Here now is Chapter Four, and we're back to Shepperton. And with the threat of LeGace's presence felt most acutely by Craycroft, we are ripe for some interesting twists.
Book Four, Chapter Four
Craycroft was at his window, looking out at the gathering storm. He looked off in the distance, and could see that his own world seemed to be caught up in the gray, blowing skies and the sweeping sheets of rain.
“M’lord, what will you have us do?”
“Ah, Kerlin, I wish that I had but one answer for you. But nay, what I should have is more information. I must know the whereabouts of LeGace, and I must find out what he is doing in the company of Master Guarneri. Surely this is no coincidence that he and Guarneri are together, and that it was Guarneri that was involved with our last plague, during which our craft all but came to naught. Tell me, whom do you have that might be of some use in this pursuit.”
“Well, m’lord, we have Jeremy and Rowan, whom you know. It would seem that they are ideally suited for a task such as that. And they, I do know, would be most eager to perform such a service.”
“Very well, then, we should set up a meeting with these two. And I feel that it should be soon.”
“Leave that to me, m’lord. We can get them both here this evening, of that I am certain.”
“Then, make it so, good Kerlin.”
Kerlin bowed slightly, and was off in search of the two youths. Craycroft turned his attention back to the storm that was rapidly coming off the sea towards the castle. He thought wistfully of Falma. How he missed that man’s intelligence, but more than that he missed his insight. If anyone would know what he could and should be doing, it was Falma.
And then he turned away from the window, walked over to his chair. He poured himself a tumbler of wine, and sat heavily down into the cushion. As he sat, he thought again about Robert and Judy. He thought again about how they had each been torn from their old lives. He wondered just how much of their former lives they missed. He had talked rather extensively with Robert about the differences between his old way of life and now, this more primitive society in which he now found himself. And as animated as the conversations were, he could not seem to get anything substantial from him about his former life, except to talk about medicine. It was as if Robert had deliberately cut himself off from the painful reminders, and was concentrating on his current state of being. And it seemed to Craycroft that with all of his most marvelous discoveries, and the magnificent things that he taught there was still something of regret and sadness. It seemed as if there was something deep, dark and heavy that Robert kept hidden.
It was not so with the lady Judy. Here was someone who was open as a book, and who appeared to have no regrets about coming to Shepperton. It was not as if Judy was always cheerful, but it was she who could be counted on to ever be the empathetic listener as well as the sage advisor. How she reminded him of another! He had even caught himself referring to her as his Felicia, which made Judy smile that secret smile of hers.
It was during this brief reverie that a page appeared at the door. After all this time, Craycroft was still not used to always being available and accessible.
“Yes, Page, what is it?” He said this just a bit churlishly, putting down his tumbler of wine.
“Most sorry, m’lord. It seems that Master Robert needs your assistance. He is at the clinic, and says that it is a matter most urgent.”
Craycroft could think of no other time that Robert had ever called upon him. He, who had seemed so independent, and so self-assured, now calling for Craycroft’s help.
“Well, then, m’lad. This must, indeed, be something of importance.”
Just then the sky darkened, and a sudden bright flash of lightning was followed by an enormously loud clap of thunder, which caused all activity to momentarily cease. After a brief pause, Craycroft stood up, walked over to the doorway, put on his trustworthy hat, of nondescript color and shape, but which, he knew would keep the rain out of his face.
“Well, now, lad, let us then be off. You say that Master Robert did ask for me? Then we must not tarry. And tell me, page, what is your name?”
“Me name’s Mortimer, m’lord.”
“Tell me, are you fairly new? I don’t recall seeing you before.”
“Oh, aye, m’lord. This be my first month as page, though ye might know me older brother. His name’s Jeremy.”
“Why, of course I know Jeremy, m’lad.” Craycroft smiled at the irony of this. “And let me tell you that Jeremy will have some important work to do for me.”
As the page and Craycroft stepped out, and toward the clinic, the storm unleashed its fury, with rain pelting them mercilessly. They picked up their pace, and were soon running. They came upon the clinic, and as they did, the heavy door opened to them, and the small page stepped back out of the way. Inside, one of the servants took Craycroft’s cloak and hat, as the page again shut the door.
Coming across the entryway, Bob rushed over to greet his friend.
“Oh, Craycroft, I’m so sorry to have called you away. But you’ve just got to see this. Hermes, can you bring a towel over here. Yes that should do fine.”
Hermes came rushing over as well, and handed Craycroft a dry towel, which he used to wipe himself off.
“Why, thank you Hermes. And so, Robert, what is it that has you so stirred up? I know that it is not anything trivial…”
“Just come this way, my friend, and see for yourself.”
