Read Siege of Stone Online

Authors: Chet Williamson

Tags: #Science Fiction

Siege of Stone (3 page)

BOOK: Siege of Stone
5.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

So Joseph screamed. Inside his dream, he yelled and shouted and called to whoever might be standing over his grave. He screamed, and the blackness that rolled down from his nose and clogged his throat spewed from his mouth with the words, incomprehensible even to him. The sounds were the shrieks of his soul, the demands of a prisoner, held long and hard against his will.

Laika and Joseph did not hear them, but someone else did.

Chapter 3
 

T
om Kerr came from a long line of treasure hunters. Eight generations of his ancestors had been ship salvagers as well as sheep men.
Ships 'n' sheeps
was how his father, Old Tom, had always put it. But things had changed precipitously for his son, who was still addressed as
Young
Tom, although he was sixty and his father had been in the ground for twenty years.

Young Tom Kerr still hunted treasure, all right, but there were no more ships to salvage off Scotland's rough western coast. Ships hardly ever sank anymore, and if they did, the salvage laws had changed drastically. Gone were the stormy nights when the Kerrs prayed for the failure of the lighthouse at Rubha Reigh.

The current Tom Kerr did his treasure hunting with a White Eagle Spectrum metal detector. He didn't find trunks of goods the way his fathers had, but he did find his share of coinage, some of it dating back to the fifteenth century. He had also found metal cups, tools, and on one occasion, the blade of an authentic claymore that Dr. Byrne over in Ullapool said was old enough to have belonged to Robert the Bruce himself.

While Tom sold most of the coins he found to a dealer in Inverness, he kept much of the other booty for himself, and had a nice little collection of artifacts that nearly filled the shed behind the sheep barn. His wife occasionally complained about the "rusty rubbish" that Tom had accumulated, but because the money from the coins he found nearly equaled the amount they made from crofting, she never pressed it.

Tom didn't usually hunt at night, but he didn't want to be seen on this jaunt. He had learned in some old books in the Gairloch Library that there had been a small village back in the seventeenth century, half a kilometer east of Castle Dirk, and there was no place to find coins and artifacts like the site of an abandoned village.

The problem was that the area was within the property owned by Mr. Scobie, the never-seen landlord of the castle. Tom's wife had said that Scobie probably was ashamed to show his face, owning a castle with a name like that. It was true, it was a stupid name. Most castles were named for the families or clans who owned or had owned them, and others were named for Gaelic place names. But Castle Dirk? It sounded like something invented by a boys' book writer. Why not Castle Adamant, or Castle Braw? Castle Dirk, indeed.

Yet maybe it wasn't Scobie's fault. The castle had borne that ridiculous name ever since Young Tom could remember, and he knew that Old Tom never called it by any other. Still, Scobie, whoever he was, should have changed it to something more Scottish. Even Castle Scobie would have been an improvement.

It seemed in pretty sad shape. Tom had heard it had been built in the late fourteenth century, but nearly all of the outer curtain and its towers had fallen, and most of the stones had been hauled away for use elsewhere. The inner curtain, the wall that surrounded the castle's apartments and the inner ward, was mostly still erect, however. It appeared to measure fifty meters wide on each side and ten meters high. Tom recalled when the castle was partly reconstructed when he was a boy. Even from a distance one could see the difference in the color of the stone used in the newer sections.

Some of the workmen had told him about the castle, and had filled his head with stories of the ghosts that were reputed to haunt it. Most of them were joking, he thought, but one night he heard Robbie Douglas telling Old Tom that he had really seen something one day at dusk when he was the last to leave the work site. He said it looked like a white robed figure with a face so smooth there were hardly any features to it at all. It glowed and seemed to hover just above the ground, looking at him. Then it disappeared in a wink. Old Tom told Robbie he'd had too early a start on his evening's drams, but Robbie swore he hadn't touched a drop, and what he'd seen, he'd seen.

