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Star of Africa - The True Story of The Cullinan Diamond

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December 1905 - Regent’s Lodge, the London residence of Count Glorfindel.

 

“I say, Fin; it’s getting a bit dark in here,” Bunchy Cheverell said as he poked the fire. Bunchy, a chum of mine who normally rooms at his club when in London was spending the holiday season with me instead of cruising around the Mediterranean with his aunt. She is a veritable dragon, ceaselessly expounding on the evils of drink and the questionable benefits of temperance.

 

I rang the bell and had to wait for two minutes before my housekeeper, Mrs. Clavell, appeared, causing me to wonder where the butler was.  

 

“You rang, My Lord?”

 

“Indeed I did. It is getting dark in here.”

 

“I will ask Fosberry to light the gas lamps, My Lord.” She curtseyed and left the room.

 

Fosberry appeared almost immediately and set to his task. When the lamps were fully lit the whole room was bathed in a cosy glow, which contrasted starkly with the dimly lit street outside. Driving sleet slapped against the window panes and slid down to the sills, partially melting upon contact with the glass. I thought how fortunate I was to be in front of a warm log fire.

 

“Will that be all, My Lord?” Fosberry asked. I suspected that Mrs. Clavell was within listening range, otherwise he would not be so formal.

 

“That will be all, Fosberry, thank you,” I replied. “Mrs Clavell can serve tea.”

 

The paperboy outside in the street, beyond the gates of my house, yelled something about some jewels. Fosberry and I exchanged glances and smiled. “It would seem, My Lord, that you require a newspaper.”

 

“Indeed.”

 

 

 

 

 

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The newspaper lay spread out on the table in front of Bunchy, Fosberry and me. Mrs. Clavell was in bed, fast asleep judging by the faint snores emitting from her bedroom two floors above.

 

“Not Guisborough Park,” Bunchy sighed with annoyance. “You know what old Hawkridge is like. We will never hear the last of it.” We were reading an account of how Lady Hawkridge’s jewels had been stolen during the early hours of the morning. “They blew up the safe and ran off with the loot but no one saw them.”

 

“The servants were already up and saw nothing, although they report hearing a loud blast,” Fosberry remarked, one eyebrow slightly raised.

 

“That would be most unlikely, unless they were in on it,” Bunchy suggested. “Surely they would have seen the criminals running away? I know that if I heard a blast, I would run to wherever it was.”

 

“Tomorrow we will go to Guisborough Park and investigate. Bunchy, it’s off to bed for you. I have a few things to discuss with Fosberry about our journey tomorrow. Namely, what clothing we will require in this damnably cold weather.” I looked at my butler. “Has Gribble made any further progress with his heated boots invention?”

 

“Well, he hasn’t properly invented them yet, My Lord,” Fosberry chuckled. “On his last attempt the hairs on his legs frizzled and turned ginger.”

 

“I will see you both tomorrow,” Bunchy chortled before leaving the room.

 

Fosberry and I listened as Bunchy’s footsteps faded. We heard his bedroom door close and the clunking of his boots as they hit the floor.

 

“Time for me to go to bed as well,” Fosberry said softly. “Your room or my own?”

 

“Need you ask?” I gave him my widest smile.

 

 

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John Fosberry lay hot and wanton on my linen sheets, licking his lips in anticipation. “Get on with it.” His ankles rested on my shoulders. As I entered him he breathed in sharply; his tongue teasing between his lips. “If only old Clavell could see us now.”

 

I chuckled at the thought, idly picturing her bursting through my bedroom door and catching us. “Stop that. Get your toe out of my ear.” I slapped John’s furry, human thigh and told him not to laugh so loudly.

 

“I know what you are up to. You are thinking of Clavell. You are having sex with me but she is your secret desire.” John chuckled as he spoke, both of us knowing it was a preposterous thought, but one we often joked about.

 

“You are my secret desire.” At that moment I would be nowhere else.

 

“And you are mine.”

 

Making love to John filled me with the utmost joy and happiness. He was my heart and my lover. Our adoration was secret and we dared not speak its name, but it felt real nonetheless. I did not know what the future held for us, but one day he would question why I never looked older than the day he met me. That would be in the future and so I brushed the reflection aside. I feared him becoming old and one day losing him, but now was not the time for such melancholy, even though the thought assailed me every time we made love. The night was ours to indulge in sybaritic pleasure and we would take our fill.

 

John’s hand slid up and down his length as I rammed into him. We came together, joined in passion, but lost in our individual moments of ecstasy.

 

Clinging onto John’s legs, I breathed heavily, my heart leaping at his lascivious smile. “I love you.”

 

“I love you too.”

 

 

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In nineteen hundred and two, I had thrown caution to the winds and purchased a motor car. However, I still used a horse and carriage for most of my travelling needs, not quite trusting a machine where the propulsion could not be seen or explained to my satisfaction. Perhaps I am old fashioned, but one can see a horse galloping and know that is why one proceeds at such a pace. With a motor car there is no visual display of how such power is produced.

 

Some years ago, in eighteen ninety-four, I visited Paris to watch the start of the Petit Journal Paris-Rouen Race, because even though motor cars mystify me I still enjoy watching them proceeding at speed. While there, I had the good fortune to meet Gottlieb Daimler, who tried to explain how car engines work. I am afraid that I drove him to despair with my inability to understand. He advised that I should buy a motorcar, with one of his engines inside, and drive around while letting the inner workings remain a mystery.  “We do not have to understand everything we use, we just have to trust it will do what we require of it,” he told me.

 

I could immediately appreciate his logic. However, I did not buy a motor car until eight years later. John Fosberry, who has proved to be fascinated with engines and only too prepared to get his hands dirty, asked me to buy one while we were indulging in our mutual pleasure. At that point he could have asked me for a string of them and I would have agreed.

 

Bunchy and I sat in the back of the Mercedes, while Fosberry sat driving in the front. The law prohibited speeds exceeding fourteen miles per hour and I mentioned several times that a horse could run faster. Fosberry was quick to point out that we were arriving by car because old Hawkridge, who is an unutterable snob, would be impressed and probably, more willing to help with our investigations.

 

“So we are officially on the case?” Bunchy asked.

 

“Not officially, but by the end of today we will be.  As Inspector Massingberd of the Yard once said, ‘They tell you more’.”

 

“Is he any relation to the Gunby Massingberds?” Bunchy asked.

 

“Well of course not,” I laughed. I fancied I could see Fosberry giving a wry smile.

 

“He could be,” Bunchy chuckled. “You know, born the wrong side of the blankets?”

 

“I believe his parents are quite respectable,” I replied. “He grew up in Brightlingsea and his father is the head clerk of the Wivenhoe-Brightlingsea Railway Company.”

 

 

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Fosberry driving Glorfindel and Bunchy. In the background is Glorfindel's house.

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Guisborough House is situated just outside London, south of the River Thames. The large Palladian style house stands at the end of a curved drive, which circles a large ornamental lake directly in front of the columned entrance. How I love the clean lines of such architecture. Every line and shape is borne of simplicity and yet the cumulative effect of the juxtaposition of curve and straight line is pleasing to the eye indeed. 

 

The motorcar drew up in front of the broadly sweeping stairs leading up to the entrance door. Fosberry opened the doors for us and we climbed out. The butler appeared from a side door on the ground floor. The door seeming to be situated either under or just beside the steps; from my vantage point it was hard to tell.

 

“Good Morning, Sirs.” He inclined his head to Bunchy and me. “I am afraid that His Grace is not receiving today.”

 

“I rather suspected that he would not be,” I informed him sympathetically. “It is of the utmost importance that I see the Duke.” I scribbled a short message on a calling card before handing it to the butler. “I await his reply.”

 

The butler walked around the side of the stairs and we waited.

 

“I bet five shillings that we are turned away,” Bunchy smiled grimly. He blew on his hands in an attempt to warm them.

 

“You will lose your bet,” I told him. “I wrote on the card that this crime was solvable and I should have Lady Hawkridge’s jewels back before the weekend.”

 

“How can you say that?”

 

“I cannot, that is why I wrote ‘should’ instead of ‘will have’. “

 

Five minutes later, Hawkridge’s butler returned and asked that Bunchy and I accompany him. We walked up the steps, about forty of them, and passed through the large front doors into a grand, Adam style circular entrance hall. The walls were painted white and were covered with gold painted stucco carvings. The ceiling was of similar design and comprised of panels painted a soft duck egg blue surrounding a large cupola in the centre. Looking up, I could see glass panels at the sides, which allowed the weak winter sunlight to stream through.  

 

We were led to a side door, and after passing through an ante room, we were greeted by Hawkridge himself. He looked tired and angry; I would have been the same in his position.

 

“Inspector Massingberd was here this morning. Jumped up little man. Implied the theft of my wife’s jewels might be an inside job. I told him that my servants have been with the family for at least the past thirteen years. How dare he!” Hawkridge poked at the fire as though it was Massingberd’s face. “I have sent one of my men with a letter asking you to investigate. You probably passed him.”

 

“Most likely.” We sat by the fire while the butler served hot tea and buttered crumpets. After he left I asked Hawkridge to tell me his version of what happened.

 

“The night before the robbery, my wife and I went to bed at the usual time, ten o’clock. We slept heavier than usual, probably because we arrived home from our holiday the day before and we were still beset with travel fatigue; you know how dire the roads are when it snows. At around five in the morning we were awoken by an almighty blast. The servants were already up and rushed to where the noise came from. Unfortunately, none of them saw a thing. My wife and I made our way to the West Wing, where the noise seemed to originate, and saw our servants forcing the door to the safe room. Of course, by the time we were able to gain access the thieves were long gone. It is most odd; they did not touch any of the other valuables. The only theft was a necklace belonging to my wife.”

 

My face fell. I knew exactly the one he meant.

 

Hawkridge nodded in tacit agreement. “Yes, it contained the Arctic Diamond.”

 

“May we view the scene of the crime?”

 

Hawkridge led us to a steel lined room on the ground floor. The safe was normally encased directly below in a block of concrete situated in the underground safe machinery control room. Hawkridge explained that a hydraulic steam engine raised it up to room level when access was needed. A concrete and steel overlay was built into the floor and employed to cover the safe when it was below ground. The robbers had somehow melted the reinforced steel on the side of the safe and reached in to take the jewels.

 

“There has been no blast in this room,” I said. “But that hole is most extraordinary. Who has the knowledge and means to invent and wield a portable tool of such power?”

 

“The blast happened in the room below,” Hawkridge explained. “The robbers accessed it by tunnelling underground, probably while we were our holiday. Until two days ago, the house was nearly empty apart from a skeleton complement of staff. There is not much for the gardeners to do near the house at this time of year, so the robbers were unlikely to be seen when outside. I have done some investigating of my own and I suspect that the robbers tried to stop the safe from being able to rise up to this room, so they could make time in escaping while we tried to find out what was stolen. Anyway, they were unsuccessful. The machinery still works and we know exactly what was taken. The blast caused the tunnel they dug to collapse and one of them was killed.”

 

“The blast happened in the tunnel then?” Bunchy asked.

 

“I assume the blast happened near to the entrance of the tunnel  where the hydraulic system is situated. The way into the room is blocked, so I do not know for certain. Happily, there doesn’t seem to be much damage to the foundations. I can afford more jewels but rebuilding a wing would be a different prospect entirely.”

 

“The man who died; did Inspector Massingberd say anything about him?” The newspapers had not mentioned a dead man at the scene, also the news story should have been published in the lunchtime edition, or the afternoon one at the latest, but it was not issued until the early evening. Massingberd would, no doubt, tell me the reasons for such an omission, but for now I would have to work with what was in front of me.

 

“Massingberd informed me that his men would take the body away, which they did a few hours later.”

 

We inspected the tunnel entrance. Large wooden beams supported the opening, no doubt to make retrieval of the body a safer enterprise. To have ventured further inside would have been folly. Some of the rubble had been removed, but beyond that the entrance had collapsed completely.

 

“Do you have the blueprints for the machinery room?” I asked.

 

“Massingberd took them away with him.”

 

“I will pay a call on him after I leave. Other than that, there is nothing more here for me to do.”

 

“Do you need to interview my wife? She has taken this rather badly.”

 

“Please give my regards to The Duchess. I need to leave immediately and visit Massingberd. He has the blueprints and they could prove to be a key part of the investigation.”

 

 

 

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We drove to Scotland Yard and I called upon Massingberd, while Bunchy and Fosberry continued back to my house in the motorcar. 

 

Massingberd sat at his desk, looking glumly at a pile of papers. “Everything is paperwork nowadays,” he said as I sat opposite him. A fire blazed merrily in the grate. The windows over the other side of the office were covered in a heavy film of condensation.

 

“It is good to see you again,” I beamed. “I am investigating the robbery at Guisborough.  You have the blueprints to the safe machinery room; also, there was a dead man in the collapsed tunnel, which was not mentioned in the newspapers.”

 

“I assumed his Grace would commission your help. He will talk more freely to you.” Massingberd was being polite; Hawkridge had a low opinion of anyone who was not of his class and made sure they knew. How his servants tolerated him, I have no idea. “I would be interested to hear your views on the robbery.” He did not say anything further until the policeman serving hot tea and buttered toast had left the room. “Eat up. It’s cold out there.”

 

“The Duke told me that you suggested it might be an inside job?”

 

“What I suggested to His Grace and what I actually think are not the same. I never reveal my hand, even to those who consider themselves above suspicion.” Massingberd’s eyes twinkled as he smiled. He sorted through a bunch of papers on his desk and pulled out a large sheet covered with detailed plans for the safe machinery room. “I like to wait for the denouement, if there is one.”

 

“Absolutely.” I bit into the toast and followed it with half a cup of tea.  Regardless of Hawkridge’s views, I considered Massingberd to possess an intellect far above many of the people I knew and I respected his opinion.  “My view is that the robbery hinges on the robbers knowing the location of the safe machinery room and the fact that there was such a structure in place. They had to have seen these blueprints, or were fed information by one of the people in the house, thus enabling them to tunnel into the room, rob the safe and then blow up the passage. The servants hearing the blast was less of a factor than covering up what was stolen. They needed secrecy regarding the identification of stolen jewellery as well as being able to make their escape. Blasting the machinery in the safe room would have given them that time, if it had been successful.” It occurred to me that the Arctic diamond might have already left the country.

 

Massingberd pointed to the outside of the main house on the blueprint. “I agree; the same line of reasoning occurred to me. They dug a tunnel here and the room was beyond. That is where the blast happened, but it seems that something went wrong and the explosive went off too soon, killing one of their number. Anyway, the blueprints were drawn up by a small firm of architects located in Cheapside. The dead man was employed by them during that period. ”

 

“So, who is he?”

