© Steve Snow
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The Walker Chronicles
Prologue 1726 AD
The coach travelled through the night on the road from Banbury to London, horses had been exchanged at Oxford and good time was being made even though the road was rutted and muddy from recent rains.
Inside the coach were the daughter of the Duke of Hereford and her chaperone, a middle aged lady in green lush and fur. A priest sat in the corner seeming to sleep, his slouch hat covering his eyes. He had joined the mail coach at Oxford and was travelling to London. The air inside the coach was close and stuffy as the chaperone would not let anyone open the windows for fear of ill humours.
‘Stand and deliver’ the feared words rang out from the front of the coach. The occupants quailed except for the “Priest”.
The chaperone started screaming as the coachman whipped up the horses to try and outrun the Highwaymen. The guard had drawn his long dragon and pointed it in the direction the call had come from. The blast of muzzle flame lit the surrounding trees and threw an expanding cloud of metal shards out ahead of the coach. He hit nothing, but returning fire threw him from his seat with a hole in his chest big enough to put a fist in. The horses, well trained though they were, went into a panic and stopped dead, the next shot killed the coachman.
‘Everybody please leave the coach.’ The leader, of the five rough looking men surrounding the coach, shouted. ‘I will count to ten then we will fire on the coach.’
Inside the coach there was wailing from the chaperone whilst the young lady though pale told her to ‘be quiet‘. The Priest grasped a silver topped stick he had been carrying. There was a sudden stench of faeces as the chaperone voided her bowels in her fear, and they began to exit the coach.
The Priest went first, landing on the ground lightly, holding the stick in a defensive posture. The leader came up to him a naked blade in his hand pointed towards the Priest.
‘Please drop the stick Priest, or should I call you Walker?’
‘Hello Finch, what do you want with me?’
‘You really should not have used my name Walker that could have unfortunate consequences for these innocent travellers. However the Bishop would like to speak to you, last time you left in rather a rush I believe.’
‘Yes I regret I was unable to accept his hospitality, and I really think I should decline again.’
Moving swiftly, Walker took a step back and twisted the top of his stick, and drew a slim blade from the body of the cane. He moved. A step to the left and the blade slashed through the throat of the nearest Highwayman, he reversed his move and smashed the heavy silver pommel of the stick into the nose of next one driving slivers of cartilage up into his brain. He was moving fast but the leader was equally as fast and while Walker was parrying a blow from the third assailant, he stepped in and thrust at him. Walker was not quick enough to deflect that blow and the blade entered his chest.
‘You should not have made me do that Walker, the Bishop wanted you alive, never mind dead will have to do.’
Walker tried to move but his legs were suddenly weak. The leader turned away from him to the remainder of his team. He waved at the other passengers.
‘Kill them, we cannot leave any witnesses.’
He then watched as Walker sank down, Walker heard the sound of gunfire, and then everything went dark.
A jerk, a gasp, a massive intake of breath, then pain, intense and flooding every inch of his body particularly an area of his chest. Who was he and why could he not see anything, he was constrained; he seemed to be in a confined space of some sort?
Panic there was little air; he forced his hands up to his face and the earth covering his nose. The bastards had buried him. His fingers dug into the soil soft, wet and cloying, he forced his hands into it trying to push it up and aside. Stones broke his nails and tore at his fingers; there was almost no room to push the earth aside and nowhere to place all the soil he did manage to move.
Each breath threatened to fill his mouth and nose with mud. What breath he could take was not good; he pushed his hands against the soil above his face, pushing harder and harder. His hands sank into the wet, soft, clinging loam.
Then suddenly there was space above his hand, which was almost elbow deep in the soil.
He pushed again with his other hand and pushed it through next to the first. He pulled soil aside and back soon his head was in the air. He could breathe, and he could see the stars pinpricking the sky above him.
And with his first deep breath he remembered.
‘My name is Walker, and I cannot die.’
A voice spoke from above him, ‘At last you are back Walker, we wondered how long it would take you’ the figure stepped into view, it was no more than six inches tall and winged.
Walker gagged and cleared his throat; his voice when it came was rough and hoarse. ‘You could have helped; there are enough of you little buggers.’
The diminutive figure grimaced. ‘Ugh get our hands dirty, anyway we never know if you are going to come back or not. Herne might have finally forgiven you.’ The Fae grinned, shook his head and signalled to the others that had landed on Walker’s grave. ‘Time to go looks like your killers are returning.’ Walker looked up. ‘How long, how far?’
