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Letter, William Graham to Alana Bloom
My Dear Alana--
I write to inform you of my safe arrival in Lithuania. The landscape here is breathtaking, though I am no poet to do it justice in describing it to you. The people have been polite and helpful, and I leave for the Count’s estate on the morrow. Please convey my thoughts and affections to the dogs and your father, whom I endeavour not to disappoint in my execution of this task. And to you, of course, I remain your devoted,
Journal of William Graham, Esq
I have arrived safely in Lithuania. The people are polite, though confused as to why an Englishman is journeying so far from his home. At least I have the excuse of language to forestall more than the most basic attempts at conversation.
I may confess, if only in the privacy of my journal and in what Alana calls my ‘abominable shorthand,’ that I share their confusion. For Alana’s sake I bear it-- for hers and her father’s, for I could not ask for more kindness than he has shewn me, taking me into the bosom of his family, encouraging and aiding me to follow in his own footsteps as a solicitor, and giving me a place in his firm upon the successful completion of my examination. For I, William Graham, am now an esquire, much good may it do me. But then I must have some occupation, and musty tomes of law are more convivial companions than many I have encountered.
I hope all is well in England. Gladstone was slightly unwell upon my departure, and I pray he has not gotten worse -- Alana cares for them as carefully as I could wish, but I do believe they miss me almost as much as I them.
We are to be married upon my return to England. My dear Alana -- so beautiful, so good-- surely you deserve better than me-- a man barely fit for company, awkward amongst strangers and barely better among friends. And yet you have always seen the best in me, even since our childhood. I pray I may prove worthy to call myself your husband.
And yet such as I am sent to speak to Count Lecter, to settle his affairs and speed his passage to our hallowed isle. God forbid I prove the first Englishman he encounter, lest he give up the whole affair at once.
I dreamt last night that I was lost, deep in the forest. An elk appeared before me, a giant such as we no longer have in England. It was black as pitch but seemed to gleam in the moonlight. We walked together, as though old friends. I placed my hand upon his neck and was horrified to find that when I removed it, the hand was covered in blood. I could not tell if it was mine or his.
Perhaps it was the spiced venison of last night sitting ill in my stomach.
While I know more Lithuanian than I have made known to those I encounter, I find myself wishing I were indeed fluent, for there is something amiss. I mentioned the Count to the proprietress of my inn, in hopes she might acquaint me with what manner of man he is. To my surprise, she made a gesture I have seen previously, and which I am told is meant to ward off the evil eye, and muttered something I could not understand.
I repeated the question to her husband, in hopes that he might answer, but he made the same gesture. They then engaged in a debate that grew so quick and heated that the inn’s other patrons began to take notice, several of them also making the very same warding gesture in my direction. I stood in the centre of this storm wondering what, indeed, I had stumbled upon. I quickly made my excuses and returned to my room to secure my things.
As I finished my packing, there came a knock upon my door. It was the landlady.
“Pone Graham, are you bound for Count Lecter’s?”
I replied that I was expected there this very evening. Her eyes widened and she clutched at the crucifix at her breast.
“Tonight? No, today of all the days you must not-- it is St. George’s Eve!”
I replied again, regretful, for she was clearly sincere and speaking out of a concern for myself, a stranger and a foreigner, that I could not help but find touching, but affirming that I must indeed go.
She continued with vague warnings of the peril which must befall me, slipping between English and Lithuanian as she grew more upset. For my part, I was unsure as to what I should do seeing a woman, older and a stranger to me, so disturbed. She broke into tears, and had it been in my power to acquiesce to her request I should have done so in an instant rather than see her continue so. But alas, I am not now my own master.
I could only thank her for her kind words and her hospitality and repeat that I must go, indeed, that my carriage was very shortly to leave.
“Stubborn Englishman! You would go to your death for the sake of your timetables!” She removed the crucifix from her neck and held it out to me. “You must take this. And do not take it off!”
As I could at least please her in this matter, I put the crucifix about my neck, tucking it into my shirt, for the chain is very long. It is clearly an object of some age, and precious to her. I attempted to offer her some coin for it, but she would accept none, insisting she would not take payment for doing her duty as a Christian.
As I pen this, the post has arrived. I shall write more upon my own arrival at the castle.
Am I mad? Has the old woman’s terror infected my mind with some strangeness? I should sleep, for it must be dawn soon and I have not yet been abed, but my mind races like a greyhound and I must endeavour to transcribe what I have seen lest I convince myself in the morning that it was only a fever dream brought about by local superstition and too many hours kept from my bed.
