Indiana Jones and the King’s Sword

Shrewsbury, England, 1941 

Indiana Jones drove the army Jeep he’d been provided with into the middle of the town, over the Severn river to the marketplace where he’d been sent to meet George McHale. Captain Ross of US Army Intelligence had warned Indy that if was late to the meeting, he’d find the Brit in the nearest bar, or being kicked out of it. Indy checked his watch – right on time. As he pulled to a stop and killed the grumbling engine, he heard shouts and turned to see two men in army uniforms fall through the door of the White Lion pub. A third man appeared at the door and scolded the two men. 

“If you two fought the Germans as well as you fight each other, we’d be in Berlin by now!” 

The first man jumped to his feet, flipped the bird at the man Indy assumed to be the landlord, and ran off. The other man, overweight and with a slim moustache, lay groaning as the landlord returned inside. Indy cocked a half-smile, put on his fedora and messenger bag, and jumped out of the car. He walked over to the man and extended a hand. 

“So much for British hospitality, I guess…” he offered. 

“Ah, these Northerners can’t take a bloody joke.” The man replied in a cockney accent. “George McHale.” 

“Indiana Jones. What was that all about?“ Indy replied as he helped McHale to his feet.

“Oh, I thought his sister was his wife.” 

“And he hit you?” 

“Not for that, he hit me for what she called me!” McHale winked and slapped Indy’s arm. Indy’s smile faded. He hoped McHale wouldn’t be this insufferable all trip. 

“I was sent to meet you.” 

“Oh yeah, you’re the Yank that’s going to find the Holy Grail!” 

“Excalibur, actually…” 

“What difference does it make, they’re both fairy stories. We’ve got the best job in the whole bloody war.” 

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that…” Indy replied. 

“Well Jonesy, you can call me Mac. This your car?” McHale jumped into the driver’s seat and started the engine as Indy nodded an affirmative and climbed in beside him. “The place we’re going is a series of caves about half an hour from here, on the Welsh border. The Army was doing a live ammo test in one of the caves and blew their way into a cavern that has some writing and drawings on the wall, showing Arthur and the round table.” 

Indy scoffed “There’s no evidence to suggest that anyone who might have inspired the Arthur legend ever had a round table of his closest confidants.” 

“Yeah, total bollocks, that’s what I said. But old Winston’s got a soft spot hasn’t he. You ask me, it’s not Arthur he thinks he is, but Jesus Christ Himself.” 

Indy smiled as he thought of his father’s voice saying “Blasphemy!” in his head, but said nothing. 

They travelled mostly in silence, the usual pleasantries and personal histories exchanged. McHale seemed to be expecting to die at any moment, an attitude Indy thought would probably see him either survive the whole war out of irony, or get them both killed in the next day or two. “Mac” didn’t give much away when they turned to the topic of why he was given this mission, but the way that he deflected any serious inquiry with a joke, suggested to Indy that this was someone’s way of keeping McHale out of the way for a while, but he suspected McHale was aware of that. 

They reached the cave in the mid afternoon, and ventured inside, the network of caverns and tunnels twisting and turning, quickly making any natural light useless. They proceeded with the aid of their torches, saying barely a word to each other.

After about ten minutes of walking, the men heard a sound similar to machine gun fire, but more consistent and sustained from deep within the cave.  

“What is that?” McHale mused.

The sound grew in volume, the source still unseen by either man.  

“Whatever it is, it ain’t good.” Indy grumbled. 

Suddenly a flock of bats was upon them, surrounding them with shrieks and the beating of wings. McHale screamed and flailed his arms. Indy dropped to the ground. 

“Quit screaming Mac, you’re only gonna confuse them.” Indy shouted at him, to no avail. 

Finally the bats passed and McHale stopped screaming. He shook his body as if to make sure no bats had attached themselves to him. 

“Dirty flying rodents.” McHale offered by way of explanation. 

“It’s their home, not ours.” Indy replied, lacking sympathy. McHale grumbled something incomprehensible, and they continued to walk deeper into the cavern. 

Their torches scanned over the walls of the passageway, which dripped water as they passed. Enough to make the ground slippery, but not sufficient to form a stream to avoid. Finally they reached an opening which led them to the larger cavern McHale had talked about, with images of the Arthur legend around the walls. 

“Here we are then…” McHale offered. “Time for you to work your magic.” 

“Archeology isn’t magic, it’s the discovery of facts. All I see here are stories.” Indy replied as he examined the walls. “And stories can be pretty liberal with facts…” 

McHale followed Indy, inspecting the drawings as if he were searching for the same meaning as Indy. He hoped Indy wouldn’t notice that he had no idea what he was looking for at all. 

“These drawings are most likely from the 10th century…” Indy explained. “You can tell from the rudimentary tools and limited colours they’re drawn from.” 