‘Just two days this time Walker, they are about a mile away, you had better move.’
Walker grunted and got to his feet. ‘You could at least cast a glamour about me, anything, just a look the other way glamour would do.’
‘Done Walker, move slowly.’
Walker staggered off into the woods and his hunters went right past without seeing.
A look the other way glamour is only good if you do not do anything to bring notice to yourself.
I am Walker the undying, not undead, there is a difference, I feel pain, I breathe, I bleed and I am warm. There is no difference between me and you only I cannot die, for long.
This time it was just 2 days, in the past it has been longer, it is never nice either the dying or awakening.
These are my tales.
I hid in the underbrush not moving while they searched the area around the burial site, they should have found me easily, but true to their word the little Fae had put a do not look at me glamour on me. Their eyes slipped away from me each time any of the searchers came close.
They had returned with someone in authority, someone angry. ‘Finch I ordered you to bring him IN alive or dead, notice my emphasis on in.’
‘But Lord I killed him he was of no further use to you. Someone must have dug up his body and taken it away.’
‘No, you fool, he is back, he cannot die, this is why the Bishop wanted him, so he could find out why and how he cannot be killed.’
‘That is impossible I put my sword through his heart and watched the light go out of his eyes.’
I smiled in the darkness, knowing how or even why I cannot be killed would not help the Bishop live longer. They moved on searching an ever-wider area and I slipped away into the woodland.
I left the woodland the next evening, hungry and tired near the hamlet of Marsh Baldon where I still had a small house, this was in fact not far from Dorchester on Thames where I had been born just over one thousand years ago.
I got there in the early hours, it was closed and cold but there was no chance Finch knew about it. I could hole up there until it had all died down.
Several days later I headed off to London again but by a more circuitous route, I took a horse to Aylesbury and then down to London from there, finally arriving at my house in Smithfield.
I held this house under a different name so hoped the Bishop’s people had not found it yet. I have properties all over Britain. One of the great advantages of being immortal is that you have the time to amass wealth.
I spent some weeks there changing my looks, growing my hair and a beard, and wore much better clothing whilst ditching the Priest’s garb. I was no priest but had often used the guise as it made travelling easier.
It was time to get the Bishop of Lambeth off my back; he had been hounding me for five years now, ever since I had got involved in freeing a member of the Fae whom he was keeping captive.
During that episode the William Bishop of Lambeth had discovered that I cannot die and had become consumed with a desire to enjoy eternal life on Earth. He had also declared war on those remnants of the Fae which still occupied the British Isles.
I had foiled him five years ago in Winchester before he was Bishop of Lambeth. He was tormenting a Tree Nymph who lived in a small sacred grove (Nemed) within the bounds of Winchester Cathedral.
I had been diverted there by local Fae who warned me about the plight of the Nymph. She was an innocent and had inhabited the small grove of Silver Birches for several hundred years. Yes people had left gifts for the Nymph, but had not worshipped there. Still William then Dean of Winchester had pronounced her an evil influence on the good Christians of Winchester.
Needless to say I had resolved the problem, but in doing so the Dean had discovered my secret, and much of his attention had moved in my direction.
I took a trip south of the river to Southwark, I had heard that new Bishop of Lambeth was planning to have the Church of St Saviour, Southwark, re-consecrated as a cathedral, and he was spending a large amount of time there. So I went to have a look.
The Church grounds occupy a fairly large area of Southwark which borders on Borough. There is a market in the vicinity.
I approached the church from London Bridge it was just to the left and there was a Lich Gate giving access to the churchyard. I had been there many times before. I paid my respects at the unmarked grave of the actor Edmund Shakespeare younger brother to William, we had been drinking companions, and moved on towards the church.
On a whim I moved around the church, wishing to visit an ancient Yew and renew acquaintance with its attendant spirit.
Only there was no attendant spirit, just an old failing tree.
‘Walker do you look to find Old Man Yew?’ A little Fae flittered over to my shoulder.
‘The old hating priest man has taken him, with others into that prison over there. We are worried about him we cannot sense him anymore. ’ She pointed to the church behind me.
That’s when I saw the Bishop walking through the grounds with the local Vicar, they seemed deep in conversation. Keeping out of his view I moved slowly towards a newer Mausoleum and pretended to pray whilst watching the “Old hating priest man” as the Fae accurately described him. I watched for a while keeping an eye out for Finch, the Bishop’s attack dog.
There was no sign of Finch so I moved carefully towards the entrance. The little Fae accompanied me. I did not ask her name, it was not polite, for to give a name was to give power.
