Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Skull Percy and the Dragon's Blade.

Skull Percy and the Dragon’s Blade.

Chapter One.
The Beginning.
Once long ago whilst on one of my many fishing expeditions, I was following the way downstream of a rivulet through a dense wood and I came upon a ruined church in a deep valley that stared over a long forgotten graveyard. Festooned in weeds and clutched by ivy, anchoring the very stones to the ground, the mounds still held sway. In many places the ground had given way and collapsed into the holes left by hastily digging men. Once important tombs had sagged towards the church stonework and had fallen onto the ruined path. Some had peeled open like a daisy in the sun and shed the covering onto the grassy beds of weeds and bushes.
There had once been a village that had flourished around the church, many hundreds of years ago. The plague had come and death had stayed until all had coughed their last. Trees and bushes had not taken long to reclaim the places that had belonged to the Greene Lord. Now it was the nesting place of birds and wild creatures. Lost from the outside world, overgrown with brambles and thorny trees this place had not been set foot in for centuries.
I became curious about the state of the church and laid my fishing tackle down against a crumbling wall. Close by, the churchyard wall had collapsed into the grounds of the long dead and I walked through the gap. Immediately I could feel the menace of what had remained undisturbed for many a long year, reach out to me. Shadows moved amongst the tumbled graves. They were in sight for just a few seconds and then gone in a blink of an eye.
This never troubled me, as I had been born with the second sight and had seen past the veil more times than I could remember. What I did know, was that there was gold here to be had with a little luck and digging. In my tackle bag, I always took with me a combined shovel and saw that folded into the handle. There were no roads leading to this ancient village and I had left my car at least a mile or two where the steep hill track, intersected the stream. The stream rapidly broadened out as a myriad number of small streams tumbled into the main cataract at the start of a deep pool. The situation was too good to miss and the chance of some descent brook trout dominated my thoughts. So I followed the stream deeper into the valley casting a juicy worm into likely still places at the side of the current.
It was early morning and I was in no hurry and had not realised just how far I had come as fish after fish was dropped into my bag and I kept wanting to see what was round the next bend. This was when I stumbled into the graveyard’s boundary and the ruined church surrounded by trees. An ancient yew tree grew against the church wall. Much of it has died, but the leaves still sprouted from branches that stubbornly refused to die. It had grown against the double doors that had once proudly defended the interior, but rot and insects has caused one of the doors to fall inwards. I pushed the branches aside and wriggled through the gap and into the deserted isle.
I knew immediately what this deserted place was. It was a plague village that had died somewhere about the mid sixteen hundreds. Bubonic plague had swept through London between 1665 & 1666 and had travelled across the countryside in a virulent wave.  Many villages had closed themselves off to escape the plague, only to find that the buboes erupted amongst those hiding in their houses. Hasty massed burials took place in communal graves, but those of wealth had themselves placed in tombs bedecked with the symbols of their wealth. As the road leading up to this ruined village had long disappeared under three hundred and fifty years of vigorous growth I felt quite sure that I would not be observed whilst I did a little grave robbing.
The first place to look would be inside the church’s walls to see if the local squire and his wife had been placed there by their surviving children. There was very little roof to be seen as rot and weather had played havoc in the building. Many of the rafters had tumbled down into the chancel and smashed against the walls, breaking into the tombs and sometimes spilling their contents onto the flagstones. I had brought a waterproof bag with me as a possible overspill for the brook trout I might catch. This proved invaluable as I could pick the goodies from the spindly fingers without touching them and place them in the bag. The local squire had been quite wealthy on the trading of wool and had used his money on jewellery and gold chains for him and his wife. I stood amongst the gnawed bones and bent down to pick the shiny objects from off the fingers, sometimes snapping them to remove stubborn rings. I helped myself to the silver buckles on the disintegrating shoes and continued to fill the waterproof bag. Silver buttons on the waistcoats were ripped off and added to the plunder.
Suddenly I became aware of a presence observing my collecting.
I turned and spoke to the solidifying figure, “Do not think that you might frighten me. I have seen your kind all of my life and as my father told me, if in life you could not harm me then in death there is nothing that you can do that would do me ill!”
The spirit smiled and replied, “I am fortunate that I have at last met someone of that nature. I do not desire to do you harm. That is my skull that you have in your hand and all I ask is that you treat it with some reverence! Whatever you find here, I have no objection in your taking possession of these trifles. They are of no use to me. In return I only ask that you take me with you when you return to the world outside. You need only take my head. This is a boring place to be, year after year.”
I asked him, “How come you were buried in all your finery and not robbed before interment?”
“My wife and I died before the plague took hold and when it came, it took away so many so quickly, that all thoughts of plundering my tomb for the wealth within it ebbed quickly away. I was called Sir Percival Treggorron during my life here. My wife died just before King Charles the second returned to this land. I saw him arrive and seeing no prospect in London at that time, returned to my holdings to farm wool with my sons. I continued to grow rich and prospered. My sons became successful also and managed the holdings as I grew older. I died here just before the plague struck and my sons interred me in the tomb, not thinking that a whirlwind of misery was embarking from Eyam. As the plague took its grisly hold many died in their homes and this now hidden valley became forgotten and taken over by an impenetrable woodland. It did not take long for the road into this estate to vanish over the centuries and none came near so this place became forgotten.
My sons and the people of the village that served the estate dug communal holes in this graveyard and rapidly filled them as the weeks passed. Soon food began to run out and those who were left, fled and died just as quickly, running away from the pestilence. Every soul that lived here departed and followed the light. I did not and stayed here too long, waiting for someone to discover us so that I could rest in peace. I was here so long that I lost my way. Look amongst my bones and find the Dragon’s Blade that I carved as a boy from the yew tree that hugs the brickwork still. This tree has fed upon the dead in this churchyard for hundreds of years. It has power that can be harnessed by one such as you. It will take you wherever you want to go, leaving your body behind, safe until your return.”
I bent down and searched through the disintegrating skeleton until I found Sir Percy’s belt. There inside the rotting leather scabbard I found a most remarkable object. It had been carved from the hard, dead and seasoned yew wood. The blade was as long as my wrist to elbow and the handle had been carved to a grip that suited my hand as if tailor-made. The wood showed no sign of rot and was hard and shiny to the touch. Towards the end there was an oval hole towards the point of the blade. At the handle end the base had been carved into a dragon’s head with two hollowed out eye sockets that stared deep into mine. The mouth was open and the teeth hidden inside the head. The jaws were wide, like an alligator’s. As I picked it up, I could feel the souls of the people that had died by this knife surge into my arm. I dropped it onto the pile of bones that was all that was left of Sir Percy. I felt a chill run up my arm from that brief contact.
“It has that effect to begin with,” commented Sir Percy. “Pick it up with your gloved hand and consign it to the bag you have placed the jewellery that you have collected. We can deal with that later. Come, the sun will soon go down and you do not want to be in this area when happens. Many here died mad and in terrible pain. They will flock to you and make you share their misery. Your father was wrong. The deranged dead can harm you through your thoughts and dreams. You have much to learn, my new friend, much to learn.”
I picked up the wooden blade and dropped it in the bag of treasures along with the skull and gave a quick poke amongst the bones upon the flagstone floor to see if I had missed anything else of value. I saw the glint of gold around the neck of the other occupant of Sir Percy’s tomb.
“That would be Abigail,” Percy mentioned. “She was my wife of long ago. Take the necklace and her rings as there is no point in leaving them here. She has long gone towards the light and pursues her own way in the after-life. Come, the shadows lengthen and darkness will soon fall. Let us be on our way before you tempt fate and find yourself followed home by such that would do you harm.”
I took his advice and made my way out of the ruined church, picking up my fishing tackle on the way. The sun was slipping down into the wild and unkempt trees casting long shadows across the graves. Something had shared my ghostly friend’s long sojourn in this place of death and was reluctant to see him go. There was an ambiance of hatred seeping out of the communal graves towards me and that speeded up my withdrawal from that village of the dead.
I quickly folded up my rod and slipped it still made up, into my rod-bag and made my way back upstream, carrying my haversack, heavy with brook-trout and precious pieces of jewellery. It was still light as I approached my car with the sun about to slip over the rim of the hill. I opened the door and placed my fishing tackle on the passenger’s seat. The rucksack dropped into the well and I slid the rod between the seats. I was aware of my new found friend as he sat in the empty seat while I sat and fired up the engine.
“Mercy!” He exclaimed, as I began manoeuvring the car to face the way I had come and switched on the lights. “What kind of carriage is this? Where are the horses? What powers this contraption? Good Christ in Heaven where did those lights come from? What kind of candles do you have mounted at the front?”
I could not but laugh and replied, “We have come a long way since you died, three-hundred and fifty years ago. The world has changed beyond anything that you could imagine whilst you have been incarcerated in that ruined church. You will find that many things have changed and not all for the better. There are many more of us on this Earth than in your time and some cities number millions of people living there. We can if we wish travel to all parts of this world by using machines that fly, carrying hundreds of people in them. We will soon enter what we call a motorway and at speeds that you could not envisage. I need my concentration so I ask that you just look at the scenery going by until I speak to you again.”
