Authors: Rebecca Alexander
Summoned by the King of Poland to help save his dying niece, Edward Kelley and his master, alchemist and scholar Dr John Dee, discover a dark secret at the heart of The Countess Bathory’s malady.
But perhaps the cure will prove more terrifying than the alternative...
Jackdaw Hammond lives in the shadows, a practitioner and purveyor of occult materials. But when she learns of a young woman found dead on a train, her body covered in arcane symbols, there’s no escaping the attention of police consultant Felix Guichard.
Together they must solve a mystery centuries in the making, or die trying…
Rebecca Alexander fell in love with all things sorcery, magic and witchcraft as a teenager and has enjoyed reading and writing fantasy ever since. She wrote her first book aged nineteen and since then has been runner up in the
novel writing competition and the Yeovil Literary Prize 2012.
Trained in psychology and education, and having researched magical thinking in adults for her MSc, Rebecca met some really interesting people in some very odd circumstances, which she could no longer resist writing down.
She lives in a haunted house by the sea with her second husband, four cats, three chickens and the occasional rook.
To the seven special people I have had the privilege of helping to bring up: Léonie, Jennie, Sophie, Carey, Sam, Isaac and Rosie.
‘As a boy, on one frosted morning, my father bade me dig out a pile of rotting straw that was obstructing the stable. I took a shovel and plunged it into the heap. Within, a knot of serpents in their winter sleep had been injured by my blade. One had been cut almost in two, and their bodies writhed together even in the depths of their hibernation, the severed bodies pumping blood upon their brethren. That night, I was reminded, as the bodies of the count and his lady writhed together over the bloodied limbs of Zsófia, the witch. The countess, no longer with the greyness of death upon her skin, looked young again. Her teeth were stained with the witch’s blood, and her body scarred with the symbols I had seen burned and carved into her living flesh. I knew then that I was damned, and the sorcery we had completed would haunt the world.
‘But at the beginning of our journey, I knew nothing but the flattering invitation of King Istvan Báthory to travel through his beautiful but barbarous country to aid his dying niece, the Countess Elizabeth Báthory.’
St Clément’s Eve, 1585
On paper owned by Ms Jackdaw Hammond, translated from the Latin original by Professor Felix Guichard, retained in evidence in the case of the death of SADIE BETHANY WILLIAMS, coroner case no. 238956-3-12
Another crime scene, a dead body, and possible evidence of sorcery. Felix stood in the car park, and watched the activity in the railway station in Exeter. His gut squirmed at the thought of what he would see. He assumed the police became accustomed to seeing bodies, but he never had, despite spending time in Liberia and the Ivory Coast, where human life had become disposable. He pulled his collar up against the rain.
The station was lit by temporary lights on stands, illuminating one of the carriages of a static train. Felix paused at the entrance. The last crime scene he had attended involved an elderly woman stabbed to death, and her yawning wounds had haunted him for weeks. The police had consulted him on some ‘black magic’ graffiti, which had turned out to be the logo of a death metal band. He took a deep breath, blew it out. Hopefully, his involvement in this case would be unnecessary as well.
A movement caught his attention as he walked across the car park. There was a woman standing in the rain a dozen yards from the ticket office, looking through the railings towards the train. She appeared to be watching the police as they worked, but her posture was odd and she didn’t look like a chance spectator observing a tragedy. The rain poured off a hat, the brim sheltering her face, which was whitened by flashes from the scene. She wore a long coat, with water streaming down it, and what looked like boots. She was definitely female; her features looked delicate in a long face, framed by short fair hair that was haloed against the arc lights. She was young, he thought, younger than him, anyway. Her attention to the scene was intense.
He turned away and approached the officer at the gate.
‘Sorry sir, the station is closed. There’s a bus to take passengers to the next station.’ The policeman had water running from the edge of a cap, dropping in silver lines down the wide shoulders of his coat.
‘I was asked to attend. I’m supposed to ask for Detective Inspector Soames.’
‘I see. Can I have your name, sir?’
‘Felix Guichard. Professor Guichard, from the university.’
The man nodded to another officer, a woman who stared straight through Felix, then looked away.
Felix’s eyes began to adjust to the glare. Through the gate, he could see cast-iron columns supporting the roof of the station, the grandeur somewhat marred by advertising hoardings and modern wooden benches. A police barrier obscured the view of the window of one of the carriages. A number of people were walking about in white suits. Flashes lit up one carriage, greening the scene with after-images.