Bob led him across the entryway, and then down a long hallway toward the back rooms of the clinic. He then opened the door, where he found Judy, Jeanne, and several persons that he had never seen. It was Judy who spoke.
“Oh, thank heavens you’re here! It seems that you are needed once again to solve a mystery. Just come over to this side of the room, and tell us what you see.”
Craycroft came over to the exam table, where sat the man from the sea. And next to him was Alexandra. And next to them both sat the injured Julius, with his deformed jaw. Farther away, in a corner of the room were Peggy, Julius’s mother, Louise, and the man, Chauncey.
“My, what an unusual collection of persons we have here, Master Robert...”
“You would most certainly be right in that, but let me tell you, that would only be the beginning, and would not be the reason that I called you.”
“Do, go on, my friend. For I know that you would not call me needlessly.”
“Well, you remember telling us all to be on the lookout for any information about this Master LeGace. Just keep that thought in the back of your mind, as I fill you in on the history that brings all these people together.”
Craycroft’s eyebrow raised up, as the man from the sea winced. Then Bob continued.
“Let me start with this young fellow, here. He was brought in after an altercation in our courtyard, in which he was knocked to the ground by a man, who fled the scene, but unfortunately caused this young fellow to suffer a broken, dislocated jaw, and for him, talking would be most difficult. But he understands everything around him now, though it has been within the past half hour that things seem to be coming back to him. Is that not right, Julius?”
Julius nodded, tried to speak, but found that it was too painful to try.
Craycroft came up to the youth quietly, looked at his swollen, disfigured face. And he reached out and touched his jaw ever so gently, and as he did, he spoke, saying, “Ah my lad, I can see that you have been grievously injured. And let me reassure you that here you shall find the care that you need. For there are none in this world equal to Master Robert, and the Lady Judy.”
Then Robert continued, “and to make matters more interesting, we have his mother, here. And also, we’ve got this gentleman, named Chauncey, who can fill you in on some more of what led to his being injured.”
“Aye, and who be these? Come forward. I am Craycroft…”
At the mention of his name, the lady immediately bowed down, groveling at his feet, and spoke, “Oh, m’liege lord, is it truly thee? Ah, you have indeed come to us in our need!”
“Come, now, lass, there is no need for this. Rise up, and tell me your name.”
“Me name’s Louise, m’lord.” And she got up, but could not look Craycroft in the face, and kept her own face downwards.
“Well, Louise, it is my task then to tell you that your own son is now here among us. And let me also tell you that there is no better place for him than with our good physician, Robert, and his lady, Judy. Now, if you’ll be so kind as to tell us all of what happened.”
“M’liege, it was earlier today, when my son was in the market. He was, I’m afeared to say, trying to remove the purse from this man, here, name of Chauncey. And then this other man just up and seizes him, and hits him, and he throws him to the ground. But, m’lord, it was not I, but this man who scared off the other man, so maybe ye’d better talk to him, fer I am just a mother, and most worried fer my son.”
Her little speech was interrupted by a brilliant flash of lightning, followed immediately by a clap of thunder so loud that it shook the whole castle. Craycroft felt an unfamiliar chill, going from the back of his neck, down his spine. As he looked at the others in the room, he could tell that what he was going to hear might stay with him for some time.
“Master Chauncey, then, do tell of your encounter today, for it would seem that whatever you have to tell us, it will be significant.”
Unlike Louise, Chauncey seemed perfectly at ease in talking to his liege lord. He strode forward, and humbly, but unafraid, said, “m’lord, I shall tell ye of the events of the day, and I hold nothing back.”
Craycroft smiled at this man, so humble, yet not at all awed in his presence. He found him refreshing. “Do go on, then, and let us hear of your own tale.”
“As ye see, m’lord, I am but a humble man, and one who has risen to me present circumstances, from the dust of your own feet. Ah, and I do know that ye, yerself have also risen from origins in humility. In that we are alike.”
Craycroft looked again at the man, notice that he looked familiar, but could not place him.
“I shall tell ye some about me, then, so that ye may judge me accordingly. As I have said, I came from humble origins, so humble, in fact, that many would consider them to breed only vermin. I was but a child, living in the shadows of this castle, me parents having both died before I could know of their work. I was left to meself , to make out as I could, and I became, by necessity, one of the best thieves and pickpockets in the area. It was how I got along, and how I fed meself. That was, until I met up with the man whom I’ll simply call by the name of Jonas. As it was, this man was walking out of the tavern, and I, in me usual way, came up beside him, and I spied his purse. Then, as the man turned away, I reached fer his purse, but as I did so, I felt it, like a knife down me hand, and I cried out.
