Empire State (Part Four): The Initiate
Modern day Wiccans eschew the notion of left and right hand paths – left associated with malevolence, right linked with good intentions. Not everyone has moved on from black magic.
If today was a musical score, it would have been the discordant, majestic “The Rite of Spring” by Stravinsky – glass smashing, audience rioting, unsuspected sensationalism. I had no plans on being the Chosen One dancing myself to death in Pagan Russia. In truth, I hadn’t ever considered what to do when encircled by a group of menacing druids up until now. Mr Carter appeared to be the leader of the pack – a High Priest or something, I imagine. He continued to stare at me, wordless, almost as though he was trying to send me a message via the medium of telepathy. I wondered which one of the hooded acolytes was Sam. Just as I was getting fidgety and was about to turn and run, the scene lit up with beams of bright, yellow light. I turned to see a car screeching to a halt, gravel thrown into the air as tyres rolled to a stop, headlights transforming the scene into the opening act of a stage play.
The car door opened and a slight figure (it was hard to decipher whether it was a man or woman in this light) shot out, popping their hood over their head as the car door shut and the alarm blinked on. The latest addition scurried to join the rest of the gathering. I stood and watched as they all filed away solemnly, Carter at the head. I pondered whether to join them deciding against it as I wasn’t dressed for the occasion. They made their way to the English Heritage hut that gated entrance to the castle ruins. The High Priest fumbled in his robe pocket, pulling out a large set of keys. Inserting one in the lock of the shack door, they made their way through in an orderly procession, crossing the rope bridge that looked down on Merlin’s Cave. Waves crashed against the rocks below, portentous for the night ahead.
Within minutes I found myself standing alone. I silently reflected on the events of the last few minutes. I had anticipated a couple of days away in the West Country with a good friend; I seem to have been left high and dry as the cast-off from a moonlit celebration of druids. I did feel an anger directed at Sam. He should have mentioned what was on the schedule and the fact that some of it didn’t include me. We would talk about this later. The castle had closed to tourists a while ago; there didn’t seem to be anyone around. I wandered back to Sam’s car, looking ruefully at the locked doors knowing I hadn’t got a key to get in. Tintagel village was only half a mile away. I set off on foot following the road, heading for the inn that was pre-booked.
The Avalon was a 3 star hotel, a family run affair in the middle of the village – a collection of mainly white washed buildings and tourist traps steeped in Arthurian legend (at least that’s what the merchandising material said). Checking in, the young girl behind the desk flashed a smile that I found welcoming after everything that had happened. Her name badge declared her as SARAH. She asked if I wanted a wake-up call and talked me through breakfast arrangements. The bar and restaurant were adjacent to the reception area. My luggage was ensconced in Sam’s car boot so I went straight through for a meal and a drink. Scanning the menu, I nonchalantly opted for the cod and chips.
A young waiter appeared, green waist coat and moppy hair. Noting my order, he scampered through the bar flap and beyond to the kitchen. There were a few people in tonight. A couple of middle aged men were sitting on stools at the bar seemingly talking about work. A gaggle of women sat on a table round the other side of the bar. They were ordering replacement glasses of gin, giggling at the prospect, clearly having had a few already.
I sat and took stock of the situation. My best friend Sam was clearly part of some sort of group who liked monk outfits and hung around castles at night. I had known for a while that he was a little unconventional but this was taking things to a new level. Would he return later? Would he become a victim to some ancient curse and be turned into a sparrow? Who was the mysterious late comer and would their tardiness be punished?
By the time I had eaten it was getting on for 10pm. I signed the bill at the restaurant, charging it to the room and retired for the evening. With no luggage there was nothing to unpack – it was either flick on the TV, listen to a bit of radio or doze off. I checked my phone – no messages. My eyes started to feel heavy; it had been a long day. I checked my trouser pocket. My emergency ear plugs were there in the sealed, cellothane packet. I always carried a pair just in case I found myself in a noisy room and/or if I was sharing with someone who might be prone to snoring. Feeling drowsy now having drank several pints of Peroni with my meal, I drifted off to sleep lying under the stark, brown covers, fully clothed….
