How often do I write that? Whatever...
Now you're here, you may be wondering what this is all about.
Well, this is how it works, and it is very simple. Every blog involved in the 'hop' is hosting one story from the The Secrets of Drakon Castle anthology (published by Thorstruck Press). For each blog site you visit, you get the opportunity to read one story from the collection. If you want to continue reading more stories - there are 11 in total - you have a choice. Either click the link to the next blog in the tour which will be available tomorrow, or follow the link to Amazon Kindlestore and purchase the anthology in its entirety (links at the bottom of the page). Only readers who follow each blog link will read every story for free. It's up to you.
This is my contribution...
THE FIDDLER’S SOUL
Richard Rhys Jones
With a rush of steam and a determined squeal of brakes, the locomotive slowed to a gradual stop. Picking up his suitcase and hat Jacob Carpenter, chief sports reporter of the Chester Courier, nodded his farewell to the matronly woman who’d stared disapprovingly at him since Prestatyn, and left the carriage.
The sign said Old Colwyn, and except for the stationmaster waving his flag and blowing his whistle, the place was empty, which was mildly annoying as he had no idea where he was meant to be going.
There was an open fenced area next to the station which Jacob took to be the car park, but it was empty save for an old man sitting on a bench next to the entrance, with a baleful looking Irish Setter. He smiled and bid the old man good day, which elicited a distrustful scowl and curt nod.
“I hate to interrupt,” he said, ignoring the low growl coming from the dog, “But I’m waiting for Mister Friedhelm von Pilke, do you know of him?”
The old man huffed and bent down to stroke his hound’s head, answering, “The Kraut? Now there’s a rum fellow if ever there was one, making a nuisance of himself on my land, and at all hours!” The scowl after he’d spoken told Jacob everything he needed to know about Herr von Pilke’s relations with his neighbours, and the old man’s last words on the matter made it final. “If I was you I’d stay away from the likes of him, and all his cronies. Bloody Germans! And no, I’ve not seen him. Good day, sir!”
Jacob nodded and turned away before the old goat had thoughts of setting his increasingly irate dog on him. Where the hell is he? he wondered, impatience clawing like a vexed cat.
He was a tad annoyed with himself for being dragged into what would probably turn out to be a wild goose chase, and being made to wait for his lift irritated him all the more. He’d had his doubts when he first opened the invitation.
Signed by a Herr Friedhelm von Pilke, (whose name alone was enough to kick off alarm bells and fire up a reckless interest), it cordially invited him to ’attend a gathering of mystics and mediums at Castle Drakon, and witness a paranormal phenomenon never before seen by man’.
His editor, and bankroller when it came to expenses, told him to forget it. “The Chester Courier isn’t a London Daily,” he said. “It’s a serious newspaper, and we don’t want any more dubious reporting about ghosts and the like, not after last time.”
Jacob accepted this with good grace. The editor was right; he was on very thin ice professionally. He’d broken a story the year before about a haunted chapel, which turned out to be a childish hoax, a very embarrassing childish hoax. The paper stood by him, but the stern looks and head shaking from the owner, and his demotion to the sports desk, made it clear where he now stood in the pecking order. However, Jacob’s interest was pricked and the stylish invitation gnawed at him until he knew he had to find out more. Finally he rang the castle, impressed it had its own telephone number, and spoke to the originator of the letter, Herr von Pilke himself.
“Ah, Mr. Carpenter, thank you for calling,” he thundered jovially down the phone.
“Yes, about this letter Herr von Pilke. What exactly is it all about?”
“Yes, well it’s exactly as it states,” he answered, a mere trace of his German ancestry in his accent.
“Everything’s in order, you’ll sleep here at the castle and then we’ll show you what we want you to see,” Von Pilke answered benignly. “Then you can write about us and make us famous!” He fog-horned a laugh down the phone and Carpenter was instantly accosted by an image of a jolly Bavarian, wearing leather shorts and slapping his thighs with mirth.
“Okay Mr. Pilke, I’ll get back to you,” he’d answered, though the truth of the matter was he’d already decided he was going.
Booking himself the time off, to the muttering chagrin of his editor who wanted him to cover the horse racing that weekend, he bought a ticket and set about prostituting himself to find a buyer for the story. Journalism may be his calling, but the hours and pay were lousy and he had to make ends meet.
Six weeks later, here he was in Old Colwyn waiting for his lift, with a contract in his back pocket for the exclusive rights to the story from Spiritual Weekly.
The low drone of a far off motor broke his reverie and he looked up to see a car racing down the tight road towards him, trailing a hurricane of dust in its wake. Jacob cast a glance at the old man, who caught his eye.
Shaking his head derisively he snarled “Bloody Hun! They killed my son at Wipers. You’re not seriously going up there with him, are you?”
Jacob shrugged apologetically, “I’m afraid so.” Then said as an afterthought, “Sorry,” which sounded lame even to him.
The driver started honking his horn and waving out of the window, which made Jacob smile at the childish exuberance. Stealing another glance at the old man, he quietly chuckled to himself at the sight of him resolutely ignoring the vanilla Mercedes as it pulled up in front of them.
The passenger door opened and a heavy, dark haired man, in a ridiculously fashionable but very tight bright yellow checkered suit leant across to speak over the thump of the idling engine.
“Mr. Carpenter no doubt, please jump in, there's a stout fellow,” he said, his German accent dancing at the back of his tongue. Leaning further across the passenger seat he shouted as if talking to a deaf uncle, “Good morning Major, I hope you’re well today?”
Without looking at him, the old man articulated, “Fuck off Jerry, there’s a good fellow.” Carpenter raised an amused eyebrow and the man in the car returned it. “Come on Mr. Carpenter, they’re all waiting to see you.”
Von Pilke introduced himself as soon as Jacob sat down.
“Friedhelm von Pilke,” he said, beaming a decidedly wolfish smile. “I’m so glad you could make it Mr. Carpenter, so glad. We all are actually.”
Nodding and taking the offered hand, Jacob said, “I hope all the locals aren’t like the major?”
“Well, let’s just say I’m not the most popular man in the village, so I generally keep myself to myself. It’s the war you see, they’ll never forgive me for it. And the real joke is I wasn’t even in Germany when it happened, I was travelling around Asia; India to be precise. They don’t realise I am in England to escape the Freikorps and all those right wing henchmen who are spoiling to fight anyone who is different. So I do hope you don’t have anything against being the guest of a German national?” He looked across and smiled to show he was being flippant, but it was papery thin and Jacob saw the concern behind the lightness.
Sitting back against the leather upholstery, Jacob took in the fixed smile, the tightly oiled black hair and large clown-like flower in his buttonhole. “In my book that’s all behind us. I don’t have a problem with Germany, or the Germans.” He smiled, adding, “And how could I pass up on the chance of seeing a paranormal phenomenon never before seen by man, Herr von Pilke?”
The German nodded and let loose his fog-horn laugh. Calming down and wiping tears of mirth from his eyes, he said, “No, of course not, what self respecting journalist could? And please call me Fritz, everyone else does.”
Jacob nodded, “Okay Fritz.”
After years of using it as a derogatory term for the enemy, the word seemed alien and unkind to him, “Call me Jake, most people call me that and I much prefer it to Jacob, it makes me sound so biblical and old.”
Another burst of wanton jocularity and then, as if on the flick of a switch, von Pilke turned serious. “Jake, we want to do something this weekend that might change your life. If you sell this properly it could make you a very rich man.”
“What are you planning?”
“Well, I’ll tell you but don’t be disappointed by how it sounds. We are all experts in our field, near scientists you could say, and we know what we’re doing. Firstly, you haven’t told anyone you’re here, have you?”
Jacob shook his head slowly, as it was partly true. He’d been in touch with Spiritual Weekly but he’d managed to keep the details down to a minimum, mainly due to his standing in the small press world and his cousin being the owner of the magazine. His cousin knew he was in north Wales, but he was in the dark as much as Jacob when it came to why he was there.
“Don’t try and sell me a hoax!” was his parting shot.
“Good, my wife Hypatia and myself, have assembled a group of mediums, spiritualists, and two witches and we plan to…” here he paused for effect. “We plan to raise the devil and reclaim a soul, and we’re going to film it.”
He sagged as he inwardly groaned in disappointment, a bloody séance.
Jacob gawped as they drove towards the castle. Situated in the woods on the side of a hill, overlooking the villages of Abergele and Llandulas, it looked out of the pages of the King Arthur saga. Its turrets and walls faced the sea and Jacob imagined it being a bastion against the Viking invaders of old, knowing all too well that over a thousand years lay between the Nordic invasion and the stronghold being built.
“Castle Drakon! Do you like it? It’s not mine, it belongs to my wife. I gave it to her for her last birthday,” Fritz said conversationally, as if discussing a sun lounger. “She always wanted a castle and this one was cheap.”
“It’s very impressive, way above my price range,” Jacob laughed.
