Sunday, 18 August 2013

Skeletons in the Closet: Part Eight

Well, here we are, Part 8; by my reckoning, only between 2 and 4 parts to go! This one's a little shorter, but hey, it's Sunday, right? Here are links to all the other parts, if you've missed them: one two  three four five six seven
And also, links to all the parts of Skeletons are available from the first instalment, just for your convenience if you're just starting out!

It is the job of a butler to be, at all times, better informed than his employers. Whilst the other members of the party had no idea of the enemy they were facing, Crichton had immediately recognised them for what they were; the moving corpses of those long dead, reanimated by the foulest of foul magics. Hence, when he had escaped from the conservatory, he had not, as the others, simply fled without purpose; it is not the butler’s way to ever perform superfluous actions. Crichton knew exactly where he was going, and what he needed to do.

He was currently very near his destination, deep within the east wing of Tunnicliffe Manor. He carefully peered around the corner into the corridor beyond, a model of decorum despite the heady flight he’d undergone mere moments previously. The coast was clear; as he had suspected, he had evaded his pursuers, who had in any case seemed more concerned with chasing the female members of the party than the besuited butler. He calmly adjusted his small black bowtie and smoothed down the front of his jacket to remove any creases that might have crept into it, before stepping into the corridor. He glanced again from left to right as he swiftly crossed over to a portrait of the Virgin Mary berating Onan, smoothly taking a tiny golden key from an inner pocket as he did so. Having ascertained that there was indeed no one watching, he inserted the key into a tiny crack just below the right hand corner of the painting, and turned it sharply.

A six foot section of the wall slid aside, revealing a neatly furnished room with a thick red carpet, a varnished mahogany desk and accompanying chair and, arranged on the back wall, row upon row of thick leather-bound books on long wooden shelves. Upon the desk were three large candles, and a pile of neatly stacked paper with a quill and ink perched upon them. The baize finish to the desktop, and the slightly musty smell which emerged with this sight, spoke of the storage of aeons of knowledge seen only by a select few, carefully hoarded and accumulated without the knowledge of any outsiders.

A small mouse emerged from a hole in the corner, scampered up the leg of the desk, saw Crichton and relieved itself on the tabletop before scurrying back to its hole. Such was Crichton’s unflappability, however, that he did not even sigh, just carefully stepped into the room. He lit the candles to flood the room with waxy light, then pressed a switch on the wall so that the sliding panel which had revealed the room once more hid it, and the butler, from the outside world.

The story behind the secret room was this. Given that the upper classes, in general, could not find their backsides with both hands without the aid of a map and a servant to read it for them, it had long been the custom of butlers everywhere to look out for threats to their families on their masters’ behalf, a custom that they accepted with exasperated indifference. The Tunnicliffe’s butlers had taken this custom a step further, making sure that every dilemma the family had faced, and the circumstances of its solution, were carefully catalogued as advice and instruction for future generations. Not in the leather-bound books that lined the walls, books of history and philosophy written by some of the greatest minds that had existed in the known world; they were mere trifles compared to the tome Crichton had come to find. No; the book that Crichton now took from the bottom drawer of the mahogany desk held far more important information than these. It was a large and ponderous volume, thick with pages inserted by previous incumbents of Crichton’s position detailing their travails and triumphs, their wisdom and their warnings. It was like the Bible, only without all the fake hocus-pocus.

Crichton turned to the section on necromancy, and began to read.