NaNoWriMo 2020: Episode 17

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(Read a summary of the story up to now here. Or start at the beginning here.)

Brushing the inquisitive parrot aside, she pulls a big tome from the shelf. Richie crows and flutters around her but she brushes him off. “Take this, will you?” she pants, “it is rather heavy.”
Helena takes the book from her. It is a large linen-bound work with spindly lettering on the spine. Julia clears the desk by putting all the piles on other piles so Helena can put the book down. The cover is dark red and dusty, without any printing except for a small picture of a crow. It resembles the picture that is on the pendant and the building, but is not quite the same. Helena looks at the spine. It says:

Craay of Hertogsbos

“Craay? Like crow?”
“Indeed!” Julia’s eyes are shining. She enjoys an audience and probably doesn’t often have one, save the parrot. “This book contains much of the history of the Craay family that was once master of an estate not all that far from here…
“Hertogsbos! Where the natural park is now!” She has seen its name on countless mugs and information booklets, after all.
“Right again!” Julia opens the book and searches through its big pages until she finds what she is looking for. “There!”
The picture is spread across two pages and shows the main house of the estate – now natural park – that Helena knows so well, and that now houses the trust’s management and administration. Rick’s office is in there. On the picture the building is a lot newer than it is now though, with more vegetation around it and no parking lot. In fact, no cars can be seen at all. Instead, a horse and carriage is parked just outside the grand entrance.
“I expect those are for show, really,” Julia explains “because the Craays were one of the first families in these parts to have a car, but they have always been conservative in their public image.”

Helena looks at the great house. A number of people are standing on the veranda just outside the front door. There is a stiff looking man with a woman in a big frilly dress by his side. The woman is holding a parasol. In front of them are three children, two boys and a girl. They are also dressed in their Sunday best. The same can probably be said for the servants that are lined up on the lawn, down the steps. Helena can make out a few maids, a housekeeper, a groundskeeper by the look of it, and a number of footmen of various kinds. On the grainy black and white picture they seem to be squinting into the camera, seized up from standing still for a long time.

“That” Julia points out “is my landlord’s grandfather, Theodore. He had inherited the house and lands from his father, of course, and he from his father before him. They had been masters of that estate for about a century already when this picture was taken. And that” she points again “is his wife, Emmeline.” She leaves through the book again until she comes to another picture, this time of the woman alone. A friendly looking woman is looking out from the page, clearly dressed in fine clothes that show her wealth. Her jewellery shows the same… 
“The necklace!” Helena gasps.
“Uh-huh, there it is.” Julia nods, without taking her eyes off the page. “And there are records of it, on old pictures and inventory lists, going about as far back as the family’s fortune. Early 18th century somewhere. Something happened around then that set off the family’s good fortune for many generations.”
“Well, it is a matter of chicken and egg of course. But it is around that time that they acquired the necklace, so of course I went digging.”
“Wait,” Helena said, “hold on a little minute now. Why would you go digging into someone else’s personal family history?”
Julia shrugs, “Because I wanted all I could get my hands on to hang on to my home. I like it here.” She shrugs again.
“So you investigated his grandmother’s jewellery?”
Julia laughs. “It didn’t start out that way! I started looking into inventory lists and the item name ‘Inca necklace’ caught my attention. Now, that is no Inca artefact you see there, but to people in the 18th century who had only ever heard of far away lands across the ocean, and eagerly followed explorers’ stories of exotic places. But it’s a funny little tidbit so I started looking into it. And it kind of ran away from me, because it is interesting stuff.”
“Well, apparently the first gentleman in the family who got his hands on the necklace was a lowly dockworker in the Amsterdam harbour.”
“No way! He wasn’t nobility?”
“Nope, not at all. He was as common as you and me – assuming you are not nobility, of course.” She grins sheepishly.
“My grandfather was a mailman. I think I can honestly say no to that” Helena laughs.
“Anyway, one day he helps out some poor sod somewhere in the area around Zeedijk…”
“Rough area.”
“You could say that, yes. Why Craay was there, nobody knows, but he decided to help the gentleman find lodgings. Or at least that is how the story goes. And then he received this necklace as a reward.”
“Wow. That was some payment!”
“It is suspected that the gentleman in question was, ah, inebriated at the time.”
Helena’s eyes open wide. “He robbed a drunk?”
Julia nods, her eyes glittering. “And fortunes turned for both of them immediately, it appears. The very next day, Craay was given the position of foreman which meant he didn’t need to sell the necklace immediately for fast cash and he hung onto it. And the longer he did, the more fortune seemed to be going his way. And that of his sons.”
“Until they were able to purchase land.”
“And have a stately house built. Slapped a title on themselves somewhere along the line too, for good measure.”
“How did all this happen?”
Julia shakes her head. “No records for a long time. I have no idea how he figured it all out. I do know that he did, and that he used it to his advantage.”
“Use what?”
“Well,” Julia start, but then stops suddenly, “hang on.” 

