Tuesday 26 December 2023

The Wisdom of the Ancient One by Paula R C Readman, Best Craft Stout: Magic Rock Dark Art; best served at room temperature. Sip gently to ensure you don’t take a devilish turn.

Leo Tolstoy said, ‘An arrogant person considers himself perfect. This is the chief harm of arrogance. It interferes with a person's main task in life to become a better person.’


Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Professor Peter Styles and I learnt this lesson too late. My arrogance led me to the predicament I’m in. My tale is short. Hopefully, there’s enough time to explain all that has happened.


It started at the end of a busy day. The fading chatter of my departing students echoed along the corridor reflected my own desperate need to leave the building. The late afternoon summer sunshine begged me to join the others. I imagined my hand reaching for a chilling pint of beer while engaging in some stimulating conversation in a pub garden, but instead, I sat bored out of my skull, marking endless papers.

Pleased with the progress I was making, I allowed my mind to wander to the taste of my first pint. A light rapping on the classroom door shattered my concentration. I froze, unsure, if I had heard it. As I picked up the next sheet to mark it, the sound came again. Fearing whoever it was, would delay my departure further, I snapped, 'Come in.'

‘Sorry... to bother you, Professor Styles.’ A girl, I recognised from my lectures on the early invaders of Ancient Britain, hovered in the doorway, seeming reluctant to enter. She glanced anxiously over her shoulder, her hand gripping the door handle. I wondered if she feared being alone with me, or maybe, someone seeing her enter my classroom.

‘Come on in, Julie,’ I said, intolerance edging my voice. ‘How can I help you?’ I wanted to get rid of her as soon as possible.

‘Would you be able to identify something for me, Professor Styles? I didn't know who else to ask.’

I stared blankly at her.

‘Oh, sorry…’ Now flustered, Julie stepped further into the room, allowing the door to shut behind her. She reached into her bag and slowly drew out a bright red gift box. ‘My online research hasn't uncovered any clues to its origins.’

This mouse of a girl surprised me. Had she fallen for my charms?

In the ten years I'd worked at the university, normally it was the flighty girls who came bearing all manner of gifts, including themselves, to swoon at my feet. In the belief, that I would succumb to their wiles, and bestow upon them the perfect grades for an easy passage to their dream job. The likes of Julie, neatly dressed in long skirts, sensible shoes, and no makeup, believed in hard work and dedication to get good grades, without any shortcuts.

‘It was the only box, I could find,’ Julie said in a clear voice as though reading my thoughts. ‘My boyfriend gave me a Valentine's gift in it.’ She shook her head as a deep flush of pink coloured her cheeks. ‘Not that you want to know that.’

Julie lifted the lid of the box, set it down on my desk, and stepped back. For a moment, I wondered if someone had warned her about my Achilles' heel. I smiled at her. Whoever sent her had failed to snare me in their honey trap, as she wasn't my type. This cold-faced, flat-chested slip of a child had no appeal to my burning desires.

Something flashed in the room, and it wasn't the sun. I became conscious of a change in the atmosphere and looked down, drawn to its epicentre. Within the box, nestled on a velvet cushion, was the most exquisite object I had ever seen. Oh, how I desired it. Love at first sight could not have been more powerful.


My hands shook as I reached for the golden pin. The flattened disc at its head, covered in the ancient text of Anglo-Saxon runes, spoke of a king. Who was the King that used such a treasure to hold a cloak of the finest wool together?

‘Do you know what it is?’ I didn't recognize my own voice. Full of menace.

‘Yes... I know it's a rare find. The runes speak of an Anglo-Saxon king of the underworld, but I haven’t found any reference to him.’

‘How did you come by it?’ I kept my voice flat and disinterested as my heart raced.

‘I found it while out walking.’ Julie’s voice was barely audible.

‘You found it!’ My fingertips trembled as I lifted the pin from the box. I must have it a voice in my head screamed. The key to my greater destiny lay in the palm of my hand. The gold disc shone brighter than even the sun.

For a second, it blinded me. In that second, I saw cameras flashing, my name on newspaper billboards, and television interviews. The greatest find of the century and I was the one to uncover it.

‘The sunlight caught it, just like that when I found it,’ said the voice invading my thoughts. ‘It shone in the dirt.’

‘Where did you find it?’ I couldn't take my eyes off the pin.

‘On the North York moors while out walking. The setting sun hit a rocky outcrop and a bright flash caught our attention.’

The voice in my head told me to take a deep breath and find out more. Maybe there was more treasure to find. I looked up and smiled. ‘Did you make a note of where you found it?’

‘Yes, of course. It’s an archaeological find.’

‘Did you tell anyone else about it?’ I casually asked.

‘No… I wanted to find out more about who the King was first. My boyfriend, James, and I hunted among the rocks, hoping to find more, but all we found was a small hole. We wondered if an animal had dug it up.’

‘Leave it with me.’

She turned to the door. Concern rested on her face. 'I'm not sure if I should,' she whispered. 'I thought you might be able to tell me now.'

