Read Refuge Online

Authors: Kirsty Ferry

Refuge (4 page)

***

                ‘Good morning, young lady,’ smiled Solomon Goldschmidt, addressing the girl who had walked into his shop as Kester left. ‘And how am I to assist you today?’

                The young woman smiled. She was very pretty. She had hazel eyes and fair hair, parted in the middle and knotted neatly at the nape of her neck. A small bonnet with violets pinned to it was perched on her head, and she wore an elegant violet-sprigged crinoline. She looked charming, Goldschmidt thought. He felt magnanimous; he had made more than enough money from that young man to allow him to live comfortably for several months.

                ‘I am looking for a pocket watch for my Papa,’ the girl said. Her voice was faintly accented; French perhaps. Goldschmidt nodded, waiting for her to continue. ‘I am told you are the best watchmaker here in Clerkenwell?’

                ‘I do not know of your sources, but I am inclined to agree,’ said Goldschmidt.

                ‘I am willing to pay?’ said the girl, the words sounding a little like a question, as though she were asking his permission.

                ‘Well, of course!’ laughed Goldschmidt.

                ‘Please may I take a look at your work?’ asked the girl. ‘Please would you advise me what your greatest...how you say it...achievement has been? I love my Papa,’ she pouted prettily, ‘but he is far away and he is worth every pound I am willing to pay.’

                ‘Aha, I am afraid I cannot show you my greatest work, my dear,’ said Goldschmidt, ‘as that young gentleman just walked out of my shop with it!’

                ‘How extraordinary!’ said the girl. ‘Ah, well, I cannot agree to you producing a watch for my Papa if you cannot show me your work.’ She shook her head daintily and the violets in her hat wobbled. She dropped a little curtsey. ‘Thank you, kind Sir, but I shall leave it for today.’ She gathered up her skirts and turned to leave.

                ‘Wait!’ cried Goldschmidt. He did not want to lose the chance of a sale. He looked around the room and his eyes settled on the discarded, yellowing page that the Dagger Gentleman had left behind in his haste to leave the workshop. ‘Do you see this? This dagger has been recreated perfectly for the gentleman you just saw leave the building.’

The girl paused and half turned. ‘Why, Sir! You jest, surely? How can that be? I do not think I can believe that. It is too, too, convenient. Your best work has simply just – gone? With that gentleman? ’

                ‘It is true!’ cried Goldschmidt. ‘See this picture? I swear I have produced the exact same item for that young man.’

The girl turned back and came towards the counter. She held out her hand. ‘Please may I see the picture?’ she asked.

                ‘Certainly,’ said the jeweller, and passed her the engraving. ‘A perfect, silver-handled, diamond encrusted dagger. The gentleman was appropriately,’ he coughed delicately, ‘thankful. I was rewarded well.’

                ‘Interesting,’ said the girl. ‘You do know what this is, Sir?’ she said. Her eyes hardened.

                ‘I...errr..I know it is a decorative silver dagger,’ said Goldschmidt.

                ‘You lie, Sir. You know exactly what this is,’ hissed the girl, her demeanour changing. She slammed her fist on the counter. ‘You made this for him? We thought as much. News travels. Enjoy your reward, Sir.’

                The girl launched herself at the jeweller and grabbed him by the throat. She dragged him over the top of the counter, and sunk her teeth into his neck. There was a bloody splutter, and he fell lifeless to the floor. There was a movement behind her and she swung around, just in time to see Kester push the door open. Their eyes locked and Kester paused only for a second. She threw herself at him, but he was quick. He raised his hand and the creature impaled herself on the silver blade.  Kester felt the dagger sink into her body, slicing through her strong flesh as if were water. There was an unearthly shriek and the vampire fell to the floor, crumbling into dust.