“Next thing, I was lyin’ on the ground with Jonas looking down at me. He had me own bleedin’ hand in his big old hand, and wrapped up in a cloth. The look on his face was not one I expected – rather, it was a warm, welcoming look. As if t’ say “it’s aw’right wi’ me, lad,” as if he was expectin’ me to cross his path. As me own bleedin’ then stopped, and I got back up, I noticed on his own arm he had on it, on the wrist, a very strange tattoo. It was of a serpent and a skull. When I asked him about it, he said only that it was a mark of his rank.
“Well, he found out about me, and that I was alone in the world. And he arranged fer me to get fed and housed by the innkeeper, in exchange fer me services. And I worked fer that innkeeper fer the next six years, and every year, old Jonas would come by, in February. He’d stay at the inn, and he and I would talk about how things were happenin’. But then, one year he didn’t come by, and the innkeeper took me aside, and told me that this man had been payin’ a yearly sum of money, and that this year, I should take that money wi’ me, and go down to the dock, and ask after a man, by the name of LeGace, and that he would see to it that I had passage aboard the next boat leavin’ the island.”
At the name of LeGace, there was a collective intake of breath, and all in that room became restless, including the man from the sea.
“And I see, by the look upon yer faces that this is a name that means somethin’ t’ ye. Well, more about him later. But suffice it to say, that, upon that meeting, and taking a large share of the money, he did send me to be boarded upon a boat headed toward Ireland.”
“Might I ask, my good man,” interjected Melchior, “how many years ago was this?”
“Why it was a good twenty years ago, at least,” Chauncey replied. “And might I ask why that’d be important to ye?”
“Well sir,” continued Melchior. “I, myself, had dealings with this Master LeGace, while I was in Ireland, but that was some years later. And let me tell you that those dealings were professionally, and personally an embarrassment to me.”
“Ah, well, it would appear, Master…”
“Melchior, it is.”
“Very well, Master Melchior, it seems as though little has changed, then, over the years. Now, I meself, have been chasing this phantom these past four years, and for reasons personal, as you shall hear. But for now, I shall say that I was but walkin’ about in yer courtyard, when this young lad tried to get me purse. Now, as I was grasping his hand, this other man, of a sudden took hold of the lad. And as his mother told ye, this fellow just pummeled this poor lad, and he threw him down on the ground. Now I did not get this other man’s name, but I got a good look at him, and I could tell that he was one of the brotherhood…”
“The brotherhood?” asked Craycroft. “By that do you mean one of the Order of Byzantium?”
“Oh, aye, m’lord.”
At this, the man from the sea started shaking, uncontrollably.
“What is it, me sailor?” asked Alex, who had remained at his side this whole time. “What does it mean, this brotherhood?”
The man remained mute, but it became clear that the mention of LeGace, and talk of the brotherhood meant something to him. Craycroft could see this.
“How now, my good man? And to what do we owe this visit, your highness?”
Oddly, Alex was not alarmed by Craycroft’s term for him. And then Craycroft addressed her.
“It would appear, m’lass that you have developed something of a special friendship with our prince, here. Would I be right?”
Alex spoke as if having a conversation with her liege lord was just as natural as talking with her mother. “Oh, m’lord, if you could have seen how he got to our island…”
Another flash of lightning, followed by another loud clap of thunder interrupted the doings in the clinic. And what became clear to Craycroft were several things. The first was that Robert and Judy were right in calling him here. The second was that here were people, previously unrelated, who knew about, and could provide useful information on this most pressing problem of LeGace - some background and some individual stories that just might prove very interesting. And thirdly, that he had sent Kerlin off to find Jeremy and Rowan, and he wanted to be there when they got back. And lastly, that these folks could use some good food, some good comfort, and some thanks.
So he made mention to his page to send word to the keep, that there would be people coming over, and to make room for them, and to make certain that they were fed and cared for like royalty.
As the arrangement were being made, Peggy came up to Judy and Jeanne, and asked after Clarice. When Jeanne explained that Clarice was now watching over young Falma, Peggy asked if it would be all right if she were to visit with her sister, Clarice.
“It’s just that I’ve something fer her, m’lady. But me daughter, Alexandra, it seems, needs to be with this man from the sea, but I need to get back to Champour, fer to see after my own and Clarice’s child.”
“Don’t you worry,” added Judy. “I’d be happy to see to your daughter’s needs. You may leave her in my care for now.”
“Oh, thank ye, m’lady. Now, mind ye, I’ll be back fer to check on me daughter tomorrow. If ye but need me afore that, just tell them it’s the house of Simeon in Champour, or me brother’s house, Malcolm’s. Now, I must be off, but I’ll speak to me daughter.”
Judy followed Peggy over to her daughter, who was gently soothing her man’s nerves, singing softly to him, in her little girl’s voice.