Read Gallows at Twilight Online
Authors: William Hussey
For Grace and Noah Lewis-Bettison
& Eleanor Bettison
Great Clarendon Street, Oxford OX2 6DP
Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide in
Oxford New York
Auckland Cape Town Dar es Salaam Hong Kong Karachi Kuala Lumpur Madrid Melbourne Mexico City Nairobi New Delhi Shanghai Taipei Toronto
With offices in
Argentina Austria Brazil Chile Czech Republic France Greece Guatemala Hungary Italy Japan Poland Portugal Singapore South Korea Switzerland Thailand Turkey Ukraine Vietnam
Oxford is a registered trade mark of Oxford University Press in the UK and in certain other countries
© William Hussey 2011
The moral rights of the author have been asserted
Database right Oxford University Press (maker)
First published in 2011
First published in this eBook edition 2011
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of Oxford University Press, or as expressly permitted by law, or under terms agreed with the appropriate reprographics rights organization. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside the scope of the above should be sent to the Rights Department, Oxford University Press, at the address above
You must not circulate this book in any other binding or cover and you must impose this same condition on any acquirer
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
THEN 1645 The House of Bones
The Lost Art of Magic
Blades of Her Ancestors
Lair of the Skinwalker
Face of Flies
Terror in the Tunnel
The Ghost of the Grimoire
Creatures of the Pit
The Serpent Inside
Fire from the Sky
The Man with the Forked Tongue
The Scarab Path
The Burning Boy
Trapped in Time
The Nightmare Begins
The Subtle Art of Torture
Watched, Walked, Swum
The Devil’s Disciple
Revelation of the Claviger
The Gallows Hour
Fight and Flight
The Blind Man of Starfall
Secrets and Surprises
Lure of the Signum
The Pursuing Shadow
Army of the Dead
Rhapsody in Darkness
The Witch Ball
THEN 1645 The Home of Demons
The House of Bones
‘She is coming, my sisters. The poor, doomed child … ’
The witch’s foot danced on the pedal of the spinning wheel.
‘Her stomach is as empty as a leper’s begging bowl and her feet are bare and bleeding,’ the witch continued. ‘Though she is but twelve years old she has cried all the tears of a long-lived life. And now, through heartache and hardship, she has come to
door. Death has found her at last.’
With her right hand the witch teased an invisible strand away from the hissing wheel. The magically woven thread passed from her fingers as a funnel of smoke. It spread out, coiling and condensing, until it had grown into a wall of cloud. Inside this foggy screen, a figure moved. A child, lost in a forest. The cloud crackled and the girl emerged from between the trees and stepped under the shadow of the manor house.
‘She is here.’
Lizzie Redfern grasped the lion’s head knocker. She tried to lift the heavy brass ring clasped between the lion’s teeth, but the effort sapped the last of her strength. Her legs gave way and she tumbled down, smacking her face against the cold stone step. Lizzie felt no pain. She was beyond any sense or feeling now.
Dimly, she heard the rasp of a bolt and the weary grumble of the door. Candlelight dazzled. A figure stooped down, its ivory face pinched with concern. Arms encircled Lizzie and picked her from the ground. A rush of words wafted into her ear—
‘Here you are, my dear, just as my clever sister foretold. But you are such a little thing! Come now, into the warmth and the light.’
The sound of the unknown lady’s dress was like the rustle of a half-remembered lullaby. Twice Lizzie mustered the energy to open her eyes. She saw glimpses of a gloomy hall festooned with spider webs and the sweep of a big, dusty staircase. The lady did not seem to feel her burden. With Lizzie secure in her arms, she ghosted through the house. At last, they came to one of the upper rooms.
‘Drude, my dear, I have brought our guest.’
The creak of another door and the glare of another candle.
‘Oh, but she is so
, Lethe,’ the woman called Drude clucked. ‘Bring her straight to the table, the broth is ready.’
No sooner had she been sat down than Lizzie felt the tap of a spoon against her teeth. Rich, meaty stew salted her lips.
‘How charming,’ Lethe purred. ‘See, Drude, how she blinks in the firelight like a newborn pup.’