…..I see the coven in a horse shoe formation. They are gathered around a stone altar. The light of a full moon shines down on them. The High Priest is standing in front of the congregation. On the altar I see lit candles, a small cauldron, a knife, a wand and a chalice. Moonlight glints off the sharp edge of the knife. Shadows dance and flicker on the stone, castle walls. Carter is reading from a large book. He beckons one of the robed figures forward with his finger. They slip their hood back. It’s a young girl. She bows in front of him. He puts something over her head. It now dangles from a chain across her throat. It’s a pentagram inside a circle. She looks up again. She looks uncertain.
My phone alarm started beeping at 8am precisely. I wanted to shower and pop downstairs for a hotel breakfast rather than laze around all morning. I stretched, yawning and looked over at the twin bed in the hotel room. Even with foam earplugs in, I had heard the room door click open at an undetermined hour. Reception had given us both electronic key cards. Semi-conscious, I kept my head under the sheets trying to ignore the fumbling arrival. With overdue consideration, Sam had employed a small torch to avoid waking me. I could still hear him skulking about, the bathroom light clicking on and off. Eventually, I heard a slump on the twin bed next to mine. I’m sure I heard a muffled giggle as sleep took me once more.
Sam was still tucked up, snug as a bug, eyes closed facing me. I reached over the side, groping the floor for one of my shoes, finding it then gently lobbing the missile into the middle of his bed. He stirred, waking and opened his eyes.
“Nice to see you again.” I declared.
“Ah, about last nigh-“
As he was about to launch into some kind of explanation, I propped myself up onto an elbow. It was only then I noticed a second figure sleeping in Sam’s bed on the far side. I looked over and mouthed “You didn’t, did you?” For a second he didn’t understand the question but, as realisation dawned, he vigorously shook his head, cheeks sucking inwards, lips pursed with indignation. The mystery person stirred and twisted around to face us both. I broke the silence, looking back at Sam. “And this is?”
The new arrival was elfin featured with a pretty face and an endearingly, small nose. Her make-up had been taken off over night in a rush it seemed, eye-liner smudged with remnants of lip gloss still obvious.
“Long night?” I enquired.
“Oh, I’m Steve, by the way. Sam’s faithful and longstanding, loyal buddy.” There was a hint of irony with the emphasis on the word “loyal”.
She clutched bed clothes to her chest and leaned up. “It was a bit. Thanks for putting me up. The car I arrived in was one of my dad’s and I didn’t fancy going home last night.”
After a pause she announced “My name is Astral…..Astral Carter.”
The plot thickens, I thought.
For a few seconds there was a considered silence eventually broken by “Well I don’t know about you guys but I am getting a shower then heading down for breakfast. Assuming, of course, that Mr Hain has brought my suitcase with him.”
Sam flashed a guilty smile and nodded.
I slid off the bed and headed for the bathroom.
The shaman is looking into an ornate, oval mirror; carvings adorn the edging; twisted, writhing, animal figures in bronze. He is standing in a large, circular observatory at the top of a house in the woods. A telescope sits on a window ledge, pointed at an opening in the roof designed for stargazing. Various single, wooden shelves line the walls, numerous magical artefacts gather dust. In the centre of the room is a large Pentagram drawn in white paint on the floor. The High Priest looks down at his Devil’s Bible opened ready for his latest incantation. He closes his eyes and begins to speak the words of a spell. “Noctes mihi doni Spritus aditum”
He slowly opens his eyes again; leaning forward he looks deeply into the mirror. Mist begins to form and swirl in the background behind in the corner of the room. He stares harder to see the vague shape of a figure emerging from the fog. The apparition materialises slowly – a large, muscular black male with arms folded, two small horns protruding from its forehead. The spirit tails off at the waist with nothing but ether to support its body. The mist has turned green and the jinn’s eyes burn yellow, only the whites showing in pupil-less sockets. Its face breaks into a leer.