A short story based on pictorial prompt for Aug 2014 'Night and Day Prose Summer Contest'
A story of 2412 words for
based on the image below
The Hidden Key
Jordy stared in stunned disbelief at the retreating back of the old butler. He had been sitting in his customary chair by the window of the library when Samson had carried the ebony chest in and placed it on the table before him.
"I'm so sorry, Master Jordy." Jordy looked up in surprise at the unaccustomed emotion in the burr of old man's voice. "Your uncle passed awa’ early this marnin’. You are Master here, now."
Jordy sat staring at the chest through steepled fingers. His mind was a maelstrom of confusion. He had arrived in this remote Scottish mansion house as a frightened eight year old, grieving the loss of his beloved parents when the World Trade Centres had collapsed after the terrorist attack on 9/11.
His face twisted as he remembered the aching void in his heart when that small boy had stood in his room, uncomprehendingly transfixed. Nanny Phillips and the housekeeper, Mrs McSweeny, had packed his happy, but unremarkable childhood into boxes and shipped both them and him off to live with his Guardian, his mother's elder brother, Grantleigh.
Grantleigh lived a solitary life. The arrival of his nephew had little impact on his routine. He remained closeted in his quarters in the East Wing of Morston House in the remote Scottish Highlands, seldom venturing beyond the heavy, carved doors. When the inquisitive boy had tried the handle of one of them some weeks after his arrival, it had been flung open.
"Niver open this door unless invited, boy!" Grantleigh had towered over the small boy, his eyes blazing. Flecks of spittle clung to his unshaven chin. The boy had cowered back at the harsh, guttural words. He sobbed as his uncle slammed the door shut, then turned and fled, not stopping until he was back in his own room on the second floor of the West Wing. After that Jordy avoided the East Wing.
Now it was all his. He felt little remorse for the old reprobate, for he had seen him barely a dozen times in the twelve odd years since then, and they had exchanged only a few, monosyllabic words when their paths crossed. Each year Grantleigh's stature had shrunk as the growing boy had matured into a strapping, muscular man. Each year Jordy's contempt for his uncle grew.
Over the years, Jordy had settled into a sparse, though kindly, routine and had been well-cared for by Mrs Samson. He was a willing pupil. She and Samson taught him to look after the chickens and milk the few cows they kept in the paddock. The old couple were the only servants in the Hall. The gardener, McTavish, had kept him occupied in looking after the large house and gardens and had taught him about some of the wild creatures that abounded on the estate. The gamekeeper, Hamish, had taught him to shoot and trap on the moors beyond the woods which surrounded it. He even taught him to drive in a battered old Austin 7 that was in kept in one of the outbuildings in the Stable Yard. A bright keen scholar, the library was the source of everything else he knew.
The estate was large, the only road, the private drive which meandered the 10 miles from the gate lodge where Hamish lived. They were largely self-sufficient. Any provisions they needed were collected from Morston Village by Hamish in his battered old jeep. Each year new, serviceable clothes would arrive for the growing boy from a shop in Edinburgh.
Jordy pulled his chair up to the table and examined the chest. It was bound with a lacy tracery of what looked like gold. A delicate carving of unusual symbols inlaid with the same metal covered the lid. He remembered seeing them on the spine of one of the old books on a shelf at the back of the library.
He leant forward and tried, without success, to open the chest. ‘The key must be somewhere in Uncle Grantleigh’s rooms.’ He would have to look for it later. In the meantime, with Samson’s help, he would need to see to the formalities of the funeral.
There were few mourners in the small Anglican Church in Morston. Several villagers doffed their caps as the hearse passed, but none came to the service. Jordy and the servants were joined by the small, bespectacled figure of Mr Jamieson, a solicitor from Aberdeen. After the coffin was lowered into the grave, they retired to the vicarage for the reading of the will.
Jordy sat in silence, listening to the sibilant voice of the solicitor outlining the extent of the estate of his Uncle. The solicitor confirmed what Samson had told him on the morning Grantleigh had died. He was the new Laird of Morston.
“Now, in the matter of the £3,000,000 put into trust for Mr Jordanson after the tragic death of his parents. With careful management, that has sum has more than tripled. It is due to come to you on your 21st birthday next month, young man.” Jordy sat in stunned silence. A considerable portion of his inheritance was not old money at all. It didn’t even belong to Uncle Grantleigh.
Samson lumbered to his feet after the solicitor had finished speaking and held out an enormous, iron key ring to Jordy. Many of the keys were old and several had intricate designs on the handles.
“There ye go, Laddie. Dinna fear that we wu’ll serve ye weil.” Jordy took the proffered keys and nodded.
“Samson, you and the others have looked after me well for all these years.” The old butler looked at the young man before him. He remembered the small, frightened boy and felt a sense of pride that he had helped raise this fine young man who was his new Laird. Mrs Samson sniffed into her hankie and dabbed at her eyes.
“Your loyalty will not be forgotten. None of you will ever be put out of the Hall while I have breath in my body.” Jordy offered his hand to each of his four servants in turn and they clasped it fondly.
His business concluded, Mr Jamieson handed Jordy a sheaf of documents, shook his hand and hurried out to his car for the long drive back to Aberdeen. On his way out to the hired car, Jordy paused to watch the two gravediggers tossing the soil over the coffin. He drew himself up to his full height and strode to the waiting car to return to Morston House. His mind raced with the implications of his new situation.
