The Erebus Accounts: His Last Christmas – Chapter II

The Erebus Accounts: His Last Christmas – Chapter II

Without displaying particular purpose, I moved nonchalantly into a corner of the room from which I could survey its full complement of occupants. Supplementing my initial, instinctive appraisal, I examined each in turn, yet found my eyes inexorably drawn to one, and only one. He faced away from me; his own gaze seemingly transfixed upon the distant Solent. Clad in black, he cut a suitably sombre figure, blending with the suite as if a part of the furniture. Accordingly, all others in the room seemed content, if not outright determined, to ignore him. Perhaps it was that they simply did not wish to see him, but the alternative notion nonetheless quickened in my mind. Still, he did not move.

In my periphery, I sensed one of the guards’ eyes had wandered in my direction. An opportunity to test my hypothesis presented itself. Exhaling with a silent, but sufficiently exaggerated, movement of my chest, I drew his attention, distracting him for the briefest of moments. Thus, when I suddenly turned my gaze towards him, he paused just a little too long: starting momentarily, eyes widening in surprise, he rushed to look away from me, and instinct brought him to the other sight lingering in his consciousness. This, too, he swiftly regretted, and switched in blithe desperation to observing a nondescript spot on the ceiling. The exchange took no more than half a second in all, but it needed be no longer. If the man by the window was a deception, I was certain now the deceit was not in my eyes alone. An intriguing development, but far from an encouraging one: if any part of my surmisal of the situation was correct, we were contending with an entity of considerable power, and a host with no intention of letting it go.

“Henry.”

I heard the voice, but was distracted by my thoughts, and did not initially think to act upon it.

“Henry.”

Sharper this time. I turned to my father and raised an eyebrow.

“Join us,” he graciously demanded.

Lord Morscroft did not rise, requiring me to step around him and stand with my back to the silent gentleman.

“Ma’am,” I smiled courteously towards the Queen, “Might I say, you’re looking well, all things considered.” A lie, of course, but Her Majesty never objected to a little modest flattery. The ability to flatter without slipping into sycophancy marked the divide between those she trusted and those she did not. She smiled, imparting the scant warmth she could muster.

“Thank you, Captain Morscroft.”

In truth, I had been gazetted, and later confirmed, Major shortly before resigning my commission, but correcting the error would offer no benefit here.

“I hear you have a daughter?” She enquired.

Another pang of guilt shot through my chest.

“Yes, ma’am. Helena.”

Another weak smile.

“Helena. I approve.”

She and Albert had settled upon the same name for their fifth child. I confess, I was somewhat surprised at the question: a dislike of children seems an unintuitive trait for a woman who birthed nine of them, but one which Victoria nevertheless maintained ardently, and which made the subject an unexpected choice in opening a conversation. One sympathises, admittedly; while I would readily kill for my daughter, the indiscretion of infants in choosing when and where to deposit their various, foul-smelling secretions is no more appealing a trait than their peculiar ability to transform seemingly any woman in their vicinity into a mewling approximation of an infatuated kitten.

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