Extract Part 5 of LEAP OF FAITH
Extract 4 was put on my blog this morning and all previos extracts are still available on my blog still available.
Part 5 takes you part way through chapter 3. I'll hopefully be posting parts twice a day up to the end of chapter 3 at least and maybe beyond.
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Cellars, Towers and Vicars
“Tersh,” Neets spoke quietly, “you remember when we turned up in the Sheriff of Nottingham’s dungeons and were in pitch darkness with the skeletons?”
“Yes, looking for his bloody cat,” I whispered back. “Why?”
“You don’t think we’ve landed back there, do you? Wherever we are has a tremendously unlit dungeonish feel.” Unita bumped into me blindly coming the other way and gave an ear-splitting screech before recognizing me by touch and my own scream.
“Where’s Smollett, Neets?” My heart had returned to something like normal speed. “Come to that, where’s Bryn?”
“Damn!” said a Welsh voice from floor level. “I know I dropped it somewhere round here.” There was the sound of scrabbling and scratching. “You could help me, unless you’re too proud and ladylike to get your hands and knees dirty where you come from? Oh, I forgot you were both born in Camelot.” There was more mumbling and then a grunt of satisfaction. “Got it. You can stay where you are, your highnesses. I’ve got everything in hand.” After several seconds there was a sudden searing flash of light, which soon dimmed down to the guttering glow of a candle stub.
“Bryn, is that you?” Neets called out stupidly.
“Of course it is. Who else would it be?” Bryn snapped at her. “And keep your voices down, or you’ll have my dad on our backs.”
“Are we in your cellar then, Bryn?” continued my very clever cousin Neets.
“Duh…of course we’re back in my father’s cellar,” he said trying to imitate Neets’s voice, but so badly that none of us noticed. “That was always the point, wasn’t it, to come back here?”
“Yes, of course,” Neets rallied. “It’s just I’ve never been here before and Tertia was only here for a few minutes before your father nearly caught her.” She looked around. “It’s just a room with some crates in it, like you said, Tersh. Dingy, dusty and cellary.”
“And one we need to get out of pretty darn quick,” I added, “or being found by the Black Knight may become an end-of-a-lifetime experience.”
Smollett was sitting in the corner of the cellar staring at nothing and having what sounded like a losing argument with himself. He also had a worryingly silly smile on his face that had nothing to do with humor. I prodded him with my foot. “We need your copper’s flashlight, Mr. Inspector. I know you’ve got one.” He didn’t look at me, but at least he stopped the mumbling. I dug around in his pockets and found a small pencil torch. “Are you okay Mr. Inspector?” I shone the light in his eyes and decided it was only a bit of delayed time-travel shock and there wasn’t much wrong that a good slap wouldn’t put right. Smollett leaped to his feet and pointed at the pulsating Portal archway, spluttering words that involved a deep knowledge of swearing and flecks of spittle, so I slapped him again for good measure. “Pull yourself together man. Anyone would think this was your first trip in time.”
“You hit me.” Smollett sounded almost normal, at least for a time-traveling copper. “I arrest you for kidnap and assaulting statues.”
“Shut up and follow me.” It was as good as a third slap.
“Fair enough, but can I have my flashlight back, please.” My Inspector seemed to have gotten over his temporal shock as I handed him his light, and he meekly followed me.
Neets had ignored my conversation with Smollett and was more interested in watching her Welsh boy wonder who in turn was more interested in listening for his evil father. Bryn walked up to the cellar door, but stopped just as he reached it. “We didn’t think. My dad’s bound to have locked the cellar after we left. What do we do now? Go back?”
I pushed past him with an exaggerated huff. “Boys!” I turned the handle and opened the door, which hardly gave a squeak. “People don’t think to lock doors after the event, only before.”
“I was about to do that,” Bryn protested. “Honest. Anyhow, that door always squeaks when my dad opens it and it certainly did when I tried it earlier, so how come it opened quiet as a mouse for you?”
