by Teel James Glenn
The rumble of their footsteps shook the earth like ‘quakes
Their voices called for horrid death and made the heavens shake
The legions of the wolf twin state are set upon our shores
Now we the blue clad warriors will meet them all in wars
From Highland keeps we’ll thunder down
No mercy in our cry
To drive the ‘truders from our home
Or know the reason why
And if they offer terms to us
Or bargain for our thrall
We’ll strike at them thrice fiercely back-
And make’m build a wall!
Of Ancient Words and Modern Deeds
It is a common misconception that Hadrian’s Wall marks the boundary between England and Scotland. This is not the case; Hadrian’s wall lies entirely within England, and south of the border with Scotland by less than one kilometer in the west at Bowness-on-Solway. It had been begun in AD 122, during the rule of Emperor Hadrian to protect the ‘Lords of the Earth’ from Rome from my people, the savage Scots. We were the only peoples the Romans encountered that were so fierce that it was far less trouble (and a good deal safer) to simply wall off and try to forget about.
It was the first of two fortifications built across Great Britain, the second being the Antoniene Wall, lesser known of the two because its physical remains are less evident today. A significant portion of the wall still exists, particularly the mid-section, and for much of its length the wall can be followed on foot.
Even eighteen hundred years later it was still impressive, however, when it could be recognized as a man-made structure. The weathered stones crawled across the bleakly brown of the English countryside.
West of Greenhead in Hexham, Northumberland the stones stood stark against the countryside. Thrilwall Castle, visible from the ancient Roman Wall had been built with stones looted from the older structure and so the two grey stone sentinels lorded over the low, rolling hills.
A ground mist crawled along the low hills almost every afternoon as the shadows lengthened. And almost every afternoon Lord Reginald Granville went walking along the base of the ruined wall with his favorite dog, Pollex.
Lord Reginald was in his sixties, though his posture was as ramrod straight as it had been when he fought the Boers twelve years before where he received his leg wound that invalided him out of the service. Though his hair was silver his beard was still bright red. His eyes were still shining and alert as he took his constitutional.
“Feels good to get out for a bit, eh fellow?” The lord said to the golden haired setter. The dog alternately darted forward and ran back to circle Granville. “Damn this bad hip and the damp air, a fellow needs to walk a bit, eh boy?” The dog gave a bark that seemed to agree with his two legged lord and master.
“Though I think we had better be getting back soon,” he continued. He glanced back across the bog toward the hills beyond which were the ancestral home of the Granvilles. “It’s getting dark pretty quickly.”
Lord Granville often wandered over the broken countryside looking for old artifacts, poking the peat brown soil with his ebony-wood cane. There were still Roman jars and potshards to be found easily and on the rare occasion a Roman or early Norman coin could be found without much prodding. In doing so, the old lord went against local custom, for the area of the wall he wandered along was considered something of a taboo in the region.
Granville pooh-poohed such talk and often said, “the past is dead and will stay that way until we dig it up and put it on show.”
On that particular September day the Lord had ranged a bit further a field than usual. He was hiking along a section of the wall that he had not visited since before the torrential rain of the last week. Perhaps that was why he saw the statue so clearly.
It was carved of some dark stone that was not jade but shone like it. The image was barely a foot tall but remarkably well preserved. It was of a bearded man seated on a fancifully carved horse with a fish tail.
“Oh my, Pollex,” the old man exclaimed as he knelt to peer more closely at the statue. “Do you now what we have here?” He picked up the statue and brought it close to his face to study it in the dimming light. “This here fellow is Neptunus equestris the ancient Roman deity of agrarian plenty and of fertility!”
Lord Granville used his cane to push himself to his feet and then did a small jig. “We have really made a find this time, Pollex. This will make the boys at the club green with envy!”
He held the statue up and squinted to take in what detail that was visible in the failing light. It was finely detailed with the equine figure clearly covered with tiny fishlike scales and the tail a fully formed fish tail. The muscular figure that rode it was much like other images of the Roman god of the sea that he had seen in museums but with a delicacy and detail that was almost miraculous. The tiny figure seemed ready to draw its next breath.
“Just wonderful,” he said aloud. He noticed that his own voice was muffled and looked up to see that the mist was thickening to fog. “We’d better shake
a leg, Pollex.”
He called to the dog that had wandered off again nosing for small game but when the animal started to come back toward him it suddenly froze.
“Come on, fellow,” the lord called. “We have to get back before this becomes a pea-souper.
The dog was stiff now, as if pointing, its tail straight behind him and his ears back.
“What’s wrong?” Granville asked, for he could clearly see that something was wrong. More so, he could feel a change in air pressure that made him conscious of a sudden chill in the air. It was also markedly darker than it had been mere minutes before.
The dog was growling now its eyes focused off to his master’s left. Lord Granville felt alarmed now and turned to see what the dog was fixing on. He could see nothing.
“What is it, boy,” Granville asked. “What do you see?”
The nobleman strained his eyes to see what the dog was looking at but the world was becoming a grey-smudged thing with the fog now even muffling his calls to the dog.
“Ignore it, Pollex. Let’s go!” He started to back away toward where the dog was, casting his eyes back to where it seemed the dog was looking.
That was the moment when Lord Granville heard the sound; a low rumbling that was like a bass drum. Granville felt the sound as well as heard it; it vibrated against his diaphragm.
The rumble continued and then there was another sound within that rumble; a heavy breath-like sound.
“What- who’s there?” Lord Granville asked. He had raised his cane now, holding in front of him as if it were a talisman. “Show yourself! Speak up!”
The dog, now behind the nobleman, had started to whimper.
Granville was becoming worried now, for that dog had hunted badger and fox and other animals and never showed that type of fear.
“What in the duce could be out there?” He thought. “A wildcat?” The Scottish Wildcat was a fierce solitary hunter that sometimes roamed the border area. Some were as large as Pollex himself, four feet from head to tail.
“Shoo!” Granville called out in a loud clear voice, though the sound of it was swallowed by the dense fog. “Get away!”
The rumbling sound and the breathing sounds increased. The dog yelped and broke, running off into the gathering gloom.
“Blast you, Pollex, it’s just a bloody cat!” He spoke more to reassure himself than the dog. Being a man of action the nobleman, despite (or perhaps because) the fact that he felt a shiver of fear, stepped forward.
He swung the cane in front of him like a scythe, the dark wood leaving a trail in the thickening fog.
“Bloody hell!” he cursed, “I’ll find you, bugger!”
Suddenly his cane hit something, a large something. It was a thud, loud even in the enveloping fog. The rumble went from the edge of hearing to deafening.
“What?” Granville exclaimed.
The cane was jerked from the nobleman’s hand and the rumble became a roar.
Then a shape exploded out of the fog to overwhelm Lord Granville.
His dying scream was short and loud and despite the fog penetrated all the way back to Granville Manor.
The Phantom Rider
At just about the time that Lord Granville was dying at the foot of the ancient wall I was busy defending myself from his sinister son.
And by sinister I mean that Andrew Granville was a left-handed swordsman of some considerable skill. He was pressing me with a furious series of cuts that I was barely able to deflect.
My name is Jack Stone, late of Her Majesty’s Horseguard and I was on the fencing floor in my club off of Liecester Square in London to settle a bet.
I was on special detached service from the Horseguard to serve a most unusual gentleman, Doctor Augustus Argent as aid-de-camp and general all around assistant. He was Minister Without Portfolio for the Crown and thus I retained my rank of Captain. His particular area of expertise was matters of the unexplained and unusual. Some would call them the occult.
As Doctor Augustus’ assistant I am often called upon to engage the forces of darkness in a more direct and physical way than my ‘Guv’ and so I made a point of keeping up with my military skills. Which brings me to why I was being driven at sword point backwards on the piste of the fencing salon.
Andy Granville was in my old unit and whenever he was in town we had a standing challenge to cross blades. The winner of the bout was treated to a night on the town by the loser; I had treated him twice before out of his three visits.
At that moment it looked like I was going be treating him again. His high guard was like a steel web that I just could not get through but then he was having some trouble actually scoring on me as well. I faded backwards as he pressed me.
“Going to concede, old fellow?” He said. I could see his smirk beneath his mask and for some reason, though I had seen it before it lashed my Gaelic spirit like a buggy whip.
“I hope you’ve had a good run at the weekly dice tables, me’lad Andy,” I said with bravado, “because I’m feeling particularly puckish tonight; I may set a record for tucker!”
As I finished my boast I accepted an especially vicious cut to my left flank, but instead of a conventional response of parry/riposte I took a radical step. I accepted the cut but took a fleche forward, springing at Andy. He tried to dodge aside but rather than make a conventional cut I raced past him with my blade striking and slashing across the chest of his jacket.