My ethereal companion became very quiet or was dumbstruck as I navigated the small country roads retracing my journey. I took the approach road to the motorway and was soon hurrying along at seventy miles per hour. It was not too long before we entered a junction and I sent the car onto a country road towards the cottage that I had rented for the week. After about half an hour I pulled into the drive in front of the thatched cottage and switched off the ignition.
“This is where I am staying for a while, Sir Percival,” I remarked as I got my things from out of the car. “I am on a holiday from my work, for a short while and have rented this cottage until the next few days. Come inside while I gut and prepare my fish for my tea.”
I opened the door and my new friend floated along in my wake and was once again startled when I switched on the lights.
“What alchemy is this,” he asked?
“It is not magic, just science that has progressed a long way from candles,” I replied and tipped out the fish onto a newspaper to gut them.
“What is this flimsy book you are going to soil with the innards of your fish? I have seen pamphlets much smaller than this and with fewer words. These pictures are in colour and look real, not painted! Can you spread the sheets out so that I may read what I can understand?”
I explained as best I could what a newspaper was, as I worked on my fish, dropping them onto a frying pan on a medium gas heat. On the floor was my fishing haversack and inside were the bag of valuables, skull and wooden blade. I emptied the contents onto the spare unused pages of the Herald and only then realised what I had picked up from the chancel in the semi-darkness of the ruined church. There was an awful lot of gold and precious stones in amongst the litter of finger bones.     
Once the fish was done I tipped the fried trout onto a plate and buttered some bread staring at the treasures heaped on the newspaper whilst I ate my tea. I made no attempt to touch any of it with my bare hands and pulled my small landing net out of my fishing bag. Placing this on the back of my chair and the table I slid the items into the net and put it in the sink and turned on the tap. Soon all the dirt was removed and hopefully all traces of the plague as I let the hot water run over the items. Just to be sure I soaked them in bleach and rinsed them again drying the objects with a kitchen towel. I also sponged down the skull with bleach and ran the hot tap over it just to make sure. There were broaches, gold chains, pendants, rings, silver buckles and buttons making quite a heap. Many of the rings were firmly held in place by swollen knuckle joints, so I took out the secateurs from the tool drawer and began to snip the bones in half, releasing the rings from their centuries grasp. Once this was done I examined the find and realised that there was enough there to pay a lot of bills and keep me fed and housed for a very long time.
Most of the chains were heavy and chunky making a good weight. One of the broaches had a ring of six pea sized emeralds and a sapphire the size of my thumb in the middle.
“Sir Francis Drake gave that to my great-grandmother, maybe for services rendered, after he took it from a Spanish galleon’s captain. It has been passed down ever since. I kept it in a sealed pocket where my grasping sons would not find it and left instructions that I be interred with the waistcoat buttoned up securely over my chest. The rings would not come off unless they mutilated my fingers and they were not prepared to do that,” he told me and bent towards his skull that was resting on the table and continued. “King Charles the second returned to England and all was in a great turmoil on the day I died in 1660. My sons had hardly settled into running the estate when the pestilence struck a few years later. After that there was no time to be had to go looking for my treasures as all began to die. I saw it all and from the grave could do nothing, but watch, as nearly all of my family and farmhands were buried in the churchyard. The poor souls were grateful to go and leave this realm. I somehow got left behind and had to wait the centuries out until you came. I cannot journey too far from my bones and as long as you have my skull, I can travel with you, if you are willing? I would like to see something of this strange world of the future.”
I laughed and answered, “With what you have allowed me to take from your bones, I shall be well able to travel wherever I want to go. First I think that I owe it to you to disinfect, clean and polish your skull and make a carrying case for carrying your presence around. I take it that you do not need to see through the eye-sockets of the skull, so carrying you around inside a container would be OK?”
“That would do fine my psychic friend, as my essence can travel outside of the bones for a limited distance, shall we say from the church to the graveyard wall! I have spent many days stood just inside that boundary staring into the distance, wondering if anyone would come and break my lonely vigil. You came, released me from that penance and yet I do not even know your name?”
I looked through him and tried to focus my eyes upon his shade and by concentrating I managed to make him more solid than wisp and said, “My name is Luke Johnson and until a little while ago a designer of machines until the need for my talents passed. Now with what you have allowed me to take from your grave, I shall not need to work for a living any more. Tell me about the dragon handled blade, while I clean and polish it.”
The wood was abnormally hard and I needed to work hard to get the polish into the grain of the wood with a urethane compound, while Sir Percy told me the history of the strange blade. I could feel the eldritch power lodged inside the inanimate object seeking my touch.
“I was a King’s man and fought against the pious puritans during the Civil War, leading small hunting parties into Roundhead territory and disrupting their ridged proceedings by killing a few of them in the night. This is when I became aware of the power of the dagger that I carved from that sinister tree when I was a boy. It soaks up life from the blood it sheds. The Dragon’s Blade will slip through a steel vest as if it were cloth. When I carved it from a long dead branch, I felt that my hand was guided by some unseen force emanating from the tree. I blunted many knives in my efforts to craft that blade. It was some time later as a man that I discovered what the blade would do. I found that if I concentrated my will upon the dagger and looked through the knot hole, I could travel outside of my body and see what other people were doing. When my troupe were hunting Puritans I found the eldritch power of the blade a useful talent for finding the enemy and where the guards were. Many a time I wandered through their camps, unseen and was able to arrange a surprising number of deaths without my men and I coming to any harm. I also found that at night, providing I kept a hold of the handle, I could not be seen! With practise and concentration I also found that in my astral form it was possible to move small things. You cannot imagine what mayhem you can cause by taking a flame from a camp-fire and setting alight the munitions tent. My men feared me, but were glad of my powers that kept them safe.”
“You sound as if your civil war was very eventful, Sir Percy,” I replied and gripped the dagger by the handle.
Instantly I felt the strength of the entrapped souls surging up my arm and felt myself judged to be allowed to use the power of its eldritch secrets for my own needs. I would be expected to repay the ‘gift’ at some later date and I agreed to the covenant. What that really meant took some time for me to realise, but I did not regret the bargain that the Dragon’s Blade had made with me.

Skull Percy and the Dragon's Blade.
Chapter 2.
Wealth beyond the dreams of avarice.
In the morning I rose from my bed still reeling from the events of the night before. I stared at the dressing table where I had placed the skull before getting down to sleep. The strangest thing occurred to me and that was the macabre item seemed to be full of life. There was a brightness about the eye sockets that did not make sense as its recipient was over three-hundred and fifty years old and dead! Of Sir Percy I could see no trace in the bedroom, so I dressed and made my way to the kitchen thinking about breakfast.
To my amazement I could smell bacon as I opened the door and there was Sir Percy at the gas stove busily cooking my breakfast. He was turning the bacon over by picking hold of the rashers with his fingertips and flicking them onto a bed of mushrooms. Two eggs sat in the boiling fat rapidly turning colour and I stood transfixed in disbelief.
“Good morning, Luke, this instant heat is amazing,” remarked the ghost. “I watched what you did to cook your fish. All I needed to do was to turn the knob and flames burst into being, so I thought that I would get you your breakfast. I found food in that cold white box and the rest of the story is in this pan! Hungry?”
“Indeed I am,” I replied and sat down at the table. “I must admit that I never expected that you would cook for me! This morning I have it in mind to take you into the town and visit a leather craftsman who is a friend of mind. I want to have made a leather carrying case for your skull and a scabbard for the Dragon’s Blade. I thought that it should be possible to combine the two items so that I could carry them on my belt. Once that it done I can see no reason not to do some travelling and show you what has happened to our world in the last three-hundred and fifty years! I also need to turn some of this jewellery into money. That will need to be carefully done, as finding valuables such as these does not mean in these times that you can keep them. I would need to establish ownership. That broach for instance would need to be broken down and the stones sold separately at auction. I have a friend who moves in the precious stones and gold mercenary world. He will keep his mouth shut for a percentage share of the sale.”
I began wrapping the ‘Blade’ in Clingfilm so that it could not make flesh to wood contact with the person that would make the scabbard. Once I was satisfied that the effect of the blade had been insulated, I sorted out the precious stones and gold chain, placing the rest, including the broach in a sealed plastic bag. This I then hid in the bottom of a jar of coffee and put it in the cupboard with the rest of the tins and bottles. I slid the blade into the sleeve of my jacket and the skull inside the armpit of the same sleeve, safely bagged up so that it could not be easily seen.
I was careful to lock the front door of the cottage behind us and placed the bundle in the car, with the seatbelt securely tying it down in the passenger’s side. This did not bother Sir Percy and he just sank into the fabric of the chair and watched what I did to fire up the engine and put the car in gear. He was fascinated by the massive changes in housing and roads filled with traffic. For a man who had been imprisoned for three hundred and fifty years from the outside world, he was adapting well. It was only then that I realised that he was looking at the world through my mind! He had started to do this when I had left him with the paper after cooking and eating my tea. I suddenly realised that there would be a massive shift in written English from his time and he had managed to read and understand a modern day paper! He was using me as a sounding board to get answers to his questions about what he could see.
