A Creepy tale for Cryptmas as reported to Roger Willcox, by Lord Rogipoos of Willorcs Hall.
As you all well know some time ago I inherited an estate in Joccia near Lochgargoylehead, well I am half Joccian, but, much to my mother`s disappointment I was born sans fur, tail, or whiskers. Well you can`t have everything! However, this may not be completely true, or, at least so in the minds of those who think that they can.
As the festive season approaches I am reminded of something that happened in my youth one Cryptmas, and jolly scary it was too I can tell you.
I was a young Orc student eager to seek out a life of travel, romance and excitement. In this instance I, pretty well, got all three. Travel, because it all happened in Joccia and we`ll come to the other two I will approach later. At eighteen years of age life appears to be a great adventure just waiting to happen. Well that`s if you have some tin in your pocket. If you`ve spent your childhood climbing inside chimneys then it`s not half so good. But I digress.
I had been invited by a cousin of my Ma`s, the distinguished Doctor Boddie Blorc of Edinborge University, to spend Cryptmas and Hugmoney at his home, Cludoch Hoose. This was fine with me, I was a great admirer of his work. It was he who finally proved that triangular sandwiches do taste better than square ones. His research into the role of Irn-Bru in Joccian history, a project that I
was helping him with at the time, is still spoken of with awe in the chambers of academe. “Awe, they say, that`s awesome!” they say.
So it was that I arrived by coach at Cludoch Hoose on a freezing cold twentyth of Dissemble. The snow was thick, and so, I thought, was the coachman for going out in it! Now I thought that the old North wing of Willorcs hall looked creepy but it was nothing compared to Cludoch Hoose! I think that the coachman refusing to drive further than the gates and then tossing my bag down to me before racing away at great speed back towards Edinborge should have given me a hint. He didn`t even wait to be paid!
The tall, rusty, spiked, wrought iron gates groaned as I opened them. You know, I could have sworn that the gargoyles atop the stone pillars supporting the gates had been looking straight forward along the high walled, brooding valley of Glen De`Ath. Funny, now they were looking inwards, almost as if they were watching me!
“Hah!” I shrugged, “a trick of the light, nothing more.” The lowering clouds hid the mountain tops as the light began to fade and, with a slight shudder, I trudged through the deep snow along the drive which was lined by some of the most evil Scary trees that I had ever seen. As I sank knee deep in the snow I began to think that the coach driver was not so thick after all. It would have been difficult to get a coach through all this! All was eerily silent, the only sounds that squeaking crunch of my boots in the snow or the occasional soft thud of snow falling from a branch. I shuddered with the cold as darkness, and more snow began to fall. Oh how easy it was to imagine the cruel and bloody events with which the Glen, and Cludoch Hoose in particular, were associated.
After tramping for about a quarter of a mile I at last saw the welcome lights of the house itself.
“Why,” I wondered, “did I still have this uncanny feeling that somebody was watching me?”
The lights may have seemed welcoming but the exterior of the house, or really more of a castle was far from it. Built in the times when blood feuds raged amongst the Highland Clanrats, the place was constructed for defence, a tower house with high thick walls, turrets and small windows and doors. There were dark stories of prisoners thrown into the dungeons to be left to slowly starve to death. It is said that when they cleared the cellars Ratman bones were found bearing the teeth marks of Clanrats forced into cannibalism after being made mad with hunger! Then what of Lady Margrat Cludoch who fell in love with a young gillie. The story goes that he was called Ratty Groves. There`s an old song about it. Her husband, unexpectedly returning from hunting, surprised them asleep in each others arms. In his rage Lord Alistairat Cludoch forced his lady to watch as her young lover was slowly roasted by his warriors over an open fire and then they fed his remains to the Laird`s wolf hounds. The lady? She was walled up alive with a tinderbox, seven candles, seven loaves and seven jugs of water, somewhere within the house. Rumour has it that there are times when her sighs and his shrieks can be heard of a night! Doctor Blorc had purchased the house after the last Lord Cludoch was found dead in his bed, his face a mask of terror, and his, what had been ginger, fur turned white!
Reaching the door I knocked, and was met by the Doctor himself. The snow was coming down heavily by now and a wind was getting up.
“Welcom, welcome my boy.” The learned Orc greeted. “Let me take your coat and bag, I have given the servants the night off.”
Night off? By the looks of it no servant had touched the place for years.
“Hoots mon!” I thought to myself, “It looks as though there`s a moose loose within this hoose!”
There were cobwebs and dust everywhere!
