Ruby shined the penlight’s stubby beam down the dark corridor and walked with trepidation into the ill-lit depth. Broken cobwebs overhead and disturbed dust on the stone floor underfoot made it clear that someone regularly traversed the tunnel. Of course, the monk that visits Lord Andrei had to go through here, but it was possible that Patty did as well.
“Patty,” Ruby called. “Are you down here?”
Ruby turned around and saw she was getting farther away from the safety of the manor house. She shivered from the cool dampness as thunder, muted by what seemed to be tons of rocks all around, rumbled with a deadened vibration. The stone walls had to be thick. They gave Ruby the impression of walking into the belly of a dragon.
Earlier, with the view from her bedchamber window partially obscured by trees, Ruby had seen a large stone structure—similar to the walls that encompassed the inner and outer wards—reach between the mansion and the inner wall. That must be where she was now, walking its length. Then the passage dead-ended at a wooden door clad with iron studs and strengthened with metal bands. There would be no way to get through this barrier if it did not open.
She reached down to the cold metal handle and pulled; the door budged. With each two-handed tug, the bottom of the door scraped on the floor, creating a loud grinding noise. Eventually, she was able to open it enough to squeeze through. Then it occurred to her that she may not be able to get out if the door were to close behind her. But that would be unlikely because it was off balance and resting partially on the ashlar floor. It would take a person to close the opening, not an unbalanced hinge, if it were to close at all.
Now on the other side of the door, the storm grew loud as the powerful wind buffeted the fortress. She stood on the landing of a spiral staircase inside a circular building. Stone steps wound both above and below her. She had to be inside one of the drum towers that were built into the inner wall.
At irregular intervals, lightning momentarily lit the tower as it flashed through narrow openings, resembling crosses, set into the walls. There were two other doors, one on each side of the landing, that appeared to open onto a wall-walk. If Patty had gone any farther than this, there would have had to have been a good reason to do so; it was simply too dangerous. The steps were wet and slippery from the rain and there were no handrails to prevent a fall.
“Patty, where are you?”
Considering how treacherous the winding stairway looked, it was possible that Patty had slipped and fallen and was lying injured on the tower floor below. Ruby decided she would walk to the base of the tower and if there was still no sign of Patty, she would turn around and come back tomorrow with Sammy.
The stone steps were slick, so she kept a hand on the stone wall for balance as she took one cautious step at a time downward until she reached the bottom. She shined the weakening light over the floor, relieved there was no body, only a wooden door. She opened it and looked into the inner bailey—a courtyard between the inner wall and the enormous great hall—now filled with creeping thistle and wild olive bushes. A well-worn footpath led to a door in the gothic structure, looming before Ruby as if taunting her to go inside. This was not the night to cross it and to enter the eerie building that was once used as a church by the monks. Instead, she would get Sammy to help her find both Patty and Alan tomorrow. Besides, Ruby found it hard to believe that Patty would come this far by herself in the first place, even if she thought she was on to an important clue. For now, she would turn around and text Sammy when she got back to her room. Hopefully, Lord Andrei had not summoned her in the meantime.
Water flowed down the tower’s moss-covered steps, making it difficult to climb. Her feet slipped, causing her knee to bang into the edge of the steps. Not only that but whoever built this tower did not know how to design steps because some had different heights and depths, making her stumble.
Concentrate, concentrate, she told herself. Her light was dimming from being soaked with water. It flickered, giving her only enough light to see a few steps ahead. Please don’t give out until I’m out of here.
The torrential rain somehow found openings in the tower that let it wash over her like a waterfall, making it difficult to both see and breathe. She kept rubbing the water from her eyes. What did I get myself into? Please, Jesus, help me.
If the water flowed with any more force, it would push her backward and she would be the body lying at the base of the tower. Staying focused—because there was little choice to do otherwise—she took one deliberate step at a time upward as she climbed until finally reaching the landing. Gripping the door frame she forced her body back through the tiny opening until she was out of the rain. She pushed the door back to its original position and walked swiftly down the pathway until she reached the bend that led toward the manor house.