“Sir Percy,” I exclaimed, “I can feel you ferreting about in my mind as we travel along. It would have been better manners if you had asked!”
“Sorry young Luke,” he replied, “but this is the first time I have done this with a living person and I meant no offence. I have not gone looking into your private affairs, just into your understanding of this confusing world. Besides it saves me having to constantly ask questions.”
I accepted that and concentrated on my driving and the hunt for a parking space close to where the two shops were situated. The first place that I visited was a jeweller’s, run by an old friend of mine that had turned precious stones into money for me in the past. The sign on the door said, ‘We buy Old Gold.’ John Kettle certainly did and managed to keep a few steps away from the law in doing so.
I swung the door open on the empty shop and said, “Morning John. Busy?”
He looked up and swiftly slid something into a drawer out of sight and answered, “Luke! As I live and breathe! It’s been a while since you last poked your nose into my business! What have you got?”
You could always be sure that my old ‘iffy’ friend was direct and to the point.
“I came across some very old pieces of jewellery and gold chains very recently. They have to be at least three-hundred and fifty years old. Possibly they are Tudor or Civil War. Not sure, quite, but certainly of that age group. I have more, back at the place where I am staying and I am looking for a fair price and an advance on what you will get through auction. What do you say?”
After some examination with a magnifying glass, he put the pile of assorted rings and chains to one side and said, “You are right. They are very old and the cut on the diamonds tell me the age. You have more, you say? How much more?”
“You would be surprised. I will bring the rest in for your perusal after you have placed these on auction. Now how much are you willing to advance on what we have in front of you,” I replied and sprung the latch on the front door putting the closed sign in place.
John opened the safe and pulled a roll of notes from out of a box, secured with an elastic band and said, “There’s a grand here for starters. What I have seen should fetch at least five, maybe six thousand at the auction. My cut will be fifteen percent of what’s in this bundle, plus the advance, whatever the complete amount will fetch. Bring me the remainder and I will see what I can do. Come back in a few weeks’ time, after the auction with the rest.”
“Thanks John,” I replied and made for the door, stuffing the bundle into my pocket. “What I have left at the cottage will impress you. I have an Elizabethan broach with a centre sapphire the size of your thumb, ringed with six emeralds the size of peas! You might need to break it up and sell the jewels separately.”
With that I made my way to the leather goods shop where another old friend of mine owned and worked as a bespoke riding boot and shoemaker. Aubrey Blanchard had been trained by his father who was a master craftsman in the leather trade and had passed the shop over to him before he died. We had gone to school together and had remained good friends over the years. He was one of the very few people that I had told about my ‘gift’ and would be fascinated by my tale about meeting my companion from the derelict church. I could trust him not to touch the blade with his bare skin, once I had explained the situation to him. We had gone on many ghost hunting expeditions around old manor houses that were open to the public. Sometimes when I held his hand he could see what was revealed to me and that was why I trusted him. The window of his shop was decorated with pairs of riding boots waiting for collection, leather handbags, purses and pairs of shoes.
I entered the shop and could hear the tap, tap of hammer on nails and the sound of the buffing machine as it took off the leather protrusions around the sole. The smell of worked leather filled the air and brought many memories back.
I yelled out, “Aubrey can you spare a minute? It’s Luke and I have an interesting job for you to do for me!”
There was movement at the back of the shop as my friend disentangled himself from the rope and boot-last at his workbench. He kicked his work-stool to one side and made his way towards me. The uneven clomp of his crippled leg came nearer and I could make out the shape of his crooked stance. We had become friends at school ever since I had chanced upon some bullies tormenting Aubrey about his crippled leg and foot. I went straight in and bloodied a few noses and after that the bullying stopped. Besides I had spoken to my long dead grandfather about this and he had gathered together other relatives and began a campaign of seemingly ‘bad luck’ against the perpetrators that kept them busy. Pens got lost along with homework. Aubrey used to think up new acts of misery to inflict upon those who tried their hands at bullying. After a while the penny dropped and they left us alone.
He gripped my by the shoulders and said, “Luke! Long-time no see! Where have you been the last six months? Coffee? Get on round the back and I’ll shut shop and we can talk. What brings you here, old friend?”
I pushed past him and went to the end of the workshop and through the side door being careful where I stepped. Sharp knifes were everywhere. Some had dropped from the bench and stuck into the floor, standing upright. Aubrey had a tendency to get absorbed in what he was doing and would drop the odd knife or two. He would reach for another and suddenly find that he was ‘out of knives. Eventually he would have a pick-up of what dropped upon the floor and do a re-sharpening exercise, collecting other tools that had fallen. As a craftsman he had little equal and was sought after by the gentry and horsey crowd. Money came to him and he was seldom idle.
I went into his living room and sat down at the ancient table and set my knapsack in the middle. Over a mug of coffee with a generous measure of whiskey I told him all about my find, the new friend that I had made and what I needed Aubrey to do. Then I opened the rucksack and fished out the skull and the Dragon’s Blade. I placed my hand upon the skull and gripped Aubrey’s hand and he could see the courtly figure of Sir Percy Treggorren come into view.
“It’s been a long time since I saw the departed. Luke and I used to go ghost hunting when we were teenagers. This is the first time that I have actually talked to one,” Aubrey said and let go of my hand to drink his coffee.
Immediately Sir Percy disappeared from his view.
“That’s what happens when he lets go of my hand,” I laughed and said, “We used to get some funny looks, two boys holding hands in a manor hall, or a flight of stairs. Now Aubrey, what do you think about what I have asked you?”
“Do you mind if I examine the skull, Sir Percy and see just how strong it is?” asked Aubrey and on my nod proceeded to do so.
After a careful examination he turned his attentions to the Dragon’s Blade, being very careful not to touch the wood with his bare hands. He began to measure the skull and draw on paper the various shapes that would best accommodate it in a carrying holster, incorporating the wooden dagger as part of the assembly.
“Stay in here and rest your feet John, while I try something out. I could be a couple of hours,” he said and swept up the skull and dagger, disappearing into his workshop.
Whether it was the whiskey or I was just plain tired, I fell asleep in the chair and woke up in semi-darkness. I made my way into the workshop where there was plenty of light and found my old friend holding aloft what looked like a small bucket, scabbard and a belt.
“Just in time, Luke. I was about to call you for a fitting. The bucket will protect the contents, as it has hardened leather outside and a soft padded interior. The lid fastens down with these leather thongs to keep the skull in place. The scabbard is similarly toughened outside with a soft, lightly-oiled, interior that has a loop over the handle, to prevent it from coming out without undoing it. I suggest that you wear it on the left-hand side with the dagger’s handle behind the skull. A long coat might be advisable to keep it well hidden. I have just such a riding coat that would do nicely. I made it for a gentleman who liked to ride in some difficult terrenes. Unfortunately for him the lion that the horse surprised leapt up and took him to the Promised Land.” Aubrey chuckled and added, “He never did come in for his coat!”
I took the leather-work from his hands and slipped the broad belt around my waist and the loose strap around my upper leg. Then I placed the Skull and Blade in their two receptacles and felt the items ‘blend’ into my body. It was the strangest thing! It felt that they had always been meant to be with me. The coat hid the two items from view, just as Aubrey had predicted. The darker shadow of Sir Percy materialised into view from wherever it was that he went to and hovered by my side.
“An excellent piece of workmanship,” ghost remarked and made a special effort to materialise in front of Aubrey.
He succeeded and the craftsman got to see the baron as he was in life for a few minutes until he disappeared out of sight, with a ghostly, “Thank you,” ringing in his ears.
I stayed the night and slept well on my old friend’s sofa, cocooned in blankets. We had breakfast together and I donned the scabbard with Percy’s carrying case. Giving Aubrey several hundred pounds for his trouble, I donned the soft leather coat and made my way to my car. Sir Percy made some adjustments to his astral form and managed to sit like a normal person instead of sinking part-way into the passenger’s seat. From here he could see the surrounding country-side and the townships that we passed through. The one thing that he could not get used to, were the vast number of people that thronged the streets, of all nationalities and colours. The road traffic made him wince and when we re-joined the motorway, passing the giant articulated Lorries at seventy miles an hour made him nervous.
“What is the matter with you?” I asked as the ghost moved away from the door as we passed an artic carrying crisps. “You’re dead anyway! What more can you have to worry about?
“If this waggon were to come off the road and my skull got smashed, that would be the end of my dreams of travelling! I would be locked to this god-forsaken piece of tarmac for the rest of my existence! No more travelling for me and no more excitement for you either as you would most probably be stuck here with me!”
I replied, “If I were to ease off my speed to that of a horse it would not be too long before one of those huge vehicles flattened us under its wheels. Sorry, Sir Percy, but that is the way it is and I can’t change the circumstances. We will soon be back at the cottage and you can ‘wind down’ while I get myself a coffee. Have you not enjoyed seeing what the future that you are now in has altered from the world that you knew?”
