The Sewers of Gearford
Min squinted ahead into the darkness. The lantern ahead gave him solace, but the surroundings still unnerved him. It wasn’t every day you had the opportunity to explore the dank sewers of Gearford. He’d be glad if this were the last time.
“Are we there yet? I thought you knew where we were going…” whispered Min.
“Quit your damn grousing,” growled Ford, “We’re close.”
Min looked around in the darkness and wondered how Ford could possibly know if they were close. It was dark and smelled like shit and each of the outlets in and out of the sewer looked the same.
“Just remind yourself that we’re going to be stinking rich very soon,” muttered Ford with a grim smile that could be seen by lamp light.
In truth Min had done little else but think of jewels and gold, ever since Ford first approached him. This was an opportunity to put his hands on the crown jewels after all. Min reasoned that it wasn’t really stealing, since Harold III, the entire royal family and most of their loyalist followers were dead. Harold had famously and obsessively loved the jewels and saw them as a symbol his family’s prosperity and power and yet those jewels could not prevent his demise or hold back a Technocrat mob from breaking down the door of the Great Hall.
When the jewels disappeared after the monarchy’s demise, there was an investigation and speculation about their whereabouts. The new Technocratic government dedicated significant resources to finding the missing jewels, in part because of their value and symbolism, and in part because of security concerns. According to one popular urban legend, Lord Antoine Foxworth, close confidante to King Harold III and the head of one of Gearford’s wealthiest noble families had taken and hid the jewels at the behest of his friend and king in the hopes of financing a counter revolution. When a Technocrat mob rushed the gates of the palace, nobody could have predicted the speed of what would happen next. Harold III was beheaded, his family put under the sword and many supporters including Foxworth were killed. It was a week of bloody retribution. When it was all over, the monarchy was gone and a new government was in place. The counter revolution never took place and the jewels were gone, as if in a wisp of smoke.
Min followed closely behind the light held by his friend. Ford had heard an enticing rumor from an old whore at a local brothel that there was a hidden tunnel in the sewers which led to secret passageways under Fox Hollow, the old Foxworth mansion. Ford reasoned the jewels had to be there. For years, Fox Hollow had been placed under armed guard and was closed to the public. Would-be treasure seekers attempting to break into the mansion were harshly punished as an example to others. However, according to Ford, the Technocrats didn’t guard the sewers and didn’t know about the underground passages.
Finding a clue leading to uncounted riches seemed almost too good to be true. The thought that this was “too good to be true” certainly occurred to Min after a couple of hours of stumbling though the darkness of the sewers.
Suddenly Ford stopped and kneeled, raising his lantern to eye level. He stared at a grated access point. Min could have nearly sworn that they had passed this very spot earlier. It felt as if they were walking in circles. Looking around his friend, Min saw they were in front of a three foot high tunnel, with a grated opening. Ford rubbed his hand over the stone above the grated opening and held up the lantern and then Min saw it. With the dirt and mold it was almost imperceptible, but above the opening was a carving of a Fox head in relief. This was the family sigil of the Foxworth family.
“You found it,” said Min under his breath while lightly touching the Fox head.
“Aye my friend,” whispered Ford, “I told you. It’s here just as I told ye. Now, crowbar.”
Ford raised his hand and Min placed the crowbar into the hands of his friend. Ford levered it into the grate and pried hard. The metal grate pulled off and Min deftly caught it, carefully lowering it to the ground. Although they were likely around twenty feet under Fox Hollow and the guards had no idea Ford and Min were here, they thought it best to take no chances and make as little noise as possible.
“Are you ready to be rich?” said Ford turning his head to his friend, “Stay on guard. We don’t know what’s down here. Follow close behind. Go where I go. No talking.”
Min nodded eagerly and watched his friend kneel and crawl into the opening. Although it was a sewer opening, it had not been used for many years and so it was relatively dry--there was still some mold and dirt on the stone, but little else. When Ford pulled up the lantern, Min saw a tunnel approximately thirty to forty feet in length. Although the poor light made it difficult to tell, it seemed as if the tunnel opened up into a larger space up ahead, which seemed strange for a sewer outlet.
After they crawled about ten feet into the tunnel, they heard it.
It sounded almost like a clock’s hour hand at the top of the hour and this was followed by a ticking sound.
Ford’s eyes seemingly grew in size as he looked back at his friend.
“It’s a trap,” mouthed Ford. Even as Ford said the words, the ticking got faster and louder.
“Let’s go back,” begged Min.
“No. Quick on me,” urged Ford as he rushed forward through the tunnel. Whatever it was, Ford hoped to be out of the tunnel before it triggered. Nevertheless, despite Ford's encouragement, Min was struck with terror when he heard the ticking sound.
Instead of following Ford down the tunnel, Min scuttled backwards and sat panting to the left of the tunnel. He heard Ford swear loudly, when he realized his friend wasn’t following. Ford seemed to be almost at the end of the other side of the tunnel. Then suddenly there was the loud sound of stone on stone and that of grinding metal.
Min heard a pained groan from his friend, and then silence. Min looked into the tunnel, but saw nothing. The lantern was out. It was total darkness.
“Ford… Ford…” whispered Min, “Can you hear me? Are you there?”
After about another minute, Min heard the sound of stone sliding on stone and metal grinding again and then silence.
Reaching into his bag, Min sobbed as he fumbled through the tools they had brought. Pulling a match out of his pocket, he tried to light a torch. With shaking hands it was difficult, but he finally did it. Peering into tunnel where Ford had been, he feared what he might see. He was surprised when raising his torch, he saw nothing. Ford was gone.
When Min didn’t see Ford’s body, panic overwhelmed him. Leaving their belongings behind, Min ran blindly into the darkness.
In the days following, Min occasionally heard the sound of metal grinding on metal. It could be something as innocuous as someone eating dinner with a metal fork and knife. In those moments, Min found himself being taken back to the tunnel underneath Fox Hollow. Filled with terror, he closed his eyes and tried to forget.
The First Annual Librarian Conference of Antiford
Standing in front of Fox Hollow, Theodore Emelior Beem looked up at the enormous banner hanging over the façade and sighed,
First Annual Librarian Conference of AntifordWelcome
There were perhaps a hundred things Theodore Beem could think of doing in this moment and being at a Librarian conference was not on the list. Nevertheless, his presence was required, since Chief Librarian Emile Gainsborough deemed the conference to be a matter of the highest priority.
“Gainsborough’s folly,” muttered Theodore shaking his head. The Chief Librarian hoped an extravagant international conference could be just the thing to cement his position in the professional community and perhaps earn him a prominent position within the Ministry of Culture.
"People are watching," Gainsborough often said. The insinuation was that excellence would be rewarded, however it was also an unsubtle threat that the Technocrats had an eye for the mundane and nobody could hide from their gaze.
