Book One of the Merlin’s Gambit Trilogy
Vanda’s Meeting With Her Mentor
6th September, Friday
“Fascinating! And her name was Lily-Anna, you say!”
“Why? You’re not going to tell me that you know who she is, are you?”
Her old college Professor gave Vanda one of those looks over the top of his half-moon specs that seasoned academics do so well. He began stroking his VanDyke beard with his left hand, while pursing his lips and narrowing his eyes dangerously. As an undergraduate, that look had told her in no uncertain terms to stop messing with him if she knew what was good for her. She’d seen it often enough since then, both as a post-grad and a research fellow under his guidance, to take it as the tell of a hubris-laden humour she knew it to be and remained unfazed. Marius Scarlette, she surmised, was preparing for his new intake of freshers, in his own rather inimitable way.
“No, I most certainly am not, my dear,” he replied loftily, casting his arms out expansively in indication of the many tools of their trade as historians that lined the walls of his study. “Familiar as I am with the mechanics of the modern historian’s art as with our own. We’d need to leave all of this,” he continued, unaware of anything except himself, the show he always brought with him …
And for a split second, this room, once so familiar to her, was cast in a light – no, an absence of light – she could not grasp; there was a shadow of unknowing that seemed to lurk somewhere, she knew not where. Then it was gone.
… “Start delving into records of the modern period. A surname at least to find her on any parish or census records, should we want to. Same for the husband, Lord Emil, the Freemason, and peerage records. But I know a good bookshop off campus where you’ll find all manner of nautical tales concerning treasure and their collectors. Why don’t we go there now? It has a very good tea room. Let’s take our time and make it lunch. Don’t have any teaching commitments until three.”
Outside of lectures and tutorials, this was the most Vanda had ever heard him say in one go. She stood looking at him with her mouth open, surprise written all over her face. Certainly no dissembler, she.
He appeared to be enjoying the reaction. “I do wish you’d brought this fellow Brian along. I would have loved to have met him.” He rolled his eyes dramatically and rubbed his hands together in glee as he performed this last sentence. Vanda was even more surprised. He rarely displayed any camp gestures that gave his sexual orientation away quite so obviously, and never in college. He came up behind her and all but forced her out of the room. “Come along, then, my dear. Shall we?”
Vanda felt herded, all the way from Marius Scarlette’s once bright and airy study, into the lift, out again on the ground floor, and into the entrance lobby of University College, Wessex’s History and Archaeology department. It was a familiar journey. One that she’d undertaken over the years she’d known him more times than she could count, as his student and as his friend. He’d always been her mentor, whatever his official capacity had demanded. But this was different. Some inner force, something sinister that she’d never seen the like of before today, seemed to be driving him. She could not put her finger on it, elusive as it was proving to be, and perhaps it was all to do with her weirdly burgeoning senses in any case, but something sat guardian-angel-like on her shoulder telling her that there was something afoot, and resolutely refusing to budge, no matter how much she tried to brush it off.
“Oh, dolt is me! What dolt am I?” Marius Scarlette intoned, theatrically. “Forgotten the wherewithal! Stay there! Back in a mo!”
“Wha–” Vanda began, but was not given the time nor the chance to think the response further as his firm, quick and capable hands spun her around and manoeuvred her into a big, black leather sofa, where she landed with a plonk that resulted in a loud explosion of air that, were it any other lobby and any other sofa, could have been misconstrued as a violently released fart. She fought the urge to giggle and lost. The receptionist behind the large and impressive brass-studded oak desk did the same, and before long both women gave in to uncontrollable laughter. They both knew that only visitors unaware of its propensity for such extrusions ever sat on the sofa in the lobby. They also knew that once anyone did, it would swallow them whole.
It was the pictures in her mind that brought Vanda’s convulsions under control. Like a video with fuzzy edges it played out the scene as she watched. She saw Marius as he unlocked his study door, walked into the room, picked up the phone, talked on it briefly, put it down again, picked up his bag, and locked the door again. He reappeared just as her video faded to grey.
“Sorry, my dear. Can’t go to lunch without the wherewithal, can we now!” It wasn’t a question, it was an excuse, and after what she’d just seen, Vanda was shocked. She tried not to let it show on her face.
And now for the normal bit of post-scene chat:
All comments in the form of constructive criticism or mistakes you’ve noticed that I might not have noticed yet, whether typos, spelling or grammar, will be very gratefully received and appreciated – although I think spelling and grammar ones are most unlikely, but you never know … I’ll post the next scene in a week, and thank you very much for reading.
PS: If you’ve enjoyed this and would like to receive Automatic Reminders of further posts (once I figure out how to make it work, that is!), you can Subscribe using the box underneath.