The Coal Mine

Of course, none of this would matter if he couldn’t escape this crypt. Casting the lantern around, Edmund thought carefully about  where he was. Plinkerton didn’t create this room, he reasoned. It  was far too old, and people would have noticed if the staircase to the first Moulde’s crypt was suddenly replaced by a statue of a clock. No, there had to be another way out. The original way out.

And if there had been an original way out before, but there wasn’t one now…

Edmund slowly walked around the room, feeling the stonework like he had seen Mr. Shobbinton do, until he reached the wall Orpha’s throne faced. There, near the bottom of the wall and barely visible in the dim light, a small section of stone felt rougher than the rest of the stones. Edmund cranked the lantern furiously, trying to get as bright a light as he could, until he was certain that the mortar around the stones was lighter, and rougher.

Edmund looked carefully, and sure enough, the small section of stone looked like it had filled in what had once been a small arch, barely big enough for someone to crawl through. At one time, it might have been a doorway. It made sense, Edmund reflected as  he set down Orpha’s skull. If you wanted to see the first Matron of the Moulde Family, you’d have to crawl in on your hands and knees. It seemed like the sort of thing a Matron of the Mouldes might do.

Edmund pulled out his bent metal lockpick, and started to chip away at the young mortar as best as he was able. It was hard going, but the tool was strong and the mortar of poor quality. He  struggled and scraped as fast as he could, but even so it had to have been more than an hour before he felt the tool break through  the mortar to the other side of the wall. He redoubled his efforts as he worked his way around the arch, pulling chunks of ancient plaster and crumbling stone.

Finally, he felt the makeshift wall shift. Giving an experimental  shove, he felt the wall move away from him and into what looked like an old tunnel. Edmund checked to make sure the writs of investment were still in his pocket, shifted Orpha’s skull into the crook of his arm, and crouched over as best he could to pass through the reopened egress.

On the other side of the door was a crumbling tunnel full of alcoves, coffins, burnt out torches stuck in the wall, and rotted  wood. The soft echo of dripping water from somewhere high above him rippled through the air like the popping of distant frogs.

Carefully stepping over rocks and scattered bones, Edmund crept down the long tunnel. He saw broken and rusted picks sticking in the ground, and shattered glass lanterns that looked almost a century old. This forsaken crypt must have once been an old vein of coal, long since mined dry by the Moulde Family’s labors. Edmund plunged onward, winding his way further and further into Haggard Hill.

The Watch

The future yawned in front of Edmund. He saw himself standing atop a massive pile of money, his cousins by his side as the other families bowed to the Mouldes. He saw the city grow and Moulde Hall rise even taller than ever before. He saw the gardens expand and cover the grounds, with animals from far off lands roaming through the forest like sentries. The larders were packed with exotic foods and the kitchen full of ten chefs, all cooking anything but soup, constantly. Every dining hall would be full of guests every night, as would each ballroom and sitting room, while Edmund would sit like a king in the library, on his throne of science, engineering, and literature.

He would show them all!

Slowly, through the mist of his imagination, a faint ticking sound reached Edmund’s ears. Looking around, Edmund realized that the ticking was coming from the false bottomed chest.

Reaching into the chest, he Edmund fished around until he pulled a large brass pocket watch out of the false bottom. It was extremely ornate, with twisting ornamentation that curved around the cover like curls of smoke. Carved into the back with an elaborate script was the Moulde family motto. Edmund popped open the cover to see the curvaceous and elegant hands that pointed to sharp spidery numbers. As he watched, the long hand flicked a hair’s breadth closer to the hour.

When his fascination with the craftsmanship faded, he realized the watch had no spring-winder. He twisted at the catch, and turned the watch over and over in his hand to find a key-hole, but there was nothing. Yet somehow, this watch that could not be wound had been ticking for at least six generations.

The watch felt heavier in Edmund’s hand. Even Camelot fell, he thought. How long would his kingdom last? And what good would it do for him to take what he could and live like a tyrant? When he died, he would end up as nothing more than a pile of bones in a rotting crypt beneath a lonely house on a hill. And he would probably die young from some sort of accident, so his children could take over…

…Memento Mori.