Gainsborough pulled every possible string and brought in an impressive list of renowned speakers. “At least these speakers were renowned ten years earlier,” laughed Theodore. Most of them had done their best work long ago and were now just living off their reputations. Nevertheless, even Theodore was a little impressed that Gainsborough had managed to cajole so many famous speakers to this small conference. Perhaps his most impressive coup though was being able to hold the conference at one of the very finest venues in all of Gearford.
Looking up at Fox Hollow, even a cynic like Theodore couldn’t help but be a little impressed. Fox Hollow was a magnificent example of period architecture and until a short time ago had been completely closed and off-limits to the public. The Foxworths, a once prominent Antifordian family, had the misfortune of being among the strongest supporters of the monarchy and Harold III. When the end came, the Foxworths were placed under the knife almost immediately. It was brutal and bloody. After en masse executions, loyalist property, was placed in trust by the Technocratic Council. Some of the mansions passed into the control of the new government, becoming museums and housing different elements of the new bureaucracy, whereas others were sold by the government to more prominent Technocrats and members of the merchant class. Fox Hollow was one of the few properties that remained dormant under the control of the Agency of Preservation and the Ministry of Culture. Although some radical technocrats argued strongly for its demolition, the preservationists ultimately won the day and the building was not only left standing, it was ultimately restored.
“It would’ve been a shame to demolish such a beautiful home,” thought Theodore as he took in the façade of Fox Hollow.
Historical importance notwithstanding, much of the talk surrounding Fox Hollow focused on rumors of hidden treasure. According to one commonly held myth Lord Antoine Foxworth had taken possession of the crown jewels in the final days of the monarchy in the hopes of financing a counter revolution. Ultimately, the counter revolution never took place and the jewels became a topic of myth and legend, Even after the Technocratic Council announced the jewels had been found and melted down, rumors persisted to the present day, about the missing jewels, that the jewels had never in fact been found and were perhaps still hidden somewhere in Fox Hollow, or perhaps somewhere else within Gearford.
Although, Theodore loved a good myth as much as the next person, his interest in Fox Hollow was more related to its architectural importance rather than to the rumors of treasure. Theodore still remembered when Gainsborough had announced the conference almost a year beforehand.
“This will be a Technocratic triumph, showing the power and preeminence of our intellect,” announced Gainsborough at a library staff meeting.
Despite Theodore’s curiosity about Fox Hollow, his heart sank when he heard news of the conference. Up to now, he had shown a kind of creative talent in getting out of additional responsibilities, but that would certainly not be the case now. After Gainsborough made the announcement to his staff, Theodore tried to hide in plain sight, ducking his head down at the far end of the table. As Gainsborough, called out the assignments for the conference, Theodore ducked his head progressively lower.
“I have a number of important jobs for you Beem!” called out Gainsborough grandly. He handed out tasks like the Technocratic Counsel handed out medals. Theodore tried to smile, but it came out more like a pained grimace.
In the six months leading up to the conference, Theodore’s workload nearly doubled and this significantly impacted the time he spent working at home on his secret labor of love, namely the building his airship.
“Just a few more days,” thought Theodore as he gazed at the early morning crowds in front of Fox Hollow. In part because of his skill with languages, Theodore was assigned as the official conference greeter. As such, he was tasked with giving a warm welcome to each of the conference attendees for the three days of the conference.
Alongside Theodore were two police officers, who had been tasked with guarding the Foxworth mansion. They were largely assigned to keep out undesirables and curiosity seekers. Next to him, dozing on a stone pedestal was Theodore’s constant companion, Captain Fox, a lesser Titanian Forest Cat. Within the last two years, Captain Fox had become the unofficial cat of the Gearford Library of Technology and had proved her mettle by significantly reducing the library’s mouse population. Although Gainsborough would have been happier if Captain Fox had stayed at home, or even remained at the library, he knew Theodore and his cat were inseparable.
“If you please, Beem, do not let that cat distract you from your work,” warned Gainsborough.
Theodore almost smiled in response, since he very much hoped that Captain Fox would distract from what figured to be an intolerably boring three-day conference. Still Theodore knew better than to provoke Gainsborough. He pursed his lips and gave a significant nod of understanding to his superior. Before anything further could be said, Gainsborough feigned a broad smile as a large contingent of attendees from Prush approached the entrance.
“If it isn’t Chief Librarian Manheim and our friends from Prush!” said Gainsborugh, “I hope your travel here was uneventful.”
Watching Gainsborough escort the Prushians into Fox Hollow, Theodore coughed as he choked down laughter. Despite the fact that Antiford was hosting an international librarian conference, Gainsborough, generally hated “foreigners,” an irony that was not lost on Theodore. He recalled the chief librarian once called Prushians a bunch of “jackbooted brutes.” Nevertheless, Gainsborough now played the perfect host, smiling broadly while gently patting the back of a member of the Prush delegation.
Not long after Gainsborough entered Fox Hollow Theodore turned his attention to a strange a sight. A young woman with long curly red hair in a green dress, was conspicuously accompanied by a large bear, and was arguing quite insistently with a very nervous door guard. When Captain Fox saw the large brown bear, she stretched her back and jumped down off the pedestal to approach the strangers.
“Are you telling me sir, that my companion here will be forced to remain outside?”
“No ma’am, I’m just telling you that your beast cannot enter the building. This a library conference.”
“Of course, this is a Librarian Conference, why do think we’re here. Surely not for your hospitality."
“Sorry ma’am you really cannot enter. At least not with the beast.”
“He’s not a ‘beast.” His name is Arten and he is a Moon Faced Cave Bear and he has more right to be at a librarian conference than the two of you illiterate thugs.”
“Excuse me, is there is a problem,” asked Theodore. As he approached the young woman, Theodore noticed the tattoos on her temples and the Titanian style of her dress.
With a relieved sigh, the two guards gave the side eye to the young woman and the bear. Clearly they hoped that Theodore would rid them of the annoying young woman and her immense companion. However, instead of getting rid of the young lady, Theodore offered a bow and a greeting in a strange language.
“Aww, you speak Titanian!” exclaimed the young woman.
“Poorly. Poorly. My name is Theodore.” answered Theodore in Titanian.
“No need to apologize, I always appreciate when a southerner tries to learn my language. My name is Astrid and I’m with the Medical College Library in Argenstrath, and unless I’m grievously mistaken that is a Lesser Titanian Forest Cat.”
“Yes,” replied Theodore, “This is Captain Fox.”
Captain Fox's ears perked up at the acknowledgment and started walking back and forth through the legs of Astrid and Arten with a deep throated purr. Far from being annoyed, the bear huffed at the small cat in what could have only been a greeting.