“It has been amazing, young Luke. Truly amazing! This world is nothing like the one I left, but so much more interesting. I shall be very interested in what that old broach of my grandmother’s fetches in today’s money. I looked into several jewellers windows while you walked by and could see nothing with gem stones as large as what are in that broach! It would seem that you will be a very rich man once that money is safely inside your bank account.”
“Well it’s all down to you Sir Percy,” I replied and swung the car around the last bend before we drove up to the rented cottage, only to find it in flames.

                                                        Skull Percy and the Dragon’s Blade.
Chapter Three.
The Power of the Blade.
There was a large fire engine parked in the drive and a number of men directing the jet of water into the room overlooking the garden. The rest of the cottage had luckily been spared and seemed intact. I quickly parked the car by the side of the road and ran to see what if anything I could do.
A large man in uniform put his hand on my chest and said, “Are you the owner, sir”
“Not exactly,” I replied, staring over his shoulder at activity. “The cottage belongs to my aunt and I was staying in it for a few weeks to do some local fishing and use it as a holiday home. I was away for only one night at a friend’s house sixty miles away. Any idea when the fire started and why?”
“Well sir, we found evidence of accelerant in the furnishings. We think that it was arson as whoever it was left a lighted cigarette pinched between a book of matches, upright in a pan of lighter fluid. A nearby neighbour saw the flickering lights and called us out. Not a very nice homecoming,” he said and stared thoughtfully at my face and added, “Was there anything of value in the cottage, sir?”
“Only my fishing tackle,” I lied. “The furnishings were old and the whole cottage is a bit run down. Looks as if some renovation work will need to be done before it can be made liveable again, I should imagine. It’s a good thing that the thatch did not catch fire. My aunt will not be a happy soul when I tell her the news. What state is the kitchen in. Will I be able to get some food going?”
“Sorry to say, sir, that it had been ransacked and every jar of coffee, tea, sugar and flour has been emptied out on the table along with knives and forks etc. It’s a mess I’m afraid and will need some clearing up before you could get yourself something to eat,” the fire officer said and was given a sign by one of his men that the fire was out and it was safe for me to go inside.
“You had better go,” I replied and stared at the mess in the kitchen through the window, “No doubt there may be other urgent business for you to attend to. I have a lot of clearing round to do and some boarding up the busted windows. I dare say I can find a tin of soup or something to tide me over until morning. Goodnight Officer and thanks for getting here so quickly. The lot of it could have burnt down if the thatch on the roof had caught alight.”
“OK then sir. We will be on our way and you can expect an arson specialist sometime in the near future to examine the origin of the fire, so I would be obliged if you did not enter the room that was set alight. As the damage is so slight you may as well stay here and clear up the rest of the house,” he said and walked away towards the fire engine.
I stood with the sickening knowledge that at the bottom of the coffee jar had been a polythene bag with the broach, assorted rings and several gold chains. Judging by the multi coloured layers of coffee, tea, sugar and flour there was a nil chance that anything would be overlooked. Whoever had done over my rented home had done a thorough search of all those likely places that we honest people (Well mostly honest!) think are safe.
A deeper darkness coalesced out of the gloomy undergrowth and said, “Luke! Do not despair. Have a quick broom round and see what you can salvage and get a mugful of coffee down you while I give you some idea about what can be done with the Dagger’s power.”  
My mind was on fire and full of doubts and recriminations. I could not think straight. I had just lost a fortune that would have set me up for life, only to have some toe-rag steal it from me within days of finding it. I swept the floor’s mess into a tidy heap and gloomily salvaged enough of the brown stuff to make several mugful’s. The kettle was soon on the boil and there was plenty of milk in the fridge so a large mug, laced with whiskey made me feel a bit better.
Sir Percy materialised at my elbow and scornfully remonstrated, “Got over your self-pity? You have things to learn in a hurry. We need to track this thief down and quickly as the trail will soon grow cold. The blade as I said, will take you where you want to go. To save time, I will instruct you inside your mind. During the many campaigns against the puritans I used the blade to find them, not just in the here and now, but in the past. As a psychic and a medium you are aware that time can be bent on the astral plain. The blade will allow you to do this with your astral form. As you have placed me near your ‘living’ body I can add some direction while your body sleeps. We will go together back through time to when this scum entered the cottage and follow him to where he lives. You cannot touch him while you are in the past, but in real-time, you may be surprised by what you can do!”
I drank my fortified coffee and went to the toilet to make sure that I did not wake up sat in a swamp of poo! In the kitchen was a wedge that I hammered into the base of the door frame to, keep it shut. This was usually applied in the summer months to keep the backdoor open. Picking the comfortable old arm-chair I sat down and began un-wrapping the Dragon’s Blade, removing all traces of the Clingfilm from the handle and the knife-edge of the dagger. I could feel an emotion of anticipation begin to flood the room as I picked it up.
I could feel the influence of the long dead Sir Percy enter my soul and I grasped the handle in my right hand and drove the pointed end into the palm of my left. Lifting the wooden dagger to my eye, I stared into the oval hole in the polished wood. A few droplets of blood seeped out from under the point of the blade. Through that hole my consciousness flowed, carrying one other. I found myself floating in a mist that eddied and billowed around the still body of my flesh, but before I became lost I felt the spirit of Sir Percy beside me.
“Use the power of the blade and concentrate your mind upon the cottage and run the scene backwards by following me,” he insisted and led the way.
I watched the events unfold as the firemen arrived backwards at a fire that had gone out. Put their equipment away as the fire began to flare up and then going away as the fire increased as they left. Then I realised that the time frame was running backwards. Flames shot out of the living room and blew the window open. All became still and after some time, just as suddenly the whole place was curtained in darkness apart from a torch-light that wandered around the house. This was my burglar ransacking the kitchen and I found out just as Sir Percy had explained, I could not touch him! I put my hands through his chest twice, but to no avail. So we watched as he set the fire trap in reverse. It was quite deliberate! After shaking it over the furniture he placed a dish full of lighter fluid on a soaked cushion and bound a book of matches to a lighted cigarette and carefully placed it in the middle. He then went into the kitchen and began to search for anything of value, putting the material back into the containers. Now we had what we needed and that was the burglar’s presence so Sir Percy moved us into time forwards and we saw him leave the house. We followed him outside where he climbed onto a motorbike and roared off into the night with me floating behind him, attached to his soul. As I was now travelling forwards in time, although still in the past, I could keep in contact with the bike and hung on. I followed him as he zipped down country lanes and finally turned into the drive of an old end-terraced house on the outskirts of a small town. He got off the motor-bike, opened the front door and went inside. We followed him indoors, unseen, where he made for the kitchen to look at his stolen treasures. Drawing on the dagger’s power, Sir Percy bent time back again and we travelled swiftly forwards until the two time frames coincided. When we entered the here and now, I became aware that I could now touch the surroundings and feel them! By this time the man had gone to bed and was fast asleep with the stolen items placed in a side drawer of an old dressing table.
Now he could feel and see my astral form and I could touch him! I wandered around his bedroom and pulled the draw open to retrieve my property. The wood slid out of my loose grasp and it came out and crashed to the floor. He was up and out of bed in an instant and levelled a sawn off shotgun at me, switching on the light.
“Where the bloody Hell did you come from,” he hissed. “Give that bag to me or I will blow your head off.”
I changed shape as Sir Percy manipulated my image and saw his eyes fill with fear as a fiend from Hell strode towards him. I had no idea if he could do me any harm with the gun and what happened next was incredible. I leant to his side and reached round him and became two people in one body. Sir Percy gave me his strength, purpose and possession, so we struck out with the Dragon’s Blade bringing the unholy and sharp wooden instrument of death upwards. Time seemed to slow down for the burglar, but speeded up for me. I drove the dagger through his chest and up into his heart, rupturing one of his lungs as it sliced through. I felt Sir Percy let go of his control of me and I knocked the shotgun to the side, directing it upwards whilst keeping hold of the handle of the dagger, lifting him off the bed. His dying reflexes kicked in and his fingers tightened on both triggers, causing him to fire two blasts through the window, taking out most of the frame and propelling the shotgun across the room. His body stayed attached to mine through the dagger and my grip upon it.
Sir Percy shouted, “Remember what I told you at the cottage. Do not let go of the dagger while you are in this astral plain, or you could break the circuit to your living flesh and be stuck here.”
 I saw the burglar’s twisted soul depart his body and Percy did something that made the spirit accelerate away from us, leaving his cooling flesh behind. I knelt on the burglar’s chest and pulled the dagger from out of his heart. It had slid right into the man’s body, right up to the hilt as if made of the finest steel! As the blade exited, the skin pulled together without a mark to show what had just transpired, leaving a pool of blood over him and the bed.
When the pathologist opened him up in the morgue, the heart would show the damage done, but with no point of entry. The bloodstains in the room were found to be his, but without any wound to be found. Also as they searched this room for clues they would find no trace of DNA other than the thief’s. The shotgun blast had peppered the wall and had taken out most of the window and through that hole I could see lights going on along the street.