His story was enough to give Young Tom nightmares for a week. When he'd finally told his father about overhearing the tale, Old Tom had scoffed and told him there weren't any such things as ghosts, and he should know. While salvaging, he and his had robbed the dead themselves, washed up on the shore, and never a bogle had haunted his house or his dreams afterward.

That had made an impression on Young Tom, and he had never seen a ghost himself, though many times he had hunted around graveyards and ruins where they were reputed to dwell. So he had no fear of any ghosts in the vicinity of Castle Dirk, nor was he afraid of being seen by the caretaker, who went into Gairloch once every two weeks for supplies and was never seen outside the castle walls at any other time.

What did make Tom hesitate was the fear of getting caught trespassing by the local constabulary. Inspector Molly Fraser had been with the district police for three years now, and she seemed to have an uncanny nose for sniffing out lawbreakers. She was an attractive woman in her early forties, originally from Torridon, but had spent her youth down in London, doing what nobody knew, though some folks said it was government work.

Still, the odds of getting hobbled by her tonight were as long as they were that he'd actually find anything, digging around in the dark. A fine, misty rain was starting to fall, and that would help to curtain his light from the road two hundred meters away, should anyone actually pass by at eleven o' clock.

Tom Kerr walked through the drizzle until he reached what he figured was the site of the old village. As far as he could determine, this land had never been crofted, and he wondered just what it was that whoever had lived in Castle Dirk had done with the land around them. As far as he could see, it was just brush and gorse, dotted by the occasional tree. All the better, he thought, that no ploughs had ripped up the soil, and plunged whatever treasures he might find even deeper.

He turned the dials to no discrimination, which meant that the machine would alert him if it detected anything at all metallic. Then, since he could not see the display in the darkness, he slipped on the headphones whose varying tones would tell him when the machine scored a hit. Tom kept the flashlight off and moved slowly, as he always did when he searched, sweeping the big platter of the machine scarcely an inch from the ground.

Five minutes later, he got his first sound. He could tell it was something small, a coin, he hoped, from pinpointing the tiny area which yielded the sound. He set down his machine and stuck his probe, a thin, eight-inch awl with a wooden handle, into the ground at the sweet spot. He moved it up and down in the earth until he felt the gentle contact of the point with metal. Then he turned on his flashlight and dug with his small one-handed shovel.

The moist ground was soft, and four inches down he uncovered a nail. It was worthless, but it was a carpenter's nail, not a horseshoe nail, and from its shape he knew that it was eighteenth-century or earlier. At least he seemed to be on the right track.

In the next half hour, he found innumerable pieces of ironmongery, but also turned up three coins from the era of the Stuarts, and another example of Tudor coinage. He also found the heavy iron head of a blacksmith's hammer, and what he suspected were the surviving parts of a brace, the handle and bit having long vanished.

It was nearly midnight when the tone in the earphones began again and continued to sound, even when he swung the detector in a foot-wide swath. There was something big here, larger than a coin or an ax head. And then the other sound crept through his earphones and into his head.

It lasted for only a second, but Tom could have sworn that the steady beeping tone of the metal detector twisted into a human voice, a man's voice that screamed so loudly Tom staggered. He yanked off the earphones and shone his flashlight all around, certain that someone had just shouted nearby. But the only sound was the soft patter of raindrops on the earth, and not a soul was in sight.

Ghosts?
he thought. But then he shook his head. Ghosts were for gowks, and bogies were bull shite. It had been his imagination, that was all, or maybe the machine had malfunctioned. Tentatively he brought one of the earphones back to his right ear, swung the machine over the place that had sounded before, and listened.

There now. Just a good, strong, steady tone, the way it should be. His imagination then, nothing more. Relieved, he set down the machine and knelt on the wet earth.
No need to probe
, he thought. He was bound to hit whatever was buried here.

He dug, trying to be patient, not to go too fast or thrust the blade of the tool in too violently. Doing so could scratch soft metal like gold, or break whatever the metal that had sounded might be attached to.

He was eight inches down now, and still there was nothing. But he kept digging. He wouldn't have gotten a strong sound like that for nothing.