“Because I open a door as though I really mean to open it.” I swung the door a few times to prove my point. “Not so slowly that it’s almost an apology. Doors are like boys; they appreciate authority. Remember that, Neets.” I walked out into the corridor linking the cellars, followed closely by Smollett who probably had no idea what to make of me, then made my way up the stairs leading to the ground floor.
“How on earth did you know it was open, Tersh?” Neets followed close behind, dragging a reluctant Bryn by the arm.
“I didn’t.” I was near the top of the stairs and was very slowly opening a door that presumably led to the hall. Squeak! “But I reckoned it was a good bet that Bryn’s dad wouldn’t have locked it. After all, we’d disappeared so what was the point. Never lock a door if you don’t really, really have to and especially if there isn’t an intelligent woman nearby to tell you to do it. It’s a man thing, Neets.” I paused as I looked up and down the hall to make sure the coast was clear. “And of course I guessed. But don’t tell Bryn, he’d be so disappointed. He thinks I’m wonderful!”
A fit of coughing and the sound of male shins being kicked told me that Neets and Bryn were just behind me. I smiled because Bryn wasn’t all that bad looking in a hunky sort of way if you forgot how thick he was. And he didn’t seem to mind that in theory Neets was more than a thousand years older than him. Perhaps he likes older women was my last thought before Neets caught up with me.
“All clear?” Neets was peering over my shoulder. “Bryn reckons nobody’ll be around at this time of day. All the servants will be out and his father doesn’t usually come into this part of the house unless he’s going to the cellars.”
I considered all this and shook my head. “What a load of bunk. How on earth can he know the time? Sundials in cellars are as useful as an ice frying pan. He’s trying to impress us just like any boy with a crush.”
“I can tell from the angle of the sun coming through the window,” said Bryn with what could have been a sneer. “It’s late morning, probably about a quarter to twelve, so all the servants will be in the Sunday morning service, as will my father. It’ll be finished soon.” He sounded as though he should have finished with a Nah! but he didn’t.
“What makes you think it’s Sunday, smart guy?” I pressed, peering out the cellar doorway into the hall. “It could be a Wednesday for all we know. Just because you and I left here on a Sunday doesn’t mean a thing as Marlene would tell you if she were here.”
“I know it’s Sunday,” Bryn said smugly, “no shadow of a doubt... smart girl!”
“There’s a calendar on the wall over there and it definitely says it’s Sunday,” added Neets meekly, pointing to the opposite wall. “Sorry, Tersh, but he’s right.”
“I knew that!” I said a little bit too loudly. “I just wanted to check. So, coast’s clear and we can go. I don’t know what you two are waiting for, but I’m parched. I’m going to find somewhere I can get a drink and something to eat, then it’s down to work with my Inspector. That is if you two have quite finished messing around trying to prove how clever you are.” I was in a huff, and as huffs go this was quite a good one.
“Master Bryn!” A door at the other end of the hall opened and a boy about Neets’s age stared at us in horror. “You’re not supposed to be here. I mean, I thought you were out at church.” He looked really flustered.
Bryn looked with equal horror at the boy. “David! I thought you’d be in church too.” He turned to Neets. “He’s our kitchen boy. Don’t worry, he’s dead stupid. He won’t say anything.”
“Will that be two extra guests for Sunday lunch then, master Bryn?” asked the stupid kitchen boy with what seemed to me to be a most sensible question. I could have devoured a good roast in minutes.
Bryn put a finger to his lips. “Shush, David. This is a secret and you mustn’t tell anyone we’ve been here. Nobody, you understand? Not even my father.” The boy’s face broke into a stupid grin.
Especially not his bloody father, I thought.
