Tattoo: The Books of Glory

a webserial about people who are not like us

Tattoo Book 4.3

Posted by harmony0stars on May 17, 2009

Slowly a mansion revealed itself through the thinning trees. It must have been grand once, and her own home would have fit inside with room for two or three more. But the years had not been kind to the building, and whoever lived there had neglected its upkeep. The windows and doors all looked sound, but if the building had ever been painted, it was a uniform gray now. The weathered wood of its facade was beginning to split and fray, giving the building a fuzzy look.

Dilys stopped near the stairs leading up to the door and rubbed her feet in the dead winter grass, cleaning them of the last of the bay mud, though her legs were still splattered up to her knees. Seemingly satisfied that she wouldn’t be tracking any dirt into the house, she avoided the stairs, climbing onto a toppled marble gargoyle instead. Its leonid face looked as if it were begging to be put out of its misery. Glory could see one of the steps was cracked in half, and no doubt the others were equally dangerous. Following Dilys’ example, she used the toppled statuary to get onto the columned walkway and followed the child into the house.

The interior of the massive building was not quite as bad as the exterior, but it was definitely well worn. The carpeting, what there was of it, was white with age and threadbare. Remnants of the pattern were visible only along the edges and then, not enough to piece together what it might once have looked like. The rest of the floor was dull and scuffed. The only thing about the interior which told of the mansion’s former glory was the molding along the top and bottom of the walls. They were knotted in the Celtic fashion, various animals stretched out like vines and flowing throughout the house.
Dilys had disappeared. Glory was in a long hall which effectively cut the building in two. She could see all the way to the other side of the mansion where a huge stained glass window or door stood depicting a massive Celtic knot lit from behind by some trick of light. With the storm still raging outside and the house surrounded by trees, it could not possibly be the sun which illuminated the knot in golds and reds, yet it seemed so vibrant and robust in the deteriorating home that it drew her eyes, and her feet followed.

She had only taken a few steps when Dilys caught her arm from one of the many doorways which lined the hall and pulled her into another, narrower passage. The sound of voices and the smell of food came from the tunnel-like hallway. The noise stopped as soon as Glory followed Dilys into the light. As her eyes adjusted to the gray glow from the windows lining the large dining room, she studied the men and women who stared back at her unabashedly. It wasn’t a particularly hostile look, but it wasn’t exactly friendly either. There was a similar cast to their features which marked them as family.

“Well who‘s this then Dilys? Did you find a selkie?” a young man inquired mockingly in the same accents as the child. Clearly the leader, as no one else seemed inclined to greet them, he couldn‘t have been much older than Glory. As he jumped up from his meal, the rest went back to their conversations. They spoke in a language with which she was unfamiliar, but she thought it might be Welsh. Whether they did so intentionally to keep her from understanding, she couldn’t tell, but many of them glanced at her out of the corners of their eyes as they ate and spoke in excited murmurs.

Dilys didn’t speak, but it was clear he hadn’t expected her to as he immediately turned to Glory. “Hello!“ he said with a wide and seemingly sincere smile. “You’ll have to excuse our little Dilys. She doesn’t speak…” He leaned forward and said in a stage whisper, “She’s a bit feeble minded.” Glory hid her surprise well by glancing down at Dilys who glared at the man with unadulterated loathing. But the little girl didn’t say a word to gainsay him. “I’m Cadfael,” he announced, extending his hand.

“I’m Glory.” She replied uneasily. This whole situation was off somehow. She still carried the grimy bucket, and her hands had become smeared with the foul mud. Unable to shake his hand, she held up the bucket instead.

He blinked at it curiously, glancing down at Dilys in annoyance before gingerly taking the filthy thing from Glory and thrusting it into the child’s waiting hands. “Go on and take that to granny, Dilys.” He instructed in a cold voice. It was clear there was no love lost between the two, though it was very immature for a grown man to behave so childishly.

“Well then… Glory is it?” She stayed one step ahead of his arm as he gallantly attempted to lead her to one of the tables. From one moment to the next, his manners seemed to change from open hostility directed at Dilys, to fawning hospitality directed at Glory. “Of course, you must stay here until the ferry returns. Mayhap you are hungry?” he asked, gesturing to his vacated chair.

“Ah, no. Thank you.” she replied, rubbing at her black smeared hands. Even though she was certain eating a stew made of worms wouldn’t kill her, the thought of swallowing anything from the bay made her vaguely nauseous, or rather made her feel as if she should be nauseous. Her stomach made no attempt to make its feelings known.

She rubbed a grimy hand on her sopping wet sleeve. Her hand were cleaner for it, but water dripped from the pressure onto the floor. Self consciously, she raised her hand to her hair. It had curled with the humidity, the disturbed ringlets dropping more cold water down her neck and onto her sweatshirt, which itself could not have possibly held more water.

“Tch, I am being rude. Of course, you are soaked to the bone! Dilys!” he bellowed.

The girl appeared practically at his elbow. It was as if she had been there all along and Glory found it a bit unsettling. It was clear that Cadfael found it unbearably annoying. He glared down at the child and ordered her about as if she was a servant. “Take our guest to an empty room and find her some dry clothes. And none of your tricks, cousin.”

Dilys smiled at him, but it was a vicious, almost threatening smile. She caught Glory’s sleeve and pulled her toward another doorway and a servants’ narrow stairway on the other side of the room. Some of their family watched her with open curiosity and even a creepy eagerness, others were conspicuous in their seeming lack of interest.

There was absolutely no light in the claustrophobic little stairwell. Glory had to assume she was still following Dilys as she felt her way up the stairs, but she seemed to climb through the darkness for longer than it would take to get from one floor to the next. A thud sounded from somewhere above, and a column of dim light illuminated the passage. Dilys stood at the opening, waiting for Glory to catch up.

As Glory stepped through the opening, the child let the door swing shut, effectively obscuring the existence of the stairway. She wondered how many other secret passages riddled the walls of the mansion.

The dim light which filtered through the filthy windows barely lit the dark hall they stood in. Dilys took a candle stub from a bowl atop a pedestal and lit it with a lighter she fished out of pocket. The lighter was the first sign of technology, such as it was, that Glory had seen since arriving on the island. She led Glory to a room, dusty with disuse. When Glory looked around, Dilys had disappeared again.

to Book 4, page 4

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