Author’s note: this story is part of the ongoing gas-lamp fantasy misadventures of the wizard Edwyn Le Fay. Before reading this story, it is advised that you read these stories, in this order
The Dark House
The House on the Cliff
Mr Naith & Mr Naith
Searching for Gideon De Ville
The Evil Plans of Gideon De Ville
Edwyn Le Fay at the Trismegistus Club
The story will continue, next, in Dark Rumours.
Edwyn Le Fay had to go to explore Lochindorb Castle, once he had heard a legend about the fourteenth century wizard Alexander Stewart, and the fact that the wizard was supposed to have had copies of the Book of Black earth and the Red Book of Appin. Both of those tomes – if they had ever existed – were now lost. The last supposed known copy of the Red Book of Appin disappeared from the restricted section of the British Library in 1869. But both books were supposed to have contained some of the most powerful of spells within their covers.
Edwyn Le Fay was drawn to the castle (and the legendary tomes) like a moth to a candle flame; and everybody knows what happens to the poor old moth when it flies into that little bright flame. But Edwyn never considered that trying to find those two lost tomes might be injurious to his health, despite everything which had happened to him in the past. He simply did not see that his interest in Magick had developed into something approaching a mania. In fact, he failed to understand any wizard who did not feel the same that he did.
Edwyn Le Fay travelled up to Scotland by train. There was no station at Badenoch, however; and he had not been able to locate Lochindorb on his map of Scotland. But he had noticed that Badenoch was a region, rather than a town. In the middle of that region, and on the railway, was the town of Dalwhinnie. It was all of the way to Dalwhinnie, on a branch of the River Spey, that Edwyn had travelled by train. It was the longest train journey which he had ever been on, as the wizard was not the most travelled of people.
He had timed his journey badly, ending up at Dalwhinnie in the early hours of the morning, having caught the sleeper train bound for Inverness. Dalwhinnie, when he had got off the train, had still been asleep. He had gone into the small town, but it had been hours before he had been able to find somebody to take him to Lochindorb.
He had gone in the back of a cart to a small loch, where he had been told that the castle was on an island in the loch. He had not expected that, and there was no way that he was going to swim out to the place. He walked along the banks of the loch until he found somebody willing to take him out to the island, for what Edwyn considered to be an egregious amount of money. But, having come so far, Edwyn could only hand the money over, or face having to go all of the way back to London empty-handed.
He was dropped off on the banks of the small island on which the castle had been built, having extracted a promise that he would be collected come nightfall. Edwyn did not want to spend a night on the island. He had visions of freezing to death if he attempted something like that.
He walked up from the shore to look at the island and its castle. It was not very prepossessing. Edwyn Le Fay stared at the ruin of Lochindorb Castle. He had known that it was ruined. But he had thought that there would be more left of it, for some reason. It did not look like there could be anything left in the place. But, having come out all of the way to this isolated place, he was not willing to give up now. If there was still anything left in this place, then he intended to find it.
There were only a few walls left standing, and nothing of its roof. There was no place in the ruin to shelter. If it started raining then he was going to get very wet; and he had brought no umbrella; and the rowing boat would not be back until the evening. It was a long time to be out of doors, especially for a pale, unhealthy wizard whose idea of physical exercise was picking up a spellbook.
Edwyn Le Fay walked around what was left of the castle. It was cold, the wind blowing in his face. Edwyn was glad that he had thought to wrap up warm for this expedition, in his big, lined overcoat. He had worn a brown bowler hat as well, though, hoping that it might help keep his head warm, and a woollen scarf around his neck. But the wind was blowing so much that he had had to force the bowler down on his head; before he had done that, it had been blown off twice, and he had had to go scampering after it.
If there was anything to be found in this place then it would have to be underground, presuming that the place had some dungeons. Walking around the ruins, Edwyn saw some stairs going down into the ground. Unfortunately, the top of the stairs had been blocked by a couple of heavy stones, in the past.
He stared at the stones. There was no way that he could easily move them. They were too big for him to lift. But he had brought some rope with him. The stones were at the top of the stone stairs, but they did not appear to be wedged into position. It might be possible to drag the top one out of the way. He reckoned that he could then squeeze past the other one, and down into what dungeons remained.
Edwyn took the rope out of his bag of equipment. It was good, stout rope, and he had brought it with him in case he had had to do any climbing. Not that he was particularly keen on heights, but he was willing to take almost any risk to get his hands on lost Magickal knowledge.
