brickwork on show. The White Hart is in the centre of the old town with many architectural delights nearby. Upon finding out this piece of local knowledge I decided to forget trying to lay my hands on the famous chalice. Once I got inside the old coaching inn and could touch the old brickwork I would know whether I would need anything else. If this proved too difficult there was always Castle Rising, where King John had stayed as a guest of John de Grey, prior to his death. In fact the more I thought about it, a piece of stone prised out of the ruin’s walls would do even better. It had been built around 1138 just 78 years before King John’s death in 1216. With a talisman dating back to that age the journey back in time would become much easier. Once immersed in that time it would be easy to leapfrog forwards to when King John was frantically trying to get back to Lancashire along a track that would become the A47 to Wisbech whilst sending the baggage train along what would be developed into the A17 once the banks were piled up and the land dried out to make its way towards Sutton Bridge through the marshes.

I booked into the White Hart and began to unpack in my room. Sir Percy was in a foul mood once he caught sight of the sea washing around the piers of the quayside, as there was one place that he always felt uneasy and that was near to water. He had a terrible dread of being dropped into the sea and washed into the depths, far away from land with no way to get back. It made him nervous and although we had travelled many times over water without mishap, he always reacted the same way. In the privacy of the room I had booked at the Inn, I took his skull from out of the leather carrying harness and gave him a polish. Whilst I was doing this he stood morosely by the window and stared out at the riverside.
“I do not like this place, young Luke. It makes me uneasy. Watching the speed that the sea comes in with the tide, I cannot but think how quickly the men dragging that baggage train drowned,” he said.
“I shall be very careful,” I replied, “and besides, we will not be affected by tide or wind once on the Astral plain. As I am older than you by several years, will you stop referring to me as ‘young Luke’ or I’ll use your skull as a urinal!”
Sir Percy laughed and glided over to where I was polishing his skull and stared down at the honey coloured bones for a moment before saying, “Considering the length of time that part of me lay in the mouldering earth before you found me, I still think I can refer to you as ‘young Luke! Granted you have lived longer than me in the flesh as it were, but I just cannot think of you as old!”
I took out the wooden blade that Sir Percy had carved centuries ago from a yew-tree that had rooted into the bones buried in the village cemetery. It still carried the power of the many souls the blade had taken, besides what it had amassed from the graveyard. I had long realised that the blade had taken a little bit of ‘ME’ each time that I used it to travel on the astral plain, but it also put a little of the eldritch power back as well. Since picking it up over forty years ago, I had never been ill and my bodily age was closer to fifty than sixty-five. I rubbed the polish over the curves of the blade and the Dragon’s handle to maintain its finish. I never ceased to marvel at the way that it fitted into my hand as if it had grown there, or the ease that it could penetrate someone’s chest, leaving no sign of entry. I felt no regrets taking the lives of those who had intended my death in return for the riches that we had unearthed. They would have taken mine had they succeeded in robbing us. Skull Percy kept a vigilant watch over my flesh and blood, keeping me safe. Many years ago I had abandoned owning a large house due to the number of break-ins we had suffered. So now I lived in expensive hotels that boasted a good security system, fantastic food and above all discretion!
I often wondered what the many criminal pathologists made of the woundless cadavers that occasionally appeared on their mortuary tables. The Dragon’s Blade penetrated flesh like a hot sword through butter, but left no mark of entry or exit on removal. The inside of the corpse however, definitely showed massive blood trauma where the blade had ruptured the heart. Getting rid of the bodies had become a nuisance until I learnt the method of transferring the remains into the astral plain and moving them away from my vicinity. In the last forty years I had learnt a great deal about the psychic world and my ability of entering that shadowy world that hovered next to ours. Time travel backwards and forwards to the present day proved quite easy, as long as certain terms were followed. Moving things proved to be difficult but not impossible! Entering the minds of the ancestors and placing false hallucinations in their visions had been very simple, once I had learnt the basics. In all things, the Blade was the key to unlocking and penetrating the veil. 
Once I had unpacked, the smells of a busy restaurant reminded me that I had not eaten since the morning, so I made my way downstairs and picked a table. The inside of the hotel had been built to show off the ancient brickwork and I could see that most of the original brickwork was out of reach. That being so, I decided to travel six miles up the road and have a look round the keep, called Castle Rising with the idea of taking a small stone from the brickwork as a talisman.
