“Good evening, welcome to the Schloss Überwaldburg.” The Count waited until his guests recovered from the shock of his arrival. It had rather amused him to learn that his transition from the form of a bat — a shape his species had adopted as an alternative to their original, and far more ancient, rather larger, form when not appearing human — startled people. Particularly those who saw echoes of his original form in the adjustment dictated by the Laws of Physics governing the conservation of energy. Taking his seat, he surveyed his audience hungrily as Igor, his ‘self-improved’ manservant placed a tall glass of deep red liquid at his side. “Thank you, Igor. Are my guests provided with refreshments?”
“Yeth, Mathter.” The lisp was so pronounced it produced a visible spray as the misshapen figure spoke.
“Excellent, then I shall begin my tale.” He smiled. The kind of smile that sends shivers down the spine. “A little tale for the season, my friends. A story for Halloween as you call it …”
“The old Henge Hall is perfect for a ‘Fright Night’ Party, Bertie.” Raynor Johnathon Beauchamp—Porter, youngest son of wealthy titled parents, and despite his best efforts, unable to shake off his cut-glass accent and aristocratic sneer, accosted his friend — whom he treated as a companion and servant — Bertram Blandings. “Be a good fellow, pour me a libation and we’ll discuss the arrangements.”
Bertie sighed, recognising the order. He pushed aside his work on his assignment, and put the kettle on. “The Henge Hall? No one goes near it, Raynor — it’s off limits. Belongs to the University, but it’s locked up and left alone. The park is used by the bio sciences Department. There’s nothing there besides the Hall. Why there? It’s damned difficult to get into the park, never mind get to the house, and it’s very remote.”
“Nonsense. Not difficult at all! I found a gap in the fence, strolled through the trees and there it was. Not even locked up.” He paused, considering. “Place is wide open, still furnished in all the rooms too. As I said, perfect for a Fright Night! I’m amazed no one’s thought of it before.”
“You went into the house?” Bertram swallowed. The Henge Hall was the subject of some very strange stories. It stood empty, and had been empty for many years. It should have collapsed, fallen apart, or been claimed by the forces of decay and nature years ago. It had not been occupied for at least a hundred years, some said much longer. The locals wouldn’t go anywhere near it, but students from the ancient university colleges generally disregarded such ‘local’ fears. Usually only once.
“Of course. Good lord, you don’t really believe that nonsense the locals put out about it do you?” Raynor laughed. “Place is in a remarkable state of preservation. Wouldn’t surprise me if the yokels slip out there, dust, clean and maintain it, just so they can entertain themselves scaring off some of the weak-minded.”
“Why would they do that?” Asked Bertram. “Be a waste of effort if you ask me.”
He made the tea, hating himself for doing it. From the moment Raynor had arrived in College and been assigned to share his rooms, he’d found himself turned into a sort of lackey. At first it had been amusing, but a year and a half along, it had become a source of irritation. Any attempt to address the matter simply got a haughty stare from Raynor and the ‘instruction’ to stop being so sensitive.
“Thanks, old chap. By the way, I shall be out this evening. A Dine-in with the club, you know.”
Bertram controlled his expression. The Huntington “Club” was an exclusive group of wealthy rowdies, with a ‘uniform’ for their dining in nights, and a reputation not to be admired. Most Public Houses and Restaurants hired a dining room to them once. Certainly the members paid for the damage — often very large sums of money — but most of the local establishments had long since found it far cheaper, and much less disruptive, to politely refuse the booking. Unless they wanted to redecorate and replace the furniture and fittings. “Ah. I see, so I had best not wait for your return then.”
“Oh, I’ll try to remember to bring you a little something!”
“Thanks, but I’d rather you didn’t.” Bertie changed the subject. Raynor’s ideas of a ‘little something’ brought back to the digs was usually either embarrassing or likely to cause trouble. “I thought the Octave were planning a Halloween Party?”
“Yes, but it’ll be deadly dull stuff.” Raynor Beauchamp-Porter had been politely — he was far too well connected for anyone to be rude to him — but firmly told the intended party was to be a small intimate group. Just the ‘Octave’ themselves and their partners. Not used to being declined entry to someone else’s Party made him more than usually determined to have one of his own. “Frightfully stuffy — you know what these choral types are like. No, I want you to help me set up a real party — I know I can rely on you to do it properly! And Henge Hall is perfect. I’ll organise the guest list, you can arrange the drinks and food hampers, there’s a good chap.”
