Here, for the delight of the reader, is the very first chapter (in its entirety) of the long anticipated Raftery Novel -

The Return of The Black Magician


Chapter 1     The Return Of The Magician

The Black Magician stumbled down the road to Ormskirk. His gait was clumsy, uneven; he weaved from side to side like a ship in a strong wind. His right hand was clasped tightly against his neck in a valiant attempt to stem the flow of blood that poured from a hideous wound. This was only partly successful; his black garments were soaking up considerable quantities of the red liquid and there was a zigzag trail of droplets on the road he had stumbled along. His face had a ghastly white pallor but his eyes flashed with rage and frustration.

A normal person would long ago have succumbed to the weakness that swept in waves over his body, but not the magician!  His feet were leaden, and the coldness spreading slowly upwards through his body was enough, perhaps, to give ample warning that death was impending - yet he failed to surrender. His head was bent forward, his left arm hung at his side - but still he staggered on. Some instinct sustained him, and he turned off the road and down a dusty track towards a peasant’s cottage. He lurched against the old wooden door, kicking it to get attention.

“Let me in,” he croaked, “In the name of Beelzebub, let me in.”

The door opened, the occupant leaping back as the senseless form of T'osh fell to the floor. Then T'osh seemed to revive. He whispered:

“I will stay here …You will obey.... I shall spend some days here. You will hold your tongue.... Perhaps you will be rewarded...”

As soon as T'osh mentioned a reward the peasant dragged the magician inside, placing him in a comfortable bed. Bandages were produced so that while T’osh slept his wounds were tended. In due course he wakened and was convinced to take an herbal remedy, a dose that was repeated whenever he regained consciousness, which, in those first few weeks, was an occasion neither frequent nor prolonged.

“Will he live?” asked the peasant's wife.

“I do not know,” said the peasant.

“Who is he?”

“A man of some clout, judging by his garb.”

“But the wound...has he been in trouble?”

Methinks an assassination attempt.”

And with that the conversation ended.

At this point it might be best to mention that the cotter was a red haired fellow in his twenties by the name of John Ambler. A stocky, unintelligent, stoic person, he lived with his wife and eked a steady if miserable existence from the land. In the back of his dull mind he suspected that his guest could possibly be the infamous Black Magician and, oblivious to the dangers of dealing with such an unscrupulous and evil creature, thought that his good deed might land him in good stead with T'osh.

 

Three weeks passed....       

….and the magician could now sit up in bed and hold a monologue. He did not do this too often, but preferred to scribble madly upon pieces of paper, committing to ink his plans for the perfect state: a system that incorporated certain individualistic economic and social theories. This book, when completed, would become, he hoped, the sole charter of his rule in the land. It would give the peasants an unfailing rule book for their existence, an explanation of the universe and much, much more: in fact it would be the only book allowed in the land, a sort of Bible, Mein Kampf and Look and Learn Book of the Black Arts - who could wish for more?

Apart from this scribbling T'osh did little else, other than gobbling down the food as was reverently placed in front of him by the Amblers, but once or twice when he seemed to be thinking aloud and trying to put his thoughts into coherent sentences, he would stare into space and deliver a monologue in a gabbling, high pitched shriek.

The essential nature of man: what it is. Man is a slave to various passions, and these can and must be channelled into the correct direction for the betterment of myself; or, as it shall hereafter be called, the State. Firstly, man is SUPERSTITIOUS: There is no doubt but that this can be forced into the correct direction. He can be controlled by his superstitions and they can be used to bring out certain innate qualities. He will bring gifts and unquestioning obedience to his Superior. To allay the dread of the unknown he will offer up some - nay, nearly all - of his produce, and he will execute certain rituals to keep the demons of the dark from his hearthside. The coming state will utilize this to the full; the economic gain will be obvious to all who can consider the matter with intelligence.

“BIGOTRY: Man is by nature a slave to bigotry and prejudice of all kinds. Only learned fools believe otherwise; they shelter behind a smokescreen of detailed rationalizations. In the perfect state it will be necessary to utilize this bigotry for the greater good of the state, for the bigoted man can and will hate all who live outside of this state, and he will despise and then destroy all who would seek to change things, desire for power, desire to dress differently, speak differently, walk differently - in short - any who would aspire to question any aspect of the perfect and eternal state. Man can be reduced to a seething foaming maniac when the objects of his hate are mentioned; he can be ever vigilant and ready to take up the pitchfork and the cudgel against any who would differ from the norm.

