The Legacy of Isis Part 4

‘What? Where?’ Sir James strode across  and stared down at the bedclothes as his wife put her arm around Louisa’s shoulders.

‘A snake!’ Louisa could hardly speak.

‘Snake?’ Sir James took a step back.

‘There.’ She pointed, but already she knew they would find nothing.  Carstairs was far too clever for that.

‘Look, James.’ It was Sarah, gently pushing Louisa aside, who stepped up to the bed  ‘There, on the pillows. You can see the indentation where it lay.  And there -’  She pulled the covers back.  ‘Sand.’

‘Sand?’ Sir James looked bewildered.

‘Mr Graham.’ Sarah turned to the butler who had appeared somewhat belatedly, his jacket awry as if he had hastily pulled it on.  Judging by the slight aroma of whisky on his breath the disturbance had caught him relaxing in the servant’s hall . ‘Take two of the lads and search the room.  How big was it?’ She turned to Louisa?

‘Big.’ Louisa’s mouth had dried. She could barely speak.

‘We’ll put you in another room.’ Sarah hugged her again. ‘Kirsty can make you up a bed, can’t you,  Kirsty? You can’t possibly stay in here.’ She shuddered.  ‘Oh, how horrible.’

‘I don’t understand this at all.’ Sir James was staring round the room thoughtfully.  ‘The windows are shut.  How on earth could a snake get in here? What kind of snake was it, Louisa?   An adder?  A grass snake?’

‘It was a cobra,’ Louisa whispered.

‘A cobra?’ Sir James stared at her, clearly disbelieving.  ‘What nonsense.  Are you sure you didn’t imagine the whole things.  Perhaps you had fallen asleep and were dreaming.’

‘She can hardly dream on her feet, James,’ Sarah put in quietly. Behind them the servants were staring round, Mr Graham clearly of the same opinion as his master, the young women looking frightened.   ‘And we had said goodnight only moments before, if you remember.’

Sir James snorted.  ‘All right.  Go and make up another room for our guest, girls, and the rest of you search in here.  Carefully.  If it’s a cobra they are poisonous.’  His glance heavenwards was not missed by the others in the room.  Clearly Sir James did not believe in the creature’s existence.


It was an hour later when Louisa found herself alone once more.  She was in another of the plentiful guest rooms, comforted by two lamps and a cup of hot milk and the knowledge that the room had been searched as had the rest of the house.  Nothing had been found in  her original room, nor anywhere else, save for those few enigmatic grains of sand.

Before she returned to her room Sarah had caught her hand.  ‘Will you be all right?’

Louisa nodded.  ‘He took me by surprise. This time I shall be ready  for him.’

‘Be careful.’ Sarah eyed her doubtfully.’

‘I will.’ Louisa leaned forward and kissed her.  ‘Good night.’

Once the others had left her, Louisa glanced round nervously.  This room too looked out over the back of the house.  This room too had tall windows opening onto the long balcony   Taking a deep breath she walked over and throwing open the curtains she pushed open the casement.  The moon was shining across the garden and parkland throwing deep shadows under the tall trees.  Nothing moved.

‘So, my lord,’ she whispered.  ‘Have you used the last of your strength with that performance?  Have you nothing else to frighten me with?’

In the distance she heard the eerie cry of an owl.  She shivered.  The night was uncannily still. She held out her hand, touching the stone balustrade.  On her forefinger she was wearing the  heavy gold ring she had taken from the case in Carstairs Castle.  It gleamed softly in the moonlight

 ‘I have one of your treasures here, my lord, do you see? It’s very beautiful.  Very valuable no doubt.’  Taking it off she weighed it in the palm of her hand.  ‘Do you remember my little scent bottle? The one you wanted so badly for your collection? You thought it contained the tears of Isis and I  threw it in the Nile to stop you getting it.’ She paused turning the ring over in her hands.  ‘But someone rescued it, and  it came back to me . I still have that little bottle.  And now I have your ring as well.  And tomorrow perhaps I shall return to the castle and take something else.  And then something else. And then again.’  She paused and smiled, staring out into the darkness.  ‘Checkmate, my lord.’