He fastened the rope around the rock, making sure that it was secure. Then he took the other end, and pulled as though his life depended on it.
The rock rocked where it was. It definitely wasn’t wedged. But Edwin didn’t manage to pull it out of the way, not yet.
The fact that the stone had moved a little gave him hope, though. He dug his heels into the ground, and he pulled with all of his might. He pulled with more strength than he knew that he possessed, and certainly with more strength than he had ever used in his life before, Magick not really being something which caused muscles to grow.
“Aah!” he cried out, as he fell backwards. He lay there for a few seconds, looking up at the cloudy Scottish sky. Then he picked himself up and looked at the piece of stone.
He had moved it out of the way. That was what had caused him to fall backwards, the fact that he had shifted it. He could now try to get down those stone steps into the darkness below.
Both of his arms ached. If he had possessed some powders to alleviate pain he would have taken them just then, as the muscles in his arms really ached. He hoped that he had not pulled any muscles, or anything like that.
He told himself that he really should learn some powerful spells of Telekinesis. Moving that stone would have been easy, then.
Edwyn undid the rope from around the fallen piece of masonry, and put it back into the bag of what he had considered to be essential equipment for this exploration. He moved towards the stone steps. Then he realised that the wind was ruffling his hair. His brown bowler hat had come off when he had fallen backwards.
He looked around, and saw where the hat had fallen. He walked over to it, picked it up, and jammed it back on his head. He picked up his bag of equipment and walked over to the stone stairs.
Edwyn got out his ever-burning taper, and lit it with a word of Magick. Then he descended the steps, squeezing past the other block of masonry with some difficulty. It moved a little as he squeezed past, but Edwyn ignored it.
The steps were narrow, but went straight down into the dark. They were also very damp and Edwyn went slowly, so that he did not slip and fall. He had not told anybody that he was coming up to Lochindorb Castle, and there would be no assistance coming for him should anything happen. But he tried to put such thoughts out of his mind.
The damp was a worry if there were any spellbooks down here, though. After five hundred years in damp surroundings spellbooks would be ruined and illegible, their parchment or vellum pages turned to mould. All that he could do was to hope that if there were spellbooks down here that they had been stored somewhere dry.
The steps led down to a narrow passage. The walls were slimy. The floor was slippery. He went cautiously, holding his taper up above his head. Its spectral light gave the walls a green sheen.
The passage led to what had once been a dungeon. There were ancient manacles still hanging from one wall, but the action of the damp on them over the years had rusted them solid. Part of the walls had collapsed, leaving a pile of rubble in one corner. Edwyn went over and poked the rubble with the toe of his shoe, but it didn’t even move. He doubted if there were any spellbooks beneath the old stones. It did not occur to him that if parts of the walls had collapsed, at some time in the past, then it might not be all that safe to be down there. But sometimes Le Fay could have no sense of danger, at least when the possibility of spellbooks were concerned.
There were two narrow passages out of the dungeon. Edwyn checked out the one on the left, first. It led to a small underground chamber with nothing in it. There was another passage leading out, opposite the one where Edwyn had come in. But it only went a few feet before being entirely blocked by rubble.
Edwyn gave the rubble a kick. It didn’t move. But some dust fell down from the ceiling. Edwyn stared at the rubble. He wondered how long it would take to move it. But even he realised that maybe he should leave the rubble alone.
He went back to the room where he had come in. He was still holding his bag of essential adventuring equipment. He put it down on the damp floor of the chamber, near the bottom of the stone steps. He had got tired of hauling it around; and he could always come back for it if he needed anything out of it, such as the food which he had packed for this exploration.
Le Fay went down the other passage. He had to climb over rubble here and there. But he managed to get down the passage to the end, where it opened out into a small chamber, slightly less damp than the other two chambers which he had been in.
He held up the ever-burning taper and looked around the chamber. There was nothing in it. Not one article had been left in the place. He had thought that there would have been something in there, even if only some old coin, some token which he could have taken back with him to London, some memento of a journey which, so far, had been a total waste of time.
There was nothing. Edwyn went back and forth between the few underground rooms of Lochindorb Castle. It looked like there was nothing to find. If there had ever been anything down there then it had been taken away a long time ago. Edwyn was faced with a long journey back to London.
No! There had to be something down here. Even if he could find the most minor of Magickal items from the past it would have been worth it.
Edwyn went over to his bag of equipment; where it was on the ground. He had a look in there, but there wasn’t really anything which would have been of much use in this circumstance. So, instead he got his mythometer out of his pocket, and held it in his left hand – like most wizards, Edwyn Le Fay was left-handed. Wizards took the sinister path.
