Jeremy Fairfax stepped out of his friend Corbin Thornwood's motor car with a feeling of anticipation coupled with regret. He wondered as he stepped onto damp stones and the shadow of Corbin's family home fell upon him if enduring this manor and its oddities was the penance he had to pay for satisfying his curiosity and excitement.
Lord Edward Thornwood and his eldest son Richard had returned after many months abroad exploring the ancient mysteries of Egypt, a desert land once erroneously thought of as part of the mystical Orient before predecessors to Jeremy and the Thornwoods had set out to discover its secrets. To its people it was Misr, formerly Kemet, the Black Land, a title which had intrigued Edward and Richard. They had brought home a few intriguing trinkets that Lord Thornwood desired to show off to his friends and acquaintances. His pride had led to him granting his son Corbin permission to invite Jeremy along for the first of what he hoped to be many shows.
This christening of the Thornwood men's return to England's grey shores was to happen this evening in their home of Foxhill Manor. The manor was a recent inheritance from Edward Thornwood's deceased uncle, more properly known as Lord Marius Thornwood. Marius had died childless, leaving everything to his sole male heir, Edward. Eager for the grand estate of Foxhill Manor and the title of Lady, Edward's wife Elizabeth had seen to it that her family had moved in quickly, taking up residence just nine months ago. It had been an easy move as they had been residing in a modest estate in the nearby town of Tanmore Hollow for almost a decade.
Foxhill Manor was a grand and isolated estate, sandwiched between the wilderness of the earth and the ocean. From opposite the manor grounds Jeremy could detect the strong odour of pine from a forest which kept the manor hidden from society. The pine was coming into season as the chill of an autumnal wind took the life from the weaker plants. Behind the manor, unseen but heard and smelt, was the edge of an ocean at the bottom of a treacherous cliff edge. During the day one could see the green stretch of grass that showed the cliff side was comfortably distant from the manor but at night the darkness was treacherous and there was a fear that one might chase the seducing sound of waves right to the end of the land.
Jeremy disliked how the sweet scents of trees and their fruits clashed with the damp salt odour of the sea. It was a confusing attack upon his senses and too much a reminder that on all sides there was isolation. To find sanctuary out here one was forced to enter Foxhill Manor and surrender to its strangeness. It was that or submit to enduring owl screeches competing with seagulls and wondering which cry was eeriest in the night.
"Hurry along Jeremy," Corbin Thornwood urged his companion.
Second born son of Lord Thornwood, Corbin had none of his elder brother Richard's burdens and led his life carefree and charmed. It was his relaxed nature and adoration for all things entertaining and fun that had drawn Jeremy to him as a friend.
"There I was contemplating that I would stay outdoors and take enjoyment in the wind," Jeremy retorted with a cheerful sarcasm.
Corbin grinned over at his companion, catching the flash of Jeremy's characteristic small grins and the spark of mockery in his dark eyes.
Jeremy was usually a serious looking young man, stoic and plain until he showed a spark of mirth or teasing in his face. When he expressed such humour his entire demeanour changed and he showed a charming handsomeness that for a brief moment could enchant most.
Corbin had always informed his friend that it was a grave pity he wasn't more relaxed in his manner since his smiles seduced quicker than his sensibilities.
Corbin led the way up to the main doors. They were heavy and made of a dark polished wood, guarded by two brass knockers designed as rings held in the mouths of foxes styled with the unnatural ferocity of wolves. Corbin raised one ring and gave three knocks with it.
He glanced over his shoulder with a warning green gaze. "I should have mentioned," he said hastily, "Jess has been...unwell. I'm not sure what humour she will be in."
Jeremy frowned at this remark. "What's happened to the little mouse?" he quipped.
Corbin cracked a smile at this. "Don't let her hear you call her that," he chided his friend. "She's all grown now, seventeen entire years of experience, very much the lady." His smile widened. "In her mind anyway," he added.
Jeremy's dark cobalt eyes widened slightly at this revelation and he wondered when he had last seen the girl. Was she already so old? Jeremy supposed he had always allowed Corbin and his brothers to come to him in the town since their recent move to Foxhill Manor and had been grateful to avoid calling on their isolated family home.
"What sickness has she been bothered with?" Jeremy pried.
