In the Vale of the Shadow King (Part Two of Six)
In the Vale of the Shadow King (Part Two of Six)
Standing in front of a wood-panelled door, Billy fished the key out of his trouser pocket. An air of tension permeated the atmosphere. It was tangible although the young boy posited as to whether it was just him worrying about this being a waste of time or was this more liminal? He had tried to enter the room before now, attempting to pick the lock with a straightened paper clip on one occasion. You could learn just about anything via a Google search and YouTube video. His breathing quickened. He slipped the key in the lock and turned. It didn’t fit. The metal teeth only went so far before stopping at an area inside the lock that it wouldn’t go passed. Closing his eyes, a silent sigh registered in his head. The key was taken back out again. Billy’s brain whirred, contemplating yet another failure to make ingress into the secret room. He had found and tried various keys over the years. None ever worked.
He remembered a conversation overheard recently about how keys could be fickle and it was always worth jiggling them to get them to work. The youngster slipped it back in the keyhole and gently felt for the tumblers inside. He heard a click and felt the catch release. Pushing the door open, the inside of the room came into view. At last!
Billy eased over the threshold and into the darkened bedroom. Centre stage was a large, four-poster bed that was made up with sheets and blankets. Drapes billowed from the corners of the wooden structure. A chest of drawers with a vanity mirror stood close to the end of the bed. A small, glass chandelier dangled from the ceiling. Double curtains spanned the window. On the floor appeared to be a large rug with Egyptian patterns. It partially covering a thick pile, purple carpet embroidered in designs of gold swirls. The room smelled of dust and damp. Billy imagined nobody had been in here for quite a while.
The inquisitive boy reached for the light switch on the wall and flicked. Nothing. It appeared that there was a problem. Billy would not be put off. He could always use the battery app on his phone which was stuffed inside his front, trouser pocket. Instead, he boldly paced through the gloom and drew the curtains back. French windows opened onto a small terrace enclosed by wrought-iron railing that was waist high. The moon shone brightly. The wind was getting up; a storm was approaching.
The schoolboy roamed for a while, investigating. On the face of it, the room was unremarkable. It just seemed to house the kind of furniture expected and not a lot else. Billy rustled about in the drawers of the chest. They were empty until he reached the bottom one. He reached in blindly with his hand and swept his arm in wide arcs. Finally, he touched an object. His fingers ran over the indented cover of what felt like a book. He gripped it and slowly eased it out of the drawer. The motion triggered a rolling sound and, after further groping, fingers stumbled on a small battery-powered rubber torch.
He stared at the cover of the thick tome in the gloom. In the light available from the moon beams coming in from the terrace, Billy could make out a picture of an old tree with gnarled bark and branches. It looked ancient. The pages were yellowing; sepia toned. Some were water marked. The book looked well used as though it had been thumbed over a period of centuries. He clicked the switch on the top of the torch and the book became illuminated in a column of light. Dust mites floated in the beam.
He thumbed the first few pages. There were black and white drawings of herbs and vegetables, often with a mortar and pestle. Alongside them were strange, abstract instructions of some kind. They could be recipes, Billy supposed. For some reason, he knew that they were magic spells. He had seen stuff like this on Netflix. In all of those dark fantasy shows, there was often a book of charms and incantations, a grimoire that would turn up, invariably leading to a dark practitioner in a shady chamber somewhere. Later pages featured images of bizarre creatures and curious objects. There were daggers, candles, incense holders, swords and the like. It was like venturing inside the set of a fantasy show. His eyes were drawn to a picture of a carpet, its edges curling. He peered at the text that sat next to the image. Billy decided to make himself more comfortable. The night-time explorer shuffled over to the large rug at the side of the bed. His eyes fixed on the first line and he quietly read out the sentence.
“In somnis te capit a vigiliis ad loca.”
Billy didn’t recognise the language or know what the words meant. He imagined it was Latin having seen statues with inscriptions etched on them that looked similar. For a few seconds he sat there reading the next few lines. He shivered. The room seemed colder. He glanced at his mobile phone now gripped in his right hand. Typing in the words he had just read into a Google search to find a translation, he suddenly felt a slight tremor. A faint ripple moved through the rug underneath him. The boy shifted uncomfortably unsure as to what had just happened. Was it some kind of earthquake? His eyes panned the room looking for further evidence of seismic activity. There was none. Before he could settle down again, the rug rippled again. This time it was followed by a sudden uplift into the air tipping Billy onto his side. It hovered a few feet from the floor. The schoolboy peered over the edge, dumfounded. He looked across and could now only see the top half of the wall opposite. It was like being lifted by a column of air; like a hovercraft starting up.
The carpet floated forward towards the window, triggering a fight or flight response in its passenger. He threw himself flat and grabbed the front edge of the rug with both hands, simultaneously stashing his phone in his pocket. The nascent combination ascended into the sky. Billy could feel the lower temperature of the great outdoors from cold winds blowing. He was travelling above his grandparents’ garden, passed the crumbling, brick wall at the bottom and out into green fields and meadows. In the darkness, the panorama was a mix of shadows and silhouettes. From the boundary of the house to the edge of the cliffs that looked out across the bay it was only a mile or so. Before he knew it, the recalcitrant lad was looking down at rolling waves and a vast expanse of sea. The flight path took him across to the far side of a horseshoe formation of limestone cliffs. Below lay salt marshes and sand dunes. Egrets and seagulls swooped and dived in the twilight sky, making patterns as they traversed the horizon.
A mountain loomed in the distance. Billy couldn’t recall seeing it before. The seemingly magic carpet swept around the side of the mount. Towards the summit, a cave appeared in between the nooks and crannies. Broken rocks slewed down slopes like inconsequential avalanches. The air-bound rug flew straight for the cave opening and glided inside. The mouth of the cavern was wide and home to haphazard rock formations. Stalactites and stalagmites stretched both upwards and down evolving at their microscopic, ancient pace. In this light, the cave look like the inside of a slumbering giant’s mouth. With the flying rug settled on the ground, Billy looked out into the inky blackness. He slipped out the recently discovered torch. He had ended up lying on it as he threw himself flat when the carpet took off. Hopefully it still worked. It did. He shone light on the scene. Why had his grandparents kept the flying rug a secret all these years? Why would the carpet bring him here? Was this place of some significance? Questions ricocheted inside his head like a pinball machine. “Well, here I am. I may as well see what’s here.” Billy mumbled.
Clambering upright once more, he headed into the mountain. Billy trainers crunched amongst loose rocks, occasionally stepping in pools of water. From the opening, the rest of the cave become narrower. The passageway was far from straightforward with its width fluctuating and, at times, becoming very narrow. The route seemed to go one way and then the other, curving rather than plotting a direct path. As it transpired, wearing a tee-shirt and jeans was probably suitable to deal with this terrain even if he wished he had a jacket with him. It was cold inside the cave. The sound of dripping water emphasised the coastal nature of the surroundings.
The youngster moved stealthily, fanning torchlight across rocks and shadows. He wondered what he might find. Maybe hidden treasure. Perhaps this was some sort of smuggler’s outpost. Maybe this once belonged to pirates and they had left a chest buried in a shallow grave. Inside it would be gold, silver; all kinds of plundered trinkets and bullion.
A few hundred feet in, the cave opened out again becoming wider. Billy found himself in a clearing, rocks creating a natural amphitheatre above his eye line. Looking up at a cave wall, a large shadow appeared. It was the shape of a man wearing a hooded cowl leaning on a long staff.
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