“IGNORANCE: Man is by nature ignorant. He does not seek learning; he eschews it. He does not wish to become erudite, except, as a way of belonging to the peer group should society place learning as its desiderata; if he cannot achieve this learning he will despise not only the most learned, but also the knowledge itself. Taught to read, man will only gravitate to the most lowly, trashy and dismal written words. He is much happier burning a dissident at a stake, and he is of a melancholy nature when trying to absorb knowledge. He rejects advances and fears progress, believing that things were always better in the ‘old days'. Education will be discussed in a later chapter, but it needs must be said at this point that man in the perfect state need only be taught in a very limited sense: to be able to read and write to the extent that he will be able to absorb the propaganda put forward by the rulers. There will be no place for books or learning other than these books already mentioned. Certainly the new citizen will not be allowed to think, neither for himself or anyone else.       

“However in each generation a few will be spawned who do desire learning. Such children will be identified and given instruction in the Black Arts and leadership, this being dealt with in a later chapter….   

        ….ah, indeeeeeeeeeeeed, but the planning for the new state is no simple affair.”

And so it went on. T'osh would scribble away for hours, sometimes breaking into speeches like the one above until, with eyes flashing and hands shaking, he would fall to the floor and chew the carpet.

Meanwhile, the cotter and his wife went about their daily business, promising themselves that their end reward would justify their actions.

The weeks passed; now T'osh could walk with the aid of a walking-stick. He would walk down to a nearby pond and there consider his future return to the world. He would mutter to himself.

“No doubt they think me dead. Ha! Well let the fools think this. I shall return. Indeeeeeeeed!”

Having so mused he would look around for a small animal which he would beat with his stick, then drink the corpse's blood.


On the border of Aughton and Melling there was sited a large house set deeply in the rural landscape. Its occupant was a man of science and learning named Adrian Popple. He was small, pale and wore spectacles, this slightly despicable form containing a disposition and character that had ensured he pick up few friends upon the road of life. He was an intolerable bore, little more than a sack to contain his much vaunted learning. He could not hold a conversation but that he would bring it around to sub atomic particles, monads, or such subjects, or, what was worst, his physical deformity - in-growing toenails. In season he suffered from boils and heat-lumps; at such times these savoury subjects entered his talk, generally while he was eating a meal of corned beef or dish of what he liked to pretend was ice cream (in reality it was a curious combination of ordinary cream which had been placed in his cellar for two days and then laced with sugar, yeast and dried elderflowers before being allowed to ‘mature' for three more days).

“In twuth,” he would depone, “I am cursed by vese toenails, and can do nuffing to get wid of vem. I tell you, vey are a curse. Vey keep me awake at nights and distwact me fwom my studies. I would sell my soul if I could spend ve west of my life fwee fwom ingwowing toenails, boils and heat lumps. I fink vat if ever a man was cursed by vese fings, it was me. I have been plagued by vese fings for years and it is absolutely tewwible. You don't know how lucky you are not to have to suffer as I do fwom vese severe ailments. I waw-want vat I suffer more van any man in vis countwy.”

“But surely,” asked a weary guest, “Surely a man of your knowledge would be able to do something about these matters.”

“Do you not fink vat I have twied evwyfing? I have spent nights looking fwoo evewy book I could, and have even sunk to herbal wemedies. But all to no avail! I am still sorely distwacted, plagued as a lobster in boiling water!”

“Why don't you twy - sorry, try - the services of the black magician?”

“Hah! You don't imagine vat I believe in vis kind of wubbish, do you? What do you fink I am? Do not forget vat I am a man of letters and learning.”

“But there are those who are greatly influenced by him.”

“Well - vey can be as stupid as vey like, but I tell you vat if he can cure me of my ailments ven he would be supewior to any doctor, for I have twied evewyfink. If he was to cure me I would gweatly weward him, I can tell you. No man knows how I have suffered over ve years wiv vese fings.”

“Do you mean that you would give him a try?”

