In the Vale of the Shadow King (Part Four of Six)
Parts One to Three at: https://www.abctales.com/collection/vale-shadow-king
In the Vale of the Shadow King (Part Four of Six)
Billy had woken wondering if any of the events from the previous night had actually happened. Things felt surreal. He showered and dressed, Jurassic Park t-shirt and black jeans waiting in a pile on the floor at the side of the bed. He found himself staring at the mirror in the en-suite bathroom. Billy wasn’t one for admiring his looks and was still shy for a boy of his age. He looked stoically at his reflection, wondering how quickly his features might change as he aged. Billy looked closer, thinking how he often felt gawky and awkward. With blue eyes and a thin nose, the scar on his top lip made him feel self-conscious. It was a remnant from an accident when he was six years old. He had tripped and caught the side of a sewing box leaving a gash on the side of his face. Still, people liked his smile and said that it made him look just like his mum.
Grandpa Rhys was sitting at a garden table in the sunshine wearing an open-necked, white shirt when Billy appeared from the house. Whilst it was a warm day, the old man wasn’t one for wearing shorts and had long, black trousers on instead. Mum was chatting to grandma Bronwyn in the kitchen. The young man took a seat on one of the wooden, slatted chairs. The sun shone in a cloudless sky, rose bushes lined the edge of the lawn. The old man took his cup from its saucer and sipped a strong coffee.
“You must have many questions?” remarked Rhys in a distant manner. He was peering up into the sky whilst savouring the taste of his drink.
“Yes. A few.” Replied Billy. He had eaten his breakfast of cereal quickly in the kitchen so that he could catch up with his grandfather. Now that he was more awake, the strange events of the previous evening were more established in his head than had been the case earlier.
“I have something to show you.” Rhys declared as he stood. “Follow me.” With that, he left the table and headed back into the house. Billy followed. His grandfather marched down the hallway. He paused at a door that Billy had never seen opened. It was another room where entry was forbidden. The old man took a key from his pocket and jiggled it in the lock. The door opened revealing stairs that led to a basement. Both made their way down worn, stone steps and into what appeared to be a dimly lit laboratory.
The room was a revelation. Strip lighting on the ceiling gave out a dim, glowing aura. On wooden stands stood glass boxes with strange, mummified creatures inside. Along the plaster walls ran timber shelves. On them sat all kinds of magical paraphernalia; carved daggers, bells, black and blue candles with magic symbols imprinted on the wax. Mortars and pestles, ornate, ancient textbooks, wands, goblets, swords, chains and an oil lamp all vied for space. At the far end of the room, a pentagram adorned the wall. There was a musty smell that masked the aroma of burnt incense. Billy hadn’t seen anything quite like this even in movies and on television.
“I imagine you have more questions.” The statement was rhetorical. Rhys eyed his young relative, shuffling over to a clothes stand with a garment hanging from it. He casually draped himself in a black cloak.
“First of all, I should tell you that you come from a long line…..a long line…..of……..wizards. Shaman, enchanters, magi, warlocks, magicians. But probably more accurately - wizards.” Billy’s grandfather waited for his young relation to comprehend that statement then continued.
“I am a wizard. My father was a wizard. My father’s father was a wizard and so on. My son was also a wizard and, you too, will become one. You are coming of age and your training was due to start on your thirteenth birthday. Then you broke into a locked bedroom and discovered the magic carpet. In turn, being summoned by the Shadow King has rather forced my hand.”
Billy tried to take it all in. He had questions.
“Why does that Shadow King person want me to bring you to him?” The young man tried to make some sense of what was going on. He wasn’t sure if the aftermath of the previous night sounded too welcoming. With the revelations increasing and the situation becoming increasingly tense, he wondered about his mother’s role in all of this. They were to be open and honest with each other – always. Had she known about this fantastical aspect to the family lineage? If she did, why hadn’t she confided in him?
“The mountain you found the Shadow King residing in exists in a different plain. It is invisible to the naked eye. You only managed to see it as the flying carpet can cross dimensions. During a previous encounter, my son David was lost to the Otherworld. I imagine the meeting will be about striking a bargain – the return of my son for its release. Perhaps.”
Billy glared at his grandfather, adrenalin surging around his body with the discovery of demons and wizards, spells and conjurations. He took a deep breath and asked:
“So did my mum know about all of this?”
