Chapter 10.3

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"Our family is endowed with an innate sixth sense for trouble. As my great Aunt Beedle would say (before she died in that fireworks factory explosion), we can smell danger from furls away." At this Snapper favoured the four young people before him with a look of great suspicion.

"You can't just turn us away," Ward said. "We walked all the way across Bareheep to see you."

This was no exaggeration. It had taken two hours to reach the Snapper Estate. From Flag Wood they crossed to the Wharflands, then descended to the river along the same road Ward and Snapper had taken a week before. When they reached the Yar they had followed it upstream along Flynn Street, past riverside public houses and grimy pawnbrokers. At Kildare Bridge they had stopped and looked south down the dusty road that vanished away into the sleeping countryside of Georgica. Wagons returning to the farms from the Sinday market crawled down the road like beetles.

Upstream the Yar became lost in a dark wood.

"Xandra Wood," Carmen had whispered.

"Why don't we go through it?" Ward said.

"I'm not going in there," said Rupert.

"It's haunted," Carmen said.

"Rubbish," Mildew said, but she hadn't protested when they detoured around it.

To do so they had to navigate a belt of parkland that separated Xandra Wood from the city. This meant passing close by the Temple of Hatto. It was an ugly, squat building, hewn in the plainest style, with massive columns along its front. It was crawling with people in black cloaks.

Beyond the Temple stood the Courts, a sinister group of dark buildings. The spires of Parliament loomed beyond them.

"Hector territory," Mildew whispered. "But it's not the Hectors you gotta watch."

There were more red cloaks than black now. Everyone else was in a suit, the women and the men. Despite the crowds there was an oppressive silence.

The rear side of the court complex was enclosed a great high wall, broken only by an iron gate - the Postern Gate it was called, the notorious back entrance to the courts, through which defendants were brought to trial, and the convicted escorted out afterwards. It was dour and dark, a place of despair. Ward was glad when they left it behind. 

Beyond the courts lay parkland dotted with sheoaks and acacias, gradually tapering off into empty fields. Ward thought it odd that so much land so near the city had been put to no purpose.

"State owns it all," Mildew explained. "Forced the old families out. Taxed Eden out of em til they sold up. Snapper's prolly the only one still hanging in there. He used to have a pack of nines that'd bark like mad and bite you on the pins, but I think he sold em. Still, we should keep our lamps open."

Snapper's house stood on a low rise at the far side of Xandra Wood. It backed onto the river, where a dilapidated rowboat was moored to a dilapidated jetty. The river meandered away to the east, where it split around a woody island, rejoined, then vanished into the hills.

The Snapper Estate had clearly once been a large and sumptuous landholding, but the fences were now in various states of disrepair and the road leading up to the house was overgrown. The sign at the entrance, however, was freshly painted.


SNAPPER ESTATE

TRESPASSERS WILL BE DISEMBOWELLED


Further signs directed one to the STABLES (a shed without a roof), the SERVANTS QUARTERS (stone foundations in a field riddled with lapp holes), and the GARDENS (an area slightly more overgrown than the rest). The house itself looked to be several centuries old, and was in a similar state of disrepair to the fences. It retained, however, a grimy sort of grandeur – Ward could tell it had once been a fine place.

It seemed at first that nobody was home. Ward knocked repeatedly, but there was no sound from the house. When he put his ear to the door though, he heard a soft, careful movement behind it.

"WE KNOW YOU'RE IN THERE SNAPPER!" he bellowed.

There was a crash and a curse from the other side of the door, and a moment later Snapper's face appeared in the doorjamb.


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