“I think that it’s time that we moved off, my friend. Although they will not see us, it is getting too long for you to stay in astral form; it will chip away at your sanity. Put the jewels in your fist and concentrate on holding on to them. Enter the portal in the blade and take us back to the cottage,” Sir Percy insisted and I raised the blade and stared into the emptiness of the portal. As I concentrated my mind, a picture of my kitchen and my motionless body began to fill the area beyond the blade. I looked around to make sure that all was well and stepped through. I opened my eyes and stared round the kitchen from my seated form, suddenly realising that in my fist was a fortune in diamonds and gold. A matter of a few hours had ticked by while I had gone backwards and forwards in time. The only amount of time that had passed was the time that I had spent in the burglar’s house. The enormity of what I had done filled me with nausea and I felt that I wanted to vomit. I still had the dagger in my hand with the point pressed against the palm of my hand, but added to it was the broach and all the other pieces of jewellery. I stared at the wooden blade that was bone clean and the skull that rested securely in the leather bucket, still trying to come to terms with what I had done.
“I told you that the blade will go through steel like it was rotten cloth! It is an amazing thing and almost alive in its own identity. It is an obedient creature and will do as you require as long as you keep hold of it,” the ghost chuckled and bent forwards to look at the loot that we had retrieved. “You learnt a great deal tonight, young Luke. A lot more than I intended to teach you at this stage, but your psychic abilities smoothed the way for an incredible performance.”
“What did the dagger take from that Man?”
Sir Percy answered, “Only his life force. His soul went on to wherever souls go to, so do not worry about him. If you had been there in the flesh as it were, you would have ended up plastered onto the wall of his bedroom with buckshot. Now the sun is coming up and I think that you should get some sleep. I will keep a safe lookout for possible thieves while you get your head down.”
I stood up and emptied the jewellery into the skull bucket and placed Sir Percy on top of it, lacing the top securely. Riddled with insecurity I took it to bed with me and placed it under the bed in the old china potty, kicked my shoes off and climbed onto the duvet.
I propped myself onto an elbow and asked the ghost, “You told me that you could not travel further than the graveyard wall at the ruined church. How was it that you could travel so far in chasing the burglar?”
“You will need a better understanding of the astral plain for me to answer that fully, young Luke. Put it this way, my bones are my home and the skull contains my spirit. You have placed it next to the Dragon’s Blade and that is a reservoir of arcane energy. Also I am attached to you and can go anywhere your astral spirit goes, providing you wear that special belt. So keep me safe! Enough is enough! Go to sleep before someone comes knocking on your door to examine where the fire started or you get a visit from the police.”
I managed to get five hours of sleep when I heard a banging on the front door and woke to hear Sir Percy say, “Up you get my young friend. Just as I predicted, arson investigators and a detective have come to see what happened here.”
After some hours the investigators came to the conclusion that this was part of a pattern that had been played out several times. Fairly remote cottages had been burgled and set on fire to wipe out any traces of the person responsible. The detective took swabs and finger prints from the living room and kitchen and complained about my clearing up. I told him that little of any value had been taken, if at all and I thought the setting of the fire was down to spite. I thanked them for their efforts and told them I needed to get in touch with a local builder/odd-job man to repair the window, redecorate the living room and remove the burnt furniture. Once that was all done I phoned my aunt to explain the situation and insisted on paying for the repairs myself as I could well afford it.
Over the next few weeks I ferried the jewellery into the relative safety of John Kettle whose eyes nearly popped out of his head when he saw what Drake had given Sir Percy’s ancestor. He gave me a big advance on the selling price of the gemstones and true to his word they fetched at auction (Broken up) a very tidy sum.
It was during this time span that the police pathologist did a full autopsy on the man that had robbed me. First he examined the body looking for any wound that could explain the amount of blood he had found at the site. There was nothing, only a bruise on the man’s chest where I had knelt to withdraw the blade. As he cut his way through the chest cavity and emptied the organs onto the stainless steel tray, he discovered the ripped open heart and ruptured lung. He was baffled that so much damage could be done without breaking the skin, and wondered if the noise of the sawn-off shotgun had given the corpse a massive heart attack. The creepy thing was that his facial features froze into a mask of terror as if he had been attacked by a fiend from hell. In the end the baffled pathologist entered a heart attack as cause of death as the alternative conclusion might cost him the respect of his colleagues and his position. Now that the chest cavity was open he could not easily prove that the burglar had died by massive heart trauma without an entry point for the large bladed knife that had killed him!
The police never did find out why he had demolished his bedroom window with a double blast of his gun, but a search of the premises yielded a lot of stolen goods.
Subsequent DNA examinations flagged up a number of unsolved burglaries that matched his genetic material, scattered around the area, so eventually I had a letter confirming that I was one of his victims. I wrote back saying that as nothing of value had been stolen the matter could end there.
I then invested most of the money and banked the rest. I told the real story to my old friend Aubrey over a few coffees well laced with whisky. I had a lifetime before me and a key to endless wonders and I intended to go there with my ‘spirit guide’ leading the way.  

Skull Percy and the Dragon’s Blade.
Chapter Four.
The Blade’s Price.
As time went by my skills with the blade’s power, enabled me to travel on the astral plain and step out of it anywhere and any-when. The only place I could not go to was the future, as Sir Percy explained; you cannot go to somewhere that does not exist yet. I bought a top of the range metal detector and began a hunt for ‘buried treasure’ by hopping back in time and witnessing the hasty burial of precious artefacts. I then came forwards in time until I was able to locate the burial place of the items that had been hidden. Sometimes to my annoyance the site was covered over by buildings or a motorway and the ‘loot’ was deep underneath the foundations. So I walked the ancient paths over the downs and between the burrows. The reformation of the churches and abbeys often yielded gold in various disguises underneath heavy stones that had been toppled over to hide the contents beneath.
I was rich enough without adding extra money to my bank account and investments, but became consumed by the thrill of the chase. Besides I had the willing help of a three-hundred and fifty year old companion whose memories of Tudor times and the republic often came in useful. I bought a deluxe motorhome and travelled the country in it, visiting at will anywhere that seemed of interest.    
Some years later I decided to pay a visit to the ruins of Fountains Abbey to see what had perhaps been secreted away when the abbey had fallen under the mantle of Thomas Cromwell, whose pursuit of the riches owned by the Abbeys was legendary. The last abbot at this huge place, William Thirsk had been taken, along with Adam Sedbar, the Abbot of Jervaulx to the Tower of London, where they were both found guilty of treason and suffered traitors' deaths -- hanging, drawing and quartering. What I needed to do was to travel back in time and witness the wealth of the abbey some time before the long greedy arms of Thomas Cromwell gathered them in. I was sure that whatever sat in that place of worship of real wealth would have been spirited away long before the soldiers came. Most of it would have to be left, so that when the abbey was ransacked, all that was found would satisfy Henry’s minister as he tallied up the spoils.  
I began a tour of the district looking for a farm B&B with evening meal not too far from the Abbey. I soon found out that Yorkshire hospitality leaves little to be wanting. The farm that I stayed at was only a few miles up the road and the amount of food placed upon my plate in the morning was small compared with the evening meals. I could have lived on that farm quite contentedly, but I think that my heart would have given up the ghost within several months! Meggan, the farmer’s wife, seemed continually concerned that I was on the edge of starvation. Sir Percy spent a lot of time in her kitchen just to watch her cook! After a while she began to get edgy and began to look around, so Percy being a gentleman left her to prepare my food. 
During the day we explored the extensive ruins trying to get a ‘feel’ for the ambience of the stonework and the many hands that had laboured here. Every time that we crossed the river I could feel the Skull twitch in the bucket that I carried him around in.
“Whatever is the matter, Sir Percy?” I asked as I crossed the bridge.
“I do not like crossing water. It makes me anxious, young Luke. If anything were to happen and I fell into that swiftly flowing stream, I could end up fixed in some dark hole under the river bank, far from your good self. My worst terror is being dropped into the sea. Could you imagine spending eternity a mile or more down on the dark sea-bed with nothing to do, but stare into the abyss? So whenever we cross water that thought comes into mind and I feel uncomfortable,” the ghost replied and twitched again in his bucket.
As I walked through the ruins of this magnificent Abbey I could only marvel at the thousands of bricks that were used to make up the walls and arches. The Abbey was founded in 1132 by 13 Benedictine monks from St Mary’s in York seeking to live a devout and simple lifestyle. The man-hours spent building this place beginning then and centuries after must have been staggering. Within three years the little settlement at Fountains had been admitted to the austere Cistercian Order and with that came an important development – the introduction of the Cistercian system of lay brothers. Nevertheless over the centuries the worshippers had given much to the Abbey and the monks had secreted many of these riches away from envious eyes, keeping their vows of poverty. Hence the Abbey was decorated with a lot of the wealth acquired, but the brothers still led a simple and austere life.
