“Do you know what this is?” Gabby asked Clarissa.
“No,” she answered her, “but I… I’ll be right back!”
Clarissa dashed downstairs and headed straight to the bar. She knew she left it down there somewhere, and she compelled her memory to jog faster! She had forgotten all about her urgent need to solve another mystery, and now that the resolution seemed close to fruition, she forced her eyes to rediscover this object with more haste! Finally, she spotted it beneath the papers she procured for Cornelius and Elmira’s wedding reception! She snatched it up immediately and climbed back to the upper level.
As soon as she re-entered the room, Clarissa showed Gabby a small key! “A couple of nights ago, I came across this in my yard! It didn’t resemble any of the ones I already had in my possession, and I couldn’t figure out what door it unlocked until now! Perhaps… We shall see!” Clarissa nervously brought the key towards the little hole in the enigmatic chest. Apart of her hoped that it would fit, but another part of her prayed that she was wrong because whatever substance this container held probably wasn’t anything good- people rarely kept good things out of sight! Regardless of the case, she had to find out the truth, so she stuck the key in… It surprised her that the key fit! She slowly turned it, and her heart beat rapidly as they heard the cogs release the lid’s seal! They each grasped a side, and they lifted the cover…
“Huh?” Clarissa racked her brains over what they saw! She pulled out several candles with burnt wicks and melted wax, a few black feathers, and a lock of dark-colored hair! “Wow! I truly believed we stumbled into something meaningful to our cause, but it appears as though we simply uprooted a spot where Brenner stored his waste!” She chucked a stick back into the trunk in disappointment.
“I doubt Brenner would have gone through this much trouble to hide refuse!” Gabby countered as she gazed at the box with discernment. She found blackened soil at the bottom, and she surmised, “This earth looks burnt! The only motive for storing that would be that someone charred something that they shouldn’t have! And the rest of this would be innocuous on their own, but putting them together must hold significance to someone or else he would have disposed of them in another manner!”
Clarissa queried, “So, what are you saying? Brenner put these objects together to make some kind of statement?”
Gabby responded, “Maybe. But I’ve seen my mother use some of these items in her rituals…”
“Wait, so you reckon that Brenner performed some sort of magic?” Clarissa pondered.
“Or at least he tried,” Gabby confirmed. “I suppose he could have been mentally ill and collected random rubbish.”
Clarissa mulled the matter over a moment, and then she reflected out loud, “Brenner’s mind went soft the more he drank, but I don’t recall any instance where he ever really behaved bereft of himself! Most of the time, he was in the tavern socializing with our guests. He did occasionally leave to imbibe with his acquaintances, but I never questioned his activities because he always came home completely muckibus! I suppose he could have engaged in devious actions prior to his inebriation, but… That’s an unimaginable thought! Brenner had his many faults, but he wouldn’t have participated in any occupations of the occult! He would have had no reason to attempt anything like that unless he figured out a supernatural means of garnering more alcohol!”
Gabby relayed to her, “Brenner always struck me as an overt individual, but when you told me he had business books while showing a lack of interest in actually doing business, I grew suspicious of his literature. I was about to investigate them when I fell into this hole!”
“A hole containing materials for some kind of spell…” Clarissa jumped over to the bookshelf and seized a title regarding finances. She unfolded the pages and crossed her fingers that she would behold boring information on economic practices. Instead, she found print on a more astonishing topic… “This is Loyalist paraphernalia! But that can’t be right! Brenner was always a devout Patriot! Perhaps a previous guest placed this in there by mistake!”
“This book also talks about Loyalist ideals,” Gabby reported as she perused through a publication.
Clarissa poured through each novel on the shelf, and she discovered that none of them contained the subject that they were supposed to! She raced through the pages faster and faster with the aspiration of unearthing something that proved the other texts wrong or pointed to a culprit other than Brenner, and when she recovered none, she grew a little faint and dizzy! Gabby aimed to assist her, but Clarissa made it to the bed on her own. After taking a minute to absorb these new sets of facts, she uttered, “I was married to a traitor! I feel like vomiting!” She could hardly fathom receiving this kind of revelation on a person she knew for over a decade! She wasn’t quite sure what to do with this news, and a sensation of being lost overwhelmed her until she noticed Gabby studying some of the tomes. “Megatie me! You can read?”
Gabby grinned. “Drusilla used to frequently accompany her father during his meetings under the guise of wanting to spend time with Elmira, and since Elmira isn’t that much older than her, neither of their fathers assumed anything of it. In reality, Elmira would pay more attention to her paintings than her visitors, so she didn’t really care what Drusilla did during the process. Drusilla and I developed a friendship, and since she has a passion for stories, she insisted on teaching me so that I could share her pursuit!”
“Drusilla gave me the mixture that remedied Phineas from his paranormal affliction!” Clarissa remembered. “Does she ever review literature pertaining to potion making?” Gabby shrugged. “Hmm… She either concocted it herself or she purchased it from an expert in that field- either scenario would signify that she has at least some knowledge on this lore! We need to consult her in order to make sense of this all!”
“That could prove difficult,” Gabby stated. “After her life was threatened yesterday, Cornelius will probably keep a close eye on her. But I agree with you- we have to find an avenue of speaking with her alone!”
