(Take the even, take the odd,
I would not sleep here if I could...
I would not sleep here if I could,
except for the little green leaves in the wood, and the wind on the water.
--J. B., Archibald MacLeish)
It all started with the book, stained brown leather binding and traces of a gold-embossed title on the spine, lying on the little table by the front door of Corpse Cottage. Wield picked it up cautiously and riffled through the cards lying beneath it: one from a booksellers' association, one from a distant cousin of Edwin's and one, addressed to both of them, in Ellie Pascoe's spiky handwriting. He left them where they were and proceeded further inside, still holding the book in one hand. He hadn't quite decided how to raise the issue of its presence in the house, granted that it might be perfectly legitimate. But the episode in November with the first edition of Grote's History of Greece argued against that. "Personal use," Edwin had claimed. "I do intend to read them." They had spent a week in the house unopened. "I'd like to examine the endpiece maps," Edwin had said. "For all twelve volumes, but?" Wield had raised an eyebrow. The books had returned to the shop the next day.
Whatever response he'd prepared for this case--and at least it was only one book this time, not boxes--never made it past his lips. Edwin took advantage of his speechlessness and preepmted him. "I know," he said, "I know. I swore a solemn oath. No printed volume from the shop shall pass into the sacred precinct of Corpse Cottage. And I assure you that I would far rather have left it there, but events in this case left me no choice."
Wield barely heard him. "What happened to your head?"
"This?" Edwin waved the hand holding the ice-pack, revealing a reddened patch of skin. "Well might you ask! This is the result of inadequate policing, and I intend to send a protest to that mountainous thug for whom you labor. Even the least competent of local bobbies might have been able to prevent my... Ouch."
Wield by now was kneeling by Edwin's chair, the book forgotten on the floor. The bruise was already starting to form high up along Edwin's left cheekbone; he ran a finger over it, very lightly. "Someone hit you." He could manage short, simple sentences.
"A customer. A female customer, possibly an American. The underserved fruit of an attempt to be polite to the general public. She slapped me."
Had Wield's legs been obeying his brain, he might have been out the door already. Edwin took his silence for a demand for more information, and continued, "I was explaining that I had no idea where the volume to which she was referring might be, and that it had certainly never come into my possession. She insisted that I must already have sold it and demanded to know to whom. After she stormed out I decided to close up shop and come home, as the matter had clearly moved from my area of expertise to yours. I found the book in the boot of the car, underneath one of your jackets."
"What did she look like?" Wield managed.
"Tall," Edwin said. "Late twenties or early thirties, I'd say. Brown hair and eyes, good features. She was wearing a very good cashmere coat, Expensive makeup, as well, and a green silk scarf. Where do you think you're going?"
Wield was halfway to the door. "To look for her," he said.
"Certainly not! For one thing, she left by car and is doubtless many miles away. For another, I have not yet finished my tale of woe."
"Someone hit you," Wield said again, and then, "Why didn't you ring me?"
"I telephoned CID and learned that you were out on a case and planning to come home from there. And I am perfectly capable of nursing my injured dignity on my own--and I assure you, the worst of the injury was to that, not to my face. Now come back inside and let me tell you the story without fear of you rushing off to battle dragons on my behalf."
The woman, according to Digweed, was the last of three customer's looking for the book, although he refused to provide any other description than, "A young man with an Irish accent," or "a man a few years younger than myself, probably up from London." Each had, in a progressively less roundabout fashion, asked after the boxes of books Edwin had purchased the weekend before at an auction near Durham. "I pointed them to the appropriate shelves, and went back to my own work," Edwin explained.
"If you had the book?" Wield asked.
"Of course I would have sold it."
"Why is it so important?"
"Ah," Edwin said. "That's the mystery. Have you looked at it?"
The book was lying on the floor where he'd dropped it by Edwin's chair. Wield picked it up again, more cautiously this time, brushing his fingers over the worn binding. No pattern to the stains, and he couldn't work out the title from the traces of gold lettering. He let it fall open and frowned at the even black print. "What language is this?"
"You don't recognize it either, then?" Edwin sighed. "And of course you would, if you'd seen it before. I was hoping..."
Wield finished the sentence. "That it was just a rare book? I don't guess you normally get clubbed for them, but."
"No," Edwin admitted.
Wield returned his attention to the book. He'd never seen anything like this script, he knew that much. Not that life with the Mid-Yorkshire Police left much room for mucking about with fancy languages--but if Edwin didn't know what it was either... A mystery, he thought, that was nothing new, but then other words began to follow, words Wield didn't usually apply to his own life: adventure, magic. He couldn't seem to shift his eyes from the lettering, if that was what it was, turning the page, and then the next. If he only looked long enough, some part of his mind insisted, he'd be able to work it out. If he opened his mouth, the right sounds would come out, syllable after syllable of power and meaning.
Wield snapped the book shut.
Edwin was watching him, uncertainly mixing with relief on his face. "You felt it too."
"I felt something." He cleared his throat and put the book down next to a lamp. "I doubt you'd be willing to leave it outside for whoever wants it."