He led me into a high vaulted room which was the great hall, dusty stag, boar and haggis heads decorated the walls along with some dark and gloomy portraits of the Lairds and Ladies of Cludoch whose bodies now lay, long rotten, in the crypt of the chapel. Light came from a large fireplace where logs crackled and spat, and many candles that wept tallow onto the long, dusty oak table that ran the length of the hall. A meal was laid out, bread, cheese and some cold meat. Not very appetising when you`ve just laboured about a quarter of a mile in deep snow and freezing cold. Oh well. I knew that the doctor was eccentric but there are limits.
“Allow me to introduce you to my other guests.” the Doctor beamed enthusiastically.
One by one I was introduced. The first was an extremely attractive red headed young lady. “
“Countess Scarletya. Her father is probably the most advanced re-animator after Professor Graviski.”
The lady extended a pale, slender hand with scarlet painted nails. I bowed and kissed it gently.
“You are extremely gallant,” she purred in a way that could turn your blood to wine. “I am told that you are an excellent player of wacky families, perhaps you would partner me?”
“I would be honoured to partner,….er..such a charming lady.” I blushed.
Her, very kissable, ruby lips parted in a smile which just revealed two long pearly canines. To say that this lady was seductive would be like saying that I`m just a bit fond of cocoa! Her scarlet velvet Imperial line gown and long, silk, fingerless evening gloves complemented her, not inconsiderable, charms to perfection. Phew!
Next I was introduced to a tall, athletic looking Rat.
“Colonel Mustrat, Black Watchit, retired. Nice tae meet ye laddie!” His hand gripped mine in a vice like grip. Ooch!
This was followed by a stout Dwarf lady who introduced herself as “Baroness Weiss,” in a strong Krautian accent, “Humph! No oompah band, bier or sausages! Some party!” She nudged me and whispered, “Maybe later we make with the little party off our own?” She nudged me again with a force that took my breath away and winked suggestively. Scary!
A voice that reminded me of something slimy that you might find beneath a stone and a handshake like a dead wet cod was Reverent Greenie.
“So pleased to meet you Rogipoos.” The words dripped like goop out of a drainpipe, Yeurch! “I hear from the good Doctor that you are an excellent student. If ever you need any help regarding the Church of Albion and it`s role in the history of Irn-Bru you only need to ask.” Creepy! This Orc put the syc into sycophancy!
“Ach awa we ye! Rogipoos, “I remember when ye were just a wee orclet helping yer mother change yer wee nappies!” Oh Sentinel. Miss Peacrat, my nurse as a baby!
“Oh a bonnie wee bairn ye was, oh that chubby wee bottom! How often have I powdered that eh? Are ye eating yer greens like a good boy? Have ye got a girlfriend yet?” This was getting embarrassing! “Ach, I can think o` some fine lassierats who`d be proud tae be on yer arm.” I wanted a hole to open up and swallow me. “Oh, I bet ye`ve brought a copy o` Harry the Happy Hamster with ye. Ach, ye`d no go to sleep without me reading a chapter to ye. Especially that bit with the Gnome in it. I swear I could recite that book by heart you had me read it so often! Well, as a treat tonight I`ll read ye a chapter while ye have yer cocoa and ginger biccies. Oh, when I heard that ye were coming I packed Mister Snuggles yer wee toy Bunny rabbit! Would ye like me tae put him in yer bed?”
Great gravy, I just prayed that Coutess Scarletya hadn`t heard all this! Oh grief! She had, I just knew it! She slid up to me and sinuously twined a silk covered arm around mine, She whispered in my ear.
“Never mind about Mister Snuggles, how would you like me to read you a bedtime story and….well, big, handsome Orcs like you don`t need cuddly toys do they?”
GUG! I was beginning to wish that I had accepted my bro Crustyforc`s invitation to accompany him on an expedition to locate the lost temple of the little yellow idol to the north of Catmanpoo in Naffall. Facing Yetis, avalanches and such seemed a lot less hazardous. Jolly careless losing a temple if you ask me! Mind you, my ego was flattered. I just hoped that I wasn`t blushing. I was.
“You`re blushing,” she cooed in a manner that could have melted a titanic iceberg, “how sweet.
here`s no need to be bashful with little me.” She moved away but turned to give me a smile that made me feel as if I had steam gushing from my ears! Erhem!
Last of all was Professor Plummet. I knew him already as he was head of the Ratanities Faculty at Edinborge.