The stonework was cool under her hands, fragments of lichen catching against her skirt as on a far away plain a white man stepped out of his tepee and bowed to his hosts before sitting down by their fire.  The elders of the tribe bowed back and silently resumed their scrutiny of the flames.  This was a man with whom they felt at ease. A walker like themselves between the worlds, a medicine man of extreme power.  A man comfortable  in the presence of the Great Spirit.  They did not know where it was their guest travelled under the influence of the peyote god nor did they care.  That was his business and his alone.


He wasn’t coming.  Leaving the windows open onto the hot night Louisa went back inside the room and turning off the lamps which were surrounded with fluttering moths she began to undress, half of her relieved that all was peaceful, half angry and tense with nervous anticipation. Pulling on her nightgown she  unpinned her hair and reaching for her hair brush she wandered towards the window, drawn to the beauty of the moonlight.  She had put the ring on the table by the lamp; it lay there, gleaming gently as she stood drawing the brush through her long hair.

This time when she saw him  his chest was bare.  He wore the buckskin trousers and there were strings of beads around his neck as he stood staring in through the double windows with those strange colourless eyes.  He bowed.   ‘Tonight you were expecting me, I think.’

The ring.  She had taken off the ring.  Squaring her shoulders she looked him in the eyes  ‘Why did you send a snake to my room?’

He smiled. ‘To act as your body guard should you need one. You knew it wouldn’t hurt you.’

‘So, you still serve Isis? For all your wanderings in India and in the Americas, your heart is still in Egypt.?’

He was watching her intently, his eyes probing.  ‘As is yours, I suspect, or have you at last forgotten your native paramour.’

Clenching her fists, she took a deep breath.  ‘I shall never forget Hassan, my lord.  Nor the fact that you killed him.’

He laughed, the sound quietly chilling  ‘He was killed by a snake, Louisa.  Even my worst enemy would find it very hard to believe I could have arranged such a deed, and you surely are not my worst enemy.’

‘No?’ She looked at him through half closed eyes.  He wasn’t real.  This man, solid as he appeared, was some kind of phantasmagoria conjured by his mind and perhaps hers in a strange drug induced union.  His body was far away  in the Americas, or perhaps in Egypt or India .  Wherever it was, his soul had learned to step outside it and travel around the earth. And his soul was nothing but a shadow; a ghost; a dream.

She smiled, reassured by the thought.

He raised an eyebrow.  ‘Something amuses you, Mrs Shelley?’

‘It does indeed.  I was reminding myself of your insubstantial nature.’  She drew herself up to her full height.

‘Insubstantial, but nevertheless satisfying,’ he said.  There was a mocking gleam in his eye and she felt herself blush violently.

‘A dream, my lord.  Nothing more.’

‘But what a dream!’ He took a pace forward and reflexively she stepped back away from him.   ‘A dream of ecstasy and abandon,.’ he went on,  ‘one would find very hard to resist.’

‘Don’t take another step!’ She put up her hand to ward him off and her fingers met hard smooth skin.

 He looked down into her eyes.  ‘An excellently real dream, Mrs Shelley, you must acknowledge.’ He was so close now she could feel the touch of his breath on her cheek and smell the bitter sweet smokiness of that distant ceremony.  ‘You enjoyed our encounter last time, did you  not?’ His hand came up to stroke her hair and suddenly  she found herself unable to move.  Desperately she tried to step  away from him , but she couldn’t. She wanted nothing so much as for him to touch her, to hold her and pull her close once more.  Slowly she felt her ability to fight him die.  She raised her face to his and closed her eyes as he bent to kiss her.  Her whole body responded to the touch of his lips with a thrill of excitement; her knees grew weak; she longed to give herself to him, to throw herself down and pull him with her, to abandon herself totally to the ecstasy  of his love making.                                  

His quiet chuckle brought her to her senses.  With a small exclamation of alarm she ducked away from him and ran to the bedside table. Scooping up the ring she turned with a cry of triumph.  No, my lord. Winning me over is not that easy.  Do you see this? One of your treasures, my lord. Egyptian gold. Something no doubt you value highly.’ Behind him the moonlight had moved from behind the great cedar on the grass outside her window.  It streamed in across the floor throwing his shadow before it, a shadow that was as substantial as hers.

‘So?’ He looked amused.  ‘My treasures are at your disposal, my dear.’

‘Indeed.’ She was taken aback.  ‘Yet you were prepared to kill for my little bottle.’