 

“His name is John Stokely.” He gave a knowing smile; we both knew him as a member of the Black Sapphire Gang based in Manor Park. They were a cut above most of the gangs operating in London in that their operations required a great deal of intelligent planning and fieldwork. They were not opportunists and that was where their success lay. Every eventuality was carefully considered and nothing left to chance.

 

“Their headquarters are rumoured to be based somewhere in Manor Park Cemetery, so I will pay a visit there this afternoon to see if I can find any indication of their hideout. They must be kicking themselves that one of their members was killed.”

 

“They will be the focus of my investigation,” Massingberd told me. “Do not put yourself in danger. Find out where the gang is based and we will do the rest.” He leaned forward and lowered his voice. “The extraordinary precautions His Grace took with guarding the safe must have indicated to the gang that the contents were precious indeed; therefore it is most strange that only one necklace was stolen, the one holding the Arctic Diamond. Everything else was left. Either they are stealing to order or there is something special about that stone. There were thousands of pounds worth of other jewels stored in the safe, and they were untouched, which leads me to believe that there must be some other significance to the stone that we are not aware of at the moment.”

 

“It will be abroad by now, or in a diamond cutter’s den.”

 

Massingberd shrugged. “They will not be able to sell it otherwise; of that I am certain.”

 

“The Crown Jewels in the Tower of London are stored in a similar fashion. The whole chamber lowers into the ground during the night. It would be interesting to know if the design is the same as the one on these blueprints. Supposing this was a dry run for a much larger robbery?”

 

“They would never get past the Beefeaters,” Massingberd chuckled.

 

“Nothing is impossible.”

 

 

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Inspector Massingberd.

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Early in the afternoon we paid a visit to Manor Park Cemetery, where the Black Sapphire Gang’s headquarters were rumoured to be based. My informants, a group of orphaned boys living in a home provided for by myself, enjoyed the thrill of detecting the movements of others. In time, they would make marvellously intelligent criminals or become detectives themselves. Their leader had reported some months before that the gang were based within the cemetery, however, he had no idea of the exact location, except that it was near the far side of the church. We would not see any of the boys today, a necessary precaution to maintain their anonymity and protect them.

 

The horse and carriage drove off, leaving us in front of the black metal gates. We walked up the hedge- lined drive towards the church. The snow fell softly, covering the field of the dead in virginal white. In the near distance stood large white gravestones topped with funereal sculptures. Far behind them, in the paupers section, lay the body of Annie Chapman, the second victim of Jack the Ripper.

 

I was not sure if the company that owned the cemetery were aware of the existence of the Black Sapphire Gang or that their headquarters were rumoured to be in the area of the church itself. It would have been simplicity for the gang to force the builders to make the foundations deeper and add a room or two and I had long suspected that to be the case. The church was built about twenty-five years before and the Black Sapphire Gang had a history at least twice that span. They came to my notice a year previously, when I was commissioned to investigate a series of murders in Capel Road, a street to the side of the main grounds. There was no reason to link them to the murders, but my interest in them never waned.

 

Our walking into the lion’s den may have been viewed by some as a dangerous enterprise, but no detective worth his salt takes such risks unless he is sure that the odds are in his favour and he has a good alternative reason for being there. My mission was to find the headquarters so that I could report to Massingberd, whose men would break in and arrest the gang. To all other eyes I was paying my last respects.

 

“I say, look at that,” Bunchy indicated with a barely perceptible nod of his head. “There is a man looking rather furtively at us.”

 

“The Gang will be aware of our presence,” I said grimly, fingering the black metal cosh attached to my waist. In a special pocket, sewn into my trousers, was secreted a long dagger, nearly a sword. “Remember, we are merely visiting the grave of a dear departed. You can pick any one of them, they are all relatively new.”

 

“I am glad we came armed,” Fosberry remarked. He held a bunch of flowers in his hand.

 

“Indeed,” Bunchy agreed, exuding a nervous excitement that did not show on his face.

 

We walked warily around the church perimeter, our footprints leaving a trail in the snow as we followed the tracks of the man ahead. A set of footprints led to a large grave ringed with a light chain and stopped there; however, he was nowhere to be seen. We carried on to a grave three headstones away, which belonged to a recently departed magistrate who died aged sixty-five and was, apparently, much loved.

 

“The footprints stopped by the grave,” Fosberry said softly as he handed the flowers to me. “There must be a trapdoor, possibly operated from below.”

 

“Wouldn’t that disturb the snow on the grave?” Bunchy whispered.

 

I put the flowers in front of the headstone and all three of us appeared to pay our last respects. “In this snow it would be hard to tell if there has been any disturbance.” It really was falling thickly and I could barely see a more than a yard in front of me. “Let’s go. I fear we have no chance of finding their headquarters in such weather.”

 

We walked down the drive, our guard relaxed because we had encountered no trouble. As we passed through the black gates a shot rang out and Fosberry fell, yelling a shout of pain before landing in the snow.

 

Without thinking further, Bunchy and I dropped down to the ground. A shot rang just above our heads. I grabbed Fosberry’s gun from his still hand and fired in the direction of the shots. There was no time to consider whether he was still breathing. “Hold on, old man,” I said to him, hoping that his composure was that of being stunned. The alternative that he might be dead was a possibility that I could not consider; I loved him too much.

 

From behind, the blast of Bunchy’s gun rang in my ears. “I have got the blighter,” he shouted. We saw a distant figure fall and then there was silence. It was odd, but just before he fell I could have sworn the shot hit the gravestone instead.

 

“They knew we were coming,” I said loudly to Bunchy before everything went black.

 

 

 

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“Fosberry...” I said from the blackness. My head throbbed with pain and the smell of antiseptic made me want to vomit.

 

“Drink this,” a female voice said. “It will ease your pain.” I opened my eyes a crack to see a nurse, dressed in the uniform of the London Hospital, standing over me. She held a spoon to my lips. “Make sure you swallow it all.”

 

The characteristic taste of laudanum assaulted my tongue; no matter how much sugar is used to sweeten the tincture, the extreme bitterness still takes one by surprise.

 

“Do not give him too much,” another voice said. “I need to talk to him.” I looked to the side and saw Massingberd. He smiled. “That was a close shave. We thought you were dead.”

 

“I will give him the measure the doctor requires that I give him,” the nurse said primly. She looked at me and smiled. “You need perfect peace and rest, so that you can recover. You want to get better, don’t you?”

 

I nodded; that is all one can do in such situations. She left the room and I turned to Massingberd, every movement stabbing pain through my tightly bandaged head. “Why am I here? Is Fosberry all right? I saw him fall.”

 

“I am sorry,” Massingberd said, looking uncomfortable. “According to the doctor he didn’t suffer; it was instantaneous.”

 

“He was a good chap,” I replied. My insides raged. I could not tell Massingberd how I really felt: how he had removed all hope and smashed my heart to smithereens with the news of John’s death. One day, the love of two men would not be considered such a heinous crime that one could serve time in prison for the mere suspicion of indulging in such a relationship; indeed it was only forty years before that the death penalty had been lifted. That time was far into the future and now was definitely not the time to express my true feelings. “He fought at Malakand. Was a crack shot as well and there wasn’t a horse he couldn’t ride.”

 

“He always struck me as a fine fellow. You were lucky to have him in your service. A man like that could go anywhere and make a success of his life.” Massingberd fell quiet. He exhaled heavily before telling me that Bunchy was missing. He thought that the gang were holding him, but no word had been received from his informers as yet.

 

My fists clenched in grim determination. “He was indeed a fine fellow. I will kill whoever is responsible for his death. Any member of my household who is hurt because they are in my employment will be avenged.”

 

“Quite so,” Massingberd agreed. He stood up and took his overcoat from the chair. “I will see you tomorrow, when you are a bit brighter. You will be perfectly safe; my men are guarding the door.”

 

“Massingberd,” I said as he opened the door. “The gang expected us and yet I had only announced that day I would be going there.”

 

“Perhaps events were constructed so you would go there.” Massingberd seemed troubled and shook his head. “I hope to God I am wrong.”

 

I was left alone in silence. Over the other side stood a wooden cabinet with a glass front; various instruments visible on the shelves. In the drawers below there would be, no doubt, other, smaller instruments. Even though my mind was fogging I had enough of it left to hope that none of them would be used on me.

 

Through the large window next to the wooden cabinet, the snow fell thickly.

 

What a day to die.

 

 

 

 

 

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According to the doctor, the blow to my head should have been fatal.  It was hard to put the events of the past few days out of my mind. Something did not sit right and I was at a loss to know what it was.

 

Mrs Clavell set before me a spread of tea, buttered toast and turtle soup. She fussed around, wrapping my legs in a blanket to stop me from ‘catching the cold’ while reminding me in every other sentence that I was an invalid and had to keep warm. I did not argue. She was grieving the death of John, just as I was. In spite of their catcalling they had been good friends. As soon as she left the room I would throw the blanket aside. Apart from my still pounding head, I felt the same as I always did.

 

There was a knock on the door.

 

“My Lord, Inspector Massingberd is at the door with a man. Are you receiving?”

 

“Send them up,” I replied. I knew the reason for their visit. We had exchanged a confidential correspondence planning the next stage of the investigation. “I fear Mrs. Clavell that there is no peace for the wicked.”

 

She smiled and shot forward to cover my knees with the blanket, admonishing me for being so careless with my health. “It is lucky I am here, isn’t it?” she shrilled while sweeping out of the room. I heard her go down the stairs and tell Inspector Massingberd that I would see him but he was to be careful that he did not wear me out. “He is recovering from a very serious injury!”

 

“Yes, Mrs Clavell, I am sure we will not tax him in any way,” Massingberd told her. I could hear them climbing the stairs, every footfall sounded like that made by an elephant.

 

After Mrs Clavell had left to fetch some refreshments, Massingberd introduced his companion.  

 

“Good afternoon, Plain Clothes Officer Winkle,” I said. It was hard not to smile. I understand that a winkle is a shellfish to be eaten with a pin, but I have also been told that the word applies equally to a certain part of the male anatomy.

 

“Winkle used to be a butler to the Royal Household before he joined the force.” Massingberd winked at me. “How convenient.” I allowed myself a slight smile.”I trust we are all aware of the significance?”

 

“Inspector Massingberd has given me a full account of the case, My Lord,” Winkle replied. “I understand that you believe the Crown Jewels may be at risk because the security at Guisborough Park is similar to that employed at the Tower.”

 

“That is what I suspect.”

 

Mrs Clavell walked in with a tray of tea and cakes. We waited for her to leave the room before resuming our conversation.

 

“Well, Winkle, as you are to pose as my new butler, you can have Fosberry’s old room. Mrs. Clavell will show you where to go. You can wait until Inspector Massingberd departs.”

 

Fosberry’s belongings had been removed a few days after his death by his family. Most servants only have few possessions and John was no different. I kept his diary; his memories of our time together were not for their eyes. It was all I had left of him. How someone can be ripped away with such finality from the life of another I will never understand. It was as though he had never existed except in my memory and I wondered why that was so.

 

Massingberd told me that the coroner had released John’s body into the care of his mother and sister. The funeral would take place at Abney Park Cemetery, one of the ‘magnificent seven’ cemeteries created by act of parliament to cope with the increasing problems of finding burial space for Londoners.

 

“I would not want Fosberry’s family to suffer financially because of his death.” I took a sip of my tea. “Would they accept a donation? I should imagine that unless they have made prior provision, the financial impact will hit them very hard.”

 

“It is good of you, My Lord, but people like that are proud and would view your donation as charity. They are unlikely to accept help from anyone.” Massingberd sighed. “You could pay money towards the funeral directly to the company. That way the family cannot refuse, especially if it is an anonymous donation.”

 

“Then that is what I will do.”

 

“The post-mortem results were released today. John Fosberry died from a single bullet to his heart. He was dead before he hit the ground. I think we would all wish to go like that.”

 

“Well, at least he did not suffer,” I told him.

 

It seemed like no time had passed at all before Mrs. Clavell entered the room to collect the used crockery. She hinted, rather heavily, that my guests should depart because they might impede my recovery by ‘encouraging me to think too hard’.

 

“Mrs. Clavell, meet Plain Clothes Officer Winkle,” I said with an imperious smile; she likes it when I do that and I have no idea why. “He used to be a butler to the Royal Household.”

 

“Pleased to meet you; I am sure,” she said to Winkle, who greeted her in a similar manner.

 

“Winkle is to be my new butler. Inspector Massingberd feels that I need a butler, who is also a policeman, for my own protection.”

 

“I would say that Inspector Massingberd is talking sense,” Mrs. Clavell said primly. “You do get yourself into some scrapes, My Lord.”

 

“Well there it is. I leave it up to you to show Winkle where to go and to acquaint him with the rules of the house.”

 

“As you wish, My Lord.” She gave a small curtsey, more of a bob really, and invited Winkle to accompany her on a tour of the house.

 

“Go on, boy,” Massingberd said with a chuckle. “Mrs. Clavell, make sure he behaves.”

 

“No one misbehaves in this house,” Mrs. Clavell replied before exiting the room.

 

Not anymore they didn’t.

 

 

 

 

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Several important events happened during the next week.

 

The police raided Manor Park Cemetery and found a tunnel under the grave where the man had disappeared. Massingberd had to get Home Office clearance to do so, but when he is roused even a Rottweiler cannot stop him. Two members of the gang were found hiding in wooden crates and arrested.

 

Massingberd also confirmed that one of the gravestones had been chipped in the part of the cemetery where the shots were fired. To confirm it was the right one, we went to the cemetery, with full police protection, to identify it. I was right, I did see the gravestone hit by the bullet. Bunchy’s exclamation that he had shot one of the gang was either borne of bad eyesight, a mistake or a lie. His role in the attack at the gates, and his subsequent disappearance, now seemed highly suspect to us both. I am not one to think ill of anyone, so I reserved judgement and continued to assume his innocence.

 

I paid the undertaker a visit and paid the fees for John Fosberry’s burial, including a large marble gravestone to be carved in the manner of his family’s choosing. He was buried on the Monday. A cold wind howled through the trees that day, as if his spirit was saying farewell for the final time. My carriage stood in a secluded stretch of Great Elm Walk, waiting for the small burial party to leave. They could not see me, and, even if they had, the assumption would be that I was visiting another grave, so far was I from where they stood.

 

After they left I walked to John’s grave and laid a wreath of flowers on the mound of earth waiting to be piled onto the coffin. “I will never forget you, John.” My voice broke and I bit my lip, trying to keep the tears away. “You will live in my heart forever, until the end of time. I am an elf, and we never forget those whose memory we cherish. We never forget those whom we love, and I did love you. I loved you with all my heart and being. I miss you so much. I just wish there was a way you could know.” The wind picked up and blew my hair backwards. The snap of a twig nearby caused me to spin round. “Who’s there?”

