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Second To Silver

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“I just met him…how could this happen…” Tears streamed down the stammering woman’s face as she turned her back on the camera. She shivered in the cold air. Dirt caked her bare feet. Her uncontrollable sobbing tuned out the noise of the bustling people. Some were curious bystanders, others investigators. The castle in the background hung over the set, casting long shadows across the workers from the news-station. It was no longer just a mystery, a chance of excitement for passing adventurers. It was a threat.
*

*

*
The scene where just another disappearance had occurred, draped in a gray ominous sky, was framed in a metallic box from which static emitted. The woman leaned back in her La-Z Boy, letting out a low sigh.
“Thelma, bring me my journal.”
A wrinkled woman slumped into the room, barely lit by a gas-burning lamp and one window. Her gnarled fingers grasped a wooden cane she leaned on as a third leg. She set the leather-bound book on the arm of the recliner before shooting a backwards glance and exiting the room as slow as she’d come. Thelma paused in the doorway, where a man just as old stood, and rotated around to face the television.
“Lady Diana, this cannot keep happening,” she uttered, her voice shaking.
Diana ignored the statement as the woman vanished. She opened the journal and began to etch words onto its aged pages. Before she closed the book, she raised her head to look at the television.
“…the unusual disappearance of supposed writer Dusty Ingham outside Oxford, England…”
Oxfordshire…Her unwavering stare bore into the image on the screen – the picture of a man at the gates to Shirburn Castle - her castle.
*