“Nice to see you Rogipoos,” I liked the Professor, he was a brilliant scholar but with a great Joccian sense of humour.” How`s your work on the Bru going? I can tell you, I could do with a pint of it just now. Seems you`ve made a hit with the ladies. Hey, Harry the Happy Hamster, my favourite too! I do wish Enid Blightorc would produce a sequel. Have you read Beatrix Hassel`s Peter Rabbuck of the Penal Battalion? Great, bloody, brutal but great.
So we dined, if it can be called that, cheese, cold meat bread all washed down with a very inferior, probably illicit, copy of true Irn-Bru. Even the bottles were labelled “Iron Brew”, disgraceful! You`d think that the chappies who make it would spell it correctly!
However, things started to improve a little once the good doctor cleared the table, whiskery and wine was served and a pack of cards produced. (There were also ginger biccies!)
“As the youngest of our assemblage Rogipoos, would you care to decide on which variant of “families” you wish to play?” Our host asked.
Don`t you just hate people who play trivial “wacky families”, no true player ever calls the noble game “families”.
“Well Sir,” I replied, “as Countess Scarletya has requested that I partner her and as there are ladies present, may I suggest that we play, not for money, but for points and that the Countess choose the variation, as we are partners.”
The Countess, sitting opposite to me smiled in an almost coy fashion.
“You do me honour Sir,” she said in a manner that was like honey sliding from a spoon, “I propose apart from the dealer, our host Doctor Blorc who should, I think, partner Professor Plummet, we match off as partners male and female. I suggest the good Reverend with Miss Peacrat and Colonel Mustrat with Baroness Viess.”
I was suddenly aware of the Countess` foot gently stroking my ankle under the table. Gosh! She`d slipped her shoe off! Woohoo! Golly, this could have affected my play so I decided to think about Podo. That`s always a good way for a chap to avoid that kind of distraction.
“Furthermore, I suggest that we play sudden death with no undead options. Lowest score in a rubber means that you are out.
As for the winning pair, then, a kiss from his or her partner as a reward. Agreed?”
I won`t go into details but the game has become legend in “Les Salons des Familles Wacky” I have never had such a talented partner as the Countess. It was truly a joy to partner her play. How she discarded Master Soot the chimney sweep`s son to entangle a full “workhouse” was superb. In the end we finished one hundred and twenty five points clear! Her “Graveyard shift” was a joy to behold. Never, and I do mean never, have I played with such a superb player. By contrast to earlier, proper Bru, Whiskerey and wine were available along with little nibbly bits like savoury biscuits with cheese, pineapple and little pickled onions. There were all sorts of other bits too. Then of course there came the prize!
The Countess clapped her hands and called for silence.
“Please friends, as you know I laid down that the winning pair in our game would win a kiss. Rogipoos, you have shown yourself to be a player of great skill and it has been a pleasure to be your partner in what, I can say with my hand on my heart, was one of the most enjoyable rubbers of wacky families that I have ever played.”
This was greeted by applause.
“Come my dearest partner and claim your prize.”
Well I don`t want to get soppy but I had never been kissed like that before! Whoopsiedo! Now the quick cuddle and kiss that I`d had with Miss Eleanor Cratton after the school ball was very nice but this was in a totally different league! Erhem! No tickly whiskers either.
The clock tolled midnight and our host bid us all goodnight. So it was that I found myself in a room with a small leaded window with heavy tartan curtains and a four poster bed. I won`t mention the chamber pot but it was where it belonged, Erhem. There was a wash stand, a jug of water and a ewer. The bed, which I think could have housed several, had thick (yes, tartan) curtains. I decided that it might be a good idea to lock my door and put a chair behind it. Not so much for fear of the supernatural, anyway, putting the bed clothes over your head is protection enough, more to safeguard against three ladies who all seem to have different ideas about what would be good for me! Help!
Outside the wind and snow had developed into a blizzard. I climbed into my most comfortable, if a little dusty, bed, wiggled my toes in my night-socks, pulled my nightcap down, cuddled my soft toy Buffoonhu, and blew out the candle. Gosh! I was too tired even to read a chapter of “Harry the Happy Hamster”! I fell into a deep sleep, but not so deep that I did not hear the gentle tap on my door that happened thrice. Oh yes, I was fast asleep, honest! Funny, I knew that the first tap was Miss Peacrat wanting to read me a story, the second, more a battering ram than a tap, doubtless Baroness Veiss, and the last a very quiet fingertip tapping which I knew must be the Countess.
This was problematic. On one hand I was an eighteen year old Orc with a sense of adventure and at my door was a delectable and extremely distracting Lady from the Witchlands who obviously wanted to get to know me better, and possibly play a hand or two of Wacky Families, on the other hand I was very tired and had only just met the lady. Well what would you do? Exactly, as I had done earlier I pretended to be asleep by making loud snoring noises!