“It belonged to one of the Welsh witches, Eleri Cadwaladar, whom I’d always admired from afar. She was being hounded by the taxman, so we stepped in and bought it off her. We visit now and then. My wife Hypatia loves Wales but doesn’t like the weather. When we do visit we stay here, and Eleri and her daughter look after its upkeep for us when we’re away. It’s a very cosy arrangement.”
“Drakon… is that Welsh?”
“Good grief no,” he guffawed. “My wife is Greek and she loves the classical characters from Greece’s history. We’ve always named our properties after them. Drako was the man who set down the first laws in ancient Athens, and Drakon is his German name; it‘s a tip of the hat to my long forgotten German identity. I feel more like a citizen of the world than one from a country with a propensity for war, industry, and social discipline. Hypatia plays along to keep me happy, she’s good like that. I’ll admit Eleri wasn’t really happy about the name, but for all intents and purposes it’s only called that two weeks a year when we visit, so there’s no harm done, eh? Besides, she should be happy with Drakon, I wanted to call it after an Indian God. Can you imagine Eleri’s face if I’d have called it Ganesha castle?” He slapped the steering wheel in hilarity and laughed excessively.
Jacob smiled noncommittally and nodded, asking, “The other guests … are they all mediums too, or have you promised exclusives to a couple more naive journalists like myself?” He laughed, almost hoping von Pilke had lied, to prove to himself this had not been a mistake.
“No Mr. Carpenter, you are our only guest. We wanted someone we knew we could trust, and your handling of the haunted chapel in Buckley showed us you’ve the right spiritual credentials for the job.”
Jacob nodded again, burying his frustration. He reckoned that bloody chapel in Buckley would follow him throughout his career.
They were waiting for him in the lounge. It was four o’clock on the dot when he entered the room and stopped the conversation dead.
Fritz broke the silence, “Come, tea is served. Let me introduce you to everyone.”
Jacob surveyed the gathered assembly. The ladies on a sofa around a small table filled with a fine bone china tea set; the men standing behind them at the window.
“My wife you’ve met of course,” Fritz said, indicating the lady on the extreme right of the group. She had introduced herself earlier as he was about to follow Fritz up to his room, speaking first in angry German to her husband and then gracing Jacob with a warm welcoming smile.
“Hypatia von Pilke, mistress of Castle Drakon and head of the family,” Fritz had said cynically from above them on the stairs.
“Nice to meet you, Mister Carpenter,” Hypatia said in accent free English, her hand outstretched in offering, and then whispered theatrically, “Fritz can be such an impolite boar when he wants to be.”
Jacob laughed dutifully as Hypatia brazenly ran her eyes over him. “I can see why he’d want to spirit you away,” she purred. Her gaze locked onto his as she held his hand tight and Jacob felt like a rabbit in a serpent’s stare.
Disconcerted, he cleared his throat and stuttered, “Er … nice to meet you, Frau von Pilke.” Wrestling his stare from her hypnotic noose he bowed slightly, eliciting an amused smile from the hostess, and turned to see Fritz smirking down at him.
Jacob reddened at the memory.
In the lounge Jacob nodded to her, “Frau von Pilke.” and she smiled chastely back. Fritz indicated the other four ladies seated around the tea set.
“Lady Avina Greystone, who sees auras and can read minds on good days,” he said, indicating a stately looking woman in a drab grey dress and a pair of small dark rimmed glasses. She looked the type of clichéd school mistress seen in all the Oscar Wilde plays, but the impression gave way like a bowing butler when she smiled. Her eyes twinkled like diamonds in coal and Jacob found himself warming to her immediately.
“A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Carpenter,” she said looking above his head. “Strange, I don’t see your aura, and that only happens under unusual circumstances or with unusual people. Which one do you think is the case today?”
Letting out a polite titter, Fritz said, “I think this whole weekend is unusual Avina, don’t you?”
“Quite,” she said, wrinkling her nose and giving a twee smile.
Next to Lady Greystone, a young woman who would look more at home in a Paris fashion show than a castle in Wales lounged provocatively, visibly bored by his introduction. Blonde, dark eyed, her hair cut modishly close, her long stockinged legs stretched out from a shapeless flapper dress. Jacob let the twinge of desire run its course as he took her in, and then discarded it.
He read her like a book having seen this type of woman a thousand times over in the VIP tents of Aintree and Chester; jaded, spoilt, and revered for her looks. Jacob watched as she casually exhaled cigarette smoke, causing Lady Greystone to cough politely, and disliked her already.
“Miss Charlotte Forbes,” von Pilke said, grinning at her like a salesman winning a transaction. “Direct from Paris,” (of course, Jacob inwardly sighed), “where she once saw the ghost of Charles Worth, the famous British designer, and is now here in my humble abode to help in our endeavours.”
“Nice to meet you,” Jacob offered, not expecting a reply. She did not disappoint.
His gaze drifted to the next girl in the row. He noticed her as he entered the room and it was not just the black lace covering her eyes that attracted his attention.
“Miss Jasmine Page, Mr. Carpenter,” Fritz said, looking at her and almost drooling. “Miss Page wears a mask…”
“Because Miss Page is blind,” the young lady finished for him, turning her birdlike head in their direction. Slender shoulders tapered off to arms that poked out of her dress like swan’s necks. Her fingers, long and artistic, cupped the delicate bone china like a child holding an egg, and only the crass intrusion of the lace blindfold gave any hint Miss Page was anything but one hundred percent perfect.
“Very pleased to meet you, Miss Page,” Jacob said warmly, to the obvious amusement of the socialite sitting next to her.
“And I’m pleased to make your acquaintance as well, Mr. Carpenter,” she answered, and Jacob felt a tingle in his stomach as she smiled.
Their moment was interrupted by an elderly lady next to her. “Now hush now, the young man will be introduced to us soon!” she said, speaking to another woman who looked to be in her sixties, as if she were a naughty schoolgirl. Though clearly older than everyone else in the room, she held her back straight and her bearing reminded him of a childless aunt at Christmas, wondering if her nieces and nephews had bought her anything while the presents are being handed out, stoically ready for any disappointment. Large boned, business-like and obviously very tall, she fussed over her younger neighbour, who stared silently at him, wide eyed and smiling, oblivious to her ministrations.
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Carpenter,” she apologised. “But Mair has been looking forward to seeing you, ever since your article about the haunted chapel in Buckley, and now you’re here I can hardly control her.”
Jacob groaned at the thought of that specific episode in his career and then looked to Fritz to make the introduction.
“Mr. Carpenter, may I introduce Mrs. Eleri Cadwaladar and her daughter Mrs. Mair Sayer.”
Jacob bowed and Mair giggled coyly. The older woman leant forward and whispered theatrically with one hand held up to hide her lips, “She hasn’t been the same since her husband passed, but she’s harmless,” and then to her daughter, “Don’t stare please Mair, it’s unsettling Mr. Carpenter, and very bad manners.”
Her daughter, who had now cocked her head like a questioning hound, ignored her and continued smiling at Jacob. His focus strayed towards Fritz, who tapped the side of his head discreetly, saying, “Mrs. Cadwaladar kindly lets us use the castle every now and then, which I think you’ll agree when I tell you everything, is perfect for what we need in privacy and location.”
Biting back the question of ownership Jacob smiled at Mair as she gazed at him, and then turned to the two tall gentlemen standing behind the ladies. Both wore an expression of bemused tolerance.
Fritz took his cue, “Mr. Jasper P. Toven, our guest from across the great pond who has studied the paranormal and written no less than twelve books on the subject.”
The slightly shorter of the two nodded and said, “Mr. Carpenter.”
“And Mr. Charles Maybury-Rudd, our resident war hero. Charles was at Verdun as liaison officer between the French and British, where he was mentioned in dispatches.” His voice dropped and he added in almost hushed tones, “He also saw the souls of recently deceased soldiers wandering the battlefield, lost and calling for their friends and family, all very tragic.”
The second man nodded and Fritz continued, “Now the introductions are over I think I’ll tell Jake here about the rules of the club and what we hope to achieve this weekend.”
“Hear hear,” Maybury-Rudd said, raising his tea cup.
“Jake, the first rule of our little society is that we’re all on first name terms. No ifs and buts, I’m Fritz, my wife is Hypatia, Charles is Charles, you get the idea right?”
Jacob nodded, that was fine with him. He despised pointless formality when addressing each other in public places. He was an orphan who had worked hard to achieve what he had, however little that may be, and felt as uncomfortable among rigid socialites as a virgin at an orgy.
Fritz registered the nod and continued. “The aim of this weekend is to retrieve a soul from the realm of Satan, an innocent man who foolishly took a bet, and paid for losing it with his soul.” He paused for effect and scanned his audience.