Before Neets could object, Bryn took her by the hand and marched through the hall and out the front door into the world of 1734. I trailed behind and in spite of myself couldn’t help feeling that for someone as cruel and nasty as Bryn’s father, this really was quite a nice house. It was airy and for some reason the word cheerful came to mind. Through the stained-glass windows the sun made colorful patterns on the floor and the whole effect looked intentional, as though someone had gone to a great deal of trouble to create a feeling of calm. It wasn’t the sort of place you would expect a murdering thug to want to live. Back in Camelot my original home had been an old farmhouse with no heating or running water and the place had been destroyed by the Black Knight soon after I joined Merlin. In comparison Bryn’s house was to die for and if his father had his way that’s probably what would happen. I hurried after the other two.
As we walked down the mansion’s driveway, I glanced to my left and saw a tall heavily built figure riding a horse as though he were fighting it rather than enjoying the experience. He stopped at the top of the road leading into the village and stared at us as we made our way down the lane towards the bay and even at that distance I could see the look on his face was one of disbelief and hatred, mostly hatred. I admit I wanted to hide as he pointed at me and sneered. He wiped the sweat off his forehead, pushed his long, lank hair out of his eyes and savagely pulled back his horse’s reins making it rear onto its hind legs, before galloping round a bend at the top of the road. The Black Knight had never liked horses. I grabbed Bryn’s arm, but by the time I had his attention his murderous, hairy thug of a father had disappeared.
We walked on, because there was nothing else to do under the circumstances and our arrival was no longer a secret. Splitting up always seemed to work in Hollywood, a place I thought one day would suit an outstanding talent such as mine, so I decided to take my inspector and explore the village, while Neets followed Bryn through the village towards the Salt House.
“We need to find a library if they have such a thing,” I said as Smollett fell into a copper’s stroll beside me. If he was still suffering from the horrors of time travel he wasn’t showing it and Bryn seemed to be handling the whole thing like a veteran. But then he had a father who was a seasoned traveler and that undoubtedly helped.
“Or we could have a look at the church archives,” Smollett suggested.
“Or we could look at the church archives,” I muttered. “I was just going to say that!” I hate people being one guess ahead of me when I’m on a guessing roll.
“In my spare time I’m a keen genealogist.” My Inspector added by way of explanation.
“I don’t care if you are a part-time doctor. We’re here to find out about people. I want to know when The Black Knight actually arrived and why he chose this place.”
Smollett shot me the look of a perplexed puppy, but remained silent.
The church was halfway up a hill leading out of the village and the building itself probably hadn’t changed for hundreds of years. The grass in the graveyard was kept tidy by a small flock of sheep; so much quieter than noisy mowers ruining a restful Sunday afternoon snooze. I banged on the church door.
“There’s no need to knock,” boomed a voice from behind us. I jumped a foot into the air beating Smollett by several inches and nearly knocking him out. “We’re always open to people who wish to visit for whatever reason. Many come here for our brass rubbings, others like to make a small donation towards the church restoration fund.” A small collection tin appeared miraculously out of nowhere and hovered under our noses. “On the other hand maybe you want to book my church for your wedding?” said the voice hopefully. “We haven’t had a good wedding for some months now. Though looking at you both...perhaps not.”
The vicar was seven-foot-six...well, at least six feet and had the body of a well-built gorilla. He was totally bald, without even eyebrows, though he did have a bushy beard that hid the lower part of his face. He had a ruddy complexion and the wicked grin of a man who enjoys life and knows he shouldn’t. Even his clothes weren’t those of a vicar and he looked as though he’d just returned from a long walk to the pub. With a smiled apology he leaned over me and pushed the doors open with what looked like the flick of a finger.
“Come on in,” said the vicar, his voice louder than a megaphone and very, very Welsh, “come on in and tell me how I can assist you.” He led the way inside and sat on a pew in the small church’s central nave. “I’m sorry I can’t offer you anything more comfortable, but as you can see this is hardly a cathedral and we have very few amenities. Though of course a donation...” The tin appeared again and was rattled suggestively. Smollett automatically reached into his pocket, but mumbled an apology as he pulled out a handkerchief and blew his nose. The tin disappeared and we sat down. “Please excuse my clothes.” He must have seen me looking at his lack of vicarish attire. “I went for a walk after the morning service to clear my head.”