I was awakened later that night by the most horrible sounds. First, a dreadful sighing and groaning sound followed by terrible shrieks.
“Ah, it`s just the wind getting up.” I thought and went back to sleep. I must say I did sleep well! All that fresh air and exercise! Huzzah!
Dawn broke and gradually fingers og light penetrated the slight gap in the window curtains. Hmm! Time to get up! Huzzah! Another day!
However, as I made my way downstairs I was greeted by the other guests who were, to say the least, in a state of disarray!
The Countess rushed to me and threw her arms around me, gosh, what a nice way to start breakfast!
“Oh Rogipoos,” she sobbed, “I`m so afraid, please, will you protect me?”
Well what can one do? Having a beautiful Countess pleading for one`s help, what decent chap could refuse? (Even if she does have long canine teeth!)
“Um,” I said, “what seems to be the problem?” Maybe it was the thought of more of the, not terribly great, cheese?
“Ah, Rogipoos,” it was Professor Plummet, “something terrible has happened during the night. Come, see.”
He led me to the door which now led to the cellars but once had been the entrance to the dungeons. He held up a lantern.
“Look.” He said.
As I gazed down I saw a horrible sight. There, at the foot of the stairs lay Doctor Blorc! It was fairly obvious that he was extremely dead. A dagger was sticking out from his back, there was a bullet hole in the side of his head and a pistol lay beside him. A rope noose was tight around his severely bruised neck. His head had received several blows and scattered about were a length of lead pipe, a candlestick and a hammer. In one hand he was clutching a small bottle labelled “Poison”. Great gravy, this was the worst case of suicide I had ever heard of!
Or was it?
We assembled in the Hall where Professor Plummet confirmed that Doctor Blorc had indeed got a serious case of death and that recovery was extremely unlikely. Poor fellow, what a way to go! Perhaps the fall down the stairs was what did it? Hmmm!
Well, there wasn`t much we could do before breakfast so I made my way to the kitchen and examined the pantry, larder and buttery. My! What a surprise! There was loads of food! Why we had been given such paltry fare the previous evening I do not know! Sides of bacon, a dodo, and all sorts. The buttery and wine store was even better, Barrel upon orange, blue and white barrel of Mister Barrat`s Irn-Bru, beer,fine vintages and whiskery galore!
“Well what has my little Rogipoos found then?” Oh great gravy, Miss Peacrat! She gently pinched my cheek. Oh how I wish she wouldn`t do that!
“Oh, you are a clever boy!” (Aaargh!), “Are there any sprouts dear? I`ll make some nice warming sprout soup! It was always your favourite!”
I carefully positioned myself between her and a large sack marked “Sprouts”.
“Afraid not,” I lied, “pity, but I notice there are the makings of all sorts of other things we could have!” I suggested brightly.
Now at this point may I stress that Sprout soup has NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, been even remotely liked by me. As a tot she used to tie me in to my chair and force feed the vile brew to me, Yeeeeeeeech! Oh yes, and kept saying that it was good for me. No, not remotely, it just gave me a life long detestation of the vile green so and sos.
I later took the precaution of covering that particular sack with one that I found marked with a skull and crossbones and “Danger! Do not touch!” Aha! Sprout danger averted!
Over a breakfast of porridge and tea, Countess Scarletya had black pudding and Tokay, we discussed what to do. Colonel Mustrat took on the mantle of chief of operations. Outside the blizzard had not abated, The snow was now easily waist deep and in some places even deeper. There was no way anybody would be going anywhere. It also began to occur to us that, barring the supernatural, someone amongst us, or perhaps more than just one, had caused the death of Doctor Blorc!
Professor Plummet and the Reverend Greenie were given the task of removing the body from the cellar floor and put him in the chapel. Miss Peacrat and Baroness Weiss volunteered to sort out the cooking side of things. That left the Countess and I. The Colonel decided that we should give the place a search from top to bottom. So, armed with a candelabra, pistol and sword, we started with the cellars where we found an awful lot of cobwebs and almost as much dust as there is in Sudden! From time to time we found old pieces of furniture, some of which looked as if they were not design for comfort, if you see what I mean. A wheel, a rack and a cage lined with spikes amongst them. It was just at the point when we had reached the farthest limit of the cellars when there was a slamming sound and a brisk passage of air which extinguished our candles. Thus we were plunged us into stygian darkness!
