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I hope you enjoy it.
(John Light)

The Fiend Of Far Fell

    It was on the northern edge of St Mary's Loch, about halfway along the shoreline between the eastern end and Tibby Shiel's Inn that the first body was found. I can picture the scene in my mind as the loch-side road is one I've travelled a number of times from Selkirk through the hills to Moffat on journeys from Alnwick or Berwick to Stranraer. It's a tranquil place, like a microcosm of the Western Highlands that's drifted south into the midst of the lowlands almost to the English border. The hills rise steeply on either side of the loch enclosing the narrow valley and looming over it, sheltering it so that more often than not the still surface of the loch is unruffled in the silence of the glen.
    The corpse was fully dressed, lying face down, the head submerged in the water, the legs stretched straight behind it and tied at the ankles to a stake driven into the small beach so preventing the gentle waves from coaxing the body away from the shore. The man had been hit on the head and garrotted with a hempen cord. The headlines in northern papers on both sides of the border starkly proclaimed "Body in the Loch", though south of Newcastle, where mentioned, it was relegated to an inside page.
    It was briefly sensational, helped along by speculation without evidence - an 'underworld' slaying, a ritual killing, even a drug-induced fantasy murder! None of them seemed to fit the location - too far from a city for gangsters or fetishists or druggies; a place separated by the cleansing powers of nature and of wilderness from the excesses of urban humanity - or rather inhumanity; a place of calm, of reflection, of restraint. When it was revealed that the victim was seventy-two years old, the wilder theories melted away and the theme of revenge with a whole variety of imagined motives emerged. As the police seemed unable to make progress and had no intriguing or helpful clues, interest waned.
    Then came a second one.
    The two deaths were immediately conjoined by their circumstances and by their locations. Although they occurred on opposite sides of the border, the distance between them was only some fifty miles as the raven flies and the topographical features of the surrounding landscapes and the manner of the crimes were so similar it would have been perverse not to link them. The second victim was seventy-one, a further connection perhaps? So in newspaper headlines the killer became a serial killer. Scientists usually hesitate to declare results represent a linear relationship and even three on a close approximation of a straight line is regarded as thin evidence, but journalists are not so timid.
    It was this second crime that first brought the matter to my attention. I was staying with Petronella at her home in Ripon and noticed a copy of the Newcastle paper The Journal which she'd brought back from a visit to that city a few days previously. Seeing what had attracted my attention she remarked:
    "Ah yes that item might be of interest to your friend Hugo."
    The headline proclaimed 'Victim of Bizarre Murder found in Beauty Spot', and the article began:

    "Climbers from Durham University introducing novice mountaineers to the thrills of rock climbing on the pitches of Crag Lough themselves experienced a less benign thrill, one of horror, when they discovered a body floating face down in the shallow water at the margin of the lough itself. The corpse had a head wound, neck injuries and had been submerged in the lake. A police source said the death was definitely being considered suspicious and an enquiry had been opened. It was hinted that there were other unusual features of the death but no further details have been released. It is understood that a car found abandoned a short distance away had belonged to the victim."
    I know Crag Lough and the cliffs that fall to the edge of the mere. I scaled one of the pitches myself, many years ago and under expert guidance! The rocks are outcrops of the Great Whin Sill which straddles England from west to east, coast to coast, a distance of no more than seventy miles at that latitude, and along the crests of which the Roman emperor Hadrian had his eponymous wall constructed to mark and possibly defend the northernmost frontier of his empire.
    You may remember the furore yourself. The newspapers plumped almost unanimously for the ritual murders theory. Accounts of the 'threefold death' in pagan sacrificial rites were aired, the propaganda of ancient Roman imperialism was resurrected, and the blame for these modern deaths was placed unfairly but squarely on some (unknown) contemporary neo-pagan cult. Some went so far as to conflate that speculation with the unrelated phenomenon of gangs of elderly bikers roaming the roads of the north presumably in an effort to recapture the glory days of their youth. Wildly labelling them 'hell's angels', some tabloids hinted at satanism and other sensational topics for which the apparently ritual deaths provided the evidence.
    It was after the fourth fatality (confirming their status as serial killings!) that Hugo called me to say he would be in London on the morrow, and inviting me to lunch.
    "Her Majesty will pay," he announced perplexingly.
