In the Vale of the Shadow King (Part Six of Six)
Parts One to Five at: https://www.abctales.com/collection/vale-shadow-king
In the Vale of the Shadow King (Part Six of Six)
The danger was visceral, corporeal from the red-bodied harpies. They lived to gorge on the flesh and souls of the living, liking nothing more than ripping apart carcases in a feeding frenzy. They would fight each other for scraps, acknowledging no other hierarchy other than an allegiance to the Shadow King. Rhys and Billy heard the mewling sounds; creatures hungry for blood. The din was fading away. They re-opened their eyes. The mountain was disappearing into the distance and they were nearing the waters of the bay. The carpet had broken free.
The flight back was relatively uneventful compared to what had gone before. The occasional bat would fly close by and bear vampire fangs but Rhys dealt with them with the most basic of conjuration. The old man looked closely at the path the shadow had carved over the last day. It was a scene of devastation but he knew that flora and fauna would return in time. Nature had a way of resetting even in the direst of circumstances. The landscape would once again consist of country lanes, trees, bushes, birds and animals. He strained to see into the distance and discover the fate of his home. For a second, his head was full of images of a property flattened and inhabitants fleeing for their lives. He breathed a huge sigh of relief when the mansion came into view. It was still intact.
The carpet glided through the French windows into its bedroom. Its passengers hopped off as soon as it had come to rest. The relief was tangible.
“So that’s what a wizard does?” Billy grimaced.
“That’s not a usual night’s work.” His grandfather assured.
As the sentence trailed away, the young adventurer noticed a shadow, once again, at the corner of the four-poster bed. Surely the Shadow King hadn’t followed them and got back first? It seemed to be capable of most things. Billy’s very essence filled with fear. He peered at the shape as it emerged. Rhys also looked across, his face full of shock.
The old man threw himself at the intruder, arms out wide.
“David. Is it really you?”
Time had watched the scene in the Cavern with patience. It had eternity available, of course. Rules were universal. It had noted, with interest, Albert Einstein’s work from the early twentieth century and his conclusion that time was relative. Time and space are not constant. There was still much to understand, of course. Regardless, there was a balance to all things, of which Time was an integral factor. Time could be temporal; it could be distorted and dilated. Black Holes defied logic, after all. Anachronisms were feasible, not always false or flawed. Time was the ultimate arbiter.
In the split second, during which the Shadow King had dissipated due to the assault of fireflies, Time had found itself in a glade. Seeing, judging, watching. Seconds ticked by as a farmer and his faithful, young sheepdog rounded up a flock of sheep in the gloaming. The man, a broad-chested man with a beard and wearing a wide-brimmed hat, looked across at the sun finally setting on the horizon like a ball of fire disappearing over a ledge. Turning to make the journey back to his farm, he heard a scratching noise from a tree in the corner of the field. The collie’s ears pricked, its head cocked to one-side in curiosity. By the side of the silver birch, the shadow of a hooded figure appeared at the side of the trunk. He/she was carrying what looked like a staff.
The burly farmer took a step towards the interloper. Whilst it was dark, the gloom seem to be growing more intense, the light that there was being snuffed out somehow. The man shuffled closer to the tree, expecting the person hiding to declare themselves. Now, a few feet away, he took another step. With that movement, the terra firma his shoe should have found was absent. Instead, he lost balance, slowly but surely, and toppled forward into an abyss. A soul lost to another dimension. A counter-balance in the scheme of things. A mere pawn in the fabric of the universe. A faint cry could be heard with the passing demise; a faint cry that was lost on the world. The black and white collie close by looked up and wondered where his owner had gone.
Time watched on intently, silently, noting the rebalancing through the return of a lost soul. The Otherworld had gained one new wanderer in exchange for another that had been roaming endless wastelands for six years. In one tick of an eternal clock, fate had restored a man’s son and taken another’s in return. With a fracture averted, the final deed was the restoration of a deity to this realm, a world in which it could, once again, hunt for lost souls and trade in magic based on the Dead. In what was a mere blink of an immortal’s eye, Time had corrected what could have been an imbalance in the ledger of infinity. Now the left hand side matched the right hand side. In the process, the Shadow King had been freed from its purgatory and the return of David had been catered for by trading a sheep farmer. Yin was Yang.
Billy watched seagulls swooping across the bay from his bedroom window. He wondered what this place was like in the bleakness of winter. Was it as beautiful when the sun didn’t shine? He had been through a lot in such a short space of time. He had come of age when all he had anticipated was another holiday with his grandparents.
His mother sat on the bed watching him. Marian was immensely relieved to see her boy returned unharmed. She was ecstatic that her father had been reunited with his son after all these years. There had been a celebration; a family complete again even if they were unaware of the price paid.
“Life will never be the same. You realise that don’t you, Billy?”
The young boy turned to face his mum, slowly. This had been quite a journey and unlike no other summer visit to his grandparents. The usual mix of seaside trips, walks in the country and general family type stuff had been turned upside down by the darkest of events and a completely new chapter in his fledgling life. Billy thought of the relationship he now had with his mother and found it in his heart to forgive her for keeping all of this from him. He knew she was just looking out for him. That’s what mum’s did.
“Oh…in the spirit of open and honest, there is one more thing I should tell you.” Marian smiled innocently.
“The women of the Williams family……are witches.”
With the advent of another Halloween approaching, it felt like a good time to pen a longer fantasy story. The influences on this will probably be obvious. Neil Gaiman casts his colossal shadow across the fantasy genre and the ideas in the recent Netflix hit The Sandman were an inspiration. He remains a beacon for aspiring writers wanting to gain traction in this popular sub-culture of media work.
Perhaps not quite so profound but Locke and Key (another success on Netflix) gave the story its foundation. That is, the notion of mysterious keys found in a large, old house leading to dark adventures set interwoven with family drama.
One final, noteworthy mention is a book called The Wanderer by Timothy J. Jarvis. This author is a lecturer at the University of Beds. He worked with my son during his time in Luton on his degree in Creative Writing. I did take on board some of the style and technical aspects from his novel. We can learn so much from simply reading other people’s work.
As ever, my grateful thanks to anyone that’s read any or all of these chapters. At c. 9,500 words, it’s one of my longer tales. ABCtales is an education as well as an immersive community that is wonderfully supportive and invariably inspirational.
The journey continues.