Was it imagination, or did I hear strange, hushed muttering and slow groans of pain really sound? It was as if the cellars were once again dungeons. Was that a rattle of a chain, were those sobs?
The Countess had a tight grip on my left hand and arm, which in another situation would have been not at all unpleasant.
“It`s all right,” she whispered, “I hear them too, but, there is nothing there. I can see in the dark. I will get us out of here.”
Cautiously we made our way back to the cellar stairs, all the time the sounds were getting louder, closer, there was a groaning and creaking of a wheel turning and a dreadful screech of agony. Then there was a beam of light! The noises stopped.
“Hello! Are you all right down there?” Professor Plummet stood framed in the cellar doorway above us. Before we could answer there was a shout,
“Quickly! Somebody come quickly!” It was the voice of Reverend Greenie. We raced upstairs into the hall where, at the head of the table, slumped face down in a bowl of porridge with a half eaten mutton pie in his left hand, an upturned mustard pot and a knife lay near the other. It was Colonel Mustrat and, from all appearances he was no longer totally amongst the living!
Professor Plummet eased the dead rats head out of the oatmeal and using a napkin wiped the dead rats face. Again it was a picture of horror. I will not go into detail but the Professor cleared the Colonel`s mouth and nostrils of partly chewed mutton pie and congealed porridge which he schplapped onto a nearby plate. He then examined the mustard pot. He sniffed it.
“Aha!” he cried, “Have a smell Rogipoos”. I did so, it smelled like Albionish mustard, pungent but not unpleasant, but then……………..bitter almonds! There is only one poison, as far as I know, that smells like that! Arsenic! Gosh, it felt as if my bottom had been pinched! This, of course cast a shadow over the two guests responsible for cooking! Surely neither Miss Peacrat or Baroness Weiss could be responsible for such an act, and if so, why?
So it was the Winter Solstice was passed in sombre mood. The body of the Colonel was taken to the ancient chapel that was in the North West corner of Cludoch Hoose. Countess Scarletya thoughtfully brought down curtains from unused bedrooms to cover the corpses of our friends.
he shortest day of the year passed slowly. I wondered about how things were in Shirewood, on the night of the Solstice the Were-Chicken of Beesdone would be on the hunt for a little old lady to mutilate. I began to feel a deep sympathy with whoever would be pecked to death. Here, trapped in an ancient Joccian castle we waited. Who would be next? Who, or what, was the engineer of our nemesis?
It was hard to keep our spirits up for the rest of that short day. We tried to think of ways that might stop yet another of our group falling prey to whatever, or whoever, had our doom in mind.
he Reverend Greenie prayed, Baroness Weiss and Miss Peacrat busied themselves in the kitchen, Professor Plummet spent his time looking out of the window at the ever worsening weather and Countess Scarletya and myself amused ourselves playing Wacky Families, having first gathered a not inconsiderable collection of weapons. Gosh! I think that she is probably the best lady I have ever had the pleasure of playing against. As always, as any Gentleorc should do when playing against a Lady, it was for points, although I must admit that her addition that the loser should give a chaste kiss to the winner was….erhem…rather nice.
Darkness fell and we sat in the great, high vaulted, hall as the big grandfather clock ticked away. The wind outside was fierce and, after Miss Peacrat`s bean and lentil soup, so was the wind inside! There we were, myself, Countess Scarletya, Baroness Weiss, Reverend Greenie, Miss Peacrat and Professor Plummet, all trying to put a good face on things. All of us unwilling to think that one or other of us might be a murderer. But, if not one of us, then who or what? The clock chimed eleven in a deep sonorous way. Midnight! (The clock was a bit slow). We were all tired and somewhat stressed by the events of the day so we lit our candles and retired to bed.
Somehow, as I lay there under several quilts in my nightshirt, cap and bed-socks, my cuddly Buffoonhu next to me, I felt strangely secure. I snuffed the candle and tried to imagine that I was Harry the Happy Hamster. The curtains of the bed enclosed me and I prepared for sleepy time. I was just drifting off when I heard a dull scraping sound.
“Aha!” I thought to myself, “Do I cover my head with the tartan feather bed or grab something to defend myself?” I seized my cuddly Bufoonhu, well it was better than nothing! I waited. Kneeling on my bed for what seemed an eternity. There was somebody, or some thing, in the room.
autiously I put my hand to the edge of the bed-hanging my cuddly Elder One poised to strike!
