Getting ready in this household is never a calm, ordered procedure. I don’t know anyone with organised mornings, and they’re certainly chaotic here. But finding the missing school book and digging out the car keys seem to float past me this morning. I don’t say anything – it wouldn’t be fair. I just carry on as usual.
It’s just one day.
I’ve done the school run so many times, that it’s on autopilot. Even the the frankly erratic driving of the vans and the chaos of the roadworks seem somehow muffled, like the teenage texting happening next to me.
It’s just one day.
And I’ve washing to do, dinner to make, errands to run, and it’s all in the same quiet bubble. I remember to pick up the small cake, just like last year, but keep it quiet. I don’t want to make a fuss. I don’t want to upset anyone. It’s personal, and private to me.
It’s just one day.
And now the hustle and bustle of the day has passed, and I have a few moments alone, I can look at that cake. Your cake. Your birthday cake. I lost you, my baby, far too early to know whether to get a pink cake or a blue cake. I never saw a smile or heard a giggle. I never soothed you or comforted you. You left before you arrived. Today, if you stuck to the due date (and babies never do) would be your birthday.
It’s just one day.
And, though you normally rest quietly in the shadows, today I remember. Just one day to think of what could have been. Then I leave you once again to rest until next year. I love you, my darling.
Fiona watched Steve light the candles ranged across the mantelpiece and then along the windowsill. “It’s Candlemas. What does that mean?”
Steve slotted the lighter back on the shelf. “Candlemas, Imbolc, Feast of Lights. It’s a funny time of year. It’s one of the big festivals, you know. Lady Freydis has her realm lit up like a fairground.” He picked up his glass of wine. “I’ve heard it described as the first day of spring.” He shrugged and looked out at the snow outside. “I suppose you could say that it’s a little glimpse of hope. It’s still dark at breakfast and dinner time, but the nights are getting a minute or two shorter every day. It’s still foul weather, but there are snowdrops out there and the first stirrings of spring are around, like buds and shoots tucked away in the corners. It’s dark, but there’s hope of light. It’s cold, but there’s hope of spring.”
Fiona took her glass and gently touched it to his. “Cheers. It doesn’t feel like it’s getting better.”
Steve shook his head. “But all we can do is hold on to the hope that the darkness will pass. Because without that hope, it’s a very dark place indeed.”
John Farnley, reluctant Lord and Peer, agrees to fly Professor Entwistle and Miss Sylvia Armley on their expedition, for the usual fees. It was planned as a straightforward trip to Sudan searching under the Saharan sky for obscure Nubian pyramids where they would hopefully unearth new archaeological remains.
But first they find a desperate woman, a dying man, and the ominous threat of mercenaries left leaderless after the recent colonial wars, mercenaries who are also interested in the treasures that might be hidden within the pyramids. And what could this have to do with the stories of djinn?
Trapped by an aether storm that left their aether flyer powerless, the companions work desperately to find out the secrets of the pyramids as the threat of the mercenaries grows.
Could this have anything to do with the forbidden knowledge of Hammerhand’s creation? Will the courage of John Farnley, the knowledge of Professor Entwistle, and the sharpshooting skills of Sylvia Armley save them? Or will it be the secret locked in the bronze figures?
“Good afternoon, won’t you sit down?” Lady Clara Farnley indicated a chintz covered chair and turned to the butler. “Please could you bring tea and refreshments.”
Miss Adelia Davenport took a seat and pulled a notebook and pen from her commodious reticule. “Thank you for agreeing to see me, Lady Farnley, especially after your recent loss.”
Clara managed a smile. Her mother had braved the new-fangled telephone and spent several hours explaining to Clara why she would help out the daughter of an old friend with an interview with The Lady magazine. She hadn’t mentioned it to her brother-in-law, the new Lord Farnley, and she wasn’t sure what he would think. “My mother spoke very highly of you.”
Adelia readied her pen. “Your late husband died very suddenly I believe.”
“Yes, it was a great shock.” Lady Clara kept her composure with an effort. The reminders of the loss of her husband still stung.
“How did it happen?” Adelia asked with a blandly enquiring expression.