His eyes held hers for a moment. ‘That was not quite the same, Louisa.  The tears of the goddess, prepared by her temple priests were irreplaceable. You destroyed not only a piece of history but a powerful link to the goddess herself. Something of inestimable value; something of power so great that it would have given its owner the keys to the world! It was an unforgivable act.’ 

‘But you seem to have forgiven me now?’ She raised an eyebrow.

‘No, I haven’t forgiven you.’ His voice hardened.  ‘You amuse me.  It is always a pleasure to take a beautiful woman; the more so if it makes her despise herself.’

She closed her eyes for a moment, blanking out the sudden hatred she saw in his face; shocked at how much  the knowledge that he had merely  been playing with her hurt.  ‘What if I told you the tears of Isis still exist.’

He froze, staring at her.  ‘What do you mean? I saw you throw the bottle  in the Nile.’

So. He was not all seeing.  The confirmation of the fact comforted her. ‘The bottle was wrapped in a piece of cloth which floated.  My servant saved it and returned it to me.’

She saw how every muscle in his body tensed.  ‘So, where is it now?’

It was her turn to smile.  Her weakness of a moment before  had turned to something like triumph.  ‘Nowhere you could find it, my lord. That is my secret.’

His cry of fury was cut off short as he grabbed her wrist and pulled her violently against him.  ‘If that little bottle still exists, I will have it.  This time, Mrs Shelley, I will have it.’

She found she could look up at him almost unafraid as she spat her defiance at him.  ‘No, and  that is my revenge, my lord.  For Hassan’s death.  You say you were not responsible for  killing him, but we both know you sent the snake to that cave.  It will give me enormous pleasure to know you realise  the bottle still  exists, but that  you will never, never see it again. If I choose to destroy it I shall.  If I choose to keep it, I shall.  But you will never set eyes on it.’

She gave a small cry of fright as he pushed her violently backwards onto the bed,  and climbing onto it after her, straddled her body with his knees.  ‘I think I know how to  persuade you.’

‘I don’t think so.’ She was still clutching the ring.  ‘I’m not afraid of you any more, my lord.’ To her surprise she realised suddenly that it was true. ‘And I have discovered your weakness.  You care for your treasures. And I suspect, if you are really in America,  they are beyond your reach.  You see this?’ She thrust her clenched fist up  into his face.  ‘Your ring.   I am going to  throw it  into the loch. See how easy it was to steal? And you can’t stop me, because as you have said you are not really here.  And tomorrow I shall go back to your museum and I shall simper at your Mr Dunglass and flutter my eyelashes at your son and ask to paint more of your collection and they will let me in.  Oh, be sure of that, my lord, however hard you try and stop them,  they will let me in and one by one I shall destroy your treasures.  Your gold and silver.  Your feathered head-dresses, your fragile mummy, and above all, that dry hollow skin which was once a snake!  And you will be able to do nothing.  Nothing! Because you are 4000 miles away!’

He was staring down at her, his face impassive.  Only his eyes seemed alight in the shadowed sockets.  He smiled coldly. ‘So, don’t you  believe I can communicate with my sons or my factor to warn them? Believe me, I can. Not easily, I grant you with Dunglass – the man is an idiot – but my sons have promise   They are receptive. They will listen to me.’  He was still, looking down at her almost thoughtfully.  ‘But on the whole  I prefer to deal with you.  You are so open, so – .’ He paused . ‘Eager.’   Releasing her wrist he put his hand to the ribbon at the neck of her nightgown  and gently pulled it open.  ‘You are still beautiful, for an ageing  woman.’ He said it almost absent-mindedly then his expression changed to a cold sneer.  ‘But your charms have suddenly diminished. You have revealed yourself to be a spiteful witch.  And witches have to be dealt with.’ His hand dropped away and he sat staring down  at her thoughtfully for a moment  ‘I wonder how. There are so many possibilities.  So many ways to contain that spite.’ His weight held her immobile.  She could feel the muscles of his thighs gripping her legs.   He touched her cheek lightly.  ‘Did you dream of revenge, Louisa, as Hassan died in the dust?  Did you watch the poison from the snake bite spread through his veins and think of me? How gratifying.’