I don`t know which of us was more surprised, the Countess or I. There she stood in her nightgown candlestick in hand, or I, cuddly toy poised to strike! We both went into fits of laughter ending in a, very nice, hug. I must confess that I must have made an imposing figure, kneeling in a blue striped nightshirt, a bobble topped night-cap and pale blue bunny night socks wielding a cuddly monster! By contrast she looked….er.., well I don`t want to get into soppy stuff but…
Look chaps, how would you feel if confronted by an extremely luscious, aristocratic, lady vampire wearing nothing but a virginal white nightgown designed to highlight her …well let`s not talk about…. that, standing barefoot and angelic just next to your bed?
“I found a sliding panel between your room and mine.” She said. I must confess that I was finding it rather hard to concentrate. “Please, my feet are freezing, would you mind if I got into your bed? It`s so cold and, I am somewhat frightened.”
Her expression showed that this was no lie and only a chap with a heart of stone could have even thought of refusing.
Being a true Albionish gentleorc I offered her my bed, grabbed a blanket and prepared to sleep in the comfy chair which was in the corner of the room. I couldn`t let a lady get cold could I?
“Oh, don`t be silly.” she giggled, “Look, I`ll put Great Bufoonhu here in the middle of the bed,” she took the Old One and lay him on the bolster between the pillows.
“Bufoonhu,” she spoke to the toy, “I want you to make sure that Rogipoos has a good nights sleep and that he doesn`t get disturbed. Oh, and Rogipoos, I don`t bite, promise.”
Well, as you can imagine, my mind was settled and, with Great Bufoonhu between us we settled down to sleep. I must confess that it was rather nice, she, I later discovered, used a peach fragrance. I like peaches, the scent of them always brings nice thoughts to my mind and she smelled of fresh peaches! Huzzah! Less nice was the unsuspected contact of two cold feet upon my bottom! What is it about females, their cold feet and a chap`s posterior when you are trying to sleep? Actually I rather liked it, especially when her feet got warmer! Erhem!
I woke after a really good sleep and turned over to find myself looking into the eyes of Great Bufoonhu, well my cuddly toy one. I moved him out of the way and there was Countess Scarletya.
WARNING SOPPY BIT AHEAD!
She was still fast asleep, her leonine mantle of curly red hair, the colour of leaves in autumn, framed her lovely face. There was a slight smile on her, oh so sweet, mouth. Very carefully I brushed away a tress that had fallen across her cheek. She stirred slightly but still slept. I felt so warm inside as I gazed at her. Cautiously, tenderly, I put my arm around her and cradled her. Then I went back to a wonderful sleep. I was in love!
END OF SOPPY BIT. YOU CAN NOW READ ON IN SAFETY.
I woke again, the Lovely Countess still in my arms but now she was holding me too and her head was resting on my shoulder. Gosh, this was nice! She was awake.
“Good morning,” she smiled at me. “I don`t know when I last had such a good sleep, thank you.”
Golly, could things get any better. They did, she gently planted a light kiss on my lips. Oh golly gosh! Harry the Happy Hamster couldn`t have been happier than myself at that sweet moment! She smiled again.
“Well I must go back to my own room now and dress my love.” She said and kissed her fingers and then pressed them gently against my chest. Oh, the pure joy of it all! She walked to the open panel in the wall stepped through it and slid the secret door back in place behind her.
She`d called me “my love” oh how my heart raced!
OOPS! A SOPPY LOVEY BIT SLIPPED THROUGH! SORRY! (Gosh, anybody would think they were reading a story by Miss Fiona Fitzpatrat!).
My elation was to be short lived. As the Countess and I were going down the stairs there was a commotion coming from the kitchen. Crossing the hall we were confronted by a terrified looking Baroness Weiss. Tears were streaming down her face. The scene which greeted us in the kitchen was horrible. Spread-eagled on the kitchen table was the Reverend Greenie dressed in night cap, slippers and night shirt. His face purple, but even worse, his mouth was tightly packed with sprouts and a string bean was protruding from each nostril. What a terrible death. I don`t think that I could imagine a worse death! So now we were four. Pofessor Plummet, Miss Peacrorc , Countess Scaletya and myself. Well, I knew that neither the Countess or I had done it, Miss Peacorc was surely too old and hadn`t got the strength, and I couldn`t imagine that Professor Plummet would commit such atrocities. Looking at the burned out candle by the table, the loaf, breadknife and butter I surmised that the poor fellow had come down for a midnight snack when, whatever, overcame him. I regularly do it Willorcs Hall, make a late night snack that is, not kill vicars!
Outside the weather was, if anything, worse than ever. It made Winter in the Witchlands seem mild by comparison. The nearest house was miles away at the head of Glen De`Ath. Hah! A fitting name if ever there was.