“Right, I thought the same.” 

“Then how do you explain this?” Indy asked, shining his torch onto a figure instantly recognisable as Arthur, pulling a sword from a lake. His clothes shimmered in the torchlight, gold leaf reflecting the light back at the two men. 

“I thought he pulled the sword from a stone?” said McHale. 

“Stories differ on the point…” Indy said, a glimmer in his eye and a grin appearing on his face. “But why would this drawing be so ornate?” 

“I don’t know.” 

Indy reached into his bag and pulled a pick axe from it. He tapped the walls either side of the drawing, a solid thud echoing in the chamber each time. Finally he tapped the image of the lake and a thinner tick rang out. Indy looked at McHale and smiled. 

“Hidden chamber.” The two men said in unison.  

“I have some dynamite, we can blow a hole in the wall.” McHale offered. 

“We don’t know how far it goes behind, it might do more harm than good. We can use this.” Indy held up the pick axe. “Sorry, Art.” Indy swung and hammered the image of the king.  

The wall was thicker than he anticipated and digging through took the best part of half an hour between them. Finally McHale had made the hole big enough to look through. They shined the light of their torches inside and illuminated the hilt of a sword. The blade was flawless, and the hilt a simple white with writing engraved along it. 

“You do the honours…” Indy offered.

“Don’t mind if I do, Jonesy.” McHale’s eyes were wide as he reached, grasping the sword with his right hand and pulling, but not dislodging the sword.

Indy laughed, “Very funny Mac, now let’s go.”

“I can’t move it Jonesy… It won’t budge.” McHale didn’t sound like he was joking. “You try it…”

Indy reached in to the gap and pulled the sword with all his strength. It came away from the wall instantly and Indy fell to the floor. McHale didn’t laugh. “Thanks” Indy shot at him.

“I’m not joking mate, it wouldn’t move for me… It was lodged in there. Maybe the sword in the stone myth is true.”

“It’s been sitting there hundreds of years, it probably just got caught, wrapped up in moss and weeds.”

“Either way, we got what we came for, let’s get back to town. I know someone who can tell us if we’ve got the real thing.”

They walked back along the passages they recognised before, following the smell of clean air. As they came to see natural light again, three figures stood silhouetted at the cave entrance. One spoke as they approached, Indy’s eyes not yet adjusted to the sunlight.

The man’s accent was instantly recognisable as German.

“We have to thank you Doctor Jones. You’ve saved the Führer a great deal of effort.”

The other two men cocked their machine guns

“Put your hands above your heads… We will take the sword now.”

“Nazis…” Indy muttered. “I hate these guys.”


Before the Dragon

So. For long years the tale has been told
of the brave warrior from Geatland,
mightiest of a mighty race,
who set out across the unforgiving sea
to the terrorised land of the Danes
to pit his strength against that of a terrible foe.

Two great combats did he undertake
‘gainst a monster and it’s monstrous dam
and emerged at last, bloody but victorious,
to eternal praise and great reward
for himself and his surviving men.
Then the warrior turned his face to home,
crossing again the unforgiving sea,
to the land of the mighty Geats
where he knelt once more before his King.

And another tale is often told;
that the mightiest of warriors
himself became a king
and ruled his people well
until the day came for his final battle,
against a great and terrible wyrm
that had set all of Geatland aflame.
But between them both lie other tales
further legends of Beowulf,
the warrior who became king,
and this, then, is one of those…

So. The young King wandered
walking the roads of his kingdom,
sure enough of his might
but not yet certain of his right to rule;
the Geats were a strong people,
and their new king the strongest of them,
but even those who have great strength
can be weakened by uncertainty.

He did not dress as a king
to a stranger’s eyes he would be only a man
though one of great power,
scarred by past battles
and looking ahead with watchful eyes.
He had been travelling for weeks,
no clear destination in mind,
only a desire to walk
to see the land that was his to rule,
his to protect.

The air was cold and crisp
and white snow lay on the ground
as he approached a farmstead,
but his brow furrowed
as he saw the door thrown down
monstrous tracks leading away
toward the trees beyond.

As he looked on he saw a young maiden
running through the snow,
a bundle clutched in her arms.
Seeing the mighty warrior
she cried out for aid,
and the King strode forward to meet her.
The bundle she held so tightly
was a boy-child, face pale in the winter air,
and as Beowulf listened she told a tale of woe;
a monster that had torn through their home,
snatching up her only brother
to carry off and feast upon.
Her parents, warriors both,
had followed the demon,
harrying it with their blades
so that it had dropped its prize
and turned to faced them.