That morning I fired up the motor-home and on the assurance that the parking space would be held and coned off in the hotel carpark, we set off towards Castle Rising. To do this we had to drive through the industrial estate and a few miles further on, was the Keep that I had come to see. When we got there, I could see that the earthworks were immaculately kept and I could well imagine the effort that had been spent in 1138 digging them out. It would have taken little effort to allow the sea to flood the huge ditch on high tide making any assault fiendishly difficult. Now of course, the tidal rise, was contained by well-engineered earth banks and the Keep surrounded by grass and trees. That too had been well maintained and did not look over 800 years old. I could immediately see why King John had felt safe here away from the wrath of the barons.
I parked the motor-home amongst the coaches of sight-seers and went for a walk around the Keep looking for a loose stone to take back to the White Hart. The brickwork had been maintained in good order and try as I might I could not find a loose piece. There were many guides wandering around telling the history of Castle Rising so digging out a stone would not be easy.
I approached a lone guide with a different idea and said, looking at his badge “Excuse me, David, isn’t it? I wonder if you could do me a great favour?”
The guide turned and stared hard at me and said, “That depends on what you want, mate! Is there any profit in it for me?”
“I’m a collector of stonework and it occurred to me that the Keep’s walls are too well maintained for me to add a piece to my collection. If you could find me a piece of the original stonework I would be only too pleased to give you £100 pounds cash for it. it does not have to be large. The size of your thumb would do.”
He looked at me as if I were mad, but greed overcome his loyalty to the trust that he worked for and he replied, “Show me the money first, matey and we have a deal. There has been some refurbishing work inside the keep and there is a spoil heap under a tarpaulin.”
Upon seeing that I was serious and pocketing the roll of £20 notes he led me inside the courtyard and pointed to the sheet on a small heap.
“Please yourself what you take, but be quick about it. I don’t want any of the other guides seeing what you are doing.”
I lifted the tarpaulin and under a heap of pulverised stones and rubbish was a hard stone half the size of my fist that had definitely been part of the original wall.
“That will do nicely,” I replied and put it into the inside pocket of my jacket. “That’s one more for my collection. Thank you, now I must be going.”
With that I made my way back to the motor-home and laid the flinty stone on the table. Although the time spent in the past could be considerable, the time spent in the ‘here and now’ was only a fraction of a second during the trip. As always, as I had to draw upon the reserves of energy coming back, I had consumed a hearty breakfast. I sat myself down in a comfortable armchair, picking up the stone and the Dragon’s Blade. I felt the ethereal hand of my companion upon my shoulder and concentrated my mind through the locus in the blade. I followed the stone back through the ages to when it had been hammered into the wall of the keep.
What a different world I found myself in!
A long line of waggons loaded with stone made their way across a marshy landscape and somewhere in those loads was the stone block that had once retained my chunk. I could feel the imbalance in their atmosphere, as the two items fought the forces that made it imperative that the two not get close enough to explode. I moved away from the waggon train and felt the stone return to an inert state. I still held the Dragon’s Blade firmly by the carved handle and spun time forwards. We watched as the land around the castle was farmed and craftsmen came and went and the Keep flourished. Over 70 years passed in a blink of an eyelid and we noticed a great activity taking place as an army began to bed down outside the great Keep. King John was on his way and soon we would get a view of the hated king.
We infiltrated his army, watching the preparations with growing interest as fires were lit oxen put to death and hung over the fires to cook. Large iron pots were dragged out from the wagons, to be filled with water and vegetables. Large, fatty chunks of freshly slaughtered beef and offal were added to the mixture. Onions and garlic were roughly chopped up to bubble in the stew. Portable bread ovens became busy as hundreds of fresh loaves were baked to add to the store that the individual cooks had secreted away.
A herald’s trumpeted call pulled the men from whatever they were doing to stand and cheer their king into the keep. As he passed us in the crowd Sir Percy and I could see by his drawn features the he was certainly feeling ill. He was hanging onto the saddle front for dear life and the stink of his unwashed shitty arse floated down to the soldiers who were stood to attention. Judging by the expressions on their faces after he had passed, King John was not in a happy place! We slipped unseen into the Keep with the royal retinue and followed the king into the courtyard. He needed help to get off his horse and a stable hand took the animal quickly away. I would imagine he was off to clean him down with water and straw.
I said to Sir Percy, “Perhaps it would be a good idea to take the king into the stable and apply some of that cleansing material to him. As I remember, what little history came down from this time, he only stayed a few days and then made a bolt for it to his Newark Castle. That’s where the dysentery finally got him. After his death, the country settled down and the civil war stopped. Do you see those waggons with the well-armed guards camped in the courtyard?”
“They seem heavily loaded and the heavy horses look knackered! I will pay them a visit to the waggon in front while you have a nosey round the back of that reinforced one,” Sir Percy replied and drifted in and out of the crowds of weary soldiers.