It did cross Bertram’s mind to refuse, but then he remembered the influence Raynor could, and probably would, bring to bear on his future, and quite possibly on his family. Raynor Beauchamp-Porter was that kind of person. If you were not for him …
So he set about making arrangements for food and refreshments. And ran into the first problem.
“You want this stuff delivered where?”
“The Henge Hall property.”
“Sorry. No way are my staff going anywhere near it.” The caterer studied Bertram for a moment. The order and the sum it would cost were not to be turned down lightly. “Look, I’m happy to supply all the stuff you want — but you’ll have to make your own arrangements to get it there.” The manager of Bogbridge’s caterers shook his head. “If I were you I’d hold your party somewhere else — the Old Churchyard, or the Standing Stones …”
“Sorry, can’t.” Bertie shrugged. “It’s not my choice and not my party,” he added with a touch more bitterness than he intended. “Can you deliver the stuff to the gate? I can get a couple of people to take it from there.”
The manager studied Bertie for a moment. “You do know that Halloween is a full moon — a Blue Moon in fact?”
“Is it?” Bertie paused, trying to recall if there was anything in folklore about Halloween and Blue Moons. He dismissed such stories as being fantasy, and considered himself intellectually above mere superstition. He gave up. “So what?”
“Do you know why that house stands empty? Why no one local ever goes near it?”
“Someone got murdered there, or something I heard. And some strange story about the place always being clean and tidy and in good repair or something.”
“You’ve not read up the local history? Or been there yourself?”
“No. Not yet, anyway.” Bertie shifted uncomfortably. “The fellow organising the party has. He said something about it being in good shape.” He paused. “What’s special about a Blue Moon? What’s it got to do with the Henge Hall place anyway?”
“Everything. Look, take my advice. Hold your party in the churchyard. The Vicar and the Verger and Church Wardens will kick up a stink, but they’re nothing compared to what’s at the Henge Hall.”
Bertie laughed, suspecting this story was all part of some local joke told to gullible university students. “You mean ghosts? Don’t believe in them myself. Don’t think any of my friends do either.”
“Ghosts? No, worse.” The manager picked up the list of things Bertie wanted. “On your head be it. I’ll drive the van myself to the gate, and it’s strictly cash on delivery. If you’re not there to meet it, I won’t stop. There is no way I’ll hang around there, and I’m not putting any of my staff at risk there either. You and your friends want to do this, fine. Don’t say you weren’t warned.”
"Bertram Blandings was not superstitious. He was convinced that logic and reason provided an infallible path through any, and every, situation. In a sense he is correct, the only problem is that for logic and reason to apply one must be fully aware of all the facts, and be able to correctly interpret them. Like many of his generation, Bertie, unfortunately, believed himself possessed of a superior intellect. The unexplainable was simply dismissed as ‘myth’ or as not having been properly analysed. It was a source of irritation to him that he was indeed the cleverer of than Raynor, who possed the knack of being very quick to claim as his own any idea praised by their acquaintance or their tutors."
"What our ‘persons of superior intellect’ dismissed so lightly, the locals took very seriously indeed. Perhaps had Bertie or Raynor (he hated being addressed as Ray) perhaps been more au fait with the latest thinking in Quantum Theory, or the concept of multiple dimensions, they might have taken a closer look at the stories of events at the Henge Hall, and begun to rethink the matter."
"Many things are associated with Halloween, some of them with good reason, others, perhaps, not. Equally many things are associated in mythology with the full moon, most, with less reason, but a conjunction between Halloween and the full moon … That, my friends, opens a number of possibilities.
Thus the plans for the party went ahead, Bertie having take the trouble to research the story attached to the venue, and concluding, after applying logical reasoning, that it was all so far fetched as to be a complete fiction. What he overlooked in his research, was the fact the house stood at the centre of a now largely ‘lost’ henge. Only a few of the original stones remained, largely unrecognised, though the rest were still in place, though worn down with age or fallen and now concealed beneath earthen mounds or dense vegetation. So he and two more friends were waiting at the gate to the Henge Hall property when the Bogbridge Catering — Student Parties our Speciality — arrived."
“So you’re going ahead? Well, it’s your necks I guess.” The Bogbridge’s manager opened the van side door. There you go. Everything’s disposable,” he shrugged, “because there won’t be anything to return. This being Halloween and a Blue Moon.” He handed over the invoice. “You’ve the cash to pay for it? No credit as we agreed.”
“Here you go.” Bertram handed over the money as his companions, already in costume for the party, began unloading the various boxes and crates.
Shutting the door of the van after handing over a receipt, the manager walked to the driver’s door. “I think you’re bloody stupid, but, it’s your funeral.” Starting the engine, he added, “Good luck!”