“Touche!” I yelled as I twisted my hand to cut back at him and made a second strike on his still extended left arm.
“Bloody hell, Jack!” he tore off his mask and stared at me with a confused expression. “Where did you learn that one?”
I laughed. “A mad Turk who could out drink any Scot I’ve ever met when I was in Istanbul last year.”
“Well I’ll admit I’ve never seen it.” He handed his sword and mask off to one of the watchers (who were busy exchanging money on their own wagers on our match) and came to throw his arm over my shoulder. “But you know, you won’t be able to use that one on me ever again!”
“I spent two weeks in the company of that mad Mohammedan,” I said. “So I have a few more tricks up my sleeve!”
We headed off toward the locker rooms to change and then to a memorable night on the town but were intercepted by Roland, the head butler of the club.
“Most sorry for the interruption, sirs,” he said with a deferential bow, “But this note arrived for you, Master Granville and it was deemed most urgent.”
My red haired friend took the envelope with a puzzled expression and opened it. His handsome features darkened and he looked up at me with a sober expression. “I’m afraid I’ll have to take a chit on your night out, old fellow. I’ve got to race home.” He handed me the note and I read it.
“The Stallion is abroad. I regret to inform you that Lord Reginald has met with a terrible accident and has passed on. You are the Lord of Granville now; return home immediately.” And it was signed simply, “Althelston.”
I was almost as stunned as my friend. I had met his father on two occasions and was impressed by the elder Granville’s vitality. And then there was his almost legendary exploits in the Transvaal.
Andy and I made eye contact and I could see he was fighting several emotions, not only his grief but I knew him well enough that I could see a sharp edge of anger underneath.
“If I can render any assistance,” I began.
He put a hand on my shoulder. “If you could free some time, old fellow,” he said. “I don’t think I want to make this trip alone.”
“Let’s change,’ I said, “We can still make the late train out of Victoria Station.” I saw his relief at my statement and he even tried a smile.
“Good show,” he said.
We changed in record time and caught a hansom to the station.
I was fortunate to have an overnight bag with me, having just returned from a short trip to Paris for the Guv—i.e. Doctor Argent and so we had no need to stop at my flat.
Andy did not speak for quite some time, in fact until we were seated in our compartment and well on our way north. I respected his need to be with his thoughts but after a time my curiosity overcame my decorum.
“I have to ask, Andy,” I said. “Just what is this statement on the note about “the Stallion is abroad?”
He turned back from staring out the window and seemed grateful to talk. “It is an old family legend,” he said with a somber tone. “It goes back to the time when the Romans occupied this area. A centurion who was particularly disliked by his men got into some kind of argument and either accidentally or otherwise ended up destroying a household shrine of the god Neptunus equestris, an ancient Roman deity. He was a horse god and closely associated with the Scythian cavalry regiment. The householder cursed the centurion and his line before the soldier killed him.”
“So?” I asked.
“Well, he—this officer—went out walking alone and when he didn’t return his men went looking for him; they found him by the base of Hadrian’s Wall, more than just trampled. He was savaged as if by some great beast. Thereafter when someone was about to die in the area there were reports of a strange, riderless horse, a phantom, seen riding along the wall.”
“That doesn’t sound so different from other local legends from all around the Isle.” I said. I realized it might have sounded dismissive and added, “So how does it apply directly to your family?”
Andy smiled wryly at my question. “My family has been near the wall for many centuries; some say we descend from that centurion on the wrong side of the blanket. In all that time the Phantom Stallion has been seen before the death of the head of the family. Usually a violent death.” He gazed back out the window and I suspect it was so I could not see moisture form in the corners of his eyes.
“I have lived with the probability that it could happen; it did for my grandfather, who was found savaged out on the heath many years ago—they never discovered what beast did it. Yet somehow, my father seemed so–so very vital that I never imagined it could ever happen to the Old Major.”
We traveled in silence again for some time. I offered my friend a sip from my small flask of single malt and he gratefully took a swig. I followed suit then slipped it back into my tunic pocket as I enjoyed the heat of it course through my system.
My thoughts went to the validity of the strange legend but I was not one to disregard it. I had seen so many strange things in my service to the Crown under Doctor Argent. And even before that, I had almost lost my life to a creature of the night in my native Edinburgh. It was there I had become acquainted with the Doctor and with the shadow world I had not suspected existed in what I thought a bucolic homeland.
The long day and the gentle clacking of the rails lulled us both to sleep so we pulled out coats over ourselves and settled in. I admit my dreams were troubled with images of the phantom that he had described.
Dawn came abruptly with Andy shaking my shoulder. “Wake up, old fellow,” he said almost cheerfully. “Time for some breakfast; we are approaching Newcastle which means we will be arriving home between meals, this may be all we get for a time.”
I shook off my furtive dreams, though echoes of the somber heath and the Phantom Stallion lingered at the edges of my consciousness. Both of us had elected to wear our uniforms (I was still entitled as I was only on ‘detached’ duty) as it tended to hurry various service personnel along. It was the case that morning as well when the purser found us a table quickly in the crowded dining car.
“You seem more yourself today,” I noted to my friend as our food was served.
Andy smiled as he tackled some kippers. “I told you, Jack, I’ve had time—a whole life, actually—to be prepared for this. My father had to deal with it happening to his father and I guess it has always been there in the back of my mind. Like when we went into battle; we knew there would be death but somehow we thought we’d be the exception. I thought my father would be the exception to the family curse. Now I guess I hope I will be.”
The casual hopelessness in his voice was like a dagger in my heart, right then and there I determined that if there was truth to the curse of the Granvilles I would find a way to end it before it ended my friend’s life.
From the Shadows Some Light
We changed trains at Newcastle to a local that would take us to Hexham, closer to the Granville home. Andy took the opportunity to wire ahead to have horses waiting for us.
I was able to get a cable off to Doctor Argent to inform him, briefly of my purpose for the abrupt trip. I also asked the Guv to do some research on the Granville curse. I was sure he would know, or be able to find out a considerable amount about the ancient geise.
My silver haired superior had not been in London when I left, but I knew he was due back at any time, my only hope was that he had the time to do the research and would not be angry that I had taken off without waiting to consult him.
The local train to Hexham was an older one. The coaches were cramped and open but the passengers were mostly hardy country folk who were used to enduring such conditions. Several recognized Andrew and greeted him warmly, not having heard the news yet about his pater.
My friend was gracious and solicitous to the people and chose not to mention the dark news he was holding close. Instead he simply said he was back on leave and allowed the others to carry the conversation.
I could see in his manner that he had already assumed the mantel of Lord of the Granville family and the burden was heavy on his shoulders.
The trip to the small town seemed to last forever. I spent most of it looking out at the bleak countryside of the North Country, so much like my home in Edinburgh. The low rolling, brown hills seemed to march in endless echelons broken only by spurs of grey-brown rock and occasionally an explosion of gorse or wild flowers.
“Perfect place for a ghostly stallion,” I thought. “Almost too perfect.”
At Hexham we found two sturdy mounts waiting for us. They were tied to a railing outside the station and a boy stood there with a note from the stationmaster.
“Mister Granville?” the toe headed lad asked as we walked up.
“Yes,” Andrew said. He had finally begun to exhibit some nervousness as we approached his home and I could feel his tension. He handed the boy ten shillings for the rental of the horses and a good tip.
“Thank you, your lordship.” The lad said with a little awe.
“Vulture!” a harsh voice drew our attention as we prepared to mount.
“Coming back to pick the bones of Granville hall clean?” The speaker was a rough looking sort of working class type. He was accompanied by a second fellow just a coarse as himself.
“I beg your pardon?” Andrew said in an even tone. I could see the fire boiling beneath the surface as he struggled to stay calm.
“You heard Alfie,” the second man said. “The Stallion took your father and now you’ve come to lord over all of us again.”
Word travels fast, I thought. I stepped up to put a hand on my friend’s shoulder and leaned in to whisper. “We don’t need the distraction, Andy.”
He nodded and mounted. I did the same and looked back down at the two men.
“You men need to show some respect.” I could not help but make comment.
“Respect,” Alfie spit. “That’s a joke! He’s come back and brought the curse with him; What’s it do when its finishes with the nobles, eh? Goes about hunting us common folk it does!”
Andy rode ahead of me so I could not see his face but I thought I could see his neck color at the men’s words. I know I felt a premonition of darkness at his words.
It was a relief to be in the saddle, though I wish I could have brought Vindicator, my own trusty mount. We rode in that heavy silence that seemed to have settled about us for much of this trip all the way through town. Hexham was a typical North Country hamlet, prosperous but with a grayness and felling of—well—tiredness about it. Like an old duffer wanted to retire but couldn’t afford to.