    We met in a comfortable but not opulent restaurant. While we waited for our food, Hugo informed me that our friend Sebastian Sinclair had been promoted yet again, this time to commander in the specialist unit he headed at the National Crime Agency, quite a small unit it seemed, charged with investigating what might roughly be described as "weird" crimes - ones not easily classifiable as terrorism or organised crime or fraud, but uncommon enough to need a nationwide territory to accumulate the expertise needed to tackle them. I suspected they would be the sort of crimes that Sebastian might from time to time be consulting Hugo about, in his capacity as a former Home Office adviser in anthropological matters that were not themselves run of the mill anthropology! My suspicion that Hugo's invitation to lunch was not just a friendly meeting was strengthened. If Hugo was planning to pick my brains on Sebastian's behalf that would explain his reference to the Queen paying - not her personally of course, but her government! Although I rather doubted that Hugo would actually make a claim for expenses; not his style at all.
    Having apprised me of Sebastian's elevation, Hugo confirmed my supposition by confiding that Sebastian had requested his advice in the matter of the so-called neo-paganist murders, for Hugo's anthropological expertise.
    "Sebastian is surely not convinced by the 'pagan revival' theory is he?" I asked.
    "Says he has an open mind but the case has been referred to his unit and he is anxious to get a result quickly before there are further crimes. So he's not ruling anything out; wants to know if I think it's credible."
    "And do you?"
    Hugo sighed.
    "Not the wilder fringes of it. I don't believe in the biker strand. Bikers would inevitably leave their tyre tracks all over it. There would be witnesses reporting sightings, and no doubt hearings, of motorcyclists in the areas concerned, whereas in fact there's an almost complete absence of material evidence and very little in the way of witness claims at all, except for vague reports of something grey glimpsed several times in the vicinities."
    "Does it appear that the crimes were committed where the victims were found?"
    "Yes in the first case, no in the second, perhaps in the other two. In the first assault, the bludgeon used seems to have been a piece of broken fencing abandoned at the scene and similar to other pieces of fencing close by. No weapons identified in the other attacks."
    "I don't remember seeing that reported," I remarked thoughtfully.
    "No it hasn't been, and it better not be now otherwise somebody will be in trouble and it might be you or I or even both of us. Sebastian is trying to keep as many details as possible from public knowledge to minimise maliciously false reports or even copy-cat crimes. So I am relying on you to keep this confidential."
    "Much better not to have told me then," I grumbled. "Why did you anyway?"
    "Well you do occasionally have off-beam ideas, see things from an odd angle. I'm hoping you might be able to contribute something."
    "There is one additional pointer to the neo-pagan hypothesis. All the victims had grain in their pockets. You may recall that in the discovery of the prehistoric Lindow Man, examination of the stomach contents revealed a last meal based on cereal grains."
    "Yes I do remember that. I was particularly interested as the stomach contents of some bog bodies have been examined by ESR - electron spin resonance - spectroscopy. A practical application of ESR I  can use in my lectures."
    "Not an exact parallel of course but certainly suggestive."
    "In the original case," went on Hugo, "what appears to have happened is that the victim was fishing, seated on a fisherman's stool, with his rod stretching out over the water. His murderer approached him, perhaps silently, perhaps with a remark, and then suddenly swung the broken fencing pole with some considerable force, striking a powerful blow to the head and stunning the fisherman, so that he pitched forward. The blow was not what killed him. The fatal injury was inflicted with a garrotte, a very unusual one made from hemp. The victim's face was below the surface of the lake but he had inhaled no water so there was no question of drowning.
    "What is odd is that the crime shows a curious mixture of premeditation and spontaneity, almost as though the perpetrator was desirous of committing a murder  but the choice of victim was opportunistic. The criminal seems to have come prepared to kill - witness the garrotte - but seized a local object - the fence pole - to initiate the assault. There were no real footprints at the site. Either they had been erased by brushing, or possibly the perpetrator had worn cloths over his shoes.
    " No prior connection between victim and perpetrator has been discovered."
    Prior to my meeting with Hugo I had checked out the reports on the internet of the two latest killings, both in the English Lake District. The murder in Wasdale on the shore of Wastwater closely resembled the first one on St Mary's Loch. I've only visited Wasdale a few times so can't visualise it so clearly. I don't recollect ever seeing it in sunshine; my memories are wet and gloomy or sullen with the promise of more rain soon. Seen from the lane along the northwest side of the lake, the summits on the other side fall almost sheer into the dark waters. Screes have swept the cliffs barren of all vegetation. It seemed a threatening place. Seen near to it becomes obvious that the cliffs are neither absolutely sheer nor totally barren, but are nearly so.