Some day he would die, and all that would be left of him would be dry bones and cobwebs and…And whatever mechanisms he had wound up and set in motion.

No, he thought. He stuffed the writs into his pocket, and stood up, feeling foolish. If Plinkerton could create something that could last for six generations, than so could Edmund. He was going to save the family for good, whether they wanted to or not, and he was going to do it his way. Not like King Arthur, or his cousins, but like a watch.

Both a watch and the human body was made out of purpose. Every piece had a job to do, and they all worked together to make something greater.

The False Bottom

Edmund wanted to cry. He wanted to scream. He wanted to clutch at the skeleton’s leg-bone and beg for forgiveness. He wanted to kick and bite and rage, and make Pinsnip pay for what he had done. Make all of them pay!

But somehow, he couldn’t. His heart was empty and his choler cold as he stared at the pile of bones that had once been a monument to his adopted history. Carefully, he reached out and picked up the skull of the first Matron, and held it tenderly in his hands. It was heavier than he expected, but somehow it didn’t look the way it should. He found the jawbone, and pieced the two together.

Better, he thought. Just like a puzzle.

He kicked the small chest out of the way in frustration. He had come so far! He had found ancient diagrams and inventions of Plinkerton, one of the last great Mouldes! He could have sold them, leased them, done any number of things to save the family, and what did he do? He failed, because he didn’t stop the solicitor–not even a real family member–that couldn’t see past his own ego. None of them could, come to that, but they were all smarter, stronger, and older than he was, weren’t they? He was just eight years old.

Why did he ever think he was more than that? What made him think he could be more than he was? Why did he think that eight years could ever be comparable to…well, to anyone who was older?

He felt his heart sink as he realized he would have a long time to work out those answers.

Clutching the skull to his chest, Edmund began to stand, when his eye fell on the chest where it lay on its side. A false bottom had fallen out of the chest, and several pieces of paper were peeking out from where they had been safe from the fire.

Kneeling down, Edmund pulled eight small folded slips of paper from the false bottom and began to read. At first, Edmund wasn’t sure what he was looking at. Pinsnip had given him a brief introduction to finance and the more complicated maths, but these were old documents, and it took some study before Edmund began to understand exactly where Plinkerton had hidden the Moulde fortune.

The eight pieces of paper were all writs of investment. Each writ was a sizable investment with a large expected return upon claiming the original offer–in short, a gentleman’s loan–written out for each of the other eight Founding Families.

Edmund was amazed as piece after piece fell into place in his mind. What better place to hide money that you didn’t want your family to find, but by giving it to your enemies? Edmund didn’t know anything about the finances of the other eight families, but the numbers on the writs were large, as were the expected rates. There were more zeros in these numbers than Edmund had ever seen in his life.

A quick bit of mental math, and Edmund realized the significance of these papers: If he simply demanded payment on these eight loans, the Moulde family would be richer than the wildest dreams of the greediest thief in the city.

The Conflagration

Edmund followed, realizing what he was planning. As fast as he could while cranking the lantern, Edmund chased Mr. Shobbinton, desperate to escape the tunnel before he was locked in the dark crypt forever.

He was too late. The dark little man leapt out of the tunnel moments before Edmund, and with a short arm, reached out and flicked the clock hands on the statue. There was a grinding noise, and the statue began to move, closing over Edmund’s head like a tomb, the silhouette of Mr. Shobbinton staring down at him with a horrible smile.

Edmund reached out to climb through the shrinking hole, when a well-shined boot came out of the night and planted itself on the top of Edmund’s head. Edmund felt himself fall, the clattering din of the lantern ricocheting around his ears. The stairs assaulted him from every angle, striking his shins, his arms, his back, and his chest as he fell, until at last he landed on the cold stone floor of the crypt.

Edmund opened his eyes just as the lantern skidded to a halt next to him, sending a shower of sparks spraying over the dried parchment that blanketed the floor.

The diagrams, the blueprints, the schematics, all of which were long since bereft of anything that could prevent their summary ignition.