“I’ve ridden this path a thousand times,” Andy finally spoke as we left the town proper behind us and headed out on a track across the heath. “It is much shorter than the road and you’ll get to see the wall part of the way there.”
We went west and a bit south of the town through tilled fields and out onto the heath. The track looped off into the low hills and soon we might have been in the middle of the Russian Steppes for the bleakness and isolation.
“The manor house is over that way,” Andy pointed after a while. “And over there is the section of the wall most connected to the curse.”
It was an unremarkable dun colored line across the horizon that was just barely recognizable as an ancient wall. Still, there was a palpable sense of age from it and I found my eyes returning to its smudged line again and again as we rode parallel to it for some quarter hour. I even looked over my shoulder one last time as we turned off toward his manor house.
Perhaps it was a trick of the late afternoon light or the afternoon mist that was rising, but I could have sworn I saw a shadowy figure standing astride the distant wall watching us.
◊ ◊ ◊
The whole of the countryside around Hexham, I knew, had been the scene of bitter conflict between England and Scotland and as a consequence, for reasons of personal security, the inhabitants had erected castles and fortified manor houses such as Ayton Castle and Granville Manor.
The Granville family residence was as ominous as the countryside around it. It was an imposing edifice of grey-black stone in the Gothic style set on a small shelf of rock that thrust up from the heath. It had high arched windows on the side I could see but rather than making it look open and inviting the windows reminded me of the empty eye sockets of a skull.
On one side of the plateau dropped off in a shear rock face to a bog with the road we approached on winding around that bog toward the far side.
“Not the most cheery place,” Andrew admitted as we rode around the building. On the far side the bleak sight was broken with a formal garden that did its best to splash color on the scene but it somehow seemed more desperate than cheerful. “The manor house, like Thrilwall Castle had been built with stone that was taken from Hadrian’s Wall. Some say that is what brought the curse along with it.”
“It has a dark face, to be sure,” I said. “But it can’t be so bad—you’re a cheery fellow after all.” This made him laugh, so I added. “Some would say Edinburgh is not the cheeriest of climbs for a lad to grow up in either.”
We rode up to the main entrance and encountered a rough fellow with a hunchback who was working on the bushes out front.
“Master Andrew!” the old fellow exclaimed as he recognized my friend. His wrinkled face split in a wide smile to reveal a mouth without full compliment of teeth. “It is good to see you—” then he caught himself and bowed his head to add, “I’m sorry it has to be under this cloud, sir.”
Andrew bound from the saddle and clapped the gardener on the shoulder. “Its good to see you, Archibald, regardless of how things are. Is Auntie and the rest inside?”
“Yes, sir,” Archibald said. “But we didn’t expect you till tomorrow.”
“I was able to catch the late train. Archibald, this is my mate, Jack Stone.”
“Sir.” He took the reins from Andy and then offered to do the same for mine. “Again, sir,” he said to Andy, “My condolences.”
Andy nodded and led me to the door. He paused for a second to gather himself. I put a hand on his shoulder and he straightened.
“Damn the torpedoes, eh?” He said then pushed the door in and we entered the foyer.
The main hall of the Granville manor was cathedral-like and just barely lit with gaslight. There was a main staircase that split both right and left and went to shadowed openings above. Two closed oak doors to the left and an open arch to an empty parlor completed the panorama of the manor’s entrance.
I had been in many grand homes but this entrance had the feel more of a mausoleum or museum than a home. Andrew took it all in with all the enthusiasm of a condemned man making his walk to the gallows.
A butler appeared from below stairs with a tray that he almost dropped when he saw my friend.
“Master Andrew?” The butler said. He showed his professionalism by recovering from his shock in a few eye blinks and added, “The others are in the study.”
“Thank you, Roland.” Andrew said. He set his jaw and slid the oak doors to the study open and I met his surviving family.
“Aunt Gloria,” Andrew said as he entered and kissed the cheek of a silver haired woman a decade older than he. I could see the Granville features on the woman who I knew was the younger sister of the deceased Lord. The angular features of the family were softened with age and a gentle smile as she welcomed her nephew. Her eyes however were keen and suspicious when she looked over at me.
“Andrew,” she said in a quiet voice. “I am so sorry about Reginald.”
“Good to see you again, boy,” a tall thin fellow who did not have Granville features said. The predominant feature of the man was a mustachios that was full and well groomed. Indeed all his clothing showed an obsessive attention to it, one might well call him a dandy save that his jet-black hair was a rat’s nest and his glowering face that seemed set in a perpetual scowl.
“Athelstan,” Andrew said. “Thank you for your cable.”
“And your friend?” the raven-haired fellow asked.
“This is Jack Stone of my Regiment,” Andy said. “He was with me when I got your note.” He looked at me and I could see he was not thrilled with the mustached fellow. “Athelstan Gaunt is married to Aunt Gloria and is the family solicitor.”
I bowed to the couple and shook hands with the fellow and was not surprised that his grip was limp and his palm damp.
The butler brought in the tray with tea and cups and set it on a table. “I am sure you gentlemen desire a little sustenance, eh?”
“If Cookie could whip something up, that would be wonderful.” Andy said. He crossed the room to a cabinet and opened it to reveal a bar. “Something to stiffen the resolve, Jack?”
“Oh yes,” I said. He poured me some single malt and one for his aunt and the four of us sat.
“So, Auntie,” my friend said. “Tell me exactly how my father died.”
Legacy of Death
Once the words were said Andy seemed to deflate, sinking into himself on the settee. He stayed focused ahead while alternately his Aunt and uncle related the facts as were known about the death of Lord Granville.
“It was Archibald who found Reginald,” the woman said. “Pollex came running home, and after your father didn’t return the staff went looking for him. He was a the foot of the wall.” She rose from the chair and walked to a glass cabinet and removed a small dark statue from the back of a shelf.
“This was clutched in your father’s hands.”
It was the image of a bearded man on a half horse-half fish.
“Is that Roman?” I asked.
“Yes,” Athelstan spoke up. “I looked it up in one Reggie’s books, it is Neptunus equestris some sort of Roman god. Apparently the cavalry had him as some sort of mascot.”
“He would have been their patron,” I said. “Each regiment would have had a sort of patron god, like we might have a patron saint.”
“Father found that at the wall?” Andrew asked.
“Yes,” Andy’s aunt said. “He must have—none of us had ever seen it before yesterday. He- he was clutching it to his chest.”
“Was it his heart?” My friend asked. The way he asked it made me think that he was almost hoping that it was.
“No,” the solicitor said. “He had been trampled; the doctor said it was as if a herd of horses had run over him but there were no horse tracks anywhere else on the heath at all.”
Andy shot back his drink in one motion. “I thought it would be just like great Granddad.”
“So it was the curse?” I said. The three of them looked at me as if I were a simpleton but Mistress Gaunt was gracious.
“I know you might think we country bumpkins are primitive folk, Captain Stone,” she said. “Simple in our beliefs and out of touch with the modern world, but I assure you we are not. Yet there are some things that are not so modern about this land; it is an old land with old, dark legends. The Phantom Stallion of the Granvilles is one of those legends. And I assure you, it is true.”
I could see that Andy, torn as he was with pain at his father’s death bridled at having his guest confronted so directly. I rushed to thwart his rising anger.
“I can assure you, madam,” I said quickly. “I do not at all take such tales lightly. You forget I am a Scot and I come from a land where such things are still part of the daily life.” I could not tell her that before my association with Doctor Argent I might have been skeptical but now I had met the forces of darkness face to snarling face and was more inclined to believe such horrors as not.
Just then the butler, Roland, brought some cold meats and bread for us and we indulged ourselves in the silence of our own thoughts while we dined. The atmosphere of gloom hung over the four of us and indeed in the very air of that old manor. I tried to assess the others as we ate but it was hard to ‘read’ them.
The solicitor, though his general demeanor seemed earnest watched all of us, his wife included with hooded eyes. Perhaps it was the natural suspicion a solicitor has of all society that makes him question everything but my impression was that it was personal with him.
Andrew’s aunt on the other hand kept her eyes on my friend, warm open eyes brimming with emotion. She, in fact, seemed on the edge of hysteria and sipped a cognac while we ate.
Andy worked to stay detached but I could see the wheels of his mind working. After a time he said, “I would like to see my father.”
“He is still in his room,” Athelstan said. “Doctor Conners pronounced him there.”
“We thought you would want to make the arrangements.” His aunt said.
“No,” Andy said, “thank you, Aunt Gloria, but I’d rather you did all that. I just want to see him to say goodbye.”
“I’ll take care of all the arrangements,” Athelestan offered. “I will ride into town before lunch.”
Andy thanked him and then rose to head upstairs. I let him go alone. Athelstan left straight away for Hexham. That left me alone with his aunt.