 

By the trunk of a great elm I saw John. The light shone through him but my eyes were not mistaken. He looked at me and smiled. His mouth opened, “I love you too.” The wind carried his voice and it rang in my ears, filling my heart with joy and desperate sadness. The snow swirled up and surrounded him, blowing a whirlwind around his body, then it stopped and fell to the ground with a suddenness that astonished me. John was fading. It made my heart sing that he had a smile on his face. He waved farewell before disappearing forever. As I walked back to the carriage I felt lighter, as if my being had accepted that John’s part in my life was truly over. I had said goodbye and so had he. He would indeed remain in my heart, but now was the time to look forward and embrace the future.

 

The final event of the week happened four days after I said goodbye to John. There was a rap on the door and Winkle brought a visitor up to see me. Looking at his letter of request, it seemed that he was in great distress because a family member had been kidnapped. He had the particular handwriting of one who seeks to deceive. I will always see such people because the reason for their lies intrigues me.

 

 

 

 

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“What is your real reason for coming here?” I asked as soon as my visitor walked through the door. Winkle closed the door behind him and we were left alone. Knowing him, his ear would be against the door; he is a policeman after all.

 

My guest started. I doubt he expected such a forthright question. For a brief moment he looked startled before regaining his composure.

 

“Continue no further with your investigation into the theft of the Arctic Diamond.” He sashayed to the window and peered out. His elegant use of space intrigued me; only one elf had ever walked with such grace and I wished that I could remember his name. I had practically ignored him during my tenure in Imladris. He was always unattainable, the promise of warmth masking a heart of ice. How he played his admirers, assuring them that his love was only for them, that they were more worthy than the others, before casting them down onto the jagged rocks of despair. “We know your every move. If you continue to investigate, your friend, Bunchy Cheverell, will die. I do not need to ask if you understand.”

 

“You fiend! Who sent you?”

 

“One older and wiser than you.”

 

“Who do you talk of? There are very few who are older than me. You know that.”

 

He smiled. His skin, whiter than powdered lead, accentuated the black lashes framing his almond eyes. The flush on his cheeks looked painted on rather than natural, and his lips were definitely tinted dark pink.  In all he was an exotic creature, unafraid of those who might judge him, because he had the presence to fill them with awe.

 

“There are few who are older, but I am sure there are many times that number who are wiser.” His lips curled upwards in a faint sneer.

 

“It is time for you to leave,” I said firmly. Taking his elbow, I led him to the door. The sweet, cloying smell of black orchids emanated with every movement he made.

 

“It was interesting to meet you again,” he said and held out his gloved hand.

 

We shook hands. His grip was unnaturally firm for such an effete creature and caught me by surprise. Instinctively I pulled away, but not before a sharp pain assaulted my palm. Strong arms caught me as I fell to the floor, a hand covering my mouth. Winkle would not have heard a thing.

 

Green eyes, the colour of poison, mocked me. “Glorfindel, always so straitlaced and pure. Always the hero, beloved by everyone, yet unable to love anyone in return.” He kissed me, and I am ashamed to say I enjoyed it. In my defence, I could not move and was completely at his mercy. His sinful tongue stroked against mine in a practised, lazy glide, before his decadent lips closed over my mouth. My heart raced and a forbidden thrill of pleasure coursed through my body, such a luxury while being in the utmost danger and completely at his mercy. Then I remember no more.

 

The noxious whiff of smelling salts brought me to my senses. Winkle shook my shoulder and loudly called my name, while Mrs. Clavell slapped my cheek several times to rouse me. Both looked relieved when I opened my eyes.

 

“Leave me alone,” I said, guarding my face. “Where is that fiend?”

 

“Your guest asked me to procure a carriage for him. I accompanied him to the street and saw a carriage waiting. I thought it a bit odd that he would request such a thing when his carriage was outside, so I raced up the stairs to see if you were all right.”

 

“It was a simple ruse, which enabled him to make his escape.” I said as I tried to stand up.

 

“I should have...”

 

“How could you have known?” I shrugged. “I fell for a simple ruse as well.” I showed his the small, red hole where the spike had shot into my palm before dusting my clothes. “He drugged me. His gloved hand shook mine and then I remember no more.” Winkle did not need to know about the kiss.

 

“Massingberd needs to know about this,” Winkle said grimly. “This was a murder attempt without a doubt.”

 

“If he had intended upon killing me then I would indeed be dead now. This was a warning not to investigate the theft of the Arctic Diamond. Bunchy’s life depends upon it.”

 

“The damnable swine,” Winkle uttered, more to himself than Mrs. Clavell and me.

 

“Mr. Winkle!” Mrs. Clavell’s lips tightened to a thin white line. “Such language is never necessary.”

 

“I apologise.” Winkle’s cheeks flushed red. He looked at me. “Sorry, My Lord.”

 

“No harm done, considering the circumstances,” I replied in a somewhat jolly tone. “We are all somewhat stressed. Mrs. Clavell, shall we all have a restorative cup of tea? Let’s go.”

 

We trooped downstairs to the kitchen, in spite of Mrs. Clavell’s protests that it would be unseemly to drink tea with the servants. The cook was more enthusiastic and insisted on showing me the pheasant she had procured for my dinner the next day.

 

The large kitchen was filled with the aroma of cakes and pastries fresh from the large range ovens. I took one and bit into it.

 

“Mrs. Wiggins, your cakes are absolutely marvellous. Indeed, Lord Buckley was hinting that you should go to work for him when he came to tea last week. He was eating one of your butterfly cakes. I challenged him to a duel, there and then, and called him a scoundrel.”

 

“My Lord,” Mrs. Wiggins cackled. “You do go on so. You are like a ray of sunshine.” Her red cheeks shone like summer apples. She wiped her nose with the back of her arm and sat down opposite me. Mrs. Clavell looked most disapprovingly at the both of us.

 

Ten housemaids joined us, as did my valet, four footmen, the laundress, the four undercooks and the boot boy. I keep a small complement of household staff; more than I have already is not necessary in any London residence except for the Palace.

 

The whole table looked uncomfortable and ill at ease; it is not the done thing for the master to eat with his staff. I cared not; I needed the company and to feel safe. “In my home country, it is not unseemly for the master of the house to eat with his servants on special occasions. According to Mr. Winkle, I have just survived an attempt upon my life, so this is a special occasion for all of us.” Never a truer word was spoken by myself as to this being a special occasion. When a servant’s employer died they could often find themselves out on the street, homeless and with nowhere to go. “I have decided. We are not in England anymore; we are in Russia, where I grew up. We are to eat, drink and enjoy good conversation.”

 

“Well, I am glad you didn’t die,” Mrs Wiggins told me. “I would have had to work for Lord Buckley.” She pulled a face and then laughed uproariously. “That would never do!”

 

I laughed too, followed by Winkle. By the second cup of tea we were telling stories of our lives amid much laughter. They were fascinated by my experiences in Gondolin, the inconsistencies being ironed out so they were compatible with an imaginary childhood spent in Russia. Even though I never grew up in that fair country, I had lived there for two hundred years before moving to England. In 1770, I caught the eye of Catherine the Great, while at a ball in St. Petersburg. For the next five years I was her lover and my life was not my own. For my services, I was made a Count and granted huge estates and four thousand serfs to maintain them. Eventually, she tired of me and I was dismissed. This was normal for Catherine; among the nobles frequenting her court it was a source of wonder that I had lasted for so long. Ten years ago, I sold the estates to my nearest neighbour and left the country; he had always coveted them and paid a magnificent sum. The political situation in Russia was always precarious, but for years now she has been on a downward slide to disaster and I did not want to be part of her fall. I have lived too long not to recognise the signs of eventual destruction.

 

After a prolonged holiday touring Europe, I arrived in London and bought a large villa overlooking Regent’s Park. I had gone from living in a three hundred and fifty room Russian palace to a London house with only twenty bedrooms, not including those allotted to the servants. Such is life. To compensate for the lack of space, I bought a huge estate in Cornwall and built a magnificent house, in the Russian style, that overlooked the sea. Every summer, the London household closes and we all go to the seaside. The journey is long, but in London the social calendar is dead during the summer months anyway. Besides, I loved my old life and every time I visit my seaside house I am reminded of the happy times I spent in that now remote country.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

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There was no point in trying to trace my murderous guest. He would be long gone by now. There is no finding an elf who does not want to be found. Massingberd did not have a chance; however, all was not lost. My dangerous guest had revealed more than he intended. The one who sent him must be another elf, simply because he was stated as being older than I am. The perfume he wore was much favoured by those who enjoy an addiction to the opium poppy, being able to cover the pungent, sweet, flowery smell of the smoke. Limehouse, an especially foul and crime ridden part of the East End of London, is filled with opium dens, so many that one would not know where to start, but that was likely to be where he was based. It occurred to me that the Black Sapphire Gang’s role in the robbery was limited and they had burgled on the orders of a crime organisation far larger than they could ever hope to be. If that was so, then I feared where this might lead and wondered if I truly could resist them.

 

After a good night’s sleep I would discuss my theories with Massingberd. He had several policemen working undercover in the Limehouse area and he would be able to liaise with them before I conspicuously started investigating again. I had to know exactly where to look and needed their expertise to inform my decisions.

 

Among his other duties, my valet is responsible for placing the hot stone jars in my bed to warm it through before I retire. I heard a thud from the floor above and wondered if he had dropped one of them. A few seconds later, he entered the drawing room in a state of fluster, and asked me to accompany him because of something in my bedroom. I raced up the stairs, leaving him to follow.

 

A single red rose lay on my pillow. Attached to it was a handwritten note:

 

We are everywhere.

 

Anger exploded through my body. How dare he! I would not allow one such as him to taunt me. The next time I saw him he would rue the day he was born.

 

 

 

 

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The next day I had a morning appointment to see my tailor in Piccadilly and would be lunching at Claridge’s afterwards with George Bernard Shaw. He had heard reports of the favourable conditions the serfs had enjoyed while in my tenure from ones who had fled Russia and desired to meet me.

 

Unlike many landowners, I gave each serf enough land to grow their own crops. I also allowed them to hunt in the forests and paid for their medical help, treating children, women and men equally. Because they were so healthy, they withstood many of the diseases that ravaged the malnourished serfs on the surrounding estates. I was criticised roundly for showing compassion to that part of society whom the upper classes considered little better than dogs, but I continued in spite of their derision. I did not have the power to stop the ages old system of serfdom, but I could at least help to ensure they were able to meet their basic needs. Through the ages I have seen how humans treat other humans and I am not impressed.

 

Lunch was enjoyable indeed and Shaw promised me two tickets for the first night of his new play, ‘John Bull’s Other Island’ when it shows at the Royal Court theatre next year.  I was so pleased that I insisted he allow me to pay for lunch. There was no hesitation on his part, and so I did.

 

After lunch, we arranged to meet again. I refused his offer to attend a Fabian Society meeting on the grounds that my position as a detective meant that I could not display political affiliations. In truth, the Arctic Diamond robbery consumed so much of my time that I had little to spare.

 

“Your past deeds prove your political affiliations,” Shaw told me as I shook his hand.

 

I stayed in the hotel lobby after he left and read The Times. I was particularly interested in the report of Orville Wright’s motorised aircraft flight. I am all for progression, but I am of the opinion that if Lord Eru had wanted us to fly he would have given us wings. I turned the page, looking briefly in the direction of the Foyer. There was that blasted elf!

 

I should have punched him on the nose. Instead, I acted like an English gentleman and nearly lost my life.

 

Hiding behind the broadsheet, I waited until he left so that I could follow him. I expected him to leave and go back to whatever nefarious haunt his master frequented. Instead, he ascended the stairs. Surely he was not staying here. I wondered what the management would think if they knew that hardened criminals were occupying their rooms. The perfidious elf opened the door to the Royal Suite and I followed right behind.

 

“Ha! I have you now!”

 

The room was empty. I raced into the bedroom and tried the wardrobes: they were empty. Next I looked in the bathroom and he was not there either. Where could he have gone? Unless he had jumped out of the window, which was closed, he must have vanished into thin air. The only other possibility was that he had managed to slip out of the room while I was looking for him. Yes, that must be it.

 

I sat down on the deep padded sofa and wondered how I was to catch one who was so slippery. On the table stood a bowl of deep red roses, their perfume awakening my senses. I had not seen ones so deeply red and voluptuous since leaving Russia. Small things can make one homesick and I had to remind myself that the decision to leave was for the best. For old times’ sake I stood up and bent over the table to breathe in the heady scent.

 

My mind began to spin in all directions as my body slumped to the floor. I had to escape before the drugged perfume overtook my senses. The room seemed to tilt at odd angles and my balance gave way to dizziness. Focussing on the door, I managed to reach it after what seemed a great amount of time. Sweat poured from my forehead and my mouth filled with pools of saliva. Each move was accompanied by agonizing pain in my joints; it was so intense that I imagined I might pass out, or even die, before I reached my goal.

 

The door was locked. There was nothing for it. With the greatest of effort I managed to drag myself into the bedroom, away from the rose scent and open the window by smashing it with my fist. Holding onto one of the blankets, I managed to push out some more of the glass to make a sizeable hole to breathe through. The wind and sleet howled through the broken pane, but it was too late; the drug overcame me by degrees that no amount of fresh air could prevent. I lay on my back, the room spinning around, my eyes trying not to close. Before I lost consciousness I saw two figures above me.

 

One of the figures was the elf who assaulted me the day before; he regarded me as if I was a slightly interesting specimen caught in a collecting jar. The elf beside him glared with such malevolence that I feared for my life. I knew him from my past, but my mind was in such a fever that I could not recall his name. “Quick, we need to go,” the first elf said urgently. Several voices were shouting and I could hear rapid footsteps, though it sounded muffled and far away.

 

His companion looked about him, as if trying to decide where to hide and then thinking better of it. He knelt down and told me in low tones that the next time he saw me I would die. “You are lucky this time,” he snarled. “You won’t be so again.” I did not feel lucky.

 

Unconsciousness overcame me. I understand that I was insensible for no less than a few minutes. My memory of waking is patchy but I know that Winkle was shaking me roughly and yelling my name. Knives of sleet struck my cheeks as soundly as if I had been forcefully slapped. Chills shook my body as the freezing air gusted through my open shirt. Winkle held onto me, almost pushing my head through the window. Awareness came quickly and I fought to push back, away from the outside air. Winkle must have sensed that I was becoming more alert. He lowered his voice and told me not to resist, already two policemen had been overcome by the fumes from the roses and had to be taken to hospital.

 

A man with a luxuriant moustache that extended beyond the corners of his mouth bent down and peered into my eyes. “Lord Glorfindel, I presume? I am Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is a pleasure to meet you, even though the circumstances could be more fortunate. Do you think you can walk?”