                Kester stood, his heart pounding in his chest, staring at the pile of ash on the floor. His stomach started to churn and he swayed, willing himself not to faint. He had done it. He had killed one of them. His hand shaking, he stumbled across the floor and snatched the sheet with the engraving on from the counter. The picture was a talisman – he was meant to come back for it, meant to kill that creature. He knew then that his Lord had set him on the right path.

***

The trip up to Holy Island had been tedious to say the least. Kester wanted to go at a weekend, particularly on a Sunday, which had made his trip more difficult to organise. He had travelled up from London and was staying in a hotel, high up on the wind bleached Northumbrian coast. This last leg of his journey was by horse and carriage. He had spoken to the hotelier and consulted the tide tables. He knew he had a good few hours on the Island before the tide turned and cut him off from the mainland. The smoke from the lime kilns hazed the island as the carriage took Kester across the causeway. Kester wore a heavy, black cloak, wrapped up well against the gusts of wind which blew across the sea: the folds of the cloak were also an ideal place to conceal the dagger tucked into his waistband. He wanted to urge the driver to move faster, and swallowed his annoyance at the horse which was picking its way carefully along the causeway. Better to arrive safely, he told himself repeatedly, better to arrive safely. The other passenger in the carriage was an official looking gentleman, dressed for business. He carried no baggage, but sat watching the smoke from the kilns. Kester could just make out the wagons carrying carts of coal from the staithes to the kilns, and the wagons full of, he assumed, burnt lime on the way back to the ships which waited by the jetties.

                ‘Wonderful sight, ain’t it?’ said the carriage driver. ‘Good to see the old industry picking up again. Got to be careful though, after that ship blew up a few years ago.’ He wheezed out a laugh. ‘Aye, 1847.
The William
it were, from Berwick. Never forget that. The old quicklime in the hold set ablaze by the water tha’ leaked in. Then they had to wait until the tide came in and did the decent thing – put the flames out, it did. Aye, ‘twere a grand sight, that were.’ Neither Kester nor the other passenger replied, but it didn’t seem to put the old man off. He commenced singing to himself, enjoying the lament of an old Border ballad. Kester wasn’t here as a tourist and, as he had told the jeweller in Clerkenwell, he didn’t want a history lesson. He shuddered slightly as he remembered the pretty girl in the violet-sprigged dress. The image hardened his resolve to hunt the creatures down and destroy them. His ultimate ambition was to kill the one who attacked his sister, but he knew that was unrealistic. He continued staring at the Island, watching it grow closer and closer as the horse trotted across the causeway.

After some time, the land was firm beneath the horse’s hooves and the animal sped up. Kester gripped the side of the carriage as they bumped onto the Island and the man opposite him shifted in his seat, leaning slightly forward as they approached the small town. The carriage driver pulled the horse to a halt and took his payment from his passengers.

‘Four hours!’ he shouted at them. ‘Be here in four hours. That will keep us safe for the journey back.’ He doffed his cap and trundled off further into the village leaving the passengers standing by the side of the track.

 ‘Four hours?’ said the other passenger. ‘Plenty of time.’

‘Apparently so,’ replied Kester. ‘Now, if you will excuse me, I must find the Priory. No doubt I will see you on the return journey.’

‘No doubt,’ said the man. He nodded at Kester and looked around him. Seeming to identify where he needed to be, he headed in the direction of the lime kilns. An inspector of works, Kester assumed. Understandable, especially as these were the new kilns, built to replace the older ones elsewhere on the Island.

                Even though the Island was small, there was plenty of life on it. Fishermen wandered out of some of the cottages, heading to the coast to prepare for the tide. There were workers dotted about here and there from the lime kilns and men driving wagons on the roads. Kester soon discovered an inn on the Island. He hurried past it as it rang with laughter and chatter; he wondered vaguely if he would be able to buy some food there later on. Soon, the arch of the ruined Priory loomed over the rooftops and Kester wound his way through the tiny streets.  He was acutely aware once more of the dagger he wore on his hip.