“I would be willing to twy anyfing once, vough I can't say I have much faif in vese fings. Why? Do you know him?”

“Er... .vaguely.”

It had better be pointed out that the companion was one of Popple's own employees, a labourer who tended the acres of the lands that Popple had inherited from his ancestors. This man lived in a cottage some distance from the Popple mansion, but he was often invited to dine with his employer. This the labourer did not relish, for every meal followed the same dreary pattern; a cup of lukewarm tea, a plate of corned beef, dry, stale bread, this followed by a dish of ‘ice cream'. Bad though this was, the crowning horror was Popple's reedy and never-ending voice talking of his complaints and his condition - a subject guaranteed to turn the strongest of stomachs even if the meal did not. Often the meal went on for hours, sometimes until after 9.3Opm, thus leaving the labourer a scant hour in which to wash the taste out of his mouth with pints in the Stanley Arms. When he did manage to escape to the local he would stand at the bar, passing many remarks about his employer's physical appearance, intelligence, parentage and various other topics - all of which tended to be distinctly uncharitable.

But on the evening in question it was yet early. Time had passed since the magician had been mentioned and Popple was holding forth on guns.

“You must always oil vem wegularly or vey become vewy wusty vewy wapidly. If vey are well-oiled ven vey can be used wiv gweat accuwacy. I fink vat if any man -”

“By Cripes that reminds me!” exclaimed the labourer, “I found a fox-hole this morning, and if I get out at once I might be able to catch the little blighter before he gets at the chickens. If it's all right I'd like to be excused.”

Ten seconds later he was moving at quite a remarkable speed down the road which led to the Stanley Arms where he was soon to be found leaning against the bar in conversation with the buxom barmaid.

“Do you know what became of the Black Magician T’osh?”

“Some say his throat was split by some do-gooders so that he was left for dead. Mind you, I don't think he died, not him.”

She leant forward so that her low cut dress revealed her not inconsiderable charms while she whispered into the labourer's ear. The information pleased the labourer and he bought the barmaid a drink.



        

On the following night Popple entertained guests for tea. Earlier he had played croquet with them, but now they were all hunched over plates of corned beef. Popple's guests were two newcomers to the area who had just bought a tumbledown farmhouse up the road. They had readily accepted Popple's invitation. He was their nearest neighbour and they were desirous of joining the local community - within reason, of course: Popple was acceptable but the grubby labourers and farmers and artisans were not. Timothy and Candice wanted to escape the rat-race of the city and sought a life of peace, tilling the land and living off its yield. Of course there was always her ‘inheritance' to fall back on if all else failed.

Timothy was wearing his newest and least patched jeans, together with a kaftan, while Candice wore what she supposed to be a peasant's smock. She was holding forth on a subject dear to her heart and simple enough for her limited thinking, astrology.

“Look at it this way, if the moon can influence the tides, then the stars themselves must influence us and determine our character. Do not forget that there are people who are influenced by the moon. It has always been so. Now if one casts a horoscope, its true readings will reveal one's hidden strengths and weaknesses. For myself, I have no head for logic, science or material things: I am one with the sphere of the arts, there can my spirit soar. Painting and music are my all, as indeed they must be, for they are the dominant qualities when Saturn is in trine with Mars and Sagittarius is in the house of Leo (or some such gibberish - typist's note), events which happened at my nativity.

“Yes, the position of the heavenly bodies at the time of one's birth is all that counts. Once this was shown to me, I found my strengths and depths. I have learned peace with myself. Now I meditate twice daily, live a simple life, forbearing to touch the charred flesh of brutes wantonly and cruelly slain by man, - thus I hope you understand my refusal of your corned beef. I would much prefer a cabbage or lettuce leaf, if you have them available.”

“Well…er…I don't eat vegetables myself.” (Popple would soon be adding scurvy and vitamin deficiency to his many complaints.) “However, ver is a cactus in my window. Perhaps if I boil it up you will be able to eat vat, along wiv some of ve mushwooms which gwow outside. I never eat fwuit and vegetables myself; warely anyfing but corned beef. To me ve taste of corned beef is ve most pleasant fing in ve world, and for a moment takes my mind off my complaints.” (Which, should this corned-beef consumption have carried on, would have had a new number, protein poisoning.)