I too eased my way across the courtyard’s slabs of stone and made for the heavy waggon that had well-greased sheets of rough cloth binding the load to the cart. It had been estimated that something like seventy-million dollars-worth of gold, silver, precious jewels and coins were wrapped up and stuffed into these two waggons. This would be the ultimate prize, if we could pull it off. Wherever King John travelled to, his wealth went with him. Only a select few rode with the treasure waggons as trusted men. Part of that trust was bound up in the continued survival of the guards’ families and should any of the wealth stored there go missing, then so would they! This bond was visibly weakening as the king grew weaker and increasingly ill.  Meanwhile the French king, Louis was gathering an army to the north and would soon be able to command John’s Newark castle if he could reach it first. When news of this immediate possibility reached the King’s ears, he divided the forces. He would travel with the main force of his army directly to his old home, leaving the treasure waggons with a smaller force to cross the Wash along its edge to Sutton Bridge. They were to keep well out of sight and re-join the main army later on, enabling the army to travel faster and prevent the French king from obtaining an impregnable base.
I spun time forwards to the dawn and we could see John’s army preparing to march and the treasure waggons separating out from the main body. Having been summoned to the king they were given their orders and sent on their way. The king however was very pale and his face was screwed up in constant pain. He had to be lifted onto his horse and secured to the saddle before he dare commence travelling towards the safety of Newark.
The state of the king’s health did not go unnoticed by the keepers of the waggons and the more they thought about it and spoke about it as they set off towards Sutton Bridge the more they became  convinced that the hated king was not much longer for this world. Sir Percy and I had the knowledge that he would indeed soon die there and the French king driven out of the country, never to return. I got into the minds of the guards and played upon their greed and urged them to break off the road and move away from the edge of the Wash. The problem with that was it was never certain just where the marsh began and the sea coast was in relation to it. In the present time a great deal of this marsh had been drained and large earth banks placed between the new coast and the incoming tide. In this age however the fens spread over many square miles and there were many areas of firm ground that would easily take a waggon and horses travelling over them. When the tide turned, as the area was relatively shallow, the returning sea flooded the marshes rapidly. When the party had set forth towards Sutton Bridge the tide was halfway to going out and was still draining the basin. What we needed to do was to get the waggons and heavy horses to divert from the causeway and make towards Spalding over what appeared to be firm ground. Some miles from this small town they would strip the waggons and bury most of the hoard, making their way with plenty of coin in their pockets. They could then wait for King John to die and after the struggle for the new Kingdom took place they would come back once things settled down.
The sergeant-at-arms, Ailwin, held up his hand and stood up in the waggon and shouted to the others, “You all saw the state of the king. Do any of you think that he will live to see next week? EH! I say we look after ourselves, get within a mile or so of Spalding, strip the carts, bury the gold and silver for a later date. Fill our pockets now with money, release the horses and let the incoming tide take the waggons out to sea. Are you with me?”
“Aye! The old bastard will not see many more nights sat upon the shitter. I warrant that there is more gone through the hole, than sits upon it! I Gervase say we do as you suggest and look after ourselves!”
There was a flurry of activity as Ailwin levered open a strong-box and helped himself to the coins within, passing many of the golden ones amongst the other guards. It was very easy to make sure that one of them dropped into my ethereal grasp. Now I had a talisman that would act like a compass and direct me to where the treasure would lie in the far future.
The lead waggon-master persuaded the twin heavy horses to turn off the causeway and make their way across the mud-banks towards the coastal town. Reed mace danced in the strong wind that was blowing inland. In places the rushes were much higher than the men could see, even stood upon the front board of the waggons.  Urging the horses onwards, the wheels pushed deeper into the mud but the waggons still moved reasonable well. In the sky a full moon shone down during a bright sunny day. Many miles towards the mouth of the Wash the ebbing tide stopped and many mud-banks showed themselves above the water for an hour or two. The rivers continued to empty into the bay, draining the marshes and the tide eventually turned. The full moon was pulling a Spring Tide and once the tide had turned, the sea began to fill the wash faster than a horse could run as the draining fresh water hit against the oncoming tide.