Edwyn cast a simple spell of detection, which should reveal the existence of any Magick down in these underground chambers. It would not detect a spellbook, as they were not intrinsically Magickal. But if there was some sort of Magick ring in the place the spell should detect it.
Edwyn stared down at the needle of the mythometer. It hadn’t moved. He could sense nothing, not even the faintest twinge. There was no Magick in the place.
He sat down on the floor, despite the fact that it was damp, and he would end up getting marks on the seat of his trousers. He didn’t care. He felt unhappy. It looked like his trip up here had been an utter waste of time. He might as well have stayed in London, and put his feet up at the Trismegistus Club. At least it was warm and dry in there, and he could have had a glass of soda water whenever he wanted to.
There had to be something. He tried to think like a wizard. Well, he was one of those already; so he tried to think like a fourteenth century wizard, who would have been scared of having his interest of Magick exposed.
Secret: Alexander Stewart would have kept his mystical interests secret, even in a castle which he owned. He would not have wanted any of his men to realise that he was a wizard. And Alexander Stewart could not simply have closed off some room upstairs, not when the castle had already been built.
But he could have had some new dungeons dug, if the workers had been sworn to secrecy (or murdered afterwards). There could be a secret room somewhere down here!
Once more Edwyn Le Fay was filled with hope. Perhaps his trip out here had not been wasted, after all.
He began working his way around the walls of these underground chambers, tapping on the damp, slimy walls, trying his best to ignore the fact that he was getting his fingertips dirty. He did not find anything in the chamber at the bottom of the stone steps, but he had not really expected to find anything there. He did not find anything in the second underground room which he had gone into; and he was worried that the blocked passage perhaps led to where the secret door was.
In the other chamber, the driest of the three, he thought that he sensed something. Was the sound slightly different? There certainly was not the breath of a draught, or anything like that. But the bricks, the way that they fitted together – yes, there was a line in the brickwork. All of the edges of the bricks met up. Either there was a secret door there, or some passage had been bricked up in the past. Le Fay thought that it was the former. Well, he hoped that it was the former.
It was certainly not as well hidden as the secret door to the underground lair of Gideon De Ville had been. If Le Fay had not seen the gorilla activate it, he would never have known that there had been a secret door there. He supposed that, after having his hiding place discovered, De Ville was now a long way away from London and Scotland Yard. Especially when Scotland Yard included officers like Detective Inspector Steel, who were prepared to do almost anything to get their man. Le Fay did not like Steel.
It was now a question of getting the secret door open – if it would open, after all these years. It was possible that the mechanism had entirely seized up.
Edwyn Le Fay looked around the chamber for something to press or to pull. He hoped that he would not have to go around pressing bricks in, as there were a lot of bricks making up the walls of that room.
There was dirt on the floor, so much dirt that the flagstones could no be seen. There was mould on the damp walls. There was a dingle rusted manacle hanging from one wall.
A single manacle? That seemed a little odd. Edwyn went over al he looked at the manacle. He pulled on the manacle with all of his strength. There was a grating sound. And then the manacle broke, throwing Edwyn down onto the floor.
He stared at the ceiling. He was getting fed up of ending up on his back. This was the second time in only a few weeks. No, it was the third time, he reminded himself: once in the sewer beneath the Trismegistus Club, and twice on this godforsaken island.
Edwyn Le Fay stood up and dusted himself down. He went and picked up his brown bowler hat, which had rolled into one of the corner of the room. It was then that he noticed that the secret door had opened a crack. It was open a few inches. But not enough for Edwyn to get past.
Edwyn had not brought any sort of lever with him, in his bag. A metal crowbar would have done. But the closest thing which he had to that was a penknife, which would not have really been of much use.
He pushed at the stone door. It did not move. The door opened inwards, away from him, otherwise he might have tried attaching the rope to the door and pulling.
He pushed on the stone secret door. It opened a little. Then it stuck, again. There was still not room for him to get through.
Edwyn Le Fay stepped back, to the far side of the room. Then he took a run at the stone door, smacking into it with his shoulder. He was probably lucky that he did not break something. As it was he was destined to have bruising of his deltoid muscle. He was probably saved from a broken bone by the fact that the door did give a little, before sticking again.
“Ow!” That hurt. Edwyn held his shoulder. He had not expected it to hurt so much. But he had moved the secret door open enough for him to squeeze past.
