|US Cover Artist:||?|
|UK Cover Artist:||Alan Cober|
This novel is set in Susan Cooper's childhood home of Dorney in Buckinghamshire.
On Will Stanton's 11th birthday, he discovers he is the last of the Old Ones, beings with ancient knowledge of the power of the Light, and must collect and join Six Signs to wage a battle against the Dark. He is aided in his quest by Merriman Lyon, the first of the Old Ones, and races to retrieve the signs before the forces of the Dark, led by the mysterious Black Rider. Dogging his footsteps is the sinister yet somehow sympathetic Walker, whose role in the struggle (along with Will's family) reveals the cruel consequences of loved ones caught in the middle of a timeless war. When the Dark starts to rise, Will with the help of Merriman Lyon and Herne the Hunter, stall the Dark in their effort and wait until the second and final rising.
The story begins on a snowy Midwinter's Eve in the Stantons' household in the village of Huntercombe, where Will awaits his eleventh birthday, living his apparently ordinary life. He goes out with his brother James to feed their pet rabbits, before the two of them head out to Dawson's Farm, passing Rooks' Wood and heading along Church Lane. Both of them notice that the animals in the vicinity - the rabbits and the rooks - are nervous and fearful, and for no apparent reason. Whilst on Church Lane, Will notices a man watching them from the side road, apparently a tramp, who disappears from sight. Arriving at the farm, they meet Old George and Frank Dawson. When James mentions the tramp, they catch Mr Dawson's attention. After hearing the description, he states mysteriously that 'the Walker is abroad', and that 'this night will be bad, and tomorrow will be beyond imagining.' Realising that it is soon to be Will's eleventh birthday, Mr Dawson hands him an object; a flat circle quartered by two crossed lines, made from iron. He tells him to keep it with him at all times, and not to tell anyone about it.
The two boys also meet Maggie Barnes the dairymaid at the farmhouse, who apparently has a liking for their elder brother Max. The boys leave with some mincemeat for their mother, and on the way back past the churchyard, they see the old tramp again, who is imminently attacked and scared away by rooks, much to the confusion of the boys.
Night has fallen by the time they arrive home. Will eats with the rest of the family; all but one of his siblings, Stephen Stanton, is not there. Eventually he goes to bed, but whilst preparing for bed, he is stricken with an inexplicable fear; although everything seems perfectly normal, Will can sense that something is wrong. As he tries to sleep, he is attacked again by this mysterious threat, and he begins to scream, as though trapped in a nightmare. The skylight in his room is thrown open by the storm outside. His brother Paul comes to comfort him and offers him his room for the night. Taking the iron circle with him, Will retreats downstairs, but not before finding a black rook feather in the pile of snow that has come in from the open skylight. He recalls Mr Dawson's words about the next day as he leaves his room.
The next morning, Will is woken by music, which fades away as he wakes. The house is silent on Midwinter's Day. As he looks outside, he hears the music again, and again it stops. He goes to wake his brothers Robin and James, but for some strange reason they don't wake, and remain in a deep sleep. He shouts in the silent household, but nobody responds. Will dresses and leaves the house through the back door. The world outside is also completely silent as he walks, and again he remembers Mr Dawson's words: '...tomorrow will be beyond imagining.' Whilst walking back in the direction of Dawson's Farm, he hears the sound of a hammer striking metal. In Huntercombe Lane, he comes to a group of unusual old buildings. He realises he has entered a different Time. Here, Will meets John Smith, a blacksmith working on a horse shoe. He also meets the Black Rider for the first time; he seems to know who Will is, and at the same time Will seems to recognize him. The Rider tries to capture Will as he departs on his dark horse, but the smith saves him by pulling him out of reach.
John Smith offers Will refreshment, and also introduces him to a white mare, a horse that comforts Will. Eventually, Will leaves, and then finally meets the old tramp, who Will knows to be the Walker. The Walker asks him to show him 'the sign' which Will knows to be the quartered iron circle that Mr Dawson gave him, but as he does so, the Rider appears again, scaring away the old man. The Rider grows in size, attempting to seize Will, who is rescued by the white mare from the smithy. Will escapes from that time and from the clutches of the Rider, and is led through the Chiltern Hills. The horse abandons him on the road, but when Will gets up, he finds two great doors standing before him on the road. Passing through the doors, Will finds himself in a great hall with many tapestries. Here, Will meets two people; Merriman Lyon and the Lady. Both explain to Will that he is one of the Old Ones, a servant of the Light with exceptional magical abilities who came into his inheritance on his eleventh birthday. Merriman begins to teach Will about his abilities, namely telepathy and telekinesis, learning how to place images in other people's minds and how to extinguish and relight fires. After that, Merriman explains Will's quest to him; to seek and to protect the Six Signs of the Light, which had been devised by the Old Ones. The enemy of the Light, the Dark, is rising again, and must be stopped.
