Monday, 6 October 2014

The King in the Mist

He arose in the grey morning light, as he had each day. He had lost the measure of years in this timeless place. He cast his cloak about him and stepped forth to view the lands of heath covered hill and wooded deep combe around him; his lands. The view was stifled. The air was thick with an impenetrable mist; it gathered in his hair and beard and clung to his rich fur lined cloak. His views over the valleys and beyond to the sea were curtailed and yet he felt whole in this half-light, felt manifestly strong, a shade of his former self no more.

A king he was clad in his finery; a guardian of his people, his broad, bronze spear by his side. He ate of bread, nuts and cheese and drank deeply from the jug of beer.  He stood before his hall; his grey eyes probed the blanket of fog, as the muffled sound of voices could be heard. They spoke in a tongue he didn’t recognise, he was barely able to pick out any words although the dialect rolled in a way he recognised.

Invaders! Unbidden intruders upon the peace he craved.  He swept forward through the low gorse and whortleberry bushes, over the tumbled, autumn browned swathes of bracken; across silvered sweeps of cobwebs that trawled the air, as the weak sun climbed invisibly behind the cold grey fog.



“Got a light mate?” Tony said as he put his clumsily hand rolled cigarette in his mouth,  patting his pockets for a lighter without success.  It was cold up here on the hills and the sun had barely risen. It would take hours to burn off this low cloud anyway.

“Sure man.”  Andy said, shaking off his glove and reaching into his jacket pocket to produce a disposable clipper. He cupped his hands as he drew the wheel over the flint. He had to strike a few times in this moist atmosphere before the sparks eventually produced a flame. Tony drew deeply as he got his cigarette alight.

“When you two wasters have quite finished?” Steve asked as he looked at the duplicated map in his hand. He wiped the side of the van to try and dry it and held the map up against it. “Can I carry on?”

Tony laughed and coughed at the same time. “Sure Steve, you carry on with your Supervisor thing.”

“Look,” Steve said in irritation, “This may be just a work programme to you two twats to ensure you can still draw your dole, but some of us want to make a go of this and get a job at the end of it.” He swept his hand indicating the other three members of the work gang; their faces miserable in the cold.
"Well thats not very nice, like you'll walk into a job at the end of this! You're no better than us." Andy said laughing, "Come on then, what are we doing on the cheap, in the pissing cold this morning for our dole money?"
Steve shook his head and ignored the jibes. Those two will keep."We are meant to cut the heather and gorse down in this area to encourage new growth; just from this bridal way heading north west toward King's Barrow. In the van we have white painted poles so we will mark it out, roughly one hundred paces by one hundred. We'll then cut the brush down within the rectangle."
"We'll mark it out!" Tony said, winking at his mate Andy.

Steve sighed. A chance to skive off, out of sight in the mist no doubt; but at least they wouldn't disrupt the rest of the gang. "Okay,you two, grab some white poles each. Tony goes fifty paces to the right of the van,  Andy fifty paces to the left." Steve drew  the outline on the map with his finger. Then head north west putting a stick in the ground every twenty paces."

Tony drew deeply on his cigarette. "Just a question though Steve, how do we know which way is North West?"

Steve put his face in his palm. "Just walk in a straight line from the bridal way, okay? It doesn't have to be exact."

"Ha ha, see ya later then suckers." Andy said as he put  an armful of white poles from the van over his shoulder, giving half of them to Tony.

"Yeah, don't sweat too much cutting all the scrub!" Tony said to the rest of the work gang as he and Andy set off in opposite directions.

"Ignore those idiots," Steve said to the remainder of the gang, "Has everyone got a billhook?"

Tony counted fifty paces  and looked behind him, the van had disappeared as the breeze swirled banks of fog around. He drew his hood over his head, his hair was wet and his cigarette was wet from his fingers and bumsucked in his mouth. He threw the useless stub away. Placing  a stick in the soft earth, he headed in a straight line from the path. He counted out twenty paces as he set off across the heather. He felt the bottom of his jeans getting sodden as he stomped through the wet undergrowth. He looked behind himself squinting to see the first stick; it was barely visible. He plunged the pole into the peaty soil and, estimating a straight line, marched on; the dampness spreading up his jeans. Twice more he plunged poles into the ground.

He looked up, the fog seemed thicker. Looking behind himself, none of the poles were visible, but neither were his workmates or his supervisor. He  put his hand in his pocket and felt the distinctive shape of his Zippo lighter. He'd missed that before. With a grunt of triumph he rubbed his hands dry on his jumper under his coat and quickly rolled another cigarette. He snapped his lighter on, smelling the aroma of the burning lighter fluid. He gratefully puffed his cigarette to life when he saw the shape up ahead. That bloody Steve was ahead of him waiting for him to finish! He angrily snapped the lighter shut and blew out a lungful of smoke.

"You don't need to check up on me Steve, you twat!" He shouted, setting off towards where his supervisor stood, counting the remaining paces. The air was cold and his jeans sodden and clinging to his legs.

He came to a halt. "Well say something then!" He shouted at the figure. The figure stood still just watching him silently, a vague, dark figure in the mist. "Yeah? Well fuck you Steve! You better move now!" Ton grunted as hey hurled the pole like a spear at the figure. He saw the white pole arc towards his supervisor. Why didn't he move? Why didn't he move? He must see the javelin racing towards him, surely?

But the figure didn't flinch and to Tony's horror the pole struck the figure full in the chest, passing clean through him.

"Shit!" Tony screamed in panic, running towards the figure. What had he done? And yet the figure didn't fall but still stood there, unmoving. As Tony got closer something did't look right; the billowing cloak, the large staff the figure had, the bearded, deathly pale face, the grin of teeth between tightly drawn lips. It wasn't Steve.

The cigarette fell from Tony's hand as he stopped running and slowly backed away from the figure, stood atop the overgrown tumulus. The figure  moved its staff, Tony saw it was a spear, a broad blade of greenish metal that was pointed towards him. Tony shook his head, not believing what he saw. There was a flash of white as the pole he had launched at the figure shot back towards him, to plunge into the earth between his legs, barely missing him. Tony turned and ran, coughing  and wheezing, desperate to get away.


The King smiled to himself; he was the guardian of his people and lord of all he surveyed. Above  his head the sun grew stronger and the mist thinned and dissolved under its warmth. He looked far again with old grey eyes over familiar sights in a timeless landscape that grew from the melting fog. And all that could be seen by mortal eyes was an ancient burial mound, covered in collapsed heaps of dead bracken and low bushes of gorse and whortleberry.



  1. Your story has a happy ending with the king set in repose. The fog is spooky, defiantly hard to drive in the fog.