When student Adam Parker unearths a mysterious metal artefact during an archaeological dig in a Scottish forest, little does he realize that his life is about to change forever. For it is a sign that Adam has been summoned to fulfil his destiny, playing his part in an epic battle for supremacy that has been waged for centuries. Introduced to a dark shadow world that exists alongside our own, a place of despair and wilful cruelty, Adam will be tested to the very limits of his endurance. For within that shadow world lurks Rabanus Bloor, the man who has sworn to seek out Adam and destroy him - whatever it takes.
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|Publisher:||Severn House Publishers|
|Edition description:||First World Publication|
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.10(d)|
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The Shadow World: Book One
By F. G. Cottam
Severn House Publishers Ltd.Copyright © 2014 F. G. Cottam
All rights reserved.
Adam Parker liked Grayling. He supposed everyone on the dig liked the professor. Archaeology was painstaking and sometimes the fragility of what they stumbled upon in their excavations made it stressful too. It was not difficult to miss clues and destroy valuable evidence and artefacts. It was frighteningly easy, in fact.
But Grayling ran a relaxed dig. He wore his expertise lightly. He was witty and considerate, a fair-minded man happy to share his knowledge and the practical tips accrued through years of experience.
He had gained that experience searching in desolate and remote places, often beneath a brutal sun or a deluge, always driven by his need to find a truthful answer to some ancient and stubborn mystery. Adam thought him an easy man both to warm to and to respect. He actually thought him something of an inspiration.
It was why he was so confused now. The object he had found the previous day had been intact and extraordinary. That much was immediately obvious to him as he brushed the soil from its elaborate metal detail, literally unearthing it, exposing it to light and scrutiny for the first time in what he thought might be many hundreds of years.
He held the thing he had discovered in the palm of his hand and tried to calculate what metal would weigh quite so much. He reckoned it was heavier than lead. Was it bronze? He didn't think so. It felt weightier and denser in his hand than even gold or platinum would. It was carved or cast into the shape of some kind of mythic creature.
He held it close to his face and blew on it, shedding more soil fragments, revealing detail that almost made him drop it, shocked at the feral cunning so finely depicted in the features of the artefact.
He put it into his finds tray, careful to mark the exact spot from where he had taken it. He looked around. It had started to rain; he could hear the raindrops pattering softly and then more rapidly on the leaves of the trees around him with the gathering strength of this latest shower.
The rest of the team – most of them – were out of sight at a spot a hundred yards to the north of him, working eight or nine feet down in the deep excavation. He could hear their muffled banter, cheerful despite the conditions.
It rained a lot in Scotland. They were equipped with the right sort of clothing for the weather. Daylight was better than lamplight to see in, but they were used to working, on this dig, under plastic sheets when they needed to. It was what they were doing now.
Adam hesitated. An instinct, imprecise but very strong, told him that he should not take the thing he had found to Grayling on the tray. It should not be exposed to the risk of full public scrutiny. It was too remarkable, he thought. It in no way matched their expectations of what they were likely to find here.
It might confuse people. It might distract and disturb them, as he felt it was now in some curious way disturbing him. The rain was splashing on it, cleaning its contours, revealing more detail as it sat there at the centre of the tray.
And Adam began to feel that the more of it he saw, the more difficult it became to look at. There was something unsettling about the find. Actually, he thought there was something awful about it, as though it were some contagious relic of a cruel, barbaric age. Close study of the object almost provoked a shiver of dread in him.
He picked it up from the tray and put it carefully into one of the bellows pockets sewn into the leg of his combats. It was safe from the rain there and also out of sight. He was very aware of the weight of it, of its gravid pull against his belt.
He dusted his hands on his thighs. The trees around him were oak and downy birch, ash and alder and willow. And he was conscious of how ancient a place this was. Once, the whole of the Scottish lowlands had been covered in just such dense, deciduous woodland. Now, the Forest of Cree was part of a scarce and protected wildlife heritage, but it was still substantial enough a wilderness to get easily lost in, still a place that wrapped its mysteries in silence and seclusion.
He hesitated, listening to the drip of the strengthening rain through the branches. He unfolded his waterproof poncho from its pouch on his belt and put it over his head.
Adam felt that he faced a moment of some enormity. He was nineteen, a second-year student on the archaeology course at his university. He greatly appreciated the sacrifices that had been made to enable him to study his chosen subject. He valued the friendship in particular of two of his fellow students among the group who were digging and bantering under the waterproof sheet in the deep excavation a stone's throw away from where he stood, stirred into excitement by the discovery of gnawed animal bones marked with the charring of cooking fires and odd shards of Bronze Age pottery.
If the thing in his pocket was not a deliberate fake, it was the find of a lifetime. But it wasn't a fake, was it? No one had planted it there out of mischief.