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*
The door was stuck. The woman tugged at the gate for a few moments before giving up and examining the window as an alternative entrance. She picked a smooth stone off the ground and reared her arm back tensely, preparing to fire, when she felt the stone pulled gently from her grasp by cold fingers.
“Excuse me, miss. There’s some respect to be had for a five-hundred year old castle, and I don’t believe that implies breaking its window just because you’re too frail to pull the door open.”
She spun around, whacking him across the jaw with her fist, panting. The man just looked back at her.
“I apologize,” she choked. “That…that wasn’t like me.”
The man, most likely in his mid-thirties, wearing an old-fashioned overcoat that matched the dull weather, gave her a cheeky grin and heaved the great doors open. “You must be a first-timer. I’ve done this more than once.”
“You’ll have to forgive me. I’m not used to creeping about in haunted castles.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Haunted, you say? I wouldn’t reduce the disappearance of a kingdom to it being merely haunted.”
The woman squinted at him. “So you know?”
“Of course I know. What other reason would I have for being here?” he replied, ducking through the frame of the door, obviously expecting her to follow. “I’ve been doing research on this enchanting mystery for decades.”
“And you are?”
“William Ingham. Call me Dusty.”
“Dusty…I prefer William.”
“You’ll call me Dusty.”
The woman extended her hand cautiously. “It’s a pleasure to meet you…mister Dusty.”
“Just Dusty.”
“Dusty,” she murmured. She felt the fear upon her, once again, like the ocean line approaching a beach during high tide. Voices lashed out at her from a far corner in her mind.
He stared at her with his head cocked, inquiring. He placed the weight of his body on one leg and waited as the door closed, stealing light from the dwelling. He expected her name. A name - what’s in a name? Give a person your name and you give them your soul, one voice hissed. Another broke through that she’d forced herself to listen to more than once. If you won’t trust, you won’t find love or joy.
She tightened her grip on Dusty’s hand and with pursed lips, whispered, “Kaëlin Ashtor.”
After withdrawing his hand, he turned his back on her and took enthusiastic strides towards a set of stairs. “Well, Kaëlin, we need to move. This castle’s privately owned. You won’t want to get caught near here. The last person found on these grounds was escorted away at gunpoint.” His footsteps resounded off the stone walls as he continued walking.
Kaëlin followed behind him in and egg shell white skirt and simple blouse top. She refused the fear access to her mind and followed him down the descending stairway. One thing was certain – it was dark. They reached the bottom of the stone steps and Dusty kept moving. The room was musty, and the air thick with death. It had one window, casting four dull squares of light onto the barren floor. It looked like simple dungeon, but the odd thing was it had only one cell. Eight bars cut off the right hand corner of the dungeon into one triangular cell. It had one gap in the middle where Kaëlin assumed the door was meant to go.
Dusty uncurled his finger, pointing to the floor of the cell where a stack of hey and a skeleton or two sat. “Let’s see if you’re up for the snooping business. Test one.” Without another word he crossed his arms. Kaëlin crossed the room to the cell and sunk to her knees, brushing away the hay. It revealed a small hole, covered by wood. After a few attempts, scowled on by Dusty, she took her shoe, which had a point, and a jammed it under the rotting trap door.
Dusty cracked a smile and entered the cell. “Well done.”
Kaëlin was numb to the world. She had to do what she had to do – then get out.
“Come with me, Miss Ashtor.”
Dusty lowered himself into the hole. Kaëlin followed after ripping off her shoes and throwing them into the discarded pile of hay.
At the bottom of the shallow hole was something not as dull. It was a small room, adorned from head to toe in elegant tapestries, jewels, and books.
“What do you need to find,” Dusty asked as more of a statement than a question.
“Excuse me?”
“What piece of history in this room is important to our investigation, kiddo? It took me over a decade to find this room and more than two years to find what I’m asking you to find. See if you can do it a little quicker.”
Kaëlin wouldn’t allow herself to panic. She crinkled her brow and scanned her eyes over a section of books, then taking them off the wall one by one, opening one, and putting it back. Dusty sat on a rug embellished with silver.
“What got you interested in this,” she asked casually.
“It…caught my eye. I’m a writer for The Guardian – you’ve heard of it right? Oldest newspaper in England, it is. I picked up a word here and there about natural phenomena in the area. Then the last owner was evicted ten years ago and I had a greater window of opportunity. I used my job as an excuse to investigate.”
Kaëlin eyed a crimson, leather-bound book and slid it off the shelf, brushing the dust off. “I haven’t been able to keep a freaking job since I was a teenager.”
Dusty eyed her curiously. “Why’s that?”
“Some people think I’m mad…crazy…insane. So I’m forced to do odd jobs so I can keep my small hut on someone else’s property.”
Dusty rose off the rug and in a second was next to her. “I don’t think you’re crazy, dear. Not at all,” he said, his breath radiating onto her neck. He smiled and made his way back to his spot.
Kaëlin blinked for a moment, then returned to browsing through the book she’d taken a special interest to. “I’ve done my family’s genealogy for nearly the past generation. It led me here, but I couldn’t find anything anywhere about this place before the fifteenth century. So I decided to do my own research and here I am.
She turned the page and there it was.
March 14, 1423…Sarahai Esomi, queen of Shirburn, disappeared with her subjects, Thelma and Fogpolph one week ago during the invasion of the French after our nation lost the Battle of La Rochelle. I’ve just helped the queen escape through the tunnel we began digging seven years ago. The Tunnel of Hope is unpredictable and unstudied. Everything about it defies logic. But it was her only chance. I’m locking this book inside the great library below the queen’s chambers after which I will burn the chambers in hope to subdue the captors from their quest to find the library and the castle’s logs containing the whereabouts to many of England’s greatest secrets. They are here. This will be my last log. –William Esomi. King of Shirburn Castle, Oxfordshire.
Kaëlin ran her finger across the page, rereading it word by word. An ink blot trailed off the page. It was thicker than most pages.
“And there it is. The dungeon above us – it was the vanishing queen’s bedroom. Her husband burned it to ashes as a disguise and it worked. The French used the room to torture him, among many other innocent souls. But they never found the library - this library.”
