1926. On covert assignment in southern Arabia, Donald Ffellowes, a dashing, resourceful young artilleryman recruited by British intelligence, unearths a planned uprising against His Majesty’s forces in Aden. His cover blown, he engages in a heated gunfight with a lethal band of Arab insurgents and only just manages a death-defying escape. Together with his Sudanese companion, Moussa wad Helu, he is forced to flee along the coast into a forbidden desert region.
As they travel deeper into this unsettling wasteland, Ffellowes and Moussa begin to encounter unusual signs of life; apparently harmless. By nightfall, however, Moussa has become increasingly fearful, recalling legends from the time of King Solomon, when this 'cursed' place was said to be the dominion of demons ...
Not for the first time in Ffellowes’ life the stuff of shadowy myth and folklore becomes terrifyingly all too real when, only a short distance from a British rescue vessel, he and Moussa are stalked then attacked by a bloodcurdling band of preternaturally strong, lizard-like humanoids. The legendary demons of which Moussa spoke or some ghoulish leftover race from the prehistoric past?
After a white-knuckle chase and frantic battle, Ffellowes and Moussa finally escape to sea, little knowing that they have not seen the last of the macabre creatures. Trapped below decks while the rest of the crew, including Moussa, is viciously slaughtered by his inhuman pursuers, Ffellowes has little time to reflect on his uncanny ability to encounter – perhaps even to attract – the deadly forces of the supernatural if he is to live to tell the tale …
Many years later, in a gentlemen’s club in New York, a bluff, retired British brigadier regales his companions with incredible accounts of his bizarre, spine-chilling adventures. Old Donald Ffellowes is indisputably a brilliant raconteur but his incredible yarns of derring-do in the far-flung reaches of the globe always seem too fantastic to be true, despite tantalising evidence to the contrary, such as the vicious-looking claw marks on his arm, apparently sustained some forty years earlier during one remarkably chilling encounter in Arabia.
On this particular night, however, Ffellowes’ narrative takes a deeply personal turn and it becomes apparent that he has acquired more than mere physical scars in the course of his long career. The events of the dark, momentous tale that he begins to unravel have haunted him to such a degree that the very character of the man now stands as conclusive proof of his thrilling, yet tragic words …
1933. Assigned to the British embassy in Washington during the time of the Great Depression, Ffellowes has made the acquaintance of a flamboyant, extremely wealthy young man named Canler Waldron, heir to the estate of one of the oldest families in the United States. When he is invited to the breathtaking Waldron estate during hunting season Ffellowes is only too happy to accept, knowing that the invite will re-unite him with Waldron’s beautiful sister, Betty.
Soon after, Ffellowes is confronted by a private investigator on the trail of a missing Englishman who, like Ffellowes, had been based in the Washington area. Despite Ffellowes’ assertion that he could not possibly have known the man, the investigator is oddly persistent in his suggestion that they may be linked in some way.
Nevertheless, Ffellowes continues his journey to the Waldron estate. Located in a remote valley at the foot of the Appalachian range, this isolated, sprawling region is a wild, staggeringly beautiful landscape for fox hunting; and not a bad spot to romance a stunning young woman like Betty Waldron. Ffellowes' reverie is abruptly shattered, however, when he is almost run off the road by one of the many poor folk from outside the valley, possessed – unsurprisingly in these times of great hardship – of a deep resentment towards the swaggering affluence of the Waldrons. Despite this open aggression, Ffellowes risks his life to save the old man when his farm truck goes violently out of control on a perilous mountain road.
At dusk, Ffellowes finally reaches the breathtaking Waldron mansion, and Betty. Elegant as royalty, achingly lovely – and yet not the woman he remembers: distant now, sad and haunted; the palpable tension that exists between her and her brother unsettles Ffellowes. Orphaned more than a year earlier, Canler Waldron has assumed control of all family matters to the almost total exclusion of his sister.
To make matters worse, Canler has begun to display an unusual, almost sneering attitude towards Ffellowes. Waldron is fiercely proud of his ancient Irish ancestry and Ffellowes is virtually the archetypal Englishman – their very heritage sets both men apart as ancient enemies.
At dinner, conversation turns to politics and history. Scathing of his late father’s unwillingness to advance his family’s position within the country’s elite, Waldron gloatingly reveals his connection to a cabal of highly influential plutocrats who are vehemently opposed to the government’s radical new economic measures to combat the Depression.
