Jen was the last one into the library.  As she entered, she saw that someone had moved several armchairs, sofas and low tables in during her absence, several of which she recognised from her wanderings around the house.  All of the seating was occupied by loudly conversing men in dinner attire.  There were several groups stood here and there, also.  Jen slipped herself as unobtrusively as possible into a corner and settled down in order to observe the room.  She hoped she wouldn’t be noticed and obliged to make conversation.  She wanted to be alone with her thoughts for a while.  Rick had already been collared by one of the groups, on the far side of the library, near the windows.  He looked as if he was being his usual semi-mute self as the conversation swirled around and washed over him.  She watched him for a few moments, enjoying the view, until a movement caught the corner of his eye and she saw Lord Ambrose emerge from a clump of shadows near to where the concealed room lay.  With him was a rather dazed-looking Dean Quinlon.  Lord Ambrose was speaking to him in a low voice.  He led the still dazed Dean to a group of people, and then left him there.  Turning and making his way back towards the room, he stopped to talk to people here and there on his way.  The last person Lord Ambrose spoke to rose from his chair with an anticipatory look on his face, following him towards the room and disappearing back into the shadows.  Squinting, Jen could just make out Lord Ambrose indicating the carving of the minotaur and his companion operating it.  She couldn’t quite see the panel from where she was standing, but guessed that Lord Ambrose must have rigged some sort of lighting up in there, because a soft glow lit the man’s face before he disappeared from view.

The same thing was repeated, time after time as the evening went on.  From her shadowy corner, Jen watched Lord Ambrose lead dazed man after dazed man from the room, park him with a group of people, and take someone else into the room.

She wondered what on earth was going on in there.  Was he plying them with drink, or perhaps drugs?  Whatever for?  Actually, a lot of them looked like he had hit them over the head with something.  She smiled to herself at the image of someone being hit over the head with a shovel, and the accompanying comedy ‘booiinng’ noise. The dazed look didn’t seem to last too long, though.  Most of it seemed to disappear within a few minutes of them exiting the room.  However, Jen noticed several of them retaining the look in their eyes.  To all other appearances, they were fine – even jovial.  Enjoying brandy and cigars with their fellows and a genuine-seeming heartiness.  But there was more than one person in the room who stared a fraction of a second too long at their conversational partner before replying; or laughed a fraction of a second too late when a joke was told.  Further and further into the evening, Jen became at first puzzled, then alarmed at the change in the guests as, one by one, they were led into the room by Lord Ambrose.

When nearly everyone in the library had been taken for a viewing of the room and its contents, Jen was finally worried enough to discreetly catch Rick’s eye and motion towards the door.  She caught his look and, though she wasn’t sure, thought he looked worried, too.  She slowly made her way around the edges of the library until she could slip through the door when no one was looking.

She paced up and down the corridor a short distance away from the library door.  When it opened, she darted into a small, darkened alcove that was nearby.  The door shut again, quietly, cutting off the rumble of conversation coming from within.  She waited, her heart beating loudly, until she heard Rick hiss, “Jen!  Where are you?”

“Here,” she said, emerging from the alcove.

“What is it?  I only just managed to get out of there without Ambrose seeing me.  If he notices we’ve disappeared at the same time, his inner child might take over…”

Jen didn’t quite know what to make of the last statement, so she ignored it and said, “Come on – down here, quick.”  She swiftly led the way down the corridor to her room, ushering him in to the darkness and quickly closing the door.  She didn’t turn the light on.

“Jen, what are we doing in here?”

Jen thought of several answers, none of which was appropriate, under the circumstances.  Instead, she answered him straight.

“I’m worried.”

Rick blinked in the darkness.  “About what?”

“Have you noticed anything odd going on in the library?”

“Uh…  Odd…?”

“Your brother is taking people into that room one by one…”

“They have come to see it, Jen.”

Jen acknowledged the gentle interjection.

“Yes, they have.  But, for a start, why only take them in one at a time?”

“Um, maybe it’s quite a small room?”

“It’s not that small – it can fit far more people than two at a time! And have you seen them when they come out?  They look – I don’t know – sort of dazed.  Not quite with it.”

Jen’s eyes were beginning to adjust to the darkness.  She could see that Rick’s face held a serious look.

“Well, yes.  I had noticed that, actually.  I wasn’t sure if I’d imagined it or not, though.”

“I don’t think you did.  What is he doing in there?  They all seem to be… well… normal again, after a bit.  But when they first come out…”

“Jen, what are you trying to say?” he asked in that same gentle tone.

She sighed in frustration with herself.  “I don’t know.  I just want to know what he’s up to in there.”

“Well, there’s only one way to find out.  If he’s intending to take me in there too, I might.  If it looks like he isn’t, then I’ll see if I can persuade him.”

“D’you think he’ll want to take me in there, too?” Jen asked, with an apprehensive tone.

“I don’t know,” said Rick, thoughtfully.  “Didn’t he block it off so you couldn’t get in?”

“Well, yes.  But that might have just been so that no one could get in there without him being present.  He knew Dave and I had already been in for a look around, after all.  Perhaps he just wanted to stop that happening again when he was halfway through doing… whatever he was doing in there.”

“Hmmm…  Perhaps.  I’ll try to find out.  Anyway,” he continued, “We ought to be getting back, before we’re missed.”  He rose from where they were sitting on the bed as he said this.  Jen rose too, a little regretfully.  It had been nice to be alone with Rick – however odd or unsettling the circumstances.  They made their way back to the library, re-entering separately.