Edmund barely had time to cry out before the ancient parchment caught and blossomed into a carpet of flame. He painfully pulled himself up off the ground, and threw himself on the flames, desperately trying to beat them out with his clothing. The pain was sharp, a biting heat that pierced his skin, but still he rolled about on the old designs, scraps of paper flying everywhere as they burned like glowing red autumn leaves, the flame melting them away like ice. As he rolled he saw a single fleck of ash, still glowing from the heat, float on the smoky air and land gently, like a falling feather, on the end of Orpha Moulde’s foot.

In the span of a second, the ancient cobwebs burst into a bright conflagration, turning the twisted skeleton dressed in webbing into a burning totem, wreathed in orange, the flames licking through the skull’s mouth and eye sockets. The open mouthed skeleton blazed a brilliant orange for a second, screaming silently into the burning tomb.

And then, in an instant, the room was plunged into darkness. Edmund wondered if he had been struck blind, the light had vanished so quickly. Then he hoped he had been, so he didn’t have to see the results of the flames.

Numbly he felt along the ground, sifting through hot flakes of shadow until he found the lantern and began to slowly crank it again. As the light grew he saw the burnt remains of the ancient papers crumpled and torn on the ground, and Matron’s skeleton, no longer held together by years of spiderweb, collapsed into a dusty pile of bones.

It had all happened so fast.

Mr. Shobbinton’s Betrayal

“Crank that lantern,” he snapped, twisting Edmund to his feet. “Keep it bright, or I’ll skin you like a rabbit.” Edmund continued to crank the lantern as hard as he could, gritting his teeth through the pain of Mr. Shobbinton’s fingers in his scalp. He could feel the grip tighten as they slowly walked around the room, shining the light into every nook and cranny. Mr. Shobbinton poked every crevice, nudged every stone, and stamped on the floor just as hard as Edmund had, but he never spared a second glance at the seated skeleton and the small stone-like chest that sat at her feet.

“Well,” Mr. Shobbinton spat, after they had walked around the room for a second time. “It looks like there isn’t much of worth here, is there?” Edmund bit his tongue as he was twisted around so the monocle could stare him full in the face. “You wouldn’t happen to be hiding anything in your pockets from your old friend and mentor, would you?”

“No,” Edmund said, still cranking the lantern. Mr. Shobbinton’s eye twitched in the strange shadows cast by the orange light. For a moment they stared at each other, and then Mr. Shobbinton’s hand flashed like a bold of lightning, shoving Edmund’s coat aside, and yanking the folded stack of papers from his arm.

Edmund cried in protest as Mr. Shobbinton held him at arms length, quickly scanning the strange and exotic diagrams. He snorted, and tossed the papers to the floor, scattering them across the room.

“A budding artist?” he whispered, the wicked knife sliding into Edmund’s view. “And I had such high hopes for you too. You came from poverty, like me, but I should have known you’d end up just like them. My family struggled for every copper coin, but you had your fortune handed to you on a silver plate!”

“You’ll never get away with this,” Edmund said. He wasn’t exactly sure what Mr. Shobbinton was trying to get away with, but it somehow felt the right thing to say. The solicitor seemed to agree, as he nodded approvingly.

“Excellent,” he sneered. “You’re one ‘curses, foiled again’ from being a real Moulde. As to my chances for success, I think I can, as you say, ‘get away with it.'”

“You don’t have to kill me,” Edmund gasped, his eyes locked on the knife. Mr. Shobbinton laughed wickedly, shoving Edmund to the ground.

“Of course I don’t!” he sneered. “I don’t plan to! Your cousins are currently tripping all over themselves to deal with you; you are far more useful to me alive. At least, for the moment,” Mr. Shobbinton snickered, but there was no question as to whether or not he was amused. “It’s only fair, isn’t it? I taught you everything you know about money and the law, now you can teach me everything you know about the missing fortune of the Moulde Family.”

“I told you, there’s no money!” Edmund protested.

“I’m sure you’ll change your tune after a few days down here, with nothing but spiders and worms to eat.” Mr. Shobbinton gave a mocking tip of his hat, and turned with a flourish to run back up the stairs.

Mr. Shobbinton Explains

Edmund shook his head, the thick wad of paper pressing against his armpit. Mr. Shobbinton walked slowly around the room, inspecting the rotting caskets, and then sighed.