An archaeologist might spend an entire career searching and never find anything so finely wrought and extraordinary. He suspected it might be priceless and unique, and that its study might reveal something new and profound and unknown about the past in this venerable place.
Adam's intuition about all of this was pretty certain. And he wondered, with a sinking heart, if it was what he really needed at this stage of his life.
This find represented the pinnacle of his archaeological career. It had come before he had exited his teens, before he had even qualified as an archaeologist proper by completing his coursework and taking his finals. It had happened entirely by fluke at a location he hadn't chosen and in a way for which he could take no genuine credit.
I could put it back, Adam thought. He looked around. There was no one yet above the ground to see him. I could put it back and rediscover it in five or ten years when my own mature research could quite reasonably compel me back to this spot.
But he couldn't do that, could he? It wasn't even the risk that someone else might stumble across it in the meantime; he could hide it obscurely where they wouldn't. It was the potential significance of the find. He could not cheat Professor Grayling or his fellow students or himself or archaeology out of that. Not for an interval of another five to ten years, he couldn't. He couldn't in all conscience delay it for a day.
The thing had been unearthed. He had discovered it. And it was wonderfully intact and complete. For better or for worse, a mystery was about to be created or solved on the strength of the artefact in his pocket. If he concealed it from study, he betrayed everything he believed in and all that he aspired to become.
Adam went over all this again and again in his mind in the pub in Newton Stewart. He was four miles from the site of his find and a full day had elapsed since he had taken it to show to the professor. There had followed no triumphant announcement or revelatory moment of scholarship in the field.
He had stood in the spacious tent, in the clearing where they had set up, while the object sat on the card table Grayling used as a desk and the professor studied it by lamplight with his arms folded across his chest. Rain drummed on the fabric roof of the tent. It had grown torrential in the ten or so minutes since his discovery. His poncho dribbled on to the earth floor.
The professor was about the same height as Adam, but had this silver-headed air of intellectual authority that seemed to enhance his actual size. Years of subsisting on field trip rations had given him a lean, well-toned physique. His features were lean too, under his clipped salt-and-pepper beard. He looked capable and serious and at that moment Adam thought his expression particularly severe.
He looked as if he was about to give someone a serious dressing-down rather than a congratulatory pat on the back. The object sat squat and baleful on the table. Professor Grayling looked anything but delighted at its presence there. Eventually he went across and zipped up the tent flap, his signal that he was not, for the duration, to be disturbed by anyone outside it.
'What is it that you think you've uncovered, Adam?'
Adam took a deep breath before replying. 'Something pre-Christian, from a part of the world with no trade links with northern Britain. It might have some religious significance. I think it is possibly Etruscan, or even Persian in origin.'
The professor grunted, but the sound was non-committal. 'Not bad guesswork,' he said. 'But wrong. How would you describe it? Its character, I mean.'
'It's ugly. It's a bit sinister too. It's meant to be a living creature, but looks like no animal copied from life. I think it's a representation of a demon or a god. My money would be on a demon.'
'Would you care to estimate its age?'
'Carbon dating would tell us when it was carved, or cast. I wouldn't be surprised if it was three or four hundred years BC.'
'Yet it has survived in the ground intact.'
'I'm not a metallurgist, Professor. I'd stick with that estimate until proven wrong.'
'You're a bright young man,' Grayling said. 'Your assumptions are informed and your preliminary conclusions reasonable. But I think the results of carbon dating might surprise and even confound you.'
Adam didn't reply. He felt nervous and more deflated than he thought he should, in the circumstances. Shouldn't he feel thrilled or exultant? Shouldn't he at least feel inspired by the mystery thrown up by his find? Perhaps it was a forgery after all. Maybe that was the reality the professor was gently breaking to him.
'What if I told you it was not symbolic, that object,' Grayling said. 'What if I were to tell you it was an accurate depiction, taken from life?'
Adam swallowed. 'The animal it most resembles is a wild boar,' he said.
The professor nodded. 'Agreed.'
'But wild boars don't have the claws of a reptile. And I've never seen one with two heads.'
'Would you care to guess again as to its function, Adam?'
'I'm sticking with religious. But it could be anything from a good luck charm to a toy,' Adam said. 'It could be a piece of art. Or an elaborate paperweight.' He was thinking forgery again. 'It's pretty gruesome, though. What do you think it is, Professor?'
'I haven't the remotest idea,' Grayling said. He added nothing further. He stroked his beard again and his eyes remained on the object on the table as the rain gurgled, dripping from the tent fabric over their heads.
And Adam started to suspect that actually, the professor knew more than he was prepared to say. Grayling's sombre mood seemed to be provoked by something more than the current dismal weather that was laying siege to them. The weather was very changeable in Scotland in the autumn. The clouds would eventually lift.
'Give me twenty-four hours to consider this, Adam,' Grayling said. 'Have your explorations in the town taken you as far as the Black Horse?'