As Merriman finishes explaining, the hall is attacked by the forces of the Dark. The sounds of howling dogs and of his mother's voice draw Will to a door that appears in the wall; the Dark are attempting to draw Will out. Merriman explains that the forces of the Dark are always threatening them, and that their power is now growing. The forces of the Dark threaten the hall again, and the Rider appears in the darkness. Though Will drives back the threat, the portal doors through which he first came reappear, and in his eagerness to return home, he breaks the Circle of Three held by him, Merriman and the Lady, leaving them defenseless. In order to protect him and Merriman, the Lady uses her power to open the portal doors, returning Merriman and Will to the Chiltern hills, but at the cost of her vanishing in the process. Though she remains undefeated by the Dark, Merriman explains that she has retreated for now, needing time to recover from the ordeal.
Merriman leads Will to a clearing. When Merriman questions him as to where they are, Will realises he is standing in the grounds of the future Huntercombe Manor, owned in his time by a Miss Greythorne. As he realizes this, he suddenly sees the Huntercombe Lane from his time appear before him, and glimpses his own house. Merriman explains that the Old Ones are loosely placed in Time, meaning they can move between various periods of history (in other words, time travel). The doors that Will discovered are only one of the gateways through Time. Merriman provides some background to the time that Will entered from his own time; he had entered the time of the Royal Forests, preserved by the Kings of England centuries ago.
Merriman leaves Will, explaining that the next part of his quest involves the Walker, and that he will return once Will has found him. In the meantime, Will returns home to celebrate his birthday with his family.
The day before Christmas Eve, Will is returning home by bus with some Christmas shopping. He has as of this point had no further encounter with the Dark, and he has been guarding the first of the signs, keeping it with him at all times. Will is disappointed as he walks back to Huntercombe Lane; although he had a good birthday, his eldest brother Stephen, who is abroad, did not send him a present. Will finds this unusual because Stephen has never forgotten his birthday before.
Will takes a shortcut up Tramps' Alley, a route that is barely used. He grows cold and hungry, and thinks of the fire that he had conjured and extinguished in the hall with Merriman and the Lady. With his magic, he sets a fallen tree branch alight, but instead of eventually going out, the fire continues to burn. Panicking, Will tries but fails to put it out. As the rooks fly overhead, somebody grabs Will, telling him to put the fire out. It is the Walker.
Will asks the Walker for the second sign, showing him the first that he already possesses. The Walker miserably explains how the sign has been such a burden for him. He is also suspicious, hoping that Will is the one he has been waiting for and not a servant of the Dark. He trusts neither the Dark nor the Light. Will is forced to command him to give him the sign, and the Walker relents, handing him the Sign of Bronze.
At that moment, the fire on the branch goes out. Quite unexpectedly, the farm girl Maggie Barnes appears, which for some reason terrifies the Walker, who won't go near her. Will grows suspicious, and even more so when Maggie tells him that the Walker stole a Sign from her. He prepares to attack, but does not have the power to resist her. Finding himself immobilized, he can do nothing but watch as Maggie takes the Signs from him. But as she does so, Merriman appears, encasing her in a circle of light. He drives her from the road, and a shield rises on each side of the pathway, protecting Will, Merriman and the Walker. Merriman calls Maggie's real name, and the farm girl screams; he instructs her never to try and take the Signs again, and drives her away.
Merriman explains to Will that two things have saved him; the real name of Maggie Barnes, and the road that they have used. The road is one of the Old Ways, trodden by the Old Ones over several millennia, and therefore protected from the powers of the Dark. The Walker has been frozen in time; Merriman releases him and sends him to another time, believing that the old man needs peace. Whilst Merriman disappears, Will returns home, now with two of the Signs.
To be continued
- 1973, UK, Chatto & Windus, ISBN 0-7011-5017-3, Pub. Date: 1973, Hardcover
- 1973, US, NY Atheneum,
|Books in the Dark is Rising Sequence, by Susan Cooper|