"How do you have such a delightful companion? Lesser Titanians are so rare and treasured among my people," said Astrid, “It’s such a treat to see one so far south and in the company of a foreigner. . .No offense intended.”
"None taken m’lady. The story of Captain Fox and myself is one I would be pleased to share. Perhaps over a cup of tea." answered Theodore.
Sitting in front of Astrid, Captain Fox raised her right forepaw, much to the delight of her new Titanian friend. Astrid laughed with delight as she pulled out a treat from her pocket in her dress.
“Begger…” muttered Theodore looking disapprovingly at Captain Fox.
“Well then, gentleman.” said Theodore in common, shifting his attention to the guards, “The bear seems harmless enough.”
“Um, sorry sir. We’ve been given express instructions by the Chief Librarian….”
“Don’t tell me,” interrupted Theodore, “that you’ve been given express instructions about bears, or instructions to insult important international guests.”
“Yes sir, I mean no sir.” sputtered the frustrated policeman.
“I think we need to have a talk before we say something unfortunate,” whispered Theodore to the police.
“You will forgive me lady.” said Theodore with a brief bow, “My profound apologies. Let me speak to these officers, and we’ll have you sipping tea inside in no time.”
“Of course, good sir,” replied Astrid nodding her head appreciatively. “I will use the time, to make the acquaintance of my new friend, your Captain.”
For the moment Astrid gave her attention to Captain Fox, all the while keeping one eye on the curious gentleman Theodore. Although she wasn't able to overhear their conversation, it wasn’t long before the policemen took on the look of defeated men.
“Begging your pardon, ma’am...I mean Lady Astrid,” said the police man awkwardly, “No offense was intended. Mr. Beem will lead you and your companion into the mansion. We hope you have a most splendid conference.”
Astrid bowed graciously to the two policemen who seemed almost relieved to be rid of her. Theodore smiled and bowed, all the while leading Astrid and Arten into the doors of Fox Hollow. Captain Fox chirped and followed his new friends.
As soon as they crossed the threshold, Astrid whispered to Theodore.
“What just happened?”
“Awww, well Lady Astrid, I just told our diligent officers that it was best to not offend the daughter of the Count of Saavnheim.”
Astrid stood dumbfounded,
“But I am just an archival librarian with the Medical College Library in Argenstrath.”
“Perhaps you are my lady, or perhaps you are daughter of the Count of Saavnheim. Who really would know? For the moment consider yourself a special guest,”
“You do know of course, that Saavnheim, while a magnificent place does not have a Count.”
“Well, m’lady, “said Theodore with a slight smile, “One of the finest things about Saavnheim is that it’s very far away from here and it would be very unlikely that our friends here would have any notion of these things.”
“Lucky me, I suppose. But what of Arten?” asked Astrid motioning to her friend, “Will he be allowed to sit with me”
“Well, our mutual friend here, will be allowed to stay in the courtyard garden,“ said Theodore pointing through the glass doors into the lush foliage of a large courtyard. “My apologies, he is just a bit large for the mansion’s library, where we will be holding our conference meetings.
“Quite understandable,” replied Astrid, “This looks splendid. It's like a small forest retreat in there. I expect Arten will sleep away much of the day. The lazy fellow that he is.”
Turning to Astrid, Arten grunted, seemingly annoyed at the slight. Arten walked through the glass doors into a large courtyard. Upon finding a short tree with huge outspread branches, he flopped down underneath. After Astrid spoke a few words to him, he huffed while nuzzling against his friend and then closed his eyes.
As Theodore and Astrid walked out of the courtyard, Captain Fox chirped and meow’d in response. Although the Captain had taken to the large bear and would have napped alongside him, when she saw that Theodore and the fine lady with the treats were walking away, she rushed to follow them.
“Yunno,” said Theodore waving a hand around him, “Around two years ago the Technocrats restored Fox Hollow. The house and the furniture is in almost exactly the state it was on Moghs 13th, 1883, when the Technocrats stormed the palace gates killing the king and his loyalist supporters including Antoine Foxworth.
Entering the library, Theodore saw that the pre-conference reception was nearly over. Many of the seventy-five plus guests were already in their seats. Gainsborough gave him an annoyed look, bothered that the young librarian was late.
“Alright, ladies and gentleman, fellow librarians and bibliophiles. Welcome to the first annual Librarian Conference of Antiford. We are pleased, indeed honored to be hosting such a fine and august collection of esteemed colleagues….”
Looking around from his seat in the back, Theodore saw that it was indeed a fine turnout. The library was packed. It was a veritable "who's who" of librarians. He took a deep breath and sighed. This would no doubt be a busy three days.
Unfortunately, there was very little air circulation in the room and the temperature soon became uncomfortable. The only thing that kept the attendees awake was the topic of the first session, "Automatons and Library Automation: The Future is Now." A few of the attendees with rather impressive mustaches began arguing about the possibility that automatons would make the work of librarians obsolete. While Astrid was mostly bored and on the verge of dozing for much of the session, the possibility that these elderly librarians might start wrestling on the floor clearly amused her. Looking at Captain Fox, he saw that she was less impressed by the heated discussion. Hearing the men arguing, she looked up and yawned, having made herself at home sleeping on comfortable chair in the back corner.
As a member of the hosting body, Theodore didn’t have the luxury of dozing off. Nevertheless, his attention occasionally waned. He read all of the titles of the books closest to him and was a impressed with quality of the books on the shelves here. According to historical accounts, Antoine Foxworth was a work of art as a person. He was paranoid, brutal and some thought insane, but even Theodore had to admit the man had excellent taste in books. There were several rare histories here, including several books which offered a loyalist perspective of history. Many of these books had been banned by the Technocrats. Not surprisingly, Theodore also saw a weighty volume, “Carpe Omnia” a history of the Foxworth Family, probably the only copy in existence. A fox head was on the spine of the book.
Theodore’s daydreaming was disturbed when one of the mustachioed men grabbed the other by the collar and they had to be forcibly separated by their comrades.
"Alright, alright, my friends," said Gainsborough raising his hands" I think we can agree that while automation may offer its benefits. Nothing will ever take the place of the skilled librarian. I do believe that it must be getting close to the time of our reception. I understand that the cucumber sandwiches are excellent."
When Gainsborough looked meaningfully at Theodore, he took that as his cue to go and check on the food that was supposed to be laid out in the sitting room.
Much to his surprise, when Theodore retreated into the sitting room, there was no tea or cucumber sandwiches. Instead he saw the service carts with shovels and pick-axes on top. There were four men and a woman in food service uniforms pulling out tools from underneath the carts. Besides tools, a couple of small barrels were stowed underneath the carts. Looking to the side, he saw two of his fellow library staff members were bound and gagged on the floor.