The first inkling that all was not well was when the wheels of the heavy waggons suddenly dropped into the mud up to the axles, pressing the reed mace underneath. Then the horses went down to their necks. Abruptly what had been solid ground became quicksand. The waggon began to sink under the load and although the guardsmen climbed onto it, it too began to sink even deeper. In vain the men tried to remove their steel breastplates to stay afloat. We watched unable to help, as one by one the waggon guards cried out in terror and disappeared from sight, sucked down by the liquefied mud, under the weight of the gold carried in their pockets. In a few moments we saw the souls of the men rise up out of the bog and fade from sight across the Astral Plain. The sea rushed in over the mud bank as the tide began its boiling rush to flow deep into the fens. We both knew that eight hundred years in the future this area would have been reclaimed and become productive farmland. What was quicksand now would become fields of wheat and grazing and the sea held back by huge earth banks and blocks of stone.
We took it in turns, that one stayed where the waggons had gone down, while the other searched for some kind of landmark to enable us to find the spot in the present day. Crisscrossing the flat marshland were the reed beds that tended to move with every tide. All we knew was that the waggon train was headed towards Spalding before it sank out of sight.
In the end we realised that trying to find any landmark in the maze of reed mace and swampland was futile. There was only one thing to do and that was to anchor ourselves in this position and run time forwards. We had got here in 1138 in one hit due to the stone that I had taken from Castle Raising in the present that also existed in the past. To travel forwards and maintaining our position would take a great deal of energy as I was carrying the dead weight of the gold coin, reluctantly being dragged into the future. The Dragon’s Blade was full of the energy that the many dead souls had left behind, but an eight hundred year journey would tax all my strength to pull it off. The gold coin worked like the needle on a compass directing my mind’s awareness towards the waggons as they shifted with the tides and that helped to anchor my soul on the astral plain above the sunken waggons. I made a mental bridge and spun time forwards. Tides ebbed and flowed and the carts stayed where they were until a winter of storms moved the whole area that the treasure lay, further inland. Clutching the coin I followed the path of the wagons as the mud turned from being compressed to quicksand. Over the centuries the waggons began to rot and the heavier articles come away from the secure bindings. Gold being heavy, soon settled into the final resting place and once the coins and artefacts reached firm ground they ceased to move. By now the fens had started to be drained and diligent farmers eager for more land began to fight the sea and raise defences. As the salt in the soil began to dissipate more planting took place and buildings were erected. Finally Sir Percy and I had the landmarks to be able to find the area that the valuable cargo had finally lay undetected, up to the present age; a considerable distance from the new coast. Now knowing where the hoard lay in the present I accelerated the rate of time and catapulted both of us back into the motor-home. I materialised back into my flesh and blood body along with the spirit of Sir Percy. The energy drain had made its mark against me and I felt quite weak as I placed the gold coin in a dish. Once I did this I began to feel a little better.  
Still feeling a little shaky, I fired up the engine and drove the motor-home back to the White Hart and parked it in the space that had been reserved for me. I locked the coin away in a metal box, welded to the inside of a cupboard and went into the hotel to order a meal. I set the spirit of my last dog to warn me of any attempt to break in. She had been my shadow in life and refused to leave me after she had been put to sleep. Every time I transferred to the astral plain she would greet me and I knew that when it was time for me to join her, she would be waiting. In life she had been a large German Shepard that had massed over a hundred pounds and it was all muscle and bone. I remember the vet saying that she was 20% larger than any other of her breed that he had seen. When she got angry, she became visible and the whites of her massive teeth showed up in a pool of darkness that rapidly took her form. Those that had managed to get into my motor home, seldom remained capable of describing just what had happened afterwards. The tears in their clothes and puncture marks of Pollyanna’s teeth on their body could not be explained rationally. The recipients were seldom able to cling onto their sanity after meeting my dog.  
Part of the way through my steak, I ‘heard’ an ethereal barking and snarling inside my head. I looked up at my friend and pointed at my half eaten meal.
“Can you sort out the intruder, old friend while I finish my food? It sounds like Polly is keeping him occupied,” I asked.
Sir Percy winked out of existence and the sounds of an enraged dog in my mind gradually faded away.
There was no need for me to get involved, so I finished my meal and called one of the waitresses over and asked, “Can you tell me where a good estate agent has their offices? I’m thinking of buying a small farm or smallholding in this area. Where might I find an old well-established firm that are discreet?”
“That would be Watersons, sir. They are on the town square facing the Town Hall. As for being well established, my great-great uncle founded the business sometime in the eighteen hundreds,” she answered and began clearing the plates and dishes away. 