The men, Hypatia, and the jaded Miss Forbes watched him, but showed no emotion. Lady Greystone’s eyes flashed with the light of resolve and the elderly Eleri and her daughter followed him intently, like children hearing a story for the first time; only Miss Page had not changed her position on the sofa. She sat motionless, her cup held in both hands, listening and looking straight ahead.
Fritz continued, “In 1872, John Cadwaladar, Eleri’s husband, took on a wager he would spend a night in the Devil’s Cave, not far from here in Llandulas. The Devil’s Cave is a local attraction and it has its own legend and folklore, but for now we’ll stick with the story that interests us. John was famous locally for his talents with the fiddle, but like every talented musician he had his detractors.”
“That bloody Hugh Jones was the one!” Mair suddenly shouted, breaking the tension that had built up.
Jacob was slightly taken aback by the outburst but Fritz took it in his stride and smiled kindly at her.
“Yes, quite Mair, Hugh Jones,” he smiled indulgently. “Anyway, John had been playing his fiddle in the Valentine Inn, a favoured public house in the village, when the blackguard Hugh Jones,” (he looked at Mair), “fed up with the music, made John a bet. He wagered John and his dog, Paddy, wouldn’t go up to the Devil’s Cave and play his fiddle in there, deep inside it, for a whole night. John, always up for a challenge, took the wager.”
“Why the dog though?” Jacob asked.
“The dog? Well, John was blind; an accident at the quarry blinded him, stone shards in his eyes apparently?” He looked to Eleri who nodded grimly.
“Anyway,” Fritz continued, “Paddy wasn’t just a pet, Paddy was his primary sense, his eyesight. You see, after the accident John had only his good wife Eleri to aid him and she now had to go out and work to provide for both of them, and their daughter Mair. That left John alone with his fiddle, with which he made a lot of money locally, and Paddy who looked after his master.”
“I never had to do a thing for him, Paddy did everything, well nearly everything,” Eleri mentioned, as if talking to herself.
Another indulgent smile from Fritz, then he was off again. “The whole village turned up for the event. News travels fast in sleepy villages and the wager had mothers waking their children to go and watch John enter the cave. At eleven o’clock he strode into the gloomy fissure with fiddle in hand and Paddy in tow. The villagers listened as he walked deeper and deeper into the blackened cavern, his fiddle their only indication of his position as he had no need for a torch. At midnight, precisely, the playing suddenly stopped. Paddy gave an almighty howl, a bark, and then nothing. Twenty seconds after midnight, we know this because Alan Brooks, the local smithy, had taken bets and was timing everything with his stopwatch, there was an almighty bang, and eight seconds later Paddy ran out of the cave, his fur burnt, his mouth foaming, and his eyes rolling in terror. John Cadwaladar was never seen again.”
Nobody stirred in the room. Fritz’s delivery, like the final moments of a public execution, had held them in horrified fascination.
“What happened to the dog?” Jacob asked.
Eleri answered for Fritz, “We took him to the farm above the village, and the farmer there, Arwell Evans, destroyed him for us with his mallet. We had to, Paddy was mad and biting after the cave, we couldn’t do anything with him, nobody could.”
“Mr. Carpenter… Jacob… this weekend we want to retrieve John Cadwaladar’s soul from Satan’s sickening grip and gift him the rest he deserves, and we want you to help us record it for posterity. We have a camera to film everything, but we need a wordsmith to write down what happens. Will you help us?”
The story left Jacob feeling as he had when the head of the orphanage would explain why he had dished out a beating.
“You know you deserved what you were given,” he always started, and by the time he was finished the whipped child was almost thanking him for the punishment.
It felt wrong. After the cruel hoax at Buckley he knew he shouldn’t let himself be dragged into it, but was compelled to nod his head and agree. After all, they had gone to all this bother, it would be rude not to.
That evening they met in the lounge for drinks. Formal attire, much to Jacob’s disappointment, and polite conversation were the order of the day.
For some reason Fritz had banned all talk of the coming ritual, which Jacob found impossibly hard to adhere to.
“All you need to know is we’re happy you could join us,” Fritz placated him. “Now eat, drink and make merry as the ridiculous saying goes, that’s why we’re here tonight.”
He was looking at the huge globe which took up a corner of the room when the hostess coughed politely behind him. “Have you travelled Mr. Carpenter? Being a reporter you must have seen some of the world?”
“Ah, Mrs… Frau…” he started, then, “Hypatia… no, actually, the Chester Courier is more of a local news publication, so they don’t send me on many assignments abroad, sadly.” He cocked his head wistfully and added, “Though I would love to see the world.”
“A pity, a man of your obvious creative talents should travel; it broadens the mind, so they say,” she answered, holding his gaze as she sipped lightly from her wine glass and then slowly licked her lips.
Jacob recognised the play and felt flattered and nervous in equal amounts. He had heard of rich ladies being constantly on the prowl for young men, but Hypatia von Pilke was truly beautiful and, if he was honest with himself, a step up from his usual fare; two if the truth be known.
“If only my editor saw it that way,” he said gamely, aware the undertow of his nerves would soon have him floundering if she kept up the demure flirting.
“Fritz and I travel a lot, Jacob. If we like what you write here, then we may hire you to accompany us to more foreign climes to record our experiences. We have many friends in all parts of the world who share a passion for the more spiritual pursuits.”
It was the first time he had heard her use his name and it electrified him; he leaned forward to listen while she spoke.
“We were both very impressed with how you handled the haunted chapel story and the consequent repercussions when it turned out to be a hoax. You showed you have drive and belief, and that’s very important to our society.”
“Society?” he asked.
“Yes, this isn’t a one off Jacob, we do this in every corner of the world and you could come with us.” She leaned towards him and breathed into his ear, “If you can fuck as well as we hope you can write.”
Standing straight again, she smiled innocently and let the mask of sophistication slip back. Jacob’s heart threatened to burst through his ribs as she turned and glided away, a vision of beauty, elegance and predatory sexuality.
“I see you’ve had your first encounter with Hypatia,” a voice from behind him murmured. Jacob turned to see the smiling countenance of Charles, the only other Englishman in the room. “She means it as well, you know.”
“She does?” Jacob gasped.
“Oh yes, and I’m pretty sure old Fritz likes her doing it.”
“He does?” Jacob whispered, shocked.
“It’s a veritable coven of vice you’ve stumbled into here, old man,” Charles continued. “Charlotte there has slept with so many men she’s bored of them. She has her beady eyes fixed on our newest member, Miss Jasmine Page, a rare beauty if ever there was one. I was quite saddened to find she likes the ladies more than the men. However, mustn’t grumble, she makes for very fine viewing, despite the fact she spoils the effect a little with the lacy doily over her eyes. Blind you know?”
“Yes, so I gathered,” Jacob nodded. “And the others, what are their secrets?”
Looking at him askance, as if he’d broken some code of honour, Charles said, “Well, firstly I don’t want to tattle old man, it’s just not done, however, seeing as we’re all a bit more intimate than your normal social circle, I’ll tell you a few tidbits to juice up your appetite for tomorrow’s festivities.”
Jacob nodded and turned to follow Charles’ gaze.
“Jasper, a notorious drunk and a raging homosexual, decent sort though.”
Jacob was surprised, he had never actually met an openly homosexual man and was dismayed to find he was not as disgusted as he should be at the news.
Charles carried on without registering any reaction, “Stay clear from him when he’s had one too many, old chap; you’re just his type. Of course, if you like that sort of thing, well it’s up to you, but just so you know, he and Fritz have some kind of on-off thing going, and Hypatia doesn’t seem to mind at all.”
“Well, I’ll be damned!”
“No, but they will be if the Bible’s correct,” Charles said through a cynical smile. “Then comes Lady Avina Greystone. Her husband found her in a brothel in Calcutta, running the native prostitutes like a sergeant major. They fell in love, the General her husband kept his rank, brought her back to Britain where he was knighted for his services to the crown, and the well-being of his men I should imagine. Eleri Cadwaladar had been her maid in India, and she went on to run the operation when they settled in Cambridge. London had too many high class brothels, but Cambridge was perfect, all those moneyed lusty young male students, it made them all very rich. Eleri is retired, but still on very good terms with Lady Avina. She bought this castle and the rest is history, as they say.”
“And the story about her husband making them lots of money with his fiddle?”
“All true, old chap. Well, he made enough for her to travel to Calcutta.”
“Back to Calcutta, why?”
“Well, she saw the money to be made there running a bordello and so she tried her hand at it. This was after Cambridge, obviously.”
Fritz saw them from across the room and made his way over. “I take it Charles is regaling you with stories of our dark pasts? He’s such an unbridled scandalmonger,” he said, smiling warmly. Before Jake could answer, Fritz said, “Show me a man with no sins in his past and I’ll show you a newborn baby. Well that’s how the saying goes in the Brahmaputra Valley in Assam anyway.”
“Indeed,” Charles said, also smiling, though somewhat more amused than supportive.
“And you Jake, what lies in the locked cupboard of your heart? What secret avarice, lust or hatred, do you keep bound up in the cellars of your soul?”