    The modus operandi was almost identical. The weapon was not found. If it had been hurled into the lake with sufficient heft then it was effectively lost forever as Wastwater is the deepest lake in England, reaching well below sea level. There are neither myths nor legends of prehistoric survivals lurking in its depths - nothing lives down there. It is deeper than the regulations allow police divers to venture. To search it would require specialised equipment and the cost would be greater than the likely value of anything found.
    The crime in the shadow of Blencathra was more akin to that at Crag Lough, if only because the terrain seems more open there, but the murders themselves are more or less identical at all four sites. The body below Blencathra was anchored with its head in Scales Tarn. The press were quick to seize on its proximity to Castlerigg Stone Circle as further evidence of pagan involvement. To me it seemed much more significant that both the victims were, like the earlier ones, septuagenarians.
    "Do you recall," remarked Hugo, "how, during what you elected to call The Enigma of Poetic Injustice, you introduced me to the world of small press magazines, especially those publishing poetry? While browsing through a library collection of such, I came across an annual printed listing of hundreds of such magazines from all over the planet called, rather unhelpfully and certainly immodestly but in fact precisely, Light's List. I say immodestly since it suggested a presumption that everyone would know what it was, but I have to admit it could not be charged with contravening the trades descriptions legislation, since it was simply and indisputably a list compiled by a man called Light. So its name made no claims to it being a complete list of anything in particular, and avoided any excuses having to be made about what it did not include."
    "I am familiar with the publication," I said drily.
    "I don't doubt it, given that you purport to be a poet. The point for me is that many of the magazines listed were not primarily poetry or fiction magazines but used poems and stories when they pertained to their core interest. In particular there were a number of pagan interest magazines listed and issues of these which I found in the Northern Poetry Library in Morpeth led me to others with a wealth of articles, letters and contact information for pagans. Of particular utility for me were websites where I could easily and conveniently read many more than were contained in the library.
    "Perusing these it quickly became clear to me that the overwhelming majority of people professing to practise paganism - and even magic - were of a benign and peaceable nature. No human sacrifice, no animal sacrifice even; in fact there was evident a general desire to live in peace and harmony with the natural world. Not a hint of malice. That is all in marked contrast to another magazine genre, that of gamers where blood-thirsty violence is seemingly essential! Of course Light may have discreetly omitted things he didn't like although he does appear to have been all-inclusive (with the exception of magazines promoting prejudice and fascism which he states quite clearly he excluded). This conclusion was supported by a survey of pagan internet sites. There are as you know all sorts of dreadful and extreme interests catered for on line. Of course on-line communities of whatever kind generally react far more quickly than those serviced by printed communications so I concentrated my search there for reaction to and discussion of the crimes being laid by some at the door of neo-pagans. Both the crimes themselves and the accusations were universally condemned and I found the abhorrence of the first and indignation at the second equally convincing. I recommended Sinclair look elsewhere for motive."
    "Does he have jurisdiction on both sides of the border?"
    "He has full jurisdiction over police authorities on the English side. It seems it's more a case of operating in conjunction with Police Scotland on the other but I confess I find these bureaucratic wrangles and tangles of limited interest even from an anthropological point of view. Sebastian appears to understand the extent and limits of his powers in what has long been debated territory.
    "Fifteen centuries ago of course the Anglian kings of Northumbria held sway from their capital at Bamburgh over most of the lands from the Humber in the south to the Firth of Forth in the north. As you know, much of this country is upland, whether called hills or mountains or the more local fells and it's across this huge area that the felon dubbed by the press 'The Fiend of Far Fell' has been spreading alarm. The origin of his soubriquet is unclear. There seems to be no specific fell named Far Fell, and it seems likely that it arose simply as an allusion to his wide-ranging activities, more a feeling than an actual place, coupled with the press's love of alliterative headlines."
    "Hm! That's certainly interesting but I really don't see what help I can be."
    "Maybe you won't be able to be but then again perhaps your subconscious will offer something. You always say your best ideas come from there."
    "Best fictional ideas. I'm not sure it's helped me much with my work."
    Two weeks went by during which there was one more murder and no progress  reported from the police. They were not being given a very good press! The latest slaying was in Kirkcudbrightshire across the Solway from Cumberland, on the shore of Loch Trool in the woods of Glen Trool.