"Nothing contagious, at least it has not fallen upon anyone else," Corbin answered dismissively. "Oh," he gave his friend another warning gaze, "best not discuss the dancing to her. She's very vexed she keeps missing the balls."
"Balls?" Jeremy echoed. "It was nothing so grand," he scorned with a shake of his head.
"No but Richard and Emily have attended one since Richard and father's return, Emily couldn't wait to show off her dashing explorer," Corbin added mockingly with a smile, "and Lorcan has been to more than his share of fine dances but Jess has been too sickly to be permitted. Although," he added in a subdued tone, "I don't think Richard and Emily want the responsibility of her and I doubt mother would permit Lorcan to be trusted with Jess."
The door opened before Jeremy could answer.
The butler, Mr. Hanley, greeted them cordially with a polite nod.
The irony of Mr. Hanley's post was that he was six feet three and stood over most of the well born he greeted and waited upon for a living. It meant even as they were above him in stance he always towered above them in person.
"Evening Master Thornwood," Mr. Hanley remarked in a deep, bass voice. "Master Fairfax."
"Evening Hanley," Corbin responded cheerfully as he led the way into the house. "Where is father? Is he still entertaining?"
Mr. Hanley nodded. "Yes sir, he and Master Richard are in the drawing room with Master de Lacey and Lord Erndale."
"Perfect," Corbin enthused. He glanced over his shoulder to give Jeremy a grin. "You'll get to see the display soon."
Jeremy nodded enthusiastically in response.
Mr. Hanley closed the door banishing the dark and the chilly night air. The glow of the sconce lights with their silver held candles did not offer the expected comfort to Jeremy. As he eyed them he saw the flames flicker, dancing in an imagined breeze and threatening to snuff out and send them back to darkness again.
Corbin started walking through the grand lobby, ignorant to the dance of the lights in a non-existent breeze. He was quick on his feet and made no effort to be gentle with his gait, which sent a chorus of echoed steps throughout the room as his soles met the polished marble of a black, amber and crimson patterned floor.
Jeremy followed with more grace, conscious of the noise of his footsteps on the floor.
Corbin veered to the left of the grand staircase. The bannisters' polished wooden surfaces gleamed under the light of a gold and crystal chandelier that was designed as the centre piece of the lobby but only enhanced the shadows of the stone fox statues guarding the staircase, drawing attention to their blank stares.
Corbin led the way down a corridor plagued with the reminder of history that every family home had to suffer- portraits.
Jeremy had seen their painted faces on his previous visits- minor titled Thornwoods who had come before Corbin's father with no space left on the wall for those who would come after. It was deemed a show of pride, a bragging of lineage, which was a tradition Jeremy couldn't really understand though his family embraced it just as readily. Why show off portraits of relatives simply because they had been born to or married into wealth and prestige, why not hail those who had actually earned it or achieved something truly noteworthy in their time? It was one thing if they had been relations you knew and loved but when it was ancestors you knew nothing of exempting a name and a title you had inherited then what was the point? It wasn't as if the portraits appeared pleasant or even colourful, many were painted in dull shades with drab backgrounds and they rarely added to the room.
Corbin glanced up at the image of a woman with curly, dark hair bound up tightly. She was depicted in a dark dress with long sleeves and a high collar, and her only adorning was a large, silver crucifix on a fine chain.
"Great Aunt Maggie," Corbin mocked, "she lived piously and died unwed and unwell."
"Yes, you always speak so fondly of her," Jeremy responded dryly.
He had heard the jibes before of Margaret Thornwood, a stern woman by all accounts who had stayed in Foxhill Manor with her brother Marius, they were the other's only companion and when she had died, only in her thirties, Marius had apparently been heartbroken and chosen solitude there after, save for servants.
Corbin shrugged. "I just don't believe God wants us to live so sombrely. Isn't that His gift to us, life? Why then shouldn't we enjoy it?"
Jeremy gave his companion a calm stare in answer. "You need to ask a priest that," he advised, "I know little in the ways of God save what is preached to me every Sabbath."
Corbin clapped a hand to his chest mockingly. "Yes, yes," he said with false seriousness, "the solemn sermons of Sunday, teachings to take to heart."
Jeremy's midnight blue stare widened slightly. "That's very good alliteration," he praised, "even if you are toeing the line of blasphemy."