"Do you think that's wise?"
He shook his head. "But I do want to know what it is." He frowned. "You'll be fine here?"
"That depends on where you plan to be. If, for example, you were planning to go sit outside the shop, I'd be forced to say that I couldn't possibly stay here on my own." Edwin smiled slightly. "You forget that I've learned to read that face of yours. In any case, our address is hardly a mystery. Anyone who comes looking is as likely to come here as the shop."
"And we'll just wait? Not likely." He flipped open his cellphone and dialed a familiar number. "Peter?" he asked.
"Wieldy! What is it?" Wield winced. Pascoe sounded a little less than sober, and Edwin looked more than a little betrayed.
"I need..." What did he need? To ask Peter to drive all the way out to Enscombe to keep a potentially useless vigil? Ridiculous, and Edwin was starting to frown. He could phone Filmer--it was his patch, after all--but on what grounds? Nothing that wouldn't sound paranoid. The shop would have to look out for itself. Wield took a deep breath. "We got your card today. I just wanted to let you know." A few more meaningless phrases and he hung up. "Happy now?" Peter had seemed to acccept Wield's excuses without question. And anyway, Ellie'd not let him drive drunk.
* * *
He'd underestimated the Pascoe determination. The car pulled up an hour later with Ellie herself in the driver's seat and Rosie in the back. "At least they left the dog home," Edwin said, before striding forward to welcome the family in.
Peter found Wield in the kitchen, looking for biscuits for the impromptu party. He seemed, to Wield's eyes, to have sobered up quite a lot. "What was all that about?"
"It was nothing. Edwin had some trouble in the shop."
"A break in?" Peter asked. "Why not go to Filmer?"
He could guess at the conjectures forming in Peter's mind. "Nothing like that. It weren't exactly a break-in."
He gave a brief summary of the three intruders, relieved despte himself at the slightly absent expression on Peter's face as he listened. He'd seen that precise expression numberless times before. "And you were thinking of waiting at the shop to see if anyone else appeared. May I see the book?" Back in the sitting room he watched Peter examine it, turning it over in his hands and opening it to a random page. "What alphabet is this?"
"Edwin didn't recognize it." By then they had an audience, but Wield kept his eyes on Peter. If the book was affecting him, it couldn't be seen on his face.
"Let me look," Ellie demanded, frowning as she flipped the pages.
"You have no idea either, have you?" Peter asked.
"Not a clue," she admitted. "I've never seen anything like it. Where did it come from?"
"It was packed in amongst a mouldering set of Balzac," Wield half-listened as Edwin told the story again. At the end, they were silent.
"Could be owt or nowt, right Wieldy?" Peter offered.
"No," Wield said. "It's definitely something."
Peter cleared his throat. "Look. Edwin and Ellie will be fine here. Why don't you and I go down and watch the bookstore for a little while? It's just down the road, and we can sit there for as long as you like."
Wield could sense Edwin's urge to snap at Peter. But Peter hadn't felt whatever it was in that book, and couldn't be blamed for humoring him. And it was only a few minutes walk, if anyone came to the cottage instead.
* * *
Steam from the open flask of tea rose up between them.
"Thanks for coming out here, Pete."
"You'd have done it for me," Pascoe said. "Hell, you have done it for me."
"All the same."
"What do you think that book is, then?"
Wield bit back the first word that he thought of. "Don't know, exactly." He stared out the window at the inoffensive watercolours hanging in the window of the Eendale Gallery. Magic, he might have said. A secret. The first step in an adventure. He found himself torn between caution and longing, wanting the world he could barely glimpse opening up before him, and frightened of the fascination he'd felt for the words he couldn't understand. They were dangerous, he told himself firmly. He should make sure Edwin got rid of that book.
As if in answer to the wish he hadn't dared voice, the lone street-lamp cut out.
The sign over the Morris Men's Rest swung back and forth, back and forth and then was still. It took a moment for Wield to appreciate the quality of the darkness and the stillness: no light from the pub, or the flat above it. No light from any of the windows on High Street, not even the dim fairly lights around the Post Office windows. Not even the red glow that marked the security system in Kee Scudamore's gallery. A line down, he told himself. Power must be out all over Eendale. No reason for the prickling at the back of his neck, none at all.
In the passenger seat, Peter was quiet. The street was still, and the air in the car seemed heavy: it was a struggle to take in enough breath to say, "Something isn't right," and a relief to hear Peter responding, "I agree."
Whatever was happening wasn't happening here. Wield turned the key in the ignition. Nothing. He tried again. Still nothing. Dead, he thought, and was out the door and running back up the hill to Corpse Cottage. He barely heard Peter's cut-off question or the pounding of the other man's feet right behind him.
The cottage was as dark as the buildings back on High Street, but not as still: the door was swinging on its hinges. That stopped Wield. Not Edwin, he thought, not Edwin. Whatever was after that book, it wasn't getting Edwin. Peter shoved him to the side, crying "Rosie! Ellie!" before being swallowed by the darkness of the cottage.