 

“I fear I am somewhat indisposed, but I am pleased to meet you too.” I shook his hand and Winkle helped me to my feet. I felt a bit shaky and was glad of his help. “You must forgive my composure; I have the filthiest headache.”

 

“Not at all.”  Conan Doyle looked relieved and I wondered how near to death I had been. “Massingberd has arranged for a carriage to meet us outside the staff entrance to the hotel. Fortunately, the roses have already been removed, otherwise I would not dare to go into that room.”

 

 

 

 

 

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We made our way down several flights of stairs and exited around the back of the hotel. A police carriage took Conan Doyle and myself to my house. Winkle followed in a carriage behind. Because of his assiduous attention to his task of ensuring my safety, he had saved my life. He had observed me following the elf to the room and had followed at a distance. The elves escaped and he was torn as to whether he should pursue them or investigate. His first loyalty was to me and so he tried to open the door and found it locked. He ran to the lobby and demanded the key, ordering them to telephone Scotland Yard for assistance. By this time I was unconscious. Conan Doyle, in one of those rare occurrences of good fortune, happened to be entering the hotel and offered assistance.

 

“A magnificent residence indeed,” Conan Doyle exclaimed as we drew up to my house.

 

“Thank you. Please join me for tea.” One of the footmen opened the door and we walked inside.

 

Conan Doyle was very complimentary about the interior of my house, saying it was a perfect example of Georgian Architecture.

 

“My palace in Russia was a feast to the eyes,” I mused as I led him into the drawing room. “Decorated with an extravagance I have never seen anywhere, not in the Russian Courts or even at Versailles. Such is the precariousness of living in my old country that in a few years I might have found myself with no estates at all, so I do not regret leaving. My life is worth more than a pretty place to live.”

 

“Quite so,” Conan Doyle agreed. “But this house is splendid. I could not imagine any interior being more so.”

 

“The walls in my old bedroom were studded with flowers made from gemstones. Such extravagance belongs in my past. I am comfortable here.” I shrugged. “There are many refugees who are not so blessed.”

 

We indulged in idle chatter while afternoon tea was being served. When the servants left we discussed the events in the hotel.

 

“I do believe that an organisation of far greater power than any could perceive is behind the attempt on my life. They can move in any strata of society and infiltrate governments at the highest levels. Their insidious shadow extends over the whole of Europe, their claws gripping the heart and soul of every country, ripping the peace from the lives of their people and plunging them into the chaos of war.”

 

Conan Doyle looked astonished and his face was deathly white. “I have heard rumours of such an organisation but it seems too fantastical to be a reality. However, the Balkan states are in a particular state of unrest and that will surely have an effect on the surrounding countries.”

 

“If Britain becomes a seat of unrest as well then we are looking at possible worldwide war.”

 

“Why do you believe that an organisation so powerful would try to kill you?”

 

“Because I am in their way. No organisation would attempt to carry out a murder in public, not unless they had the confidence to know they were above the law. However, that is for Massingberd to follow through. This is the third attempt on my life, and so it has become too dangerous for me to investigate further. It started with a country house theft, but I fear it has become so much more.”

 

“Quite so. No one could blame you for bowing out.” Conan Doyle smiled grimly. “The whole thing sounds too far-fetched. But that is what they want us to think. Isn’t it?” He put his empty cup on the saucer and picked up a cake. “Why they want to create so much unrest is beyond me.”

 

“They seek world domination. A ruined continent can rise from the ashes as a new world order, sweeping away the old powers and casting their eye over the rest of the world. None would suspect the organisation behind it and individual countries and their governments would be held accountable, because no one could countenance being manipulated by such a power of evil.”

 

“I fear for my children. What sort of world will they inherit?”

 

“Who can know?” I said softly.

 

 

 

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I was not going to give up the investigation but it suited me very well for others to think that I was. Conan Doyle’s high profile would ensure that he spread the word, even though I do not think he is the sort to gossip. He would merely say that he had spent afternoon tea with me and that I was without an investigation to pursue at the moment. Eavesdroppers were everywhere and I could count on at least one person in his social circle to report what he said.

 

My thoughts turned to Bunchy Cheverell. He was my friend before he disappeared. In the fog that had surrounded my thoughts, I really did believe that he was abducted by the organisation and his life was in the most fearful peril, but not now. The bullet did hit the gravestone and Bunchy hadn’t shot anyone, even though he declared that he did. The supposed victim fell down because that is what he was ordered to do. The bullet was never meant to hit him, but neither was it intended to strike the gravestone, and without that piece of evidence I would have still viewed Bunchy as a friend who needed saving. When I woke up in the hospital the back of my head was swollen and painful. The area of the injury was quite defined, indicating that I had been struck from close quarters, even though I could not remember it happening. I was assured by the doctor who tended me that victims often do not remember the assault that renders them unconscious and so the only conclusion I can draw is that Bunchy Cheverell tried to kill me.

 

I left the house in disguise and under the cover of darkness. The snow had melted into a grey slush and the air was bitterly cold. Casual observers would have seen two footmen leaving my residence. Winkle and I looked the part and like servants we did not get a carriage; they would cost more than a footman could afford and so we walked to town.

 

A horse drawn omnibus was passing when we reached the main road, so we jumped onto it, alighting within walking distance of Vauxhall Bridge. We crossed to the south side of the river. Scotland Yard maintained a group of safe houses throughout the seedier parts of London. We headed for the one in Vauxhall, which could be reached by following a back alley between two boarding houses. The whole area was unlit and I half expected to be assaulted in the dark. Winkle felt it too and we were both relieved when we entered the house.

 

Once inside we waited for Massingberd, who would also arrive in disguise. He walked in dressed as a nun, the long black habit covering his size ten leather boots.

 

“Get the laughter over and done with,” Massingberd sighed. “Now what have you to tell me?”

 

I told Massingberd about my theories of an organisation that was hell bent on controlling the world and that Bunchy was up to his neck in the whole conspiracy. “Their next robbery will be the crown jewels,” I said confidently. “The Guisborough Park robbery was a practice run for something much larger; both sites employ the same security system. They took the Arctic Diamond necklace to see if the security could be broken and found it could. They also intended sending the message, to those who suspected their existence, that they could commit any crime they wanted to.  The fact that they left thousands of pounds worth of jewellery behind means that they have a bigger scenario in mind and do not need the financial advantages that such a collection would afford them. If nothing else, that fact alone indicates the size and scale of our enemy.”

 

“The more jewellery that is fenced, the greater the chance we have of tracing them. That might be another reason why so much was left behind.”

 

“Indeed,” I agreed.  “Although, I suspect they have the means to bypass traditional methods of disposal and are able to control it themselves. They are not cheap criminals; their tentacles penetrate every echelon of society.”

 

The room was quiet as I spoke. Both Massingberd and Winkle appreciated the gravity of the situation and the horrors their existence could eventually bring to the innocent men, women and children of this country.

 

“What’s that?” Winkle shot up from his seat. A piercing female scream came from outside, followed by more. It sounded as if mayhem had erupted.

 

“Stay here, it could be a trap,” Massingberd ordered. “Lord Glorfindel, sit down. If this is a trick, then your life could be in peril.”

 

“I suspect the worst. You may need me, Massingberd.”

 

“Lord Glorfindel, sit down,” Winkle advised. “Let us wait to see how the land lies before acting in haste.”

 

I am the sort of elf who leaps into action without a care for my own safety, but Winkle’s advice made sense. Massingberd ran to the hallway and was met by a fresh faced police officer who hurriedly explained that a man was hanging from the sign outside the Queen’s Head Tavern.

 

“Well, I had better go and look,” Massingberd said before the policeman gave him an incredulous stare and asked if he was really going to attend the body dressed as a nun.

 

“Sir, with respect, the moment you open your mouth everyone will know that you are not a nun at all.”

 

“Do you think anyone will be looking at me when they can gawp at a dead body?

 

The policeman was right and Massingberd knew it, but he seemed loathe to stay inside when a crime had been committed. He shot out the front door leaving us to wait.

 

“I would give my eye teeth to see the crowd when Massingberd opens his mouth,” Winkle chuckled.

 

About ten minutes later, Massingberd and several police officers hauled the dead body into the Queen’s Head Tavern. They cleared everyone out and waited for reinforcements so the body could be collected. There is a tunnel that runs from the back of the tavern to the safe house and when the coast was clear Winkle and I were invited to go through it so we could inspect the victim.

 

“Bunchy Cheverell,” I said sadly.

 

“There was a note pinned to his jacket, addressed to you. We will need it as evidence.”

 

I took the note and broke the seal. “I would not touch this without wearing gloves,” I said with a grim smile on my lips.

 

“What does it say?”

 

You are next.” There was no signature. I gave the note back to Massingberd. “I refuse to be intimidated by those swine.” A small bright object fell from the envelope onto the floor, clattering lightly until it came to rest at Massingberd’s boot. “The Arctic Diamond!”

 

“Evidence,” Massingberd said grimly while putting it back in the envelope with the note and secreting the lot in his inside breast pocket.

 

Poor Bunchy. I wonder if he had any notion of the danger he was in. I suspect he had outlived his usefulness and so they killed him. It was as simple as that. They had no loyalty to their followers and considered them expendable.

 

“Take his jacket and shirt off,” I said to Winkle. “Let’s settle this once and for all.”

 

“What are we looking for?”

 

“A mark. A sign that he belonged to them.”

 

I lifted Bunchy’s bare arm up and in the armpit, under a luxuriant growth of hair, was a small tattoo of three diamonds with the word ‘Illuminati’ written in Quenya. “The fool,” I sighed before letting his arm drop. “He was one of them.”

 

“They kill their own, eh?” Massingberd said and gave a low whistle of disbelief. “What roused your suspicion?”

 

“His method of death. He died through peaceful means, and then his body was hanged from the pub sign. There are no noose marks on his neck. When I looked under his armpit I saw the edges of lividity that forms when the blood sinks through the body. He died a while ago and his body has been kept cold to stop it from decomposing. That would explain the lack of rigor mortis, which seems to have eased off some hours ago.” I put my nose to his lips and sniffed. “He was overcome by the same rose perfume that nearly killed me. That is why he has no marks of violence upon his body.”

 

“We will step up security at the Tower,” Massingberd whispered, while we walked to the back of the room.

 

 

 

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The next morning I received a telegram from The Tower of London post office, inviting me to collaborate with a group of advisors to ensure the Crown Jewels would remain safe. Winkle accompanied me and we rode in a carriage to the east side of the City.

 

We were permitted entrance and our carriage proceeded to the Wakefield Tower where the Crown Jewels were housed.  We were the last to arrive, for in the chamber there stood the Earl of Balfour, the British Prime minister; Captain Churchill of the Queen’s own Oxfordshire Hussars and Sir Edward Henry, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

 

Winkle stayed outside on guard. “Count Glorfindel,” our Beefeater guide boomed as I walked in. He exited while I greeted everyone in the room.

 

There was something wrong about the way Churchill stood; I had not seen it before. He looked at me, a faint sneer of successful deception on his lips. I was caught in a trap. One that I had willingly walked into.

 

“You are not...” I said quickly as the horror of my predicament dawned on me.

 

“We are everywhere,” the one who posed as Lord Balfour said before spraying a noxious liquid in my face.

 

I was paralysed. My eyes remained open and I seemed awake, but I could not call for help. I hoped with all my being that Winkle would sense my distress, but it was unlikely. They were clever; no one would question such prestigious guests. Moving was impossible and yet I still tried, knowing the alternative was certain death.

 

They held me up between them and bustled me towards the tower door, joking and laughing as they did so. We appeared to be a group of good friends as we left the tower. My arms were held firmly to keep me upright and I appeared to be a willing part of the group. One of them imitated my voice and told Winkle to report that I had gone to Downing Street for a private lunch so we could discuss the problem in private.

 

Winkle left immediately, which allowed my abductors to push me into a carriage without being subject to suspicion. The carriage exited the Tower grounds and I felt as if all hope was lost.

 

‘Churchill’ worked at the side of his face and pulled away what appeared to be a layer of skin. After removing the last bits he gave a satisfied smirk. “We warned you.”

 

Before me sat the elf who had taunted me with his presence at my house and in Claridges. My lips could not move and the only response I could make was a guttural sound in my throat.

 

“Of course, this gentleman is not Lord Balfour and neither is this gentleman Sir Edward Henry. “ The elf let out a trill of laughter before taking an item from his pocket. “You will be regaining your strength soon,” he said, much to my relief. “So I have to inject you with a rare serum extracted from a tropical South American Orchid. It is to be hoped that you wake up, because we have not yet finished with you.” My relief turned to despair as his poison green eyes mocked me. He held my unresisting arm and pulled up the sleeve, rolling it to achieve a tourniquet effect. The needle pricked into the bulging vein in the crook of my elbow. He drew back a small amount of blood before pressing the plunger home. The last I remember was my arm flopping onto my lap before I passed out completely.

 

 

 

 

 

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How long had I been unconscious? All around me was grey. The walls seemed to close in and then extend further up than I knew was possible. The floor rocked dangerously; akin to a raft in a heavy storm. Vomiting seemed a force I could not prevent and I managed to move my head just enough to avoid soiling the bed. If the room had not been so hot I might have been able to hold myself.

 

Handcuffs held my wrists to the iron bed frame; it was solid and, I suspect, bolted to the floor. Movement proved impossible. Over the other side of the room sat what appeared to be two wooden boxes on a bench, they were blurred to my vision but they seemed to be coffins. A thrill of horror raced through my being, a sick fear filling my senses. Were they coffins? My eyes could not tell; the drug had clouded them so that all I could see was a blur. Could dead bodies be lying within them? Or, perhaps, one of them was meant for me? The damp, musty smell of death assaulted my nostrils and I wondered if I would die too. Being rescued seemed a remote possibility and I doubted that anyone knew I was here.

 

Who would let a man wake only to kill him? Was seeing my own coffin a fulfilment of some sick thrill? This organisation was twisted enough, of that I was sure.  I tried to gauge my surroundings, to see if there might be an avenue of escape, but the cloudiness affecting my sight was unrelenting. After struggling with my bonds for the next few minutes I gave up, weary and resigned that I would have to wait for them to make their move. The room was still in a state of motion and at some point I must have blacked out.

 

A rough hand shook me awake. I came to with a start and felt a momentary relief that I was not dead. Perhaps I was being rescued. A hand smacked across my face while the voice ordered me to open my eyes. How confusing. I knew the voice but had never heard it so rough and hateful.

 

“Fosberry!” I exclaimed. “But you are dead.” How could the one I love be alive? For a moment I was glad to see him, but then I registered the contemptuous look on his face. He was indeed alive, but he did not love me. Here was a man I had shared my body with, to whom I would have given the stars if I could reach out to touch them. My heart broke. His sneering betrayal cut the very essence of my soul.