Finally, at a little more than a foot in depth, the blade scraped a rough surface. Tom shone his light down into the hole and began to clear the dirt away. His heart jumped in his chest when he saw what he had found.

It was a box, nearly a foot long and nine inches wide. It was made of a dark wood, and brass fittings covered the four corners that Tom could see. He cleared the earth around it, and saw that a padlock was slipped through a brass hasp. There was no need for it. The nails that had held the hasp had loosened, and he easily pulled off the lock and hasp.

Tom knew that he should wait, should get the entire box out of the ground before he opened it. But he couldn't. Here it was, begging to be opened, begging for hundreds of years. He wouldn't make it wait any longer.

He held the flashlight with one hand, and brushed as much dirt away from the edges of the box as he could, so that it wouldn't fall in when he opened it. But when he tried to lift the lid, he discovered that it was somehow sealed around the edges with a soft gray substance.

Lead.

All right then. He'd dig it up and chisel it open.

Getting the box onto the surface took another fifteen minutes of digging, as it proved to be nearly a foot high. But at last he lifted it from the hole, and was surprised and alarmed at the feel of it. It seemed heavy enough, but there was no mass to it, and the thought of it being filled with coins and jewels was fast vanishing. Still, there must be something of value inside. Why would anyone bury an empty box?

The flashlight he had set on the ground illuminated the box as he scraped away the lead from around its edges, the bits falling off like strips of putty from weather-worn windows. When there was enough lead chiseled away, Tom opened the lid.

Inside was something made of cloth, pale yellow in color, the threads glistening metallically.
Loosely woven silk
, Tom thought. But then, what made it glisten so? And what did it conceal?

He carefully folded back the first layer of cloth, but there was only more of the garment, if that was what the thing was. He pressed on it, but felt nothing beneath but a yielding mass of fabric. Still, he peeled back every layer, just in case.

No. Nothing but the cloth. He stood up, holding it, looking down into the now empty chest, feeling somehow betrayed. Well, he thought, the cloth seemed to be in decent shape for all its time below ground. Being sealed up had probably helped. There couldn't be many cloths this old that had survived so nicely.

He began to open it up, and was further disappointed to find that it wasn't any type of garment, but seemed rather to be a blanket or coverlet, a meter wide and two long. What was worse, there was a large piece missing from the one corner. Grand. There went any real collector's value.

Tom shook the thing out the way his wife did when she was shaking the dust out of blankets, first up and down, then side to side, as though he were waving a flag. He saw no dust come from it in the flashlight's glare. It had been sealed up well.

He gathered it in his arms again, and bent down to put it back into the chest, thinking that maybe he could get some money for the container, if not for what it contained. It was a strange box, brass cased, but lined with some dark material. He scraped a fingernail across it and guessed, from the softness and weight of it, that it was lead, the same metal that had sealed the damned thing.

Tom had just closed the lid, turned off his flashlight, and picked up the box when he heard a gentle voice speak to him from out of the darkness.

"Nice soft night, eh, Tom?"

Chapter 4
 

T
om Kerr's heart jumped up into his throat, and he felt the air stand on the back of his neck. He froze, afraid to turn around. Then a light hit him from behind, and he knew it was no ghost, but something that inspired even more fear. He turned, and in the bright flashlight's peripheral glow, he saw the round and lovely face of Inspector Molly Fraser. Her head was cocked to one side, and she was smiling like a mother who's caught her son at the sweets jar. Her long brown hair seemed to pour out from under the knit tartan tam she wore.

BOOK: Siege of Stone
5.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

His Black Pearl by Colette Howard
Crossed Blades by Kelly McCullough
Fiend by Harold Schechter
Like a Charm by Candace Havens
The Gloomy Ghost by David Lubar
Cast In Blood: Revelations Series Book 1: by Christine Sutton, Lisa Lane, Jaime Johnesee
La Patron's Christmas by Sydney Addae
The Perfect Match by Susan May Warren
Murphy by Samuel Beckett