Dismissing Ffellowes’ suggestion of any actual plot to depose the President by military coup or otherwise, Waldron nevertheless leaves no doubt that he is hell-bent on restoring his family name to prominence. Whatever that truly means …
As the glorious autumn days pass in thrilling foxhunts and extravagant evening gatherings, Ffellowes finds himself falling in love with Betty in increasingly complicated and ominous circumstances. Revealing her concerns over Canler's secret plans, Betty tells Ffellowes of her brother’s conflict with their father over certain archaic family traditions in the months prior to the mysterious death of both parents, and the fact that she now feels strangely controlled by him.
The private investigator from Washington makes an unexpected re-appearance, revealing to Ffellowes that the missing Englishman he has been tracking was, significantly, a guest of the Waldrons at exactly this same time the previous year. As far as the authorities are concerned, however, the case is now closed – the influence of the Waldron name having seen to that.
As if this were not enough in itself to trouble Ffellowes, the attitude of the Waldrons is becoming increasingly cold and unfriendly, and his mounting sense of unease does not lessen when he realises there is a secret plateau behind the Waldron mansion, its true purpose shrouded in mystery.
Despite her deep feelings for Ffellowes, Betty has begun to grow strangely distant. Though she is not conscious of it, a mysterious force is gradually exerting its insidious influence over her, awakening something very old that has long lain dormant in the women of her lineage …
As the end of October draws ever closer, the people from outside the valley grow increasingly anxious, knowing only too well – through generations of bitter experience – that there is more to fear and hate about the Waldrons than mere wealth and privilege. Though an armed assault has long been planned against the Waldron estate, a splinter faction grows impatient and seizes the opportunity to assassinate one of the two Waldron heirs. Betty is almost killed in the attack, saved only by the supernatural force that now partially controls her, and by Ffellowes’ desperate intervention at the last minute.
Though physically unharmed, the incident leaves Betty in a stupor, seemingly unable even to recognise Ffellowes. Furious, Ffellowes confronts Canler, demanding to know what is really going on. He is met only with a curious invitation: to remain one last night at the Waldron mansion as guest of honour at a very special celebration. Ffellowes knows, as Waldron does, that he has no choice but to accept …
Though he is determined to remove Betty from any further danger, Ffellowes must now consider the fact that the incredible events of his own life may pose a greater threat to her safety, no matter where he might take her. Whether blinded by his love for her or haunted by guilt over the tragedies he has witnessed in the course of his many dark adventures, he does not consider the fact that, however unwittingly, it may be Betty who is leading him to his doom …
That evening, during Waldron’s ‘special celebration’, the true nature of this sinister family is finally revealed and Ffellowes finds himself trapped in the midst of a terrifying, grisly ceremony older than recorded history.
As the armed forces from outside the valley begin to move against the Waldron mansion, Ffellowes is dragged to the secret plateau behind the house. There, the Waldrons and their various servants have transformed themselves into a semblance of their most ancient ancestors, cavorting by the light of bone-fires in meticulously reconstructed prehistoric burial grounds. Conversing now in a strange, ancient language, Waldron and Betty declare themselves the heirs of the mythic Celtic race known as the Tuatha de Danaan and offer Ffellowes as sacrifice to Samhain, Lord of Death.
Summoning an evil force from beyond, Waldron gloats as Ffellowes is lashed and bound to his horse then driven into the shadowy depths of the valley by merciless masked riders in a recreation of the pagan ‘Wild Hunt’ of centuries past. He must face death either by their spears or by the re-animated horror that is ‘the Dead Horse’.
From within a towering, skull-shaped tumulus of black rock in a chasm at the foot of the mountains the awesome, spectral forms of the Tuatha de Danaan emerge, summoned to celebrate the marriage of Betty’s almighty alter ego, the Morrigu, Priestess and Bride of the Dead, to the greatest of their gods, the fearsome Dagda. This union will return the Old Ways and with it, the supernatural powers Waldron needs to control the new order that will arise when the government is overthrown by the military forces of the dissident elite. When that happens, the true Waldron dynasty, defeated millennia ago in their ancient homeland and exiled ever since to the netherworld, will finally be restored to its rightful position in an age that no longer possesses the means to stop them.
But before the ceremony can be completed, a servant loyal to Betty finds a way to break the spell that controls her and she flees to aid Ffellowes just as the army from outside the valley storms the plateau behind the house and commences a desperate battle with the Waldrons and their otherworldly allies.
Meantime, in the dark heart of the valley, Ffellowes severs his bonds and despatches his murderous pursuers with makeshift weapons. Finally re-united with Betty, he makes a heroic stand against the dreaded ‘Dead Horse’. But only Betty can truly defeat it if Ffellowes is to survive to confront Canler.
In a final, deadly reckoning, Waldron, Betty and Ffellowes must each sacrifice that which they hold most dear – unlimited power, life, and love itself …