Dark deeds are afoot at Moorfield and Edmund is being sucked into something darker than he could ever imagine …
‘They are dead.’ His words were plain, brutal in their honesty.
And so the spell was broken. The fairy princesses were banished to sleep eternal in their magical kingdoms but we remained, the Moravian and I.
In a crypt, in my home, two slain young women at our feet.
Slatina rose, black silhouette smothering all warmth and light from the candles. ‘We must think very carefully on this,’ he said.
‘Carefully?’ I was shivering, though the perspiration stood on my skin in proud beads. ‘You must send one of your men for the constable. No, no, it will take time to prepare a horse. Perhaps quicker to take one of the carriages and -‘
He laid a hand on my arm. ‘I say we must think carefully.’
‘We must act! Have you listened for their breathing? Perhaps, perhaps there is a chance -‘
His lips curled into a sneer. ‘You are a man not a child. You surely recognise when Death has chased away life.’
Of course I saw His bony hand at work. My mother, my father, three siblings – all had died in the chambers above our heads, all taken by fever or fits or as they slumbered and all had worn that same frigid mask.
My shoulders dropped, the weight of the catacomb seeming to press upon me. ‘But how …?’
Again, he crouched beside them, laid gentle fingers on the throat of the girl in the blue gown. I flinched at the sight. To think of touching her … The colour of his skin matched hers, the only thing telling them apart were the veins – those darkly twisting ropes of blood – that stood from the backs of his hands. He fussed a moment at her neck, then with the tenderness of a lover, nudged aside her lace choker to reveal a dark line. I stared at him uncomprehendingly as he rose, walked around the bodies then crouched beside the girl in the pink gown, revealing a matching line. I stood by, a dumb slab of a man, watching him at his careful work.
Finally, he gave me a pitying smile. ‘Bring your candle.’
I did as I was bid, kneeling beside him with the guttering flame. Light played on the sheen of her dress, made the skin under her chin flicker as if alive with a pulse.
‘Look again,’ he said.
A fine line – no wider than a hair – encircled her throat from one side to the other. I saw then an oval smudge, as if a thumb had been dipped in red ink and pressed against the flesh …
The candlestick fell from my grasp, the flame winked out. I fell, hit the ground, hands and feet scrabbling over the grit and stone, pushing me away until I fell on my back, winded, terrified, staring.
‘Murder.’ The word fell from my lips, the echo chasing me from column to arch to column, until it seemed a hundred voices called the word over and anew.
Jack Golding was slain a few days before, but that was an accident and he a thief whose fate had long been to die drowned in blood. The same could not be said for these poor creatures. Somewhere a mother would be watching the creeping of a clock’s hands, wondering what frivolities had kept her daughters so late from their home …
‘They must not be found, Edmund.’
I could make no sense of his words. ‘They have been found,’ I blustered. ‘You found them.’
‘Others must not find them here. Others must not know.’
‘But the constable …’ My hand rose shakily to my lips. ‘We must discover who has committed this dreadful -‘
‘And what will you tell your constable?’ A hardness had crept into his voice, a steel edge I had not often heard from him. ‘That they were killed in your home? While you and your friends were dancing and laughing and …’
His meaning hit me like a stone to the heart. All of it was true. Everything I had thought – hoped – I had dreamed was crushing reality.
He stood above me now, suddenly taller than I had thought him. ‘Such baseness will not go unpunished, not if this crime is uncovered. And what of yourself?’
My heart thumped in my ears. ‘What of me?’
‘Why, you were missing half the evening …’
An icicle of panic stabbed my chest. ‘No, no, I was in the ballroom …’
He waved a thin hand in the air. ‘None saw you. It was commented upon.’
And with that I knew I was ruined. A scandalous ball held at the home of a disgraced Lord, organised by a foreign prince, the result the murder of two beautiful young women … This time there would be more than creditors hauling away my belongings, clawing after the home that had been my family’s for generations. This time there would be gaol and a trial … The gallows.
I stared at the bodies, at that stockinged foot. I was lost, truly lost and perhaps that is the only small excuse for what I said next. ‘Help me, Slatina. What must I do?’
He scuffed the floor with his shoe. ‘This part of the floor is flagstones. But on other side is dirt. I shall fetch spades and we shall dig.’
‘Bury them here? Without ceremony. Without prayers?’ The thought was too awful, a fate befitting only the most wretched killers and suicides.
He shrugged. ‘You may say some prayers if you wish, but they will not hear them.’
He offered me his hand to help me stand, but still I could not take my eyes from them.
‘Do you know …?’ I could hardly ask, hardly bear to hear the answer. ‘Do you know who they were?’
‘What does it matter who they were?’ He grasped my hand, pulling me roughly to my feet. ‘Now they are empty vessels to be disposed of.’
And so began a night of the cruellest horrors.