A bleached figure beckoned to him. ‘Professor? Professor Gwitchard? Is that how you pronounce it?’
‘Well, it’s Gwee-shar. It’s a French name.’ A gap appeared in the ranks and he walked through to the white-suited officer.
‘DI Dan Soames.’ The man’s hand was warm and solid in the draughty, wet station. ‘We were hoping you could have a look at this scene for us. You’re a professor of what, exactly?’
‘My subject is the culture of belief systems, religions and superstitions. I’ve worked with your chief constable before, on a case of a witchcraft killing in London.’ Inside he was shivering. Soames was maybe five foot eight or nine, inches shorter than Felix, but had a restrained energy that made him seem like a larger man.
‘Well, these markings have us stumped. Any ideas why someone would draw all over a dead kid are welcome. You’ll have to suit up.’
Felix followed him into a tented area where a young man helped him into a one-piece coverall and booties.
‘Tuck your hair in, sir,’ the young officer said. ‘We’re still looking for DNA and trace evidence.’
Felix pushed his curly fringe back. A single flash from a camera illuminated an image, which glowed for a moment in his brain.
It was the face of a girl, just a teenager, blonde hair stuck to damp glass, over pearl-coloured skin. She must have slid down the window, her eyebrow dragged into a curve, and her open eye stared, it seemed, straight at Felix.
Soames’s voice scratched into Felix’s awareness.
‘Professor of superstitions and religions?’
‘My subject is social anthropology, but I specialise in esoteric belief systems.’
Felix tore his attention away from the fading image of the girl. ‘Beliefs outside of a culture’s mainstream. My PhD was in West African beliefs. Witchcraft, sorcery, magic.’
Soames shrugged his shoulders and tucked the hood of his coverall closer around his face. ‘We’re investigating the disappearance of several young girls from the town.’
‘Oh, I see. Is this one of them?’
‘Possibly. The thing is, there are symbols – come and have a look. We were told you’ve done this sort of consulting before and attended crime scenes.’
Felix followed him along the platform and into the doorway of the carriage. ‘A few times. Do you know what happened? How she died?’
‘We’re not sure. It looks like an overdose, but it’s too early to tell.’
He led the way towards the end of the carriage where a scrum of white figures was strobed with camera flashes.
‘Can we have a look at the body, Jim?’ At Soames’s approach, people fell back a little, some to the other side of the aisle, some to the corridor between the two carriages. The faint sour odour of the toilet was signposted with a glowing ‘vacant’ sign.
Felix squeezed between two officers to look down on the body.
At first, tiny details hit him. Her hand, lying on its back, her fingers curved like a dead crab on the beach. Her lips were distorted by the glass into a half smile, their lavender skin parted to show a few gleaming teeth. The space in front of her was covered with litter left for the train cleaner at the end of the journey. Felix wondered how many people had discarded used paper cups and newspapers on her table, walking past the slumped girl without realising she was dead.
Soames gripped his shoulder. ‘You OK, Professor?’
‘Yes.’ He cleared his throat. ‘Yes. You said there were symbols?’
Soames nodded to the man sitting beside the body, and he lifted the bottom of her T-shirt with gloved hands.
Felix flinched as her pale skin was revealed. Red marks criss-crossed her body, and for a moment he thought they were injuries. Then he realised she had been marked with red pen.
‘That’s an Enochian symbol.’ As the shirt was lifted higher and the slack skin on her belly was revealed, more symbols appeared in two concentric curves. ‘And that one, too. I don’t recognise all of them. Two circles of what look like sigils.’ He bent forward, to get a better look, and caught the flowery scent of clean laundry and the acrid smell of voided urine from the body. Sadness rolled over him, and he looked at her face for a moment. So young. The surface of her eye was just touching the glass, starting to lose its gloss as it dried.
‘We’ll photograph them at the post-mortem.’ Soames stepped back into the aisle, away from the actual scene. ‘So, what are these drawings?’
‘Enochian symbols. They’re supposed to be an alphabet given to John Dee, an Elizabethan scholar. He got them through a man called Edward Kelley, who channelled angels for him.’
‘Like a psychic speaking for the dead.’ Felix’s mind was flying through memories. The arrangement of the characters in a circle seemed familiar.