Corbin laughed. "Alliteration, the work of a poet, that would be more blasphemous to my parents than anything else I've said. Come on then, let me not keep you in suspense anymore of father and Richard's adventures."
Corbin finished leading the way to a grand, heavy set, wooden door that was firmly shut but was not so thick as to imprison sound entirely. From behind it the muted noise of chatter could be heard.
Corbin wrapped his fist on the door twice. "Evening," he called brightly, "I've brought Jeremy, can we come in and see the pagan hoard?"
There was silence and then footsteps followed by the door being opened.
Richard Thornwood greeted them with a small smile.
Richard was the opposite of Corbin, he was tall with fair hair and light blue eyes, stern jawed like his father and bearing a seriousness on his shoulders Corbin probably never would. He had always been a stringent man, favouring education over play and rules over rebellion but he was pleasant and polite with a good nature.
"Welcome back Corbin," he greeted his brother with a patient stare. "Please do stop jesting about our finds or father isn't going to let you near it again," he advised.
Richard glanced over at Jeremy who was standing in silence, arms neatly held behind his back as he kept his expression calm and blank.
Jeremy didn't know what he should be expecting. Corbin had been deliberately vague about his father and brother's expedition and what they had brought back from it. He had made it all sound very mysterious, probably to ensure Jeremy would agree to come out to Foxhill Manor at such a late hour. It was certain Jeremy wouldn't have called so late under other circumstances.
"Jeremy, how are you?" Richard queried politely.
"Well, how are you Richard?" Jeremy retorted with equal civility. "How was your journeying?"
"I apologise Richard," Corbin interrupted rudely in a tone that made in clear he wasn't, "now please let us in so Jeremy can see what your journeying was like."
Richard resisted a sigh as his stare flitted back to his brother with displeasure. "You are being boorish," he scolded him.
Corbin folded his arms and gazed up at his brother with an accusing green gaze. "Talking to a guest through a doorway is much more offensive I'm sure," he pointed out.
Richard released the sigh this time as he pushed back the door and let go of it.
"Jeremy I don't know how you tolerate him, if we didn't share blood I wouldn't," Richard lamented. There was a faint glint of humour in his pale blue stare.
Richard stepped away from the doorway and Corbin hurried in after him. Jeremy followed with more decorum and shut the door behind him. It was heavy and he had to turn to push it, taking effort to ensure it was tightly in place.
They had entered the drawing room. A room that appeared dark despite the large glow of the fire and the rays of the lamps, it was as if the dark wooden panelling of the walls was feeding on the light. The heavy curtains, a red so dark they were nearly purple, did not help much either. They were designed to block the sunlight and the cold but gave a sense of entrapment rather than comfort.
Edward Thornwood was standing in the centre of the room beside a tall, wooden table with a thin, damask cloth on it and several items resting upon the cloth.
"Corbin, good timing," a young man greeted cheerfully as he stood up from his chair. He gave a broad smile as he walked up to Corbin and Jeremy. "Your father was just about to tell us how they made their find."
The man turned his charming smile on Jeremy, his cheeks had a faint glow of heat to them and his large eyes, which were like grey smoke smudged with the blue of a stormy sea, sparkled with joy and reflected the warmth of the fire.
"I'm Crevan," he greeted as he struck out a white gloved hand to the dark haired male.
"Lord Crevan de Lacey," a gruff voice corrected promptly from a chair opposing the fire. The occupant looked forward so that Jeremy could only glimpse part of his features in the firelight. Jeremy saw a face ruddy with the whiskey that rested on a small table beside the chair and a stomach bulged tight against an expensive dark green shirt. Jeremy considered that it was entirely possible that the man was too sleepy with drink to attempt moving his large girth.
"Titles have meaning my boy, you must always remember that," the man lectured.
Corbin and Jeremy shared a glance.
Crevan laughed happily at the glancing whilst his hand remained raised, waiting for Jeremy's.
"Call me Crevan," he insisted.
Jeremy accepted the hand at last. "I'm Jeremy," he retorted amicably, "Jeremy Fairfax."
"No title?" the man queried with disgust. He remained staring forward leaving Jeremy and the others to imagine the sneer on his face.
"Master Fairfax," Richard reassured as he walked back to his father, passing the seated man in the process, "his father owns the bank in town, Lord Erndale."