Pausing a moment, Theodore did an immediate turn, hoping to run back into the library. Then he heard a voice and what could have only been the barrel of a gun stick into his back.
"You weren't planning on leaving without giving us a proper introduction."
Raising his hands very slowly, Theodore turned to face the man holding the gun.
As Theodore would discover, the gang of thugs that had crashed their library conference called themselves the Red Hill Mob and they were led by a brutish man named Canbury. Fortunately, they had little interest in the librarians, or the conference. They were much more interested in the house.
After Canbury asked Theodore several questions at gunpoint about the conference he directed him to open the door to the library. Theodore opened the door and waved his hand to Gainsborough motioning him to the door. Furious that Theodore could not be trusted with a task as simple as cucumber sandwiches, Gainsborough walked briskly toward the door.
"What is the meaning of this? What foolishness is this, Beem?"
"Um Chief Librarian, we have a...um...problem,” whispered Theodore while nodding his head toward the man behind him with the gun.
"There no such things as problems Beem, only solutions,” said Gainsborough. Then looking at the man with the gun Gainsborough's eyes got quite large. Now normally you might suppose that seeing a man with a gun pointing at you. would startle even the best of men, but Emile Gainsborough was not the best of men. Maybe it was the notion that this conference, which he hoped would be a career triumph, was now on the verge of disaster, set him over the edge.
"Sir, I demand you put this gun away and attend to the cucumber sandwiches!"
"You've got to be fucking kidding me," said Canbury, "Shut up old man before I stick your cane down your throat."
It was in that moment that Gainsborough truly appreciated the fact that this man with the gun and the others with knives and clubs were really not caterers. Still Gainsborough was not so easily deterred.
"Well, I never... What have you done with the caterers!? Do you know who I am?"
"Well from the looks of your name tag, you're fucking Emile Gainsborough," sneered Canbury.
"Um, yes. Quite right. I am Chief Librarian of the Gearford Library of Technology, highly placed in the Technocratic Government, and younger brother to Ernest Gainsborough, deputy minister of finance."
"Oh no, not the brother of THE Ernest Gainsborough? Did you hear that Trelawney? We have a highly-placed member of the Technocratic Government, whose brother is a something or other..."
"Deputy minister of finance," interrupted Gainsborough.
The woman Trelawney who held a knife, smirked and chuckled. Although Gainsborough was too self-obsessed to notice, Theodore began backing up. This was not going to end well.
"Forgive me sir. Let me give you your due," said Canbury with a mock bow. Just as Gainsborough began to acknowledge him, Canbury savagely backhanded the librarian with the butt of his pistol, sending him to the floor.
"Well," gasped the now bloodied Gainsborough, "You. .You. . .hit me. You’ll regret that. Oh my. . .I think you broke my nose." Holding a handkerchief to his face Gainsborough cried in pain.
"I’ll do a lot more than break your nose if you don’t fucking do what I tell you. Now you…” said Canbury pointing to Theodore, “This is what you’ll do. You’ll take your friends here, including our dear Emile here and go into the library. We’ll lock the door and you and your friends will stay in the library. You will not leave. You will not attempt to escape, and in return, maybe my lads and I won’t kill you."
Locked in the library with seventy-five librarians, it wasn't long before the room became intolerably hot.
A few of the librarians fawned over Chief Librarian Gainsborough who seemed to enjoy attention.
“I would’ve given those brutes the ‘what for,” but that one lout surprised me,” said Gainsborough haughtily, or at least as haughtily as he could manage with a broken and bloodied nose.
Nonetheless, as ridiculous as it seemed to Theodore and Astrid, a few of his colleagues tut tutted in sympathy while administering first aid to Gainsborough. This was when they weren’t complaining about the heat or the cruelty of their captors.
Locked in the library, Astrid’s first concern was Arten the bear. As long as her bear was asleep in the dense foliage of the courtyard, he was likely safe, but what if he stirred? What if they decided to search the courtyard? What if he got hungry? Those men had guns. Then again, she was now locked in the library. What could she do about it? Hopefully this would end soon.
Thinking about what happened, Theodore concluded that the Red Hill Mob must have used the conference as a means to break into Fox Hollow. Clearly, they hoped to find the crown jewels somewhere in the house. Unfortunately, they’d be disappointed. When the Technocrats restored Fox Hollow, it was only after they thoroughly searched it for any sign of the missing jewels.
What worried Theodore more was what the Red Hill Mob would do with them when their search proved fruitless. Theodore thought it peculiar that Canbury and his goons seemed unconcerned about concealing their identity. Canbury had guaranteed that as long as they didn’t attempt to escape, that no harm would come to them, but was he telling the truth?
“Astrid? I think we have a problem,” whispered Theodore.
“Even more problems? Does this problem have anything to do with the fact that it’s hot as blazes in here and many of our colleagues desperately need a bath?” muttered Astrid while closing her eyes with her head down on the table.
“No, this is serious. I don’t think this gang intends on letting us go. They freely shared their identity with us. They seemed unconcerned about us talking to the police. I also noticed that there were small barrels of diesel fuel underneath the catering carts. Why would they need diesel fuel? I think they mean to set this place aflame to destroy the evidence, us included.”
Raising her head from the table, Astrid stared at Theodore for a moment.
“I hate to say it, but it kind of makes sense. And we’re pretty much trapped here. This isn’t good,” said Astrid looking around at the library. “I’m assuming that you don’t plan on sharing this with the brave Emile Gainsborough?”
“Yes, that’d be unhelpful,” said Theodore giving a meaningful look to Gainsborough. In that moment, the chief librarian was whimpering, seemingly enjoying the sympathy he was receiving from their fellow librarians.
“Well, what do we do then?” asked Astrid.
Theodore looked around the room in the hopes of finding something that they could use to force the door open, or perhaps a window, but Canbury had chosen their jail wisely. There was only one exit to this room and no windows. Perhaps more importantly, there was no ventilation, a fact not lost on the librarians in the room.
Looking up Theodore saw that Captain Fox seemed unbothered by their circumstances. She had moved to a shelf high above ground and was dozing off. Looking closer, Theodore saw it. From his vantage it was almost imperceptible, but Captain Fox’s fur was moving slightly from side to side.
Theodore tapped Astrid’s elbow and pointed towards Captain Fox.
“Look,” said Theodore to Astrid, while pointing towards Captain Fox. “There’s a breeze.”
Astrid’s eyes, widened when she saw Captain Fox’s fur perceptibly move side to side.
“Could it be?” asked Astrid
“Hard to say,” answered Theodore. “Let’s find out.”
Standing on a chair, Theodore climbed to the shelf where Captain Fox was sitting. Holding his hand to the shelf, he tried to feel for a breeze. Looking towards a space between two books across from the Captain, he raised his hand and then he felt it. Air was coming in the room. He looked down at Astrid and nodded in affirmation.
