Continued from part one:
As Spaemann arrived home, he saw the jeweled case lying on the table, his black cat, Trinity, curled up before it. The ornate tooled-leather case was a thing of great beauty, adorned with swirling silverwork of breathtaking artistry and encrusted with every shade of gemstone. He marveled as he lifted the lid to reveal the Sword of Avalon.
“Excalibur,” he exclaimed, with a voice full of wonder. “I never dared to dream that I would one day behold your glory.” He whispered a prayer of thanks to Artōrius, who had wielded this very sword, and to the demi-gods who had forged it.
It was a surprisingly plain-looking weapon, given the ornate decoration on the box. The blade had a subtle green hue, suggesting a metal far stronger than steel and not of this Earth. The hilt was of a dull gray metal, its design simple, plain, and functional. Lifting the sword by its blade with the fingertips of both his hands, Spaemann hardly felt any weight. It was as if he were holding a swan’s feather.
He took a swing or two, gripping the hilt in his right hand. He was not sure if he could do the blessed instrument justice. He was no swordsman.
Before returning the sword to its case, he made a pinprick with the point into the flesh below his heart, anointing the blade with his blood. For a sword should never be drawn without satisfaction.
He then took a brief drink of cool water from the kitchen tap before seating himself, crossed legged in the lotus fashion, on the tattered rug before the fireplace. The rug was said to have been made from a fragment of the Queen of Sheba’s gift of a magic carpet to King Solomon; a soft silk weave of an imperial green, adorned by a border of now-ragged golden thread, which once held gorgeous rubies, emeralds, and sapphires.
Appearance and adornment meant nothing to Spaemann, who had no need of jewels and fripperies. Seated on the rug, he soon fell into a deep and hypnotic trance, watched over by his faithful familiar, Trinity. It amused Spaemann to have been chosen by a black cat (some might think this a cliché, having a black cat as familiar), but Trinity had proven to be a powerful ally and friend.
With Trinity watching over him, no demon or shade could ever hope to infiltrate his earthly being while his astral self was in a state of release. Crossing into the dark reaches of the nether world was no small task. Spaemann’s whole being was consumed by the journey of immense distance through time and space. He crossed the very boundary between life and death in order to commune with his dead half-brother.
Spaemann’s brother had been condemned at the Suffolk Assizes in Bury St. Edmunds in 1645 and was hanged three days later. He had died with one other man and sixteen women. He was the only true witch to die, the women being all healers, eccentrics, spinsters, and elderly widows. The other male victim was a local rent collector who had made himself unpopular with the tenants, one of whom gave a false report of devil worship against the man.
Spaemann’s brother had been betrayed to the so-called Witchfinder General for offering a prayer to the pagan gods for a bounteous harvest after a year of blighted crops. The fall after he died saw the best harvest in living memory. One farmer’s wife cut a finger from the hanged man’s right hand and kept it preserved in a jar of honey to protect her family from evil spirits. The gruesome treasure had since found its way to a provincial church in rural Brittany, where it was worshipped as a Saint’s true relic.
None of this mattered to Spaemann or his long-deceased brother, as they spoke to each other through the mists of the astral plane.
“Will it be soon?”
“Soon enough. Be prepared, my brother, always be prepared.”
“How long must I wait?”
“The time is at hand. I can feel it as I have felt nothing before. You must be on your guard, brother, and be strong.”
With these words breaking the link between the two, Spaemann found himself back in his comfortable semi-rural manor house, again seated on the green silk fragment of Solomon’s magical carpet. He sat facing Trinity, who was still curled up in front of the hearth, the dying embers glowing in the fireplace. He knew the time was at hand.
“Morwenna! Morwenna! Do you hear me? I need your help now. Gather your circle.”
“Magister, is it you? I hear you.”
Despite what had seemed to Spaemann a fleeting encounter with his dead brother, he had been gone for almost three days. Morwenna was now alone in her tiny apartment in Godalming, having gone to bed early with a period romance. The conversation they had had in the hotel was but a memory.
Now, she knew that Spaemann was not just some wealthy businessman and part-time pagan, but a powerful witch with a mysterious mission. Having been called upon to assist him, she almost felt that she was becoming a grownup, a true witch, rather than a mere dabbler in petty potions and spells. She now knew her long-cultivated magical skills had a purpose. For the first time in her life, Morwenna felt whole.
Spaemann had no doubt about his purpose in life. As he left his home, for what might be the last time, he addressed Trinity directly, stroking his pet and familiar, dispensing with protocol.
“Trinity, my friend, guard my home well. If I do not return, make sure that whoever comes to live here looks after it as I have. Be sure they feed you well and care for you as you deserve. You can have a leisurely life and be a regular house cat, catch mice and birds, and ward off evil spirits.”
Trinity’s purrrrrrhhhh was followed by a brief “farewell, Magister, go in peace and strength. We will meet again in the hereafter.”
Morwenna had little thought other than to her new-found purpose. She rounded up a group of her friends on the ruse of a late-night party in a very special location.
“Guildford Cathedral?” she had asked Spaemann, incredulous.
“Yes, why not? It lies at the high point of the ley lines,” said Spaemann. “I asked the Bishop if we could use it and he agreed. He owes me a favor.”
“I don’t doubt it. How many do you need? I am not sure I can muster a full coven.”
“As many as you can collect together. I ask only that they be true hearts and faithful friends. It matters not what they believe but whether they have the courage to stand together and not falter when the time comes.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Later that evening, Morwenna trooped up the little hill from Guildford town center to the Cathedral, leading eight friends, including Tristan. Half were wiccan, the others not. As they mounted the steps into the Cathedral, Morwenna asked them to leave their shoes outside and, looking up at the sky, commented on “them dark clouds gathering.” As they stepped into the Cathedral’s nave, one among them faced the altar and, genuflecting, crossed herself.
“I’m not sure we should be here,” she said nervously.
“Don’t worry, Angela, we are not going to be doing anything irreverent. This is our place of sanctuary.” Above them, on top of the high tower, stood the giant gilded angel and, outside the entrance, flew the banner of Saint George, its simple red cross on white background symbolizing purity and courage. Morwenna could perceive their presence, which gave her a feeling of strength for the encounter to come. Angela looked up timidly at the circular stained-glass window, depicting the dove of the Holy Spirit descending and surrounded by the saints of old. She whispered a prayer to her Christian God to forgive any blasphemy and preserve the lives and souls of those present, Christian or otherwise.
All of the friends who had gathered had a feeling of impending peril, as if they were venturing out onto a stormy sea. In some ways, they were. All thought of an evening’s wild party was forgotten, as they felt the oppressive atmosphere that surrounded them.
Spaemann arrived shortly after, wearing a robe of plain hessian, something like a monk’s habit, but with a sword held by the cord tied around his waist. None recognized it as the Sword of Avalon. Why would they? Spaemann gathered the friends together at the center of the nave.
* * * * *
Continue to: Part three
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Dark Clouds Gather was first published in volume two of
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About the Creator
Author based in Kent, England. A writer of fictional short stories in a wide range of genres, he has been a non-fiction writer since the 1980s. Non-fiction subjects include art, history, technology, business, law, and the human condition.