Smiling uncomfortably at the question, Jacob attempted to duck it by laughing emptily. However their silence prodded an answer. “Oh, I’m just a young reporter, I don’t have time for the vices; the odd drink here and there, cigarettes and a woman now and then.” Though the truth about the last part of his answer was as hollow as the laugh he’d used to deflect the question.
He had not slept with a woman since his long term girlfriend left him nigh on two years ago, and he wondered what Leslie Jameson would have thought about Hypatia von Pilke’s challenge earlier.
“Well Jake, don’t judge us by our vices, judge us by our success tomorrow evening, perhaps this collection of sinners might just be what’s needed to bring Satan to the table.”
Jacob felt his mouth suddenly dry up at the thought of what they were planning to do. “Do you actually think we’ll, I mean, you’ll be able to save the soul of John Cadwaladar?”
“We tried once before, to no avail. This time we’ve upped the stakes,” he said, then turned theatrically to look at Jasmine Page.
Eleri Cadwaladar ambushed him in the hall as he made his way back from the toilet. Fritz von Pilke was a master of cocktails and the Mary Pickford, Gin Rickey and Bee’s Knees, had stormed his senses like an artillery barrage.
“Mr. Carpenter,” she called from the library opposite the lounge. “I wonder if I could take up some of your valuable time?”
Being truthful, he didn’t really want to give Eleri Cadwaladar any of his time. Neither she nor her mad daughter could hold a candle to the exotic Hypatia von Pilke, who had now closed him down into a corner and demanded his surrender, (which he willingly gave). However, Mother Nature had called and he had answered, only to be waylaid on the way back from the toilet.
“Of course Mrs. Cadwaladar,” he said through gritted teeth, it didn’t seem right just calling her Eleri, no matter what Fritz said about rules and first names only.
The library was, in relation to the rest of the house, a dark and dirty place. The smell of old books, something Jacob normally found comforting, was soured with mildew and the faded tomes sagged in their leather. At the far end of the room, surrounded by its kingdom of shelves and volumes, was a great table, and behind the table looking like a startled squirrel sat Mair Sayer. She stared at him intently, eyes wide, the fingers of her right hand playing with her hair.
“Sit up, dear,” Eleri said to Mair, who stirred in the chair briefly before slumping back to look at Jacob.
“I’m sorry Jake, Mair is fascinated with you and just wants to look at you a while. I hope you don’t mind?” Her voice was mild, more composed than before, and Jacob guessed she must have imbibed too much and was now tired. Turning to answer her, he was shocked to see a tear running down her right cheek.
“Are you all right?” he paused, then dived straight in. “Eleri?”
The old woman cuffed the tear away and bestowed on him a warm smile. “Yes Jacob, for the first time in as many years as I can remember, I am fine. I’m so glad you’re here, we both are, and it’s so lovely to meet you. Ignore an old woman’s tears, I always wanted the family to carry on the Cadwaladar name but it was not to be and now, seeing Mair react to you this way…” She trailed off and looked towards her daughter, who huffed impatiently and looked out of the window.
The Welsh accent that had coloured her voice so aggressively earlier, now gave it a sing song texture Jacob found pleasing. The difference in her demeanour did not shock him and he guessed it probably had something to do with the effect of Mr. Singapore Sling and all his many alcoholic cronies, yet he knew something had changed with her - with them both.
“It’s a very nice place you have here, Eleri,” he said, noting how saying her name at the end of the statement made it more awkward than saying Mrs Cadwaladar.
“It’s not actually mine, Jacob. We fell on hard times and Fritz scooped us up and saved us, but I’m sure you knew that already?” A twinkle christened her smile and Jacob found himself liking her for the honesty.
“I did, but it’s still your place to use as you wish, isn’t it?”
“Yes, except for that awful German name,” she said, and laughed throatily. “The fellow who owns the land next to us, Major Evans, was up in arms when he heard about it. The poor man lost his son, you know? At Ypres. He blames Fritz for some strange reason.”
“I met him, he was very, well shall we say he was very distant.”
“He hates the Germans, I can’t tell you how annoyed he was. If Fritz holds up his part of the bargain I’ll return it to its original name of Cadwaladar Hall; that’s if he keeps his part of the deal that is.”
Jacob’s mind raced, what deal could she mean? He tried a wild guess, “I take it he’ll give you the hall if you’re successful tomorrow evening?”
“Something along those lines.” She nodded and then turned to her daughter, who was now looking out through the window, as if having just dismissed a badly behaved servant. “I think you should go back to the party now, Jacob. We’ve taken far too much of your time and I think you should enjoy yourself tonight. Tomorrow will be a day for seriousness; today should be cherished.”
With a last look at Mair, sitting hunched in her chair staring intently out into the darkness, he nodded to them both and left with a sober, “Goodnight ladies.”
“I’m not interrupting am I?”
Jacob turned from explaining the politics of a small city press to Hypatia and saw, to his utter delight, Jasmine Page standing behind him, holding onto Fritz for guidance.
“Of course not, dear. You’re just in time, I have an errand to do before the evening is over.” She raised an eyebrow at Jacob, who guessed she had another date with Madame Cocaine in the back room set up solely for such a purpose.
He had tried it himself for the first time in his life earlier on, and the experience had left him exuberant and bold; so the combination of the adorably fine boned Miss Page and the fiery drug coursing through his libido sent him into overdrive.
“I’ll leave you two to get acquainted,” Fritz excused himself and made a beeline for Jasper Toven.
“Miss Page,” Jacob said rapaciously. “I hear you’re just as new to the club as I am?”
She smiled and Jacob noticed the fine lines behind her lace mask crinkle like bent parchment. Burn wounds! The words jumped at him from the darker recesses of his mind, invoking the pitying revulsion a child might feel when first confronted with freak show images.
“They’re acid burns,” she said bluntly. “Your silence tells me you’re trying to see behind my mask, a mask I choose to wear not just for my own benefit.”
“What happened?” he breathed, suddenly appalled at how rude he’d been.
“It’s a long story, but it involves jealousy and a life I no longer want to think about. I’m just thankful that Fritz and Hypatia took me in, even with this scarring.”
“What do you mean, what happened exactly Miss Page?”
Pursing her mouth in consideration, she pondered for a second before answering. “Have you ever been poor, Mr. Carpenter?”
“Jacob, or Jake, please call me Jake, and yes I have been poor. I lived in an orphanage in Nantwich until I was fourteen.”
“Believe me Jacob, an orphanage in Nantwich is the lap of opulent luxury in comparison to growing up in an Indian brothel.”
“An Indian brothel?” he stammered.
“Let’s just say I grew up and worked as an adult in a den of wickedness that no London whorehouse can ever hope to duplicate. I would have given anything just to escape that terrible place, anything. Then one day I was freed, but not on the terms I had always hoped for.”
“What happened?” he asked softly.
“Jealousy, hatred, I don’t know really. One day all was fine and I had a lot of friends there, the next they held me down while one of the other girls threw acid in my eyes. Suddenly I was useless to the whoremaster who ran the place. He was about to throw me out when out of the blue Fritz and Hypatia turned up and saved me. They paid the debt I was working off and gave me a new life. I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to thank them.”
Despite the horror of the tale, and the touching end, her porcelain features below the finely embroidered mask were calm and Jacob wondered at how stony her heart must now be.
Then a lone tear escaped the mask, turning his misgivings to shame. “I didn’t know.” It was all he could find to say.
“How could you? This is the first time we’ve met, and that was another life,” she continued. “Now I’m here, living with fine and kind people who look after me. So all’s well that ends well as the saying goes, eh Mr. Carpenter?” A smile crossed her lips, and the ugliness of the cracked skin around her eyes was dazzled by its radiance.
Jacob smiled back at her. “Yes, you’re right Miss Page, all’s well that ends well. So, I know it’s breaking the rules of the evening, but what exactly is your part in the ritual tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow Mr. Carpenter, I mean Jake. Tomorrow all will be revealed.”
“Very mysterious.” He laughed and Jasmine graced him with one of her smiles again.
“I see you’re getting on famously, and that’s a very good thing, you have so much in common,” Hypatia barged in, causing Jacob to frown momentarily at what he saw as an intrusion. His irritation was side-tracked when Fritz clapped his hands for their attention. A glance at the mantelpiece clock told him it was nearly midnight and he deduced correctly Fritz was about to bring an end to the evening.
“So dear and cherished guests, I think it’s time we decided to call it an evening and go to our respective beds. We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow, one that hopefully will culminate in a successful ceremony to reclaim the soul of Eleri’s poor husband, John Cadwaladar. So let’s get a good night’s sleep tonight, eh?”
Ignoring the pointed stare and salaciously raised eyebrow from Jasper Toven, Jacob made his way out with the others, and pondered on whether the lovely Miss Page would consider a friendship with a lowly reporter.