However during the Visitation of the Monasteries in 1536, Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's chief minister, had begun to take account of the riches that the monks had secreted behind their monastery walls, and to look for ways to relieve them of it. Cromwell's protestant zeal and his practical desire to please the king were united behind the cause of showing the monks to be corrupt and superstitious. Thirsk was forced to resign as abbot and went to live at the nearby abbey of Jervaulx. Instead of living quietly on the pension that he had been provided with, however, Thirsk became involved with the Pilgrimage of Grace. This was a revolt led by Northern Catholics in 1536, who sought to force Henry VIII to return to the Catholic Church, reopen the abbeys and get rid of Protestant reformers. Henry VIII, however, was not to be stopped. Abbot William Thirsk and the Abbot of Jervaulx (Adam Sedbar) were sent to the Tower of London, where they were both found guilty of treason and suffered traitors' deaths -- hanging, drawing and quartering. They had died without releasing the knowledge of the riches that they had salted away. As they had furnished Cromwell’s investigators with all that Fountains offered, there were rich pickings for the Crown. There were fine ecclesiastical vestments and vessels - copes, mitres encrusted with silver gilt decoration, silver-headed crosiers and chalices; plate, jewels and relics – including a piece of the True Cross that brought to the Abbey, pilgrims from all over Christendom. Another highly prized material was the abbey’s lead, and this was stripped from the roof, pipes and elsewhere, and melted down to form ingots, or ‘pigs’, which were easier to transport. Each pig weighed nine hundredweights. Not all of this was carried off as the Abbot William Thirsk a year or more before Cromwell paid him a collectors’ visit took what could be carried easily and secreted that away. This was what Sir Percy and I were going to hunt for. What made this difficult was that the public came here from all over the world to see what was left of this magnificent Abbey, so any digging would have to be discrete. How we would achieve this remained to be seen. First we had to find what had been hastily hidden. 
I had walked through the ruins from end to end and Sir Percy had ‘nosed’ into the stonework to see if the hoard was secreted in the walls, without success. With dozens of square miles extending from the Abbey walls across the countryside, wandering around with a metal detector would not do! So there remained one other solution, use the Blade and go back in time and follow the monk who buried the Abbey’s secret assets. Hopefully this would not be in the public eye and a quick workout with the metal detector would enable us to transfer it to the motorhome. This would then find its way to John Kettle my good friend and fence, who would then turn it in for cash. Ever since I had released to him the hoard from the plague village church, we had both become quite rich.
Returning to the farm I spoke to Meggan and told her that I had some things to do in my motorhome, so I would appreciate having the evening meal at the farm, but instead of sleeping in my room I would be using that instead. I paid her upfront, including the unused room adding that I might go early before anyone was up and about, so not to worry if the vehicle was gone. She was used to guests coming and going and thanked me for the extra money for the unused bedroom.
After I had put away, roast chicken and apple sauce with fresh vegetables from the farm garden I felt ready to start our hunt for the hidden fortune. I walked across the farmyard and entered my motorhome, locking the door behind me. Making sure that my bladder was empty and I was comfortable, I sank into my well-padded armchair. I had in my pocket a piece of the stonework, taken from the abbey wall. This I placed into my left hand and holding onto the carved handle I placed the point of the Dragon’s Blade into the palm of that hand, just enough to draw a small amount of blood. Immediately I felt the power of the Blade surge into my soul and the life-force from the plague’s graveyard and all the victims of the knife were mine to bend to my will. Keeping hold of the piece of stonework I stared through the hole and oozed through it towing the willing Sir Percy with me. Using the stone as a direction finder I took us to the walls of the Abbey where I had the stone from. I spun time back.
Night and day became a blur as the centuries peeled away and still the Abbey remained in ruins. I suddenly felt the stone tug itself from out of my grasp and place it into the wall and the glass windows replaced themselves. I slowed the spin of time, still going back to a time before the Abbey had been stripped of all things of value by following Thomas Cromwell’s collectors putting everything back to where they had rested for hundreds of years. Some of the monks resurrected as they were put to the sword in reverse. The great doors swung shut and there was turmoil as those inside tried to hide. Abbot William Thirsk came walking backwards away from the main doors. From that vantage point I directed our fall through time to a point two years before this sacking of the Abbey took place.
We entered through the same main doors that we had seen being opened with great force in reverse. The inside of the nave glittered with gold candlesticks with the flames of hundreds lighting up the fine tapestries. Our way towards the Abbot’s house would take us through many rooms, halls and the cloister passage. Eventually we came upon the heavy dark wood door that was the entrance to the private quarters of William Thirsk. Sir Percy threaded himself through the door and entered his study. There he found the Abbot knelt in prayer. Sir Percy took on the form of an angel and appeared in front of the terrified Abbot. 
“Open the door without being seen and shut it again once you are sure that there will be no-one coming this way,” my ethereal friend insisted. 
As soon as the door opened I brushed past him, unseen. My powers of passing through solid walls and wooden doors still needed some extra effort and skill, so I relied on Sir Percy to do this for me. Nearly five hundred years in the future my flesh and blood avatar sat in a comfortable chair frozen in time until I returned. If I died here then so would he, so I did not take anything for granted.
I materialised in front of the Abbot, with the form of an angel, spreading my wings and said, “The lord is merciful and has a message for you abbot Thirsk. In about two years’ time, Thomas Cromwell’s men will ransack this holy place. When they come as come they will, allow them to think that they have taken all of the Abbey’s riches. I am entrusting you to take these holy objects you keep in your study to a safe place where Tomas Cromwell’s spawn of evil will not find them. As for your future I can only tell you that the Lord waits for you and once you leave these holy walls expect to meet him soon. Your King will have no mercy, but be assured Hell waits for him. ”
He was to meet a cruel death, but out of mercy I could not bring myself to tell him how he would die. I had given him two years to prepare and to plan the secretion of the very best treasures of the Abbey. Knowing that King Henry would turn everything that the Abbey possessed into money to pay troops and his own use, I had no qualms about tricking the gullible fool into collecting together the ‘cream’ of the wealth collected here over the centuries. Now all we needed to do was to watch and wait. Eventually he sent for one of his most trusted monks and pulled out from his desk what we had been waiting for. It was an iron studded box lined with lead, filled with precious stones, jewel encrusted crucifixes and gold coins. It was nailed shut so that it could not be opened easily.
I had spun time forwards to this point, tediously listening in to all Abbot Thirsk’s conversations with his devoted followers and racing on to the next. The strain of repeatedly doing this was beginning to take its toll, so I heaved a sigh of relief when at last our goal was in sight. 
Sir Percy and I listened as the Abbot instructed his acolyte in what to do with the hoard of religious objects that he did not want to fall into the new churches’ hands. He was to harness one of the order’s donkeys and set off for the stone formation known as the Witches’ Pygge. He was to mark the place by chiselling the sign of the cross on one of the stones near to where he buried the box. It was already an unfrequented place with a bad reputation amongst the locals, who, riddled with superstition, believed that the devil by riding the Pygge could enter their miserable homes and take them off to hell. Only a holy man could endure the forces of evil that gathered there. I loved superstitions, as they made the manipulation of ignorant fools that much easier! 
I felt that I had done enough in this time frame and left Sir Percy to shadow the monk while I returned to my flesh and blood body to recuperate. Once I had a good night’s sleep under my belt I would set off in the early morning and find a parking space as close to the stone formations that I knew existed. I would then lock it securely and re-join my partner in crime in the deep past to stand guard over the plot until the present day. We would weave a legend of things partially seen at the situation that would keep the curious from ever coming back. Once in the present of the here and now I would use my metal detector and find the Abbot’s hoard and relieve the reluctant earth from its sentinel duty!
It took a little longer than I expected to find a place nearby to park the mobile home, but that would not affect the outcome. I had a decent breakfast and once again sat in my comfortable arm-chair. I took up the dagger and stared through the hole and became reunited with my ethereal companion. He had stopped time on the astral plain and was standing by the monk’s side waiting for me, lighting up the mists of time like a beacon.  From now on we had to be careful not to influence the monk in any way or make him fear the place that he had been instructed to take the religious artefacts and bury them before he had done so! I recognised the unfortunate monk as one of the first ones to be put to the sword when Thomas Cromwell’s’ men burst through the double doors into the Abbey. This would take place in a few days’ time. I felt a short spasm of pity, but realised that this had all happened before and our interference in the time-lines would make no difference. When William Thirsk was put to the question, he would babble about visitation by angels and would be just laughed at. He would die, hanging onto the knowledge that he had outwitted the inquisitors and they would be satisfied with what they had found at the Abbey. 
The abbot Thirsk had told brother Aldous that the box contained a piece of the true cross and must on no account be taken by King Henry’s new church. Here in this unholy place the relic would be safe and might even become a shrine when Catholicism returned.