“You are a good friend of Andrew,” she said. She had renewed her drink and stood by the shelf where the dark statue was on display. “He needs friends now.”
“He is a true brother-in-arms and a good man,” I said with no prevarication. “I just wish there was more I could do.”
“Being with him may be enough,” she said then added ominously. “But if it is not—you must be prepared to come to his aid.”
“Are you implying that this Phantom Stallion could return?” I said. “I thought it was a generational aberration.”
The stately woman gave a short, harsh laugh. “The end of a generational aberration,” she said. She took a deep drink. “When our father died at the hands of the Phantom, Reginald and I were both shocked—for our grandfather had died at sea and no one in the line had died at the Stallion’s hooves except for Great Granddad for five generations before. But then there were other murders on the heath.”
“Yes, a girl from the village, several shepherds and a child died in similar circumstance. And possibly there were others over the last decades. Bodies found with the trample marks on them—or what could be conjectured were trample marks. Nothing could ever be proven—it could have been many accidents but it…” Her eyes teared up. “The villagers began to blame our family for somehow reawakening the curse.”
“Did it?” I asked. Her sharp look at my inquiry was almost painful. “Understand, I am not making light of your pain or of this curse. I have had some contact with such things and there is usually some sort of trigger. Even the seemingly irrational has a rational structure to it.”
She considered what I had said for a long breath then said, “My great grandfather had begun to make surveys at the edge of our land with an eye toward irrigation the land near the Wall. That was what made the townsfolk angry, there had been exploratory trenches dug and certain objects from the past were uncovered.”
“Like that Neptune statue?” I rose and poured myself a second drink, sure that I would need to be fortified for my next move.
“Yes.” She surprised me with a genuine laugh that harkened back to a happier time and I could see that she must have been quite a beauty before the worry lines aged her. “My brother got his fascination for ancient artifacts then, pulling coins and such from the trenches. It was—it was why he often went walking along the wall.”
“I promise you madam,” I said. “I will do my utmost to stop this curse here and now. And I will protect Andy.” She looked at me with an odd expression, apparently trying to decide if I was just humoring her or was serious. She made her decision and gave me a smile.
“I believe you will, young man,” she said.
“Or die trying,” I added.
“God bless you for that!”
Just then I noticed that the hunchbacked gardener was standing in the doorway.
“’Scuse me, folks,” he said. He held his shapeless hat in his hands and wrung it. “Will you be wanting me to stable the master and his friend’s horses in the main stable?”
“We leased them,” I said. “But I think you should leave them saddled right now; I suspect Master Granville and I will have one more ride before you bed the animals down for the night.”
“Another ride?” Mrs. Gaunt asked.
“To the Wall,” I said. “If I know Andrew he will want to visit the spot where his father was found.”
Mrs. Gaunt gave a short gasp. “No. Andrew can’t want to—“
“Yes, I do,” my friend said. He came into the room from the hall. His eyes were red rimmed but his posture was dress parade erect. “I think I’d like to do it before dinner.”
“I’ll take you, sir,” Archibald offered. “I’ll just go saddle old Bessy.” The aged gardener left after accepting a pat on his shoulder from Andy.
“Do you think it wise, Andrew?” His aunt asked. “It can only bring more pain.”
“There can be no more pain, Auntie,” he said. “Only answers. That is what I have to find.” He looked at me and I gave him the most confident smile I could manage.
“And with those, my friend,” I said. “I can help.”
The Dark of the Past
The ride out from Granville Manor was a somber and silent one. My friend seemed infused with purpose by his vigil with his father’s body and his jaw was set in a fashion I had only seen before we rode into battle.
Good for you, lad, I thought. If you view this as a battle we can beat it, that’s something I’ve learned from Doctor Argent.
The hunchback led us across the heath down a narrow but well defined track over the low hills. He respected his master’s quiet focus and kept his directions to a minimum until we were almost on the wall.
“I found his Lordship over that way,” Archibald said pointing. “Almost at the foot of the damned thing.”
I was reminded of the violent history of the countryside as we passed the ruins of one of the smaller “bastle houses” or fortified farmhouses which are unique to Northumberland. It seemed to me an ominous omen of things dark and dangerous.
There was a ground fog crawling along the hollows of the broken land that did not improve the mood of any of us as we approached the ruined military emplacements.
It was my first time to actually study the wall, a fact that shames my Scottish heritage.
The magnificent wall ran for 73 miles and caused me to marvel at the Romans. Their engineers made use of every natural point of strength and at its highest it rose to 1230ft above sea level. It stood at nearly 5 meters in height at some points and large forts about 5 miles apart as well as numerous mile castles.
It was, at least in the sections we were approaching, still recognizable as the cut stone battlements with the ruins of the commander’s house, the praetorium, clearly visible.
Stones had been taken from parts of the wall but it was so vast a structure that it was still at least shoulder high to me or more in most places. It stretched to the horizon on both sides, a long snaking line of orange-yellow rock that stood out against the brown and green of the coarse grass.
“Over there, sir,” Archibald said. He pointed to a spot inside a square of stones that butted to one of the higher sections of the wall. It seems to have been a major building, probably from its location I would guess a cavalry barracks.
We dismounted and the hunchback led us to the center of the ghost space. “Here, Master Andrew,” the old man said pointing down at the ground. “Right here.” The location was almost dead center within the low stones of the square enclosure.
Andy stood there with a strange expression on his face and for a moment I thought he might faint, the color draining from his already pale cheeks. He rallied, however and nodded. “Here, Archibald?”
“Exactly, Master,” the hunchback said. He knelt and patted the disturbed earth of the enclosure. “Right here. Lord Reginald was facing the wall, clutching that statue. His eyes were open and, well, his expression was such as I’ve never seen nor never hope to see again. Scared he was, truly scared.”
Once more Andy seemed to waver and I stepped up to put a steadying hand on his shoulder. He stiffened then nodded. He dropped to one knee and ran a hand along the rough grass as if he could feel where his father’s last breath might still be lying for him to recapture.
I stepped away to give him privacy and noticed something shiny in the dirt near the wall. I went to it and stopped to discover that it was a small medallion in the shape of a female wolf. It was something such as a soldier might have worn long ago for good luck, invoking the wolf-mother that had suckled Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome.
I raised it to my eye-line to study it and suddenly I felt a strange tingle in all my limbs. I felt dizzy and red spots swam before my eyes. I shook my head to clear it and blinked hard; suddenly I was not looking at the ruins of a stone home but was inside a fully realized one.
There was more, however, I was standing inside a stone home that was abuzz with activity. There was fire roaring in a hearth and a pot simmering over it. To my right I saw the statue of Neptunus equestris that I had seen in the Granville manor house. On my left there were local gods on their own shelf, I guess the two were not meant to mix.
A spotted tabby cat ran across the room chasing an imaginary mouse and a woman swept with a crude homemade broom.
The woman was dressed in a shapeless dun colored dress and had her straw colored hair tied back with a red cloth. She looked over at me and I saw her eyes go wide.
“What do you want here, Centurion?” She said at me. Her words were harsh and I realized with a bit of shock that they were not in English. She spoke a guttural Latin, yet I understood them!
She stared at me and her plain but pretty features darkened. “I asked you a question, Roman,” She said. “You were told to stay away from here by your commander.”
I was stunned by her pronouncement and more so by the voice—which was mine and not mine—that answered her in Latin. “I told you I’d be back, Elgiue. You made it difficult for me with the commander when you reported me.”
The woman spit. “You Romans are all alike but at least Maximus Flavius keeps his word. He promised to punish all those who hurt Algiwa.”
“That wench was asking for it,” I heard my voice snarl. ”She had no business in the barracks if she didn’t want a little fun.”
“Algiwa was a good girl, Gaius,” the blonde woman said. She threw down her broom and for a moment I thought she would spring across the room at me. “You soldiers got her drunk, you used her like a bar whore and then threw her away. The shame was too much for her and she took her own life.”
“Your lying like that got me a reprimand before the whole cohort,” I heard myself say. “I swear by my wolf pendant that I will see you pay for that.”
My words seemed to ignite a fire in the Saxon woman, she charged across the dirt floor of the hovel and jumped at my face. The hands that came up to protect me were mine and not mine. They were a brute’s hands wearing the vambraces of a Roman soldier.
That strange self of me grabbed the woman and savaged her, slamming her against the stone wall of the enclosure. I heard my other-self screaming obscenities as I repeatedly smashed her against the wall. I slammed her against the shelf where the family gods were set.
Somehow I knew that was how I lived my life—that other life—somehow I knew this was ‘normal’ for the Centurion I was experiencing.