    I was spending a few days in Yorkshire with Petronella and I'd told her what Hugo had related in connection with the fiend of Far Fell. I hadn't forgotten it was confidential but I was confident Petronella would keep it to herself. One day when we felt like a drive somewhere, Petronella suggested we visit Hugo. I rang him and he was agreeable. She drove us up the A1 to county Durham and the medieval castle his college leases from an impoverished peer for a peppercorn rent, in return for them keeping it fairly warm in winter and weatherproof the whole year round. It uses it as accommodation for about a hundred second year undergraduates along with a few members of staff, one of whom is Hugo. As the car scrunched to a stop outside the main entrance to the castle itself, I was surprised to see Hugo awaiting us.
    "Hello," he said. "I've just had a call from Sebastian so your arrival is quite timely. He says he'd value my opinion on what may be another 'fiend' killing."
    "May be? Is that just Sebastian's usual caution or is there some real doubt?"
    "He didn't elaborate but he certainly sounded tentative. I imagine that's why he'd like my opinion. Are you interested in coming?"
    "Did he invite us as well?"
    "Not explicitly but he didn't prohibit you accompanying me and I had told him I was expecting you any minute."
    "North Northumberland, a place called Duddo, near Berwick."
    "Duddo Stones?"
    "Yes, I take it you know it?" I nodded.
    "There you are then. Your local knowledge could prove invaluable." I felt sceptical about that but turned to Petronella.
    "I should think it must be about an eighty mile drive. Are you happy with that?" She smiled.
    "I certainly am. It sounds interesting."
    "We'll go in my car," said Hugo, "in case it gets a bit rough - the country that is, I'm not expecting any other sort of trouble!" he hastened to add.
    Hugo drove up the Durham motorway past Washington and round Newcastle, crossing the Tyne on the city by-pass. Twenty miles further on, just north of Morpeth we veered left onto the A697 for Coldstream. This was a slower road but far more pleasant: a climb up onto the moors that protected Rothbury, with the Cheviot Hills to the west, then over the watershed into the rich farming country of the Vale of Glendale; just a few small villages and miles and miles of varied countryside as the Cheviots guided us ever north for some thirty miles.
    Just north of Milfield we turned off the Wooler to Coldstream road onto the B6354, passing Ford and Etal to the hamlet of Duddo. There we turned left on a narrow lane signed To The Stones. No more than a quarter of a mile along this we came across a collection of patrol cars and crime scene vans along the verge on either side of a gateway leading to a harvested field. Hugo pulled up just beyond the group and we got out and walked back.
    There was a police constable standing at the field gate. Hugo showed him his home office accreditation and the officer contacted Sebastian on his radio after which he indicated a length of police tape stretching away across the field alongside a path which ran by the hedge towards another, distant gate.
    "Keep to the left of the tape please sir," indicated the officer.
    "Right," said Hugo, and we set off on the stubble side of the tape away from the path. Fortunately the ground was still dry after the glorious summer we'd had and we were all wearing walking shoes too.
    There was no sign of the stones from the lane but I had visited them before and knew that although the land was only gently undulating, it was enough to conceal them from a distance. We walked the half mile to the second gate and from there we could see the summit of the low hill and there at last was the circle.
    We plodded up the slope towards it but did not venture within. The Duddo stone circle is not a monument on the scale of Stonehenge; it is not grand, not imposing, not overpowering. The individual stones are each only six to seven feet high and the diameter of the ring only thirty feet. Its name has varied over the centuries as the number of stones has varied, following the fall or re-erection of the odd boulder. At present it is a ring of five stones, human in scale, intimate and incomprehensibly comforting. I never fail to feel soothed, protected and healed when I come here. As a scientist I cannot explain that; as a human being I do not try; I simply accept it gratefully. In the year after Helen died, every so often on impulse I would drive up here from Durham just to stand for a while in the ring of silent stones. It is a place where it is possible to believe that life is more than it seems.
    The stones are irregularly shaped, deeply grooved vertically from four thousand years of weathering, like large hands their fingers grasping at the breeze, reaching from the land towards the sky. Often when I have been here I have been alone but never lonely. It is a place where solitude is welcome and welcoming. From where we stood just outside the perimeter of the circle there were no buildings or roads visible, no traffic sounds to be heard. The only signs of human activity normally visible from there are the harvested fields, the hedgerows and the stones, but that day there were as well, crime scene technicians in white making a finger tip search of the area around and within the ring. We stood outside it in a taped off square. Looking between the nearer stones to those on the other side of the henge I could see the figure, of a man apparently, seated with his back leaning against one of the slabs, his head bowed forward on his chest as though dozing. He looked comfortable and peaceful in the afternoon sun. I didn't need telling he was dead. It felt so obvious. It seemed to me a good place to die, in contact with the earth, in the pure air, beneath the wide sky, enclosed by the protecting stones, as though welcoming his body's return. I can understand why a man would choose it as the place to breath his last and I had no doubt that this was a suicide and that it completed a pattern.