Having said this he went to prepare the cactus and gather the mushrooms.

When he returned, Candice continued;

“Of course, one just doesn't have to rely on astrology; a glance at one's palm will usually confirm all these things. For example, Mr Popple, I can see you are a practical man of science and learning, sceptical of these very real matters.”

“Well, Yes, I guess so.”

“With me.” said Timothy, “It is all a matter of the community. I believe in the traditional village way of life and all its aspects. To me city life is alienation - that's how I would define it! The sound of traffic pollution, vandalism, the people themselves, oh how I detest it! I abhore it, I tell you! Give me the draughty and damp farmhouse any day. Ah, the smell of manure, cockcrow at break of dawn, windswept meadows and the rain in my face, the smell of real farmhouse cooking, the sing-a-longs in the local tavern. That is the life for me. And for you?”

“Well….er…I don't weally have much to do wiv ve actual wunning of ve farm, and as for taverns, well I am a tea dwinker myself. Take my labouwer, for example: he is always in ve tavern, dwinking. In consequence he cannot do more van ten hours work a day and always must have Sundays off. It makes him vewy lazy. Look at me vough, I am always at my books despite ve sowwy state of my healf.”  

...and he proceeded to tell them about his boils, his heat-lumps, his in-growing toenail, at one point actually stripping his right foot and displaying it upon the table so as to convince his guests as to the extent of his agony. Both turned greener than the cactus, and Timothy went so far as to rush from the room with his hand over his mouth.

“Why don't you see a faith healer or a herbalist?” asked the ill looking Candice.

“Well I have twice twied herbal wemedies, but all to no avail. I don't believe in vose uvver fings.”

“Ah, yet did I but suffer from the most appalling patch of dry skin on my left elbow until I went to a white witch, an old friend of mine. She had books on sorcery, alchemy and arcane lore, which showed that I was the victim of a hex. You see, I had tried everything to get rid of it, still every day I was troubled by this thing. But the white witch broke the spell and I was cured. You may well be the victim of such a thing: Anyone have it in for you?”

“I don't fink so.”

“Well, even so, if I were you, I'd be thinking about it. It'd be worth trying. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”



        

As Candice began to walk home she started to feel dizzy. She was quite alone; Timothy had left some time earlier to take some medication for his queasy innards. Without warning she fell on the dusty road, writhing, her hands crossed over her belly in a vain attempt to stop the pain.

“What ails ye, woman?” asked a gruff voice from the night: so was she introduced to Popple's labourer as he careened home from the Stanley Arms.

“Oh, oh, oh! I feel as if I'm dying. Ah, help me, help me….please. Oh! Help me – aaaaahhhhhhh!”

Wasting no time he picked her up with an easy sweep of his arms and brought her across the fields to the cottage. He did not take her inside but put her on a bench. Then he went through the front door and emerged seconds later with a glass of murky green liquid.

“Drink this at once, for if what I suspect is true - your life may depend upon it.”

“Aaaahhhhhh … oh ….but what is -”

“Never you mind! Drink it quickly, else I will be forced to thrash you and force it down your throat.”

Candice, never having been spoken to in such a manner, quaffed the drink exactly as she was bidden. For a time nothing happened. But then, with a scream she fell into the dust. Convulsions followed, during which she moaned retched and vomited. It was almost an hour before these convulsions ceased, but when they had gone their way, Popple's labourer led the shaken woman into his abode, where he sat her on the bed and produced a second, more pleasing draught.

“Oh,” she said shortly afterwards, “I'm beginning to feel much better already.”

“Do you know …. can you guess what caused my illness?”

“I would say that it was caused by bad food. Where and when did you last eat?”

“I dined with a local landowner.”

“Who? Tell me, woman, tell me at once.”

“Mr Popple - your expression! Do you know him?”

“Know Popple! By the mark woman he is my employer, and I have often dined with him: but faith! I would have eftsoons have supp'd with the Prince of Darkness, than feasted upon his infernal corned beef, food that is tunnelled by maggots and where mould makes impious claim.”

“But I had no corned beef. I do not follow the habit of consuming the flesh of dead animals.”