We held back as the cowled monk plodded across the field towards the strange formation of a dolmen. This consisted of two sarsen stones that supported another on the top, making a doorway. Another stone lay flat within the formation. The one at the top that made the arch had the weather-beaten shape of a face that had fallen out of the hard material. This could be seen only at sunset as the shadows chased across the stonework. Thousands of years ago the druids had made this their alter and conducted sacrifices upon the other odd looking grey stone laid inside the dolmen. The end facing out had indeed the features of a wild pig that seemed to be emerging from the standing stone. The obelisk had the appearance of ‘something’ brooding over the grassy hill as the mid-afternoon began to turn towards dusk. The arch seemed to invite ‘something’ to come into the world and out of the darkness within.
Brother Aldous felt the first feeling of dread as he approached the stones when the donkey flatly refused to go any closer. He tethered the donkey by roping its front legs together and undid the harness holding the small chest. The sheer weight of the box brought him to his knees and he strained towards the stones by dragging it along the grass. All the time the monk prayed aloud and held his crucifix aloft to deter any demons that might be lurking by. Looking up at the movement of the sun across the heavens, the brother began to frantically dig a hole a few feet along the side of the ‘Pygge’ and fortunately found the soil soft. Satisfied that the hole would cover the box with at least a foot of earth he dragged the small chest into the cavity and watched it descend down into the earth. He had carefully separated the turf from the bedding and made sure that there was no mound to give the position away. The excess earth the monk scattered around. 
Remembering what the abbot had insisted he do; he took out the chisel and a hammer and began to inscribe a crucifix in front of the ‘Pygge’ leaving the stonework by the box undisturbed. If anyone came looking for the Abbot’s treasure and dug there, they would soon find out that the earth was empty. 
The next thing we watched brother Aldous do, was to brush the grass back into place where he had dragged the box, churning up the soil. In places he planted apple pips from the fruit that he had brought with him. These would grow and help hide the ‘Witches Pygge’ should anyone come here years in the future, in case something of this hidden treasure’s whereabouts came to light. Now he needed to return to the abbey and tell the Rev Father that the box of relics had been buried away from un-pious eyes. The sun began to sink and the shadows began to chase across the standing stone. 
With some help from me on the astral plain, I altered the face to become more prominent by laying a false image overlaying the shadows. The ‘face’ moved and turned round seeming to stare at the monk with a baleful glare. The far off sound of a rooting pig appeared to be coming closer to the aech, grunting and snuffling in the deepening shadows.
This became too much for brother Aldous and he grabbed the donkey by its halter, undid the hobbled front legs and hurried away from the accursed place. He sat upon the fearful animal and galloped away across the fields as the donkey bolted. The monk was too afraid to even cast a backward glance. When he returned to the abbey he would tell the other brothers of what he had seen and spend several hours on his knees in Christian devotion. 
The legend of the Abbot’s treasure would be told over and over again and handed down as a ‘secret’ over the centuries. Very few ever came close to the whereabouts of the William Thirsk’s box of relics. Those that did, did not stay long and Sir Percy and I kept a careful watch over the years. I was able to spin time forwards at a quick, steady rate and only slowed the ascent through space/time when prospective treasure hunters decided to seek if the stories about the Abbot’s hoard were true.  
A hundred years or so later, during the Civil War, a scouting party of Puritans decided to camp nearby the standing stones. Some of the men were local and knew the legend of the Abbot’s treasure and decided to have a look around the stones to see if they could find any clues to where it had been buried. They all had heard stories about the Devil’s ‘Pygge’ that stole souls whilst Satan himself rode the creature back and forth from Hell to the Christian world through the arch. None of them ‘believed’ these tales to be true, but deep down they all shared an uneasy respect for the possibility that there might be something that had started the old stories going. They began to talk about the legend as they made camp.  
“I tell thee, Amos the knowledge that Abbot Thirsk had some of the riches of Fountains Abbey salted away, comes down through my family. Before he died, brother Francis told my great grandfather that the abbot entrusted one of his faithful to take a large box and bury it by the Witch’s Pygge nigh on a century ago,” the sergeant insisted. “Here we are for some days camped close to a possible fortune and you will not come with me to look?”  
“Tis not that I won’t, Sergeant Blake,” replied Amos, “But I be a feared of this place. I be a Christian man and this place is not called a place of the devil for nothing.”
Several of the others in the scouting party began to laugh at Amos’s fears and taunted him, but he stayed resolute.
“I will go with you, but I will not step on that unholy ground. I will hold the horses while you dig with your short swords and that is all I will do! I want nothing to do with the digging up of holy relics and in such, no part of the dividing of the spoils,” he replied.
In the centuries after Brother Aldous had scattered the apple seeds a small orchard had sprung up around the stones, hiding most of it from view. Sir Percy and I took up our position under the arc of the dolmen and waited to see how things would develop. My ethereal friend took on a skeletal form with curly horns growing from his forehead, clad in a monk’s cloak and habit. I altered my appearance to a being similar to his, but with my horns projecting out making wearing of the hood difficult. Both of us made our bony figures over seven feet tall and moved over to the shadows of the apple trees. I spread a layer of Ectoplasm over the stone ‘Pygge’ so that the creature would ‘rise’ from the prostrate grey stone as if it were the creature’s home. 
We watched as the small band of horsemen rode into sight and reached the copse to dismount. It was mid-day, but overcast with dark rainclouds gathering above the dales. In the thicket of feral apple trees, it was dark and quiet. The men left the mounts with Amos outside the edge of the trees and pushed themselves into the brambles and tree-trunks, making for the stones. They hacked and slashed their way right up to the side of the stones. Several of them got down on their knees and examined the stones close to the ground and when one of them saw the crucifix chiselled into the front of the pig-stone he called the others over.
“Look at this,” he said in triumph, “This is the location mark that the brother hammered into the rock to neutralise any evil spirits. Get your short swords out my lads and dig. There could be a fortune under here.” 
Two of the men began to dig in the soft soil and soon were scooping out the earth with their hands to no avail. Sergeant Blake pushed them away and plunged his sword down into the sandy bottom. He could feel nothing like a small chest and pulled himself out of the hole.
“That crucifix had to mean something or the monk would not have spent time cutting it out in this fearful place. Take your swords and push them down into the earth around this stone and see if you can feel any resistance. Start right by the edge and work out. Do not give up hope yet. I can feel that there is something here.”
The clouds darkened even more and the thicket became very oppressive, as the sun was cut off by heavy dense clouds. Rumbles of thunder began to roll across the plains. There was an audible grunt that bounced off the trees, followed by a snuffling sound. A dark shape began to take form as it ripped itself from out of the stone ‘Pygge’ and lurched towards the soldiers. 
From out of the shadows emerged what looked like two demons from the depths of hell. They were much taller than the men and moved towards them with shuffling steps. Naked skulls adorned with horns and glowing eyes filled the trapped men with insane terror.
Sergeant Blake screamed and lunged at my skeletal form with his sword only to be met by a wooden blade that slid through his ribs like rotten cloth, drinking his life force and turning him into an old man. He began to come apart and fell off my blade onto the ground as he rotted away. The rest of the men tried to flee from the scene but became entangled by the wild blackberry brambles. At the icy touch of Sir Percy’s skeletal hands, two more died of terror before making it to the edge of the thicket. The one that made it to the horses became completely maddened by what he had seen. Lightning split the sky and heavy rain began to fall. The terrified horse reared up and kicked him in the head as he dropped to the ground. Amos managed to remount his horse and released the rest, as he caught sight of a huge wild boar with tusks as long as his feet, come stamping out of the apple trees. He would never forget the glowing eyes and the thing’s companions. It would have been as tall as the shoulder of his horse. Two impossibly tall monks came out of the undergrowth with skulls adorned with horns similar to a ram’s where their heads should be, dressed in black and shadows. 
Amos never did re-join his regiment and went missing believed killed. He made his way over the sea to Ireland and made a life for himself there.
As for Sir Percy and myself, we stayed where we were and watched the seasons come and go. Nobody came for the treasure seekers and they soon bedded down in the thicket, their souls long gone to another place. I spun the centuries on and stopped some inquisitive devil worshippers from coming too close to what they wanted as a shrine of sacrifice. A few visitations of the real ting soon made them change their minds.
It was sometime during the 1680’s that a witches’ coven took an unholy interest in the “Pygge’ as a means to strike back against the persecuting clergy that had condemned to death one Elizabeth Morse. 
Therefore, on the 20th of May, 1680, at a Court of Assistants held in Boston, she was indicted by the grand jury for, “not having the fear of God before her eyes, being instigated by the devil, and having familiarity with the devil contrary to the peace of our sovereign lord the king, his crown & dignity, the laws of God, and of this jurisdiction.” 
The result was a verdict of guilty, and Goody Morse was sentenced to death by hanging, but reprieved at the last moment by the governor of the parish who did not share the beliefs of the clergy that had persecuted her.  
The coven that was really operating around the ruins of the Abbey decided that the events at Newbury should be punished by a curse levelled against the accusers. To do this required a sacrifice of a child, preferably a girl below puberty. Even better would be the daughter of a clergy-man. One of the local churches had as a minister, the Rev James Clagg who had a large family. He was one of the Coven masters who held allegiance to  his belief in Satan, rather than to the diocese that had placed him there. 