Clara took a deep breath. That was an incredibly impertinent question, but how to answer? The woman in front of her, barely older than a schoolgirl, had relentlessly pursued this interview and now was demanding inappropriate answers. She was saved as Leighton returned with the tea tray. “Thank you, Leighton.” She watched as Leighton set the tray down on a mahogany side table and poured the tea before leaving. “It was a dreadful shock when my late husband died so unexpectedly. Fortunately my brother-in-law, Lord John Farnley, was able to return home immediately. He was a very successful aether pilot and he flew all over the world.” Clara gently stirred her tea. “He has frequently been out of the range of telegrams, but fortunately our man of business managed to track Lord John down in Munich.” She watched Adelia add two large sugar lumps to her tea. “I believe he was returning from piloting an academic expedition to Greece. Would you like a petit four?”
Adelia made some notes before helping herself to a tiny cake. “You must miss your late husband very much. How did you meet him?”
“I was helping at a village fete in support of missionary work in East Africa.” Clara smiled at the memory. She had been hot, flustered and exasperated when she had dashed towards the tea tent with a box of tea and collided with someone so handsome that it had made her blink. “He takes, that is, he took a great interest in the local charitable causes.” She hadn’t recognised him at first, as she had only seen him at a distance, and had scolded him for being in the way like she would have scolded any ordinary gentleman. “He had the most exquisite manners.” He had insisted on carrying the box of tea for her, saying that a delicate creature should not carry such burdens. “I couldn’t but help have a favourable impression of him.”
Adelia made some notes. “But you were used to moving in the same social circles, I believe.”
Clara kept her face blandly polite with an effort. “Indeed. My late husband had a title and considerable estates. I was the second daughter of a country doctor. In fact, it proves my point about Lord Nicholas’ excellent manners. He never alluded to the differences in our backgrounds.”
“He sounds a perfect gentleman,” Adelia said, scribbling furiously.
“Indeed he was,” Clara said, with a strained smile. She was not going to discuss her dead husband’s flaws.
“And he asked you to marry him?” Adelia said. “You must have been grateful.”
Clara felt a strong urge to dump her earl grey tea over Adelia’s wretched notebook. “I was very much in love with Lord Nicholas. When he was so kind as to propose to me, I did not feel gratitude, I felt loved and adored.” She watched Adelia’s pen race over the page with some misgiving.
“You were not blessed with children,” Adelia said. She looked carefully over Clara’s tightly corseted waist and drew her own conclusions. “So your brother-in-law inherits everything.”
“Lord John inherits the title, yes.” Clara said, refusing to be drawn on any details.
“And what is your role now?” Adelia asked. “What does your future hold?”
“My role will remain the same,” Clara said, “At least for the foreseeable future. It is of greatest importance that a household such as Farnley Grange has strong direction for the household staff. The staff take their tone from the family, as you know. When Lord Nicholas was alive, I was the captain of the domestic ship, the leader of the home and I provided a haven in a hostile world, just as any wife would do, regardless of rank. As Lord John may still be called away on his pilot duties, it is of utmost importance that I continue the direction of the household.”
In the air hung the unsaid words, ‘until Lord John marries’. Adelia made some more notes. “I can see the evidence of Lord John’s travels. Is that vase Chinese?”
“It’s Japanese,” Clara said. She always adored the rich colours and delicate gilding. “It’s Satsuma Ware. I believe Lord John actually received it as a gift in Malaya.”
“And that looks American.” Adelia stared at the richly coloured rug that was thrown so casually over a footstool.”
“It came from Chile, when Lord John had a stayover in Santiago,” Clara said. “It’s very hardwearing, and made from wool from the native alpaca.” She smiled. “I am not merely the one giving direction to the cook and housekeeper as the leader of the household. I am a curator of treasures.”
“Lord John is quite the adventurer, isn’t he?” Adelia said. “He must be grateful to know that he will be coming back to a well-tended home. Are you close?”