Unable to bear his gloating expression for another instant she tried to wrench herself free, throwing herself sideways but she couldn’t move. Smiling he  reached down and grabbed her chin, forcing her to look at him again.  ‘I have an idea. You like my museum.  I think we will visit it together.  Would you like to travel  with me, through the secret byways of the medicine man, the dark tunnels of the shaman, the hidden paths of the witch doctor?  I know them all.’ He laughed quietly.  ‘I know how to enter them and I know how to leave them and I know how to entrap someone’s soul forever in the mists and shadows of their darkness. All I have to do is to suck your soul into mine with the time-honoured seal of possession, the traitor’s kiss.’

Desperately she tried to wriggle away from him pushing frantically at his chest, but he grabbed her wrists in one hand and with the other again forced her to look at him.  Slowly, smiling all the time, he leaned forward and pressed his lips once more  against hers.

She held her breath, fighting him, trying frantically  to squirm away from him, kicking, wrenching but it was no good. Her strength was failing; the world was starting to spin and at last, unable to stop herself she drew in a long gasping breath of the smoky essence of the man above her  and immediately she was whirling away  into the dark.


When she opened her eyes all was black.  Her head was spinning and she was very cold. She tried to speak but no sound came and all around her the silence was   profound.  Cautiously  she tried to move her limbs.  Her body felt stiff and bruised and  she was very afraid.

‘So, you came with me.’ The voice in her ear was very close.

‘Where is this? What’s happened?.’ She managed to speak at last.

‘I have brought you to see my museum.’ She heard a movement beside her.  ‘Wait.  I’ll light the lamp.’

She sensed him move away, heard the rattle of matches,  saw a flame.  Seconds later a gentle light filled the room as he settled the glass chimney over the wick.

‘How did we get here?’ She found she was standing in the middle of the floor near the case of Egyptian artefacts.  A glance down told her she was still dressed in her nightgown.  The ring was still on her finger.  Her host on the other hand,  seemed to have exchanged his buckskins for  black trousers, white shirt and tartan plaid.  The latter was this time fastened by a silver brooch fashioned into some kind of heraldic device.

‘We flew.’ The sardonic look in his eyes did not escape her.

‘I see.’ She pursed her lips.  ‘I’m dreaming.  I know I’m dreaming.  Did you drug me?’

He put his head on one side.  ‘All it would have taken  was a few drops of laudanum in your milk.’

She groaned.  ‘And you’ve been here all along? Skulking somewhere in this great castle playing games.  No! I don’t think so!’  She was suddenly  furious at her own fear. ‘So, what are you going to do with me now? You’ve made it clear you see me as ancient and ugly so no doubt my virtue is not in danger.’

‘I seem to remember that your virtue is already lost.’ He raised an eyebrow. ‘But I would be more worried, Louisa, by the threat to your life.’ He folded his arms. ‘No one knows where you are.  And I am in America.’ He gave a laconic smile.  ‘Should you disappear no one would ever find you.  No one would even know where to look.’

She stared at him.  His eyes were like clear glass, the pupils pin pricks in the lamp light, the sensuous mouth set in a thin hard line.  ‘Why would  you want to kill me?’ Her brow creased with puzzlement but her fear strangely had eased a little.  She felt distanced from him; unreal.

‘Your life or death is a matter of indifference to me, Louisa.  As it should  be to anyone who understands the nature of the soul and its journeyings.  The thought of death merely serves as a lever to lesser mortals who value this transitory life.’ He gave a cold smile. ‘I am prepared to bargain.  The tears of Isis for a human life.’ He was watching her carefully.   ‘The gods of the underworld may not take my bargain so lightly when they weigh your soul in the balance and find it was you who stole the sacred ampulla.’

‘I have stolen nothing. ‘ She managed to straighten her shoulders.  ‘The tears of Isis as you call them are safe.  You on the other hand appear to be planning robbery with violence.  Something which I would have thought would weigh heavy when your turn comes.’ She turned away from him and walking towards the case of Egyptian treasures she lifted the lid  and stared down at them.  ‘And your threat means little to me, my lord.  You forget that if you kill me, you send me to join Hassan.  I can think of no greater joy.’ She glanced up at him and it was her turn to smile. ‘You seem to care more for these than for a human life.  That makes you fundamentally evil, in my book.’  She turned away again.  ‘Take care, my

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