 

“Obviously I am not dead,” he smirked.

 

“I saw your ghost,” I protested. How silly of me to say such a thing; he would not care.

 

“An illusion. Smoke and mirrors. How we laughed at you, offering to pay for the burial of a body that did not exist. We laughed even more when we saw you talking to an empty grave.”

 

“There was a post mortem...”

 

“The pathologist is in our employ as well.” He sneered again. “You have been duped. Let me tell you how clever we have been. After all, you are going to die very soon and will not be able to tell anyone. I am going to enjoy every minute of this.”

 

“I am not interested, neither am I afraid of death.” Criminals who express the desire to taunt their victim with how clever they think they have been are always disappointed when they are not listened to. Did he expect me to say how ingenious he had been, perhaps?

 

Fosberry grabbed my hair. “You will listen.”

 

I shrugged and made out that I was more interested in the ceiling; the whitewash was peeling away in several places around the edges where it met the wall.

 

“Bunchy was in on it,” Fosberry said. “He had ceased to be of use while alive, so it suited us to kill him. It seems you have no friends at all, Lord Glorfindel. You should have stayed in Russia.”

 

“I knew he was in on it. I knew from the start.”

 

“No you didn’t.” For a split second he looked uncertain. “How could you have known?”

 

“You are going to kill me anyway so why should I tell you?”

 

“I might make your death less horrific if you do.” It seemed he really wanted to know.

 

“Lord Námo will take me before any of the awfulness.”

 

“I doubt anyone will take you. No one knows where you are.” There was a tiny flicker in his eyes when I said that, a barely perceptible widening of the pupils. He had heard of Lord Námo before.

 

“Well, have it your way. As I said before, I am not interested.”

 

“You kept the diary that I wrote. Didn’t you? When my so-called sister arrived back here with my possessions it was missing. She is not my sister, by the way. It will probably not surprise you that the funeral director is in our employ as well.”

 

“Why don’t you tell me something that I have not worked out already? I also know that you are not the leader of this organisation. They have their claws in you, just as they did with Bunchy.”

 

“I am the mastermind behind all of this. It took a couple of years to dupe you, but I did it. The foremost detective in London is now removed with no one to take his place. You were the obstacle to our success because, unlike everyone else, you would have been able to work out what we were doing. You cannot do that now.” He laughed; it was more of a snigger really, and it was then I knew that all feeling for my former lover had died. He was pathetic and expendable. What is more, I told him. He shrugged and said that my words were really a judgement of my own inabilities.

 

“Kill me,” I said as if I had not a care in the world. “The police are holding onto the diary, which is in a sealed envelope to be opened if I meet an untimely end. The details of our lovemaking are in it. No doubt you intended at one point to blackmail me. That is how the criminal organisation you work for gains most of their employees, isn’t it? Whether they open it or not is academic. I will be dead, but when they find you, the implication will carry your death sentence.”

 

“To all intents and purposes I am already dead,” Fosberry smirked.

 

“You will have to live your life undercover for the rest of your days. Not able to show your face in any society for fear of being recognised. One day you will be careless enough to think that everyone has forgotten and that is when Massingberd will pounce. He will charge you with my disappearance and you will swing at the end of a rope.”

 

“Massingberd is in our employ and so is Winkle,” Fosberry said confidently. “Nothing will happen to me.”

 

“No, they are not. Your body language says otherwise. No one can control the unconscious signals they emit when lying. Plain and simple, you are not telling the truth. You are a liar.” It was my turn to smirk.

 

It mattered not to Fosberry. “I can quite see why Bunchy Cheverell volunteered to cosh you over the head in the cemetery. It was nearly a fight between us as to who would have the honour. It was meant to kill you, by the way, and I still cannot understand how it did not.”

 

“So who is your boss? I already know you are quite far down in the pecking order. You also do not have the brains to mastermind the jewel robbery.” I had to keep him talking. Every moment surely meant that help was nearer. Winkle would know that I was missing by now. Massingberd was bound to have checked with Downing Street to enquire if the Prime Minister really was having a private dinner. He did not leave anything to chance, which is why he was an inspector and Winkle was not.

 

“You thought the next robbery was going to be in the Tower of London, but it will be in a far grander setting. You fell for our ruse, which means that you are the one lacking in brains.”

 

“The Illuminati will kill you in the end. Their loyalty is time limited at best.”

 

Fosberry’s face paled. “For even uttering their name you will die,” he hissed in my face.

 

“I was going to die anyway,” I told him. “Illuminati. Illuminati. Illuminati...” I smirked as I said the name of the most secret organisation in the whole world. Childish, I know, but I had nothing to lose.

 

Fosberry looked worried; sick with fear, in fact.

 

“So you are not the leader. You are nothing but a common lackey, doing his master’s bidding.”

 

“Liar!” Fosberry exclaimed, raising his voice, but not so high that we might be overheard. My plan to make him shout loud enough to reveal our position was not going well. I would not shout because I did not want his dagger slitting my throat to shut me up. He carried a gun as well, even though I was handcuffed to the bed. “You seek to cause a diversion. The great Count Glorfindel, a victim of his own folly, hopes to be rescued.”

 

“How clever the organ grinder’s monkey appears when his master is away,” I smirked. Fosberry backhanded me across the face. Had I not been handcuffed to the bed I would have broke both his arms, such was my anger. “Perhaps I touched a nerve.” Another backhander followed. A punch would have wrought far more damage but I was not going to give him advice on how to hurt me.

 

“For the moment I think I will keep you alive,” Fosberry said, assuming an exterior of icy calm to suppress his raging torrent of anger. “Then you can see the spoils of the robbery and know that the prize was far bigger than anything you could ever possibly dream of. Though, that all depends on whether you survive the attentions of Queen Victoria.”

 

I gave him a derisive stare. It was all he was worth.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

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“I bought Queen Victoria while I was in Malakand...”

 

“No doubt fighting for the other side.”

 

“You will be most amused when you see what type of creature she is. Or perhaps not. I will give you a sporting chance. Although it is no chance at all really, but no one can say that I am not a fair man. Don’t get your hopes up; there is no antidote.”

 

He went outside the room and returned with a red painted axe sporting a dark wooden handle. He swung it hard and I wondered if he was going to hit me. I could not escape, so I shut my eyes and waited for the blow. To my utmost surprise, the chain on one handcuff was severed by the axe blade and my right hand was freed. The other hand remained cuffed to the bed.

 

“We have already searched you for anything that can be used to pick the lock,” Fosberry smirked. He left the room and returned with a large basket of the type used by snake charmers. “Queen Victoria is starving. Say hello before she bites you.” He upended the contents of the basket on the floor and with the utmost haste he ran to the door. “If you are still alive by the time I come back, which I doubt very much, you will have the honour of seeing the greatest diamond that has ever existed. You will die shortly afterwards, of course.”

 

“A foolish name for a snake,” I said imperiously. “But then, the one who named her is a fool.”

 

“Brave words will not save you,” Fosberry taunted from the doorway.  

 

The king cobra before me was at least ten feet long and extremely displeased that her sleep had been disturbed. She reared up and hissed, her hood widening in a threatening display. Terror sharpens the mind and mine was at a razor’s edge. I did not dare to move, not even to blink. Breathing was not an option and I hoped that the snake would look away before I passed out.

 

Her sleek, black body, ringed down the length with faint yellow crossbands, swayed from side to side, still maintaining the aggressive upright posture and showing her creamy, scaled underside. When my lungs were about to burst, she turned suddenly and dived towards Fosberry, who closed the door just in time. I took a deep breath as silently as I could.

 

Fosberry locked me in with the snake and I wondered at what point it might strike. Maybe it would not. From what I knew about King Cobras they were likely to attack only if threatened, although, one could not count on a snake following any generality; it could strike at random and I would be dead within the half hour.

 

 

 

 

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Chapter Text

 

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It is a fact of life that when all seems lost a slender chance of fortune may present at the most fortuitous moment. A large object smashed through the skylight and crashed onto the floor near the bed. The snake dived for it, striking repeatedly, the yellow-white venom spurting from its fangs. Some of it hit my boot.

 

The wind rushed through the hole in the window and the room quickly became chilly. The snake seemed to slow down; as a cold blooded reptile it would become more sluggish as the room cooled. No doubt Queen Victoria was the reason for the room being so hot, causing me to wonder if she had killed any others before my tenure. It seemed highly likely.

 

Slowly and carefully, I lowered my feet from the bed to the floor. Every slight movement was done with the knowledge that the snake was still dangerous and her needle sharp fangs could penetrate the leather of my boots. Her head swayed as if she fought the desire to sleep. Carefully my hand reached forward. The characteristic cobra hood was relaxed, meaning her guard was down and that sleep was overcoming her ability to stay awake. She was still dangerous but at least I had a chance.

 

Careful to make no noise at all, I reached further. One false move and she would turn swiftly and pierce my hand. Intense concentration overrode any personal discomfort. Sweat poured down my forehead and I wondered if my grip would fail. There was no time to wipe my sweaty palms. If I failed now my life would be lost.

 

Quicker than lightning strikes a lone tree, I grabbed her by the neck. She twisted furiously, hissing a growling sound as the venom sprayed from her fangs. A small streak of poison hit the wall. If she had not attacked the object that flew through the window the stream would have been more copious. The cobra wrapped her body around my neck, trying to gain some purchase in her efforts to break free.

 

The snake’s face was next to mine. The coils of her body tightened and I thought I might pass out. I had heard of King Cobras killing small animals this way but there was no evidence that they used the move on larger beings. There was nothing for it. Desperation forces us to use methods that can be distasteful but necessary all the same.

 

Keeping a firm hold, I moved across the bed and transferred Queen Victoria’s head to my other hand, so she was held against the bar of the bed frame.  Her body writhed and the coils around my neck tightened as my free fist smashed down upon her skull. After two more blows she was no more. The grip loosened and I flung her to the floor.

 

The large object on the floor was a rock wrapped in paper. A key, dripping with venom, was attached on a length of string. I used the bed sheet to wipe the poison away and saw that the paper was a note addressed to me. In a neat but flowery script, it said, ‘Glorfindel, use this key to open the door; the other end will open the handcuffs. In one of the coffins is a set of your best clothing. Put it on. Go up the stairs. The key will let you out of the main door as well. We have to fly to Buckingham Palace before it’s too late. Your friend, Erestor.’

 

That was his name! I could not remember the perfidious elf’s name but now the remembrance hit me as if a lightning bolt had struck my head. Why should I trust him? On the other hand, how could I not. In the nearest coffin sat my clothing bound in a brown paper parcel. I did not like to look in the other one.

 

After changing, I unlocked the room and went up the stairs. At the top was a door that was easily opened. It seemed that the room was under the chapel at Abney Park Cemetery.  No wonder Fosberry wanted his coffin to be buried here. He could keep an eye out from his lair and watch to see if I visited his false grave.

 

 

 

 

 

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“Quick, over here,” Erestor called from his carriage.

 

I marched straight up to him and punched in the direction of his nose, while shouting that it was a just repayment for trying to kill me. Within seconds I was bundled into the carriage and held face down on the seat.

 

“I am and always will be a better fighter than you,” Erestor said calmly. He shut the door to the carriage and called to the driver to make haste to Buckingham Palace.

 

The carriage set off with a start and it was a bumpy ride indeed. All the while, Erestor explained that he needed my help and that if he wanted to kill me before he could have done so quite easily.

 

“We are on the same side,” he said softly to me as I slowly sat up. “Don’t let the carriage driver hear you. I do not know if I can trust him. All I know is that he does not work for the organisation.”

 

“What is going on?” I hissed.

 

“We are going to foil the most daring robbery that has ever been attempted.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Erestor would say no more. His face assumed the composure of those who find life mundane but his eyes glittered with wild excitement.

 

It was pointless asking him to explain what course of action he intended and I suspect that part of his excitement was because he was keeping his secret from me. I had no choice but to accompany him; however, giving him my trust was a different matter entirely. I wondered how he had become so strong; he had certainly not been so in Imladris. In fact, I had despised him for his weakness. All those years ago he had led an effete lifestyle, to the point that I had never seen him engage in any activity whatsoever. I was especially galled that he never once took part in any of the battles or conflicts that threatened the elves. He need not think that everything was all right now.

 

We drew up outside Buckingham Palace. The guard saluted Erestor and called for the gates to be opened. We drove through and I wondered what power Erestor had that allowed him access to the most prestigious address in the land. There was little inclination on my part to ask him, even though the question intrigued me.

 

"It's snowing again," Erestor sighed. "If my work was not so important here, I would go and live in a hot country."

 

"This weather is mild compared to Russia."

 

"Yes, but we are not in Russia," Erestor replied with a trace of annoyance in his voice.

 

"Ah, there you are," Massingberd called. He held the door open for us. "Come along, it’s cold out there." It was also dark and the snow fell lightly enough to melt upon contact with the ground.

 

We entered the palace and ascended a set of stone stairs. I looked at the decoration on the walls and mentally compared them to my old palace in Russia. Buckingham Palace was grand but could not compare to my old home. Homesickness hits at the most inopportune of times. Every single refugee in London knew the value of what they were forced to leave behind. There was no return to the old life and we grieved as if we had endured the death of a loved one. Such is the price of war, unrest, prejudice, or even immortality; nothing is forever.

 

After walking through a maze of corridors and two anterooms, our eyes were met by the sight of the grand staircase. There are, in fact, two staircases leading upwards to a shared balcony. The white marble steps are covered with a red carpet and a lavish bronze gilt balustrade encloses the whole structure. Full length portraits of the royal family were fixed to the white and gold stuccoed walls.

 

“Similar to the staircase in the left wing of your Russian palace,” Erestor said without inflection. “Although your central staircase was far grander.”

 

I spun around, ready to attack him, before Massingberd stopped me. He caught hold of my arm and said that the Crown had double agents everywhere. “I doubt Erestor is loyal to anyone but himself,” I snarled.

 

“We do not have time for anything but the job in hand,” Massingberd said urgently.

 

“He is the one who tried to kill me,” I hissed back.

 

“You survived because I wanted you to live,” Erestor snapped imperiously. “I was certainly ordered to kill you on each occasion, but I made it appear as if you somehow survived. Indeed, thanks to my interventions, my boss now considers you more resistant and stronger than you actually are. I need not add that your survival came at great risk to myself.”

 

“Do not hold your breath waiting for me to thank you,” I shot back. “That snake could have killed me.”

 

“You always were a self-important and supercilious oik,” Erestor smirked. “I was Elrond’s greatest spy and you were merely the captain of his guards. I am skilled in the use of artful deception and you are still jealous.”