“Is it some kind of ventilation shaft?”
“Perhaps,” answered Theodore. “Let’s see what we have?”
Theodore grabbed several books from the shelf and threw them unceremoniously to the ground. This gained him some attention from his fellow librarians who muttered criticisms.
“You there,” said Gainsborough with a handkerchief clutched to his face. “Beem is that you? What in heaven’s name are you doing. When the police come save us, we will have to make an accounting for any damage to this home. As you know, this home is national treasure and has been given protected status by the technocratic government. Damaging any part of it will be viewed as a violation of technocratic code #305-731…”
As Gainsborough droned on and on with his complaint, Astrid rolled her eyes and whispered to Theodore, “Shall I punch him again?”
Chuckling at Astrid’s comment, Theodore looked back at the shelf. Dumping a couple of feet of books onto the floor he looked at the book shelf and there he saw it. There was a vent behind the books.
Looking down at Astrid, he mouthed the words, “It’s a vent.” Unfortunately, the vent was only a foot wide. Not big enough for a person by a long shot. Pulling out a small screwdriver out of his pocket, Theodore popped four screws and pulled off the vent cover. Looking through the hole, he saw only blackness. His heart sank. It was a dead-end.
Climbing down from the chair, Theodore shared what he found with Astrid. Was it possible that there might be other vents in this room? Maybe even something large enough for a person to pass through. Looking around the bookshelves, they began to consider their next steps.
Peering across at the open hole Captain Fox leaped across to the now open shelf. Looking into the hole Captain Fox felt the cool breeze on her face. She looked into the hole that had been covered by the vent grate. Looking into the whole she meow’d. Her meow echoed down the vent shaft, catching the attention of Theodore and Astrid.
“Damn it all,” muttered Theodore. Jumping back up to chair. Theodore reached for Captain Fox, but was a moment too late. Captain Fox leaped through the hole with a chirp and was gone.
“Captain! Captain!” yelled Theodore.
“Does she do this often?” questioned Astrid with a raised eyebrow and a bemused expression.
“If you’re asking whether she has a way of getting into trouble, the answer is unfortunately yes.” answered Theodore with a grimace.
“I must say, Beem,” said Gainsborough, “This comes to no surprise to me. I have always thought that your attachment to that beast was a bit unnatural and was sure to lead to trouble.”
That’s when they heard it. It was scratching sound several feet to the right and down from the original vent. Then a meow.
Running over to the location of his cat, who appeared to be hidden behind the bookshelves, Theodore began making meowing sounds, talking back to the lost Captain Fox.
Although Theodore thought he had lost Captain Fox, she was not worried in the least. It was all a bit exciting, especially after being stuck in that room with those musty smelling books and malodorous librarians. After she passed through the hole, her eyes quickly adapted to the darkness and she saw that she was in a narrow corridor leading downwards with a slight incline. Walking down the corridor, the air was stale, but cool and the breeze grew stronger. It was pleasant, especially after being in that hot room.
As she moved down, the voice of that annoying human became louder. He was the old man whose face was rodent-like and who always pointed at her while raising his voice. Although she didn’t fully understand common, she nonetheless understood the tone of his voice and the look of disapproval. The fact that he looked like a large rat, only made him more annoying. She was often tempted to bite him, but had thus far managed to restrain herself.
“Meowwwr,” said Captain Fox scratching the wall. Then she heard it. It was Theodore trying to make cat noises. He was meowing in response. At least he was trying. Captain Fox always thought it amusing when human beings tried to talk back to cats. It was like they were talking kitten. Often times when Theodore, meowed at her, Captain Fox meowed back making Theodore think that they were having a conversation. It was quite amusing, how excited and happy Theodore would become.
Hearing Theodore meow at him, Captain Fox looked ahead and there she saw a turn, presumably around the corner. As the ground became more level, Captain Fox loped ahead, chirping all the way in excitement. This was enormously fun. Maybe not as fun as that time, she found herself in a room full of Arazian catnip, but very near so. She loved exploring narrow confined spaces around their house. You never knew what amusements might be found.
Walking around the corner, Captain Fox saw the corridor widen. She was now in a space large enough for a human and she appeared to be on a level floor. She sat on her haunches in front of what appeared to be a door. From where it stood, it appeared to lead to the library room. A bit frustrated, Captain Fox meowed and a paced back and forth in front of the mysterious door. Looking up she saw a ledge. Hearing Theodore’s voice on the other side, she jumped to the ledge and then while leaning pressed her paws to the wall. Suddenly the surface give way as she pushed forward what appeared to be a lever.
Looking at the bookshelf, Theodore called to his cat, much to the annoyance of his fellow librarians.
“Your beastie has gotten herself in more trouble than she can chew, hasn’t she Beem?” smirked Cabot, one of the reference librarians.
Ignoring the rude comments, Theodore felt along the bookcase, looking for some clue of an opening. Then suddenly one of the books came out of the case, seemingly on its own and this was accompanied by click.
“What do we have here,” said Theodore. Pushing the book forward, a grinding sound interrupted their silence and suddenly, the bookcase opened and in the middle of new entryway sat Captain Fox. She looked at Theodore while licking herself and purring.
“Job well done, Captain.” whispered Theodore peering into the darkness.
“That is one clever cat,” remarked Astrid with a smile as she looked over Theodore’s shoulder.
Seeing Astrid, Captain Fox moved around Theodore and sat, again raising her paw.
“Of course, my darling.” said Astrid, pulling another treat out of her pocket for Captain Fox. For a moment, Theodore wondered what kind of person brings cat treats to a librarian conference, but before he could entertain this thought in full, he looked at the now open book case, which led to a hallway. The hallway was quite narrow. To the left there was a stone wall, with the fox crest in sunken relief.
“Interesting,” thought Theodore, “This old house was full of surprises. Behind the wall up ahead, he could hear voices. It was the Red Hill Mob who were still searching for some sign, or passageway that might lead them to the crown jewels. Turning around, Theodore saw the other librarians peering into the darkness after him.
“The passageway leads to another room where Canbury and his goons are,' whispered Theodore. “I think we might be able to overpower them, since we have the element of surprise.”
“You must be kidding Mr. Beem. We are librarians who are the preeminent experts in our field. Who do you think we are? A bunch of Yeti.”
“Was that an insult?” whispered Astrid to Theodore.
Looking through a peephole in the wall, Theodore saw two men and one woman rifling through the sitting room. There were at least two others as well, most likely in the neighboring room. It was clear they were getting impatient and frustrated.
“Where the hell, be the jewels Canbury. You promised us…”
“I promised you nothing Burns,” muttered Canbury, “if I didn’t take you on this job, you’d likely be in the drunk tank anyway. Just keep searching and shut up. There’s likely to be a secret passage somewhere close that will lead us to the jewels.
