The North Gate

The deep cold started on Christmas Eve of 1794, and ultimately lasted until late March, with a few temporary breaks, swiftly extinguished. At this time there was another great house to the North of Saturation Hall, built in the wild land beyond the Langstonedale boundary, and with access by only two routes, North, over the high summit of Langstonedale Chase, or South, via the North Road and through the Saturation Hall estate.

Few now know the name of this long-gone pile, and though it is recorded in the Hall's records, neither Lady Jasmine nor any of the household will ever speak its true name aloud. Much newer than the Langstonedale house, it was generally referred to as just "the New Hall", and had been built from scratch just thirty years previously by newcomers to the area, a rich family from the South who sought to take advantage of the peace and prosperity England then enjoyed to build a grand country manor without the need for the walled and protected estates that the older houses held about themselves for protection. Though perhaps if they'd listened to some of those who had dwelt on the Langstonedale northern boundary, hard against the wild lands of the Chase above, they would have realised that more than brigands were kept out by high walls and manned gates.

For thirty years the denizens of the New Hall seemed to prosper, the family grew in size, and their wealth, measured by the luxury goods and fine furniture for their grand house, which they had shipped up the Langstonedale road and happily paid double the asked tolls on, soon clearly rivalled that of the established landowners. Of course there were occasional rumours of dark deeds and unsavoury goings on, but the same could be said of most great families if you were the kind to listen to rumour, and under the fourth Lord Langstonedale, who'd succeeded his distinguished father just a few years earlier, all the folk of the estate were encouraged to take an interest in the fast developing new sciences, in engineering, and in practical things, and banish rumour and superstition to tales for children.

That belief in the power of progress would be shattered forever by the events of late January of 1795.

There had been odd rumours of strange goings on at the New Hall ever since it was built, but those mutterings grew considerably in frequency and volume over the Christmas holiday that year, and persisted into the bitter January, despite the freezing cold which enveloped the district and made all communications difficult. Nevertheless, it had been the practise ever since the New Hall was occupied to leave both the North Gate, and the Moss Gate, standing open to allow the residents of the New Hall free passage over Langstonedale land, Lord Langstonedale trusting his neighbours to pay their fair share towards the upkeep of the roads in return, something in which his trust had that far been justified.

And so it didn't seem so very strange when, on the last day of January, the eldest son of the New Hall family came riding down the North Road on a great black charger, accompanied by several mounted retainers, and as dusk fell, rode out via the Moss Gate and vanished into the lands beyond. Alarm soon spread however when the horsemen returned, in the dead of night, riding like the wind and each one having a bound bundle cast across his mount, bundles that were clearly human, farm girls from the lower valleys seized and taken hostage against their will by young men with darker fates than just lust on their minds.

The Western gatekeeper saw the party gallop onto the estate land and instantly knew something was amiss. He scribbled a hasty note and released a homing pigeon to warn the Hall. From the Moss Gate the riders had to take a long loop southwards before swinging north-north-west, in order to cross the river at the old stone bridge. The bird of course flew direct, and so Lord Langstonedale, his huntsman, and his young wife's French groom, a horseman of consummate skill, were already a-saddle when the New Hall party galloped past the Hall and took the North Road.

Lord Langstonedale gave chase, and ordered the huntsman to blow the warning horn as he rode, to signal to the North Gatekeeper to bar the way at the boundary.

The two groups thundered along the North Road, horseshoes flashing sparks from the surface in the dark beneath the moonlight, the moon then being just four days from full. The Langstonedale horses, grain fed and superbly looked after, were fast, but the New Hall party was faster and slowly drew away from their pursuers. The Northern gatekeeper heard the distant commotion and his lordship's hunting horn, and realising something serious was afoot, he set to closing the gates, a task made harder by the deep accumulation of ice and packed snow. He managed to close the right hand gate, and was struggling to close the left, when the New Hall horsemen exploded onto the scene and brutally rode him down, leaving his lifeless body, dead, in the centre of the road.

Seconds later Lord Langstonedale's party burst upon the scene, the lord himself pulling up to attend his retainer, while the groom rode on through the gates thrown open by the force of the earlier horesemen.

And then the dark forces that the denizens of the New Hall had summoned revealed themselves, as something huge and hideous stepped out of the darkness onto the road, lifted the galloping horse carrying the groom clean off the ground, and sent him hurtling back through the air, to land with a crash, dead, through the gates once more.

At that Lord Langstonedale himself slammed the gates shut and locked them, realising that to send anyone else beyond the estate's edge before dawn would be to condemn them to a hideous death for no gain, he sent the huntsman back, with the dead gatekeeper's wife and child, to rouse the household and prepare a search party to pass beyond the gates once day dawned. He then held station himself, standing at the gates, keys in his hands, denying passage to anything that might seek entry from the North. He stood there three hours alone, and never after told anyone what he saw, but those who knew him swore he aged twenty years in that single night.

By three o'clock in the morning the search party from the Hall began to reach the North Gate, including Lady Langstonedale who brought with her both swords and pistols, and took up station with her husband, warding the gates.

Their plan was to sally North once dawn broke and find what had become of the riders and their victims, however at four o'clock the gathering hunters became aware of an orange glow, faint at first but rapidly growing, in the distance beyond the locked gates. New Hall was afire! Not wanting to loose any more of their people to whatever lurked in the darkness, Lord and Lady Langstonedale kept the gates locked, standing grimly and watching as a vast inferno roared into the darkness a few miles beyond the gates, and indeed, occasional huge creatures, unearthly, things from dread nightmares were seen, caught momentarily in silhouette by the distant fire.

Eventually, false dawn touched the eastern sky with colour, while the distant fire blazed on, and then began to slowly die back. Once the growing light had risen enough to allow a good lookout to be kept, the Lord and Lady finally unlocked the gates once more, and the hunting party, bunched together for mutual protection and bristling with weapons, set out on the North Road.

What they found where the New Hall had been was a horror beyond description. The house had indeed burned to the ground, and seemingly had exploded too, as not a single stone remained standing upon another. The ground about the ruin, which had been a manicured formal garden, was a blasted ruin of seemingly bottomless quagmire, a swamp from whose clutching embrace several members of the hunting party had to be pulled by their peers. Beyond the wreckage of the house was nothing but endless swamp which no member of the party could find a path through, the North Road itself seemed to have sunk into the morass without trace. Of the fugitive horsemen, their stolen farm maids, their horses, and the strange beasts from the night, there was no trace.

The hunting party returned to Langstonedale land, and once everyone was back and accounted for, Lord Langstonedale locked the North Gates once more, adding padlocked chains for good measure, and gave orders that none from the estate were to set foot beyond the Northern Boundary alone, or at night.

To this day those gates have never been opened since, and every year the Lord or Lady of the estate makes his or her way, in daylight, along the ruins of the North Road, to remember the fallen, of the estate and off it, and to give thanks for the protections that even now keep evil things from crossing the Langstonedale border.

Occasionally a particularly brave or reckless explorer will venture forth, in daylight at least, for there is still an old iron door that can be opened to give access through the North Wall, all have reported that now there is nothing but an endless, quaking, gurgling quagmire, all trace of both New Hall and the old North Road have sunk without trace.

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