The Power of the Blade.
Skull Percy and the Dragon’s Blade.
The Blade’s Price.
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.
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.