He woke up as the door clicked softly open. A hushed giggle and the soft padding of bare feet on the cold floorboards at first alarmed, and then confused him. He’d expected his hostess to join him in the night, she had told him quite clearly she would visit to make sure he was tucked in and Jacob had wrestled the nervous excitement of expectation since he’d lain down.
However, now two women approached, their nakedness shaded black and white in the stark light of the full moon and the deep shadows it made, and he sat up as one of them spoke.
“I’ve brought someone else,” Hypatia whispered huskily. “Do you think you can handle two?” Her words were slurred and Jacob smiled to himself, wondering if she had brought Charlotte the society slut with her. He’d watched her shovel the cocaine up her nose like a gardener filling plant pots and though he disliked her and all she stood for, he could not deny she was definitely attractive.
The second person lay on the bed next to him and Jacob felt the coarseness of a mask on her face as she dipped down to kiss him full on the lips. Jasmine Page, his mind screamed elatedly, drunk and feeling amorous; this was too good to be true.
Afterward, in the quiet of post coital contemplation, the cerebral replay of scenes and moments they had consummated as a threesome, Jacob asked, “Who are you people? Do you do this all the time?”
Jasmine lifted her head from his chest, the mask long since discarded in the dark, (Hypatia insisted the only light they use be the moon’s illumination), and said, “This is my first time here, they rescued me from India and now I’m in the arms of a beautiful man, whom I’ve just shared with a beautiful woman, and I’m so happy.”
Jacob smiled at the abandon in her voice and wondered idly if she had used drugs when she worked the brothel. She must have, he decided.
Hypatia, who lay on the opposite side, her head also on Jacob’s torso, looked up at him. He could feel her eyes searching his face despite the darkness.
“The real question here is, who are you Jacob Carpenter?”
“Me?” he asked, shocked. “Well, I’m just me. Jake Carpenter, reporter, ex-soldier, and hoping for a good news story tomorrow.” He laughed quietly but Hypatia did not join in.
“Tell us what you did before you were a soldier, Jake. I’d like to hear of your past.” Hypatia leaned her chin on his chest and once again he could sense her searching his face.
“Well, to be honest I don’t really know. You see, I vaguely remember the orphanage and working as a reporter before the war, but don’t ask me for details as I couldn’t tell you. I joined up in 1918 and was caught in an explosion in the Marne, my first and last action; concussion, shell shock, memory loss and ultimately Civvy Street. The Doc said it’ll all come back, but it hasn’t up to now. So you see my dear Hypatia, and dearest Jasmine, I’ve nothing really to tell. Up until the age of eighteen it’s all a bit of a blurry soup. It’s only the last couple of years that I’ve any recollection of.”
“How awful,” Jasmine whispered. “And yet, I’d give anything to forget the memories of my youth. Anything.”
Hypatia stood abruptly and Jacob took in her naked form as she stood in the candid moonlight, swallowing hard at the sight of her voluptuous curves and perfectly portioned breasts. “I have to go,” she said. “Fritz isn’t the jealous type, but he does expect a certain amount of decorum. Jasmine, it’s best if you come too, before the servants see you.”
Jasmine kissed him lightly on the lips, then playfully darted a tongue that tasted of sour wine swiftly in and out. “Goodnight Mr. Carpenter, it was truly lovely to see you.” Then she was gone, in a flurry of silken dressing gown and moonlight.
They were in the dining room again, receiving the final briefing before the main event as Jacob had come to think of it. It seemed to him Miss Page had been avoiding him all day and even now, trapped as she was in the same room as him for Fritz’s lecture, she studiously ignored his gaze.
Their hostess on the other hand, had become rather an embarrassment with her gushing enthusiasm. The breakfast table had turned into a schoolboy’s outing as Jasper and Charles sniggered and elbowed each other while Hypatia drowned him in a flood of hugs and good morning kisses.
Fritz acted as if nothing was happening and it was only after breakfast that Charles told him Jasper and their host had spent the night playing cards together, in Fritz’s bedroom.
“Oh!” was all Jacob could answer, provoking a short laugh and a playful punch to his shoulder from the normally reserved aristocrat.
“Don’t be like that, old boy. Hypatia would be enough to drive any man into the arms of another, and Fritz did you a favour.”
“How’s that then?” Jacob asked, flummoxed.
“I can tell you quite categorically that Mister Toven was very taken with you and Fritz decided to spare you any awkwardness by giving you his wife and taking our American friend for himself. He truly is the consummate host,” Charles chuckled drily.
That afternoon they took a trip up to the Devil’s Cave where the ceremony would be played out. High up on a mountain, like a black hole to another dimension, the cave looked across the fields of Abergele and Llandulas, and out to the sea.
As they didn’t have enough horses for everyone it was decided the ladies would ride and the gentlemen would follow on foot, a decision that didn’t sit well with Charles, but was abided by. It was a fair hike up to the mouth and Jacob’s initial trepidation at going to a cave where the Devil was meant to reside was lost to his fatigue. However, as he approached its gaping maw, the blackness of its depths took on an ominous quality Jacob could not shake off. He felt like a child going for his first tooth extraction, his worry fuelled more by the ignorance of what was to come than any actual painful experience.
Fritz reached the gloomy cavity first and turned to greet them as they arrived at the open area at its front. “This is where we’ll perform the ceremony,” he said when they finally assembled. “Jake, take your place anywhere you want, but it must be outside of the circle. I’ll put the two cameras here and here,” indicating two areas either side of the entrance. “They’re not automatic and must be operated by hand, so Jasper, Charles, you must both learn how to operate them so you can film the mouth of the cave when the Devil appears.”
Jasper and Charles nodded apprehensively, but said nothing.
“And that, dear friends, is that,” Fritz finalised. “Any questions?”
Jacob noticed two freshly dug holes in the ground and strolled over to them. They were deep but not very wide, and looked like placings for poles. “What are these for?”
“The sacrifice, dear Jake,” Fritz laughed. “You can’t raise the Devil without a sacrifice, can you?”
“I’ve no idea, I’ve never tried,” Jacob said, mildly perturbed at the idea of sacrificing some poor beast.
“You haven’t? How odd.” Fritz smiled as he walked towards him. Then eyes alight in amusement, he slapped him on the shoulder and said, “We’ll string up a couple of chickens, that’s all Jake. A bit of blood to barter for the soul of Eleri’s poor long departed husband.”
Jacob nodded dumbly and scanned the area for a good vantage point to see and record everything, while Fritz recapped for everyone. “So, the cameras here and here, with Jasper and Charles operating them. The sacrifices strung up on the poles, Eleri and myself will stand between the poles and Hypatia, Jasmine, Charlotte and Mair in a half circle bowing out from the mouth of the cave, but facing in. Any questions?”
There were none, so with the unease of the sacrifices already forgotten, and a mild sense of deflation at the ordinariness of the place, Jacob followed them back to Drakon Castle.
The servants brought the tea, already in cups, into the room; an unusual occurrence which caused Jacob to raise a querying eyebrow, but nothing more. Not being one to stand on ceremony, he took into consideration he was dealing with foreigners and said nothing, drinking the brew offered to him in silence whilst looking out of the window.
The moon, full and bright, was framed in the glass panes, turning the horizon over the sea a white-silver. A full moon, Jacob noted and didn’t know whether to laugh at the cliché or wonder at the planning. Although everything seemed light hearted and amateurish, the fact they had planned it to fall on the full moon showed a level of scheduling he would never have thought about if he were organising this. He would have been satisfied if everyone had turned up and there was enough booze in the house. Did the full moon have any bearing on the ceremony, he wondered, before Jasmine broke his concentration.
“Sorry about today, Jake,” she said, modestly. “I was a little tipsy last night and though I’ve spent my youth being worldly with men, that was the first time it had actually meant anything to me. I wasn’t sure how to master my emotions this morning.”
Jacob sniggered cruelly to himself at the thought of her first proper emotional experience of love being a drunken threesome with a perfect stranger; then quashed the thought, shocked by his own callousness. How much had this poor girl suffered in her life, how much affection had been denied her for that vulgar escapade to be counted as a moving act of love?
“No need to say a thing, Jasmine. Last night was something that took us both by surprise. It was nice, but still a surprise,” he said, grinning at her despite the fact she couldn’t see it. He pondered briefly on whether she was able to hear if he smiled in his voice, then discounted the thought as being ridiculous.
“Yes, it was, wasn’t it?” Jacob noticed the skin crinkling stiffly behind her lace mask as she smiled back at him. “I’d like to think that if our lives had been different we might have met under happier circumstances, Jake.” She dropped her head as if contemplating what to say, and then, “ But we’re not geriatrics and though I’m no longer in my twenties, we still have a lot of time to know each other better after tonight.” And then added, “That’s if you do want to get to know me better?”
Touched and more than a little elated, Jacob swallowed and said, “Yes, of course I’d like that, I’d like nothing more.”