“Even now they fight the beast,
though I fear they cannot prevail.”
The King said not a word,
but drew his blade and strode for the trees,
following the tracks of warriors and beast
the young maiden running before him.
Soon enough a familiar sound rang out in the cold air,
ragged breaths, the clang of metal;
the sounds of battle.
They reached a clearing in the trees
and the maiden halted with a cry,
snatching out a dagger with a dark blade.
Maiden and warrior king stood still
frozen at the edge of the clearing
staring at three figures moving within.

Bodies shifting and dancing,
caught in bloody battle;
two warriors, a man and a woman
fighting side by side,
facing a beast out of nightmare.
It was a monstrous shape,
a hulking demon
breath misting in the winter air,
claws slashing and spattering the snow
with the warrior’s blood.
As he watched,
the king remembered another monster,
long years and an ocean away…
This creature was no Grendel,
but it was monster enough, even so.

The two warriors fought as one,
woman and man against a dread beast,
a dance of death in the winter light.
The young maiden looked on,
clutching the babe in one arm,
her own small dagger gripped tightly in a pale fist,
but she could not step into battle.
Truly, there was naught she might do,
no way she could aid them;
they fought with the monster,
fluid and graceful,
until the beast’s tearing claw
caught the man in the chest,
ripping him asunder
painting the snow crimson.

He made no sound,
but the woman cried out
as though she had been slain herself.
Her blade flashed like lightning
as she attacked the beast
the monster that had slain her husband,
slicing great wounds in its flesh,
and the shield maiden’s fury
drove the creature back.

But only for a moment.
The demon lunged once more,
slathering jaws opening wide
as a bloody claw knocked the blade aside.
Those foul jaws snapped closed
and the valiant shieldmaiden screamed in agony
fangs tearing her shoulder
with a deep, bloody wound.
Her daughter screamed too,
raising her dagger high
but before she could throw herself upon the beast
Beowulf, mightiest of the Geats,
leapt forward to meet it.

His blade whistled in the crisp morning air,
the monster screeched in anguish
boiling black blood staining the snowy ground.
Now the King danced with the monster
grace and terror combined,
sword singing a bloody song
that the demon could not match.
The young maiden crouched with her mother,
tending her as best she could
as the combatants whirled about them.
The creature gave a final screech of rage
as the King’s shining sword
cleaved the monstrous heart
and the creature fell to the blood-slicked snow,
shattered and broken.

The mighty warrior turned from his foe
kneeling before the shieldmaiden
whose eyes looked on him with gratitude
despite her own pain.
“Thanks to you,” she whispered.
“Rest now, warrior,” the King said.
“The beast is slain, it’s murder
of husband and father avenged. Rest.”
The King took the babe from the young maiden
who supported her mother
as they trudged through the snow,
back to the farmstead.
Then the king returned to the clearing
to the body of the warrior who had fallen,
struck down by the demon
that had tried to shatter his family.
Beowulf carried his body home
with reverence and honour,
and with the young maiden
built a pyre for him.

Her mother, valiant shieldmaiden,
wounds bound and tended,
drifted in healing slumber
as her husband journeyed onward
to the lands beyond the world.

The King and the young maiden
stood in the light of the flames,
the boy-child cradled in the maiden’s arms.
“She called you a king,” the maiden said,
her eyes on the noble warrior
who did not turn from the flames.
“And so I am,” he murmured
“With a duty to my people.”
The maiden looked on the King with gratitude
though her eyes were also sad.
“A duty served, and we thank you.”
The boy child had woken,
and gazed up at the King with dark eyes.
“What are your names?” the warrior asked,
“I am Hygga, my king,” came the reply,
“and my brother is Wiglaf.
One day we shall repay you. I swear it.”
The warrior king took up the child
cradling him in his scarred arms.
“You have valiant kin, Wiglaf.
Heed them well, and glory shall be yours,
I am sure of it.”

As the morning sun lit the snow
the funeral pyre had burned low
as Hygga stood holding her brother,
boy-child and maiden watching
as the mighty warrior
who had fought for them
continued on his wandering.

So. For long years the tales have been told
of the brave warrior from Geatland,
mightiest of a mighty race,
the warrior who became a king.
Beowulf strode out into the cold morning
walking the roads of his kingdom
a hero out of legend
walking into the rest of his story…

Taxidermy; Do it Yourself!

Amelia stood in the middle of her Grandma’s bedroom, her worn leather boots soaking in the blood that had splattered onto the floorboards. She’d been avoiding looking at the damn lumberjack in the doorway, but she finally turned to him, trying to soften her hard expression
“Take my Grandma to the village immediately. She needs help.”
With a soft kiss to her Grandma’s grey curled locks, matted thick with blood, Amelia helped her to her feet and the man rushed to take her side.  
“I can’t leave you here, you must accompany us.” he spoke with deep confidence, and Amelia smirked as she realised he was trying to sound stern. She crossed the room wordlessly, opening the door for them both.
“Go now, take her straight to the doctor”.
With a sigh, the man nodded and Amelia offered her Nan one last warm, comforting smile, “I’ll clean up here Gran, you’ll be back in your own bed before the day is out”.
Finally alone as the lumberjack helped her Grandma down the front porch, Amelia heaved a huge, shaking sigh, disbelief running her thoughts astray and sending them rushing wildly through the events of the last twenty minutes.