“What was that all about?” Asked one of his companions dressed as a skeleton.
“Just more nonsense. Local superstition,” snapped Bertie. “Come on, we better get this stuff up to the house. It’s open, I’ve checked, and there’s a place just beyond that tree we can get over the fence.”
“The gate’s open,” said the man dressed as a gorilla as several more costumed figures joined them. “Thought it was kept locked?”
Bertie checked. “Well it isn’t now. Raynor must have sorted it. Come on, you know what he’s like if everything isn’t ready when he makes an entrance!”
“Anyone know how he plans to dress?” Asked a wizard gathering and stacking a number of boxes.
“Yes,” said Bertie. “Said it was something to do with the myths about this place. Says it’s from the story of the Wild Hunt.” He laughed. “Probably as the king who leads it if I’m guessing right.”
“The Wild Hunt? Here? Is he daft?” James, the questioner, was the most ‘local’ of the group. A member of the local Morris Dancing club, he was also the most knowledgable when it came to the local myths.
“You’re not superstitious are you?” Bertie sneered. James was, unoriginally, dressed in his ‘Morris’ attire. “You don’t believe all this twaddle about strange disappearances and haunting do you?”
“No! Um, well, it’s just that …” James did his best to defend his doubts, never easy in the company of Bertram who had an unerring knack of identifying some trivial detail and derailing an entire debate by arguing some irrelevant point of detail.
Teasing James, the group made several trips to bring the food and the cases of bottled beer and wine to the house, joined, as they did so by several more of James’ Morris Dancing team of fellow students. Their hobby, regarded as ‘quaint’ or even ‘stupid’ by some of their peers, has its roots deep in very ancient folk rituals, a point their mentor, a local man, often made to offset the rather flippant attitudes of some — that it was a good excuse to tour the local pubs and quaff a lot of beer …
The house was in disquietingly immaculate condition given both its age, and the fact it had not been — so it was said — inhabited for the last 200 years at least. The party goers however, gave this little thought as they set out the wherewithal for their celebration in what was known as ‘The Great Hall’ with its huge fireplace. None of them noticed, or if they did, they assumed one of the others must have been responsible, when some of their preparations were discreetly rearranged. Nor did they notice when their inexpertly built fire in the huge fireplace was reassembled around a vast prepared log.
“My friends, there are, as that clever fellow Will Shakespeare remarked — very perceptively I might add — more things in heaven and earth, God wot, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. So it is with places such as the locality known as the Henge Hall. You see, it stands astride a far more ancient site, one indeed lost in the depths of myth and legend.”
“A place, perhaps, more easily explained in terms of Quantum Theory or Metaphysics. A place where the normal laws of reality apply only accidentally …”
“It is never wise to engage in activities at such places which may cause an opening to form between realities. Or which may risk them becoming entangled in some way. Perhaps, had our heroes studied the history and the myth a little more carefully — and with more regard to the nature of realities — they might have concluded that the building of Henge Hall had created just such an entanglement.”
Sipping his drink appreciatively, the Count smiled, an expression that sent a shudder down the spines of his audience. “There are many things in cultural memories, my friends, that have their origins in the need to ensure that your reality, this small and rather fragile dimension, is not opened to other, less pleasant ones. You choose to dismiss such things as Morris Dancing as quaint cultural oddities — but are they?”
“Wonder where Raynor is?” Bertie asked as James jingled past. The fire in the fireplace was already alight, making shadows dance on the decorated walls. Bertram tried to remember who had lit it. He shrugged, it didn’t matter. “The sun will be down soon and almost everybody he invited is here.”
“He’ll be here when he thinks he’ll get the maximum attention out of it.” James had also been the butt of Raynor’s dominating behaviour since commencing his studies. Like Bertram, he found himself in the awkward position of being far brighter than Raynor, but, due to having a parent employed in the Beauchamp-Porter Fund Management, dared not give offence. Raynor had a rather nasty habit of taking the sort of revenge on those who upset him which could destroy someone’s prospects for life. And not just that person’s prospects. “Talk of the Devil,” he added quietly. “Oh no. No, he can’t be that idiotic …”
“Where? What …” Bertram caught sight of Raynor and took in the costume. “He’s come as a viking?”
“Not a viking. The bloody Green Man! Lord of the Forests and Hunts according to legend.” James looked around nervously. “You know the story of the wild hunt?”