“But you must have eaten something! Anything in that house is tainted with corruption. 'Ere I dine at the house I fortify myself with draughts such as you have supp'd. Come leman, say what you did eat?”

“All I had was boiled cactus.”

“And the rest - the rest!”

“Just some mushrooms gathered by Mr Popple from his own garden.”

“Mushrooms? Mushrooms! Woman, say you mushrooms? Don't you know that such wholesome growths flourish not in Popple's gardens. Nay, he hath nought but a goodly crop of toadstools. Methinks thou ought give praise to thy maker for thy deliverance.”

“What was in the drink?” asked Candice, changing the subject.

“Plenty of salt, washing fluid, some ingredients of my own; of the nature of the second drink, ah, that is my secret.”

Some time later Candice returned home, where Timothy was still waiting for her.

“What gives?”

“Oh Timothy, I have been at death's door. I swear that I felt my soul begin to leave my body - Timothy, by now I could have been a ghost!”



The next evening someone visited John Ambler's house. He was first made aware of it when the stout oak shuddered under someone's knock upon the door. Timidly Ambler opened the door and saw two people standing there. One was small and bespectacled; the other taller and more workmanlike.

“We come to see T’osh,” said the taller.

T’osh now occupied a small room upstairs; the strangers were directed there.

“This is the one,” said the taller one to T’osh. “The one I was telling you about, the one who wishes to be cured of his ills.”

“Indeeeeeeeed. I will be at the ruined chapel in the wood; you know where it is. Be there, both of you, thirty minutes short of midnight. Indeeeeeed.”

About an hour after the meeting at John Ambler's, Popple's labourer called upon Timothy and Candice. Timothy was nowhere in sight, but Candice sat cross-legged on the floor. She was nearly nude. Her eyes were closed. For the first time the labourer noticed how buxom she was.

          He pulled himself away from the window and smote the door. The door was opened by Candice some minutes later; she was now fully clothed.

“Good evening. You may remember me from the other night. My name is Wladek. I - I was passing and sought you out to enquire after your health.”

“Oh. Well - thank you. I'm fine now. Thank you again for all you did. Won't you step inside? I'm afraid that Timothy isn't here at the moment: he's off visiting his father, something about a loan.”

They went inside.

“Would you like a cup of nettle tea?” asked Candice.

“Er...yes! Why not? I'd love a cup.”

She disappeared for a few minutes then returned with two cups of nettle tea and some homemade buns liberally smeared with homemade butter and homemade marmalade. Wladek sat in silence, not passing comment on the tea or buns; after all he was an honest man and countless meals with Popple had dulled his gastric senses.

The snack being over, they began to talk of many things. Candice noticed for the first time Wladek's soothing, almost hypnotic voice tones, rough though his words were at times. She listened wide-eyed and enchanted as Wladek spoke about his life on the farm. There was something strange yet reassuring about the man: he seemed to be an integral part of the country, one with the hoary trees, one with the primal rocks, yet he was not more than forty years of age.

“...And so,” he was saying, “There I have lived for nigh on five years; five come Martinmas. I run the farm well and completely, for my employer cares nought for it - nor anything else but his books, his corned beef, his damned in-growing toenails.” His face cracked into a smile of crafty triumph. “Because of this unworldliness I have been able to fool him. He is passing mean, paying but a pittance for my services. Yet what he does not realise is that I also complete the books, and can, generally on market days or when traders call, generally salt away some of the profits. Do not look at me as if I were a common thief! I tell you that he pays but starvation wages. Anyway, he already has more money than is good for one soul, not to mention the rooms filled to the rafters with tins of corned beef, and the libraries and laboratories set up to cure him of boils, in-growing toenails and heat-lumps.”

“Yes, but if that is the case, why work for him?”

“I have admitted that I make quite a bit of money out of my employ - and for all its ills 'tis better than some work that I have done. Besides, I find it difficult to find work.” Here he rolled up the left leg of his trousers.

“My God! How did that happen?”

“My leg is wood to the knee because one crazed and drunken wight thought that I had placed the evil eye upon his soul. So one moonless night he crept up to my bed and smote me with his axe!  'Twas luck that he was drunk and there was no moon, for he could not see which way I lay abed; had he struck the other end of the bed…well! But this reminds me: are you not interested in the occult?”

“That is so.”