On a lighter note, and much to my pleasure, the Countess had asked me to call her by her first name, Natalie, what a lovely name. The day passed on leaden feet. At bed time we retired and Natalie kissed me as we reached her door and whispered, “May I use the secret panel again my darling?” Being a decent sort I said yes, and as I changed into my night clothes I placed Bufoonhu in between our pillows. I had hardly finished when there was a tap from the other side of the room panelling and it slid open to reveal Natalie looking lovely in her night gown.
NOTICE, SLIGHTLY SOPPY LOVE BIT AHEAD!
She came straight across to the bed and slipped in beside me, gently removed Bufoonhu and put her arms around me. Entwined, we went to sleep.
END OF SOPPY LOVE BIT.
What can I say. Another day, another death. Like some grim Advert calendar the kitchen door opened to reveal the sight of a pair of blue hooped stockinged legs, shoes and bloomers sticking out of a barrel of mushy peas. To make matters worse on entering the buttery we were greeted by the crushed form of Baroness Weiss, flatted by a barrel of Krautian Bier that somehow had fallen off its stillage. Two victims in one night! Things were getting worse.
So, if it was one of the guests who was doing the killing, then there was now only one suspect left. The Professor. But how could such a nice old buffer like him be responsible. I began to think that darker forces were at work. But what and why? It was beyond me. The weather, traitor to us that it was, continued to hold us under siege. We passed our time attempting to raise each others spirits. Hah! A fine word under the circumstances. If only the snow and wind would stop! I didn`t think that however warmly one dressed, there was not a chance of reaching the gates.
That night the Countess and I clung to each other and I told her that, if anything happened to me, I loved her. She returned my sentiments and we kissed passionately.
I looked at my pocket watch which was on a chest next to the bed, it was Midnight and at that moment there was the sound of wood breaking a cry and a thump! The Countess awoke too.
rabbing my sword I raced to the door, from the landing above dangled a broken banister, looking down the stairwell I could see the crumpled body of Professor Plummet. Dead? No, his right arm moved. We rushed to his side, his face was a mask of torment.
“Get warm clothes, he gasped, whatever the risk, you must flee. It is the house itself which is doing this. I know not why, but it means to kill us all. It is too late for me….go…now!”
He gasped in pain and slumped, dead. With no need for encouragement Natalie and I rushed to my room. I suggested that a pair of my trousers might be a good idea for her to wear. Soon we were hurrying downstairs clad in several layers and boots. I had my sword and my dearest love, my pistol. We made our way towards the front door when we stopped. There, between ourselves and the door was probably the most terrifying thing that I had ever seen in my life.
Before us stood a terrible figure, a hideously emaciated female Rat wearing the rotting remains of an ancient gown, candle in hand. I got the distinct suspicion that this was the remains of Lady Margrat Cludoch!
She stretched her bony arm and pointed at us with a shrivelled finger. My guess as to her identity was soon confirmed.
“I was once the Lady Margrat Cludoch.” She intoned in the sort of voice that you would expect of somebody who had been walled up alive about five hundred years ago.
“See,” she pointed to a dark portrait hanging on the wall. It showed a very lovely, although sad looking, young Ladyrat dressed in a fine gown.
“That was I, before my love for a young gillie brought me to this.” The corpselike Ladyrat placed her hand on what remained of her chest. I slowly moved my right hand to the hilt of my sword.
“Your sword can not harm me, nor your pistol.” Oh well it had been worth a try.
“No master of this house has died a natural death ever since I was immured so, so long ago.” Her voice seemed to float in the air.
