'Dear House,' I said. Only as I spoke those words did it strike me as odd that the house had no other name. Such grand places always have spectacular names of course — think of Chatsworth, or Castle Howard, or Buckingham Palace. Iconic buildings, memorable names. Why was this one so different? Had it ever been named, at all? If not, why not?
I had never heard of its ever being called anything but "House", or "Home", or something along those lines. It had never felt strange to call it such before. But now I was addressing the building directly, and it felt as strange to call it "House" as it would be to address a friend as "Person", or perhaps "Human".
'Dear House,' I said again, trying to sound less doubtful about it. 'I... need your help.'
I paused — to collect my thoughts, and to give House an opportunity to turf me out, if it wanted to. I mean, if it was going to be totally uninterested in rendering me any assistance at all, better to know that right away and save both of us the time.
But nothing happened, so I went on. 'There is a problem with the trolls, you see. They are sick, dying. We're going to lose a few of their Enclaves altogether if we don't figure out why, and who knows where it will end? Perhaps they will all go. Something has to be done, but nobody knows where to start.
'We think it might have something to do with Farringale. Baron Alban and I, that is — do you know him? He is the Troll Court's ambassador to the Hidden Ministry, and he knows things about the Old Court, even if he won't confide in me. We want to go to Farringale, so we can try to find out what destroyed it. If it's the same thing that's wiping out Glenfinnan and Darrowdale and Baile Monaidh, well, maybe we will be able to do something about it. Before any more are lost.'
I took a deep breath, encouraged by the continued lack of dire consequences to my narration. 'You've probably guessed why I'm here by now. Alban has two of the keys, but we cannot go without the third. I... may as well own that Milady forbids the venture entirely. I don't really blame her, either. If Farringale was half as vast and splendid as the legends say, then whatever destroyed it was probably not something we want to poke with a stick. But I think we have to try.
'Val thought you might help me, and... I am hoping she is right. Do you have the third key? Will you lend it to me? I promise to bring it back.' An unpleasant thought entered my head and I felt obliged to add, in a lower tone, 'Assuming I get out of Farringale alive.'
Silence. Seconds passed, then minutes, and I heard no sound but the gentle ticking of the grandfather clock; saw nothing move, save the clock's swaying pendulum.
Was that a refusal? Was the House even listening to me? I didn't know, couldn't tell. All I could do was wait, which I did with increasing impatience and dismay as minute after minute passed and the chocolate went cold in the pot.
Five minutes. Seven. Ten.
How was I going to explain to Baron Alban that I had failed? He had asked me specifically, with a flattering confidence in my ability to deliver. I did not want to disappoint him. And if we could not get into Farringale, how else were we to save the Enclaves? What else could we do?
Twenty minutes, and no sign of a response. Either House had not heard me at all, or it had chosen to side with Milady. 'Very well, then,' I said. 'Thank you for listening to me. And for letting me see your favourite room.' I took a last look around, for the chances were that I would never see it again.
The clock ticked on.
I hauled myself out of the chair — really, they were surprisingly comfortable, for all their formal magnificence — and shook out my hair.
YOU ARE READING
As an agent of the Society for Magickal Heritage, Cordelia "Ves" Vesper has an important job: to track down and rescue endangered magickal creatures, artefacts, books and spells wherever they are to be found. It's a duty that takes her the length an...