The blatant question of whether Lord John would now inherit Clara as a wife along with the lands and title was a little too much for Clara. She stood. “It has been such a pleasure speaking with you, Miss Davenport. It is such a shame that I have so little time to spare under these circumstances. I shall ring for our butler to show you out.”
“Perhaps we could arrange another time?” Adelia said, quickly stuffing her pen and notepad back into her reticule.
“I’ll be in touch,” Clara smiled politely. “Unfortunately I have found myself unexpectedly busy dealing with the aftermath of my husband’s passing. I will certainly let you know the next time I’m in London.”
Adelia managed an answering smile, knowing that Clara was unlikely to return to London for some time. “Thank you for seeing me, Lady Farnley. I look forward to our next interview.”
“As do I,” lied Clara. “Ah, here’s Leighton to show you out.” She waited until she heard the front door shut on Miss Adelia Davenport and then sagged back against the cushions. Now she was alone, she was able to cry.
John ran his hand over the gazetteer. There was a lot less about Sudan than he would expect. He wondered what he was getting into. He poured himself a brandy and soda and read through the half column of text. The book was out of date, as it claimed that the country was still under the control of the Mahdi. Well, Kitchener had done his stuff, the British were now established in Khartoum and it was technically safe to travel. John took another sip of his brandy and soda. One part of the closely typed text struck him: it is estimated that since 1885 more than three-fifths of the population have perished through war, famine and slave-trading. They were headed away from the worst of the troubles, but what would they find? He closed the heavy book and stood, taking his glass in his hand and wandered over the window.
The London fog had fallen again. Thick tendrils wound their way around the streetlamp next to the window and the familiar, stinging smell crept in through the chinks in the casement. It would be good to get away from the damp of London. He peered down at the scurrying figures rushing home. It wasn’t even dinner time and it was already dark and dismal. John pulled the curtains across and went back to his desk.
He didn’t pick up the gazetteer, but instead watched the flames flickering in the hearth. He was going to be paid good money to fly Professor Entwistle out to find ancient Nubian pyramids, and he needed that money. He was getting away from the upheaval and chaos of his inheritance. And he was at least going to get some sun.
John poured himself another brandy and soda. He normally didn’t bother drinking until after dinner, but today had brought yet more bills left by his late brother. When would it end? Yesterday one of his late brother’s mistresses had visited at lunchtime and had screaming hysterics on the doorstep when barred from seeing his late brother’s widow. The journey to Sudan would not only mean sun, payment and possibly gold. It would be a welcome escape.
John looked back at the sparse information in the gazetteer. He felt a cad leaving Clara to deal with any intrusions, although she had dealt with hysterical ladies with greater aplomb than he had ever managed. It wasn’t just that nagging at him, though. Professor Entwistle was talking about the knowledge that could be there. Knowledge of the sort that had sent a monster into the London Mists only a few weeks ago and had led to the death of his brother, among many more.
John pushed aside the last half of his brandy and soda. Would any knowledge found be worth the fees and potential treasure? He wasn’t in a position to judge. He had some aether heaters in the attics and an hour before dinner. He could get them out and give them a quick look over before he needed to get changed. It was much better to stick to the practical. Anything mystical could wait.
Ian sat in the battered waiting room and tried to relax. Trent sat at his feet, panting and wild eyed. That was the problem. Trent was a werewolf, the same as Ian, but Trent was stuck in wolf form. He couldn’t change. As the leader of the pack, Ian had a duty to its members. However, he was in something close to a veterinarian’s office and his mouth was dry with the tension. But Trent needed help and it was beyond the home remedies of Jeanette and Mrs Tuesday. They had to turn to the one doctor in York that specialised in non-normals.
The icy, older lady who was busy behind the desk noted the flashing light above the scarred door. “Dr Williamson will see you now, Mr Tait.” She glared at Ian as he hesitated. “Please do not keep the doctor waiting.”
Ian forced himself to his feet and tugged at Trent. Trent whimpered but scuttled behind him, paws skidding wildly and his ears flat with fear. Ian knocked on the door and went in.
“Good afternoon,” Dr Williamson said. “Take your time and get your bearings.” He stood and walked to the head of the table. “I never try and rush a nervous werewolf.”
