Previously, I published a story featuring the reprobate gambling Lord Edmund, who one storm tossed night was about to put a bullet through his head when he heard a knock at the door. I though it was about time we learned what happened next. Look here to read parts one and two.
Cursing myself for a coward, I turned the key and flung wide the door.
Rain and wind and cold, wet leaves pelted my face, stinging my eyes. I stood like a fool, spitting and coughing.
Then above the howl of the wind, a voice. It sounded neither male nor female, young nor old, but in it I heard those killing waves, the sound of feasting crows.
‘Lord Edmund Spencer,’ said the creature. ‘I have something for you.’
A cowled figure stood on the path before me.
I could see nothing of his face, nothing but the shadow of the man. He was a stranger, yet some base instinct told my arm to raise, to point the pistol at him and shoot. How many times, through all the horrors that have befallen me, have I wished I had listened to that animal nature that called to my reasoned self? What pain I could have saved the world if only I had listened to that still small voice.
And with those words I was undone. For the voice was neither demon nor monster, merely a man, storm tossed, soaked through with chilling rain. Still, I found I could say not a word, merely standing aside to let him pass. When he made no move to enter, I remembered myself.
‘Come in man,’ I said, the remnants of fear making my voice coarse.
And so he stepped inside Moorfield.
As he breached the threshold, a mighty crack of thunder broke the air directly above our heads, lightning turning that blackest night to day and as it did, he pushed back the hood and I saw my visitor for the first time. What I saw surprised me.
The face was thin, delicately boned, with full effeminate lips that shone red against his ice pale skin. His cheekbones were high, with deep hollows beneath, his face indeterminate of age, so I could not have sworn if he was twenty years or forty.
It was his eyes that struck me most deeply and it is they that haunt me now. In these long lonely hours, they still watch me from the shadows, always searching, looking inside me, seeing my dark heart. And yet, if asked to describe them I cannot say what colour or shape they were, what made them most distinctive or unsettling.
Only that I never once saw them blink.
For a moment, I watched my visitor and I could not be sure why I had come to the door at all, why I had given myself the inconvenience of entertaining a stranger when I had other tasks to complete. I cursed my foolishness, my own fear of the night. But now the man was inside and could not be put out again without a minimum of hospitality.
I slammed the door, cutting off the wind, the sound echoing through the empty hall.
‘Come,’ I said, retrieving the candlestick, leading the way back to the study, the comforts of fire and claret.
As I did so I wondered what the fellow thought of me, armed, answering my own door and in such a disordered state. The manor too, bore no close examination, ancestral paintings and furniture, wall hangings and silver long gone to pay for my gambling debts.
My home was a hollowed shell, as was I.
We reached the study without a word, where I retook my seat, placing the candle and the pistol close at hand on the floor beside me. I may have looked to end my life, but it would not be at another’s hand.
The stranger removed his dripping cloak. It dropped to the floor and in the dim light of the fire I saw a velvet coat the colour of holly leaves, braid shimmering gold, the whole an old fashioned cut but richly made. I was pondering on the oddness of the man when he spoke again.
‘I have something for you, Lord Edmund.’
His lips curled into a broad smile and I had the strongest notion he knew I had been examining him.
‘So you say,’ I muttered. Those eyes bored into mine, causing me to look away into the dying fire. ‘Well, speak, man. Tell me what it is and leave me in peace.’
My desire to be alone had returned anew and I regretted inviting him in. If I had but ignored that insistent hammering, my troubles might now be at an end.
‘But your troubles are now at an end,’ said the creature, as if those eyes had read my very thoughts.
He gave a bow, so low, so deep, it seemed his chest would touch the floor and as he stood he said,
‘My name is Niccolo Vintila de la Slatina. And the gift I have for you is myself.’