There has been much speculation on the nature of my experiences in Northern Wales. I have been reluctant to speak for fear of ridicule and professional ruin, but now I feel the time has come. My anxieties have been overcome by a greater dread following the announcement of the proposed expedition to the dark and forbidden valley in which my partner Sir Henry Grayle and I made the initial discovery amongst the barrows. His subsequent disappearance and my lengthy hospitalisation are a matter of public record, but there has been little else for the gossip columns on Fleet Street to go on.
Seeing as the few facts known don’t seem to have disturbed the minds of the men behind the current proposal, I will state this as clearly as possible: the barrows must not be opened.
Perhaps I had better start at the beginning. My schooling was laid out from an early age, through King’s College School through to the University of the same name. I was tempted to take up theology, but ultimately washed up on the shores of the Faculty of History.
There were, at this time, several lines of study open to me. At the time, Egyptology was in vogue, and this seemed to be the most intellectually profitable direction I could take. However, one season in the baking Arab sun cured me of my misconception, as I had no desire to be a mere relic hunter and the relentless heat drove down my spirits.
It was with some surprise, then, that I quickly discovered another line of enquiry closer to home. The semi-legendary Kings of Britain’s Dark Age past reached out to me from the pages of Gildas and Geoffrey of Monmouth to grip and fascinate me. Shadows of vanished kingdoms danced in front of me, haunting my dreams.
However, outside of these excellent sources, the evidence was less than substantial. In fact, it was non-existent. Instead of the later, clear narratives of the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, there was a deafening void, filled by puerile tales of King Arthur.
Nevertheless, I was content, and much to my surprise in this time I somehow acquired a protege. Sir Henry Grayle was a tall, wiry man whose eyes were so pale blue that people mistook him for being blind. He was a good man, and fine company, and given the scarcity of material he was soon up to a similar level of comprehension and we collaborated on many papers.
However, his historiographical methods differed somewhat from mine. While I was content mostly with academic work (my sojourn in Egypt having cured me of my delusions of adventure), Sir Henry felt the pull of the natural outdoorsman. In some ways I feel as if he lacked imagination – he could not conjure the lost realms of Ancient Britannia without sensory input.
It was at this time I noticed another worrying trend. His desire to work in the field, so to speak, and his obsession with recovering artifacts of that era, began to resemble the rapacious treasure hunters of Egypt I had so despised. In Sir Henry’s case, I believe he was innocent of their baser desires, the Grayles being an exceptionally wealthy family, but I fear he searched for something greater. Prestige, perhaps.
He also gave much more credence to local legend than I felt appropriate. His first instinct upon entering a town or village was to frequent the local pub, conversing with the locals and asking about the traditions of that particular part of the world. The fact that he was able to do so was due in no small part to his effortless charm, a skill I envied him, and that may have influenced my attitude.
It was late last August, when I received word from Sir Henry from just outside Beaumaris. The telegram was opaque, and unfortunately the original is lost, but one word stood out to me among the confusing talk of great discoveries. The word was Maglocunus.
A shiver went up my spine. I am not sure if it was excitement or fear. The word means a great deal to scholars of Brythonic Kings, but for the benefit of lay readers I will briefly outline the reason.
Maglocunus was the name of a Brythonic King from around the middle of the 6th Century. Unlike many of the semi-legendary kings of this era, he is known from a contemporary source, indeed the only contemporary source – De excidio et conquestu Britanniae by the British monk Gildas.
The document, a polemic of brutal condemnation, targets the contemporary clergy and ruling class of Britain, identifying the moral failings of the British people for their slow conquest at the hands of the Saxons. He saves his most bitter recriminations for the ruler of Anglesey, a king he refers to as the ‘Dragon of the Island’. To this person he ascribes many foul deeds, including the murder of his nephew and wife, claiming he had sunk to ‘the lowest depths of sacrilege’. His name, as given, is Maglocunus.
For years, the overwhelming condemnation heaped on the subjects of Gildas’ sermon has been assumed to have a political, as well as spiritual edge. The clergy, nearly untouchable to the Britons even in the face of Saxon apocalypse, were not aloof from the world, and the world has known men of god scheme and plot as well as the ungodly.
There is, however, something more serious present in these passages. The bitter recriminations heaped with scorn on other kings here take on a hysterical edge, and as such the shadow of a tyrannical king looms large behind the whole document. It was with some trepidation, then, that I had essentially received word that Sir Henry had found some evidence of him.