“Damn it, we better find something quick, or I’m going to start taking the silverware and the candlesticks.” said the woman Trelawny.
“What if we start making holes in the wall. There has to be some hidden passages here somewhere.” said Burns, waving a crowbar at the wall.
Theodore looked back at Astrid worriedly and motioned back.
“We’ll need to think quickly Astrid. These thugs are stupid, but they are not that stupid. If they start busting through the walls and find this hidden space, we’ll have lost any element of surprise.”
“Theodore,” asked Astrid, “Did you see what was on the other side of the room. The one the Red Hill Mob are searching?”
“Yes. It’s the courtyard garden. I saw the glass door and large bay window.”
“And…” replied Astrid with a smile.
“Arten!” whispered Theodore.
“That’s right,” answered Astrid.
“But, as impressive as your bear is. What can he do?” asked Theodore shaking his head in disappointment. “We’re in here, and he doesn’t even know what's happening.”
Astrid looked at Theodore and slowly smiled as she began to have the germ of an idea.
“Just do exactly what I tell you.” said Astrid with a confident grin.
After a few moments, Burns began opening up one of the walls of Titanian inlaid wood with a crowbar. The woman, Trelawny began assisting him. With the three criminals distracted, they didn’t even hear the wall behind them silently open.
“What did I tell you Teddy. We just had to follow the smell.” exclaimed Astrid dramatically, “Here they are. The stupid oafs. Look they’re speechless.”
And dumbfounded they were. Canbury turned as did the others. Shocked and surprised that two of the librarians were now in the room with them.
“Where did you come from?” muttered Canbury.
“This scum wants to know where we came from?” yelled Astrid turning to Theodore.
“You came from Titania by way of Argenstrath, right?” answered Theodore nervously.
“Quite right.” answered Astrid, “But enough of me. It’s time we took out the garbage.”
Angered by the insolent librarians, Canbury pulled out his pistol and took few steps toward Theodore and Astrid. Flanking him were Burns with a crowbar and Trelawny with a club. Standing opposite them was Astrid, standing confidently, with Theodore a step behind.
Although Astrid had told him the plan, this did not make Theodore any less worried. Even still when Astrid began goading the criminals, he couldn’t help but fidget and nervously glance into courtyard.
Arten who had been dozing near a large shrub began opening his eyes and stir. Hearing the voice of Astrid shouting, Arten’s s ears suddenly stood at attention. Fortunately, because the considerable fauna in the courtyard, Canbury and his crew were none the wiser that a large bear was now staring at them. After all, who would ever expect to find a bear in a place like this?
When Arten saw Canbury and his men pull out their weapons, he slowly rose. Something was wrong. Astrid was in trouble.
“Don't you librarians ever learn?" muttered an angry Canbury, raising his pistol.
“Ha! What could we ever learn from your collection of imbeciles," and then Astrid yelled, “Now Arten!”
Once Canbury raised his pistol and Astrid began shouting, Arten moved quickly. Focused on the two librarians, the three criminals were shocked when an enormous bear jumped through the window, shattering the glass and landing with all his weight on top of Canbury, who was almost immediately knocked unconscious. Standing up on his back paws, Arten stood to his full nine feet and roared. Swinging his claw at Burns, Arten tore the crowbar out of Burns hand, breaking his arm.
“Oh shit,” yelped Trelawny as she turned and ran out the door on the far side of the room. A crash soon told them that Trelawny had leaped out of the window fleeing the house. Arten on the other hand continued to do his work on Burns, batting him with his claws. This is what the two other criminals saw when they poked their heads through the door to see what happened to their companions. Seeing that there were two more thugs, Arten raised himself up again and roared, which was enough to cause one of the criminals to piss himself and the both of them to follow Trelawny out the window.
With Canbury still unconscious and Burns moaning on the floor, the room suddenly fell silent.
Theodore was stunned at the speed and violence of Arten. He had disposed of Canbury and his small gang within a few seconds
With Burns writhing on the floor in pain and Canbury moaning, Theodore realized he needed to move quickly. He tied up both Burns and Canbury with some curtain ropes. Looking to Astrid and Arten, Theodore shook his head appreciatively. They had done it.
Astrid ran her hands over Alten. The bear had gotten through the fight relatively unscathed with just few cuts from jumping through the plate window, but that didn't stop Astrid from offering her companion praise, sympathy and the kind of admonishment that you might have expected after a mortal wound. In the meanwhile, Captain Fox chirped excitedly when she saw Arten. The Captain walked up to Arten and licked his face. Arten seemed to take all the attention in stride, realizing perhaps that he had saved the day and had earned a most special treat for dinner.
It wasn't long before the two policeman rushed through the front door with weapons drawn. As soon, as they saw the three members of the Red Hill Mob escape through the window, they knew something was wrong.
The sight that greeted them was one they’d never forget
There were two bloodied men in serving uniforms tied up on the floor. Then there was an enormous bear laying on his side getting a tummy rub from the daughter of that Titanian Count. Next to them was the assistant librarian Theodore Beem petting his cat.
"Uh, Mr. Beem. Are you alright? Is there a problem here?” asked the befuddled police officer.
Theodore did his best to explain what had happened, When the officers learned that the caterers they had admitted into Fox Hollow were in fact a gang of local criminals they were more than a little embarrassed.
"Should we let the librarians out now?" said one of the officers pointing to the library.
"Oh of course," said Theodore absentmindedly, "Quite right."
“Must we?” said Astrid quietly to her herself.
When the officer opened the door, Theodore heard Gainsborough’s voice, “Beem… are you still alive?”
“Yes sir, we’re all fine here. Everything’s good,” replied Theodore, "The criminals have been dispatched. And we owe it all to Arten…um, the bear"
Theodore thought Gainsborough would be happy the thieves had been caught, or least relieved, but what happened next surprised him. Gainsborough's face reddened like an overripe plumb as he took in the damage in the sitting room.
"Are you telling me Beem, that this young lady's beast destroyed a priceless plate window! Ugh, look at the blood on the Prushian rug! How will we get that out?"
“I can tell you what you can do with your Prushian rug,” muttered Astrid.
As Gainsborough ranted and raved, Arten raised his head looking annoyed. Oblivious to the bear, Gainsborough suddenly placed a hand on a table and braced himself.
"Oh dear. I'm getting faint!" cried Gainsborough dramatically.
"No doubt, because of the blood loss and the excitement sir." said Theodore dryly. "Why don't you lie down here until Cabot here can get your carriage. You really should be taken to the hospital. It’s best not to tax yourself.”
"I suppose you're right. Damn it all. My dear wife will be so cross with me after she sees my poor disfigured face."
