Kiara, Episode 8
Matron almost dropped the poker to the floor as she woke. Oddly, as she lay it to the floor to allow herself to stretch and awaken properly, she felt calm, – despite the initial instinctive lunge to catch the poker. She badly needed a cup of tea and a chance to freshen up. She got up and pulled the cord to summon a servant. She needed someone to stay with Kiara while she washed and dresses in fresh clothes. She had much to do. She felt the girls forehead, she was warm to the touch. Still, she was young and strong. She would send for Maria to sit with her, the young servant girl was quiet and somewhat withdrawn, but dependable. There was a quiet tap on the door. She walked over and opened it, pressing her finger to her lips as James entered. Beckoning him to the end of the room away from the sleeping child, she opened a small cupboard and took out a bottle of brandy and two glasses. She poured a large measure into both and handed one to him. He slowly raised the glass to his lips and waited for her to speak, as he took a gulp of the brandy. He knew there was trouble, – just not exactly how much. “James”, she said softly,” We have known each other a long time”… she paused to sip her brandy and he nodded. “I need to know that I still have your full support,- things have changed much since yesterday”. “Always! Madam”, he said, in a soft voice. Matron had taken him as a starving urchin from the streets, and had brought him here. It had taken him many years, but he had gone from rat-catcher to her personal assistant under her care and guidance. He knew that he would do anything for her.
“I take it that you have noticed our little blaze?” He just nodded in reply. “I need you to go to the woods and remove any evidence that you might find that would cause embarrassment or awkward questions”, she continued. He raised an eyebrow. “I am afraid that the good doctor is no longer with us. You may need a spade and a wheelbarrow”. In less than a heartbeat, he reached his conclusions as to the previous night’s activities. “You may leave it with me, Madam”, he said. She took a deep swallow from her glass and stared at him for a moment, – “there may be quite a few bodies!”. Her face was unreadable. He simply nodded. He was sure that he would know all in good time.
“First, I would like you to send up Maria, and arrange for a bath, and my breakfast to be brought to my room in 45 minutes. Oh! And arrange for dinner for two in my private quarters for 7.30. I have need of your agile mind and we have much to talk about.
Maria arrived just as James was leaving the room. Her little sparrow eyes darted all around and settled on Matron’s blood stained dress for a moment, and she twitched like a little mouse. “I am Fine, Maria!””, Matron said in a firm but quiet voice. “I need you to sit and watch over Kiara for a while. Get a bowl of water and a cloth and cool her forehead, but do not let her get chilled. I will need that fire relit. Then stay with her at all times and ring the bell if you need any help. Do you understand?” Maria bowed slightly, “Yes Ma’am”. “Well get to it! I will be back as soon as I can.
Matron locked her door when she got to her room, and pulled a stool over to the wardrobe. Pulling down a small travel chest, she threw it on the table and quickly opened it, removing a small well-varnished, wooden box. She removed the smith and Wesson ‘Ladysmith’ and placed six rounds from the neat row of indentations inside the baize lined box. She had bought it on impulse, but the gun still frightened her. She wondered how much use it would be if the goblin was still alive. Having seen his speed and strength, she doubted that she would get a chance to use it,- should he somehow reappear. Still, it made her feel safer to have it near her. She placed it in a drawer for the moment, and returned the boxes to where they had been. There was a knock on the door.
Matron waited patiently as the tub was brought into her bedroom and filled jug by jug. She again locked the door and placed the gun on the bed as she removed the layers of stained clothing. She would feel better once she had bathed and had a good breakfast.
James gave the servants their instructions before changing into his working clothes and fetching a spade and a wheelbarrow. He had performed many dubious deeds on the Matron’s behalf since their first meeting, but he was guessing that today would mark a new milestone in their strange journey together. He wondered if he was now about to be an accomplice in mass murder. It did not matter to him. He would gladly hang in her place if need be. All he would ask in return was her gratitude. James had no religion, unless his devotion to the matron could be counted as one. In the forty years he had known her and the strange doctor, neither had aged by a minute. He knew that the doctor would have slit his throat to keep their secret safe, but for some strange reason, the matron had trusted and protected him from the very beginning. Many staff had come and went, but she had always favoured him , first by insisting he learn alongside the succession of children who passed through the manor, and then eventually promoting him until he had finally reached his position of personal assistant.
James took the long route to the forest through the fields. As he slowly trundled along he had to admit to himself, that even he was not too anxious to face what he might find in the shelter of the trees. He thought back to the day he was standing in the foggy street and the large black carriage had stopped beside him. He was about ten, he reckoned, and picked an uneasy living by any means possible. He was fast on his feet, with an equally fast mind. which was why he had not ended up in a prison or workhouse like many others. He would lure the occasional drunk into an alleyway in return for a cut of the purse, when the unfortunate man had been mugged.
He was about to run away when a shiny coin was thrown to the pavement by his feet. A beautiful young lady leaned out of the window. “Boy! Would you like some more coins like that, and a hot meal and dry bed?”
He bent down and grabbed the coin as he prepared to escape. But something about her made him stop dead in his tracks. He heard himself say, “Yes Ma’am”. “well, climb up with the driver”, then she added,” Quickly boy!”, and he ran to the rear of the carriage and climbed on as it began to move off.
He knew that he had loved her from that first meeting, and that he still loved her. His loyalty was total. He could never untangle his feelings for her. From his first hopeless, childish crush, to the friendship and trust that had grown between them in their strange situation, his feelings for her had grown until she was the centre of his world.
He shook away his memories as he drew near the forest. Luckily, it had rained during the night. When he was near enough to see through the fog, he could tell that the outer trees were still sound.
He could catch the acrid smell of wet ash as he walked through the trees. Then another smell which made him want to gag. It was the smell of burnt flesh. As he passed the partially scorched trees and into the clearing created by the fire, there were charred trees all around. Some had fallen, making it difficult to move with the wheelbarrow. He abandoned it to search for the bodies that he could so clearly smell. It was overpowering and made it impossible to trace the source easily.
When he found the first body, he thought it was a child. But enough of it was left to realise it was something else entirely. He decided that the simplest approach was to dig a hole beside each body and lever it in with the spade. The bodies were naked and quite inhuman, with large heads and bulging bellies. He pulled his scarf tighter around his face and began digging.
By the time he was finished it was almost dark, and he was more tired than he had ever been in his life. Ignoring the wheelbarrow, he used the spade as a makeshift walking stick and made his way back through the gloomy forest and went straight to his room.