Morning wore on, the sun arcing its way to a midpoint where afternoon would soon arrive. Azure skies hosted black-headed gulls and lapwings in search of food. Waves crested and fell in the bay, sunlight glinting off water. Amongst the apparent serenity, an insidious shadow was extending onwards towards land leaving a broad trail of darkness that was the antithesis of natural things. Foxes, deer, rabbits, robins and sparrows were among the fauna that sensed danger. As best it could, wildlife made its way to safer ground like refugees from a coming war. Oak, birch, willow and cherry trees were not so lucky. Bushes of blackberry and carpets of fern were fated to face wither and decay in a slow torment of creeping death. Living things scrambled to make it into the bright light of the living. Soon it would breach the cliffs and make landfall on its relentless path; one which would culminate at a mansion and swallow it whole like a snake consuming a mouse, its body convulsing with effort. The vengeful seek their own brand of atonement when dusk becomes darkness.
Summer breezes whispered as heat shimmered in the afternoon. Billy meandered along a dirt path, his mum following with a fox terrier on the end of a lead. Pennard Castle could be seen in the distance, its majestic ruins harbouring tales of faeries and legends. Bush and scrub guarded the edge of the cliffs, mother and son now wandering along a route that overlooked sandy beaches below. Billy felt distant. The last few hours had been a lot to take in and a casual walk seemed like a good way to decompress. He still had so many questions.
“Mum…..can I tell you something?” The young man sounded hesitant, coy, ponderous.
“What’s on your mind, Billy?”
Marion had learned to decipher her son’s moods over the years. For a long time, his behaviour had been put down to simply being naughty. In junior school, not one but three tests had been carried out to determine whether Billy’s issues related to idiosyncrasies on the behavioural spectrum. The results had been negative. Not convinced, Rhys had stepped in and paid for an assessment at a private clinic. Aged eight, Billy had been diagnosed with severe dyslexia and mild dyscalculia. From there on, things had got more organised with additional support in school and structured learning plans. Marian had attended a course designed to help her communicate effectively with a child that mentally, operated differently to most other children.
Billy recounted the events of the previous night and the subsequent conversations with his grandfather. Whilst he recalled the story, he watched his mother intently, gauging her reaction. There was still the underlying issue as to how much his mum knew about this and hadn’t told him.
“Mum….did you know about the wizard stuff?”
There was an awkward silence for a few seconds. In the background, the dog was sniffing weeds at the side of the path.
“I really didn’t know anything about the creature you encountered last night. As far as your destiny goes, males in the family go on to discover their heritage at coming of age. This is determined to be age thirteen. At this point, you are imbued with the knowledge that goes with becoming a thaumaturge, a warlock, an enchanter, a wizard.” Marian gave a sideways look as she crept forward a few feet, pulled by the fox terrier. The dog belonged to her parents and she would often take it out for a walk whilst she stayed with them.
“I thought we would always be honest with each other. That’s what we said. Why is this different?” Billy sounded like a small child.
“We did, Billy. We did. To every rule, there is an exception. This is one of those. We will always be honest with each other. In this case, knowing about your family heritage would have been too much, too soon. Sometimes we have to protect the ones we care about. Sometimes not telling is the right thing to do.” Marian held out her arms, hoping her son would allow himself to be enveloped in a hug.
Billy stared out to sea. He was always taken by the beauty of the views near the cliffs. His ears pricked as he heard the sound of crumbling rocks. Looking down, he could see a huge shadow slowly edging towards them. It stretched all the way back across the waters of the bay. It must have been twelve foot in width. Birds flew startled into the sky and away from its path. He could hear the scrabbling of small animals as they too took evasive action. For a few minutes that felt like hours, he stood watching the looming threat like a modern-day King Canute. His mother seemed oblivious as the shadow made landfall. It crept along, stealthily. Trees, bushes and flowers it came into contact with started to decay. Animals unaware or too slow to flee were consumed in its umbra.
He remembered the Shadow King’s threat.
“We have to go, mum.” He looked at her with concern. Marian didn’t question the statement. She knew something was wrong. The air smelled rancid.
They held hands, turned and made their way back to the mansion.
Image free to use at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Cliffs_Bay#/media/File:Three_Cliffs_...