He watched the pleasure on her face rise like a summer dawn and a mutinous tear threatened to scar his cheek.
“I’m so glad to hear that, Jake, so glad.” Her hand reached up and stroked his face, and then wordlessly she turned and felt her way along the settee to a waiting maid who took her arm and led her out.
The room was quiet and as Jasmine left him he realised they had played out their little private scene in full view of the others. Fritz slowly blinked and nodded to him all was well, that he approved, and for a moment Jacob felt absurdly happy he did.
However, a bud of doubt about Fritz and his cronies bloomed suddenly. Why were they so happy he had connected so well with Jasmine, because for all intents and purposes they were merely two strangers in their midst. Was it simply the enjoyment of watching love blossom or was there some other nefarious reason?
His mind rewound to the day before as Fritz mentioned they had upped the stakes in their attempt to raise the Devil, and then nodded towards her. How had they upped the stakes, what exactly did Jasmine Page have to offer?
As he thought about it, he realised the whole story about why they suddenly rescued an unknown person from the hell of an Indian bawdy house didn’t make much sense at all, regardless of how charitable the act had been. Fritz simply did not seem to be the altruistic type. On the contrary, behind the clowning buffoon act he was oafish and egotistical; a self-obsessed extrovert who would never dream of going to a seedy Indian brothel for sex.
If they were of the mind to pay for sex, they had their ladies or boys sent to their hotel room. Moneyed people simply did not peruse the filth of working class brothels in poverty stricken countries. So what exactly did they need a blind ex-whore for? As a sacrifice to the Devil perhaps? He doubted it, not murder; but something was definitely going on and he didn’t know what.
Jacob sensed that behind the frivolous countenance they played out before him, the heart of something ancient and momentous pulsed, something not to be taken lightly.
They had drugged his tea, he later surmised. As soon as he put it down he felt drowsiness sway him like a gossamer punch.
From behind him he heard a male voice ask if he was gone yet and found to his astonishment he was on the floor, Hypatia looking into his eyes. “No, not yet, but he’s definitely on his way.”
Then he was gone.
He felt more than saw the wagon when he came to. The steady vibration and occasional jarring plucked him softly from the arms of Morpheus and then shook him violently awake. His head hurt and the sour taste in his mouth and the matted wetness of his hair told him he had been sick while under the influence of the drug. He counted his lucky stars he had been on his side when he vomited, as there was nobody in the back of the cart to help if he had choked on his own bile.
The moon looked passively down and its fullness prodded the memory of his fears for Jasmine. The idea he was going to be the sacrificial lamb had never occurred, and a wave of self pity and recrimination washed over him. How could he have been so stupid?
A moan sounded from the other side of the cart, a woman’s voice, and he turned to see Jasmine roll out from the shadows of the cart’s sidings. She was still unconscious and her mask was off. Jacob studied her scars by the light of the moon, the melted skin that flared out from white sightless eyes, and he found her beautiful. He took in her delicate features, the swan-like neck running down to frail dainty shoulders, and his heart swelled in pity and sorrow for everything this poor girl had suffered in her short life.
He felt the transport slowing down and pondered feigning sleep if they came for him. However, if they were going to kill him they would do it whether he was awake or not, so he decided on vocal defiance if it should come to that, and if they untied him for any reason he would attack with anything he could lay his hands on.
“If you’re awake Jake, we’re here old boy,” the driver said.
“Charles?” Jacob couldn’t keep the shock out of his voice.
“’Fraid so old chap, no hard feelings, eh? It’ll all be over very quickly, we agreed that beforehand. Painless and quick old boy, so don’t worry, eh?”
Closing his eyes against the pain in his head he knew would come with the effort, Jacob grunted and sat up to look around. It reminded him of a scene from a medieval mystery play, with fires set in a pentagram and Fritz’s guests dressed in long flowing robes.
The host himself threw down his hood when he saw Jacob sit up and walked towards him smiling, as if welcoming him to a picnic. “Jake, please forgive me for lying to you, but I had to, you would have run a mile if I’d said what we had planned for you.”
Struck speechless by his tone of voice, Jacob gasped in astonishment until anger stepped in to speak for him. “Run a mile?” he blustered. “I wouldn’t have come at all, I’d have reported you to the police and all this…”
“Yes, yes I’m sure,” Fritz cut him off. “But you didn’t and here we are. Now try not to make things too difficult and I’ll fill you in on some details you might find very interesting.”
Charles and Jasper hauled him off the cart, not too roughly, and carried him to a post in the middle of the pentagram. Jasmine was tied to a second one and the others took their positions in a half circle around them.
Dressed in their foreign robes with the hoods up, the fear Jacob had valiantly kept in check up to now started making inroads. His fate was sealed, but the method of his demise was still a mystery and this played on his thoughts. He heard a whimper and saw Jasmine coming to.
“Jasmine, are you alright, it’s me, Jake.”
After shaking her head to clear it, she looked blindly around and called his name. “Jake, where are you, where am I?”
“You know exactly where you are, Miss Page!” a voice boomed from the side of Jacob, causing Jasmine to jump and struggle frantically with the bindings.
“Fritz, what’s happening? Where are we?” she whined, fear constricting her voice.
Jacob watched Fritz as he stalked towards her, his robes trailing him like flames, his eyes alight with the fire of insanity and religious fervour. The genial clown who had picked him up from the station now let the façade drop to reveal a beast of an altogether different colour. “You’re where you deserve to be, you filthy harlot!” he bellowed, his arms aloft as if delivering a fire and brimstone sermon. “At the portal to Hell itself!”
“Leave her alone Fritz, untie her immediately!” Jacob roared, his anger now far outweighing any fear he might have felt. The blood pounding in his ears drowned out Jasmine’s pitiful confused pleading in the background, and he felt he was about to explode.
“Quiet you worm!” Fritz shouted back, and Jacob, infuriated by the insult, struggled even harder with his bindings. “Let me out, fight me like a man, you coward, untie me…”
A loud pitiless cackle sounded from behind, stopping him in his effort and rage. Made louder by the acoustics of the cave mouth, it confused him as he tried to put a face to the voice, but he couldn’t. The cold malice in that insane screech stifled the blood in his veins, and in a heartbeat of panicked speculation he was sure it was one of Satan’s tormentors come to wrest him down to Hades. Then sanity instantly returned and he quickly speculated who it could be, as he was sure he hadn’t met anyone that weekend who sounded like that.
Tied to the post facing away from its entrance, he struggled to turn and look. Mair Sayer, Eleri’s dim-witted daughter, ambled into view. The soft motherly woman who had gazed so lovingly at him in the library had changed dramatically. The tranquil insanity that had characterised her was now gone, replaced by a ruthless gleeful hag who snarled as she laughed at them. “Oh my poor children, one so scared he doesn’t know whether to piss himself or not, and the other a broken doll, blind, witless and empty of soul. It’s poor pickings for the Devil tonight,” she said and laughed cruelly, rubbing her hands theatrically.
“Who the hell are you people? Are you seriously planning to sacrifice us to the Devil? You’re out of your minds!” Jacob shouted at her defiantly, subconsciously pleased his voice masked his panic at how quickly the situation had changed.
“Be quiet whelp! You know nothing!” Mair screamed at him, spitting in her uninhibited fury, and then slapping him hard across the face. Jacob was more shocked by the slap than the pain, but confusion quickly gave way to his now boundless fury.
“No, you be quiet you mad cow!” he raged back at her, emboldened by the fact the others in the group had said nothing up to now except Fritz. “Who the hell do you think you are, tying me and Miss Page up like this?”
“Who am I?” she cut him off. “Who am I? I’ll tell you who I am, I’m the woman who was raped by the man who forced my father to bet with the Devil. I’m the woman who killed her husband and used his soul to tempt Beelzebub out of Hell to broker a deal. I’m the woman who promised the Devil her bastard children and their rapist father for the soul of her dear dad, who was so cruelly taken away from us. The woman who spent all the money her mother made working on her back to find and bring you back to your family home to kill you. John fucking Carpenter, Jasmine fucking Page, I’m your mother!” she screamed at him.
Jacob felt physically sick.
“John Hughes was your biological father,” Fritz said almost conversationally.
Mair was now spent and panting, staring with barely concealed hatred at Jacob, who glared back but found his resolve weakening as Fritz explained the background.
“You were born out of rape, the man who gave you your name, Mair’s husband, was a sad dupe and a cuckold. His name was Sayer. Sayer, Mr. Carpenter, a Welsh name, taken from the Welsh word Saer, which means Carpenter. John Hughes raped your mother on more than one occasion, and you and your sister Jasmine were born of those acts. Your legal father was our first victim, used to tempt Satan to make a deal with us. Then John Hughes was sacrificed as a part of the ceremony to retrieve the soul of John Cadwaladar. You’d been quietly consigned to the orphanage as a child, so we needed to trace you and bring you here. The story about the haunting in Buckley was the breakthrough, which was how we found you,” Fritz clarified, his voice dripping the gloating triumph an amateur dramatics detective would use explaining the clues that led him to his killer.