“You know,” he said, casually, “I never thought you were stupid. Yes, I misdirected you, used you, but I never lied to you.” He paused, staring at the ceiling again. “Not nearly so blatantly. I respected you that much.”

Slowly, Mr. Shobbinton moved to his briefcase, opening it with a snap. His hand vanished into its inky depths, and reemerged with a knife that glinted dully in the lantern light. It looked very sharp, and the shadows made it look serrated on both edges. He looked at it thoughtfully for a few moments, and then turned to Edmund, raising the blade higher in the gloom.

“I’m not lying!” Edmund protested, backing away from the advancing blade.

“I thought we understood each other,” Mr. Shobbinton said, the glass lens over his eye glowing in the dim light. “I thought we had an accord.”

“We did!” Edmund squeaked, dodging behind the large stone throne. “Honestly! There’s no money here!”

“I thought you smarter than that, Master Edmund,” Mr. Shobbinton’s smooth voice drifting into a singsong lethargy. “The Moulde Family was rich and powerful for its entire history, and then out of nowhere the entire family collapses. The other Mouldes think like you–they still think that the family has money. They think Matron’s sitting on piles of lucre, just hording it away like… like they would.”

“She isn’t?” Edmund tried to keep Mr. Shobbinton talking. If he was talking, he wasn’t doing anything worse. “Then another Moulde must have taken it! It’s been over a hundred years–it makes sense!”

“I thought of that,” Mr. Shobbinton smiled, “but I don’t trust anything, even what makes sense. So I looked at all the family’s ledgers. They go all the way back to the twelfth century, and track each and every financial transaction anyone in the family ever made. Everything adds up until Plinkerton, and then the money vanishes!”

“Where did it go?” Edmund asked. He had the sneaking suspicion that Mr. Shobbinton had been wanting to tell all of this to someone for a very long time. He pointed the knife like a finger at Edmund’s nose.

“That’s the question! It wasn’t investments, or bonds. I thought the books may have been cooked, so I spent half a year in the Brackenburg bank, studying everything they had, and there was nothing! No investments under the table, no secret loans to the city, or any purchase of foreign stock… the money just vanishes!” Mr. Shobbinton wiggled his fingers in his free hand like a dispersing cloud.

“Well it isn’t here,” Edmund tried again. Somehow, he had to convince Mr. Shobbinton that he was telling the truth.

“You’re right” Mr. Shobbinton said calmly, his eyes narrow. “There isn’t any money here. Let’s see if we can find where you hid it.” Quick as a snake, his free hand shot from his side and gripped Edmund by the hair. Sharp stabbing needles of pain flooded Edmund’s brain, flashing red before his tightly shut eyes.

Mr. Shobbinton Arrives

“I underestimated you,” He said, quietly. He was wearing his bowler hat, and a long black coat. Edmund stepped backwards down the steps as Mr. Shobbinton advanced, the large briefcase in his hand thumping gently against his shin. His right hand shook rainwater off of the drenched umbrella.

“I wasn’t doing anything,” Edmund said, quickly as Mr. Shobbinton continued his descent, forcing Edmund back into the tomb. Mr. Shobbinton’s mouth drooped sadly.

“Of course you were,” he said, leaning his collapsed umbrella on the wall as they entered the stone room. “And here I thought you wouldn’t have figured it out yet. I must say, though I am ashamed for my mis-estimation, I am also feeling something very akin to pride at the moment.” He paused, looking up at the damp stone ceiling, and then nodded. “More for myself, I suppose, than you. I did teach you the finer points of finance which no doubt led you here. Of course, I would have found the entrance soon–I had surveyed the rest of the Hall and it had to be under one of the statues… In your case, it must have been luck.”

“What do you mean?” Edmund asked.

“You mean to say you don’t know?” Mr. Shobbinton’s eyebrow rose slightly. “Nonsense. I’ve been giving you page after page of the Moulde’s family accounting for weeks now. You must have noticed the accounting errors.”

“The Mouldes are poor,” Edmund nodded. “I figured that out.”