“The Wild Hunt?” Bertie frowned. “What the devil … What’s that …?” He took in the fact Raynor’s outfit appeared to be a coat of multiple overlapping squares of different greens, with shades of yellow and orange, over brown knee breeches, stout stockings and heavy boots — but it was the headdress that grabbed the attention. The antlers of a stag sprouted from a sort of headdress, and it must have been a magnificent stag before it lost them. “Oh. Oh, I see what you mean.”
“I doubt it …” James stopped, it was useless to continue. Bertram would simply dismiss what he didn’t want to hear as ‘nonsense — just silly legends!’
Bertie was already striding to meet Raynor in his ‘Green Man’ outfit, all to aware his own costume, that of a rather scruffy wizard, was quite modest by comparison. “Nice outfit, Raynor. An absolute party stopper I think.”
“Had it made up specially,” Raynor replied casually. He could never resist rubbing in the fact he was indecently wealthy. “Everyone here?”
"They all seem to be. The band’s inside, so it’s all set. Had to get them from London. No one closer would come anywhere near here.” Bertie paused. “Shall I get you a drink?”
“Of course. You know what I like. You got some of course?”
“Yes,” Bertie hid his annoyance. He’d managed to acquire six bottles of a very expensive wine Raynor insisted on drinking, and had had to hide them carefully to make sure no one else guzzled them. “I’ll get you a drink and get the band going.”
Raynor waved a hand dismissively, and greeted a fellow member of the Huntington Club with the club’s usual raucous and rather childish cry of, “Hunt-hunt, tally-ho!”
The moon rose late in the evening, casting its silvery light over a house now reverberating with the noise of a boisterous party. In the shrubbery outside strange shadows began to move, attracted by the noise and the glow of the lamps and candles the revellers had brought with them. Inside, Bertie sidled up to James. The Great Hall was crowded now, and not all the revellers were students, and many of the costumes appeared far too ‘real’ to have come from a party hire.
“James, there seem to be a lot of strange people here.” He stared as a woman in a very sumptuous medieval gown drifted past on the arm of a man in a surcoat. Their conversation appeared to be French, but sounded coarser than the language he spoke fluently.
“Besides us, you mean?” James had reached that happy state of being merry, but not yet intoxicated. He glanced around and frowned. “Now you mention it …
Who the hell is that? I thought Raynor’s outfit was asking for trouble, but look at that guy.”
Bertie looked, and did a double take. “Who the hell’s he supposed to be? Pan?”
“Looks like it, and over there, the guy in the suit of armour, and then a bit further over, that group around the guy in the crown? I went past them a few minutes ago and could have sworn they were speaking early Gaelic.”
“What? Nobody speaks that!” Bertram was taking a major in ancient languages. “I’ll go over and see what they’re up to.”
“I’ll come with you.” James was taking the same major, and now he focussed on the party-goers and the costumes, there was a very clear difference between the way he and his fellow students were dressed, and the costumes of the ‘new’ people slowly filling the hall.
“You’re right,” said Bertie. “It is early Gaelic they’re speaking. I can just about understand it. Excuse me,” he said in his halting Gaelic to the tall figure with the homespun tunic, woollen leggings, fine leather boots and thick cloak with a golden circlet on his head, “I don’t think we’ve met.”
The haughty face turned and stared. “I am Herla, King of the West Britons. This is our hunt, and my court.” A hunting call sounded. “The hunt commences.” The figure turned. “We ride!”
The voice, the expression and the eyes froze Bertram to the spot.
“Oh shit. Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit …” James whimpered. Frantically he glanced around. “Bertie, can you dance the Morris?” He saw the blank look. “Then you better learn fast. Here.” He thrust a short stick into Bertie’s hand. “Copy my moves, stay with me, the lads are over there — and for God’s sake DANCE!” To the accordianist, he hissed, “The DARK Morris! Play!”
They made a strange sight, the musician and eight dancers, bells jangling on six pairs of legs and two pairs frantically trying to match steps as the eight couples danced and stamped their determined way down the long overgrown lane to the gate. The lone musician pumped his accordion and danced for his life as he led the way. He’d brought the instrument along for the fun of it, not expecting to play, and thanking his lucky stars he could remember the tune. Around them swirled a mixture of figures, some mounted, some afoot, some women, some apparently children and others not quite defined. King Herla led the hunt astride a magnificent steed.
Dancing as if his life depended on it, Bertram noticed another group, dwarves in size, but with goat like horns and lower limbs, urging the others on — and seated on King Herla’s stallion’s withers, a large hound … He wondered briefly what was happening in the house, and where Raynor was, then he pushed it out of his mind. Raynor could look after himself!