I now knew I was experiencing what Doctor Argent called “psychometry’- the art of gathering vibrations from objects to ‘read’ them and experience what the owners had. The wolf medallion I had found had belonged to that soldier so long ago and somehow—though I had never experienced such a phenomena before—I was seeing through his eyes.
It was a strange duel reality for I was aware I was Jack Stone and yet knew I was Gaius Cipprio of the 9th Legion of Imperial Rome. I knew I was living in the time when the wall was still manned and I knew without a doubt that I was alive when the curse of the Granville’s had been made.
The Saxon woman was barely conscious when I finally forced myself to release her. She fell hard against the shelf where Neptunus equestris rested and grabbed it up to thrust at me as if it where a talisman and a shield. She glared up at my ancient self with undisguised hate and hissed, “I curse you, Roman, and all your seed. May your own gods curse you and may death follow in your wake.”
Then my ancient self—my Roman self killed her with single knife thrust to her heart.
I felt sick, staggeringly sick, suddenly, and backed out of the stone hut. The sunlight was blinding and I blinked hard.
To my right the fully intact wall rose almost shining in the sunlight. Guards in full segmenta armor stood upon the battlements facing outward, northward, watching for the wild, painted Scots beyond.
All around me was the bustle and noise of a military camp, so familiar yet so different from those I had been in, in my ‘modern’ life. There were townsfolk too, tent-like structures butted to the wall and various domestic and herd animals.
I felt dizzy again and the sickness in my gut seemed to travel to all my limbs. I shuddered and made a noise such as I have never heard before, a whining cry that came from within my very soul.
My yell attracted the attention of some of the Saxons working nearby and two of the legionaries who were attending to horses. All eyes turned toward me as I dropped to my knees and writhed.
The Horror on the Heath
I felt my other-self, long ago, body change.
The shadow of my body on the ground began to alter as I stared at it. I saw my chest deepen, my neck elongate and my arms lengthen. On the side of my head I could see my ears growing upward even as my nose elongated. My skull widened and grew larger as my neck widened to support it.
My mind went to the statue of Neptunus equestris and I saw in my mind’s eye the ancient god laughing at me.
The looks of horror on all the faces around me, the cries of ‘Demon!” and screams from the children told me what that deity had done to me.
My ancient self, my transformed self, felt only rage at the cries from the onlookers. That rage grew within the beast I had become and I reared up, spinning to face the tormentors and attacked.
I shudder to recall the savagery of my ancient self as I struck out at the watchers with my hands and feet that were now hooves. I spun and reared, kicked back with my hind legs and whinnied in fury. Skulls cracked, blood ran yet, despite my horror at my own actions I pressed on till all around me was red.
I heard Latin and Gaelic screams of ‘stop him!’ were all around me. I barely heard them. The blood that splattered on my hooves pounded in my ears as well and I became dizzy again.
I fell forward to my fore-hooves and my elongated, now massive head dropped in despair. I close my eyes to blot out the horror I had wrought and wished I had hands to put over my ears to blot out the roar and the screams to terror.
“Jack!” Andy yelled at me. “Jack, are you alright?” I felt his shaking my shoulder and I looked up at my friend who, it seemed was pale with fear.
I blinked. Behind him there was no stonewall, just the ruins of one. I was kneeling in traces of the old buildings again and was back on the heath outside Granville Manor.
I held up a hand—an actual hand before my eyes and realized I was holding the wolf medallion in it. I was back to myself again.
“Andy?” I mumbled.
“You had us worried there, old fellow,” Andy said. “You started to totter over then came swaggering out here making the oddest noises.” Beyond my friend I could see the hunchbacked gardener looking at me oddly.
“I—uh—I had the strangest experience,” I managed to say. I looked down at the medallion and had a flash of insight. I had a real idea now what I was dealing with.
“Here,” Andy said offering me some of my own flask of whiskey, “You need this.” I took it gratefully. “We had better get back,” he added with an attempt at a smile, ‘ it is getting near supper time and Cookie’s meals are not to be missed.”
I was unsteady on my feet so Andy helped me to my mount. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m not sure what came over me.” It was a lie, of course, I knew fully well what had occurred, though, to be sure, not the full meaning of it.
I had no doubt I had witnessed not only the beginning of the curse itself but the full extent of it and why it had come in full force in the recent history of the Granville family. I knew I had to get to town to wire Doctor Argent or possibly ring him on a telephone if there was one to be found in the hamlet.
“Town,” I mumbled to Andy. “I think it’s a stomach ailment I picked up in Pretoria; I’ll head into the apothecary and get a powder for it.”
“Are you sure you’re up for it, chum?” My friend asked. “You looked even paler than your usual Highland pallor back there.”
I laughed. “You can shepherd me if you’d like, but I’m okay now.”
“I had better head home to take a look at my father’s papers,” Andy said.
I hated to lie to my friend, but I also did not want to alarm him with the knowledge that I had so little power against the impending evil that plagued his family.
I remember little of the ride back to town save that I had to keep myself from falling off my mount several times. I guess my time traveling excursion had taken more out of me than I had thought. “Wonder how the Guv does it so often; no wonder he trains so hard.” I had seen Doctor Argent do much longer sessions of psychometry and shown no ill effects; but he also spent hours each day in meditation and exotic exercises that I had not, until then, appreciated.
I reached Hexham and located a telegraph office that also had a telephone I could use. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Doctor was at his office.
“Yes, I got your message, Jack,” he said. “I returned this morning and set about researching your problem; I’m afraid that is not much I could determine save that there seems to be at least a dozen deaths attributed to this Phantom Stallion killer in the last decade.”
“That is concerning,” I said, “but how could it be connected to the family?”
“I am not sure, but there may be a pattern appearing,” He said. “The local papers also speak of disappearances of young men and women with considerable passion.”
I went on to tell him of my experience with the wolf pendant at the wall. This seemed to worry him.
“I will make my way up to you as soon as I can,” the Doctor said. “But I suggest you stay as close as possible with your friend until then and keep him off the heath certainly at night; I suspect there is something at work here. It is very real, and serious, not just a mere family legend.”
It was a sobering pronouncement, but I promised him I would do my best to protect Andy.
When I exited the telegraph office I was sobered by my conversation the Guv, my mind was on what I had experienced on the heath and so was distracted enough to bump into a passerby on the darkening street.
“Excuse me,” I half-mumbled.
“Well look’er, Alfie,” a familiar voice answered me. “It is Mister High-and-Mighty’s mate.” I looked up to see the two roughnecks from out arrival the day before.
I studied them now, laborers, obviously, with well-worn clothes and weathered, rough features. Alfie was ginger haired like myself with broad shoulders. He was a head shorter than his vocal friend.
“I think he ought to get himself some spectacles, eh Byron?” Alfie said in a low growl that was more animal than human. “Or maybe learn to look where he’s going.”
“I think he’s too proud to get glasses, Alfie,” Bryon said. He was blond and had the pale beginnings of a mustache above his sneering mouth. “Or maybe he just doesn’t care about us regular folk.”
“No offense was meant,” I said to diffuse the situation. It was hard for my Scot’s blood to back down from the fight the two men were angling for but Andy at home by himself was on my mind. It seemed urgent that I return.
“Hear that, Alfie,” the blond said. “No offense meant.”
“Well I was offended,” the beetle-browed redhead said. “I think he wasn’t very sincere in that apology. At all.”
There are limits to patience. In, or perhaps because of, my unnerved state from my time travel encounter, I wanted for some physical release. Still, I tried once more for the Christian path.
“I reiterate, sirs,” I said in a calm voice. “No offense was meant. Please allow me to go about my business.” I made to step past the two men but Alfie put a hand on my arm to stop me.
“I said apologize!” He snarled.
The limit was passed.
Before either man could proceed further I slapped the red head’s hand off me and snapped out a jab to his nose. Not hard, just enough to make his eyes water and get him away from me.
Byron moved quickly at me but his staggering friend got in the way and I was able to launch an over hand right directly over the whimpering thug’s head at Byron.
My blow landed solidly on the blond’s jaw and he dropped with no more fight in him.
Alfie had recovered enough sight to realize what had happened and tried to use his great bulk to grab for me but I was having none of it.
I hopped back on one foot and kicked out with my other boot to strike him on the leading knee that caused him to collapse over with a cry of agony.
I stepped in and struck him soundly on the temple and rendered him unconscious so that he dropped directly over the prostrate form of his friend.
They looked for all-the-world like two drunks sleeping off a bad night, which indeed it had been for them.
I made my way to my horse just as the exhilaration of the altercation began to drain and my legs went rubbery beneath me. I managed to mount and gave the horse his head and he knew the way back to the manor. It was a slow trip and it was late afternoon by the time I made it back.
I was a little steadier by the time I returned to the manor, but still tired. I was able to get to my room and have a toes-up until mealtime by which time I felt my old self again.