 

“To Hell with you,” I replied dismissively, intending to talk no more to one so vile. I doubted his claim to have been in Elrond’s high estimation. Elrond would have surely informed me if Erestor held such a high status. As for being jealous, the accusation was laughable.

 

 

 

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We walked to the South Drawing Room where guests congregate before proceeding to the Banqueting Hall. I had been a guest of Edward VII when he hosted a private dinner earlier in the year. The purpose was to assess the views of the Russian nobility resident in London towards an Entente Cordial between Great Britain and Russia. One such agreement was already in place with France, and the British Government sought to extend it to Russia. These were early days, but given the worsening situation in Germany with Kaiser Wilhelm it seemed a sensible move.

 

Beyond was the State Banqueting Hall. Servants moved quickly and efficiently, in readiness for the final course. Blue Wilton plates held frothy, pastel coloured puddings and were swiftly taken through to be served to the guests. We could hear much laughter and it seemed that everyone was having the most agreeable time.

 

“Why are we here?” I asked Massingberd. “There seems to be nothing amiss.”

 

“I have it on good authority that the King will be called out on a matter of urgency at the end of the meal and before the cigars and brandy start. We will follow him because we do not know exactly where the robbers are.” Massingberd spoke in low tones. “To all intents and purposes we are undercover security. That is what the staff have been told anyway.”

 

“And they believe that?” I asked disbelievingly. I thought of my own appearance: shoulder length, flaxen blond hair was a rare sight in London and that feature alone made me highly recognisable.

 

Massingberd shook his head and smiled. “Probably not.”

 

“Many of the staff here are in the employ of the Illuminati,” Erestor said softly. “They will assume that you are both members of the organisation because you are with me. Look, that footman has the note already in his hand.”

 

We watched as a liveried servant crossed the room and made his way to where Edward VII sat. He gave him the note and waited. The King shot up from his seat and hastily excused himself, before hurrying from the room.

 

“Does he know what is about to happen?”

 

“He knows part of what will happen,” Erestor replied. “We could not tell him everything, because we need him to act in a certain way; to do otherwise could upset our plans to catch one of the most nefarious criminals in history.”

 

“And who is he?”

 

“No time for that. Come along. Now is the time to save the Crown.” Erestor shot forward, pulling me closely behind. I suppose he thought that I might not show the same haste.

 

We followed the King to a bedroom in a suite of rooms on the second floor. Erestor informed me that it belonged to Edward VII. His current mistress had been tied up and bundled into a wardrobe in the dressing room. “I have a part to play,” he said to me. For the first time I saw concern in his eyes. “Glorfindel, it is highly likely that I will lose my life when my betrayal becomes apparent. I know you despise me, but I beg of you, do not let my last actions count for nothing.”

 

“You have my word,” I replied softly, my lips tightening with shame at how I had misread him earlier.

 

 

 

 

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“Behind that chair is a sword and a set of throwing knives. Here is my gun.” Erestor handed his weapon to me. “I will be too close to the King to use it.”

 

“You are unarmed,” I protested.

 

“Not so,” Erestor grinned before walking away.

 

“No spy gives his gun away without having something equally effective upon his person,” Massingberd said softly.

 

The ruse with the servants must have been effective because none questioned our presence. In the bedroom we could see Edward VII protesting loudly as he was tied up. He ordered his valet to help but was met with gales of laughter from everyone in the room, including Erestor.

 

The elf who had accompanied Erestor at Claridges poked the King with his stick. “We know the Imperial State Crown is here. Give it to us or die.”

 

“I would rather die,” the King spat back.

 

Erestor stroked the elf’s cheek in greeting before kissing him lightly on the lips. “Maglor, darling, if we kill him, we will still have no crown. Perhaps we should torture him instead?”

 

“Ah, Erestor,” Maglor replied. “You are always a restraint for my impetuosity.” I watched as they murmured endearments, wondering why their exchange irked me so.

 

“We should go in now,” I whispered to Massingberd. He nodded his head and told me to wait.

 

A tiny hand nestled in mine. I looked down, expecting to see a child, and stared in disbelief. “You are dead!”

 

“No I am not,” Queen Victoria indignantly replied. She seemed around four and a half feet tall and was wearing a black dressing gown. On top of her head perched a tiny crown.

 

“I attended your funeral.”

 

“That was my dog,” she replied sadly. “I was playing in the garden and I think that is what happened.”

 

“She is barking mad,” Massingberd whispered. “It was considered an expedient move to announce her death and let Edward take the throne, so she could live out the rest of her days in comfort.”

 

“Isn’t that why there is the position of regent?”

 

“Not after she clobbered a servant over the head with a warming pan and killed him. They normally keep her locked up.”

 

I looked down at the old lady beside me. She gave me a broad smile and a cheeky wink before licking her lips. “You are very pretty. Are you a girl dressed up as a man?”

 

“No, your Majesty.”

 

Massingberd found her remark very funny.

 

“What are those people doing to Bertie?” Queen Victoria let go of my hand and ran forward. The King had let out a yell after Maglor caned the soles of his feet three times in succession. “That is not the right way to use a cane!” She ran into the room before we could stop her, and tried to wrestle the cane from Maglor, shouting that she would show them how to do it properly.

 

“She never did like him,” Massingberd muttered.

 

Maglor appeared so surprised that a feather could have knocked him off his feet. “But you are dead.”

 

“She has escaped,” the King groaned.

 

“We know you have the Imperial State Crown here in your apartment,” Erestor said, bent over the King as if tending to his needs.  “Give us the combination to the safe and we will let you live.”

 

“You would not dare to kill me!” King Edward spluttered, so outraged that his nose and cheeks shone bright red. I wondered if that was part of what Erestor and Massingberd had not told him or whether he was just a good actor.

 

“Any death can be made to look natural,” Erestor smirked. “Including yours. All this high living and indulgence...”

 

“Give my crown back,” Queen Victoria shrieked, jumping as high as she could in a vain attempt to reach it. Maglor had snatched the tiny crown from her head and held it just out of reach, a taunting grin on his face.

 

“Erestor will give us the signal shortly and we will step in,” Massingberd whispered. From our vantage point outside we could see the occupants of the room but had to be careful we were not seen in return.

 

The sword and knives were secreted on my person, as was the gun, while we waited for the signal; it seemed like forever.

 

“Give me the code to the safe and you can have your crown back,” Maglor demanded, still taunting the old lady.

 

“Mamma, don’t,” the King yelped as the cane whacked across the top of his feet.

 

Queen Victoria gave the safe combination to Maglor in return for her crown. She was like a happy five year old when she got it back. She took absolutely no notice when the Imperial State Crown was removed from the safe until Maglor put it on Edward VII’s head and told him to savour the feeling because it was the last time he would ever wear it.

 

“That’s my crown,” Queen Victoria shouted.  “He is not allowed to wear it.”

 

“You already have one,” Maglor snapped back as he took the crown from the King’s head.

 

“Give it to me or else!”

 

“Or else wha...Aagh!” Maglor bent over in sudden pain. Queen Victoria had punched him in the balls, which were just below eye level for her. She took the crown and then she brought her knee up under Maglor’s chin. His head hit a marble statue while she danced with glee. Maglor quickly stood up, snatched back the crown and took a knife from his pocket. He dug the knife into the side of a large diamond, situated under a sizeable ruby, in an attempt to remove it. The last time I had seen the crown, a large sapphire had been in place of the diamond.

 

“It’s glass,” King Edward said wearily.

 

Maglor held the stone up to the light and frowned before roaring a yell of dismay. “Am I never to return home?” he yelled as if to the gods above.

 

“That will teach you not to steal our jewels,” the queen chuckled. “We sold them all and had copies made. You have been diddled.”

 

Erestor allowed himself a smile before casting a glance at us.

 

“Time to go,” Massingberd said and charged forward. I followed in his wake.

 

Maglor saw the glance. He threw the glass stone to the floor and pulled out his gun, just as Erestor released Edward VII from his bonds. “Die, traitor!” Maglor screamed as if possessed, and fired a shot which missed.

 

I grabbed Maglor from behind while Massingberd knocked the gun from his hand. Maglor proved to be far stronger than me; he broke free and snatched at a heavy iron sword resting against the nearest chair, waving it around so wildly that everyone dived for cover.

 

“Bertie, why are your friends so badly behaved?” Queen Victoria demanded. She pointed at Maglor. “I imagine his mother is very disappointed with him. I know just how she feels.”

 

“Shut up, you mad old cow,” Maglor yelled before running from the room. He stopped at the doorway. “You haven’t seen the last of me, Erestor.”

 

The servants, all in the employ of the Illuminati, tried to escape, but a ring of policemen engulfed them. Amazingly, Maglor was able to take a flying leap over their heads and run down the staircase. I fought my way through the police cordon and pursued him, running as fast as I could. Erestor caught up with me and we agreed to split up. He was holding Maglor’s gun.

 

It was easy to find Maglor; all I had to do was follow the trail of injured or dead servants. It was hard for me not to help them, but I had a killer to catch; one who was desperate and without natural caution now that the stone he obviously thought was a Silmaril proved to be nothing more than a piece of glass.

 

I ran down the wide main corridor linking the various rooms and apartments. None of the doors were open, so I sped to the Grand Staircase. Maglor was there on the balcony level.

 

“Prepare to die,” Maglor roared, lunging at me with his sword. My light sword was no match for his larger one and so I feinted various moves while trying to pull the throwing knives from my belt.

 

I was heartily sick of the perfidious elf; his hair flailed about his face and his large brown eyes shone with anger. “If you kill me, I will be reborn in Valinor,” I laughed with a bravado that was not echoed by the trepidation in my heart. “You will probably end up in the Void.”

 

“Not if I take the Silmaril back with me,” Maglor snarled, his teeth bared against dark pink lips. “You won’t stop me. It is here somewhere.”

 

“You shouldn’t have thrown it in the sea,” I taunted.

 

“Fool! It is not in the sea. It was never in the sea.” He lunged forward and I skipped out of the way.

 

“The Elven Chronicles state that you threw it in the sea.”

 

“Well I didn’t. Maedhros did not jump into the fire either. Both stones are in England and I mean to have at least one of them.” He jumped out of the way and my throwing knife hit the portrait of the late Prince Albert square in the chest.

 

“What happened to Maedhros?” I asked, buying time so I could retrieve another throwing knife. “I bet you killed him in his sleep. You look the sort of elf who would do that.”

 

“Nearly right.” Maglor chuckled as if remembering something particularly amusing. “He was killed by a round of cheese. It hit him on the head.”

 

“What?”

 

“He was sunbathing at the bottom of a hill during a cheese rolling contest. Now, stay still so I can kill you. The balrog got you the first time and I will get you the second.”

 

“Your grammar is appalling...”

 

“So is your girly hair...” A knife whizzed past from behind Maglor. He spun around, hate and anger in his eyes and his lips bared with rage. Erestor stood still and pulled the trigger, firing a single shot. Not a word was exchanged between them.

 

Fëanor’s last remaining ion fell to the floor. His death was not the most dramatic. He just crumpled as the blood flowed from his chest, spreading a dark stain over his evening suit. His sightless eyes stared upwards while a small well of blood bubbled out of his mouth and spilt down his cheek. I knelt down to check for remaining signs of life.

 

“It is over,” Erestor said sadly. “There are so few of us left. Look out...”

 

Before I could answer, the most incredible pain shot through my head and bolted down my spine. I remember an old lady above me, dancing a jig with a poker, exclaiming how she had killed Prince Albert’s murderer. “You won’t do that again,” she admonished, cackling wildly. I looked up at the damaged painting of her late husband as unconsciousness claimed me.

 

 

 

 

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My name was being called and the noxious stench of smelling salts brought me to my senses.

 

“My head,” I groaned. The walls were moving and nothing seemed to stay still.

 

“Mamma, you need to apologise,” I heard the King say.

 

“No, I don’t.”

 

“Apologise now.”

 

“No.” Queen Victoria assumed the posture of a wilful, recalcitrant child. She wandered around to my other side and snuggled against Erestor. “Dear Albert; this dreadful woman killed your picture.”

 

“He is a man,” Erestor replied, trying to suppress laughter.

 

“We think he looks like a girl, therefore he is,” the Queen said slowly as if trying to explain to a child.

 

“Then we have to feel sorry for him.” I considered that remark very naughty of Erestor.

 

“Bertie has some horrid friends. Have you seen the mess on the carpet? His friend did that. I think we should make Bertie clean it up.”

 

“Mamma, Papa is dead. He died years ago. You are talking to Lord Erestor, Head of the Secret Service.”

 

“Bertie is such a fantasist,” the Queen said softly to Erestor. “Let the servants look after this young lady and we can go to our rooms and play our Bacchus and the naughty dryad game. Although you have to promise that we do not have any more children.”

 

“MAMMA!” his Royal Highness said loudly in exasperation. “You. Take the Queen back to her rooms and make sure she does not get out again.” The Court Physician, who was just about to see to me, took Queen Victoria’s hand and told her that John Brown was waiting to give her a bagpipe lesson. She ran off, accompanied by the doctor, with an indecent haste that belied her ancient years.

 

 “The Court Physician will be back soon,” Edward VII said. “He will make sure you are all right.” Two servants helped me walk to a small room nearby and deposited me on a chaise-longue. The King left almost immediately, after thanking me for saving the Crown Jewels and promising that everything would be explained when I was recovered. I remembered no more after that.

 

 

 

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Erestor stayed in my house for the next week. He was enigmatic when I asked about the events at the Palace and told me that all would be revealed in good time. I found his refusal to discuss what happened somewhat infuriating but quickly resigned myself to waiting until he was ready to tell. He suspected that Queen Victoria’s assault upon my head with the poker had caused my skull to crack; indeed, he said he could feel the line of indentation. He was probably right. For the first few days I suffered extreme dizziness and nausea with altered vision and a splitting headache as well. Erestor seemed to be there whenever I opened my eyes. I remember his voice and the bitter tasting draughts he held to my lips that sent me back into a hazy, pain free oblivion.

 

When I awoke properly and came to my senses, Erestor continued to care for me, much to Mrs Clavell’s chagrin. She had still not forgiven Erestor for that day in my drawing room when he left me on the floor senseless. I did not like to consider how my natural functions had been managed by him; indeed, the thought was highly embarrassing. However, Erestor proved to have little respect for decent personal boundaries and I found myself in a constant state of unease.

 

One pictures in the mind visions of the patient laying in a crisp white linen sheeted bed, wearing clean pyjamas of the striped variety, light streaming in from the window and a vase of fresh flowers on the table. The reality is far from that. No piece of prose or painted picture has ever described the carbolic smell, the rumpled sheets or the unpleasant odours associated with natural functions and sweat. Neither have they shown the ubiquitous chamber pot being peered at by Erestor, who stated several times that the state of a man’s health could be determined by the colour of his urine and the denseness of his faecal matter. I was not surprised at all when he informed me that he was writing a paper on the very subject. I had no choice but to recover quickly so his invasion of my privacy could cease.