    Sebastian noticed us and came over and stared at Hugo.
    "I didn't ask you to bring your gang as well," said Sebastian somewhat grumpily.
    "I didn't bring them, they came. We were all together when you called and I had no authority to prevent them coming along! Anyway, I'm sure they'll keep out of your way and they might have some useful ideas; we are all scientists after all."
    Sebastian sighed and rather reluctantly acknowledged my existence.
    "Alex," he nodded.
    "Nice to see you too Sebastian. This is Petronella. She's at the Science Reference Library." Sebastian greeted her with a better grace, then turned once more to Hugo.
    "On the face of it this doesn't look like another victim of the Fiend. No obvious signs of inflicted trauma, death seems most likely due to either natural causes or to poison, self-administered or introduced by trickery. The autopsy should decide. We are well away from water here so it is obviously not a three-fold death."
    "So why did you invite me here?" asked Hugo.
    "I had a feeling," admitted Sebastian. "It may just be because it appears  to have occurred here within Duddo Stones, a neolithic site. It is the pagan connection again. Despite there being no other overt similarities, I have a conviction that it is an event in the same series, perhaps even the final one.  "
    "You think he was the killer of the others?" queried Hugo. Sebastian shrugged.
    "There is a farm near here that has a licence to grow hemp for fibre production; we're within the area where the crimes have been committed, admittedly well off its centre but still."
    "It is difficult to resist the association of ideas," acknowledged Hugo. "Any idea how the deceased reached the site?"
    "We've found a bicycle in a ditch alongside the lane bordering the field. I would assume he walked from there up to the stones. It's only a quarter of a mile or so."
    "A bicycle suggests he lived somewhere around here."
    "I think so," agreed Sebastian. "I've already had a photo taken - we'll get a better likeness of him once he's in the lab. We've had the preliminary one duplicated and a number of officers are visiting farmsteads and cottages in the vicinity. We'll widen the area if we have no luck. Berwick and Wooler are the closest places of any size. It'll obviously take longer to canvas them door to door so we'll try a mug shot on local television as soon as possible, and maybe in the Berwick Advertiser but that's not out until Thursday and I hope we'll have something before then. And we have this as well."
    He held out a plastic sleeve containing an A4 printout and Hugo took it.
    "It looked as though he had been reading this when he died. It was in his lap with his hand resting on it."
    Hugo read the beginning of it.
    "Wind turbine for Duddo Stones. Protesters claim turbine at local beauty spot and ancient monument will bring little benefit in return for destroying a tourist attraction and compromising an important archaeological site."
    "You don't think he committed suicide because of that, surely?"
    Sebastian shrugged.
    "Might have been the last straw, but I doubt it was the underlying reason and it does seem strange just when he seemed to be spreading his activities to south west Scotland. There are many lakes or lochs there, a fact which seemed to promise more of these crimes."
    "I might be able to get an identity more quickly another way than the door to door - worth a try I think," suggested Hugo looking at the print-out thoughtfully. "May I have one of those photos?" Sebastian handed one over
    "Come on," said Hugo to Petronella and me. "Let's leave Sebastian in peace with his crime scene."
    The three of us piled into Hugo's car and he drove us (too fast as usual) along the narrow but fortunately mainly straight, country lanes into Berwick, explaining as we travelled that the printout had pencilled in the top right hand corner lib 30p.
    "It's a bit of a gamble," he admitted, "but that could have been short for library 30 pence, a note to himself that he'd printed it out at a public library and it had cost him thirty pence. Berwick is I fancy a little nearer than Wooler so I think asking there might save a bit of footslogging, and it won't take long."
    He found a parking slot (he always can) just outside the fortified town's eastern ramparts and we re-entered the town via the Cow Port and followed Walkergate to the public library above social services. It was a newish purpose-built two storey structure. I remember when it was housed, totally unsuitably, in an old school, different categories in different assorted rooms. It wasn't easy to use then, but it reminded me of libraries of my youth which were often in such make-shift premises. The new facility was a single large open-plan space, extremely light and airy but lacking any quiet secluded areas where one could browse (or drowse!) undisturbed by others.
    We went up to a counter and Hugo showed the librarian the photograph of the man in the stone circle.
    "Unfortunately this man has just died and he had nothing on him to identify him. We are trying to find out who he is. Do you by any chance recognise him?"
    I could see she did.