“Yes,” Mr. Shobbinton smiled wanly in the dim light, “but it’s much more than that. I have been the Moulde’s family solicitor for years, and as their solicitor I have had access to their accounting books for just as long. It didn’t take much time at all to see that some dodgy financial practices had been used, and I dare say a lesser accountant might have missed them all-together. Fiendish they were, quite fiendish.”

“I also dare say I’m quite perturbed about you being here,” Mr. Shobbinton gently set down his briefcase, and looked down his nose at the crumbling skeleton of Orpha Moulde. “I have spent the better part of a year surveying this entire estate, looking for this place, and you manage to find it in less than a month. If I hadn’t been right behind you, I would find your good fortune… quite unjust.”

“I followed the poem,” Edmund began, only to stop when Mr. Shobbinton waved his hand impatiently.

“It doesn’t matter how you came to be here,” he said, brusquely, “Only that you are here. Now, help me find the money.”

“There isn’t any.” Edmund sighed.

For a few moments, the only sound was the lantern as Edmund continued to turn the crank. Then, Mr. Shobbinton turned to face him, his monocle glittering in the light.

“There isn’t?” He said, slowly.

The Cavalcadium of Fortune

After a few moments, he began to feel slightly foolish. This couldn’t have been what Plinkerton had intended for him to do. He was about to stand, when his eyes caught up with his brain and told him to pay attention. He was looking at the skeleton’s feet, which were resting on what looked like a small stone foot-rest. Upon closer inspection, however, it was evident it was not stone, but a small chest that merely looked like one.

Slowly, reverently, he reached out and took the chest from under her feet, carefully pulling aside the thick cloth-like cobwebs. The chest was covered with dust and a thin layer of mold, which gave it a grainy texture that flaked off as Edmund turned it around.

Scraping away the mold, Edmund discovered a small keyhole just large enough for the teeth on the gold leaf. Carefully, he pulled out the leaf and slipped the bumpy stem into the hole and twisted. A soft click echoed through the tiny room, and the chest creaked open. Inside lay a thick fold of papers wrapped in oiled leather. Edmund carefully took the folded papers out and opened them, gently peeling back the ancient leather cover and laying it on the floor so he could better see the contents as he cranked the dimming lantern.

Diagrams, blueprints, formuales, and dissertations covered the papers in small handwriting. Lists of elixirs and infusions, studies of the humours and nerves, explorations of levers and springs and countless other curios spilled out over the floor. Edmund shifted through them all, trying to understand, to ingest all he could.

Edmund stared at the parchments scattered on the floor, thinking. There were designs for carriages that were moved about by steam like miniature trains, machines that looked like balloons with bird wings, or bicycles that floated on water. There was even the drawing of a human body, laid out like a schematic complete with bones, blood vessels, heart, and lungs. It was all so beautiful that it wasn’t until the light flickered out that the spell was broken, and he remembered to start turning the lantern’s crank again.

And there, in the flickering light, was the tiny schematicis of a strange humanoid shape sitting at a desk, being held up by a cushion of string.

Quickly, he gathered up all the paper and shoved it under his arm; he needed to get them back to the library. He wasn’t entirely sure what he would do with them, but held safe in the encircling walls of books, he could study them carefully and learn exactly what he was looking at. He slipped through the stone door, and began to climb his way back up the stairs to the clock statue.

The night sky was a velvety purple against the deep black of the tunnel as Edmund reached the exit. His head had just crested the final step, when a flash of lightning lit the sky, and the short silhouette of a man holding a large umbrella filled Edmund’s vision. He froze as the man slowly stepped towards him, a faint outline of something thick and broad in the shadow’s left hand. Slowly, Edmund began to crank the lantern again, casting a faint glow over the thin face of Mr. Shobbinton as it twisted in a harsh mask of scorn, his eyes narrow.

The Tomb of Orpha Moulde

History. Edmund had never had one before. He thought he had received one when Matron adopted him, but it had always been sort of an illusion; an assumed history made up from Edmund’s imagination and the feeling of the past leaking from the old walls and floors of Moulde Hall. When he found the library, the books of Moulde Hall, and finally Tayatra, he had found a link–a solid connection to the lives and ancestors that came before him.