 

On the fifth day I declared myself recovered. Erestor laughed and told me to get back into bed. We were eating breakfast at the table, over the other side of my bedroom, and I had managed a small slice of toast spread with Seville orange marmalade. I felt some resentment towards Erestor but was heartily glad to climb back in between the sheets again. My headache eased when I lay down.

 

Two days later I dressed for the first time in a week.

 

Erestor and I went for a short stroll in the garden. “Will you at least tell me some of what happened?” We were walking along a path edged with box privet.

 

Erestor smiled. “What do you want to know?”

 

“Everything.”

 

“I will tell you a little of the background. It is well known that too much information of any kind can have a deleterious effect upon the invalid’s imagination, causing relapses, fugue states and untoward hallucinations. I would not want to impede your recovery.”

 

“I am not an invalid.”

 

“Yes you are.”

 

“You are being obtuse.”

 

“Really? Perhaps we should return. The cold air seems to have instilled you with a bad humour.”

 

“How can you presume to make such decisions? You are not a doctor, after all.”

 

“Am I not? Lord Elrond would beg to differ.” Erestor turned around and started in the direction of the house. “Come along. You have had enough of the winter air.”

 

“I will not be treated like a child,” I shouted after him.

 

Erestor continued to walk away from me.

 

 

 

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The next day Erestor was more forthcoming. We were stuck in the house while a driving sleet pounded against the windows. I was feeling much better, even though a residual headache remained.

 

“Will you tell me now what I desire to know?” I asked. We sat in the drawing room by the fire. Erestor was toasting a crumpet at the end of a fork.

 

“I can answer some questions, mainly of a background nature. The rest will be answered later on when we attend the Palace.”

 

“We are going to the Palace?”

 

“The official invitation has not yet been sent, but yes, we are.”

 

“All right. Let’s start from the beginning, beings as you will not give me any information from the other day. Tell me about yourself in Imladris.”

 

“That is going as far back into the background as anyone can,” Erestor smiled. “I was Lord Elrond’s protégé. The day I was born, he took an oath to ensure my safety and raise me as his own son if my father was killed or captured, which he was about fifty years later. He died during the last battle of the Final Alliance and Elrond was as good as his word. He had already taught me the arts of healing, battle, strategy, spying, deception, poisons and so much more. With my father’s death he refined his teachings and also taught me how to rule. Before he was killed, my father had also taken an interest in that part of my training. When Imladris was infiltrated with spies from the other realms, Elrond ordered that I lead the life of an effete, pleasure loving elf, with no skills other than laziness and seduction.  Through my efforts we identified many spies and fed them false information. Thranduil closed his kingdom to us when we sent his spies back to him. His fit of temper lasted two hundred years. Remarkable, eh?”

 

“Why would Elrond make such an oath? Your father must have been an important elf indeed.”

 

“I was born the wrong side of the sheets. My father was listed as without issue in the Elven Chronicles and only a few acknowledged my true heredity. It was an open secret that I was his son. He was an important elf, but that is all I am prepared to tell you.”

 

There was only one elf for whom Elrond would swear such an oath, but it was useless asking Erestor to confirm my suspicions. “How did you meet Maglor?”

 

“We were Jesuit priests in fifteenth century Italy; before that we led separate lives, never meeting or even knowing about each other. Galileo, one of our circle of astronomers, proposed that we should form a group of enlightened thinkers and he called us ‘Illuminati’. The history books record the movement as starting in Bavaria during the eighteenth century, but that is what Maglor wanted everyone to think. We were a secret organisation by necessity when we first formed, but Maglor’s constant mistrust of everything around him ensured we remained so. He was often possessed of paranoia and cried out in his sleep, calling for the Valar to protect him from the demons that invaded his dreams. Sometime I would drug his food just to get a decent night’s sleep.”

 

“You slept with him?” The thought struck me with disgust.

 

“Only when either of us wanted sex and couldn’t be bothered to go back to our beds,” Erestor replied brazenly. “Don’t look at me like that. Maglor was a complex elf who truly bore the weight of his own madness upon his shoulders. Plus, I doubt any elf could prove a better lover.”

 

“I bet I could,” I blurted and immediately wished I had said nothing. My cheeks flushed hot and red.

 

“A Freudian slip if ever I heard one,” Erestor smirked.

 

“I am going back to bed,” I said as primly as possible.

 

Erestor treated me to a gale of laughter as I walked away. “Was that an invitation?” he called out before laughing some more.

 

 

 

 

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When I woke up my tormentor was sitting beside the bed sporting a large grin. “Are you feeling less judgemental now?” he asked brightly. I turned away with the intention of ignoring him.

 

“Maglor proved to be adept at being a criminal. I don’t believe any of this stuff about him showing remorse for taking the oath of his father. That was fanciful thinking at its best. The only enjoyment Maglor had was when he was planning a crime. We had to eat and being a criminal seemed to pay more than ordinary work.” Erestor sighed. “Ten years ago Maglor went off in search of the Silmaril, forbidding me to accompany him. He did not trust anyone, least of all another elf. I used forged papers and offered my services to the Crown, determined that Maglor’s disloyalty would be his undoing. He arrived back from South Africa a year ago, announcing that he had probably located one of the Silmarils in South Africa. He knew it was in England and hoped to steal it. He could not before because the diamond had left before he arrived at the mine.”

 

Erestor had caught my interest with his last sentence. “Why did he think it was a Silmaril?”

 

“How often does a mine produce an already cut diamond?”

 

“What? That’s incredible.”

 

“The whole affair is very secret and the newspapers never got a sniff of the find. The mine workers were paid to keep their mouths shut, but who would believe a cut diamond had been retrieved from the earth anyway. I made sure that Maglor was informed that the diamond would be part of the Imperial State Crown and that is when he put into motion one of his most daring plans yet. The Illuminati has tentacles everywhere, it truly is a worldwide organisation, so Maglor was able to find out about the security system employed at the Tower of London quite easily and that a similar one was employed at Guisborough Park. As you know a trial run was attempted and was deemed successful. Then Maglor found out that the diamond would be stored at the Palace.”

 

“Then why the charade at the Tower?” I asked.

 

“The mere fact that you were investigating was enough for Maglor to have you killed. He said not all was lost with the diamond’s change of venue and we could kidnap you at our leisure. When you arrived in this country, John Fosberry was put in place so he could spy on your movements, purely because you were so rich. Maglor wanted to blackmail you, but your life of complete abstinence made that impossible, so he had to be content with reports of your movements and hope that you slipped up at some point.”

 

“Abstinence?”

 

“Yes. Fosberry ventured that you were probably a virgin because no woman was ever seen in your bed.”

 

I allowed myself a small, secret smile. Fosberry had never told of our liaisons. Perhaps he was ashamed or he feared being blackmailed, or being turned over to the authorities and spending the rest of his life in prison. He certainly did not omit to tell because of any feeling he might have for me.

 

“No woman was ever in my bed.” I could be enigmatic as well. “Why didn’t Maglor rob me instead?”

 

“Who robs the house of a detective?” Erestor chuckled. “Really. The very thought. Anyway, as soon as you went to Guisborough Park your fate was sealed. I was ordered to kill you. You know the rest.”

 

I turned over but Erestor had already left the room.

 

“What happened to Fosberry after he left me in the room with the snake?” I called out.

 

Erestor reappeared at the bedroom door. “Maglor decided that with your capture, Fosberry would be superfluous. I followed his orders and snapped his neck. A man who leaves his victim at the mercy of a dangerous snake deserves no less.”

 

“Quite so. Did you kill Bunchy?” I asked quietly, mortified that Erestor could kill in cold blood.

 

“The Illuminati was as much mine as it was Maglor’s.” Erestor smiled and walked away. He had not answered my question, but in my heart I knew the answer.

 

 

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Two days later Erestor and I sat in my best carriage wending our way to Buckingham Palace. We wore our best evening wear and appeared very smart indeed. 

 

“Tell me about Winkle. Was he a member of your gang? I must say, Massingberd has been very tight lipped about his absence.”

 

“You will have to ask Massingberd about his absence. I really have no idea.”

 

“So you didn’t kill him?”

 

“I am not the killer of everyone who disappears,” Erestor replied dryly. “He was not in my employ, so I have no idea of his whereabouts.”

 

“Tell me about the Black Sapphire Gang? Are they really so careless as to leave one of their members behind?” I referred to the dead man found at Guisborough Park.

 

“No, of course not,” Erestor chuckled. “The gang didn’t even carry out the robbery. Maglor planted the dead man there. Well, he wasn’t dead at the time, but he was heavily drugged. We planned the explosion to make the tunnel collapse on him. It was the ideal way to divert attention away from the Illuminati and make sure you went to the cemetery. When you went to Manor Park Cemetery you were attacked by our men. Maglor had killed most of the Black Sapphire gang a couple of weeks before; he suspected they were trying to double cross him.”

 

“And were they?”

 

Erestor shrugged. “Maglor thought that everyone was plotting against him. He even tried to have me killed once. He spent nearly a year reflecting on his mistake. His recovery took a long time because I made it so.”

 

“You frighten me. Do you have any conscience?”

 

“I sometimes wonder that myself.” Erestor looked like a cat fed on cream. He lifted the blind. “The snow has started again.”

 

 

 

 

 

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We were taken to Edward VII’s private apartment within Buckingham Palace. We exchanged the usual formalities before sitting down on a mustard yellow, cushioned sofa. Massingberd joined us almost immediately after. The butler served the drinks and we said hardly a word until he left.

 

“Come on Massingberd,” the King called as the Inspector walked through the door. “It is very bad form to be later than me.”

 

“My apologies, your Majesty,” Massingberd said humbly, a state I had never seen him assume before. “We have just rounded up the last of the people working in the Illuminati headquarters in Limehouse, a salacious area at best.”

 

“They all need a damned good thrashing. Anyway Massingberd, sit down and the butler can give you a drink before we go in to dinner. How goes the destruction of my enemies?”

 

“I have spent a major part of the day sending telegrams to heads of state informing them of Illuminati bases within their own countries. The news of positive action has been most encouraging.” Massingberd sipped his whiskey and soda.

 

“Because of your swift action, Massingberd, I would estimate that the threat of a European war has been delayed by at least ten years,” Erestor said approvingly.

 

“I could not have done it without your input.” Massingberd’s cheeks flushed slightly, but we were sitting by a blazing open fire at least six feet wide.

 

“You are too modest,” Erestor told him. “I supplied the information but you used it to maximum effect. We are seeing the end of a protracted period of terror and unrest and now we look forward to one of peace.”

 

“Quite so,” the King agreed, a genial smile on his face. “It must have been particularly dreadful for you, Erestor, being undercover in all that awfulness.”

 

Erestor sighed, as if he had saved the world from itself and found it lacking. “I hope with all my heart that my actions were not for nothing.” How noble Erestor sounded. I wondered what he was up to. His explanations earlier on belied the self righteous twaddle he had just told the King.

 

“The Crown will always be immensely grateful for the actions of a few brave men,” the King said.  He looked at me. “I expect you are wondering about the stone in my crown?”

 

“I am wondering about all I witnessed here,” I replied.

 

“Erestor is my chief spy. It is an imagination-defying story so perhaps he could explain.”

 

Erestor smiled at each of us in turn. “Very well then. The Illuminati is a worldwide organisation with its tentacles in every strata of society in every country in the world. Prince Maglor, his last name unknown to us, headed this organisation, plotting outrages across the world and causing wars and unrest in his bid for ultimate worldwide power. He would have succeeded if he had not been fed reports of a large cut diamond mined in the Premier Diamond Mine in South Africa. For reasons about which we can only speculate, he considered that the diamond was the key to world rule.” So far, Erestor was being very economical with the truth.

 

“As if a cut diamond could be mined,” Massingberd tutted. “Had he lost his wits?” Obviously he was hearing this part of the story for the first time as well.

 

Erestor continued. “It would seem at first consideration that Maglor had indeed lost his wits. However, not one, but two cut diamonds were indeed recovered from that mine and sent in secret to England. It was all very hush hush, simply because of the nature of their appearance once the dirt had been washed off. The mine owners were paid off with a magnificent sum and so was the worker who, unfortunately, died shortly afterwards when a tunnel caved in.”

 

“Couldn’t have him talking...” Massingberd said disbelievingly, echoing what I was already thinking.

 

“I agree. It was most fortuitous, but sometimes that is the way fortune works.” Erestor raised his eyebrows, daring Massingberd to interrupt him again. “The diamonds were intended for the Crown Jewels, but the Illuminati were already looking for one of them and we knew they would stop at nothing to achieve their aims. It was suspected that Maglor wanted to build a weapon that could destroy whole cities, thus holding the world to ransom. The cut diamonds are of such brilliance that a beam could pass through either of them and be magnified in strength many times over. Such a weapon would then cease to exist only in the realms of fantasy and become reality. It was decided that a plan calling for the greatest of deceptions should be formulated and carried out, except that Maglor’s recent actions pre-empted our plans before they could be put into action. The Illuminati desired the stone, the one they knew about at least, and so it follows that other groups would want them too. Therefore, we decided to proceed with the plan to give the stones a history discrete from their true one. That way, the origins of the stones will fall into the realms of legend and they will acquire a more plausible background story.”

 

“Quite so,” the King murmured. He looked up. “Do go on.”  

 

“Next year a huge diamond will be found in Cullinan at the same mine as the cut diamonds were found. It will be a chunk of glass. Much show will be made of the discovery, and the stone will, apparently, be cut into a number of large stones and some smaller ones. The Crown owns enough large diamonds to make this a reality. Speculation will continue about the progress of the huge diamond so that the story of its origin is reinforced. Eventually, after the time it would take to cut so many diamonds, the stones will join the Crown Jewels, the real ones, not the fake ones in the King’s safe. Of course, there will be an overload of publicity when that happens. With luck, the cut stone rumours will die down and join the ranks of unlikely conspiracy stories.”

 

Erestor looked so pleased with himself. “Pray tell me how the recent events here fit in with the diamonds,” I requested.

 

“Perhaps I can explain some of what happened. I can give some background to that awful night, if nothing else.” Edward VII took a sip of his whiskey and soda before continuing. “As you know, my mother is possessed of a violent form of dementia. Out of respect for my mother and her position, it was decided by myself and a few others to announce her death and let her live her days in peace, being cared for by a few trusted servants and her doctors. I would not hold her up to the public ridicule suffered by George III, also, the political situation here and abroad is too fragile to withstand the Grandmother of Europe being diagnosed as ‘mad’.” Edward smiled sadly. “Poor Erestor; he looks nothing like my long dead father and yet my mother holds him in the utmost adoration because she thinks he does. Anyway, my mother quite often escapes and accuses me of keeping my father from her. Erestor and I cannot agree that her appearance then was good fortune or not. I say it was because she was the catalyst that eventually led to Maglor’s death.  Erestor disagrees because you were hurt. He can be quite soft hearted sometimes.”

