Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The Old Straight Track

Preview of a Roman Road tale of unease available in our Nip in the Air ebook...

What little we do know, can be gleaned from the journal entries and extensive notes which were recovered from the scene. Naturally, the whole event continues to exert a sort of macabre fascination precisely because no definitive explanations are forthcoming; however, in speaking to the representatives of Mr. Wilkins and his family, it has been agreed to make public some of the material recovered, in order to attempt to draw a line under the whole unhappy affair. While I am happy to assist in such a venture, I feel it prudent to highlight one very important caveat - the representatives asked for my assistance in reconstructing an account of Mr. Wilkins time in Greenock because of my work as a writer of speculative fiction. The family were happy for me to read the notes and fragments from his remaining papers, but did not want them published in their entirety. I can only assure the reader that all I have here set down is not a work of imagination in the traditional sense. However, taking only those words we know to be written by Mr. Wilkins himself, we can perhaps begin to imagine how some of those days upon the hilltop were spent...

Wilkins kicked the snow from his boots and surveyed the little cottage.
'Oh excellent. This is ideal Mr. Andrews.'
'There's a bed in the back room, and desk with lamps right here, just as ye asked.'
'Thank you. Thank you very much.'
Wilkins laid the larger of his two cases on the tabletop and began removing his books.
'I started a wee fire...hope it's not too sooty fur ye, been awhile since anyone's been here.'
Wilkins continued unpacking his books, 'Hmmm? No it's fine. Just fine,' he said, 'how far from here to the fort?'
Andrews stoked the fire a little.
'Best rest for now. Be dark soon. I'll be back here at eight tomorrow. There's more logs round the back.'
'Of course. Yes of course. Sorry.'
There was no hurry, Wilkins reminded himself, the fort's secrets had waited centuries up to now. Waited for him? Perhaps a little grandiose, but possible. Certainly possible. Wilkins still bristled with pride and pleasure to recall it all, how he had come to make the discoveries ,which he hoped would rewrite the current understanding of the Roman occupation in Scotland.

In theory, any of his faculty could have done it. The texts had been transcribed from the original wax tablets some years ago, and had languished in the Roman collection, packed so far away as to be unable to even gather dust. It was Wilkins who tracked them down, Wilkins who proposed their links to the previously unknown sections of the Antonine Wall, and Wilkins who - with no small sense of satisfaction - had found the maps which seemed to pinpoint their location.

Wilkins had worked very hard to convince the university to invest in the study, providing all manner of detail on the tablet translations. The truth however, was that he was yet to find anything definitive to link the Roman soldiers letters home with the area he was now visiting. He had not even completed the translations. Latin was not his strongest subject, and he had been relying on Mitchell to deal with the meticulous language work required. Yet with only one week to go until their planned journey north, Mitchell had left his campus lodgings without warning, and had not been seen since. Wilkins had called upon him, finding random pages of hastily scribbled latin scattered around his study, as if thrown about in a fury. Mitchell was not a man given to fits of passion and so this apparent rage was as curious as his abrupt departure. With arrangements made and the university waiting, Wilkins had little choice but to make the journey alone.

The Water Mill Cottage had been a stroke of luck however - unoccupied and within hiking distance of the earthworks and stones he hoped to prove were part of a Roman settlement - a small garrison outpost perhaps.

Wilkins looked rather dispiritedly at the large file of loose sheaf papers on the table. He had tried to assemble Mitchell's fragments into some sort of order, and in doing so had noticed a number of phrases and scribbled annotations repeated several times. One was a frequent cross referencing to a text which Wilkins could not find called the Liber Ivonis, the other, excerpts from a text by one GDR. Wilkins found himself entirely flummoxed by this connection, the text was a broadly derided pamphlet of the sort popular with theosophists and other such esoteric charlatans. It postulated that certain otherworldly energies run between ancient worship sites - the suggestion being that many of our communities were built upon these same sites before we discarded our pagan roots. By walking certain routes at certain times, or performing rituals at certain lunar alignments, we are apparently able to harness these energies for our own purpose, up to and including communication with the dead.

Quite why Mitchell had fixated on this particular theory was not immediately apparent. Wilkins was slightly worried that his subsequent translations, notes and annotations were coloured by this obsession.

"The letters make repeated reference to Mithras and to offerings made in supplication, honour and in return for protection. At first I assumed this was a reference to protection from the elements, even Roman Britons would not have enjoyed a winter on this hillside. However, the more I read, the more I realised they were asking for protection from some force which had been assailing the fort. I have yet to establish the nature of the invaders, though the mention of hillside fires and singing would lead me to believe we should perhaps consider some form of ritualistic behaviour perhaps linked to the energy lines which criss cross the area. It cannot be definitively understood from the maps, but I feel sure that the fort site interrupts one of these lines."


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