                Kester reached the Priory and paused for a moment. He looked up at the position of the sun in the sky and judged where the east would be. In the east end of the Priory, he knew he would find what he was looking for: the
piscina
and the
aumbry
. For centuries, the monks of Lindisfarne would have poured unused Holy Water down the
piscina,
ensuring that it fed back into the earth. The
aumbry
would be nearby – a space where the sacrament vessels would have been kept. Kester had decided before he came to the Island where he would go to have the dagger blessed the best way he could. In the absence of monks, he would perform a simple ceremony himself. Water would have collected in the
piscina
over the years – it would hold a trace of whatever was holy. The dagger could be placed in the
aumbry
whilst Kester prayed. It was the best he could do. He stood in the Priory grounds and turned eastwards. Then he began to walk slowly through the ruins, mentally preparing himself.

                A strange sort of peace hung over the Priory. Sure enough, Kester found what he was looking for in the ruins of the eastern part of the Priory church. He slipped the dagger into the hole where the
aumbry
had been and knelt before the raised altar of the old Priory church. He felt the spirits of generations of monks settle nearby, as if they had come to join him in his contemplation. Kester was not the first person to make a pilgrimage here and he would not be the last. The resting places of St Aidan and St Cuthbert were well documented and their tombs had originally been built at the Priory. Kester bowed his head and prayed to Aidan and Cuthbert as well as to God, and finally he looked up and gazed at the stone niche which was the site of the
piscina
. He stood, and, taking two small phials from his pocket, he walked over to the wall. He could see that rainwater had collected around the
piscina
and lay in puddles on the shelves of the small stone arches. Kester wrapped the phials in white cotton fabric and laid them on the sacred ground where the blessed water would have flooded out from the hollowed stone. The cloth was a linen handkerchief, a delicately embroidered piece, which had originally belonged to Summer. Kester felt it was appropriate – as virginal and pure as she had been. The cloth also reminded him of his purpose and the fact that he could not allow himself to fail. He murmured prayers as he performed his ritual, and then laid the squares on the shelves. The cloth soaked the moisture up quickly. Kester picked up the handkerchief and squeezed the water into the phials, half filling each one. Then he corked the phials and prayed once more. He wrapped one of them up in the cloth and scratched a hollow out of the ground. He buried the bottle by the Priory wall beneath the
piscina
and covered it up again. If he ever needed more Holy Water, he would know where to come. He moved over to the
aumbry
and took the dagger out of it. Then he sprinkled some of the water from the other bottle onto the blade. It was done. The rest was up to him.

***

Kester checked his pocket watch. He still had a while before the horse and carriage returned and decided to walk towards the lime kilns. He might see the gentleman he had travelled with. Now his task was complete, he could afford to be magnanimous and entertain a conversation with the site inspector.

He heard the screams and shouts before he actually saw what was happening.

                ‘He’s gone in! He’s gone in!’ a man was yelling. ‘Into the kilns!’

                ‘What happened?’ shouted another.

                ‘’Twasn’t even the water – twasn’t even an explosion! He just went in! He fell!’

                Kester began to run. His instinct was to help the men or, at the very least, to try and provide comfort if anyone was beyond help. He had heard tales of caustic burns from these things, of men being blinded and disfigured. He never thought he would be close enough to almost witness it though.

                ‘Can I help?’ he shouted as he pounded across the tracks. The carts and pulleys had all stopped and the workers were swarming towards the kilns. ‘Where’s the inspector? What happened to him? Was it the inspector?’ he shouted as he ran. He felt a pang of guilt – the man had spoken to him just a couple of hours beforehand. What if the unfortunate victim had been the inspector? Alone on the Island, away from his family and friends? Kester began to run faster. It didn’t take him long to reach the crowd of men. He pushed through them and they looked at the young man in their midst, identifying him as a stranger. Kester had an air about him that made the workers instinctively turn to him and trust him.

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