 

Erestor smiled and decided to continue where the King left off. “Maglor found out that the diamond was not being held at the Tower but in the Palace. We think a servant must have told him.” I considered that Erestor would have been that ‘servant’ but held my tongue. “He needed the safe combination so it was decided to torture the King into revealing it, and for that he needed to be in residence. I informed Massingberd of the details and a plan was formulated to bring down Maglor and protect the Crown. You were there, so you know what happened. I have ensured that this affair remains a state secret. Indeed, the newspapers are not aware and the King’s absence from dinner was explained to everyone’s satisfaction. Apparently, an escapee from the Bethlehem Hospital had scaled the walls of the Palace because he believed himself to be the true King of England.” Erestor seemed unimpressed by my grin. “You may think it amusing, but this sort of thing happens at least twice a year.”

 

“Indeed it does,” the King agreed enthusiastically. “Getting back to the torture of my feet; I had no idea that Maglor would actually be allowed to do it.” It was obviously a sore point between him and Erestor.

 

“You played your part magnificently,” Erestor said as if full of admiration. “Your fortitude ensured an agreeable outcome for the Crown.”

 

“But not for my feet,” Edward muttered. It occurred to me that perhaps he might not have any idea of the significance of the diamonds; however, Erestor must have had his reasons for not telling him.

 

We had dinner shortly afterwards and a jolly time was had by all. Lillie Langtry, Edward VII’s mistress, entertained us to such a degree that I cannot remember such a joyous and convivial evening since leaving my old home. All good times must come to an end, so at midnight we bade our farewells and left the Palace.

 

 

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“We are not going home yet,” Erestor said to me. Massingberd sat beside him grinning like a Cheshire cat. “We have an assignation with a few friends. Ones who are most desirous of meeting you.”

 

If it were not for Massingberd’s presence, I would have accused Erestor of trickery. There was one last item of information I needed to know. “What happened to Winkle?” I asked Massingberd.

 

“When you were kidnapped at the Tower of London, Winkle contacted me straightaway. He did not believe that you were dining with the Prime Minister at Downing Street because there seemed to be no reason that you would be invited to do so. I sent a telegram to Erestor to tell him that I suspected you were kidnapped, but it seems he already knew it was happening. Winkle is, at present, spending two months on his sister’s farm in Devon. Ostensibly it is a holiday, however, he is likely to be safer there than in London.”

 

“I expect the Illuminati have branches in Devon,” I said wryly.

 

Erestor merely smirked.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

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We drew up outside a large house in Albion Square, Hackney. Although there were two front doors, Erestor informed me that it was one property inside.  We made our way up the white stone steps and the door opened by some unseen hand.

 

“The door opens automatically,” Erestor explained. “Though only if the occupants recognise us as friendly.”

 

I had never seen the like and said so. “You will get used to it,” Erestor replied enigmatically.

 

I wondered if I was walking to my doom. Erestor, by his own admissions, could not be trusted, and I thanked the Valar that the dependable and solid Massingberd was beside me. I felt that he was my only chance of emerging intact.

 

We ascended a narrow flight of stairs to an upper room. Opposite was a door covered with deeply padded black leather. The studs were in the shape of the sigil for Vingilot. Erestor’s eyes met my glance. “Pretty, aren’t they?”

 

The door opened to reveal a room in darkness beyond. Erestor led the way, while Massingberd held back saying that he was not allowed to go any further but would see me after the meeting.

 

With the utmost trepidation I walked into the darkness, Erestor guiding my footsteps. “It’s all terribly cloak and dagger,” he murmured softly, “but it is how we traditionalists like to do things.”

 

I sat down at what seemed a table with a sharp corner. Erestor sat at a right angle to me. My senses were heightened and I was certain that other people must be in the room. A dancing flame flickered in front of us and lit two candles. The room was so dark that I had not seen them before. Almost immediately after, a series of candles were lit and I saw that we were indeed not alone.

 

My mouth hung open in shock. “I had no idea,” I said softly. I looked at each of their smiling faces in turn. “For many years I thought I was the only elf left. Until I saw Erestor, I never dared to hope that there were any of us still alive.”

 

“Let us call this meeting of the Illuminati to order,” Erestor said. He held a diamond with a blue fire dancing within. “I hold in my hand the Morning and Evening star, the Silmaril of the Air, the jewel carried by Eärendil himself.” He placed the fist sized diamond on a small pedestal in the centre of the table. “The diamond will choose or reject you, Glorfindel, just as it has with all of us.” I did not like to think what the consequences of rejection might be.

 

The candles were suddenly extinguished and we sat in the dark. The diamond brightened so that everything in the room faded behind the brilliance. The intense radiance should have blinded my vision, but instead I saw with a clarity that stripped my soul to its bones. The light invaded every sense, refreshing my being and removing the world-weariness accumulated over thousands of years. I wanted to laugh, to run and jump, to love, to live.

 

“Glorfindel, consort to the High King of all the Elves in Middle-earth, find my brother and sister,” the stone whispered to me before shutting off the light and plunging us into darkness.

 

The candles were re-lit.

 

“The stone has chosen you,” Erestor announced. He looked at another elf. “Thank you, Eärendil.” An elf with long blond hair and a rakish look on his face took the jewel and put it in a black velvet bag, before placing it in a gold-chased box. Eärendil placed the box in the middle of the table. With a few words of incantation the box faded into invisibility. I formed the opinion that Elrond must look like his mother; Eärendil had sharper angles to his face and twinkling eyes.  At first glance he seemed to be possessed of an easy charm, suggestive of the intention of bad behaviour, which would have everyone he desired swooning at his feet.

 

“I do not understand why the Silmaril has chosen Glorfindel,” an elf at the end of the table said. I knew then that no one else had heard the stone’s message to me. “However, it is not up to me to question the stone. So Glorfindel, I welcome you to the table. I am Maedhros. Allow me to introduce you to my brothers, Curufin, Celegorm, Caranthir, Amrod and Amras. We have been charged with finishing our quest to recover the Silmarils. I am sad to say that Maglor was rejected by the stone many years ago, although it was probably for the best. I wish him peace now that he is in Lord Námo’s Halls.”

 

His brothers agreed with him, expressing their grief at his loss but adding that due to Maglor’s criminal tendencies, and his paranoia and madness, it was better that he believed them to be dead.

 

“Glorfindel, allow me to introduce my grandfather, Fingon,” Erestor said and gestured to an elf sitting beside him.

 

“You are Ereinion Gil-galad’s son,” I said, wondering why I was so surprised. I had suspected as much before, but now it was a reality and the shock hit me anew, especially as the stone had more or less told me as much. “That is why you sit at the head of the table. You consider yourself the King of the Elves.”

 

“Erestor is the King of the Elves,” Maedhros said, his voice almost stern.  “The Valar have commanded he be so. That means he is your king too.”

 

“Enough,” Erestor said serenely. “Let us get down to business. The two Silmarils are to form part of the Crown Jewels. A perfect copy of the Imperial State Crown, made with glass stones, was used to outwit Maglor; however, for us, the purpose was not to protect the diamonds so they could be used in the Crown Jewels, but to know they are in a secure place until we decide to steal them.”

 

“Now we know where the Silmarils are, let’s keep them there and enjoy living here some more,” Caranthir suggested. His brothers were in complete agreement.

 

“We can only get away with procrastinating for so long,” Fingon said. He smiled broadly. “I would like to continue living here for at least a few years more.”

 

“As would I,” Erestor looked at me. “Do you have any desire to return to the land of milk and honey?”

 

The elves at the table waited with baited breath. “Absolutely not. I like living here. We will have enough of our immortality in Valinor to avoid hurrying there right now.”

 

“Then we had better not steal the Silmarils just yet.” Erestor seemed very pleased with himself. “Glorfindel, the others already know this, so you should be aware of this as well. The largest Silmaril will become part of the sceptre and cross and the smaller one will be part of the Imperial State Crown. When we do feel like leaving this land, the Silmaril of Vingilot will allow us to break through any barrier and any crowd of people. We will be protected from harm so long as we hold it before us. As soon as the Silmaril of the Air joins with its brother and sister we will be transported to our home.”

 

“Theoretically we could go now, we just choose not to?”

 

“In reality we could go now,” Erestor replied.

 

The meeting came to an end and we left in the dead of night.

 

 

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Chapter Text

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Massingberd sat beside me in the carriage while Erestor sat opposite. We talked about the weather mainly, although Massingberd did remark the clock had turned past twelve and it was now Christmas Eve.

 

“My landlady will be making Christmas dinner, as she always does,” Massingberd said, a happy smile on his face. “We will probably share a bottle of her sparkling rhubarb wine as well.” We deposited him outside a small terraced house and said our farewells before leaving for home.

 

“What else did the stone tell you?” Erestor asked after we drew out of the street where Massingberd lived. “Let me guess. It desired that you reunite it with its brother and sister?”

 

“Yes. It also said I was consort to the High King of the Elves.”

 

”I suppose you will be when we marry in Valinor. Such unions are unheard of here, although many are lovers of their own sex.” Erestor shrugged before smiling in a sideways glance, suggesting an innocence that he had probably never possessed. “And we do love one another.”

 

“How can you presume so?”

 

“You loved Fosberry. I know you did, even though he denied it. Mrs Clavell, who is in my employ, told us so. She played her part admirably, don’t you agree?”

 

“I do not know what to think anymore.”

 

Erestor moved closer. “Do not think. Feel.” His lips touched mine and a thrill of pleasure erupted from my very centre. I gasped with a start, the knowledge of my emotional destiny suddenly revealed.

 

“I feel as if I have been walking blind for the whole of my life,” I said softly, looking at the one I loved with new eyes.

 

“I fell in love with you the first time I saw you in Imladris,” Erestor said softly. “I knew you despised me, so I decided to forget about you.”

 

“I am sorry.” Another kiss.

 

“When I found out that you never sailed, I looked for you. It took thousands of years but I found you in the end. It did not help that you sometimes changed your name.”

 

“When did you first find me? You knew about my Russian Palace after all.”

 

“I went there just after you moved to London. I remember being extremely annoyed and feeling the utmost defeat that you had slipped away again. Several times that has happened in the past thousand years, and I never saw you until now.” Erestor gave me a teasing smile. “I hope you are not as prim or as inexperienced as you seem.”

 

“You will find out.” I held Erestor in my arms and kissed him for all he was worth. I put all my heart and soul into making it the most lascivious kiss he had ever enjoyed. He looked at me, pupils wide with desire, cheeks flushed and lips parted, waiting for more.

 

For the first time I had the upper hand and Erestor was left wanting.

 

The carriage drew up outside my house and Erestor and I tumbled out, laughing for all we were worth. I felt drunk with happiness and I expect he did as well. The driver probably thought we were drunk via another source.

 

We ran up the stairs to my bedroom, locking the door behind us. Both of us hurriedly removed our clothes before jumping onto the bed.

 

We kissed and my hands roughly caressed the hard muscles along Erestor’s back. His body was fine indeed.  “You are so beautiful,” I said softly, unable to believe the depths of desire and love I now felt for an elf I previously despised. “I love you.” It was said; there was no going back.

 

“I love you,” Erestor said softly before pulling me closer for another kiss.

 

The night was spent in a constant state of passion. I felt as if I had never loved before, that everything else in my life had been nothing more than an empty illusion. We were borne away on a raft of desire, sailing the seas of endless love and all that comes with it. I would not be anywhere else other than in my soul-mate’s arms, making love to him and cherishing his presence forever more.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

We sat in the drawing room on Christmas Day. The snow pattered softly against the panes. The events of the past few weeks seemed a lifetime away in my memory. The presents were opened and we were waiting for dinner to be announced. Erestor, the servants and I would be dining together.

 

“This is a wonderful Christmas,” Erestor beamed.

 

“It is a rather muted celebration this year. I do think, though, that this will be one that I remember the fondest of them all.”

 

We clinked glasses and drank our champagne, neither of us wishing to be anywhere other than where we already were.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

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Epilogue

 

 

 

 

 

On the twenty-second of January, Nineteen hundred and six, Queen Victoria died, as opposed to the official date of death listed exactly five years before to the day. On the fourth of February we attended a private service in the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore. It had been the old Queen’s wish that Erestor attend. She referred to him as her ‘darling Albert’ but the King knew who she meant.

 

“There are some things that will never be told and will forever remain a secret,” Edward VII said to me after the service.

 

“Sir, you have my word that this secret will never pass my lips.”

 

King Edward VII looked tired, but he also appeared to have had a huge burden lifted from him. “We are five years into a new century and the Crown has carried out one of the grandest deceptions in the whole of its history. I wonder what further machinations will be necessary in the coming years. Perhaps it is fortunate that I am advancing in years, because I do not think I would want to live through the upheaval that is approaching.”

 

“Sir, you have my word that the Illuminati will guard the monarchy. No matter the upheaval, the Sceptre and Cross and the Imperial State Crown, the symbols of your right to rule, will always be protected along with the lives of your family and their way of life.”

 

“Then when the time comes, I shall die a happy man, knowing that everything was worth it in the end.”

 

I wondered if the king caught Erestor’s true meaning and decided that he could not have done. Perhaps Erestor’s speech was for my benefit alone. The Illuminati really would guard the Silmarils and any mechanisms that kept them in place, but I doubted they would give anyone or anything a second thought when they decided to take them. For take them they would; it was just a matter of when.

 

We walked away into the bleakness of the cold winter’s day. Neither of us knew what lay ahead and I, for one, would have it no other way. I looked at Erestor’s noble profile under the shelter of his black silk top hat and knew exactly why we would not return to Valinor. I possessed the prize and he possessed me; we might not have such freedom elsewhere.

 

“Look, the sun is breaking through the clouds.” Erestor pointed with his cane. “I think it might turn into a nice day.”

 

I nodded in contemplation. “I am quite sure it will.” I squeezed his hand and smiled. “Yes, I am sure it will. A nice day with a future brightened by hope. For us at least.”

 

We walked across the gravel to our carriage and drove away. The future was ours and we would decide its course. Neither of us would have it any other way in a world so full of unrest that the fate of men could not be assured. We were the lucky ones. When everything seemed lost we could escape, and we would. That time was coming, but for now life was for the living, and that was what we would do. Spring would come early this year and I was looking forward to it.

 

 

The End.

 

 

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The Imperial State Crown and The Sceptre of The Cross.