He squeezed past, holding his ever-burning taper up high. He felt a thrill run through him, imagining that he must have been the first person to have come along this passage in hundreds of years. There was no thought of danger. Only that he might discover something of mystical power, the old spellbooks of Alexander Stewart.
The passage was narrow, and it was not very tall, either. Edwyn Le Fay was not a particularly tall man, but he had to duck his head as he walked along.
The passage was cold, colder than the other room had been. Le Fay shivered, and he walked slowly, as though sensing that he was approaching something of great power.
The passage ended in a small room, some twelve feet by twelve feet. The room looked like it had been cut out of the solid rock.
The room had a couple of skeletons lying on the floor. Edwyn stared at the skeletons, waiting to see of they were going to move or not. Edwyn Le Fay knew that skeletons could be animated using necromancy. It seemed that Obadiah Monk might have known such spells, as when Le Fay had investigated his house there had been a couple of smashed skeletons on the ground. Those had presumably been animated guardians. But they had presumably been destroyed at the hands of Gideon De Ville.
The skeletons did not move. Edwyn relaxed. They must have been some enemies of Alexander Stewart, who had been killed and their corpses hidden in this room, for some reason. So perhaps this room was only a hiding place for dead bodies, rather than for spellbooks.
Le Fay felt a massive sense of disappointment. It seemed that he had come all of the way to this godforsaken corner of Scotland for nothing at all.
Then he noticed that the room was not entirely empty, apart from the skeletons. There was an inset niche, which had been cut into the rock. Le Fay could see there was something black inside there. He could not tell what it was, but he thought that it might possibly be a box.
He stepped forward, being careful not to step on the skeletons. He took hold of it with his left hand, pulling it out. But it was so heavy that he had to drop his ever-burning taper on the floor and grab it with his other hand, as well. The thing was made out of metal. It was not a box, either, but appeared to be some sort of metal tome.
Edwyn held it, and stared at it. It was a book which had an entirely black metallic cover. He knew that it was not the Red book of Appin. It meant that, in his hands, he held the legendary Book of Black earth. Edwyn did not realise it, just then, at he was not holding a copy, but the original tome.
As Edwyn stared down at it he felt that all of his hard work had been rewarded. Of course he did not really know what hard work was, never having done any manual labour in his entire life. He felt that going up to Scotland and exploring the ruins of an old castle was hard work.
Then Edwyn noticed that the skeletons had stood up. This did not appear good. With the ever-burning taper having fallen to the ground the skeletons were lit from below by the ghostly green light, making them look even scarier than normal.
“Ah!” It was a very girly cry. Edwyn backed off. The skeletons took a step forwards, and raised their bony fingers.
Edwyn turned, and ran, leaving the taper where it was on the floor. He ran down the passage… and ran straight into the door. He fell over, stunned, as the skeletons came down the passage towards him.
He screamed again, as he saw the skeletons tower over him. He struck out with the Book of Black Earth, which he still held. It was not really an attempt at combat. It was just a reaction.
It was effective, though. The skeletons had been in damp surroundings for hundreds of years. The metal book easily smashed through their rotten bones. Bony fingers were broken off. One skeletal arm went flying.
Edwyn, no longer quite so terrified, got to his feet, using the metal book as a makeshift weapon, smashing it into the skulls and torsos of the animated skeletons. He could just about see what he was doing, with just enough light filtering down into the passage. Then he stamped down on the bones. He kept stamping until he finally stopped panicking.
Edwyn made his way back to the main underground chamber, with the stone steps leading upwards, into the sunlight. Well, it would have been sunlight if the sky wasn’t filled with dark grey clouds and it hadn’t started to rain.
The rain had only just started. Edwyn stayed down in the underground chamber, looking up the stone stairs. He saw no reason why he should go up, just yet. It would be hours before the boat would return for him, and he saw no reason why he should get wet.
The rain began to come down even stronger than before. Little trickles of water ran down the stone steps.
The rain didn’t matter to him, though. He could wait down there until it began to get a little dark, or until he heard the person who was to row over to collect him shouting for him. He had what must have been the book of black Earth. It could only be that fabled tome.
Edwyn lit a lantern, and set it down on the ground. Despite it being cold and damp, he sat down, and put the heavy metal book on his lap. He had been successful, and he could hardly wait to get back down to London with his prize. Having gained this book made all of his earlier failures worthwhile.
Edwyn opened the cover of the book, to find its metal pages etched in a script which he had never seen before…