In the Vale of the Shadow King (Part Three of Six)
In the Vale of the Shadow King (Part Three of Six)
Billy stared up at the shadow, shocked at the idea that someone else was there. His thoughts raced as he instinctively tried to anticipate whether this was friend or foe. His initial reaction was that of fear. Why would anyone be skulking about a cave at this late hour? There was an ominous, brooding sensation.
“Who finds themselves trespassing in the Hall of the Shadow King?” The question came from whoever was casting the silhouette. It seemed to be something/someone hidden around a corner. The low, gravelly, voice sounded imperious yet unearthly. It scratched at the senses, irritating the listener, slithering in-between cracks of the conscious; disturbing in its pitch and delivery. Threatening.
As its words trailed off, small creatures appeared out of the darkness and sat on top of small rocks that circled the natural amphitheatre above. They were tiny imps with bare, red torsos. Horns sprang from their foreheads. Their legs were covered in fur, their feet cloven hooves. They leered at Billy with sinister grins formed from ragged rows of sharp teeth.
The young man was lost for words. This he hadn’t expected. The night was getting stranger and stranger. If he was a cat, curiosity was rapidly catching up with him. The mysterious, shadow figure repeated the question again.
“Who finds themselves trespassing in the Hall of the Shadow King?”
Billy thought about what to say. He had only wanted to find out what was in the locked bedroom. All of this was an unwelcome bonus.
“My name is Billy. Billy Williams. Who are you?” The reply sounded braver than the schoolboy felt. He wasn’t sure of what else to say. After all, who was the Shadow King and what were all these horrible-looking creatures doing here? Presumably, they were minions of some kind.
“Ah Billy. Billy it is then. And you say your name is Williams?” The disembodied voice continued in an increasingly interested tone.
A faint buzzing was getting louder. Flies were filling the air. Large, bluebottle-type flies. A couple flew around the young boy’s head. He swatted them away with his hand whilst ducking. The situation was sinister. The whole thing was surreal. Billy wondered whether he was dreaming and caught up in a nightmare. It felt like one. A big one. He blinked a few times. It was all real enough.
“Yes. I am staying with my grandparents. Wisteria House back over the way.” Billy eyed the red-skinned creatures, watching for any sudden moves. His instinct was to turn and run but he was fighting it for all his worth at the moment. One false move and he would be gone, though.
“And your grandfather would be a man called Rhys, I suppose? Is he still alive?” This enquiry took the young boy by surprise. How did this thing know his granddad?
“Many call me Shadow King from the Otherworld. My names are legion; none are important. This is my dominion and these are my acolytes you see before you. I know your kin from another place and another time. We have had…..shall we say…. disagreements.” Billy tried to process this. His grandfather was connected to a supernatural being who inhabited a mountain cave. It didn’t sound like they got on particularly. He wondered what the disagreements would have been about.
“So you know my grandpa? How?” Billy was genuinely interested in this turn of events.
“Many years have passed as time watched over our claims. It is time to meet again. Bring your kin to me by the end of the next night. I ask this of you with a consequence. The shadow of the mountain will grow, taking the land as it does. If this request is not met in time, the shadow will devour the home of your ancestors.”
With that, the shadow on the cave wall departed along with the imps who spirited away into the depths of the mountain seemingly taking the flies with them. For a while, Billy stood there processing the last few minutes. He felt like a latter-day Alice in Wonderland but, instead of encountering the villainous Queen of Hearts, he had stumbled on a shadow demon intent on a showdown with his grandfather. It didn’t make much sense.
Throughout, those present had been oblivious to another entity that was watching and listening. It was colourless, odourless and without mass. Invisible to all, it drifted through the constructs of existence, weaving its own web, linking eons together in some kind of patchwork existentialism that made sense out of the Universe. Some used anthropomorphism to label it “Old Father Time”. Many tried to understand it, manipulate it, seek immortality by besting it. Time noted the exchange that had taken place in the cave. It waited, ready to ensure any imbalance was corrected. It was the first and last metaphor. Abstract.