    "I recognise you," she retorted. "You've been in here before asking questions of my colleagues about customers."
    Hugo smiled.
    "I admit it," he said, "but only for good reason."
    "No doubt, but you must realise we can't reveal information about users to just anyone who comes in. May I ask who you are?"
    "Of course, quite right," responded Hugo. He fished his Home Office ID card out of his top pocket and proffered it for inspection. I had seen this docket impress police officers so I respect it as powerful magic, but the librarian was made of sterner stuff. She gave him a quizzical look as she returned it.
    "It's out of date," she said. I grinned. Rather nice to see Hugo nailed! Although a bit inconvenient just now, I reflected.
    "I know," sighed Hugo. "I just can't seem to find the time to go into the office. Luckily there's no fine for late renewal."
    Fortunately the librarian proved not to be a stickler for dates.
    "He does come in here," she said, "although he rarely borrows a book. He mainly reads the papers and uses the computer terminals." Hugo nodded.
    "His name is Ian Yarrow. He lives in a cottage on the south slope of Dod Law, in one of the old shepherd's cottages there."
    "Can you tell us which one?"
    "I think there are only two or three. They aren't numbered I believe."
    "Thank you."
    "No bother. I'm sorry he's dead. He didn't say a lot but when he did he seemed pleasant enough, though he sometimes looked as though he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. See you later." She turned to the next customer.
    "What did she mean 'See you later'?" asked Petronella inquisitively.
    "It's just something they say up here. Like 'Cheerio' or 'Ta-ra' elsewhere."
    Once we were outside I turned to Hugo.
    "I thought you were supposed to have returned that card?"
    "True. As I said I just keep forgetting. In any case I'll probably get a brand new one any time now, with Sebastian being promoted to commander."
    We left Berwick by the A1 south. Almost all journeys in the north of Northumberland involve the A1 at some point but not because it's fast but because it is the main north south route, which is a pity because it is in fact rather slow, successive governments having spent as little as possible on it, regularly promising to dual it before elections and as regularly forgetting to do so after them. Just a few miles south we turned west onto the lane to Wooler, the more direct one that runs through the small village of Doddington. On the outskirts of the hamlet, by the 'bonny Dod well' I directed Hugo onto a roughly metalled track up onto the lower slopes of Dod Law, and ending in a small car park.
    "We'll have to walk the rest of the way," I said, and we all got out.
    The path towards the top of the law was broad with a gentle gradient, its springy turf kept short by the perpetual hunger of grazing sheep. The breeze blowing down from the upper slopes was fresh, smelling of bracken, and warm and soft. There were few trees even on the lower slopes and the view westward across the Vale of Glendale to the Cheviots and the clustering lower fells, was wide and exhilarating beneath an egg shell blue sky without a cloud from horizon to horizon. On a far hill the pure white spheres of a mysterious installation rested lightly in the heather.
    At one point we halted briefly, gazing at a flat slab lying amongst the ferns. On its surface the enigmatic diagrams known as cup and ring markings had been deeply incised by prehistoric artists thousands of years ago. Despite much study and even more speculation they still remain unexplained and without interpretation in terms of modern thought.
    Once over the ridge we could see three cottages. The nearer two had wind turbines and looked in reasonable repair, perhaps holiday cottages. The furthest away was not far enough for distance to conceal its evident dilapidation. It was thither we made our way. To one side of it was a grey van. Despite its apparent desertion we approached with circumspection and stood looking at it. Hugo decided on direct action.
    "Anyone at home?" he called. Silence confirmed our impression. He called again more loudly, and then opened his rucksack and took out a packet of disposable gloves, extracted a pair and pulled them on.
    He went to the door and knocked with his knuckles, still without response. He pushed it and it moved a few inches inward, seemingly grating on a stone floor. He pushed harder, making enough of an opening for him to be able to crane round the door and see within. He shouted again with the same result as last time. He pushed the door wider and bent down to retrieve something from the floor. He straightened up and withdrew, some envelopes in his hand. He examined them.
    "They are all addressed to Ian Yarrow. It seems certain this is where he's been living. I'm going in to look around. If any of you want to join me please remember it's likely there will need to be a full scale forensic examination of the place so don't touch anything. Just look. If you see anything that seems significant, tell me."
    "What are you hoping to find?" asked Petronella.
    "Don't really know. Just some clue as to his motive, I suppose. Perhaps a note if we're really lucky!"
    "I doubt if Sebastian would appreciate all of us clumping about in there," I objected. "He invited you to assist him but he didn't seem very welcoming when the rest of us turned up."