So it came to be that Sir Percy and I witnessed a procession of a ‘High Priest’ followed by his acolytes dragging a small cart towards the stones. On the cart was a child bound and gagged. As they came closer we could discern that the figure was a little girl of about eight years old. The leader was holding an upside-down crucifix in one hand and a sickle in the other. The congregation were chanting in Latin as they trudged through the long grass of the field. 
“They are chanting a litany to bring forth the Devil and tie him to do their bidding in exchange for the child,” Sir Percy exclaimed and moved round the ‘Pygge’ to face them. 
“Not if we give them what they ask for before they harm the child,” I replied and sank back into the dark shadows of the stone arch of the ‘Witch’ to wait for events to unfold.
The leader used the hook to clear away the undergrowth leading up to the ‘Pygge’ and the others took out billhooks to do the same. Once a pathway had been cleared, they turned their attention to the little girl. She was stripped naked and spread-eagled across the stone on her back with her legs apart pointing to the entrance through the dolmen. Ropes were bound around her ankles and wrists. On the other end of the ropes heavy blocks of stone hung down the sides of the ‘Pygge’ making the movement of the child impossible. 
The reverend Clagg began to chant a litany, pausing every so often to let the others of the coven answer him. As he chanted, the ‘Devil’s priest’ climbed onto the top of the ‘Pygge’ faced the arch and bowed his head in allegiance to the evil force he believed inhabited the stones. He raised the sickle above his head meaning to bring it down, cutting through the young girl’s vagina to send her to Hell, in a ‘pure’ state. Fortunately she had by now become totally unconscious as the drugs that had been fed to her to ‘purify her soul’ had taken effect.
I emerged from the darkness within the dolmen, the Dragon’s Blade firmly gripped in my right hand. I had adapted my image to the same guise as to when the soldiers had come to steal the chest. The robes that I was wearing opened to show the bones beneath them. I was at least two foot taller than the crazed minister and bent my skeletal face down close to his. I stank of death and filled his lungs with corruption as I reached out for him with my left hand and grabbed him by the wrist, sinking the points of my skeletal fingers into his flesh. He rocked back and looked up, unable to take his eyes off the spirally pointed horns growing from my forehead, as they towered above him. The Dragon’s Blade was in my bony hand and it sliced down, severing the hand holding the sickle. Both hand and implement I dropped to the side of the ‘Pygge’ and James Clagg stared in horror, as his amputated stump pumped blood all over the rest of the coven who were stood transfixed to his right. Sir Percy then reared up behind them and folded his cloak around three of the faithful and squeezed them out of existence. He then began to suck the life-force from them one by one. This he fed to the blade to give it the strength that I would require. By this time the Rev Clagg had dropped to his knees staring at his amputated wrist still pumping blood. I reversed the blade and drove it through the top of his head and he fell off the ‘Pygge’ onto the ground. I was grateful for the extra energy released by the blade as I took hold of the minds of the people that were left of the coven and showed them Hell or my version of it. They would take the little girl home to her mother and would only remember what I allowed them to. Fortunately she had remained asleep during the horrific episode. They loaded the bodies on the cart along with the child and retraced their steps across the field. There was only one thought in their heads above all others and that was the will to go home. They found that they could not speak about the events that had taken at the ‘Witch’s Pygge’ only to reveal that the locale was an unholy place and best left alone. The dreams that beset them reinforced the instructions that Sir Percy and I had implanted in their minds.
Once again I left the scene and travelled through time back to my still frozen; ‘flesh and blood’ body sat in the chair. I was shaking like a leaf and placed the dagger and Percy’s skull on the table. I helped myself to a large tumbler of single malt and sipped the liquid, pulling my shattered nerves together. I had no regrets in rescuing the girl from the crazed fancies of the Rev Clagg. If there did exist a region of the after-life called Hell, I was certain that he would have earned a place there. I took my body to the toilet and gratefully used it and went from there to the kitchen in the motorhome to cook myself a bacon roll. Feeling more settled I sat in the chair and picked up Sir Percy’s skull and placed it in the carrying bucket. Next I selected the Dragon’s Blade and stared through the hole, sending my avatar speeding back through time and space to reappear by the side of my friend.
Once more the years sped by and John Aislabie inherited Studley Royal in 1693 but really set about transforming the grounds in 1720. He added lakes and ponds, classical statues, follies and small buildings all carefully placed in the landscape. He then bought the Abbey ruins in 1767 and incorporated them into the gardens to provide a stunning feature. We watched this process with some concern as the armies of workmen altered the landscape around the ‘Witch’s Pygge’, putting in ponds and water features. When they started to plant trees they began to take interest in the standing stones. It took some time to clear the apple thicket, but when all had been cleared away, the skeletons of Sergeant Blake and his men soon came into view as scattered bones. They had provided a great meal for a variety of creatures foraging through the undergrowth. No attempt was made to dig or disturb the soil around the two unusual formations and once   John Aislabie had paid a visit to see what his men had unearthed in the thicket, he gave the instruction to leave the stones where they were. John soon realised that the remains scattered through the grove were Puritan soldiers and dating back to the Civil War. Most of the armour had rotted away, but enough was left to identify. He got the workmen to gather up all that they could find and have them blessed and buried in a local church graveyard. As the formation was located at the top of small hill, it would blend in perfectly with all the other landscaping projects. He was completely oblivious about the legend of the Abbot’s treasure, so had no interest in the stones other than their scenic view and the fact that they were an ancient item that had been placed there thousands of years ago.
We watched as the countryside around the area altered. Civilization began to catch up to the present day, as I allowed the centuries to pass more quickly. Apart from a very few picnickers, the stones remained in isolation. When the time reverted to the ‘here and now’ I returned to my motorhome leaving Sir Percy’s spirit at the burial site. I brought his skull with me along with the Dragon’s Blade and hired an even tempered horse from a local stable. We set off across the fields until the megalith came into sight. I then felt the presence of my ethereal friend re-join me on the horse as we got into range. There wasn’t a soul about that early in the morning so I had little fear of being seen. A quite thick early morning mist hung about the stones making a wonderful ‘smokescreen’ for my activities.
I swept the metal detector back and forth and was rewarded by a steady beep at the left hand side of the ‘Pygge’ so I began to dig. Two feet down, the outline of the studded box came into view. As the earth was sandy and mostly well drained the iron nails had not rusted out and the box was intact.  Now was not the time to open the small chest so I strapped it to the side of the saddle, packed away the metal detector and rode the horse back to where I had parked the motorhome. 
I tied the horse to a fencepost at the side of the car park, taking the box and metal detector inside away from prying eyes. There were a few cars parked some way from where I had left the motor home and no sign of the occupants, so I was confident that I had not been seen. I nearly ruptured a hernia getting the chest onto the kitchen table; it was so heavy. The box looked as if it were made of weathered oak and oiled iron brackets had stood most of the test of time, protecting the corners. Whoever had put this box together had not intended for it to come undone! A certain amount of rust had eaten away at one of the top corner pieces so I attacked this corner with a crowbar after drilling several holes around the metalwork to weaken that corner. Slowly the wood began to yield and I forced the first bracket from the corner. The oaken sides had to be over an inch thick and did not easily come apart. I had to be careful opening the box, so that I did not damage the contents.
Finally I managed to pry the lid from its fixings and now the lead sheathing came into view. A hammer and chisel soon split the lead away from the sides and the top come off like a sardine can’s lid to reveal an alter cloth covering the contents. My hands shook as I ripped the ancient clothe from the contents underneath. Sir Percy leant forwards to view the contents as he could not see through lead and began to laugh.
There underneath the cloth for nearly five hundred years lay a piece of ‘The True Cross’ that had been one of the Abbey’s great crowd attractions. It even had a substantial blacksmith’s nail driven into one end, with a large forged head sticking out, although how anyone could have removed the feet without taking out the nail baffled me. Underneath the lump of wood were rosary beads, ornamental scrolls that fell apart when I tried to unroll them and a bag of gold coins. Of the riches that we had seen the Abbot place into the box there was no trace. It was then that we realised that William Thirsk had asked one of the monks make a separate box and had buried this somewhere else. Logic told us that somewhere under the Abbot’s ruined house was a vault with a fortune in gold and jewels. They were we would never be able to get at them without a bulldozer and a crane to lift those great heavy flagstones with an audience of onlookers crowding around. The vault would have been built when the Abbey was being refurbished and a chute into the vault would be a one way trip. Typically the Cistercian attitudes to wealth would have directed the Abbot to put all such extremes out of reach forever!
Unfortunately we could not return to those turbulent times and change anything because of the repercussions that would ensue. We could not revisit the astral plain in case that in that time period we met each other’s doppelgangers. At least I had a bag of mint fresh gold coins that would more than pay for our excursions around the Cistercian wonder of Fountains Abbey.  
I locked up the motorhome, returned the horse to the local stable and walked back to my vehicle, still grinning with wry humour at the turn of events. When I got home, my friend Aubrey would see the dourness of the tale and laugh fit to split his sides when I told him of our latest escapade. I would take him the lump of wood and nail as a keepsake.