Billy made his way back though the cave to the waiting carpet, hoping it would take him back. The book he had discovered earlier had tumbled to the floor when he had taken off. He dredged his mind for the sentence he had read out before. It came back to him…
“In somnis te capit a vigiliis ad loca.”
The carpet flew him back to the house.
The bedroom was still in darkness when Billy landed. He spotted the embossed book on the floor. He placed it back in the drawer along with the torch as though nobody had been here. Moonlight continued to light the room as early morning thought about greeting dawn in a few hours’ time. The room was now even colder with the French windows left open for so long. It was as he turned to leave that he saw a shadow at the side of the bed. For a moment, he thought that the being calling itself “The Shadow King” had followed him from the mountain. The lurking figure lurched forward. It was his grandfather, Rhys. He was wearing a blue dressing gown and slippers.
“There is a reason this room is locked, you know?” He sounded annoyed.
Billy felt guilt cascade through him. He had been rumbled even if he did have a lot to tell as a result.
“I know, grandpa. I couldn’t help myself. I had to find out what was in here.” Silence followed. Both old man and boy thought about what to say next. It was Rhys that broke the impasse.
“You should tell me what happened tonight.” Grandpa Rhys sat on the edge of the bed and patted the cover, beckoning his grandson to sit next to him.
Billy recounted the ride on the magic carpet and the confrontation with the strange man and creatures in the cave. His grandfather nodded occasionally, creasing his brow. As fantastic as the story was, Billy’s grandpa appeared unmoved by any of it. With a stern, serious expression, he listened to the account. After his grandson had finished, Rhys stroked his chin and pondered.
“Now listen, young William.” Billy’s grandfather sounded more Welsh than ever. It was serious enough when he started using Billy’s proper name.
“What I am about to tell you is as much a warning as it is giving you context as to what’s happened to you tonight. So please listen and take note.”
Billy eyed his grandpa, homing in on the worry creases in his face. He nodded and looked away. The adolescent tented his fingers and rested the tops under his chin. He was a study in thoughtfulness. Rhys seemed reassured. His breathing was shallow.
“The Shadow King is an ancient creature. Forged by The Otherworld, it crosses the plains between our realm and another. It is an arrogant being. A necromancer. The Shadow King thinks of all the lands around as its own. It stalks at night, looking for souls to capture. Over the centuries, there have been numerous instances of shepherds, farmers, goat herders and so on who have disappeared. The Shadow King entraps souls in its shadows when unsuspecting victims are about their business after twilight. It feeds on them, throwing scraps to its minions from time to time. Rumour has it that some souls are spared and, instead, doomed to wander wastelands in the Otherworld for eternity. Nobody knows why some evade the ruinous ending of having their souls consumed.” Rhys recounted the facts with a heavy heart. This appeared to be an unnatural way of things fuelled by this insidious being from a mythical land.
“I have known of its existence for decades. It was six years ago when out walking with my son that I sensed its presence. I noticed a shadow creeping over my boy. An insidious shadow sent by an agent of evil. Had it infiltrated him further, he would have been lost. I managed to stop him from coming to harm on that occasion. It was that incident that led me to tracking the Shadow King down and confronting it.”
“How did you know about it, grandpa? And what happened when you confronted it?” Billy looked incredulous at the revelations. He had sensed there was something going on at the house for a long time but never knew exactly what is was. Of the things that didn’t get talked about, his uncle David was one of those things. He recalled him vaguely from his early childhood but couldn’t remember much. It was one of those family secrets that seemed to be stashed away deep in a metaphorical locker somewhere.
“I think you have had more than enough excitement for one night. I am escorting you back to your bedroom. We can talk more in the morning.” Billy refused to allow his grandfather to frogmarch him back to bed. He made his own way and was soon drifting into a restless sleep.
Image free to use at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luray_Caverns#/media/File:Luray_cavern_sta...