Monday, July 21, 2014

Chapter Twenty-Five

I walked as if I didn't care if they followed.  Had they not I'm not sure what I would have done but they did so I didn't need to figure that out.  Several hallways and staircases later I slowed down as I entered a dark hallway.  The drapes had been pulled and I realized the new Guardian did not use the bedchamber of the old one ... my husband.

I had to force myself down the hallway.  Then I stopped and closed my eyes.  I felt a hand on my arm and turned to see the Sheriff.  The look on his face was cautious but compassionate.  That infuriated me.  I tugged my arm loose, stomped to the nearest window, and wrenched back the heavy drapes and threw open the shutters.  "There is no such thing as ghosts," I growled.

So saying I turned resolutely back down the hall and to a heavy, paneled door.  I reached out and turning the knob I had to close my ears to the sounds of the memories.

I slammed the door open and stepped inside.  I turned on the gas lamps and ... blinked.  The room was covered in dust sheets and had been stripped of my husband's presence.  For a moment I could do nothing but shake but then forced myself to stop.  Taking a deep breath I turned to the three men who had entered behind me and said, "We will need your key Guardian."

He tried to proffer it to me but I refused to take it.  "Not on my life.  I've handled the thing once and doing so ... I find it hard to believe you do not know the law."

The Linder looked at the Chancellor who had a thoughtful look on his face.  "What is she talking about James?"

"It's an Old Law.  I had no idea it was even real much less enforced."

"Oh yes.  The Linder ... my husband ... watched one of his wives swing for the offence."

The Chancellor's eyes widened.  "Which one?"

"The first.  The only one to bear him a son that lived long enough to start his training.  The wife was furious because she had begged for the boy to be brought home until after the plague had passed but ... but he denied her saying that a true Linder, one worthy of the title and inheritance, needed to go through a few plagues to become sufficiently immune to be able to travel in the furthest reaches of our region.  The boy died ... it turned out that the plague was the Burning Pox.  So she stole the key with the intent to ... well supposedly to let some enemies in so that they could finish him ... my husband ... off."

"Dear God," the current Guardian muttered in disgust.

"My cousin once explained it to me thus ... my husband was a very good Guardian and politically was the epitome of generations of Linders but in all other aspects he was an abject failure.  Not even my cousin could have known how true his words were."

My hands were shaking and I clasped them together and turned away so the men would not see.  "I have only been where I am about to show you once.  My only demand is that after I show you and take you through I do not ever wish to see it again."

The Sheriff stepped forward and took the key from his brother.  To me he said quietly and seriously, "Show me."

I walked to the fireplace and then to the right of it.  "Do you see that particularly ugly decoration in the center of that carving?"


"That's a sign that behind it lies a passage or room.  There are some that have had to be sealed or destroyed because of a redesign or because of some reason of safety but those are usually found in the lower reaches of the Hall.  The ones on the upper floors still operate. Flip the decoration.  It will likely be stiff because there is a lever so that it doesn't happen by accident."

"Yes it's stiff ... well, what do we have here?"

"It is a keyhole.  Not all of the passages have the same keys but the Master Key will open them all.  However this lock can ONLY be opened by the Master Key."

The Linder stepped forward to examine the lock.  "You say 'the key' and not 'a key'.  Am I given to understand that there is only one master key?"

"There should be and it should only have been on the private key ring of The Linder.  As there can be only one Guardian there is only supposed to be one Master Key.  If there are more than one ... I do not know how to account for it."  Gathering my courage I said, "You must insert the key and make a full turn then turn it back half way then forward again for a quarter turn."

The Sheriff did as instructed and the paneled door popped open enough that it could be pulled wide.  Before doing so I said, "You should close and lock the chamber door.  This ... this is a very, very private ..."

I could feel them looking at me and then at each other.  The Chancellor walked over and not only shut and locked the door but threw the bolt as well.  From my pocket I pulled the candle I had put in there the night before.  "We will need light, the gas does not flow in the secret parts of the Hall."

When I would have lit the candle the Sheriff removed a small flash lantern from his coat pocket.  I knew what they were, had seen them before, but had never see one used.  "Is ... is that legal?  I thought the Great Council had questioned it as an old magic."

"They released the prohibition this summer.  They are still uncommon and expensive but these are much safer than a regular lantern ... brighter as well.  Their only drawback is that they lose power about the same way a candle burns down and then they have to be recharged before their next use."

I nodded.  "Well, we ... we will need the light but ... but I do not wish to see ... not ... not until we reach the bend in the passage."

The Linder was becoming inpatient.  "Enough of these mysteries."  He took the flash lantern from the Sheriff's hand and stomped off into the passage.  I shuddered.

His cry of disgust had me throwing my hands over my eyes.  "I won't see it.  I won't see it.  I won't ..."

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