She looks up, listening intently. Helena falls quiet too, but she hears nothing out of the ordinary. She looks at her new friend questioningly but Julia holds up her finger, like she did when they were still in the old staircase. Then she stands up and starts to make her way around the room, searching.
“What is the…?” Helena begins, but she is immediately shushed.
Julia stands still and begins to whistle softly, rolling the tone over her tongue and between her teeth. But no answer comes, the room remains silent.
Helena listens too. “Richie?”
“Check your pocket!” Julia says with an urgent tone in her voice. In the mean time she keeps scanning around, looking for her parrot.
Helena immediately plunges her hand into her pocket and feels the ball of wool. It has become warm, almost hot. She takes it out quickly and moves to the kitchen sink where she fills a glass with water and tips the pendant in. The water immediately starts to get warmer to her touch. As she walks into the room again with the glass in her hand, Julia glances at her and calls “You’re gonna need a bigger glass!”
Indeed, the water is heating up fast. While a whole jug of it was enough to contain the heat from the stone, this little glass certainly isn’t. Helena hurries back to the kitchen and grabs one of the pans off the stove to put it under the tap. While it is filling up, she tips the water from the glass and the pendant in. It clangs softly as it reaches the bottom. She carries the pan into the living room and sets it down on the desk. Meanwhile, Julia seems to have located Richie on the floor beside the bookcase near the door.
“Is he okay?” asks Helena, concerned.
“I think so,” says Julia, “but he is terrified out of his wits.” She coos softly to him and then moves a pile of books in front of him. “He needs to feel safe,” she explains, “so I am making him a little fort. He can still climb out when he wants to.” She eyes the pan on the desk. “If he wants to.”
“What is it with animals and this thing?” Helena asks. “They were all quiet in the park too when we first arrived there, although I have taken it around with me also near other animals, like birds, and they were fine!”
“Was it heating up at the time?”
Helena hesitates. “I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
Julia nods grimly. “Right.”
“Wait,” says Helena, “are you saying that it only affects animals when it is heating like this? And that, consequently, it was heating when we first came to the field at the park?”
“Very likely, yes.”
Helena is about to say that she didn’t notice, but then she couldn’t have. But would the heat have dried out the mud around the pendant, and make it fall out easier so she would see a glimmer, and find it the next day? “But cats…”
“Cats are not affected, probably. It makes for a safe space for your litter of kittens if the foxes stay away.”
Helena nods. “Makes sense.” She prods the pendant again. “What makes it heat up like that?” She picks up a letter opener from the desk and prods the pendant. Little bubbles come away from its surface.
“Ah, well that is the essential question, isn’t it? And one the gentlemen below stairs would probably much like the answer to. He would be able to make it glow at will if he knew that, but I fear that it is still a mystery. The effects of it, though, are very well documented. And it is not pretty. So please stop doing that!”
Helena puts the letter opener down, blushing. She had been making the pendant chase around the pan to make a swishing noise. “I am sorry. I am becoming a bit, um, overwhelmed with all this.”
“Understandable but no excuse,” Julia says with a firm tone.
“What are the effects of the stone?”
Julia sighs deeply and lets herself drop into the chair. “What do you know about summoning spirits?”

It has been a busy couple of hours. Sandwiches have been made. More tea was drunk. Books were pulled off the shelves as well as maps and at one time a large poster with a strange diagram that Helena doesn’t quite understand. There has been a definite assault on her ability for suspension of disbelief in order to follow Julia through the story of the family, the various fortunes and disasters that struck them in turn. Now Helena is leaning back in the desk chair with her legs spread out in front of her and her hands behind her head. She seems to be addressing the ceiling.
“Wooo. So. Let me get this straight. Okay? People like your downstairs neighbour, the honourable lordship of…”
“He is a pillock, don’t give him honour he is not entitled to!” Julia says crabbily and gets up stiffly.
“Sorry. Your downstairs neighbour and reluctant landlord, Lord Craay formerly of Hertogsbos, whose family once had ownership of the lands currently used as public land and nature reserve, where I work and train to become a forest ranger, is desperate to get his hands on this thing” – she points at the necklace on the bottom of the saucepan with the letter opener – “in order to re-establish his family’s tradition of performing rites to communicate with spirits so he can regain, what, fortune and glory for the family?” She holds up her hand as Julia opens her mouth to say something. “Oh and these spirits are not very nice, in fact they can be described fairly as ‘demons’ which makes this some kind of weird Faust story except with kittens thrown in?” She throws her hands into the air. “What. The. Fuck?”
Julia steps back into the room grinning and holding two cold beers. “I am sure the kittens were unintentional.”

“Then, it turns out that the price to pay for all that good fortune is kind of heavy, which is to be expected for anyone who knows their Faust stories, and people start dying all around, getting brain tumors, hanging themselves, and generally being miserable. So when the lovely grandmama of the current only living descendant” – Helena points down – “is found swinging from the rafters, grandpapa’s had enough. Does that summon it up nicely?”
Julia nods. “Sounds about right.” She takes a big swig of her beer and Helena follows suit. Then she continues her summary.
“Also, all of this is normal enough for a seemingly level-headed man like my mentor ranger Fred to not only think this is perfectly okay, but to allow himself to be used as a kind of strongman in the first line of defence. Or offence. I don’t know.” She sighs. “What the fuck?”
“Don’t forget the power of this thing,” Julia says. “It is likely that Fred and his estate have been part of that estate for a long time, going back at least to the time when the Craays were still masters of that land.”
“And Fred’s people were loyal servants, you mean?”
“Bound in servitude takes on a whole new meaning when these spirits are involved, I have no doubt.”
Helena shudders. Her mind turns inevitably to the line of servants in the picture. This was not exactly what she was expecting when she had signed up for an internship with Fred. “Why did he accept me as an intern if he was just going to run around chasing after eldritch artefacts for his masters?” This was getting past the point of ridiculous and straight into insanity.
“I doubt that looking for this thing constituted much of his job, until you found it the day before yesterday. But maybe something his master had been telling him to look out for came to his mind when he found himself in that field. Although I am sure he was sorry he had brought you, otherwise he would have gone digging right away.”
“It was getting dark. We couldn’t even find the cat anymore.”
“But he came back the next day…”
“…after I had already removed that thing.”

They look at the necklace. Richie stirs from his hiding place and starts to climb the bookcase again to his perch by the window.
“Well fuck” says Helena, “now what do I do?”

tl;dr Helena and Julia have a long conversation in which they discuss that apparently the necklace is a way to summon spirits for good fortune – but at a heavy price.

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