“It’s okay, Trent,” Ian said. “It’ll be fine.” As Trent pressed himself against Ian’s legs, Ian looked around. It was definitely a specialised treatment room. Most doctors didn’t have a treatment table with restraints – some in strange places. Most doctors did not have a burly boggart keeping an eye on things in case things got out of hand. And most doctors did not have huge saws, knives and augurs ranged in the glass cabinets surrounding the room. On the other hand, most doctors did not have a tray of best quality dog treats on their desk and a patient expression. Ian ran a comforting hand over Trent’s flanks and turned to the doctor. “It’s Trent, here. He’s stuck as a wolf. I don’t know what to do.”
“Hmm,” Dr Williamson patted the table. “Just jump up on here and let me have a look.”
Trent whimpered again, but, after a stern look from Ian, jumped onto the table, skidding a little on the polished steel. Dr Williamson selected an instrument from his desk. “Let’s have a look at your eyes, hmm.”
Ian kept a firm hold of the collar around Trent’s neck to stop him from bolting. Collars were worn by werewolves when they were out and about ‘in fur’ to stop awkward questions, and Ian was glad of the handhold. “It’s okay. He’s not going to hurt you.”
Dr Williamson examined Trent’s eyes and ears and felt along his lupine rib cage. “You’re in great condition for a young lad,” he said. He slipped in the stethoscope’s ear pieces and listened to Trent’s heart. “But stressed.” He turned to Ian. “Was he part of the pack that brought down the stray last week?”
Ian nodded. “We all turned out for that. It was a bad business.”
Dr Williamson nodded. “I hear a lot about non-normal stuff, one way or another,” he said. “I patched up a few of the stray’s victims. He made quite a mess of them. I’m glad you took him out.” He looked closely at Trent. “That stray was a murderer. He was a killer. He left some kids with injuries that they would carry for the rest of their lives, if they weren’t suddenly plunged into being werewolves. He was the worst of strays and you and yours did your duty.” He held Trent’s terrified gaze. “You were a stray once, I know. You were without a pack. You scrounged and begged and hid in the shadows.” Dr Williamson leaned closer. “And I bet you never so much as snapped at anyone, no matter what the provocations. I bet you didn’t growl, you didn’t snarl, you didn’t bite. You kept your head down and did your best. That’s why you didn’t end up like that stray that you helped to stop. That’s why you would never end up like that stray.” Dr Williamson didn’t break eye contact. “Hand me extract 34 please.” He frowned in thought. “Fifteen millilitres, undiluted.”
“What’s that?” Ian asked, holding the young werewolf firm as Trent’s paws slid in panic across the steel bench.
“Thank you,” Dr Williamson took the tiny cup of brown fluid from his burly assistant, ignoring Ian. “Open wide.”
Trent fought frantically to escape but Ian, pushing aside his doubts, prised open Trent’s jaws to allow Dr Williamson to tip the medicine inside. Trent gasped, coughed, swallowed, coughed again and shuddered as he changed back into his human form.
“There are some spare clothes behind the screen,” Dr Williamson said as Trent sat up. “I’d like them back later.”
As Trent dived behind the screen, Ian leant in close to Dr Williamson. “Neat brandy?”
“In this case, it wasn’t what was delivered, but how,” Dr Williamson grinned. “Nice young cub, that. I’m sure he’ll do well. But it’s always the good ones that get hit by this stuff hardest. Good thing that he’s got you looking out for him.”
Ian relaxed. “Good thing that he had you treated him.” He nodded in approval as Trent emerged wearing joggers and sweatshirt a little too big for him. “Thank you, doctor, thank you so much.”
“My pleasure,” Dr Williamson said.
“I’ll pay on the way out,” Ian said. “Thank you for treating us.” He watched Trent almost dancing on the way out and winked at the doctor. “And to show our gratitude, I’ll send around some top quality extracts of our own, for you to sample.”
“I look forward to testing them,” the doctor grinned.
