Two carved stone heads had been discovered near Hadrian’s Wall. The woman – an eminent Celtic scholar – took an immediate, instinctive dislike to them; she left them in the box they had been sent in, which she put in her study. She planned to have them geologically analysed and then returned as soon as possible to the North.
A night or two after the heads arrived she woke suddenly at 2 a.m., deeply frightened and very cold. She looked towards the door and by the corridor light glimpsed a tall figure slipping out of the room. Her impression was of a creature dark like a shadow, part animal and part man. It walked on padded feet. She could hear the click of its claws. As if by some irresistible force she felt compelled to follow it.
She heard it going downstairs and then saw it again, moving along the corridor that led to the kitchen; but now she was too terrified to go on. She went back upstairs and woke her husband. He searched the house, but found nothing. They decided that she must have been having a nightmare, and to say nothing about it.
Examination of the heads showed that they were carved from Northumbrian stone, perhaps during the Romano-British period. It was thought that they may have come from a military shrine or temple of the Celtic legionaries who made up a large part of the Roman garrison on Hadrian’s Wall. In which case they could have been guardians outside the shrine of Maponus, a local hunting god. Similar carvings have been found all over Europe. The Celts were head-hunters. For them, severed human heads had magical properties. The heads of enemies were buried under altars, nailed to the gateposts of hill-forts or thrown into wells to convey fertility or ward off evil spirits. Similar powers were vested in the stylised stone heads.
The heads went back to the museum.
She was never to be sure whether the creature had gone back with them.
Illustration: Mórrígan by André Koehne (source: Wickimedia Commons). Mórrígan is a death goddess from Irish mythology. Her most popular embodiment is as a crow, in which form she will fly above the battlefield to take a bird’s eye view.