Water dripped from her hair and clothes onto the grimy floor. If the monk were to come back this way anytime soon, he would certainly notice that someone had been walking through the banned corridor. When she got to the manor house, she closed the southwest wing’s door behind her, but she did not lock it.
She breathed a sigh of relief as she walked down the wing with her waterlogged shoes squishing and squeaking with each step. When she reached the end of the forbidden wing, she turned to go down the main hall to her room. But the sight of Lady Beth and Victor standing in front of Lord Andrei’s room startled her, causing her to stop dead in her tracks. She knew they would ask questions because she was wringing wet and coming from the wrong direction.
She walked up to them and stopped. “Is Lord Andrei okay?”
Lady Beth glared at her through narrowed eyes. “Why are you all wet?”
Ruby knew she would have to come clean, besides, she had to tell them about Patty, anyway. “I was looking for Patty. I thought that maybe she—”
Lady Beth did not give Ruby time to finish the sentence. Spittle shot from her mouth as she said, “You went down the forbidden hall, didn’t you? And by the looks of you, you went into the part of my house where you were not supposed to go. That is grounds for dismissal.”
“I thought Patty might have gone that way because I could not find her anywhere else. Her car is still in the driveway and—”
This time, Victor interrupted. “How’d you get through the door? It was locked.”
Ruby did not want to get Mr. Miller in trouble so she had to be careful about what she said. Fortunately, her answer was truthful. “The door was unlocked.”
Victor crossed his arms. “You’re drenched like a drowned rat. How far did you go?”
There was no way to explain the wetness, other than to tell the truth. “I went to the tower and then turned around. I was going to tell you but I just wanted to make sure Patty was alright.”
“Why wouldn’t she be alright?” Lady Beth said. “Her only duties were to assist Our Lord and to stay in your room. She would’ve had to have been nosing around in places where she was instructed not to go, in order for anything to happen. I went over the house rules thoroughly with both of you and you both said you understood and would abide by the rules.”
Ruby wiped dripping water from her cheek. “I’m sorry.”
“Did you find her?” Victor asked, widening his stance.
Ruby shook her head. “No, I don’t know where she is. I called the agency, and they had not heard from her since Saturday. I was going to tell you.”
Lady Beth thrust a pointed finger toward Lord Andrei’s bedchamber door. “Our Lord called while you were out . . . trespassing. There was no one to answer his call except Mrs. Reinhardt and us. Bringing outsiders into the house was a bad idea. I should have listened to Our Lord. But truth be told, I truly trusted you, Ms. Rush, I thought you were different.”
“Your employment is terminated,” Victor said. “You must leave on Wednesday, after Doctor Booker visits. Maybe he’ll switch Father to pills rather than the intravenous medication that you’ve been giving him. If he keeps him on the IV, then you will need to train Mrs. Reinhardt how to administer it before you depart. Is that clear?”
“Yes.” Ruby was saddened by the circumstances. She had totally blown it. She should have notified Lady Beth about Patty right away. Now she was fired. Not only would it look bad on her resume, but time was running out for finding Alan. Since her last day on the job was less than two days away, she would need to get Sammy over here soon to help her find her brother. The forbidden passage was the only way that she saw that they could get inside the castle. Her biggest fear at the moment was that Victor would change the lock on the door, rendering Mr. Miller’s key useless, before she had a chance to go back through it.
“Go to your chamber and get out of those wet clothes,” Lady Beth said as both she and Victor turned and walked down the grand staircase.
Ruby nodded and then walked back to her room. She took the phone from her pocket, wiped it dry with a tissue, and called Sammy.
“Sammy, I need your help,” Ruby said as she took off her soggy shoes and socks.
“Anything you need I’m there for you,” he said. “What can I do?”
“I need you to come with me to the castle by Wednesday afternoon,” she said. “I haven’t decided on a time, but I’ll call you in the morning.”
“I know you, Ruby Rush,” Sammy said. “Don’t go getting into any trouble.”
“It’s too late.”