Jacob reacted as if struck by a cold fish. His mouth dropped open in astonishment, eyes blinking rapidly to take the detail in. A raucous screech of laughter from Mair brought him back to his senses and Fritz, now pacing in front of them, carried on his fanatical narrative.
“And you my lovely Jasmine, your story is even better. Lady Greystone’s maid in waiting decided to try her hand at the same game that had made her mistress so much money, though she went for the less discerning clientele, the ordinary soldiers. She went to India and opened up a brothel next to a military base near Calcutta.”
Jasmine gasped in insight and shook her head, as if mutely begging him to stop, but Fritz would not. Jacob knew he had to have his moment.
“Calcutta, where you spent nearly your entire life, working on your back to pay off your family’s debts. Do you know how that came about? I bet you can guess. The brothel was closed by the British and your grandmother and mother found themselves penniless and stranded.” He laughed and then turned to Hypatia as she approached Fritz. “Tell her the rest, I want to see her face when finds out,” he said, laughing gleefully.
“Your grandmother, promised you to the man who saved her and her daughter from a pauper’s death in a foreign land. Fritz, a good friend of Avina Greystone’s husband, bought this castle and saved Eleri Cadwaladar and her daughter Mair, and his price? His price was your and your brother’s soul. Mair Sayer is your mother, and Jacob Carpenter, the man I watched you fuck, is your brother! Both of you were sired by John Hughes and tonight you will pay for his sin, like he already has.”
“No!” Jacob called out as Jasmine bent double and screamed her anger at the injustice and cruelty of the people who should have loved her. Struggling with his bindings like a man possessed, Jacob kept up a mantra of denial, his voice growing in volume.
“Yes, yes!” Fritz laughed, crowing at their misery and shock. “You see, I knew all about the fiddler and his dog, and when I actually met Eleri and heard of Mair’s obsession about her father, I put my plan into action. The situation was perfect, I’d finally be able to capture Satan on film, something I’ve wanted to achieve since I saw my first movie, and Eleri and Mair would do all the running. I had the colonel who ran the barracks close their brothel and confiscate everything, it was all too easy as I happened to know of his propensity for young men. He closed it down, I waited until Eleri and Mair were living in the streets, and then made my proposal. They couldn’t refuse; riches and their family home back for the souls of three bastards they’d tried hard to put behind them, and one poor spineless schmuck that Mair had married thinking he’d protect her from Hughes’ advances.”
Jacob looked away and was gratified to see Eleri staring daggers at Fritz. She was learning things tonight as well, he thought grimly to himself.
Fritz continued oblivious, “You’re obviously wondering about your name, Page? Well, the soldier who closed the brothel down was a certain Colonel Page, and I thought that as good a name as any, don’t you? It's especially fitting when you consider its origins lies in the age of chivalry, and a page was a servant to a knight. When I learnt that, I won’t lie, I thought it rather fitting. You, completely subservient to my will, it’s quite an empowering experience actually.”
He stood up straight and turned to walk away, but then stopped and over-dramatically raised his finger, as if suddenly remembering something.
“Oh, and before I forget Jasmine dearest, it was I who had your eyes burnt out on a whim. I was drunk and I figured John Cadwaladar was blind so the victim should be blind too. To be fair, I regretted it the next day. But the girl who threw the acid was so eager, and I suppose anyone so hated by the people who surround them can’t be all that nice, regardless of their beauty; and believe me, they hated you with a passion there, the whoremaster told me everything. You were the prettiest they had, an English rose in a house of the exotic, a taste of home as it were. So popular among the rank and file, and yet hated by the girls around you.” He paused for her to comprehend what he had just said. Standing in front of her crumpled form, he bent down and whispered loudly into her ear, “I wanted to see you suffer, I wanted to scar your oh so pretty face. And now, right now, standing in front of you and seeing you wallow in self-pity, I’m satisfied. You’ll go to hell scarred in body and soul and the Devil’s minions will eat you alive for your sins!”
The others looked on fascinated, watching the act play out in front of them. Mair, grinning fiercely, pulled out a knife from the folds in her robes as the others passed comment and made fun.
“Incest old boy, damn poor show,” Charles said, sniggering to Charlotte.
“You should have visited my room,” Toven smiled.
“Or mine, I’d have given you a pity fuck,” Charlotte laughed loudly.
“I see your aura now, young man, and it’s a very deep shade of embarrassment,” Lady Greystone said, causing all to guffaw, and loudest among them was Fritz who brayed his amusement, nodding encouragement to everyone to join in.
Jacob remained focused though. “So what happens now?” he broke in. “You kill us and that’s that, is that your plan? What about the blood, the people who know us, my newspaper, the magazine I’m going to sell the story to, they know…”
“Nothing Mr. Carpenter, nobody knows anything, the ritual will go on as planned,” Fritz answered, then said turning to the others, “And now we’ll watch as your mother rips out your sin-ridden hearts and pledges them to Satan, in return for the soul of her father.”
Jacob looked over to Jasmine, who suddenly stood up straight and started laughing. Fritz, visibly confused, turned to the others and Jacob saw the consternation in his face. Things were not running to plan and he obviously did not like that.
“Oh you stupid idiot! You fools!” Jasmine exclaimed between her bursts of laughter.
“What, why are you laughing?” the German asked, clearly puzzled. “You are about to die horribly, why are you laughing?”
“Because I’m not Jasmine Page!” The words froze the scene, and even Mair ceased her mad cackling. Jasmine continued, “I knew her, I nursed her as the syphilis drove her into insanity and I helped bury her body after she committed suicide, but I’m not her.”
“What do you mean?” Mair asked, as if deflated. “What happened to her?”
Charles and Jasper moved in towards her; the others broke the circle and also approached. Eleri, hobbling on a cane, her face creased in worry, “What did you do to her, where is she?”
“Do? I did nothing. We looked after each other. I was another child whore, given to the brothel to pay off debts. Then when I heard someone was coming to free Jasmine, I said I was her. The other girls were happy to see me go, I was the whoremaster’s favourite and they were jealous. So everyone played along and it all looked rosy. But you had one of the other whores there blind me and my plans of running away when we came back to Blighty were all for nothing. So you can kill me, but you’re killing the wrong person, and I hope your devil makes you pay for it you pathetic set of precious idiots.”
It was as if the world had stopped. Nobody moved or said a word. Jasmine, or the girl who was no longer Jasmine, was breathing heavily but otherwise all was quiet.
It was Jacob who broke the silence. “So, you’re not my sister then?”
A tired smile passed her lips and she looked over in his direction. “No Jake, I’m not. It doesn’t help us, but at least you’ll go to the grave knowing that. My real name is Eileen.”
“I’ve started the incantations. If he comes he’ll want two souls,” Mair said, fear creasing her brow.
“That’s the least of your problems, if we don’t have two souls, or better said, if you don’t give me two souls from your bloodline, then your family don’t have their castle back,” Fritz answered, his voice level but an insistent whine of hysteria nipped its edges.
“You don’t understand, I’ve started the ceremony, you saw me, I had to start it on time, it has to be done at midnight. Fritz, he’s coming, he knows who’s here and he wants them. Perhaps it’ll work with just one? Perhaps my father will be spared…”
“You dumb bitch, this is fucking Satan we’re talking about, ruler of the kingdom of Hell, not some bumbling rent collector! Of course he’ll know and of course it won’t work! We need blood, family blood. It’s either you or your mother, one of you will have to go, he wants two souls of the same bloodline so one of you must die or he’ll take us all!”
Eleri gasped as he said it, and then physically shrank as Mair turned towards her, knife in hand. “Mair, now listen to me, I know you loved your father, but killing me won’t bring him back,” she said, her one hand up in mollification, the other grasping her walking cane for support.
“Mother, you’re all I have to save him,” Mair whispered as she walked towards her, the knife now raised to shoulder level. “Don’t fight and it will be over quicker than you think. Painless and quick, you’re old anyway, not long to go, I’m still young, I can’t die for him.” She kept up the mantra as she approached, her left hand out to grab her mother, the right one held at shoulder height, grasping the cruel looking knife ready to stab down.
Something caught Jacob’s eye, and turning his head he saw to his horror the flickering dance of what looked like a flame slowly approaching from the back of the cave. “He’s fucking here!” he shouted in panic, and all eyes turned towards him.
Eleri took her chance and whipped her walking stick up to club Mair hard across her temple, once, twice, and then a final third time on her forehead as she lay on her back. The sickening thud of wood on bone stunned everyone present, and Jasper put his hand to his mouth before turning to vomit in shock.
A halo of blood spread out over the ground, and Eleri, now gripped by the realisation she had murdered her own daughter, crumpled to her knees and wept over her dead body.