The seated man, Lord Erndale, gave a grunt. "Which church do you attend?" he barked.
Jeremy bowed his head slightly as he released Crevan's hand.
"You assume it's church?" Corbin queried mischievously, unable to resist the chance to tease.
They all knew the implied insult of Lord Erndale's question and Corbin was unwilling to ignore it.
"Corbin," Richard berated him before their father could.
Edward remained as he was, standing impassive by his display, only a mild irritation in the green eyes he shared with his son.
"I attend St. Christopher's," Jeremy answered calmly, "a quiet chapel my family has visited for many generations."
"A rundown chapel," Lord Erndale scorned, "if it's a family one maybe your father should consider better donations to it, surely a banking man could manage that."
"We must move on to a better topic," Corbin remarked briskly as he led the way over to two chairs resting near a bookshelf. The chairs were away from the semi-circle Richard, Lord Erndale and Crevan's chairs formed about Edward and his table. They were also away from the fire, on the opposing side, and entirely too much in the darkness for Jeremy's liking.
Jeremy was already wondering as he took a seat if Edward and Richard's foreign findings were going to be worth a night time visit to a house he had no fondness for and the casual abusing of a man too high up in the world for Jeremy to answer back to.
Corbin took a seat, crossed one leg over the other and looked to his father with a small smile, waiting for him to speak.
Crevan and Richard had taken their seats again and Crevan was looking to Edward in fascination.
Edward looked at Corbin and Jeremy with a calm, neutral stare.
"I shall start again for our guest," Edward remarked politely.
"A summary please," Lord Erndale retorted loudly. He reached for his glass of whiskey and took a deep gulp.
Edward gave a nod. He put Jeremy in mind of a soldier with his stiff politeness and rigid stance.
"My son Richard and I have just returned from Egypt, Master Fairfax," Edward explained.
Jeremy nodded as he focused his attention on the man. He was used to Edward expressing his title and knew it came out of respect, which he appreciated even if he was opposed to the notion that one deserved respect based upon nothing other than birthright.
"We were part of the occupation," Edward continued, "trying to maintain stability after the war. Part of that was made easier by talking with some of the locals."
Jeremy looked intrigued at this. He knew Edward was a linguist, studying languages as much out of passion as need.
"You see," Edward remarked, "I knew they were hiding things from us, and they weren't willing to view us as help. Unfortunately, despite my efforts they remained mistrusting. I couldn't blame them given the outcome of the war but I had to try."
"Yes, yes," Lord Erndale barked impatiently, "I've heard this already and I have no sympathy towards late arrivals," he added pointedly with a shake of his glass in Jeremy's direction.
Corbin smirked in the shadows and winked at his companion.
Edward resisted an urge to frown at the interruption as his mouth twitched slightly and he forced it to a smile instead. "They led us to a place off the maps," he remarked.
"They?" Jeremy quipped before he could help it.
Lord Erndale leaned round his seat at last to give Jeremy a look of disapproval from his bloated, red hued face. The wait to see Lord Erndale's appearance had not been worth it as he was a bland, plump faced man made interesting only by the crimson flare of unnecessary rage coupled with alcohol.
"The Egyptians boy," Lord Erndale snapped at Jeremy, "aren't you paying attention? Heaven help us if he needs to tell this tale again for you!"
Lord Erndale retreated back round the chair taking his disapproving form from the shadows and back to the light of the fire like a sulking dog retreating to the kennel.
"Now Arthur leave the boy be," Edward chided lightly. "I have no issue catching him up. The maps were sparse," Edward continued, "that is to say lacking for it is still a wild, unexplored land. We found what we saw in the sands to be raw and savage."
His clover green eyes took on a glaze and as the firelight sparked off them it highlighted the passionate stare he bore.
"It is an ancient land," he murmured quietly, "primordial with things one could not put into words beneath the sands, terrible and wonderful things."
"Is that where you found your treasures, beneath the sands?" This polite interruption came from Crevan.
Corbin smirked again when Lord Erndale did not bother to scold this query.
Edward blinked, brought back to the present at Crevan's voice. His stare fell on the younger man with gratitude before he nodded.