As I resolved to leave my comfortable quarters to journey to meet him at the expedition site, I received another telegram. This one I have to hand:
Have found it stop there are at least twenty mounds stop this may be the british valley of
the kings stop come immediately end
Clearly Sir Henry was having some sort of mental collapse. A British Valley of the Kings was on the surface preposterous, not least because Britain had been a fractured state of many competing ones and there was nothing contemporary to suggest such a place existed. I now felt I needed to travel all the more quickly, to make sure my friend was all right.
The train pulled into the tiny station which was proclaimed by a grubby sign to be Rhosneigr. On the platform, an excited Sir Henry bobbed up and down, and as soon as he was in range he grabbed my hand at shook it violently.
“So glad you’ve come, so glad.” he said cheerfully, but under his pale eyes there were heavy bags. He also kept glancing over his shoulder in a way that suggested there was someone following him.
He could barely contain himself, however, and even as I began to unpack he burst into my room bringing with him a large cardboard box.
“I’ve been inside one of them, Charles.” he said. “One of the barrows. I will take you up there tomorrow. But for now, look at this.”
With a flourish, he removed the lid of the box. Within there was a rusted sword hilt. His smile faded slightly when I looked nonplussed. “There.” he said, jabbing impatiently at the hilt. I leaned in, then looked at him in sudden shock.
Carved in the hilt was Maglo-us.
“It’s his, isn’t it.” he said, sudden desperation in his voice.
“I – I believe so.” I replied. I came to my senses. “You really should have left it where it was.”
Sir Henry dismissed that with a wave of his hand. “I documented its location. It will be returned.” He seemed to say the second sentence to the room at large, rather than just to me.
After these stunning revelations, he returned to his room, leaving the hilt for me to examine. It was certainly of the right design. If it was fake, it was a very clever forgery. My earlier dread was gone. In its place was a sense of nervous excitement.
Eventually, after what seemed like hours, my candle guttered. I looked up, and realised that it was brightening outside. Somehow I had studied the handle all night.
I also noticed something else. Outside at the edge of the lawn of the hotel, stood a figure. He was very tall (for I am almost certain it was a man) and he seemed to stand unnaturally still. He appeared to have some kind of heavy cloak draped around his shoulders. It was still far too dark to see his face, but I got the distinct impression that he was looking straight at my window. He seemed ethereal, as if he would fade if I went outside to approach him.
I retired to bed, deciding that I was imagining things, and that the groundworkers probably started early so as not to be seen by the guests. I had been asleep for half an hour, when I awoke with a start. It took me a few seconds to realise it, but the door had been opened, and it was the noise of that opening which had awakened me.
I lay facing the wall, overcome with a sudden sense of dread, I resisted turning over, even when I heard the creak of the floor as someone entered. Eventually however, I plucked up enough courage to turn and face my intruder.
The door was indeed open. Outside, in the hall, stood the figure I had seen on the lawn minutes earlier. Again, the eyes bored into mine from beneath a hood, even though they were not visible. The cloak, for at this point I confirmed that was what it was, was tattered and dirty. And he now had it circled around him, seemingly to hide what was underneath. The apparition didn’t move, not once in the time it stood there.
However, it, was the creature that had entered the room that caught most of my attention. It was a grotesque, twisted thing, seemingly shrivelled and dried out and yet still somehow, horribly alive. It was looming over the box containing the hilt. It looked back at the apparition beyond the door, as if for instructions, and then bent and picked the box up. It limped back to the door, hobbling strangely on its shrunken legs. At that moment, it looked back at me.
If I had ever been able to die of fright, that moment would have been it. I shrieked, even as it turned away and the door shut behind them. I was still shrieking when the landlady burst in, demanding to know what the noise was. I somehow passed it off as some sort of nightmare, jabbering at her until she left me alone.
I then packed, and immediately left. Somewhere in the journey back to London, I fainted on a platform, and it was in this state that I was rushed to hospital where I remained for some considerable time.
You may be wondering why I was so precipitous in the abandonment of Sir Henry, given his disappearance on the same night. Of the apparition in the doorway I can say little, but of his hideous familiar, I can say only this: it had the palest blue eyes I have ever seen.
I say again: The barrows must not be opened!