    "I feel it would be useful for each of you to look around too. Everyone has their own way of looking at things. You might notice something or notice the absence of something that wouldn't strike either Seb or me, or interpret what you see differently. Policemen are specially trained to do that but the trouble is they can sometimes end up only seeing the things they've been specially trained to see!" I had heard this argument before.
     Hugo got out the box of disposables and offered pairs to each of us. We both accepted and then followed him gingerly inside and stared about, somewhat aimlessly in my case. The cottage was dingy and lacked any semblance of comfort. It was more like a bothy than a home, though a single folding camp bed against one wall was neatly made up as if he had planned to return. As usual when entering an unfamiliar place I was drawn to the few shelves accommodating books. They were mainly on topics relating to prehistory, which didn't surprise me, but there were also some dealing with depletion of resources and degradation of the natural environment. There was no fiction. In fact the room in some ways reminded me more of an office than a home, with piles of books and papers on most surfaces.
    "Look at these," said Petronella. I went over to her where she was standing by a stack of old newspapers. I glanced at the top one. The headline was: GREED OF ELDERLY ROBS YOUNG. I scanned the first few lines: 'A senior member ot the Government today blamed the spending of public funds on heating allowances and bus passes for pensioners for the cuts being made in school maintenance budgets and the freezing of family allowances. He went on to say that cushioning the elderly from the effects of the global financial crisis was harming efforts to improve care for children.'
    I carefully separated newspapers further down. They all had headlines of a like kind:
    Parties woo grey vote with guaranteed pensions increases;
    Pensioners take jobs from young;
and a whole series focussed on the NHS:
    NHS beds blocked by 'living dead';
    NHS overwhelmed by ancient patients;
    NHS will collapse without decisive action to get more elderly people out of     hospitals, health minister warns
leading perhaps inevitably to a series of headlines on the 'Do not resuscitate' controversy and the semi-apocalyptic 'Planet can't support longer lives'.
    Hugo joined us.
    "Examples of non-violent extremism," he said, "to quote terminology employed with an entirely different intent. Insidious vilification of the elderly, as of any easily identifiable minority is an incitement to those susceptible to such suggestion. The old are no longer useful, they are unproductive consumers of resources better directed towards the still working sector of society. It is just a step from 'do not resuscitate' to the deliberate culling of those stigmatised as worthless. It's an age-old tactic, the setting of one group in opposition to another to conceal the diversion of a large part of the common resource to purposes that chime with party dogma but have little or no relevance to the needs of the majority of the population. It was a mainstay of the NAZI regime in Germany."
    I tuned out Hugo's lecture and looked instead at a print-out of something called Stone Circular (rather an appropriate name I thought) and scanned it with interest. It appeared to veer slightly to the left of the Guardian and didn't mince its words about the 'right-wing gutter press' and the campaign it claimed it was being waged to smear 'modern pagans' by alternately mocking them for their inane and pathetic beliefs, and then accusing them of being murderous conspirators who believed in human sacrifice like their ancient predecessors and asking loaded questions like 'have these pathetic modern imitators ambitions to revive the heathen practises of those they copy?', and stopping only just short of openly accusing them of being guilty of the three-fold murders of the elderly victims. Nor did the editor of the Circular spare 'the once quality broadsheets, which differ only from their more squalid brethren by being more mealy mouthed in their libels'. The writer went on to remind the readership that known three-fold death victims from ancient times had all been relatively young men, hinting that they may perhaps have been willing sacrifices, coveting the honour of bringing divine favour on the tribe, and certainly not old and worn out.
    Hugo was standing in front of the fireplace. On the mantelshelf was a typical clutter of odds and ends including what looked like a birthday card. He picked it up and opened it. He offered it to me as though it might explain all. I read the message inside: Happy 70th Ian, love Big Sis.
    Petronella was looking at a pile of compact discs beside a portable player.
    "This is all pagan and new-age music," she said, "and all apparently of a calming nature - an antidote to the effects of violence perhaps." She moved on to a small pile of magazines and print-outs from the internet, all with titles suggesting they were from non-mainstream publishers and were concerned with aspects of paganism - Pentacle, Raven, Moonstone.
    "These magazines and websites are the sort the Prime Minister probably would not approve of in the unlikely event he were ever to see them," she said. "They promote a view of the world at odds with approved religions, approved values, approved realities, diverting peoples' energies away from approved useful activities like working, consuming, generating wealth, and so on. The minorities who are involved in them practically invite persecution and hostility by following lifestyles many might regard as parasitic on society, contributing nothing and deriding the majority who follow the government's 'respectable' paradigm, invite that is in the way other victims are said to invite trouble."