The following day I went back to the site and sure enough the gold coin in my pocket began to react with the hoard that lay deep beneath the soil. It took a few months but the fees that I was more than willing to discharge opened up peoples’ lines of thinking. I paid three times the asking price for the farm that owned the piece of land that I was interested in and that bought his silence. I quietly moved in my dedicated workforce and had them fence off the area with wattle fencing at least eight feet high. As the land was extremely flat, looking into the compound was difficult from any distance. I also added a number of trusted men that I had used for many years to ‘police’ the area and keep people from ‘straying’ onto the digging site. Once the heavy digging machines turned up and an excavator was seen making its way along the narrow country roads no more secrecy could be maintained. Kings Lynn was besieged by other treasure hunters and news reporters. Even the local TV news appeared to get some film of the ‘treasure hunters’ and pictures of the site. I had planned carefully for this eventuality and made doubly sure that no-one could get into the compound. The farmhouse became my headquarters and the food stocks had been stashed away in extra freezers so there was no reason to go in and out of the fenced off area.
We had several visits by the police to check that we had not stocked up with guns and we gave them full access to the property. I needed none of that, as I had set precautions of my own. Each of my men carried a locket hanging on a chain around their necks and inside each locket was a lock of my hair. This would protect them for what I had ‘called’ up from the astral plain. Pollyanna was not the only creature that had not ‘gone over’ into that ethereal world. I had learnt how to call them and control them. They were known as banshees. Fear gave them power and fed their starving psyches.
I finally called a news conference and I let it be said that the site of the ‘possible’ treasure was haunted, sending a few of my men to spread the rumour by talking in the many pubs and hotels in Kings Lynn. Unfortunately there were a few that could not resist entering the site and once through the barrier, became fair game for the restless spirits that roamed there. Things came out of the sea-mist that caused many of these people to lose their sanity. We would find them in the morning paralysed with fright and phone for an ambulance to wait outside. Once the news of incipient madness was inflicted on anyone that entered got around, the curious no longer broke through the fences.
Once again the police made a show of investigating the site, but were only too glad to get back to Kings Lynn. Without a locket around their necks containing a lock of my hair, the pressure of the un-dead made visitors uneasy to say the least. All of my men kept their mouths firmly shut during the time that they worked for me and their loyalty kept them quiet. All of them would be rich men once the dig was finished. They might talk amongst themselves, but not to outsiders. Some of them had worked for me before and brought with them recommended friends who also knew the value of silence.
As the excavator tore up the earth, layer by layer, horse and human bones began to appear. We sent the skeletons to the local church to re-bury them. They were the remains of King John’s treasure guards, still holding fast to the coins that had dragged them down into a watery grave. The waggon had disintegrated as the iron bolts rusted away over the eight hundred years since it had disappeared under the mud. The timber however had been remarkably preserved and we found the bulk of the treasure still settled inside the sealed chamber set in the bed of the waggon. There were three of these and we needed a crane to remove them from the open cast mine that we had dug out.
When we forced the iron hard oak boxes apart it was plain to see that the estimate of $70 million was short of the mark. The wicked king had been squeezing taxes from the barons for many years under threat of occupation by his army and here it all was. Using metal detectors, my men scoured the area for any ‘lost’ coins and gathered thousands more from the muddy grasps of more skeletons. Already the hole was beginning to fill with water as the area returned to swampland. We kept the pumps extracting the water as long as we could but after several days we pulled the heavy machinery away from the dig and sent them on their way.
We stashed the fortune in the vaults of the Bank of England in Threadneedle Street to be valued and placed on the market. Technically it all belonged to the crown but as it had once belonged to King John, it been lost and found by my efforts, I felt confident that most of it would come my way. I had paid off all the people that had helped in the recovery and was at the point where I could choose to do the most good.  
I had my lawyers draw up a deed of covenant stating that the fortune uncovered would go to the various charities designated, leaving nothing for myself. I had bulldozers push the earth back into the hole and sent the haunting creatures back to the astral plain where they belonged. Soon nothing more need to be done except a sign saying that, ‘This was the site of King John’s lost treasure’ on a metal plaque fixed to a pole. 
I lived long enough to see the good that the wicked king’s fortune made possible and all the other ‘gifts’ that I had bestowed. The day came as it does to all of us, that I was sat in my chair polishing Sir Percy’s skull when I found myself on the astral plain with my old friend beside me. Now the realm was full of colour and no longer was grey and misty. I looked back just the once at the clay that had fallen onto the carpet and the Dragon’s Blade that had unlocked so much of the ethereal realm. The skull was empty as Sir Percy needed it no longer, but the Blade would lay there until someone picked it up. I just hoped that whoever possessed it in the future would use it well. Once the person discovered my corpse they would wonder at the skull and be puzzled by the Blade, but they would never know how I had used them both.
And as for the two of us?

Well that would take a leap of imagination!    


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