“You’re truly heroic, sir.”
“Yes, I was, wasn’t I?” sniffed Gainsborough.
Lying down, Gainsborough finally stopped talking. Now it was up to Theodore to play host and guide each of the conference guests to the door. This was likely more excitement than most of them had experienced over a lifetime. Much like Gainsborough, the consensus among the librarians was that they had bravely stared down the face of death.
A Mystery Unfolds
When the last librarian had left, with the police officers having departed with Burns and Canbury in custody, Theodore felt like he could finally rest. Sitting in an enormous chair behind the desk, he sighed and closed his eyes.
"So does this mean that the conference is over?" asked Astrid matter of factly.
Theodore almost forgot about Astrid and Arten. For the last hour he had been consumed with getting everyone out of Fox Hollow.
"Oh gods, I hope so," muttered Theodore, opening one eye to look at Astrid who was laying on the floor against Arten.
"I must say, it was incredibly good fortune on our part to find that hidden door." said Astrid.
Looking at Astrid, Captain Fox sat up and chirped.
"Aww yes, my apologies dear Captain. The credit goes to you, of course," said Astrid with a bow of the head. Seemingly accepting Astrid's apology, Captain Fox gave a deep throated purr while walking back and forth in front of Astrid. Petting Captain Fox, Astrid laughed when the Captain laid down in front of her, clearly expecting further attention.
"You are incorrigible, aren't you?" remarked Astrid to the cat.
"You have no idea," replied Theodore. Looking around the desk, he began playing with a letter opener that was a miniature version of a basket hilted sword. Looking at the wall, he saw that a similar sword hung there.
“Did you know Astrid, that through the restoration of Fox Hollow that they left this desk and much of this room completely undisturbed.”
“Yes, I do know, because you already told me.”
“Well, don’t you think it’s kind of interesting?”
“Yes, positively exhilarating,” said Astrid shaking her head and rolling her eyes, “A desk full of useless garbage that hasn’t moved for over ten years.”
“Well, it’s history, yunno,” sniffed Theodore. ”I wonder if old Antoine knew the end was coming when he last sat here? Maybe he even handled this paperweight,” said Theodore holding up a large brass paperweight with the fox head symbol of the Foxworth family in relief. Rolling it around in his hands, something suddenly occurred to him. Holding the paperweight, Theodore bolted up in his seat and walked over to wall. Pushing and turning and depressing brass fixture on the wall, the hidden passageway behind the wall opened.
“What is it now?” asked Astrid.
“I just have a hunch. Remember the symbol of the fox that was in sunken relief on the wall behind the bookcase. When I first saw it, I wondered whether there was something more here.”
Standing in the passageway, Theodore raised the paperweight and slipped it into the depression on the wall. It was a perfect fit. Curious about what he had found, Astrid stood behind him.
Theodore turned the paperweight in place and found that he was able to move it counterclockwise. It was a key! Both Theodore and Astrid held their breath in anticipation. Even Captain Fox wandered up and was now staring at the wall with curiosity.
When they heard the second click, Theodore felt something take place in the door. It was as if lock tumblers within the door were moving and a clockwork mechanism had been triggered. The paperweight where his hand rested on the wall suddenly became warm.
“Strange. . .Something’s happening. This is getting warm. . .Look!” gasped Theodore.
On the wall in front of them, lines appeared on the wall. They could now see a faint outline of a door on the stone wall. They could also see writing on the wall.
“Well shit me an airship,” muttered Theodore.
Within a few seconds, a map with silver writing and borders appeared on the wall, but it was a map unlike any they had seen. The boundaries shone brightly, but appeared to be incorrect or at least very different from the present day. Alongside the map, were crests of eight loyalist families and above the fox head was the royal crest. Below the Fox head were the words, “Carpe Omnia.” Astrid and Theodore stood in stunned silence.
‘What is this?” asked Astrid quietly.
“Well, that was unexpected…” replied Theodore.
“What kind of map is this?”
“The Foxworths were a very old family” said Theodore lightly touching the map with the palm of his hand. “They significantly predated the monarchy and even the establishment of Antiford. Many in their circle fancied a larger Antiford, a Greater Antiford if you will. I expect this map is an expression of those aspirations”
“But, where is Prush? Where is Titania?”
“H’mm. Above all the Foxworths were nationalists. This map is like a mixture of fact and fiction. They wanted to recreate the old Paorrian Empire here on the other side of the sea. This is an expression of those aspirations.”
“A world without Titania?”
“I’m not defending it Astrid. Many of those nationalists were the worst sorts. They were all about fate and destiny and perhaps as a result they acted with great cruelty. They were utterly convinced of their superiority and rightness and yet couldn’t see that the world had passed them by. They had their chance with the Democratic Antiford Movement, but they couldn’t bring themselves to give up power. When the Technocrats revolved against them, they couldn’t believe they’d lose and lose big.”
“Well, what of this wall then? Why is it here and what technology makes it possible? This isn’t like anything I’ve ever seen.”
“Undoubtedly, the technology was lost that created this door. Maybe not surprising. Remember what I told you about Foxworth. He was paranoid. He clearly had secrets. To be sure, this is one very creative way of hiding one’s secrets.”
“So how does the door open? You’ve turned the key. Now we have a bloody map and crests here?”
“I can’t be sure, but I think if we pressed things on the map or perhaps say the right words, maybe this would open the door?”
“The password could be anything.” muttered Astrid.
“Maybe, or maybe not. I expect the password might be something familiar to Foxworth or his house.”
“So perhaps if we thought like a crazed paranoid ultranationalist with aspirations for Empire, we might guess the password?”
“I’m not sure that I would be put it quite that way, but yes, the password could be something as simple as the words on the royal seal or something similar,”
“Carpe Omnia,” said Astrid, reading the words above the map, “Seize it all.” Not a subtle lot were they?”
“Am afraid not. They didn’t really play well with others. What’s that under the map? ‘Regius Ordinis.’”
“The royal order,” replied Astrid.
“Seems pretty self-explanatory then. The map of Antiford, the royal seal above the crests of the greatest and oldest noble houses alongside. It’s ‘the royal order’.”
“But weren’t there many more than eight noble houses?”
“True. True. But at the beginning there were just eight.”
“So how do we open the door?”
“Maybe it’s the words, Carpe Omnia? Seize it all? Maybe it’s all of this? All of this territory?” said Theodore sweeping his hand across the map. They stared at the map for a moment, but nothing happened.
“Maybe if we read the words on the wall? Is that too simple? 'Carpe Omnia!'” said Astrid. Again they stared at the wall for a moment to no avail.
"How about the words on the royal crest, 'Fide Virtutis!'” said Theodore, but still nothing.