“You’re looking better, sir,” the hunchback gardener said when I came down in full dress for supper. He was passing the open window to the side garden with an armload of pottery when I happened to pause to look out on the now gloomy evening across the heath. The moon was just up, looming like a Cyclops through the dense fog, winking in and out of the cloud cover.
“Told you I would be chipper,” I said smiling at the memory of my knuckles on Alfie’s head. “Highland constitution, don’t you know?”
“Indeed, sir.” Archibald said.
“Where’s master Andrew?” I asked.
“He went walking out toward the wall just a little bit ago, sir. As he used to, to clear his head a bit, he said.”
“By himself?” I said. “The Wall?” But I wasn’t really asking him, I was moving as quickly as I could to the west and the wall.
The path was a clear one and I knew that Andrew’s father had used it many times to head out on his rambles. I had a horrible premonition of danger for my friend and his aunt that was only exacerbated by the gathering darkness.
A thick ground fog was crawling up across the heath again and in moments even the manor house behind me was a mere smudge in the grey evening. Above it the blurred image of the full moon was attempting to push through the mist.
“Andy!” I called but my words were swallowed by the fog. “Answer me!”
There was no reply but a sound, a strange sound drew my attention off to my right. It was a guttural cry of pain.
I started to run.
“Andy!” I called. There was no reply but the grunt sound happened again followed by what I can only liken to a mallet hitting a sack of millet. I knew that sound; a beating was in progress.
I topped a small rise just as there was a break in the fog and the moon illuminated a scene from hell: Andy was on the ground doubled over in a fetal position trying to protect his head. Above him was a sight I had never imagined nor ever hoped to see.
It was indistinct in detail, seeming to rise out of the ground mist like the Phantom is was so named. At first glance it looked like a Lusitano horse. It was a good eighteen hands high.
What was visible in the gathering darkness and the fog was such a horse as I had never seen before.
Its head was somehow deformed, the proportions of the great triangular head not right. The teeth of the monster were not the square ones of a normal horse but looked more like the fangs of a great cat.
What I could see of the haunches of the great beast seemed to have scales that were more that of a fish or snake than of an equine animal. It had a white coat but flame red mane and tail and eyes that reflected crimson in the sliver of moonlight. The equine horror reared back and flailed its fore-hooves at my fallen friend.
“Stop,” I screamed impotently. I started to run faster, flailing my arms wildly as I knew would frighten off any normal wild horse. This, however, was no normal wild horse.
Instead of chasing the equine horror my waving my arms I drew its attention and it focused its fiery eyes on me. It was an eerie feeling for there seemed to be an intelligence behind those red eyes that was well beyond any I had ever seen in any animal. More frightening was that the intelligence seemed to be totally focused on hate. Hate so pure and virulent that it startled me.
Then the horse with the bloody hooves charged straight at me!
Out of the Mist
I was so startled by the sudden change of events that for a moment I came to a complete halt. For an infinite moment it felt as if my muscles would not respond to my command to dodge out of the monster’s path. It bore down on me with frightening speed. I felt transfixed by the mythic horror’s lambent eyes and my muscles palsied.
Suddenly life came back to me and I managed to dart to my left to avoid the attack at the last moment. I dove to the turf and rolled behind a hillock as the creature raced past me with the mass and speed of a runaway steam engine.
There was no mistaking that the beast was intelligent in the next moment for it veered when it went past, racing around me to cut off my retreat so I could not go back toward the house. It stood pawing the earth of the path and snorting like one of the riders of the apocalypse, the fog swirling around it as if bubbling up from the pits of hell. It seemed to dare me to try and get past it.
I was on my feet now and managed to angle myself to head toward Andy. He was sprawled on the ground and moaning. I could not run to him directly for the hellish equine whirled again to come after me.
I dodged into a small depression behind another hillock that blocked me from the animal’s view and tried to come up with some plan. I had to either get to Andy to aid him, get to the manor for help or find some way to stop the monstrous misshapen equine myself.
There seemed no reasonable way to get to the manor and no point in getting to Andy if I could not stop the horse so I was forced to accept that a good defense would have to be a good offense.
I picked up two fist-sized rocks and looked around for a high point from which I might be able to leap down upon the demon beast. I heard it moving around the knoll to come for me.
That was when Andy’s moan drew its attention to him again. The beast turned to head for him and I used the distraction to race up the slight rise in the ground till I was above it.
The frightful monster was ten feet from my friend, now in a slow advance, head lowered, fearsome teeth in a snarl. It moved in more like a great cat stalking prey then a horse.
“Here, Neptune!” I yelled at the top of my lungs. The long ears of the monster twitched but it kept its head down, eyes focused on the helpless Andy.
“Do you want to know how Algiwa squealed when I stuck her?” I hurled at the beast with the most vicious tone I could muster. The foul comment got the reaction I wanted and the equine horror snapped its head around to stare at me.
I threw the rock with all my might with my best Cricket toss.
The rock flew true, smashing into the horrid head right between its eyes. The sound was like a solid batsman’s hit, a sharp crack followed by a strange whinny from the beast.
I raised the second rock to throw even as the monstrosity staggered, almost dropping to its right fore knee.
Before I could throw the second stone, and with a cry I could only interpret as a moan, it lopped off into the gathering fog.
I ran to Andy’s side.
“My god, man!” He gasped at me. “What was that?”
“Your past catching up with you, Andrew, old fellow,” I said. I looked to his wounds, which fortunately looked superficial while keeping an eye to the trail where the monster had fled.
“Gone for the moment,” I said. “But it could lick its wounds and come back any time. Can you walk?”
“I bloody well can run if that thing comes back,” He said with considerable pain in his voice but with the pluck I knew he had. “Let’s go.”
I helped him to his feet and half-carried, half-dragged him back down the path to the manor house. I kept the second rock in my hand the entire walk but the beast did not make a reappearance.
By the time we reached the manor house Andy was all but unconscious and I was actually carrying him. I kicked the door and yelled until it was opened.
“Master Andrew!” The butler was beside himself when he saw the state of my friend and lost all of his professional demeanor. I had to order him sharply to get him moving to help carrying Andy to the parlor where we set him on the divan. I began to open Andy’s jacket to assess the extent of his injuries.
Like a good cavalryman my friend had protected his head fairly well from the attack, but his ribs and back were already showing bruises and I feared internal injury.
“Bring some wash clothes and some hot water for me to clean these wounds.” A maid ran off to comply. I grabbed a brandy bottle and poured a small glass that I induced Andy to drink. I ordered the butler. “Call for the physician.”
“Someone will have to ride for the doctor,” the now calmer Roland said. “We have none of the new phones.”
“Send them then,” I said. Despite no obviously or bloody wounds on his head I was sure Andy had sustained some head blows as he was slipping in and out of consciousness now. “I can deal with the superficial cuts, but this will require more care than I can give.”
“What is the commotion?” Athelstan Gaunt called as he and his wife came running, from two different wings of the house.
“Andrew! “The woman exclaimed when she saw her nephew. “What in heaven’s name happened?” His aunt asked. She was in a dressing gown, her hair all-askew. She knelt by the head of the divan and cradled Andy’s head in her hands.
I was washing some of the open wounds on Andy’s chest and looked up to answer her but stopped when I saw her husband. The solicitor was in a smoking jacket and fez, but what caught my attention was a large red knot on his forehead.
“What happened to you?” I blurted out.
He looked at me oddly then touched the bump on his forehead. “Uh—a book fell from a shelf. Nuisance, but nothing of concern.”
I was about to say something when the front doorbell chimed.
I went back to Andy’s wounds without any more comment and was so occupied when a commotion at the front door, followed by a booming, familiar voice.
I looked up to see the Guv—Doctor Augustus Argent step into the foyer of the manor. He was wearing an Inverness coat, holding a Gladstone bag in one hand and had, what appeared to be a rolled up Persian carpet slung over one shoulder. He was sans cap and his long white hair was a tangle as if wind blown.
“Well, Jack,” he said when he saw what I was doing. “I seem to have come at exactly the opportune moment!”
I must have looked more than a little stunned to see my mentor standing there.
“Doctor Argent?” I blurted out with idiot certainty. “How—I mean—You were in London—”
“Doctor?” Athelstan said. “Are you a medical doctor, sir?”
“Among other things,” the Silver Fox said as he strode into the room. He handed the rolled carpet to the butler. “Do keep my trusty steed for me.” He said then moved to kneel beside Andy’s head, a look of concern on his face.
“You’ve made a good start, Jack, but there is a bit to do here. You can tell me exactly what happened as I work.” He looked up to the still startled Roland. “Fetch me hot water, some honey and several large bowls.” After he issued the orders the Doctor removed his Inverness coat and jacket and rolled up his sleeves.
