After packing their bags and experiencing an unusually smooth journey up to Nottingham, the sorcerers’ coach pulled up outside the stately home of Lord Daniel Weaver. Alexander shook the sleeping Miguel’s shoulder, and they exited onto the smooth, stone pathway. As soon as the coach had departed, Sam and Eduardo crawled out of the men’s suitcases and fled into the forest to investigate the site of the crater’s impact. The sorcerers continued up the path, and were met at the oak panelled door by a butler dressed in red and gold, who sported a rather ill-fitting periwig that struggled to cover his explosive hair. The butler mumbled a brief, formal greeting before opening the door to the great house. Miguel managed to notice the gentleman swiftly hide a half-full bottle of alcohol in his jacket before continuing forward. They walked up a grand flight of stairs, bypassed several rooms and then up another flight of stairs before turning sharply to a pair of double doors that led into Lord Weaver’s study. The butler knocked, paused and opened the door.
Lord Weaver was sitting at a highly polished mahogany wood table, talking to a man with silver hair. Behind him was a portrait of a golden haired woman with bright eyes who Alexander assumed was the lady of the house. Weaver was a particularly tall man, who also happened to be particularly wide, especially around the waist. He had a brown, bristling moustache and thinning hair that had been pushed over his head to hide a large bald patch. He wore a jumbled collection of clothes that gave Fortuno the impression of a man who had dressed to impress, but with little idea of how to do so.
‘Ah! Her Majesty’s representatives! Wonderful!’ He cleared his throat and mumbled to the other man. ‘We’ll have to finish this some other time Desmond.’
‘Oh of course… I l know when I’m not wanted.’ The man replied, walking out and greeting the two sorcerers by way of a passing nod.
‘That’s Dr. Emerson, formerly my physician, though he seems to find the prospect of permanent house guest much more to his taste.’ Weaver chuckled to the new arrivals, who indulged him by laughing back. He then shook both men warmly and firmly by the hand, before motioning for them to sit down.
‘Well gentlemen, I am most pleased to see you, and honoured to receive you as guests in my home. I trust you had a pleasant trip?’
‘Perfect, thank you milord. We are humbled by the courtesy of your home.’ Miguel said in his best business voice.
‘And I am sure Her Majesty would be delighted to hear of your kindness.’ Fortuno added for good measure. He noticed the Lord’s eyes flash at the mention of the Queen.
‘And how is our good Queen?’
‘Well my lord. At least, physically well, for she still mourns over the loss of her husband.’ Fortuno answered gravely.
‘Yes, a most tragic affair. Still, there is to be no woe in my house, it is my daughter’s birthday tomorrow! But now, Roland will show you to your rooms. In the mean time, if there’s anything you want, anything at all, don’t hesitate to ask.’
‘My lord is most generous.’ said Miguel, rising to shake Weaver’s hand again.
The two men followed Roland out of the room and along the corridor to two incredibly lavish guest bedrooms at the end of the hall. They were separate rooms, but were connected by a lockable door.
‘Well, this is certainly the best mission I’ve received from the Elders in long time.’ smiled Miguel, once the butler had left them alone. He kicked his boots off and leapt onto the bed, stretching himself out like a cat.
‘Yes, well, just remind yourself why we’re here.’ shouted Fortuno from his room, whilst unpacking a few small necessities.
‘I know.’ Miguel reached across the bed and took a bottle of wine and a glass from his suitcase, before filling the glass to the brim. ‘I just wanted to enjoy it a little bit this time, a rare reprieve from all the running and fighting.’ He drank the contents of the glass down in one go.
‘I thought you enjoyed the running and the fighting.’ replied Fortuno, who was currently pondering as to why he had packed a pair of women’s stockings.
‘I suppose, but, still…’
Miguel poured himself another glass and absent-mindedly caught the stockings that Fortuno threw at him.
‘I think those might be yours.’
Miguel laughed and put the stockings down on the bed.
‘Might I enquire of the previous owner?’ asked Fortuno with a sly grin.
‘Mmm…I think her name was Dianne, she was a…I think she was a seamstress. We didn’t do a great deal of small talk.’ Miguel poured another glass of wine, but this time, he sipped it gently.
‘No more after that, we’ve got work to do.’ said Fortuno.
‘Care to join me for a glass?’
‘You know I don’t drink anymore Miguel. Not since…’
‘I know, your vow of abstinence. But this is a special occasion … and it’s only the one glass.’
‘Are you sure this is a good idea?’
Miguel did not reply, instead he smiled and handed him a second glass.
A few minutes later, the two men exited the rooms in very high spirits, singing boisterously a song whose lyrics consisted mostly of unintelligible yells and slurred harmonies. As they reached the stairwell, Fortuno shushed his friend, as he could hear footsteps coming up the stairs. The two men sobered up and brushed themselves down. The footsteps became closer and were joined by the sound of female chatter, as two young women ascended the staircase. The first was dressed in an elegant cream coloured gown, and had blonde hair which had been tied up into a bun. Her eyes were an icy blue, but expressed none of the coldness of that colour. She was quite small and slender, her face and nose both pointed and willowy, but she seemed to express warmth and energy with her whole being. The second was taller than the first, with chestnut brown eyes and porcelain white skin. She had striking, sylphlike features, particularly her ears, which protruded neatly from beneath her nut-brown hair. Unlike her finely dressed companion, she was wearing the outfit of a servant. As soon as they saw the two men, they ceased talking and, just as the men had done seconds before them, sobered up sharply and assumed a more respectable appearance.
‘Are you Miss Weaver?’ asked Miguel politely. The young woman smiled at him coquettishly.
‘Quite possibly, that would depend who is asking.’
Miguel gave the woman a rogue’s grin, before taking her hand and kissing it.
‘Miguel Carrera ma’am. At your service.’ He spoke with a warm Mediterranean lilt and the young woman giggled, before asserting herself.
‘Rosemary Weaver. And, you sir?’
‘Alexander ma’am. Alexander Fortuno. We are here on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen to visit the estate…and celebrate your birthday.’
He gave her a polite bow. The other woman had not spoken through these events; she simply stood behind her mistress with her head lowered. Fortuno tried to catch her eye, but he knew that it would be seen as rude to pay too much attention to a servant when the mistress of the house was present.
‘Well, Miss Weaver, it has been a pleasure to meet you. However, I am sure that you have business elsewhere…perhaps we will see each other at dinner tonight?’
Rosemary smiled and her eyes sparkled mischievously, yet her face remained the perfect picture of respectability.
‘Certainly sir. I look forward to it.’
Rosemary moved off, and the young woman followed her. As they left, Miguel turned to Fortuno and grinned.
‘This assignment just keeps getting better and better.’