Lizzie felt a second spoonful of stew wash into her mouth. Heat spread out from her stomach and spilled into her arms and legs. By the time the spoon had scraped the last of the stew from the bowl, she was sitting up and looking at her hosts.
They had called each other ‘sister’ but Miss Drude and Miss Lethe were not at all alike. Clearly the elder of the two, Drude was dressed in a threadbare nightgown stained with splashes from the broth. Straggles of white hair poked out from beneath her nightcap and brushed against a large, warty nose. In contrast, Miss Lethe had the face of a playful imp. She wore a gown of finest yellow satin and had lacy ribbons tied in her long blonde hair.
‘There now,’ said Miss Drude, dabbing Lizzie’s lips with a handkerchief, ‘you must be feeling better.’
‘I am, thank you, ma’am.’
‘No need for thanks, my pet. But tell us, what has brought you to Havlock Grange on so bleak a night?’
‘I’ve been walking from town to town, trying to find what work I can,’ Lizzie explained. ‘I came this night to the village not far from here—Little Muchly, I think it is called. An old lady in a cottage by the river told me to go to the big house. I was to tell the ladies there that “Old Sowerberry” had sent me.’
‘Dear Old Sowerberry.’ Miss Drude showed a set of worn, black teeth. ‘Yes, we have an … arrangement with that lady. She sends all needy children to our door.’
‘Tell me, my dear,’ Miss Lethe said, ‘are you quite alone in the world?’
‘Yes, ma’am. My mother died giving me life. My father … ’ Lizzie’s voice cracked. ‘He was killed the month before last at the great battle at Naseby.’
‘He was a soldier? For which side?’
‘He was a Parliament man.’
Drude nodded sadly. ‘Even here, in our lonely house far from the world, we hear tell of this great conflict—this barbaric civil war.’
While Drude had been speaking, Lizzie’s gaze wandered around the room. The table at which they sat occupied the centre, its surface cluttered with books, parchment, quills, candles, and a cauldron from which the broth had been served. A large curtain had been used to screen off the far end of the chamber. Within a few paces of Lizzie stood a grand stone fireplace with grotesque faces carved into its columns.
A painting hanging above the fireplace caught Lizzie’s eye. The central figure of the picture stared down at the girl, his eyes like two dark gemstones. Aside from the sneer frozen upon his lips, the man in the painting was as beautiful as an angel.
‘Our brother,’ Lethe sighed. ‘Our beautiful, talented brother. How we miss him.’
‘Did he die?’
‘In a way,’ said Drude. ‘He lives still, but it is a half-life. He exists only within the Veil.’
These words confused Lizzie. She asked, ‘What was his name?’
‘Marcus. Marcus Crowden … ’
The flames of the fire quivered. Lizzie turned and saw the curtain at the end of the chamber flutter outwards.
‘Come,’ Miss Drude muttered. ‘Our sister calls.’
Hands locked onto Lizzie’s shoulders. Too shocked to cry out, the girl stumbled forward as the sisters barged her through the room. They reached the curtain and Drude, no longer smiling, grasped the edge and tore it back.
‘This is our youngest sister. Say hello, Frija.’
The woman sitting at the spinning wheel lifted her head. She was small—smaller even than little Lethe—and dressed entirely in black. Although a thick veil covered her face, Lizzie felt sure that Frija Crowden was looking directly at her. Frija’s fingers played through the spokes of the wheel, turning it slowly, surely.
‘I saw your coming, Lizzie Redfern,’ she said.
‘Who are you?’ Lizzie whispered.
‘I am the cloud spinner. My eye sees far and my hand speaks truth. See the truth I spin … ’
Frija’s fingers teased a strand from her spinning wheel and cast it loose. The moment it left her hand, the fibre soared across the room and into a dark corner. Like a bright finger, it descended, touching on a large chest or travelling trunk. The lid was thrown back and, as the light strengthened, Lizzie caught sight of the trunk’s contents.
Screams caught in her throat.
‘Old Sowerberry sends any passing child to Havlock Grange,’ Frija murmured. ‘They come to seek work, to beg a penny. They are brought in, they are fed … and they are never seen again.’
The magically woven strand brightened.