Over the next several minutes, they tried several other phrases in old Paorrian and Common, but nothing happened.
“I think the map and inscriptions on the wall are starting to fade. I think we’re running out of time,” said Astrid.
“We need to figure this out soon.”
“The royal order. . the royal order. . .Regius Ordinis,” repeated Astrid.
“The royal. . .order,” said Theodore, “That’s it.” Holding up his hand, Theodore placed it on the royal seal. Suddenly the wall brightened.
“It didn’t open,” said Astrid.
“No, it didn’t...The words below here are not just telling us that this is the royal order,” said Theodore pointing to the wall, “I think we are to give the royal order of Antiford, pressing each crest in order of rank, starting with the crown and going down.”
“By rank or importance,” asked Astrid.
“For these loyalists rank and importance would be the same. We know that the Foxworths were the next highest rank to the crown. So, here goes nothing.” said Theodore pressing his hand on the Foxworth crest. Again the map shone brightly.
“So, how do we place the other houses in the correct order? Do you know their right order?”
“Maybe we don’t need to know.”
Opening the door into the library, Theodore pulled out the family history of the Foxworth family. Placing the book on the floor, he turned the pages and soon found what he was looking for. Over next two pages were each of the crests of the eight original noble houses listed by order of rank. Standing with book in hand, Theodore placed his hand on each of the crests on the wall in order, until there were only two houses remaining, the Mannions and the Ballifords.
"What are you waiting for? According the book, the Mannions are next,” remarked Astrid eagerly.
“Wait a moment,” paused Theodore, “I don’t think this right. The Mannions fell into disgrace and the house was ruined, when one of its members were implicated in a plot against the crown. So, you might say they were taken out of the royal order.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure they were disgraced, but I’m not all sure about all this,” said Theodore waving at the wall. “Yunno, if we are wrong and make a mistake, I’m really not sure what will happen.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s possible we might trigger something unpleasant.”
“Unpleasant? You say that now, after we’ve been trying to open this damned door for the last half hour?” asked Astrid with an arched eyebrow.
“Um, yeah. Maybe you should stand back,” said Theodore motioning with hand.
Moving backwards to where Arten lay in the sitting room, Astrid watched Theodore with arms crossed. If she wasn’t so curious about what lie behind this hidden door, she might have been more annoyed with her strange colleague. Captain Fox sat next to Theodore staring at the wall and seemingly unconcerned about what might happen.
“Well, don’t blame me, if this blows up in our faces,” said Theodore to the cat. Placing his hand on the Balliford crest Theodore pushed and felt the stone give away. Closing his eyes Theodore waited for something bad to happen. Instead the light on the map grew bright again and the stone door opened.
“It worked,” exhaled a relieved Theodore.
With the door opened, Theodore found and lit a couple of lamps. Pushing open the door, they looked inside and found themselves in front of a stair and a long corridor which seemed to go straight down. Once she saw the stair, Captain Fox chirped and ran ahead. When Arten saw her small friend run through the door, he stood up, but a hand sign from Astrid stopped him from going any further.
“Captain, stop!” yelled Theodore.
“That cat really doesn’t listen to you, does she?” said Astrid with a smile.
Shaking his head, Theodore limped down the stairs after his cat, only to find her sitting on the last step. Captain Fox looked up to Theodore.
Theodore exchanged a look with Captain Fox.
While Theodore didn’t always understand his cat, in this moment, he understood there was something that caught the attention of Captain Fox. This was the same sound she made when in distress.
Looking at the ground below the last step, Theodore examined it closely. Astrid walked down the stairs and stood behind him.
“It’s a trap,” said Theodore. The ground was uneven and there appeared to be some kind of pressure plate below the last step. Presumably, if he stepped on the floor there, something bad would happen. Looking around, Theodore looked for a lever or button that would hopefully lock the pressure plate in place. Then he saw it. Just behind the guardrail was what appeared to be a loose stone. Theodore pushed it.
Captain Fox bounded ahead into a room. Holding up his lantern Theodore gasped.
In front of them was a large room. On the walls were several paintings, presumably members of the Foxworth clan. There was also maps of Antiford and Gearford on the wall. On the far side of the room was a desk with a large case and a tea service. Looking at the case, Theodore paused. The case had the royal crest on it.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” said Astrid.
Holding his breath, Theodore opened the case and found….
Nothing. The case was empty. It had clearly held the crown jewels at one point. The interior of the case was lined in the finest felt. Looking at the interior of the case, you could even tell from the indent what had been contained here. There was a space for the crown and one for the royal scepter.
“It’s gone…” muttered Theodore
“Who took them? Do you suppose it was the Technocrats?”
“I don’t think so, but whoever searched this place did a thorough job.”
It was a mystery. In a secret room in the basement of one of Antiford’s most notorious families, one might expect to find something significant. Instead there was nothing, just a tea service next to the empty case. Theodore saw that three people had enjoyed tea here and one of the cups had lipstick on it. “Is that something? It looks like someone wrote something in the dust,” queried Astrid.
Theodore looked where Astrid was pointing and saw that someone had drawn something on the table in the thick dust. Was it a word? No, it was an animal.
“Is that a raccoon?” asked Astrid.
“It’s a badger.” said Theodore half to himself. As much as it was a primitive drawing in the dust, he recognized the badger, the national animal of Antiford.
“What does it mean?”
“I have no idea,” replied Theodore “But I expect whoever was here, took the crown jewels.”
“So, all of this was for nothing,” said Astrid with a wave of the hand, “Well, I don't know if I'd say this was fun, but I’ll at least have a fine tale to spin when I return to Argenstrath.”
Looking up at Astrid and Theodore, Captain Fox jumped from the floor into the open case that had housed the jewels. She walked back and forth for a few moments, kneaded the soft felt and finally lay down purring contentedly in the large jewelry case in the very spot that had once held the crown. Captain Fox was pleased. This was a good end to a most exciting day.
And so ended the adventure of Astrid and Theodore at the First Annual Librarian Conference of Antiford. Unfortunately for Emile Gainsborough, the conference which was to be his crowning achievement ended two days early. Nevertheless, among his peers in the library community, tales of Emile’s courage and bravery would be circulated widely and as a result the elderly librarian earned something of a heroic reputation. As for Astrid, she returned to Argenstrath with many fine true tales of heroism involving Arten. Theodore, for his part, was relieved that the conference had ended early and resumed work on his airship with the help of Captain Fox. As for the crown jewels, almost a year after their adventure in Fox Hollow, Theodore heard rumors of a secret organization called the Order of the Badger. When he heard of them, Theodore thought back to the badger that was drawn in the dust at Fox Hollow. Was it possible this shadowy organization had somehow taken the crown jewels? Perhaps, but for the moment this would remain an unsolved mystery.