"In a way. We were able to discover the foundations of a temple, struggling to emerge from its sandy tomb and escape to the light. The sand was of an unusual hue, a dark red, almost brown under the night sky and the colour of drying blood in the day, corrupted by red clay I would venture. We lost two paid hands uncovering the ruins, a tragic loss," he added sombrely.
Crevan cocked his head slightly at this, both unnerved and curious. "What killed them?" he pried.
"Sun, heat, I couldn't be certain," Edward dismissed the question a little too quickly with a wave of his hand. "There were no doctors out there to say. We kept going, exposed the temple and found greatness there."
Edward turned at last to the table that begged for attention and gestured to the trinkets laid on display there as an exhibition.
"Even in ruins the majesty of that temple would expose many of our own grand structures to shame," Edward mused. "There was a vastness to it, remnants of columns and statues, one of those mighty structures they built for a god that is never there."
Edward's face twisted into a look of revulsion. "An abomination of beast and man that those Egyptians had a fondness for. Such a barbaric thing to worship, perhaps it is why we found the place in ruins because they realised their foolishness and abandoned it. They called it Set, fitting I suppose," he added with a reluctant murmur of humour to his voice, "that it was considered a god of deserts and foreigners amongst other things."
Jeremy and Crevan both looked interested but neither had any recognition for the name Set. Lord Erndale looked bored and gulped at his whiskey with an impatient grunt.
Richard, who had been silently rapt at his father's words as it conjured memories for him, frowned at the god's name and turned his stare to the treasures they had taken from the tomb.
Edward returned his own gaze to the trinkets. "For a while we found only dust and worthless, broken things. We searched for three days and nights, there were so many statues in such disarray that we began to think we were retracing our steps and had already searched the place and found nothing. It was difficult to accept a disappointing defeat in that manner and I am glad that my son and I could not."
Edward grinned over at Richard with pride. "Even the hired men turned yellow. Jackals barked in the night and upset them, ridiculous considering it must be a normal phenomenon. A number of the camels died but I warned them of that, never trusted the beasts. We bought two horses and they survived unworried."
Crevan wrinkled his brow in concern and puzzlement. "What killed the camels?" he queried.
"Heat, sun," Edward gave the same answer as before, "some desert disease, I do not know."
"We found a lower chamber," Edward continued his tale, "even further beneath the sand and below what we assumed to be the skeletal remains of the temple. You see, they had built the temple upon tombs! Such a strange thing even for their culture. Paupers' graves, the statues in the walls all had their faces faded away, those that hadn't crumbled to dust entirely. It was a hurried job with materials that lacked in cost and varied in quantity. I saw scratchings on the walls that scored out the paintings, an odd form of vandalism."
Edward smiled faintly and glanced to his audience again to see that they were still listening. "The sarcophagi as they would call their coffins were plain, limestone and copper I believe, tarnished and green, most broken, some vacant. Grave robbers, it made it more of a surprise that we found what we did."
Jeremy tensed at the tale wondering how Edward and Richard could have remained in such a desolate place after such misfortune and so many bad omens. He considered himself brave but he did not think he would have stayed amongst sarcophagi both occupied and emptied to search for treasures in a desert sullied with red sand.
"We entered a circular room that seemed to serve no purpose other than decorative. There was a tarnished dish in the centre that I would suggest contained water once and around it were statues of this Set. Each one posed slightly different, holding staffs with heads much like the beast's own that pointed in different directions. At the feet of each one was another dish, each stained black with age and yet for all the time that must have passed since their use and our arrival I could still smell the oil they had held."
"Impossible," Crevan marvelled with wide eyes.
"Dramatic flair," Corbin murmured under his breath with another grin flashed in Jeremy's direction.
"We gathered kindling and set to work lighting the room and putting fire back in each dish," Edward explained. "There was an unusual trick then, an illusion perhaps but most definitely a trick. The dish in the centre pooled up with water again only it was deeper than I thought it should be and when we held a torch over it we saw it then, such lovely, beautiful treasures dancing back in the light."
"How strange," Jeremy commented quietly.
Jeremy felt unease at the story but he couldn't be sure why. He tried to dismiss it for dramatic licensing, surely Edward had embellished to impress them. The problem with that theory was that Jeremy did not think Edward was capable of such fanciful imagination nor was he the kind of man to lie, even in a harmless form of story telling.