The butler did as asked after handing off the rolled carpet to the gardener, glad, I suspect, to be away from the piercing gaze of the Silver Fox.
I gave a concise summery of what had happened to Andy while my mentor examined his wounds in great detail.
“Who is this man, Captain Stone?” Mrs. Gaunt asked me in a shaky voice. She stood by with her husband in an apparent state of shock.
“The man who will save this young man if I am not interrupted, Madam,” Doctor Argent said briskly. He opened his Gladstone and proceeded to remove several vials and set them on the table beside the divan.
Athelstan was about to object to the brusk tone of the silver haired mage but I held up a hand.
“Doctor Argent is attached to the Home Office,” I said. “And is very well versed in matters such as this.” I stood and escorted the couple out of the parlor. “I promise he will only help, Mistress Gaunt, but we must let him do his work.”
I met the maid returning with the supplies Doctor Argent had requested and brought them in to him.
“How is he?” I asked.
“Fine, Jack,” the silver haired mage said with a slight smile. “He is strong and you did a good job cleaning the wounds. Now we will let the honey and these powders do the rest.”
He proceeded to smear honey into the open wounds and drop some powder onto the edges before bandaging them. When he saw my questioning look he said. “The Egyptians used honey to prevent wounds like these from putrefying and it helps them heal faster—as do these powders.”
He mixed some more powders in the bowl I’d brought and made a sort of broth to give to Andy to sip. “And this will help heal him on the inside.” While he worked the silver haired Doctor chanted under his breath in a language I could not identify but had the weight of age in its syllables.
I watched as Andy settled back on the divan with a calm expression on his face and listened as his breathing evened and deepened. He seemed at peace.
“He needs rest now,” the Doctor said as he rose. He rolled his sleeves down and took up his jacket. “Though I would prefer someone watch him; if there is any change I should be summoned.” For the first time I could see that behind his mask of vitality my mentor was tired. “I need some rest myself,” he admitted.
“I will see a servant watches over him,” I promised. “Come. We will get you a room.” As we turned to leave he picked up his Gladstone bag then indicated the rolled rug. “Do take my steed with you.”
“You said that before,” I said. “Do you mean—?”
“How else do you think I made it up here from London so quickly?’ He smiled. “A little something I picked up in Arabia some decades ago; but seldom have occasion to use.” He shrugged, “ I don’t really like heights.”
Amazed at his confession I led him out into the hall and sent a serving girl to keep watch over her master.
“How is he?” Lady Gaunt asked.
“As well as could be expected,” Doctor Argent said. “He is strong and young and will recover fully.”
“Thank God!” Athelstan exclaimed.
“But what does it all mean?” The lady asked.
“That is the dark question here,’ Argent said. “I feel there are no answers yet, however. Certainly not tonight. Better to discuss the shadows in the daylight.” With that he turned to the butler, all but dismissing our hosts and said, “Please show me to a room and draw me a bath. I feel I need it.”
He led the confused butler up the stair while the Gaunts fumed and I did my best to sooth them with, “The Guv is a little unorthodox, ma’am, but he is the right man to clear this all up, the curse and all. Just bear with him.”
They were about to question me but I shouldered Doctor Argent’s flying carpet and headed up the stairs to my own room.
I could almost hear the silence behind me as I ascended, and I must say, that though I felt their confusion-bred annoyance I had such confidence in the Guv and his abilities I knew that any rudeness would be forgiven when the whole of the story came out.
When I reached the Guv’s room I knocked and then brought in the carpet at his call of, “Enter, Jack!”
The Doctor was stripped to his waist and just donning a robe as I entered. His musculature was symmetrical and wiry with no fat at all. “Just set the carpet over there,” he indicated a chair.
“Just what is it all about, Doctor?” I asked. “You were a bit short with them downstairs, sir, if I might say. More so than usual.”
He gave a short laugh. “Well, yes. Downright rude I’d say.”
“Indeed, sir,” I said, actually relieved he was aware of his abruptness.
“There was a reason,” He said.
“I am relieved to knew that sir, though I suspected as much. But why?”
“This curse is a deeply imbedded terror, Jack,” he said. “And I think it better, for this night at least, for the Gaunts to be annoyed at me than fearing the lurking curse.”
“What is to be done?”
The silver haired mage shrugged. “I do not know yet; I will investigate in the daylight, meditate and we will see.”
He walked out with me to head to the bathroom stopping to add, “You did right to call me; your friend Andrew was lucky you came with him. More will be discovered in the morning. Now get some rest.”
Horror on the Heath
In the morning the heath outside of the manor house was no more cheerful than it had been the night before. A low, dense fog crawled along the hollows, lit by the rising sun it glowed a blue-white.
I was looking at it form the window of the breakfast room, casting my eyes in the direction of the Wall when Mrs. Gaunt and her husband entered. Both were more composed by a night of sleep, but still a bit on edge.
“I just checked on Andrew,” I said before either spoke. “He is resting comfortably and in a natural sleep.” Both visibly relaxed. “Doctor Argent looked in on him before I did and pronounced him well on the mend, but it is best we let him rest.”
“Where is this Doctor of yours?” Athelstan asked.
All three took their seats at the table as the servants began to bring in the food.
“The Guv is out for a morning constitutional,” I said as I buttered a scone. “He likes to start the day off with it to clear his head.”
“Well I wish you would clear the air,” the solicitor. “Just what steps are you and this—Doctor fellow—doing to find out what happened to Andrew?”
Before I could answer the Silver Fox strode into the room like a stalking lion, his long white hair streaming behind him. He eschewed a starched collar on his white shirt and was wearing an old style long blue jacket, gold waistcoat and green trousers. His whole image was of a swashbuckling figure that might have stepped out of an American Penny Dreadful.
“’Morning, all!” Doctor Argent said as he took a place at the table. He was so vital and energetic that the room seemed to brighten. All conversation halted while we ate, inspired, in part, by his great delight in the consumption.
“Doctor,” Mrs. Gaunt said after a bit, “I—uh—about my nephew—“
“Young Lord Granville is resting naturally, madam,” Argent said in a calm, confident voice. “I would suggest he do so most of the day to be sure he is well past any crisis.”
“What are you doing about the Stallion?” Andy’s aunt asked.
“Investigating, madam,” the Guv said. “Directly after breakfast Jack and I shall venture to look over where the attack occurred.”
“But—Andrew is vulnerable.” She insisted.
“He is safe in this house, certainly during daylight,” Doctor Argent said. “By dark we will formulate a plan.”
True to his word after breakfast the Guv and I walked out to the heath—he insisted on walking that we might survey the ground of both attacks.
He moved along slowly, his eyes glued to the terrain like a red Indian, which only increased his resemblance to one of the American Dime novel heroes. Occasionally he would stoop the touch or even sniff the ground.
When he had seen where the old Lord had died we went to the sight of the attack on Andy. After he prowled about for a while he stood, brushed dirt off his trousers and looked at me with intense eyes.
“I know why the attacks occurred when they did now, Jack.” He said, “And it is all the more important that we keep young Granville off the heath this night.”
“What have you found, sir?”
He looked across the dun colored landscape toward the remnants of the wall and kept me in suspense for a while then said simply, “Would it not be most interesting if Neptunus equestris, as he is connected to the sea, were not connected to the tides?”
I was about to ask him what he meant but he turned on his heels and headed back to the manor without filling me in on his plans. It wasn’t so unusual, he had done it before, but it was no less frustrating for its familiarity.
◊ ◊ ◊
Andy improved markedly during the day though the Doctor and his Aunt both agreed that he should stay in his room to continue to recover. He bridled at that, but I kept him occupied with chess and conversation when he had strength enough and was able to let him rest when he did not.
By Dinnertime the sun was setting and the fall mist was crawling along the hollows of the countryside, given eerie sentience by a low moon.
The Gaunt’s were already seated at the table when I burst into the room.
“Andy’s gone!” I yelled.
“What?” Athelstan blurted out. “What do you mean, gone?” He leapt to his feet.
“When I went to his room just now he was not there. I asked the servants and they—there!” I pointed out the window. “On the path to the heath!”
They looked and we could all just see Andrew’s dress jacket disappearing over a hill into the fog.
“Oh my goodness!” Mrs. Gaunt exclaimed. “What is he thinking!”
“We have to stop him!” I yelled as I raced from the room and out of the manor house. The two of them followed.
The fog was so thick now that the moment we were in it the path all but disappeared ahead of us and we were forced to retard out steps to less than a full run.
“I can’t see the bloody pathway,” Athelstan said after a few minutes.
“We have to find him,” I said with urgency when we reached a point in the trail where it could have gone a number of ways. “We should split up.”
The other two reluctantly agreed and headed off into the deep dark.