“Well then, you might care to go with me to a convocation not far from here just prior to this very midnight. It is concerned with the Dark For-…  occult arts I mean.”

“Then I would love to come. I feel, I know that I am well equipped to deal with these matters. My palm and my stars show that I am a Sensitive. For example when I am in an old building I'm aware of many presences which -”

“Good,” said Wladek, cutting her off, “I'll call for you betimes.”


“I tell you it all happened,” said Roland, “Not one word of a lie. All as I have said, down to the smallest event.”

Time had passed and Roland's academic life was a thing of the past. He had been forced to take employment, much to his distaste. Work had its consolations though; here he was sitting in a pub of an evening with his workmates. However he could have wished for a more - gullible was a word that crossed his mind, but he substituted receptive - he could have wished for a more receptive audience than his still cynical workmates. He stared them out, failed, and said with the aggression of a cornered rat,   

“Look, my friends can easily verify my words.”

“Well … we don't see much of them do we? Where are they, hiding in the lounge?” said the spokesman, the most voluble and the most cynical of his workmates.

“There's reasons for this. Frank has spent most of the time locked in a room since it all happened.”

“Are the walls padded?”

“Very funny. No, he's been writing a book which, I am informed, will be no less than one thousand pages in length and will concern two hours in the life of a man in a coma - told from his point of view, naturally.”

“And the others?”

“Dancing Jack has gone off once again on his travels. R Joseph has gone to ground, but I hear that he is writing a book on a political theme; this book is both provocative and stimulating, designed to undermine the stability of decadent capitalist society - well, that's what I hear any rate.”

“What of the Poblagryn? Does he still live?”

“Yes and I can tell you where; he is in a home here in Moghull, still suffering from the after effects of his injuries and a mental breakdown caused by his suffering at the hands of his henchmen. Ha! he was always giving such good instructions in torture, but he could not take it: Poetic justice, indeed. I hope he never recovers.”

“The Black Magician?”

“Of him I have not heard, though it would be a boon indeed if he were dead. But, even if he is not, then I doubt we'll hear from him again.”

“I'm sorry to say this, but I think that it's all a bit bloody implausible. Been on a bad trip, eh? Come on, admit it.”

Roland's face went the colour of dully-glowing iron. “No way, man. It happened like I said.”

“I still have my doubts about -”

“Why the frigging hell should I care about whether you believe me! Look, people used to think the world was flat - did that make it flat? People might believe in hobgoblins, bloody well die for that belief, but that's not going to make any appear at the bottom of your garden. I don't care if you believe me or not. These things happened, and it's your lookout if you don't believe me.

“But - and this is what I don't like one bloody bit - you seem to doubt my integrity: no man does this with impunity. I shall say just one more thing before I down my drink and take my leave of you, that, if this land is ever menaced again by the likes of the Black Magician or his henchmen, then you had better pray that there are the likes of Dancing Jack, R. Joseph, Frank and myself abroad in this land; people who are willing to use their wits, courage, and strength in order to defend this land.”

Having said this he stormed to the door. Cool evening air poured through the open doorway. The sun was setting, but there was yet enough light to illumine the tracts of land: fertile fields, shady coppices, winding country roads, crofts, some with the first light lit, all were cast into an aspect of poignant beauty by the crepuscular light.

Roland pointed to this panorama.

“I love this land, I would wish to live nowhere else.”

He took a deep breath and stood himself erect. “If I must fall in honourable conflict against a dishonourable rascal, no matter what his rank or station; if my blood must one day stain the fair fields of Ormskirk, or Melling, or Moghull, then so be it! I welcome it! If I can save this land from evil or pestilence, at whatever cost, I will. I WILL!”

Tears rolled down Roland's face, and his farewell was a choked sob as he went into the deepening twilight.

“Goodnight,” muttered a few of Roland's workmates.

“Dancing Jack, that's a funny name,” said one.

“Who do you fancy in the 3.30 at Haydock?” asked another of the first.

“Dunno” said the first. “Anyhow, who's getting the ale in, then?”

 

It was now quite dark. Roland turned up his collar at the unseasonable chill. Though the road was empty, there was a feeling of menace in the air, faint yet distinct.

Roland shuddered and he knew not why.