“I don’t know why people press flowers in books,” Ken said as he dusted down another stack of hardbacks. “It’s awful for the books and it doesn’t do much for the flower. Why don’t they use blotting paper and then put it in a frame?” He sighed and tipped out another sprig of faded leaves. “At least this one hasn’t stained the pages too much.”
Lynn looked around the crowded room. “Do we really need to go through all these books now? Perhaps we could go for a walk and get some fresh air. It’s a lovely day.”
“It will take more than a day to get through these,” Ken said. “And don’t forget, we have another shipment coming at the weekend.”
Lynn stood up and dusted off her jeans. “I’ll make us a cup of tea,” she said as she picked her way through the towers of stacked books.
The kitchen was just as full. Her late uncle had left her everything. The exasperated landlord had piled the hoarded contents of Uncle Tim’s house into storage and sent Lynn the bill and now the contents of the storage units were being sent down by instalments from Scotland to their Bristol town house. Boxes and boxes of junk were travelling hundreds of miles to pass under Ken’s inspection.
Lynn poured boiling water on the teabags and looked around the kitchen. It was crammed. Uncle Tim had collected some beautiful enamelware and Lynn had suggested that they throw out the mismatched utensil pots and the tea and coffee tins that had come free with her saucepans and use the lovely, warm cream pots and jugs, but Ken was talking about how much the enamelware would fetch and thought that they should keep the old stuff. She added sugar to Ken’s mug and then topped up both drinks with milk. She didn’t want the money. She wanted Uncle Tim back. She carried the drinks back to the living room.
The books were dusty, mainly from Uncle Tim’s house, and Ken had dark smears on his face and shirt. “Thanks for the tea. It’s dry work. I’ve tossed the flowers I’ve found so far into the bin, but some of them have still stained the books. It’ll affect their resale value.”
“What? Some of those were put there by mum! I remember her putting them there.” Lynn stared at him.
Ken shifted awkwardly. “Well your mum’s been gone for a bit now. I don’t suppose she minds now that she’s in a better place.”
“I could have planted any seeds on her grave,” Lynn said. “Why did you do that?”
“I said that it will give a better resale value. We could get enough for a wedding if we sell this lot and get a good price for the enamelware, and perhaps we could get a better car for me, depending on what else is sent down. At least the landlord seems to have been honest. It doesn’t look like he kept back anything valuable. This is a first edition by Hemingway novel. I’ve found the same copy is over £7000 online.”
Lynn looked at him and then back at the book. “I remember Uncle Tim reading that story. He kept that copy for best and read and re-read paperback versions. He loved his Hemingway.”
“Lucky for us he did,” Ken said, making a note in a notebook and putting it to one side. “We could sell this place and get something a little nicer under both of our names. Something with a bigger garden.”
“You hate gardening,” Lynn pointed out as she stared at her partner. He’d been in her life for eighteen months now. Why had she not seen him clearly before? The house was hers, the car was hers, and all these treasures from Uncle Tim belonged to her. Ken didn’t even share the bills. He just paid for the Sports Channels that he had insisted on. At least she had held out for that. She didn’t even remember inviting him to stay. He had been living with his mother and after a while the nights he had stayed over had merged until he never left.
“But it will be nice to relax in a garden,” Ken said. “We can have a quiet glass of wine at the end of the day, perhaps with a barbecue.”
Lynn looked around and started sorting through the books. She was sure it would be here somewhere. “I’m very happy here,” she said. “And the neighbours are lovely.”
“I know that you’re close with the neighbours, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t visit,” Ken said. “You know, now and again.”
He had never liked her friends, Lynn remembered. She hardly seemed to see them nowadays. There always seemed to be something else happening. She shifted a stack of books and found what she was looking for – Pride and Prejudice. She had been holding it as she had excitedly told Uncle Tim about Ken, how they had met on a walk and how he seemed absolutely perfect. Uncle Tim had insisted that she picked a spray of borage from the border and preserve it, as a memory, so that she could look back one day and remember the excitement. She shook the pages carefully and caught the brittle fragment as it fell.
“That looks newer,” Ken said. “I wonder who put that there.”
“I did,” Lynn said. She tossed the small sprig into the bin. “And I’m not moving. But you are.”