Jordy leapt from the car when it pulled up to the front door of the House. He had seldom used it in the past. He looked up at the imposing portal and recalled how, as a small boy he had placed his eye to the lock and peered into the gloomy hall beyond. ‘The key must be on the key ring Samson gave me.’ He fetched the key ring from the back seat of the car and turned the keys over in his hand. There was only one that was big enough for the enormous lock. It slid effortlessly into the opening, but Jordy had to put all his strength into turning it. One by one, he felt the stiff tumblers yield to the pressure.
The heavy, oak door creaked and groaned in protest as Jordy put his shoulder against it and heaved it open. The musty scent of disuse filled the air. Dust fairies danced in the shafting sunbeams from the door. In all the years that Jordy had lived in the House this door had remained resolutely shut against the light of day.
The drumbeat of his footsteps measured the length of the hall as he crossed to the back alcove and the corridor leading to the library where he had left the intriguing ebony chest. Fingers fumbling, he tried first one key then another in the lock. None of them fitted.
He lifted the chest up in both hands, shook it gently and examined the curious symbols carved into the surface of the lid. ‘The old book! Perhaps there is a clue in it!’ He strode to the back shelf of the library and scanned along the titles until he found the book he was looking for. It was bound in green snakeskin and had a stout metal clasp holding the covers closed. The spine read ‘Witchcraft – Myth and Legend’ and some of the peculiar symbols were printed in gold beneath the title.
Jordy carried it back to the table and worked at the clasp on the book until it finally sprang open. The book was hollowed out inside and nestled there was an exquisite golden key engraved with the same symbols.
Jordy turned the key over in his hands. It gleamed in the light from the library window. His heart was beating a tattoo inside his chest as he put it in the lock, and his held breath sighed out at the satisfying click as it turned.
The interior of the chest was lined with deep, blue silk. A parchment scroll bound in a blue ribbon rested on it. Beside it was a tapered polished ebony rod. The thick end was exquisitely carved with the same symbols as the lid. Jordy lifted the rod and it seemed his fingers tingled as they closed around the handle. ‘A Magic Wand!’ He snorted in disbelief and replaced it in the chest before lifting out the old scroll. Jordy untied the blue ribbon and began to read the spidery script on the scroll as he unrolled it.
‘Grasp the East Light and you will find
it casts a spell on the willing mind.
Beyond the light lies fame and power.
Grasp the light and seize the hour.’
He smoothed out the scroll on the table and reread the words several times. ‘What on earth is the East Light? Maybe Samson will know.’ He rolled the scroll up, replaced it in the chest and relocked it before ringing the bell for Samson. When he arrived, he motioned him to sit in the chair beside him and offered him a tot of whisky. They chatted as he poured it out and placed it into his hands. Samson took an appreciative swig from the glass.
“I was hoping you could help me, Samson. I was reading something and it mentioned the East Light. I was wondering if you had any idea what it is?” Jordy had decided on the direct route. Samson looked thoughtful for a few moments.
“Ay, laddie, I do. It is a very, old light sconce in the drawing room of the old Laird’s quarters in the East Wing. I don’t know why, but your uncle was very fond of it. I had to make sure there were always candles in the house for it.” Jordy could barely contain his excitement at this news. “Will that be all ye’ll be wanting, Jordy?”
“Ay, Samson. Thank you for clearing that up for me. Will you be wanting another wee dram?” Jordy knew that Samson was partial to the local Scotch. When the butler drained his second glass and left, Jordy tucked the ebony chest under one arm and hurried to the East Wing. The silence pressed down on him as he pushed his way through the carved doors. There would be no Grantleigh to protest this time.
It was like passing through a time portal. The rooms were sparsely furnished with the original, heavy furniture of the 17th century, when the house had been built. Dusty, faded tapestries covered the walls. He glanced into several rooms before he found what he was looking for.
The drawing room was panelled in dark wood. A massive stone fireplace dominated one end. There was an outsized wrought-iron candle sconce on the wall to the left of the fireplace. Jordy hesitated in front of it for a few moments, gripped by trepidation. When he reached out and grasped the East Light firmly, it shifted slightly forwards. He pulled it further forwards and jumped as one of the panels in the wall beside the sconce creaked open, revealing a short passageway leading to a flight of stone steps.
Jordy scanned the room for something that would light the way. A silver candlestick sat on the high mantle shelf of the fireplace. He lit the candle and passed through the panel into the passageway and descended the short flight of steps. The flame danced on the rough walls as he carried it aloft. Another door lay at the bottom of the steps. He took a deep breath as he lifted the latch and entered the room beyond. Astonishment etched on his face, he gazed around the domed chamber.
One wall was lined with bottles and jars filled with a variety of weird and wonderful bits and pieces. A large bookshelf was crammed with ancient, leather-bound tomes. A wooden table stood in the middle of the floor covered in bowls, glass jars and other bizarre objects. The room looked just like the illustration of a wizard’s laboratory he had seen in one of the children’s books in the library. There were several lamps hanging on the walls. Jordy lit them from the flame of his candle and the room glowed warmly in their light.
He set the ebony chest on the table and went to the bookshelf to examine the books there. They seemed to beckon to him as he read the titles. One in particular seemed to be almost alive. He threw caution to the wind, pulled ‘The Book of Spells’ from the shelf and carried it to the table where he laid it beside the ebony chest. His incredulous eyes switched from one to the other. The matching golden symbols glowed in the light from the lamps.
He squared his shoulders and took the wand from the chest. It nestled in the palm of his hand as if it had always been there. His disbelief melted like butter on warm toast. He felt the power of the wand deep in his bones.
His thirst for knowledge was over-whelming. The enthralling lure of ‘The Book of Spells’ had captured his soul and he would never be the same again. He opened the book and began to read.
(cover image from google free images: peperonity.com)