Edward gestured again to the table, ready at last to end Lord Erndale's impatience.
"There was only Richard and I to enjoy this wealth," he commented, "and I was too fearful of thieves to ask any native for an explanation. I feared they would only lie of the value in the hopes of getting it from us cheaply. There is the necklace, I shall get it valued here but I believe it's gold with carnelian, jasper and ruby. It is unusual, they had a preference for colour but much of it, there would usually be turquoise and lapis lazuli and often not such a quantity of the same precious stones," he marvelled.
"Hold it up father we can't see at the back," Corbin called jovially.
Edward smiled with amusement and obliged, embracing an excuse to show it off. He plucked the necklace up delicately with both hands supporting the chain and held it high so Corbin and Jeremy could see it.
The necklace had five layers of gold and teardrop styled rubies. The carnelian and red jasper added a pattern, showing veins of red rising up like fire around two figures that were at the top of the gold bands, opposing each other. The figures, glittering a fine gold in the firelight, appeared to resemble men with heads that could be considered either equus or canine.
Edward placed the necklace back down carefully, resting it as gently as he could on the red cloth.
"Next a statue of a deity, ugly you shall see in form but beautiful for it is solid gold save for touches of carnelian, jasper, and lapis lazuli on its adornments."
Edward held this up too and it was as described. It was small in his hands, standing on a platform of gold with a variety of hieroglyphs engraved around it. It bore a tall crown with a sphere in the middle of it and held a sceptre in one hand with a thin likeness of its obscene head at the top, and an ankh was clutched in the other hand. It was topless and given the muscular physique of a perfect man. Bracelets on its upper and lower arms and a waistband were coloured with gems.
Edward placed the statuette down without another comment. He reached for the final treasure, a diadem of gold furnished with bands of colour and studded with gems.
"I do not know if this was a royal's," Edward admitted, "but their symbol of reign is a snake, perhaps another reason why their empire fell, they saw the creature of betrayal as a symbol of leadership. You will see that there is no serpent at the front of this crown but no mark to suggest an absence through damage."
Edward held up the diadem and showed that it had two gold points at its front, almost like horns except their tops were flat giving them a more rectangular shape.
Jeremy felt no awe for the treasure, just another odd sense of unease. To him, these men had not stumbled upon a discovery of riches but rather had unfairly robbed the dead and pilfered sneakily from a land not their own.
"Bravo!" Lord Erndale enthused happily with a jovial applause. "Better in our hands than theirs, eh, foolish to bury gold isn't it? Like squirrels hiding for a harvest they won't live to see."
Edward gave a thin smile at this and nodded solemnly as he returned the diadem to the delicate fold of velvet cloth it had been resting upon.
Crevan appeared impressed but was more restrained with his praise. "They are intriguing treasures," he marvelled.
"Yes," Edward murmured bluntly. He gestured to the table with one hand. "We have some gold pieces too, a few goblets and bangles but they are not as wondrous as these items."
Edward's gaze fell back on the three pieces as he looked to them with pride.
Richard, quiet and stoic, had a subtler show of pride upon his face as he glanced at his father's audience with a subdued stare as he tried to spy their reactions.
Jeremy gave a slight shudder as a chill ran through him and his pale stare was upon the fire longingly.
Corbin glanced over to his companion at the shudder but Jeremy did not seem to sense Corbin's probing green gaze and kept his stare upon the fire.
"Will you sell the items then?" Crevan pried.
The young lord leaned forward in his seat and craned his neck slightly to glimpse the treasures on the table. The gold was dark in the firelight, catching it rather than reflecting it and the red jewels of the necklace had the same sheen of spilled liquid putting Crevan in mind of wine or blood drops.
"I shall consider displaying them for a fee," Edward admitted, "so others can see a taste of Egypt when they otherwise might be denied. There is a fascination for this land and its sand covered secrets and people will pay for even a glimpse."
Crevan nodded back politely but his blue-grey eyes hinted at boredom.
"Good way to keep them earning money," Lord Erndale boomed out his praise. He nodded as he raised his glass and saluted Edward with it. "Loan it for display, then you can keep charging," he suggested. "Maybe the items could even be toured."
"No!" Edward snapped sharply. The sudden volume of his voice caught the men off guard and created an unpleasant quiet in the room.