My companions for the first leg of my journey were two dour looking men, locals, who looked uninterested in conversing had I even made the attempt. One was content to glare at me when my legs not infrequently knocked against his in the cramped coach, while the other immediately fell asleep, snoring rather loudly. The road was rough, but our journey fast, and I had almost put aside the dire forebodings of earlier, excepting when the movement made me aware of the unfamiliar weight of the crucifix against my chest. Thus occupied in watching the landscape pass and lured almost into insensibility by the repeated rocking motions of the coach, I felt myself startle when it stopped suddenly at a crossroads just as dusk had set in in earnest. I peered out the window to see another vehicle blocking the path of our own, engaging in a heated sounding discussion with our driver.
Upon seeing me, the other driver called out in passable English, “Mister Graham! I am here to take you to your final destination.”
Surprised, I replied, “You were sent by Count Lecter to fetch me?”
The man made a brief nod and in the low light his eyes, hidden under the brim of his hat, almost seemed to flash red for a moment. “I do as the count desires. Please, come with me.”
Glancing up at my driver he had seemed almost frozen, but at my look he seemed to spring back to life, scrambling to retrieve my luggage from atop the carriage and almost flinging them to the ground as though it contained some dread contagion. I hoped he had not done the contents amiss in his haste, as they contained important legal texts and papers, as well as my own sparse belongings.
As I exited the coach, Count Lecter’s man picked up my discarded trunks and placed them in his own vehicle. He must have been a very strong man, for I had packed them myself and knew their weight, but he lifted them as though they were filled with feathers.
He helped me into the seat next to him, and I startled at his touch, which was cold with the night air. He had the advantage of me, for between his clothing and the darkness I could barely get a look at him, but I felt the hint of a smile when I asked, “How did you know who I was?”
“We do not have so many Englishmen in this part of the country that it would be much carelessness to lose track of them, Mister Graham,” he said. “You appear as you were described to me in the place you are supposed to be at the time you are meant to be. All is proceeding as the Count would wish,” he said, clearly pleased at the success of his efforts on his employer’s behalf.
I looked back to see my former coachman making the sign against the evil eye in our direction before bidding his horses onward in great haste.
My driver gestured to an assortment of furs and blankets on the seat. “Wrap yourself warmly, for the night has teeth.” I was only too pleased to take his advice, as the combination of the night air and the speed at which we travelled had me quite chilled. And we travelled quickly indeed! Perhaps it was simply the contrast between the enclosed travel of my earlier coach and the exposed seating I now occupied, but the horses seemed to almost fly over the rough trails. Tired, unsure of conversation, and unwilling to expose more of myself than necessary to the night air, I burrowed into the wrappings while clinging to my seat for dear life.
We came to a sudden stop, and I could not conceal some alarm when a look around confirmed that we were in the midst of the wilderness. “Why have we stopped?”
“Remain here,” said he, and jumped from his seat to head off I know not where.
I huddled in the furs, unsure of what else I might do. Around me, the darkness felt as a predator, closing in on the edges of the dim light provided by our lantern. Beyond its reach, in the wilds around us, I could make out several small, bluish, glowing lights which seemed to dance or hover above the ground. I am not a superstitious man, but there was nothing of the earthly realm about them.
In the distance, wolves howled, a mournful noise. Even in my fear, I sympathised, for even predators such as they must be lonely on such a night.
The horses seemed as ill at ease as I, snorting and whinnying as they paced in place.
After what was likely only the span of a few moments but felt far longer, my driver emerged from the darkness, leaping back into his seat.
Suspecting he would be unwilling to share whatever business lured him out into the night, and sensible of the disadvantage I would be at in the event of his displeasure, I asked instead, “What are those lights?”
“The peasants call them corpse lights, the souls of the unhallowed dead. They say that on certain nights they rise over unmarked graves and buried treasures.”
“Nights such as this?”
“So it is said,” he said, and would say no more.
We paused again, and then again, three times in total. Each time I found myself left alone with the horses while my companion pursued his own ends in the wilderness.
The third time, he seemed to stay away longer, and I could hear the wolf cries growing louder and closer. From the increased agitation of the horses, they too must have heard or smelled the threat. I began to fear they might bolt. I reached down, grabbing at the brick at my feet, once hot, but now no warmer than the air.
Holding it to my chest, I began to consider what I might do. I determined that, should the wolves approach, I must wait until they were almost upon me to attack. My vow was thankfully in vain, for it was then the coachman appeared out of the darkness, startling me almost as much as if it had been one of the wolves jumping into the seat.
He took one look at my hands, wrapped around the brick, and let out a low chuckle. “Are all Englishmen so resourceful? Or only their solicitors?”
“I should not like to stand as an example of either.”
“You are a strange man, Mister Graham.”
“I hope your count shall not find me so.”
“I think he will find you are not what he is expecting.”
We passed the rest of the journey in silence, finally arriving at Castle Lecter. The driver vanished as soon as he had finished deposited my luggage in the entryway, leaving me to make my way into the castle alone.
Having committed this to paper, I feel the last of my energy leaving me, and shall now to my bed. I will write the rest, and of my meeting with the Count, when I awake.