Bernard walked down a row of white tents cordially nodding at his fellow soldiers as he passed by. He attempted to convey as much aloofness as possible, but inwardly, his senses were bogged down with the heaviness of the catastrophes that surrounded him! As if the war wasn’t bad enough, he couldn’t stop thinking about the mission he embarked on that no one else knew about! It felt strange to keep a secret from the men that he trusted with his life, but if it got out, valued protection of a certain region would vanish, so he refused to articulate a word to anyone on this operation! As he headed into the tent of his destination, he took a deep breath and knocked on wood for the best possible outcome!
As soon as Bernard entered into his quarters, he saw Kenneth holding a letter with an expression full of distress! He panicked and cried out, “What is it, sir? Is it Drusilla? Or Clarissa? Did something happen? Are they okay? Did they-?”
“Woah, woah, woah!” Kenneth interrupted his ravings. “This letter isn’t from Colfrith! And everything is fine! Well, sort of… It’s just… My mother wrote and said…”
“Is everything fine at home?” Bernard inquired with concern.
Kenneth’s lips pursed, and then he exhaled in an exasperated fashion prior to revealing, “My oldest daughter is a woman now!”
Bernard gasped, “You mean she was intimate with man?”
“No! But if she ever resorted to that, she’s obtained the ability to make me into a grandfather!” Kenneth shuddered at that concept.
“Oh, I see! Well, I comprehend one aspect of it anyways. I fail to grasp how that’s a strenuous event…” Bernard scratched his scalp as he mused over Kenneth’s reaction.
Kenneth fretfully exclaimed, “I’m not ready for her to grow up!” Bernard stared at him blankly, so he added, “You’ll understand one day when you’re a father!”
Bernard wasn’t sure how to reply to the image that he raised, so instead, he used that last phrase as a stepping stone for the issue he had been wanting to raise all along during this encounter, “Speaking of fathers… Father Clarence is busy tonight. A few soldiers succumbed to their wounds, so…”
“We’ll chat with him before he turns in for the night,” Kenneth concluded. Bernard looked baffled by that statement, so he expounded, “Listen, I’d love to go one day in this war where we don’t lose a single member of our force, but if we wait for that day to transpire, we’ll never get our chance to converse with him! I know it isn’t proper, but nothing about this dilemma is conventional! It may be a slightly out of the ordinary, but I’d do anything to save Clarissa! Would you do the same for Drusilla?”
“Of course!” Bernard adamantly affirmed. “Yes, I’m with you, sir!”
Gabby probed, “You want me to go in alone? Why?”
Clarissa reasoned, “It’d be pretty odd to view a woman entering into a public building with two buckets on her shoulders!”
“Since when did you get so easily embarrassed?” Gabby posed to Clarissa.
“I’m not embarrassed! I’m simply fed up with being the source of gossip for the borough!” Clarissa hung her head low in shame of admitting that they had gotten to her.
Gabby assured her, “I won’t be long!”
Clarissa gave her a grateful smile as she went inside. While she waited in front of The General Post, she discerned that more and more passersby ogled her. She silently grumbled over her inability to avoid this fate, and right when she was debating whether she would fare better in there or outside, a voice whispered into her ear, “You’re not safe anywhere!” He startled her by his abrupt appearance, but she rejected the inclination to cower down to his sinister advances! She spun around to confront him, but he was nowhere in sight! She scanned the entire vicinity, but she saw no sign of his presence! More villagers gawked at her following that behavior, but she no longer got affected by them at this juncture!
“So, what did you put in your letter to Kenneth?” Gabby jovially petitioned Clarissa as she re-emerged. When she saw that her act had caused Clarissa to jump in fright, she quickly cast off her gossipy mood! “What’s wrong?”
“He’s here somewhere!” Clarissa reported. “I heard him…”
Gabby gazed around the town square, but she couldn’t distinguish any portents of peril, so she quietly addressed Clarissa, “Let’s go to the well. He’s bound to reveal himself eventually through the course of our tasks!” Clarissa nodded, and they exited that sector.
Until they arrived to a secluded section of the hamlet’s outskirts, they remained on high alert for the onset of Alastor’s siege, but everything was eerily normal! When they queued up behind a long line of women with pails, they visually combed over the vicinity with as much thoroughness as they could muster! Clarissa was certain he was going to strike – he wouldn’t have goaded her if he hadn’t intended to do something malign! As she examined the ladies before her, she nearly missed an important clue to a different bind… “Drusilla is here!” she let Gabby know.
“Should we talk to her?” Gabby wondered.
“Only if we wish to discuss things that are acceptable to fall on our neighbors’ ears!” Clarissa frowned. Getting spooked by that hellish Hessian temporarily pushed Brenner’s box of trinkets out of her thoughts, but since it renewed itself, she ached to consult Drusilla! She was so young, but if she had the ability to produce an effective elixir, she calculated that she likely had a plethora of helpful tidbits on the predicament! She wanted to maintain the belief that her late husband had an innocent motive for stashing those ingredients to perform a rite, but she could not fathom how that would be possible…
An older girl towards the front suddenly yelled out in anguish, and her sister worriedly checked in with her, “Ophelia, are you hurt?”
Ophelia breathily conveyed to her, “It’s choking me!”
“What is?” her sister inquired.
“This!” Ophelia replied in a tone far deeper than her own as she tossed her cross necklace to the ground…