‘Little one you cannot enter here, it would be too dangerous for you. Please go and hide you know that the Priest can see you, and it may be that others can too.’
‘Walker I want to find those he has taken, some begin to fade in my memory.’ I sighed the little ones would soon forget those that died. Their minds could often not remember much beyond the now.
‘Come then, but be careful there will be much iron in there, I think it would be best if you hid in my pocket, that might keep you safe, but keep quiet.’
The church was quiet, no service taking place at that moment. Someone was in the side chapel praying. At the back there are some stairs down to the crypt. I took the little Fey out of my pocket and put her on a small stone shelf by the door to the crypt.
‘Stay here, only come and find me if he comes back in. There will be too much danger for you down there.’
I went down quietly in case the Bishop had any men down there, I did not think it likely but it was better to be safe than sorry.
The crypts were sparsely lit by small smoky animal fat candles. Most of the family crypts were open and unoccupied. But further down there were two closed by iron gates. These would be perfect prisons for any Fae.
When I got close I could see faint forms cowering at the back. He had captured up to 10 of the little Fae. They flittered in distress as far away from the burning iron as they could get.
‘Little ones it is Walker I have come to help, is old Man Yew here?’
Little voices piped up. ‘Help us we burn, we are surrounded by burning blood metal.’ I was getting no sense; the little creatures were in too much distress.
I tried to undo the lock on the gates, but I had not come equipped to deal with this. I needed to go and get some tools.
‘I’ll be back tonight to free you all, keep away from the bars and wait for me.’
The little one I had hidden above flittered down all a-panic he landed on my shoulder. ‘He has come back in, that man, he is above.’
‘Shh calm down, get back into my pocket and do not peer out.’
I needed to get out. If the Bishop saw me and recognised me he would have guards all over the place and I would never get them out.
I moved quietly up the stairs and was half way up when the door, which had been ajar, swung open and light flooded down the spiral staircase. Luckily I was part way round the spiral and so out of sight.
I quickly slipped back down and moved into one of the side crypts and into the shadows behind the raised tomb.
There was a muffled squeak from my pocket which I quietly shushed. Then came a clatter down the stairs and a voice which I knew only too well. The Bishop of Lambeth, a quieter voice answered which I can only assume was that of the Vicar.
They were not expecting anyone to be here so did not look in the side crypts but walked to the end. I waited and listened.
The Bishop was talking.
‘See, if I put them in here they fade after a while, there are only ten left now, the old Yew spirit has faded completely and he was the largest I have caught so far. In a few days there will be none left. I will catch more then. You can see them flitting around the churchyard. They sully our faith with their pagan presence.’
The Vicar spoke, ‘But they are such poor small things, how can they threaten Christianity?’
William rounded on him. ’They do, they incite people to worship pagan things.’ I will come back in the morning to see how many are left then.
He turned and stalked out leaving the vicar in front of the iron gates.
I could hear the Vicar talking in low tones. ‘You poor things, I would help you but I fear the wrath of the Bishop, he is not inclined to forgiveness.’
He turned and walked away, but as he came level with the crypt he spoke again. ‘You in the shadows I know you are there, the shadows had the wrong shape. Please show yourself. ‘
I stood up and stepped out of the crypt.
‘Who are you, I know you cannot be one of the Bishop’s men, else you would not hide. Do you sympathise with these poor pagan creatures?’
I stepped into the light and confronted the ageing Vicar of St Saviours.
‘My name is Walker, I am charged with helping and protecting the weak and small when abused by the strong and powerful. So to answer your question, yes I do sympathise with these poor creatures. I am here to free them, and to exact some retribution on the Bishop.’
He looked at me. ‘What can you do, the man will only trap more and destroy them like he did to the Old Yew spirit.’
‘Then I will have to find a way to stop him for all time, I’ll free them tonight and find some way to deal with him tomorrow.’
‘You could free them now, the Bishop has gone to the chapter house for the night.’
‘Yes I could but there is every chance that you would get into trouble with the Bishop and as you said before he is not forgiving.’
‘In that case I will make it easier for you to get in. The eastern nave door will be unlocked and the key for the crypt is on the wall here. I will leave here just after evensong.’
I just nodded at him and slipped out of the Church letting the little Faery from my pocket, I walked over to Borough picked up some tools from a farrier and sat in the bar of The George Inn, it was a hive of activity. Several coaches a day called here so there were always people waiting and making use of the facilities.