That history was nothing compared to the history that lay around him now. Skeletons crammed into old rotting wood, and dusty placards with names crumbled to dust, history long forgotten save as a feast for vermin. ‘Memento Mori,’ was the Moulde family motto… and never had this been more clear to Edmund than now.

This was it, Edmund knew, as a chill trickled over his skin like a spider’s feet. Matron’s Gift would be given to the wise, and Edmund aimed to be worthy. He searched around her chair, ran his hands over the stone walls, and tapped his foot as hard as he could on all the rocks in the floor. He couldn’t find any secret catches or hidden doors, so he thought harder. What would the wise do upon entering this room?

They’d take everything they could see and leave, Edmund realized.

He felt his heart sink. Plinkerton had died over a hundred years ago–how could a stash of money remained hidden for so long? He couldn’t have been the only one to have ever found the golden leaf–the leaves must have fallen every autumn. And even if he was, he knew how to open locks without a key. Why couldn’t someone else have done the same?

Edmund looked around the room. The whole room had probably been filled with gold when Plinkerton left it, like a Pharaohs tomb, but over a century someone had to have stumbled on the entrance and taken all the money for themselves. Edmund turned back to the staircase heading back up to Haggard Hill, his failure complete.

Just before he reached the steps, he stopped. That wasn’t what a wise person would do–that’s what a Moulde would do. Plinkerton had known that his family was doomed to destitution thorough the folly of their own faults; he wouldn’t have left the money lying about. And there was no indication that any other Moulde had been in this room for hundreds of years.

So what was wise when entering a tomb? Edmund thought about the knights from the story of King Arthur. What would they do upon finding a tomb to their king? They’d pay their respects, of course. A wise person respects their history, didn’t they? Feeling only a little silly, he returned to the granite throne and knelt in front of the skeleton, his head bowed, the solemnity of the event hampered by the need to grind the lantern.

Into The Depths Of Haggard Hill

Edmund stared down the deep staircase, feeling the hot stale air breathing out from the gaping earthen maw. Taking a deep breath, Edmund stepped down the rocky staircase, now muddy with the dust mixing with the icy black rain.

The dim moonlight from the outside did nothing to help him see. Thanking his foresight, he set aside the umbrella and held up the small brass lantern. Gripping the handle tightly to keep his hands from shaking, he began to turn the crank like an organ-grinder.

Slowly, a dim light began to flicker to life deep in the lantern’s depths, letting him see the path ahead, though not clearly. What he could see was that the stairway was old and dirty. Bits of the walls and ceiling had fallen into the passage over the years, and Edmund had to climb carefully to keep from stumbling. Roots from random plants stuck out from the walls to startle him and trip him up. The wooden braces in the wall were full of holes and cracks, and the air was stale, and foul smelling–a mixture of mold and rotten vegetables.

He only had a short distance to go before the steep staircase came to an abrupt end at what looked like a wall of stone and mortar. Edmund stared at the imposing blockade as he heard the storm rage down at the entrance of the tunnel. Who would build a tunnel that led nowhere? No one, he reasoned, and pushed gently on the stone.

Light as wood, the stone swung away from Edmund’s push, revealing a small room with a tall stone slab in the middle. The walls were covered in small alcoves that had been filled with collapsing wooden boxes and dried skeletons. moss and cobwebs covered the room like tapestries, forming a morbid mockery of the elaborately decorated Moulde Hall. Edmund carefully stepped around the room, casting his light over small wooden signs that labeled the alcoves as the final resting place of many men and women, all Mouldes.

It wasn’t until Edmund turned back to the stone obelisk in the center of the room that he realized he had been looking at the back of a stone chair. Seated on it like a queen was a dusty skeleton of a woman in what was once a fine burial dress, but had long since rotted away, leaving behind the cobwebs and dust that had become her funeral garb. The placard on the bottom of this gristly memorial proclaimed the throne’s occupant as Orpha Moulde, the first matron of the Moulde Family. Her jaw had been forced open, and several teeth removed. Several finger bones lay broken on the ground, marking her sorrowful fate as a target for grave-robbers–no doubt her own progeny.