The sun had hardly set as the two sped through the forest. They were twin shadows, stealing forth, slipping through the trees with out a sound. They climbed a hill and crouched behind its top, peering over.
It was the Count’s ancestral home. All the windows were dark. Since he died before the revolution, this place was forgotten in that bloody uprising. Besides, his heirs had already looted its treasures.
They slipped down the hill and to it, gazing through the dusty windows to the vacant rooms inside. They went around it and left it behind. Ahead a grove of lush trees spilled from the hill beyond. Within the grove, shining in the moonlight, the marble entry way of the tomb loomed tall.
Jaymes put his iron into the frame. “God forgive us,” he whispered and he strained until he broke the seal. The two pushed the heavy door in, heedless of the noise. A hallway lead deeper into the hillside.
Along the length of the hall, the sculpted busts of the Count’s line glared with scorn in their lantern light. It was as if they had foreseen this moment and had visited it on the sculptor. Such faces pronounce a wordless condemnation on those who behold them. How a cold and unfeeling stone can convey such contempt shows the magic of the artist who made them.
The hall ended in circular chamber. Columns rose to the ceiling. The murals, though faded, showed the glory of the extinct line. Hunting scenes, great battles, all but memories meaning nothing now. Between the columns, statues of angels, both peaceful and stern, and putting the busts to shame, held silent witness.
“There, see,” Smythe pointed to a large iron ring fastened to the floor, “Just like the other one old Willy told us about. A great stone stopper!”
For some time they worked to set up the block and tackle. And only by great effort could the two of them lift it from its recess. It swung back on hidden hinges and they fixed the rope to hold it in place.
“It won’t do for it to come down,” teased Smythe. They gazed down the stairs that might have run all the way down to Hades itself.
At the bottom, a corridor ran off to either side. “I’ll have the right, you the left,” said Smythe, “Take only the best you find, else it will be too much to carry.”
So they parted to the grisly task. Along the walls in niches the caskets of the dead awaited plunder. Necklaces were snatched, earrings yanked out or fished from the dust, brittle fingers were snapped off to strip the rings from them…
Smythe all the while kept an eye on Jaymes, waiting for the moment when he slipped out of sight around a corner. At this, Smythe stole back the way he came, back up the stairs. Moving behind the great stone seal, he drew his knife and sawed slowly and carefully at the thick rope. As it began to snap he called down the stairs.
“Jaymes,” he cried, “Oh Jaymes… Come quickly!”
“What? Where are you?” came the faint response.
“Up here!” he called again, “Best hurry!”
Jaymes appeared on the stairs while Smythe smirked down at him. He raised the knife. They stared at each other, now that both knew the score. Then the rope snapped and the great stone fell back into place.
The treachery of Smythe was far from over. In the early hours before the dawn, he stood over Jaymes’ sweetheart and clamped his hand over her mouth. He savored the tears in her eyes, sparkling like diamonds, as he told her with a whisper, “Jaymes is dead. You will be too if you make a sound!” When he was finished, she was dead all the same.
The rumors of the savage murder made their rounds. A woman dead, her lover missing… the rest took care of itself. Smythe stayed on only a few days more, just enough to avoid suspicion.
He left that place behind with a pouch of gems that kept him well cared for…
…for a time.
Story by Joe Stanley