Kaëlin traced the fragile book’s spine carefully, feeling its every stitch. “So that’s it, right? We know what happened. The library was hidden. That just solves the whole mystery,” she said with distaste at the simplicity of it all.
“Not quite. It would all be that easy if the queen and king had hidden the library and sacrificed themselves together to the French, but it didn’t happen that way. Kaëlin, Queen Sarahai vanished almost into thin air. No one had any clue the ‘Tunnel of Hope’ existed except them. The workers who built it never came back to the surface. It said so in another book here in this musty crap hole. There’s a very slim chance they made it out alive.”
Kaëlin shook her head. All things lead somewhere. The fear hadn’t returned to her. If it had she would’ve felt the ghosts of the king and his servants whispering from the earth. Once again she ran her finger along the page.
Without feeling, she reached down to her leg, pulling out a thin dagger. Dusty raised his head and watched her every move. Kaëlin ran the dagger along the thick edge of the paper, slicing it open. From it, one small piece of parchment, folded once, floated to the ground like a feather. Next to where it fell was an ancient-looking fountain pen.
Dusty’s eyes lit up with unbridled excitement as he scrambled to grab it. He unfolded it and stared at the thin lines that marked its pages.
“Ah…ahta…wha…ta…?” Dusty babbled as he began laughing. He shoved the paper into Kaëlin’s hand. She licked her lips as she scanned it, easily understanding what it meant. She grabbed her knife’s hilt firmly and ran up to the wall furthest from where they entered. She plunged it into the mortar between two bricks. She slid the brick out from its place on the wall.
Dusty reached into the hole and on the other side was…nothing. It was darkness, undisturbed for centuries. Kaëlin took the knife and removed enough bricks to make a hole they could both fit through.
Dusty’s eyes widened with anticipation. In a voice she’d never heard before, he whispered, “Go.” Once again, she felt the fear grasping for her mind. Then she stepped through the brick wall into the blinding shadows. Before she even took a step, she couldn’t go further.
“Ummm…Dusty, there’s another wall.”
He crosses his arms and reached into the hole, feeling the solid barrier. It was gritty and dense, but not very cold. He ran his hand along it and stepped back out.
“There’s a knob just to your right. It’s a door.”
She felt a chill as she turned the icy iron knob and the wooden door swung open. She took a few uncertain steps, and then Dusty stepped through the doorway. There was utter darkness. With the absence of light, Kaëlin’s fear found its way easier to her. Dusty flipped open the cap to his lighter and a bead-sized flame burst into existence. He raised it above his head, casting away just enough shadows to reveal mounts of dirt, stretching beyond where they could see.
Kaëlin screamed at the top of her lungs, “This is it! This is freaking it! I don’t get it, Dusty, I don’t get where this was supposed to go!! How-“
Dusty hushed her quickly, brushing by her, reaching for a mound of dirt. He clutched the top of the mound of dirt in his hand, then ripped it clean off its base. Below the dirt were piles upon piles of silver. “We’ve done Kaëlin! This is it!”
Kaëlin shook her head while glancing back at the door she’s made sure was left open behind her. “I think I should go now…”
Dusty began whispering in a frantic blur turning over the clumps of silver in his hand. “Silver…silver. Silver’s always been second to gold…no one suspected it to be the very thing to change the course of history. Silver is the key to the world’s problems! No more war or famine! We’ll just go back and do it over!”
“I…I don’t understand.”
“Time travel, Kaëlin. It’s time travel. That’s how the queen escaped. That’s how I’ll escape. It took a genius such as I to figure it out. Not even the king could do it. It all makes perfect sense. The original builders of the Tunnel of Hope dug deep enough that they didn’t hit gold or magma. They hit silver, small pieces of magic,” he chuckled hysterically. “We’ll make the journey together. Silver is the catalyst for time travel! If you go deep enough in the Tunnel of Hope holding a piece of silver, you’ll make the journey through time. Take it, take it.”
The moment the last words slid off his tongue, Kaëlin felt the fear engulf her mind. And just then, she decided this man had lost his mind long ago.
Dusty nodded his head rapidly saying, “I’ve had a suspicion that queen’s name was not actually Sarahai Esomi, but she changed it to throw off the French. You confirmed it. Her name was actually Diana Ashtora, from which your name was derived.”
Kaëlin shook her head hysterically and ran towards the open door. Then it slammed shut. The dirt ceiling crumbled above her. She began to scream uncontrollably and spun around towards Dusty. He was gone, along with her light.
“Dusty! Dusty! Dusty!” she roared.
“I’m right here darling, but not for long. I’m leaving now, but not here. I’m leaving this year, this decade, this century, maybe even this millennia!” he giggled.
“Where are you Dusty,” she barely had the chance to sob before the earth was shaken by his earsplitting screech and a flash of light that lit up even the world above them.
*

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*
Diana ran her finger along the thick pages of her journal. Then she picked her small silver nugget up from the coffee table next to her. She weighed it in her hand, letting a tear fall.
The image of the man on the screen was frozen in their minds. He’d fallen victim to the Tunnel of Hope. The original workers were first, then her, then finally this foolish man.
Diana shook her head staring down at the journal. It was identical to that her husband had written in, encrusted with silver.
The newswoman stood in front of the camera. “Kaëlin Ashtor was the only witness to this supposed ‘crime’. There are no records of anyone by the name of Dusty Ingham in all of England. Eight years ago, Ashtor was diagnosed with sever schizophrenia among other mental illnesses. It’s doubtful this man ever existed or interacted with Ashtor. What really occurred within Shirburn Castle, we may never know. This is The Guardian News, reporting to you on the latest.”
Diana clicked off the television and sunk back into her recliner where she planned to spend the rest of her days.
Kaëlin Ashtor was just one more case where ignorance would have been bliss, one more example of the world attempting to explain the unexplainable. She was just one more person to overcome her well-equipped inability to trust a stranger, only to find out too late that she was right the whole time. It all started with a name.





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