    "You're beginning to sound like Hugo," I chided. "Definitely not an improvement."
    She grinned and gave me a friendly punch on the arm.
    Hugo was perusing another pile of computer print-outs.
    "It looks as though he selected his victims by trawling sites available to him from the library facility or in internet cafes. With a bit of judicious ferreting he would be able to identify those that met his criteria, whatever they were. We all know people reveal excessive and potentially dangerous amounts of information about themselves on-line, including of course photographs, on internet chat sites and blogs where anyone can access them. All the men - they are all men - that Ian Yarrow collected data on and eventually chose, seem harmless enough except to someone worrying about consumption of resources. They are all unattached, with no obvious family, few friends, no community involvement, all over seventy and of course with no connection with each other or with Yarrow himself. They all seem essentially blameless and therefore might be regarded as suitable to be a worthy sacrifice, in terms of pagan beliefs - there is no suggestion of death being a punishment for some misdeed. With what he knew about them he could easily watch and wait until an opportunity arose that suited his purpose, and if it didn't there was always another potential victim.
    "What seems possible is that Yarrow was interested in paganism and absorbed pagan ideas and concerns at a rather superficial level and that he was also concerned about the 'overburdening' of the Earth by increasing population. The everlasting harping by politicians and newspaper columnists on the growing problem of the old, making no contribution to the commonweal but consuming an ever greater proportion of ever scarcer resources of food, heating, lighting, health care, their needs competing with those of the young, with those whose lives were just beginning and in whose hands would lie the future of the race itself, on and on and on, could at some point have caused this concern to became a kind of mania, finally driving him to decide to do his bit towards resolving the problem by removing some of those who had already enjoyed more than their biblical three score years and ten. If it seemed like a drop in the ocean he might even have thought about involving others in his scheme eventually. I suspect he used the three-fold death not to shift suspicion onto blameless pagans but because he felt it showed respect for his victims. Or maybe he genuinely accepted the original supposed rationale with which our remote ancestors imbued it. But when it comes to motives it's really all just guesswork.
    "Then he encountered that article on The Nightly Telegraph blog spot which presented a different attitude, one for which archaeological evidence provides definite support, that for neolithic communities far from being seen as a burden, the aged were revered and their passing mourned as any other member of the group - burial rituals in particular, a number of demonstrably older people having been interred with flowers and gifts of articles for their journey into the spirit world. Some authorities theorise that the value of the old was perhaps in their memories in ages before material records could be kept, in their experience and wisdom, attributes we might with benefit put greater trust in ourselves. It concluded by pointing the finger of blame at government for promoting suspicion between the generations and also of fanning prejudice against groups with beliefs different from the majority. Passages had been heavily underscored in pen. Did he come to believe he'd been made a fool of by  politicians intent on playing off sections of the community against each other; duped and exploited by government propaganda and media sensationalism? Whether he took his own life out of remorse or simply confusion is anybody's guess, but I suspect it was triggered by that card on the mantle shelf which not only reminded him that he himself was now into the alleged selfish age, but that following his own logic his elder sister should also be culled. Maybe that brought home to him the human aspect of what he was doing, so my suspicion is it was a mixture of both."
    "Yarrow," I said. Hugo and Petronella eyed me quizzically.
    "His name," I said. "It seemed significant in some way and I've just realised why. It is the name of the valley in which St Mary's Loch lies and perhaps its significance is simply the coincidence of Ian Yarrow's name and that of the prehistoric stone there, the Yarrow Stone. Maybe it was that which sent him along the particular path he took when he became determined to do something about the old."
    We were all silent for a while until Hugo spoke.
    "Do you recollect that slogan from the Second World War: 'Careless talk costs lives'? That's an idea that has a wider relevance than simply revealing sensitive information to foreign agents. Talking carelessly - or indeed writing carelessly - to garner votes or sell newspapers can have unintended but potentially dangerous consequences for groups of vulnerable people."
    "You mean irresponsible politicians and newspapermen share some of the blame for what happened?"
    "Yes. After all, the pen is mightier than the sword, and when the pen is twisted it may conjure a twisted sword."
    "I've never seen a twisted sword nor yet a twisted pen," I said, "but twisted men to wield them abound."
    "And twisted women," said Petronella softly. I looked at her. Something in her voice suggested she spoke from experience but her look was far away and I didn't pry.

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