'They serve an excellent pint of bitter, do they not?'
'And they do a very decent platter of stew.'
'I'll have to take that on trust, Professor.' The condemned man ate a hearty repast, Adam thought. He didn't know why he thought it.
'I'll see you in the saloon bar at eight o'clock tomorrow evening. Please mention this find to no one in the meantime,' Grayling said.
'I won't, Professor,' Adam said. The request didn't greatly surprise him. He'd suspected since the securing of the tent flap that they would likely part on that instruction.
They'd been digging for two weeks. For most of the team, it was their first proper work in the field. It had been planned as an austere start, meagre and unglamorous. They had found none of the tell-tale black wax from those sacrilegious ceremonies which plagued the more celebrated archaeological sites from Stonehenge to Melrose Abbey. No one thought of the Forest of Cree as a mystical or black magical hotspot.
The aims of the dig were pretty much anthropological, Adam thought. The forests had once covered all of the land. Who, then, had lived here? How had they lived? And what had sustained them? It was mundane stuff and deliberately so. Shards and bones and bones and shards, and if they were dead lucky, an iron arrowhead or a bronze sandal buckle, would provide their evidence. And then, two weeks in, he had found this.
What had he actually found? It was a thing fashioned from some heavy metal that could fit easily into the palm of an adult hand. It was exquisitely wrought and it was profoundly ugly too. It was entirely unique, in Adam's shallow experience. And it was an abomination, he thought, in the language his mother would have used to describe it.
The professor placed a glass of beer on the table and sat down opposite him. He was exactly on time. Adam had been five minutes early and was three consequent inches into his own drink. But whatever else they were destined to argue over, he had to agree with Grayling's earlier claim that the Black Horse served a sublime pint of bitter.
'You're an only child?'
'Your mother widowed?'
'Not exactly, no. My father left when I was eleven years old. I believe he's alive, somewhere. My mum finds the idea of death easier to deal with than the fact of abandonment.'
'That's understandable. Do you possess martial accomplishments?'
Adam sipped his beer. 'That's not a question I understand. I'm not in the Territorial Army or anything like that. I was never even a Scout or a Sea Cadet. I'm not a great one for joining in.'
'Have you ever studied the martial arts?'
'No. I boxed as a schoolboy. I fenced too, foil and épée. No ninja stuff. Why?' Adam noticed that Grayling hadn't yet touched his drink.
'Were you any good? At your fencing and boxing, I mean. Modesty apart, Adam.'
Adam saw no point in dishonesty, even if the nature of the interrogation baffled him. 'Very,' he said. 'I've an aptitude for sport.'
'But not team sports?'
Adam shrugged. 'Like I just said, I've never been much of a joiner-in.'
Finally, Grayling took a sip from his drink. 'Have you any notion of quite how good-looking a young man you are?'
'My mum always told me to count my blessings but to remember that there's always someone who exceeds you in every department. That would include looks, Professor.'
Grayling was silent for a moment. 'Don't you like what you see in the mirror?'
'Not particularly, no. A mirror image is the obverse of the truth, isn't it? It's a distortion. It isn't what other people see when they look at you. At least, I hope it isn't. This is a pretty oblique line of questioning, Professor Grayling.'
'Bear with me. Be patient. Where do your course mates think you are?'
'I didn't say and they didn't ask.'
'Might they not come in here and discover us?'
Adam sipped from his glass and grimaced. 'No. They'll be in the Bell, where the draught lager only costs two quid a pint and there's half-price shots till ten o'clock and a couple of decent pool tables.'
'The enduring imperatives of student life,' said Grayling.
'You've had time to take a proper look at my find, Professor. Have you come to any conclusions about it?'
But Grayling ignored the question. He said, 'I want you to describe to me the exact circumstances of the find. You were digging at a speculative location some distance from the main area of excavation. No one witnessed what occurred. Take me through yesterday morning, from the moment you got to the site. Leave nothing out.'
So he did think it was a forgery, a plant, a bit of mischief. Adam sat back and sighed. 'Well, I was up early yesterday morning, obviously, because at car boots you've got to be there at the crack of dawn to have any chance of finding a bargain. My eye was caught by a tray of bric-a-brac, some Victorian stuff, Gothic-revival mostly. I singled out my ugly little front parlour mantelpiece ornament, gave the bloke a fiver for it and the rest I'm sure you can reconstruct for yourself.'
Grayling smiled. His eyes did not waver. 'I wish that scenario were true. If it was, this is something we could both just quietly forget about. But the thing you discovered is all too genuine, I'm afraid.'
And to Adam, at that moment, the professor himself looked genuinely afraid.
'Tell me truthfully and accurately about the circumstances in which you found it. Tell me about what impelled your movements. Tell me what was on your mind.'
Excerpted from The Summoning by F. G. Cottam. Copyright © 2014 F. G. Cottam. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Ltd..
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