Jen quickly and unobtrusively returned to her shadowy corner to wait.

Sure enough, Lord Ambrose soon emerged from the room with yet another dazed-looking man.  Some politician or other, Jen thought.  This time, though, he looked around the library with a seeming satisfaction.  Then his eyes lit on Rick.  He went over to him and they spoke briefly, before heading for the room.  Jen caught her breath as, behind Rick’s back, Lord Ambrose looked directly at her and gave her a tiny but distinctly malicious smile.  Then both men disappeared into the glow.  Jen barely breathed as she counted the minutes until they came out again.

 

When they emerged again after a short while which seemed an eternity to Jen, Rick bore the same dazed expression as all the others had.

He and Lord Ambrose stood talking quietly for a few minutes.  Jen felt a cold uneasiness as, every so often, Lord Ambrose glanced in her direction.  She began to feel like a butterfly pinned to a sheet of paper, awaiting what would happen next.  He had barely been in her presence or deigned to speak to her in the weeks since she had been here, so why was he now suddenly so interested in her?  For they were obviously speaking of her.  The cold feeling of helplessness deepened, and sent a shiver up her spine, raising the hairs on the back of her neck.  She clasped her arms around herself, trying to dispel it.

The brothers finished talking, and Lord Ambrose moved to join a nearby conversation.  Rick, however, made straight for Jen.  He was smiling broadly.

“Rick, is this a good idea?” she asked when he reached her.  “You said…”

“Oh, don’t worry about all that,” he said, expansively.  “Everything’s fine.”  He leaned in closer.  “Actually, it’s more than fine.  And so are you.  Have I told you how ravishing you look in that dress, by the way?  No wonder Ambrose was asking after you so intently.”  He lowered his voice and said, in a conspiratorial tone, “He could barely keep his eyes off you, you know.”

“What?” said Jen, in confusion.

“Oh, yes – he was asking all about you.  Of, course, I told him everything I knew.  After all – who would want to miss the opportunity of discussing such a beautiful creature?”

His eyes roamed over her in a way that was quite different to how he had ever looked at her before, giving her quite the opposite feeling than it had before.  She shrank back slightly, but bravely asked, “So – what did he show you?”

Rick looked blank.  “Eh?”

“In the room?”

“In the…?  Oh!  Yes.  The room.  Sorry, darling, I was distracted by the view.”  And he smiled a smile that was utterly wrong on his face.  One of leering expectation.  Jen shrank back a little ore, until her back hit books.

“The room, yes,” he continued.  “Well, well, well.  You have got a treat in store, Miss Alexander!   I won’t tell you about it – Ambrose asked me not to.  Anyway, it would spoil the surprise.  Such a great guy, my brother,” he mused, “Wouldn’t want to upset him for the world…”  His eyes went distant.  “I was quite wrong about him, you know.  Everything he’s ever done has been for others’ benefit.  Remember I told you how he used to break my toys?  I didn’t understand before, but now I do.  He did it for my benefit.  So I wouldn’t become too attached.  It only causes pain…”  His eyes snapped back to the here and now, and Jen’s face.  “Anyway – mustn’t keep him waiting.  Come and say hello.  He wants to talk to you, and show you the room, too.  I know you’ve already seen it, but he’s restored it to its former glory.  Wait until you see it!”  Excitement crept into his voice.  “It’s dazzling!”

Stunned, and a little apprehensive of this weirdly out of character Rick, Jen didn’t resist as he took hold of her arm and drew her towards where Lord Ambrose was still in conversation.

“Ambrose – here’s Jen,” said Rick, proudly, as they reached the group.

Lord Ambrose turned and smiled coldly.  “Good evening, Miss Alexander.  How nice to see you again.  I trust you are enjoying the evening?”

“Uh…  Yes, thank you,” said Jen, uncertainly.

“Good.  Jolly good.  And the library – is your work here progressing well?”

“It…  It’s coming along, Lord Ambrose.  I’m about two-thirds of the way through.”

“Splendid.”  He turned to his companions.  “This is the young lady we have to thank for the marvelous discovery in which we all have such a keen interest,” he said.  There was a murmur of appreciation, and one or two small, polite inclinations of the head.  “However,” Lord Ambrose continued, “She has not, unfortunately, seen the room in its true glory.  This is something that can no longer wait to be remedied, so if you will excuse us…?”

Murmurs of assent all around, as Lord Ambrose turned and gave a curt bow to Jen, extending his arm in the direction of the room.  More apprehensive now, of the even more weirdly out of character Lord Ambrose, Jen reluctantly started off towards it, no longer sure that she wanted to know what had been going on in there.  As she passed Rick, she glanced up at him and received an impatient look and shooing motions in the direction she was heading.  Uneasy at the whole situation, Jen slowly headed for the shadowy rear of the library.  Her apprehension began, gradually, to mutate into fear as she approached.  There was something going on, here.  Something… wrong.  But she still felt she needed to know what was in that room, needed some sort of clue as to whether it was really just her imagination putting that dazed look and changed manner on so many faces.

As they reached the door, Lord Ambrose motioned Jen to stand in front of the panel.  She did so, trying to suppress a shudder at being in such close proximity to this cold, arrogant man.  The panel swung open a crack as he operated the switch, golden, slightly wavering light spilled around the edges as it swung slightly inwards.  She reached out and pushed, and it swung gently away from her.  Jen gasped, and stepped into the golden glow.

 

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