Miss Amelia Hood was lightheartedly named ‘Red Riding Hood’ for the crimson riding coat she wore while hunting. It was often commented that no sane hunter would ever consider wearing something so vibrant, but those comments were quickly shot down with the reminder that Red was the best any of them had ever met, and she always came back successful regardless of the bold colour of her overcoat.
That day Amelia was not hunting, but bringing food to her Grandma. She did so every Thursday to ensure her only living Grandparent stayed well fed and with some company in her old age.

However, earlier that day, upon getting close to the snug little cottage on the outskirts of the forest, she had heard a blood curdling scream, and panic flooded her body when she saw the quaint wooden door of the little home torn open, hanging loosely off its hinges. The grocery bags fell from Red’s arms, forgotten about immediately, and she raced forward, pulling her hunting bow off her back and pushing an arrow into place. The wolf had left a trail of destruction through the small kitchen and Red followed it quickly, leading her to the bedroom where her frail Grandma was crying out, the wolf prowling the length of the space, both of them bloody as the poor, frail old woman had fought the beast off with bare arms.
“Oi!” Red shouted, anger refining her senses, the aim of her arrow precisely pointing to a fatal spot on the huge animal’s neck. It turned at the sound, a monster with coarse black fur and wide, rabid eyes. Prepared, Red pulled back the bow and – suddenly – a large object whooshed past her ear. She faltered, losing her balance for just a moment and sending the arrow shooting off into the ceiling as she fell hard on her ass. The object, a large axe with an aged wooden handle, lodged itself into the wolf’s skull and after a hysterical howl of pain it collapsed, its head falling heavily into the shocked hunter’s lap. Red scrambled to her feet and through the doorway, straight into the muscular chest of a breathless stranger. She screamed out, her heart beating desperately fast and her usual calm composure abandoned.
“You nearly killed me with that axe!”. 
The man, adjusting his plaid shirt with broad arms, examined the dying wolf on the carpet, “I’d actually say I saved your life. I heard screaming and came as quickly as I could.”
“Oh goodness me, how could I ever repay you!?” Red fawned dramatically, hands pressed over her heart. She shot him a hard glare and rushed to her Grandma’s side, “I had it under control. I hunt, and I don’t go throwing axes at people’s heads.”
“It wasn’t thrown at your head, it was thrown at his!” he sighed, gesturing with exasperation at the wolf.
And that was when Red stopped listening to the lumberjack, and started worrying about how to clean the place up and get him out of the way, taking us back to where we found her, stood blood stained in her Grandmother’s bedroom.

Red looked down at the wolf then, long dead, and her panic towards the situation quickly faded, being replaced with a dull irritation. First things first, she whipped the already blood stained sheets from her Grandma’s lonely single bed and threw them under the wolf’s head to prevent any more blood getting onto the carpet, and then set about looking for cleaning equipment. She was rummaging around in the cupboards under the sink looking for some kind of carpet cleaner when her eyes fell upon a dusty, colourful cardboard box. She laughed in disbelief at a rather distant memory of her Grandma showing her a handmade, oddly proportioned stuffed mouse. Brushing the fine layer of grime from the lid, her suspicions were confirmed; she had in her hands a Taxidermy; Do it Yourself! Kit that her Grandma’s late friend had gotten her a few birthdays back. Red wondered where on Earth her Grandma had found that poor dead mouse, and then it hit her – the most brilliant, sick and twisted idea she’d ever had.

It took ages, considering it was her very first time and the instructions were entirely in Swedish. Red was determined to make it utterly perfect. She cleaned the cottage and got to work immediately, and was labouring through the night. The finishing touch was taking one of her Grandma’s white linen night caps and pulling it over the wolf’s head, down past the face forever fashioned into a hilarious yet equally unsettling smile and tied in a neat little bow under the chin. Red really had a knack for taxidermy, it turned out, and the wolf sold for a very considerable amount within hours of its completion, advertised as “a fashionable one off piece for an eccentric with a flair for the dramatic”. Despite the Lumberjack, Paul, trying to take credit for taming the wild beast, no one really cared, for it was Red who had forever humiliated and emasculated the creature, making it nothing more than fancy furniture for the rest of time. Being such a successful hunter, she now had a brand new hobby that meant none of her catch would ever have to go to waste.

Now her business card proudly reads “Miss Amelia Hood, Hunter and Taxidermist”. If there’s one piece of advice I could give you, it would be never to cross her.