“Andrew!” Mrs. Gaunt yelled.
“Andrew!” Athelstan called in echo.
The sound of both their voices were muffled in the enveloping mist and soon I was as alone in the fog as if I were on the dark side of the moon.
I was forced to proceed slowly, at little more than a walk, by the enveloping miasma which allowed little of the gibbous moon’s light for vision.
A few minutes of this and I came to a deep hollow where the fog seemed more solid than liquid and across which I could see the bright red of Andrew’s jacket.
“Andrew!” I called out.
“Here!” a harsh, whispered voice came back.
Just then a nightmare figure exploded out of the fog and galloped toward the jacket; the Phantom Stallion!
The hideous beast, barely visible in the gloom, rocketed toward the slash of red and proceeded to rear and strike, slamming down with the front hooves in a viscous and calculated attack.
I pulled my Webley, took deliberate aim and squeezed off three shots.
There was a hellacious caterwauling, a scream from the dark realms themselves that emanated from the throat of the beast and the creature wheeled. It raced off into the fog as I ran down toward the sight of the attack.
The jacket, torn to shreds was stomped into the ground and it was clear it had been hanging on a bush, an effective decoy for the Phantom. Of its wearer, there was no sign.
Just then I heard something else that changed everything.
“Captain Stone?” It was the voice of Andy’s Aunt Gloria! Her voice sounded strained and full of fear. “Help me!”
By the Wall
“Where are you?” I called as I ran toward where I thought she was calling from. I rounded a clump of gorse to see her kneeling in the middle of a small clearing looking desperately around her.
“Help me!” she said again. I looked around for any sign of the deadly phantom animal.
“Did you see the beast?’ I asked scanned the area around her.
“I was looking for Andrew and—and—“ she whimpered, “ and then out of nowhere the beast charged me.” She started to sob, “Andrew is he—me -“ She broke down completely, here shoulders jumping violently.
I saw no sign of the demon horse and so raced over to her. “We have to get you to high ground,” I said, still looking around. “I’ll hide you and then see if he is alright.”
I got about a yard from the noble woman when suddenly she stopped crying and looked up at me with a hideous grin on her face. There was something horribly familiar in her expression.
“You fool!” she said. “You are all just as gullible as the Romans were.”
I knew then where I had seen that expression; it was exactly the same I had seen in my time travel transportation into the past on the woman who began the Granville curse.
I started to back away from the mad light in her eyes but Mrs. Gaunt sprang to her feet and knocked the pistol from my hand, sending it skittering off into the gloom of the fog.
“Mrs. Gaunt,” I yelled, “You have to stop, now. I know your secret!”
The woman ignored my statement and stepped back, stood up tall and began to change. As I stared unbelievingly at her, the woman’s body began to warp and twist, her neck growing longer, her head widening. Her clothes became absorbed into her body that grew in width and height so that in less than a dozen eye blinks her whole body changed and grew, swelling to massive proportions until she had become the demon horse I had seen earlier.
The Phantom Stallion was, in fact, a Phantom Mare!
Before I could react the devil beast launched at me with a whinnying snarl. I back-pedaled and threw up my left arm in shock. The beast’s large teeth sinking into my upraised arm before I could strike out with my right fist to smash her on the nose. She released me with a snort and I ran back around the clump of gorse.
The bite was not really such a ‘little thing’—it was deep and was bleeding quite a bit. I did my best to ignore it as the transformed woman called to me.
“Give up, Captain,” Gloria Gaunt called, “You can not escape me or the curse. Not now.”
“Why?” I called out, “Why betray your brother and all the other deaths?”
The demonic laugh that came out of the fog was part human—part animal—almost a whinny. “I have been born and reborn through the generations of the Granville family; I have always been the child of Elgiue.” Her voice came from the darkness all around me and I could not get a read on where the monster was.
“I have not always been born in each generation, it is true,” she added, “and sometimes the men died from war or other things, but mostly, I waited until the were in the fullness of their lives than I took it from them.”
She sounded closer, almost on top of me. I stooped and seized a rock, holding it tightly preparing to launch it at any target that presented itself.
“I will stop you,” I called out. “If it is my last breath I will stop you.”
“I have heard that before,” she said. “But the truth is, when I finish with you I will return to my fallen nephew and will end the line of the Granvilles once and for all.”
My pulse raced, my heart pumped rapidly and my breath came in ragged, shallow gulps. The fog muffled all sounds so I could not tell where she was.
“You are wrong there,” I called. “Andrew is still resting quietly in his bed.”
I heard an intake of breath from the Phantom. “What? But I saw—“
“You saw me leaving the manor house,” Doctor Argent, in shirt sleeves, said as he stepped out of the fog. “Jack moved his friend to his own room and I wore your nephew’s jacket to lead you and your husband out here to the heath.”
“How did you know?” She said.
“I suspected,” the Silver Fox said. He stepped up to beside me and placed a hand on my shoulder to reassure me. “I discovered that the hoof prints on the heath appeared to end abruptly to be replaced by human ones and I took note of the influence of the moon on the tides. Such lunar transformations are not unknown to me. I just was not sure if it was you or your husband.”
“It makes no difference,” the transformed woman called. “I will slay you then return to the house and wait for the next moon cycle. Or the next. I have waited long, hiding in the souls of the unsuspecting females of this line. But Andrew is the last. Then my soul can sleep when this body dies and my revenge will be complete.
Abruptly the massive head of the equine horror appeared out of the mist and came straight for the two of us.
The Guv and I dove to either side as the shadow beast raced between us, carried past by its own momentum.
Close up the fishy-scaled hide of the creature was even more unearthly than at a distance, as it shone iridescent in the pale moonlight. It gave off the faint scent of the sea, salty and ancient as it flew by.
I rolled to my feet and turned before the beast had managed to whirl about preparing to charge again.
Across from me I observed that Doctor Argent had removed a small object from his shirt pocket. It was a small piece of lead the size of a dinner cracker. He also produced an iron nail and, after scratching something on the lead, placed the small metal I had found on the heath near the wall on top of it.
The Phantom Mare saw the Guv’s action and gave a cry that was a banshee wail that might have been of hate or fear. Then she charged.
This time I was ready for her attack. As she charged straight for Doctor Argent I raced up a small rise of land and launched myself into the air.
I flew at her and sprang up to slam the rock between the monster’s eyes with the full force of my whole body before landing beyond her and rolling to my feet. It was hard enough to stagger the beast.
I spun about and pressed the attack, smashing at the same spot on the stumbling beast’s head a second time.
The beast dropped to its knees, dazed.
“We will destroy you, monster,” I said with pride. ”We will!”
The creature that had been Madam Gaunt changed again, her transformation back to her human form as quick as before but this time with a great sound much like the tearing of clothe.
There was a vibration in the air as well that I felt deep down in my gut and a humming like a hundred wasps.
I looked from her kneeling form to see the Guv driving the nail through the metal and the square of lead and dropping both into a hole in the ground. He kicked dirt on them and stamped hard with his foot.
The transformed woman screamed an inhuman yell, shaking so violently it was if she was having a seizure.
I was torn between the desire to race to her and help and turn away in horror.
The seizure suddenly stopped and the Phantom Mare seemed to rise out of the woman, a ghostly figure like a magic lantern slide, and, with a great rush of wind, flew up into the heavens to disappear.
Mrs. Gaunt slumped onto one arm and fell forward as if life was draining from her.
“Jack!” Doctor Argent called to startle me out of my shock.
I ran to the woman and caught her up in my arms. Her skin was cold to the touch, her eyes fluttering at the edge of consciousness.
“Is she dying, Doctor?” I asked him.
He knelt beside her and produced a handkerchief to wipe her clammy brow. “No, my friend, she is, indeed just beginning to live free of that demonic presence that has hidden within her her whole life.”
“How did you get rid of it, sir?”
“The Roman way,” he said. “I needed to now which name to inscribe on the lead square, which is why we conducted this little ruse. But once I did know it, I drove the nail through it and the medallion you found, calling on the ancient gods to let what had been done already to be justice enough for the dead girl Algiwa. Cold iron, you know. Once I did, as you saw, they accepted my supplication and the curse was lifted.”
Just then Athelstan came lumbering out of the fog, saw his wife and raced to her.
She opened her eyes as he reached us. “What happened?” She said. “I-I remember some things, but—it is like a nightmare.”
“Soon it will be dream, Madam,” Doctor Argent said. “But even that in time will fade. Just take heart in the fact that the Curse of the Stallion is done.”
“So Andy is safe now?” I asked him.
“Yes,” the Guv said. “And so will be future generations of the Granvilles.”
“Then, would you make one of those little medallion things up for my protection, sir?”
“Because I will need some protection when I tell Andy we ruined his dress jacket—it was his favorite.”