When darkness was well set and the time for evensong was over I made my way back to the church.
All was quiet except for clouds of agitated Fae. My diminutive companion from earlier had obviously spread the word, and the little creatures were all worked up and flitting here and there across the churchyard.
I walked close to the Yew, and surprisingly there was the glimmer of a presence I had not noticed before. I was surprised, maybe I could bring him back.
The church was dark and silent when I slipped in through the East nave.
There was a feeling of time in the church. It was silent and dark and as always a place of peace.
I stood quietly for a few minutes listening, I needed to make sure that the place was empty. It was. My eyes adjusted to the gentle moonlight filtering through the windows allowing me to see the way to the door down to the crypts. True to his word this door was also unlocked.
I pulled the door to behind me and went down the steps. Once at the bottom I brought out flint and dark lantern, lighting it and quickly pointing the open side towards the end.
In the soft light of the lantern I could see the small forms flittering in their prison some of them fading as their substance weakened.
Working quickly, I took hammer and chisel from my sack. I did not have time to pick the lock so subtlety was discarded.
Two quick hard blows were enough to shatter the ancient lock. I pulled the gates wide allowing the small beings to exit without getting too close to cold iron.
They fluttered out twittering their thanks like a small flock of starlings. Whilst they thanked me their anger at the bishop was obvious to me. It is not good to anger the Fae even the smaller ones can cause mischief.
As I walked out of the church into the yard I could see the little fluttering forms gathering around the ancient Yew tree.
As I approached I could feel their distress these little creatures were often all emotion and attitude with little else.
‘Old Man Yew is gone.’ The one who had guided me spoke.
‘Old Man Yew might be gone but if you all keep quiet and feel the tree there is something still there.’
The twittering stopped and the tiny figures all touched the tree.
‘Thank you Walker we will try to bring Old Man Yew back to us.’
‘I will return tomorrow before dusk, I need to work out how to deal with the Bishop.’
I walked out keeping my eyes open and returned to me house at Smithfield. No one followed me
By the next morning I had an idea but needed to talk to the Vicar of St Swuthun. I waited until afternoon and then headed off to Southwark.
London Bridge was crowded with traders and residents, the carters by now had been ordered to keep to the left side. This was to cut down congestion.
Compared to the hustle and bustle of London Bridge and Borough Market the churchyard was peaceful.
I walked quickly through it to the main door of the church. I was looking for the vicar, who I assumed would be in his small office behind the vestry.
As I neared the back I could hear raised voices from the office.
‘I tell you I have not seen him since early this morning, he was here for Matins then told me he would be in the chapter house until later, and he apparently had paperwork to complete.’
‘Well he did not come back to the chapter house I have been looking for him for some time now.’
‘Finch I am not the Bishop’s keeper he is a grown man and can go where he wishes.’
I slipped into a pew and bowed my head in prayer just in time as with a crash Finch stormed out of the Vestry and out of the church.
I waited a few minutes then headed towards the vestry, just as the Vicar came out.
He looked at me with some surprise. ‘What are you doing here, have you abducted the Bishop?’
‘No I came to talk to you about what to do about the Bishop. Where has he gone do you think?’
‘I do not know, he was in a rage for he had just gone down to the crypt and seen the cell empty, he stormed out into the churchyard saying that he would destroy all the pagan creatures near the church. He thought that he had to cleanse it before the church could be re-consecrated as a Cathedral. I did not follow as I was scared of his wrath in case he blamed me.’
I smiled as I realised that the Fae had probably resolved the problem themselves. ‘Then that is where the answer lies, out in the Churchyard it is probably just as well that you did not accompany him.’
We then left the church together and went over to Old Man Yew, I put my hands on the bark of the gnarled ancient tree and let my thoughts clear. Yes there was a spirit within the tree, no two, one was growing and filling the tree with life, the other was screaming, pleading and diminishing and I knew the voice.
My little guide arrived and perched in a fork of the tree. The Vicar watched her and smiled. ‘I think you are all safe now’ he said. I looked at him in surprise he must have heard the voices within the tree, I had not thought he would be sensitive to something so far outside his faith.
The little one spoke ‘We led the Old Hating Priest here knowing that the tree needed a new spirit, the tree took it.’
I left the Vicar talking to the little ones. He seemed to be far happier himself now.
The Church of St Saviour became Southwark Cathedral at the beginning of the 20th century, and later that century when bombs came and knocked down an ancient yew was an old skeleton discovered entwined in the roots.