Click, clack, click, clack, clonk, went to sticks as the two lines of dancers struck their batons in the approved patterns. Bertie thanked his lucky stars he had always been quick to pick up dance movements. Something deep in his gut told him this was one time it was going to save not just his skin, but his very being.
The ‘hunters’ were pressing in on the dancers. Trying to cut their route to the gate. Overhead the full moon shone its reflected light on the dancers and the hunt. Strange figures moved among the overgrown shrubbery, and light glinted on weapons, or flashed from the eyes of horses and hounds now joining the hunt.
“Keep the time! Don’t miss your step! Dave, for God’s sake keep the tune going! We’re almost there,” panted James.
“I can see it,” gasped one of the others.
“Save your breath,” gasped James. “Keep going! Just get us through that bloody gate — then we can talk.”
Bertie winced as his foot came down on a loose stone, but managed to recover. Click, clack, went the batons. The gate was bare yards away. “We can make a run for it,” he gasped.
“Keep dancing, you wouldn’t make it! We have to dance all the way!”
Panting, gasping, wet with perspiration, they stumbled to a halt on the far side of the wide A road. Behind them the gate slammed shut. On the road verge a few yards along, a policeman stepped out of his parked car.
“Now then, gentlemen. Been having a party have we?” He glanced at the gate, then studied the gasping, breathless group. “You did the Dark Morris, I hope?”
“The mysterious disappearance of some twenty-five students, curiously all members of the Huntinton Club and the rather wild tale told be the nine Morris Dancers caused a sensation in the, what do you call it? Oh yes, news media. Until some scandal in the world of politics drove it from the front pages of the larger circulations, and eventually even the smaller papers simply stopped reporting it. No trace could be found of the missing students. Indeed, the investigating team found, in daylight, that the ancient house was undamaged, undisturbed and no evidence of any party to be scene anywhere. Except three full bottles of very expensive wine recovered from a place of concealment described by Master Blandings.”
“The media all missed the fact that a band of confused musicians were found wandering in a nearby forest by a gamekeeper two days after Halloween, who told an even more confused story of being chased from the house and across country by a host of dwarves or pygmies who were half man, half goat. The police wisely let them sober up, had them make statements before a magistrate, and then had them transported back to London.” The Count contemplated the rings on his elegant fingers.
“The magistrate concluded they had been consuming some psychedelic potion and sent them on their way. A wise man, the Magistrate, and familiar enough with the legends surrounding the scene of this ill-advised Party, to know that little would come of pursuing it.” The Count smiled, on eyebrow arched. “None of the subsequent reports mentioned Morris Dancing.”
He savoured the drink in his glass. “Yes, Ms Arclow?”
“What became of the others? Did they …?”
“Several months later Raynor Jonathon Beauchamp-Porter was found wandering in a forest in Romania, confused, his costume somewhat ragged, and babbling incoherently. The local hunter who found him, led him quietly to the local police, who, after careful consideration, handed him over to a doctor running an asylum. One by one the other missing members of his fraternity were found, confused, convinced they were still in the grounds of Henge Hall, in remote places far from England. Several had a very difficult time convincing the local authorities they were not ‘illegal immigrants’ seeking asylum. None completed their studies, and all suffered a panic attack at the sound of a huntsman’s horn, and all had undergone a profound change of character.”
“Bertram Blandings, after long and careful consideration, changed his course studies, majoring in ancient Brythonnic languages and Ancient Mythology. He is now a leading proponent of seeking the origins and roots of such ancient and inexplicable legends such as the Wild Hunt. But keeps at a very safe distance from the risk of any possible encounter with it again. He remains eternally grateful to James for the crash course in Morris Dancing, and is now, with James, a keen promoter of the activity.”
A nervous guest raised a hand. “Yes, Ms Van Dieman?”
“Does Henge Hall still exist? Has anyone ever seen anything …?”
“Indeed yes, since these events took place, from time to time there are reports of a wild hunt being glimpsed from the gates — now firmly secured — and occasional attempts to revive the Huntington Club at the University are generally met with a ban. As the Chancellor wisely said, there is no point in encouraging another such attempt to add to a legend.”
Raising his tumbler, the Count drained the last of the thick red drink.
“And that, my dear guests, brings to a conclusion my little tale for this evening. Igor …”
“Yeth, Mahthter?” The misshapen figure of the manservant appeared at the Count’s elbow.
“Igor will show you to your rooms. And how to operate the anti-bat screens. Sweet screa … dreams, my dears.” The Count stood, and once again the shapes flickered around him. Ancient shapes. Shapes far older and larger than any bat. He smiled. “Good night.”