“Vicar, we need your help.” I peered closer at the bald gorilla. He looked vaguely familiar. “I take it you are the vicar? You can’t be too sure these days...or any days for that matter.”
“I know what you mean,” said the bearded giant. “It’s amazing the sort of people you get in here. I see all manner of confounding things and hear all kinds of weird stories. And now I hope I’m going to hear yours.” He crossed his legs, folded his arms, and leaned back in his chair with a comfortable smile. Had there been a cup of tea nearby he would have sipped from it, though probably not with his arms folded. “I’m waiting.”
The giant of a man stared at me for a full half-minute as though trying to come to some weighty decision, then threw back his head and laughed. Tears were wiped away with a small lace hanky that I couldn’t help feeling looked rather out of place when used by such a powerful man, and in a church.
“This?” The vicar saw where I was staring and held up the lace handkerchief which had the initials GP monogrammed in one corner. “Oh, I know it looks strange, but it was a present from an old friend of mine and I suppose it has sentimental value. Let’s face it, as a vicar I don’t have many material possessions and it’s only for a bit of show.” He put the handkerchief away with a flourish.
“Thank you, Mr. Vicar.”
“Call me Illtydd. Named after the saint.”
“Ok. Ill Ted,” I said. “Sorry to hear you’re not feeling well. Anyway my friend here is very much into local history.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so,” Ted the vicar offered with enthusiasm. “I’ve been here now for more years than I care to remember and have made a special study of the village’s history. What would you like to know? Go on, ask me anything.” Ted closed his eyes and waited with an I know it all, test me, test me smug look on his face.
“Well, Mr. Ted,” I said it very quietly because we were in a church. “I want to know everything about a certain Mr. Lewis. I believe he’s a smuggler amongst other things. My friend on the other hand,” I pointed to the inspector trying to involve him somehow, “is interested in architecture.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” mused Ted. “The name Lewis is very familiar to me, after all it’s one of the most common names in Wales and I also happen to be a Lewis. There’s one though that might interest you. He’s a nasty piece of work; a notorious smuggler, murderer, and ship wrecker by all accounts.” I looked at my Inspector triumphantly and mouthed the words our Black Knight. “As for architecture, come with me and I’ll show you what we have from an ideal viewpoint.”
Motioning us to follow, Ted strode towards the far end of the church and opened a small door that allowed one very small person to enter at a time. Even I had to bend down to avoid cracking my skull, which meant that Ted looked like a cork desperate to get back into a bottle.
The tower was no more than forty-feet high, but because the church was on on views by now. I walked to the tower’s low wall from where I could see every building in the village itself and for a mile either side on the coast. Ted joined me while Smollett hung back by the entrance to the spiral staircase and pretended to scan the horizon, crouched down with eyes closed.
“I take it your friend doesn’t like heights,” observed Ted. “It’s going to make it difficult showing him the important buildings he wants to see.”
“Never mind him.” I gave Smollett the most fleeting of glances and tugged at Ted’s sleeve. “He’ll be fine. Tell me all about what’s down there and I’ll fill him in later.” In more ways than one, I thought. A fat lot of good Smollett was proving as the professional lead detective. “So what have we got?” I hoisted myself onto the wall and leaned on my arms to get a better view.
“Do be careful.” Ted put a hand on my shoulder. “Accidents happen and we’ve had one or two people fall from up here in the past.”
“It’s amazing,” I said, totally ignoring the warning. “The way it’s all laid out like a map. You almost feel you could fly.”
“That’s the temptation,” said Ted tightening his grip on my shoulder. “Please resist it if you can.”
“I’m fine thanks.” I shrugged off his hand because I had the strangest feeling it was either there to hold me back or push me.