Chapter 23


[New readers: to start at chapter 1, click Archives / November 2012 on right hand side]

Ludovic was plunged into darkness and silence. The after image of Miriam Flatt and her computer screen faded white on his retina. He didn’t feel anything move. He didn’t feel anything change. His heart was thumping.

Gradually his eyes began to adjust to the darkness. The first thing he saw was a strip of light under a door, just to the left of where the Professor had been sitting, near the skylight alcoves in the laboratory. He could sense that he was in a smaller space before he could see it. His breathing sounded muffled. Looking around he could just make out objects around him. He clicked open the safety harness and stood up gingerly, with a hand above his head feeling for obstructions.

He stood fully upright and touched a rough wooden beam inches from his scalp. Feeling his way in front he took a step forward. His hand brushed something and there was a rattle and clatter as a wooden object rolled off a surface and fell to the floor. He stopped motionless, his arms outstretched blindly. He heard quick steps outside and the door squeaked as it was opened.

“Mr. Barry is that you again?” Said a woman’s voice.

Blinking in the light, Ludovic saw a young woman framed in the doorway. She wore a long skirt , a thick white smock and an apron, her hair tied up under a white cap. She took half a step into the room and stopped suddenly with an exclamation, her hand jerking up to cover her mouth.

“Oh. Who are you? Where is Mr. Barry?” She whispered nervously in an accent thick with rolled r’s and stretched vowels.

Ludovic stared at her. As she stepped forward the light flooded past her and he could see that she was very young, her belly bulging in pregnancy.

“I… I am Doctor Vestas,” he stammered.

The girl recovered her composure, brought her feet together and bobbed in a short curtsey. “Pleased to meet you I’m sure,” she said more precisely. “Are you being a traveller too?”

Ludovic looked around the room. It was crowded with wooden crates. His chair stood on uneven planks resting on dry, swept earth. “Yes,” he replied. “I am a traveller.”

“Where are you from?” The girl looked at him curiously.

Ludovic hesitated. “I am from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania,” he said slowly. “The Baltic Commonwealth of Poland,” he added.

“You speak well,” she nodded sagely. “Your robe is very fine. Are you a nobleman as well as a Doctor.”

Looking down at his coat and the identity card hanging on a lanyard around his neck Ludovic shook his head slowly. “I am a…,” he paused, seeking the right expression, “I am a man of learning and a pilgrim.”

The girl seemed satisfied with the explanation.

“Rose!” A sudden shrill voice called outside the room. The girl flinched and looked round. Another figure appeared in the doorway. At the same moment Ludovic glimpsed movement at the corner of his vision. He turned to look. The chair had gone.

“Rose!” A slender, taller woman stood in the doorway, her face gaunt and her clothes hanging from bony shoulders.

She saw Ludovic and jumped in surprise. “Who’s he?” She asked Rose.

“This is Doctor Vestas, Ma’am. He is a German,” Rose blurted anxiously.

The haggard woman stepped forward and pushed the girl roughly aside.

“Have you got gold?” She asked. Close-up Ludovic could see that her face was almost skeletal. Her eyes were dark-ringed with fatigue, her teeth blackened and foul. “I told the Welshman, I want gold every time.” She nodded her head towards Rose, “in advance.”

Ludovic looked from the woman to Rose and back. “The Welshman brought gold…?” He struggled to continue.

“Every time,” the older woman said defiantly. “I said I wouldn’t tell and I haven’t.”

From outside the door there was the soft clip-clopping of hooves. A shadow passed the doorway and two voices rose and fell as they passed.

“I have not brought gold. I don’t want…” Ludovic gestured weakly towards Rose. “I have just come to look at the city.”

The woman stood looking at him. Her gaze passed slowly from his face to his feet. She seemed to nod her head. “I’m a bit of a gossip.” She said, looking directly at him. “I need something to remind me to keep my mouth shut. Her eyes flicked up and down his body. “If you know what I mean?” She concluded.

Ludovic felt in his pockets. He pulled out his mobile phone. There was no signal. He held out the phone in his open palm.

“You can have this,” he said.”It is from the Orient.”

She looked at it suspiciously. Took it cautiously from him, weighed it in her hand and shook it. As she squeezed it the keypad beeped once. Startled, she almost dropped the phone.

“It’s OK,” said Ludovic. “It’s just musical.”

“Sokay?” Said the woman, “it’s Sokay?”

She carefully put the phone into the front pocket of her apron. Then she turned sharply and walked out of the room.

3 Responses to “Chapter 23”

  1. Just to let you know that if you’re planning on leaving us in suspense until next november I might have to find you and cause you physical harm,,,
    ,,, like maybe a chinese burn or something like that ;~)

    • Drew – don’t worry. No need to resort to violence… I missed a few days in November so the story will continue for a couple of days. 🙂

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