Book One of the Merlin’s Gambit Trilogy
The Old(e) World(e) Bookshop
(No eBooks Here!)
As she entered the bookshop Vanda anticipated the change, almost taking up her position on the ceiling, while Lily-Anna took over her body again, as if it were an inevitability.
Lily-Anna stood in the bookshop, turning slowly around while gazing at her surroundings in wonder, her smile showing off Vanda’s lovely white teeth perfectly. She clapped her hands together a few times, jumping lightly at the same time, like a small child at a summer fair. The Bookman heard her little thumps on the floor and re-entered the shop from his workspace beyond the heavy curtain. He hooked the curtain up to the door jamb and Vanda noticed that he was now alone.
“Good afternoon, madame. May I be of assistance?”
“Yes, you may indeed. My husband, Lord Emil –”
“Ah, Madame de Dreux, please, say no more. I have been expecting you for a very long time. Permit me to fetch your parcel immediately.”
He disappeared into the workroom and rummaged deep in a drawer in one of the desks. Lily-Anna had followed him and was absently looking at a small pile of books on the other desk, nearest the door with its curtain, with her back to the Bookman, when the top book, which was not placed correctly, unbalanced and began to slip. She caught it as it fell but was most surprised at its weight. Being curious by nature, and wondering how great were the words inside it that they should weigh so heavy in her hand, she opened the cover to have a look. But it was Vanda, with her bird’s eye view, not to mention a lifetime’s experience of all manner of antiquities, who was best placed to interpret the exact meaning of this weighty tome, and then some. Lily-Anna merely laughed her nervous little laugh, closed the cover again, and put the book back on top of the pile, this time so that it would not slip.
Lily-Anna’s own experience of collecting antiquities had obviously not prepared her to recognise, as Vanda’s had, the impossibility of a bronze Hellenic horse in mint condition.
Lily-Anna had moved back to the front of the shop by the time the Bookman had found what he was looking for. He returned looking very cheerful, with a small brown paper parcel, neatly wrapped and tied up with string, and handed it to her with great deference.
“We must humbly apologise for our mistake, madame. Most pleased we are that we have the opportunity to make amends thus,” he faltered a little and gave a small cough, “that you have seen fit to grace us with your presence here today in order to be presented with the correctly labelled parcel at very long last. Of course, there will be no further charge.”
Vanda felt the familiar tug as she left the ceiling and slid back into her body again, this time without the shocking bump and the scalded hand. As she did so, Marius appeared from behind the curtain and called the Bookman away. She followed after them into the workroom. Seeing them both disappear through another, real, wooden door in the back wall she almost began jumping up and down and clapping herself, just as Lily-Anna had done only minutes earlier, so pleased was she at this turn of events. Quickly liberating her iPhone from its pocket in her large bag, she opened the cover of the book hiding the bronze horse, removed it and snapped its image several times from various angles.
Once the horse in its book was safely back on top of the pile of books again, she turned her thoughts to Marius and his sister. And, no sooner had she done this than the now familiar screen in her mind was showing her images of them on the other side of the dividing wall that separated the bookshop from the antiques shop. She could see that all three businesses had interconnecting doors, and that Marius’s sister Sal must indeed be the … the what? Matriarch … that was the word that she now found in her head. She saw a small, solid woman with dark, angry, Italian features and black hair, greying at the temples and scraped back into a bun at the base of her neck, speaking very sharply and with many fast, furious hand gestures first to the Bookman, who disappeared quickly, and latterly to Marius, who was standing with his mouth open in apparent disbelief, watching her as she ranted and raved at him. In the monochrome tapestry that filled Vanda’s third eye, there was but one thread of colour that jumped out at her and demanded to be seen: a large gold coin with a granulated gold frame and pendant loop, threaded onto a gold chain long enough to be worn next to this madwoman’s heart.
Suddenly there was a whole lot more information in Vanda’s head that was becoming all jumbled up. Instinctively, she moved her hands across the surface of the desk in front of her and thought calming, smoothing thoughts. The jumble began to untangle itself and the information wriggled and writhed in swirling patterns before settling into her head clearly. It gave her the impression that it should be read like a police file, or a report from a secret intelligence agency.
She saw the words, She is MARKETA SALIMBETI … THE MATRIARCH of a long line of very powerful BLACK WITCHES … SLIPPERY, DANGEROUS, AND NOT TO BE ENCOUNTERED … LIKE THE HYDRA, SHE IS A POTENT AND TOXIC FORCE, and as the information fed her senses, every ounce of self-preservation Vanda had was screaming at her to get out of that place.
As the video in her mind went blank and Marius emerged through the door in the wall, rather more rapidly than he had entered, it appeared that she was not alone in that particular instinct. He took hold of her arm and pulled her with him to the front of the bookshop. As they made what to Vanda was their escape from the market and back onto Park Street, even thronging with its busy lunchtime traffic as it was, it seemed to her like the freshest air she had ever breathed, and she felt something snap, quite tangibly, as the enchantment that held Sal’s Market and all its occupants in thrall broke.
So intent was she on keeping every part of her senses from making any kind of meeting, accidental or otherwise, with those of the woman she now understood to be THE MATRIARCH, that she found she was staring very fixedly in the opposite direction, directly at the entrance to the Masonic Lodge on the other side of the street.
She found herself incapable of looking away from the large and uncommonly ornate black, studded door of the Lodge, or more precisely from the insignia that sat atop it. She found herself swaying with what she thought was the concentration it was taking her to keep her senses directed away from the source of potential danger, until she felt herself to be standing on top of open space. Then it hit her. She was standing over a deep tunnel that went directly from the space occupied by Sal’s Market, under the road to the Masonic Lodge. Then, through the feeling of sickness and dizziness that threatened to fell her, she remembered that she had seen that pattern three or four times now. Two of them had been on the man tasked with following her and reporting her every move back to someone signing themselves as M.
And now for the normal bit of post-scene chat (that I left off the last post for some reason):
I’ve been busy writing the first bits of Merlin’s part in this drama of wildly exciting archaeology and history stuff and I was going to premiere him this week, but I’m not sure where to fit his first scenes in with these ones about the 21st century characters who really carry the story. Merlin is the mastermind behind everything, but it would be pretty unrepresentative of a series naming him as the mastermind without actually putting his bits in somewhere close to the beginning, so I think I’ll just blog what I’ve done already and see what the feedback is from my loyal fan base – she says, giggling hysterically at the idea that she may have fans ;-).
As usual, 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 still think spelling and grammar ones are most unlikely, unless I’ve taken complete leave of my senses for some reason, but you never know … I’ll post the next scene – ok, yes, the Merlin scene – in a week, and thank you very much for reading.
Oh, and just one more thing of interest that I keep forgetting: the top picture above of the marble frieze is actually the one above the door of the real St Augustine’s Masonic Lodge in Bristol, which really is right opposite the place I chose for Sal’s Emporium or Market! The second picture isn’t really what the bookshop looks like – it actually looks like the picture I posted with Scene Six – but I liked the idea of the Bookman being that high above the ground, going up and down on ladders all day like a robot, and it was all that a Google search of “Olde Worlde Bookeshoppes” yielded, so I just used it anyway. To me it looks like the type of bookshops or libraries you’d expect to find in Gotham City :-).
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