-The Demon Tree
Lyn’s face boiled with anger from Godfrey’s lackluster response. But the old butler stood his ground. No secrets would be spilled today. He thought he was doing it for her own good. Some secrets needed to stay buried, and he was a firm believer in not asking questions you didn’t want an answer to. Lyn continued to pry, she was never one to give up easily. An admirable trait, but mistaken.
Kalen sauntered into the library in a drunken waltz, holding an empty bottle in his hand. He groaned in disappointment before tossing the bottle and reaching for the flask in his coat pocket. It never failed him.
He wiped the alcohol dribbling from his chin. His eyes were blood red and his breath reeked of liquor. The lone pony tail on his head was untied and in shambles. Lyn couldn’t help but wince at his appearance. Godfrey sighed as he rolled his eyes. “Were you passed out this whole time?”
Kalen raised a forestalling hand. He took a sip from his flask and belched. Then he turned his gaze to Godfrey. His words were slurred. “Don’t you think she should know?”
Godfrey clenched his fists. “You know we’re not supposed to speak about her…”
Kalen guffawed. “She’ll find out, eventually. Why not tell her now?”
Lyn stepped between him and Godfrey. “How did you know we were talking about Irene?”
“Ha!” Kalen formed a smug and pointed to his ears. “Werewolves have superb hearing love…”
Godfrey scoffed. He would hear no more of this. But Kalen had a point. Terror wormed its way into his gut, but he formed his words. As he spoke, he thought of Drake’s wrath. His face turned pale. Bloody hell!
“If you want answers,” Godfrey said, “then go ask the apple tree in the cemetery. You’ll know it when you see it. But whatever you do… Don’t eat the apples…”
The old butler scooped up the tray and teapots from the stand. With a sharp turn, he dismissed himself and would speak no more of the subject. He disappeared around the corner, closing the door behind him. Kalen shrugged and took another sip from his flask. He and Lyn were left with the cackling flames in the fireplace. It rekindled lost, perhaps cursed memories within each of them.
Finally, Kalen spoke, “Drake will be in London for a meeting with Ulysses. He won’t be back until dusk. You have until then.”
“What’s so special about the tree-?”
Kalen tumbled over like a stone statue. Fortunately for him, the bearskin rug beneath him took most of the impact. Lyn shook his body but received no response. Out cold. She chuckled and draped her blanket over him. She headed up the stairs to take the west gallery that wrapped around to Drake’s bedroom.
By the time she woke up, Drake was already gone. She reached over to his side of the bed to find only wrinkled sheets and blankets. Lines of sunlight peeked through the blinders of the otherwise dark room. Birds chirped from outside and she could hear the servants scrambling around the rest of the mansion. She slipped on a yellow sunflower dress with a matching hat and heels that looped around her ankles. The black pearls didn’t compliment her dress, so she left them with the mannequin on her dresser. She hated it when things didn’t match or look out of place. A trait she shared with her mother, Wanda.
She declined Godfrey’s offer to make her breakfast even though it was favorite; pancakes with chocolate chips and strawberries. That butler was crafty. His plan to distract her from today’s adventure wouldn’t work. It took every ounce of her strength and willpower to ignore the savory aroma of Godfrey’s home cooked meal. Before Godfrey could convince her otherwise, she had already darted across the main lobby and into the library.
Godfrey released an exasperated sigh, the tray of untouched food still resting in his arms. Lyn took the same stairs to the library’s second floor as she did the night before. Instead of going left and taking the west gallery she turned right past the other row of bookshelves. This took her to another door the servants usually left open when the weather was cool. The entrance to the cemetery.
Before her was an old fountain overgrown with moss and ivy, devoid of any water. The cemetery entrance was just a narrow gate of rusted bars flanked by two stone angels resting on pedestals. As she thought, the servants left the gate unlocked. A crisp breeze surged through her bones, blowing the soft fabrics of her dress. The breeze stole her hat and blew it further into the cemetery.
Lyn pouted. “Seriously?”
She opened the gate and closed it behind her. A narrow dirt trail took her uphill where a mass of tombstones and crosses met her. Two adjacent mausoleums stood further up the hill, their entrances sealed with a massive stone. But the apple tree was nowhere to be seen. Did Godfrey send her on a goose-chase? No, the old fart was many things, but a liar wasn’t one of them. She found her hat resting on the limbs of a stone cross.
Its sight brought her a moment of relief and as she reached over to retrieve it, the wind took it once again.
May God grant you eternal life
The dates were blurred from years of corrosion and the elements. But Lyn discerned the words that had been crudely carved towards the bottom of the cross.
“Why would anyone put that on her grave?” she asked nothing in particular.
That was the same name Drake mentioned last night. This woman was the Executioner’s Blade’s rightful owner.
“What are you doing here?” a voice rasped.
She looked up to see a man standing in front of her. He was an older man with fierce brown eyes and a sharp nose. His skin was brown and leathery from many years of labor. He wore a pair of denim overalls doused with soil and gardening gloves. Lyn realized that he was the mansion’s groundskeeper. In one hand was a shovel, the other her hat.
“I- I was just looking for my hat,” she stammered. “The wind blew it away…”
The groundskeeper snorted derisively. He tossed her the hat. “What are you really here for?”
Lyn sighed. She was never a good liar. “I’m looking for the apple tree-”
He cut across her words. “That ain’t no apple tree. If you have any sense, you’ll turn around and go back inside. Ain’t nothing out here for you but graves and corpses…”
“Please,” Lyn whispered. The groundskeeper didn’t stand a chance against her sincere emerald eyes.
The man grunted before gesturing towards the path leading past the mausoleums to the rear of the cemetery. As she followed, the man didn’t speak, nor did he look back once. Thick shrubs and bushes lined the path the further they traveled. Overgrown trees and vegetation created a thick canopy that blocked the sun. Then she knew what Godfrey meant the night before.
Rows of high thorns and marsh soil that resembled gunpowder surrounded the petrified tree. Yet from its thick branches, it yielded edible fruit. Picture perfect red apples. Nothing grew within the tree’s perimeter. She glanced at the groundskeeper who stared at the tree.
“When Irene died,” the groundskeeper prompted, “Drake had her buried in an unmarked grave beneath this tree. He was worried that grave robbers might find it though I’m not sure why. One thing’s for sure, ever since then- nothing grows around this tree anymore…”
“Godfrey said not to eat the fruit. What happens if you eat the fruit?”
The man grimaced. “Then you’ll end up like Irene.”