I stood, and she backed away from me, her eyes still on the pin in my hand. 'I need a little time, Julie. I promise, I will look after it for you.'

'Can't you just photograph it, and I'll keep it?'

I closed my eyes. The voices in my head chattered on, giving me every reason under the sun to steal it from her now. 'Yes, you're right, but I need to study the real thing as the camera won't pick up all the finer details.'

Julie hesitated and then said, 'Okay, but you promise to return it to me.'

‘Of course. You can come and see me here every day for updates.’

She smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes.


After finding nothing online to resolve the enigma of the golden pin, I turned to the university library. For months, I hunted through their back catalogue of old books and documents in the vain hope of finding something to identify the Anglo-Saxon king. Then one day among some dusty papers, I found a reference to what might be the final resting place of a legendary king. Its location matched where Julie had found the pin.

According to the legend, the Anglo-Saxon king once ruled these shores with a fist of iron. No one had dared to question his wisdom or power. Soon, his glory would be mine, and his knowledge, too.


I'm not the sort of man who takes no for an answer. Whatever I desired I took. Of course, I told Julie what I had uncovered, and that together we would share the glory, but first they needed to keep quiet about the pin.


During the summer break, we headed north and booked into a campsite. Julie and James in their camper van, while I chose a more comfortable option, a glamping pod. I decided to allow Julie to lay claim to the pin, once I had located the tomb. The tomb was the bigger prize. I would notify an archaeological team and stake my claim on it.

The following morning after having breakfast, we set off for the outcrop. We first followed a footpath alongside a beck for about fifteen minutes before it began to climb. Then we came to a scrubby woody area. After another hour, the trees petered out as the path climbed higher. The grass path became shale and then rocks. Julie stopped and looked back. I had to admit that after walking for two hours, I was out of breath, trying to keep up with them.    

 ‘Is it much further?’ I swung my rucksack off my back and pulled out a bottle of water.

 Julie turned. ‘No, it’s up there.’

Towering above us was a limestone cliff. ‘How do we climb up there?’

‘There’s a path further along,’ James said.

After another hour of walking, we reached the top of the limestone cliff. Julie set her rucksack down and handed James a bottle of water. After having a drink herself, Julie pointed to a spot below an overhang and said, ‘That’s where I found the pin.’

We crossed over to where the overhang was and I dropped to my knees.  On finding the hole, I stuck my torch in. It looked to be about the size of a rabbit burrow. I loosened a rock, with my knife and rolled it away as James looked on.

‘You need to be careful,’ James said glancing up at the overhang.

‘We’ll be fine,’ I said my excitement bubbled as I pulled more rubble away. ‘The hole looks to be an opening into a man-made tunnel.



Above ground, Julie and James waited. Both too scared to join me in the darkness. With a small amount of effort, we had cleared the hole enough for me to enter.

‘Are you sure you want to do this on your own?’ James asked. ‘It’s dangerous.’

‘I’ve been down more potholes than you’ve had hot dinners,’ I snapped back as I pulled what I needed out of my rucksack. Julie’s box fell to the ground. She picked it up and brushed off the dust. 

I smiled. ‘Keep it safe,’ I said as I pulled on a hard hat and checked the torch was working. As I crawled into the hole, I called over my shoulder. ‘I’ll radio, if I find anything,’


My expertise in potholing came into play as I descended into the cavern on the end of a rope. Eagerness drove me on. The torch strapped to my head lit up the darkness as the cave opened out into a large chamber. Suddenly, before me, carved in relief on the wall of the cave was a door-like design. Intricate, interwoven representations of birds, animals and Anglo-Saxon runes covered the edge of the door area, while buried within its door frame were skulls. At the centre of the door carved in relief, a warrior stood; in one hand, he held a spear and the other a shield. In the flickering torch light, I began to decipher the ancient text.


Each notch explained, 'To truly know oneself, one must listen, for the greatest treasure of all lies within the beat of... the last two words were lost on me. The only word, which made any sense to me, was treasure. Without messaging to let Julie know what I had found, I lifted the chisel and prized open the door.


A gust of stale air hit the back of my throat and made me gasp. I stepped in and shone the torch around. Scattered among the bones, I saw an array of precious jewels and golden objects. I stepped forward, eager to gather up the treasure, ignoring the shuddering, creaking of the tomb's door as it settled back into place behind me. Within an array of sparkling stars, the wisdom of the ancient king filled my labouring heart. My labouring heart… the words tumbled through my mind. The chisel slipped from my grasp and clattered to the ground.


In the darkness, I dropped to my knees. My labouring heart began to shudder as I tried to draw in air. Now I knew the wisdom of the words. Death was the only escape. My greed had snatched the greatest wealth of all from me. To truly know oneself is to feel the beating of one's heart.


About the author

 Paula R. C. Readman is a prolific writer. She shares her life with her husband, Russell, and two cats. She collaborates with three publishers and has penned six books and over a hundred short stories. Blog: https://colourswordspaper.blog or just Google Paula R C Readman, and something’s bound to pop up. 

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