“I have taken my revenge on every generation of this accused place and THIS is my greatest and final act of vengeance. I hear you ask yourselves why us? What have we done that should bring this fate to us? I will tell you.” She paused for a moment. “I married the Laird of Cludoch at the age of sixteen, not out of love or choice but because my father willed it. He feared Sir Alistairat Cludoch and, when the Lord took a fancy to me, he dared not refuse. So I was married to a Rat of fifty five. It was a loveless match. Oh he had his way with me often but it was forced and only his lust. I grew to detest the very thought of him. He was often drunk and if a crofter`s daughter or wife took his rye he would take his will. It was on the Sunday before Cryptmas that, after going to the kirk, I plucked up the courage to ask one of our servants to be my lover. a gillie by name of Ratty Groves, he was eighteen as, by that time, was I. We had spoken often and love had grown between us. My husband was far off in Glen De`Ath hunting the deer and was not expected to return until Monday evening. So we lay together and consummated our love. Unfortunately, tired of the hunt, Lord Alistairat returned home even as we slept. He stormed in to my chamber, the one that you sir,” she looked in my direction, “have been sleeping in along with your, may I say beautiful lady love. Behind him were a group of his soldiers. He was not content just to raise Rats from his own estates he also employed soldiers from far afield who were drawn by the promise of money, loot, food and drink in their bellies and a roof over their heads. He dragged my dearest Ratty from the bed and in the kitchen he forced me to watch as his soldiers chained my love to a spit and, slowly, roasted him over the fire. His death was slow in coming and agonizing. Once he was dead they dragged his corpse outside to the kennels of his wolf hounds where his body was thrown for them to tear to pieces. An early Cryptmas present my beast of a husband laughed. It was Cryptmas Eve. Then I was taken inside, stripped to my shift and a metal girdle was fastened around my waist. From this hung a length of chain which was fixed to the wall of a small store just off the pantry. This they emptied save for a tinderbox seven candles, seven small loaves and seven jugs of water. They lit one candle then removed the door and replaced it with a stone wall. I lay on the floor and prayed for death, but, cruel death ignored me. So I vowed that I would gain vengeance whatever the cost. Dark forces gave me strength and power until I permeated every stone of this dread place. During that time I cursed the Cludoch family and swore to also have justice on those who had murdered my love. I engineered your gathering as the descendants of his soldiers, Hugo de Blorc, Angus Mustratte, Johan Weiss, Robert Greenie, Willie Peacrat , and Davie Plummet! There were two more, Pongo Willorcs and Ivan Scarletski!”
I felt as if I had been struck. I felt ashamed to think that one of my ancestors could have been involved in such a terrible crime.
I spoke, “Lady, you suffered great wrongs and I am truly shamed to hear this. If, it is your will, as I presume that it is, that I should die for the cruelty of my forefather, I beg that you spare the life of my love who stands with me and, that you spare me a moment to take one last kiss.”
I kissed Natalie who`s eyes brimmed with tears.
“Lady Margrat,” she cried, “Take my life rather than his, otherwise you must slay us both for I will never leave his side.”
“Enough!” Lady Margrat commanded, “To their credit both your ancestors both refused to take part in the murder of my lover or myself and left the service of my husband the following day. At first it was desire to take both of your lives. However having seen you asleep in each other`s arms, and now, your willingness to die for your love just as my love died for me, I spare you, go swiftly for the time is near-come for my final revenge upon this foul, accursed place. Go, now, the storm has passed on this Cryptmas Eve. Go, I shall after five hundred years at last find rest! Go!....Go!”
We needed no further bidding, as we reached the door I saw the Lady place her candle to one of the ancient hangings, the fire took quickly. Laughing she moved to another setting that alight. We fled through the snow in the dark, the moon our illumination. As we made our way along the drive there was a huge rushing noise and a wild shrieking. We turned in time to see Cludoch Hoose become an inferno. The blast of heat forced us to move further up the drive. Strange noises, screams, wails and manic laughter came from the furnace that once had been the house. It was if every ghost or spirit that the place had kept in bondage for so long were bursting out of the place as fire. Soon the roof collapsed with a roar. A red glow filled the sky and lit our path. The Countess and I struggled our way to the gates. Strangely, the pillars holding them had collapsed, the gargoyles shattered. The dawn of Cryptmas Eve saw us trudging along the road that led to the head of Glen De`Ath. The sky was clear and soon a bright winter sun rose in the sky.
By eleven of the morning we reached the tavern in the village at the head of the Glen, warmth, food and a feeling of safety. A plume of smoke hung in the air above Cludoch Hoose. The Tavern owner and his wife listened as we told our tale, well, not all of it. Just about the fire and fearing that we were the sole survivors. I don`t think that they would have believed the rest.
“Ach, a good thing too.” The landlord said, “there`s nothing but evil and wickedness, barring your good selves, ever came frae that place. Everybody here sunned the place. Aye, the whole castle had an air of death about it.”
My body was telling me that I had not slept for a long time and had walked a long way.
“You and your wife will be wanting a room I take it?” our host suggested.
“Hmm! Wife eh.” I thought. Natalie caught my eye and smiled coquettishly.
“Oh, yes, indeed,” I replied with a smile.
This is dedicated to the memory of Miss Fiona Fitzpatrick.
An Orcs in the Webbe Original! "Dark Deeds, Devilish Dealings, Dreadful Death and Stuff at Chludoch Hoose" was written exclusively for Orcs in the Webbe and published on Wednesday 12th December 2012 as part of the 2012 Advent Calendar.