Even the fire seemed to quieten its crackles as the men eyed Edward in an uneasy surprise.
Edward's gaze calmed slightly as he seemed to realise his emotional display had caused the sudden silence. He surveyed the room quickly, blinking at the shadows that hid Jeremy and Corbin. The dents at the corners of his mouth deepened as his frown worsened at the sight of the men watching him from the darkness.
"They are fragile," Edward murmured in a softer tone, "ancient and unique, were they to travel it would put them at great risk."
Lord Erndale finished his glass and seemed calmed by the pleasant burn of liquid that trickled down his throat.
"Quite right," Lord Erndale retorted agreeably, "you want to keep them in good condition, pesky trusting others to secure and journey them anyway."
"Well father," Corbin commented excitedly as he rubbed his palms together, "I think we should have a toast in honour of your good fortune."
Corbin gave a wide grin as he saw his brother Richard's glance of disapproval. Richard guessed that Corbin was not so much eager to celebrate his father and sibling's exploits but was seeking an excuse to savour his father's more expensive liquors.
Ignorant to his son's ulterior motives, Edward's gaze brightened and he nodded. "Yes, I suppose our lords would like another and Master Fairfax hasn't had one yet."
"Nor I," Corbin murmured sardonically.
Corbin's quiet murmur was drowned out by Lord Erndale's eager chorus for another drink as he waved his emptied glass pointedly.
"I'll get them," Richard offered as he walked towards a low down wooden cabinet.
"Surely for such an achievement we should have a fine beverage," Corbin suggested.
Jeremy smiled at his friend's eager pushing for a drink and glanced to Edward to see his reaction.
Edward gave a small smile as he gazed back at his son with mirth. He clasped his hands behind his back and nodded. "Very well, you do make a good case for it Corbin. Richard, the wine we brought home from Egypt, it will be fitting."
"Ooh a foreign brand of wine," Lord Erndale puffed out in a tone of revulsion, "but do you know it's of quality sir?"
Edward turned to the lord and nodded politely. "I would never offer you anything that was not of quality. This was an expensive brand, rare even in Cairo but most exquisite, it was because I had a great fondness for its taste that I purchased it. Of the vine like so many wines, not pomegranate as was once supposed of the Egyptian wines, and yet it is not like any wine I have tasted in these lands."
"Being different does not make something good," Lord Erndale grumbled.
Richard poured the wine into waiting crystal goblets before he offered them out on a silver platter.
"My Richard," Corbin commented teasingly as he plucked down his glass, "you could make an appealing waiter were you not a young master."
Richard shook his head in dismissal of the jibe, too used to his brother's mocking style of humour to rise to it.
Jeremy took his glass and promptly regretted it. The liquid within winked a dark ruby in the firelight, streaks of dark crimson slicing through the slightly brighter streaks of red where the crystal caught the light of the flames. The wine had the same shade of freshly bloomed blood.
Corbin stood up from his chair once everyone was served and held up his glass. "Alright then, a toast to father and Richard for their wonderful achievements in the land of Egypt," he said enthusiastically.
The others raised their glasses as well and offered a hushed sentiment of cheer, conscious that the hour was turning late and there were other residents in the household to be mindful of.
Jeremy took a tentative sip from his glass, half-expecting the salty taste of blood to fill his mouth but instead he tasted a smooth, bitter sweetness that was surprisingly pleasant.
Jeremy tensed suddenly when over the rim he glimpsed a set of horns in the shadows framing the circle of crystal. He lowered the glass quickly and the apparition vanished leaving him to assume it was a trick of the light caught up in the fragments of the crystal and submerging in the heaviness of the wine.
"Hmm it is not so trifling to the tongue as I had expected," Lord Erndale admitted grudgingly. "An intriguing vintage, perhaps these Egyptians imported it."
Crevan and Corbin both looked his way at this comment and saw his wine glass was already half-drained. Crevan dipped his head to hide his smile whilst Corbin gave a soft chuckle.
"Native made I was assured," Edward insisted. He was smiling too, as amused as the younger men by Lord Erndale's hypocritical reluctance.
Crevan took another gulp from his glass before remarking, "delightful indeed."
Not wishing to offend, Jeremy continued to sip at his glass but kept his gaze upon the fire this time, seeking a comfort in its flames.