Hypatia was the first to react. “Quick! Drag her body over here, to the cave. We’ll cut her heart out and leave it on the corpse.” And then, as if explaining to a crowd of halfwits, “Then he’ll see there are two souls from the same bloodline!”
A low moan of grief stopped her in her plans. Eleri, now knelt over Mair and rocking her dead body, was keening her anguish, much to the anger of Fritz.
“Eleri, she’s dead, pull yourself together now. We have to sort ourselves out before he comes. We can save this situation, and we’ll be the first to lure the beast out of hell and to film it! Think of the fame, we’ll be immortal! Charles, Jasper, man the cameras and point them at the mouth of the cave, this has to be filmed!”
Eileen, who had watched in stunned silence up to now, shouted across to Eleri, shocking everyone with the coarseness of her tone and language. “You killed your own daughter for this German swine to build his own legend, you stupid bitch! He’s been using you all along to feed his ego and make him famous. Put a stop to this, don’t let him use your dead daughter like this!”
“You just shut up right now!” Fritz roared. “You’ve done enough damage as it is!”
However, Eleri Cadwaladar, a woman who had never shirked responsibility and never shied away from a dirty deed, had something else in mind. Prising the blade from Mair’s rapidly cooling hand, she looked up and said, “Jacob Carpenter, you are the last of my line. Regardless of whether you were born of the rape of my daughter or not, I have no other living relatives. If I could guarantee your soul will survive this, would you promise to take on the name of Cadwaladar, a name that is rightfully yours? Would you carry on the Cadwaladar name?”
Stunned by the turn of events, Jacob answered affronted, “Never, why would I want to do that after all the madness and greed I’ve seen in your bloody family?”
Holding the knife now with two hands, Eleri pointed the blade to her chest and said, “Because the castle is rightfully mine as of today. Fritz bought the castle off me for two souls of the Cadwaladar bloodline and with my death he’ll have been paid. Take the castle, live in it and have many children, but I beg of you, take the family name, as I’m far too old to bear any heirs now. Will you do this for me?”
Like spectators at a slow tennis match, all eyes turned on Jacob, who nodded and said, “Yes Eleri, I will.”
Closing her eyes in private prayer, Eleri Cadwaladar, once the handmaiden to Lady Greystone, and with her death owner of a Drakon Castle, plunged the knife into her heart.
Charlotte, who had remained unusually quiet in the background up to that point, screamed as an arch of scarlet cascaded out covering the body and upturned open-eyed face of Mair Saer. Eleri toppled forward, her nose crunching as it hit a rock on the floor.
Charles, more used to death than the rest of them, looked to Fritz and said, “What now?”
“Drag the bodies over here, we can still save this,” Hypatia said urgently.
However, Fritz did not answer. Instead he stared wearily at the mouth of the cave, and then let his head sink to his chest. Jacob pulled himself around and looked too, sighing with relief to see the light was now gone from inside. Whatever had been making its way from the underworld to claim him was now gone, probably satisfied by the souls of his mother and grandmother.
He looked to von Pilke and was about to say something when the glint of anger in the German’s eye stopped him.
Fritz, already dancing on the edge of reason, suddenly exploded. “Eileen? Your name is Eileen? You bitch, you fucking bitch! You’ve wrecked it all with your lies, don’t you see that?”
“Wrecked what, von Pilke? Our deaths, the ritual, your claim to fame? Well I’m glad…” Jacob’s words were cut short by a snarl of exasperated rage as Fritz bent down and ripped the knife out of Eleri’s ribcage, then ran at Eileen with it held aloft ready to slice down and kill her.
There was a loud bang from the cave, and suddenly Fritz’s head exploded in a flash of blood, bone and grey matter. Everyone ducked and the old man Fritz had called the Major walked slowly into the light of the torches, a double barrelled shotgun in his arms ready to shoot again.
“I’ve another shell in here if anyone feels the need to be brave. Move back the lot of you,” he ordered in a steady voice. Keeping the weapon pointed at the others as they retreated away from the mouth of the cave, he pulled out a pen knife and deftly sliced the bonds that held Jacob and Eileen. “Now then, tie them up and go find the police,” he said to Jacob, as if ordering a butler to take his hat and coat. “Damned Hun, I knew there was something fishy about him from the start.”
One year later.
He’d not been there since what he came to call, that night, and he still wasn’t sure if he was ready to go there even now.
However, living as he did just down the road, he felt the time had come to finally face his demons. So taking a packed lunch, and Paddy, his Irish Setter, he’d rambled in the general direction the Devil’s Cave, with the idea of letting his subconscious decide whether he’d arrive there or not.
Now, standing in front of its dark open maw, he thought back to the chaotic aftermath of that night. The clawing, intrusive press, the hard-nosed suspicious detectives, and the shocked friends who treated him with the guarded kid gloves used only for victims of disasters and massacres. All had served to make Jacob feel guilty, and he could not understand why. He had done nothing wrong, and yet culpability weighted his mind like a half forgotten debt.
The police from the village had initially thought it a joke and after warning Jacob of the consequences of wasting police time, had sent their youngest constable on a bicycle to investigate the wild claims.
Nothing could have prepared him for the scene he witnessed on that bright moonlit night, or the Major’s anger at them for not being taken seriously. Jake chuckled to himself at the thought of the young man shrinking at the sight of the dead, and then at the blistering attack by the old man with a shotgun.
The castle, Cadwaladar Hall, had passed into his hands, and the confessions of all had exonerated him and Eileen of any wrongdoing. They now both lived in its draughty halls, their future safe with the money left to them by Eleri Cadwaladar, who had written her last will and testament the night he had spoken to her in the library.
Only the bad dreams, the constant gutter press revelations about Fritz and his gang, and the occasional hateful comment about how he came to inherit the hall, remained of that night. The rest he had consigned to be forgotten, until now.
He wondered about his grandfather, about why he had taken the bet in the first place. Jake himself had never really believed in Satan and his like, but in those times the church was a regular feature in village life, everyone believed because they knew no different. So why had he taken the wager if he thought there was a chance he could be taken by the Devil?
Had he been a free thinker who simply didn’t believe in it all? Or perhaps he had an accident in the cave and the village folk had embellished the story over the years; a legend helped in its development by some local businessman with an eye to attract visitors perhaps? Jacob decided he’d never know and nothing could come of pondering the matter.
Looking into the darkness he thought back to the moment of terror as he’d seen the light in the cave. He now knew it had been the Major’s pipe, but at that time the prospect of his fall to Satan’s realm had looked all too real. There was no such thing as Hell he knew, but tied as he had been, helpless among believers who were planning to do him harm, he had seriously believed it was Old Nick coming to trade his soul for his grandfather’s.
Major Evans had been in the cave the whole time, watching the proceedings, intent on finding out what, That bloody Hun was up to. It was only after the shock of seeing Eleri attacking her daughter had worn off that he was goaded into action. The light going out had been his pipe falling from his gaping mouth.
“There’s nothing in there but dust, rats and bat doings,” Major Evans had said when Jacob mentioned his terror, and what he’d believed was coming for him when he saw the light.
Jacob thought so too, now. Picking up a stone, he threw it into the gloom and listened as it hit the wall. He looked to his dog to see if he’d fetch it, but Paddy too was staring intently into the black pit of the cavern.
“If you’re in there John Cadwaladar, you’re free to go. You didn’t get my soul, but your wife and daughter gave theirs for you, so you might as well use them.”
Silence answered him. Jake felt suddenly stupid, and slightly ashamed he’d poked fun at Eleri’s sacrifice. She hadn’t been a bad person, just someone caught in unfortunate circumstances. Her family had been everything to her and she proved it by killing herself in the belief she was saving him, and thus the Cadwaladar name.
“Sorry Gran,” he muttered.
He looked up and noticed it was late and that the weather was closing in. Eileen had not liked the idea of him going there and he now understood why; there was an aura of death that lingered like mustard gas residue, and Jacob knew he should have avoided the place. It was time to go home he decided, so buttoning his jacket and turning his collar up, he gave the blackness one last look.
“Goodbye Granddad,” he said, and then bending down to pat Paddy on the head, he turned and started to walk home.
A single roughly played note on a violin stopped him dead in his tracks.
Tomorrow it's the turn of my very good friend Teresa Geering to tell you her tale of The Secrets of Castle Drakon.
You'll find her Blog here: Mad Tee's Blog.
If you fancy reading the story before this one, you'll find it here: Jeff Blackmer's Blog
Fancy owning your own copy? You'll find it here: The Secrets of Castle Drakon.
As you were...
Tomorrow it's the turn of my very good friend Teresa Geering to tell you her tale of The Secrets of Castle Drakon.
You'll find her Blog here: Mad Tee's Blog.
If you fancy reading the story before this one, you'll find it here: Jeff Blackmer's Blog
Fancy owning your own copy? You'll find it here: The Secrets of Castle Drakon.
As you were...