Not complete darkness: as the door swung, a faint glow seemed to wax and wane. Wield took a deep breath and followed Peter inside. The glow flickered and then grew steady and resolved into an oil lamp held by a tall, ghostly figure; in the dim light, his head appeared to be a skull.
"You're here!" Edwin said, relief clear in his voice. He embraced Wield with his free arm: no time for anything else, with Peter demanding to know where Rosie and Ellie were. "Heading into the graveyard, following your daughter and my book" he answered. "I was only leaving the light for the two of you before--" He was already speaking to Wield and Peter's backs.
The night was clear and cold, half a moon overhead. As he ran Wield found himself wishing for wind and cloud, anything to break the unearthly stillness. Ahead he could see the torch's beam on the headstones: it flashed back and forth as if someone were hurling it about, but cast enough light for him to see that he was no longer in the well-kept Enscombe churchyard. He kept going, through slabs of stone leaning up at odd angles, roots and branches reachiung out for him from stunted trees, following the light as it retreated. Peter was behind him, and Edwin a little further back.
The lettering on the stones had changed from English to the book's strange script. The trees seemed to whisper to themselves as he ran by. The light went out.
Memory took him the rest of the way. They found Ellie standing amongst the gravestones, holding the book open before her, as Rosie grabbed at her arm to shake it loose. Peter swept wife and daughter into an embrace and Wield caught the book as it slipped from Ellie's fingers; for a moment she stared at him without recognition.
"It was eating mummy!" Rosie said. "Like it ate the man."
"What man?" Peter asked.
"The man who took the book. He was reading it and it swallowed him up."
"There was no man," Ellie corrected her. "Just the wind, sweeping the book into the churchyard." She looked around. "This isn't the churchyard."
There was no wind, either, Wield thought. The night here--wherever here was--was as still as it had been in Enscombe village. "There was a man," Rosie insisted. "He was tall and thin and bent over, and he had black hair except when it was white."
Peter caught Wield's eye and frowned. "We've all had a bit of a scare," he declared. "We should head back to the cottage, I think."
"Easier said than done, I fear," Edwin said. Wield looked around them: as far as he could see, a jumble of tilting headstones and wind-stunted trees stretched out into the darkness.
"How did we get here?" Ellie asked.
"The rest of us ran after you, darling."
"Oh," she said. "I don't even know which direction I came from."
Peter drew in a breath. Time for another reassuring platitude, Wield thought. He looked down at the book and around him at the oddly-marked stones. There was a pattern here, a predictability to the order of the letters. He could stay here and learn to read the stones, and then in turn the book: he would learn whatever secrets it held. He could do it: pattern and memory. That's all there was to it. The book was warming in his hands; the night was full of hidden power, waiting for him here. Pattern and memory.
"I can find the way back," he said.
They all turned. Surprise on Ellie's face, relief on Peter's. "Are you sure, Wieldy?"
"I remember how we came," he said.
Edwin's face was more difficult to read: relief, certainly, mixed with something else. "Lead on," he said. "We'll follow in your footsteps."
Wield turned to look behind him. There: that angle of stone and tree, he'd passed that as he came. It only now occurred to him that the landscape might have shifted after them, but he put the thought away from him. One point to the next, that was the way to do it. As he approached the tree he saw another familiar shape: three headstones, each leaning forward at a different angle. He kept going. The ground was firm beneath his feet; the trees were silent.
Three times he had to turn and walk backwards until he recongized the right angle. Twice more he was confused by similar shapes and had to retrace his steps to lead them back the last landmark. The half-moon above them never shifted, but shadows skittered from tree to stone. He ignored them and kept going until dim before them he thought he saw the uneven bulk of the Enscombe parish church. Yes, he thought, looking behind them, they had come this way. The stones had unfamiliar names, but they were inscribed in English. When he turned back, he saw a light ahead; another moment and he identified it as a torch moving toward them, and then a large body holding the torch.
Behind him, Peter said, "You don't suppose?"
"Who else could it be?" Ellie answered.
As they approached a beefy arm began to wave back and forth in some demented semaphore. "Over here!" a familiar voice shouted. The torch flashed straight into Wield's eyes and as he stood and blinked he heard Dalziel say, "Nay, sergeant, I'll take that." The book was lifted from his hands. "If tha'd wanted it, tha'd not be standing here now. None of you would be."
They were back in the churchyard, he saw. The wind was blowing thin clouds past the moon, and he could see the glow from the streetlamp down on High Street. "How..." he began.
Dalziel cut him off by throwing an arm around his shoulders and knocking the breath out of him. "Hast anything to drink in that cot of yours? All this shouting has given me a thirst!"
* * *
Much later, he and Edwin lay upstairs in their room. "How's that bruise?" Wield asked.
"In all the excitement, I forgot it entirely. And you?"
"No one took a swing at me."
"That isn't what I was referring to. I'd make a comment about hearing the Sirens' song, but I can guess how you'd answer."
"Super didn't have his siren on," Wield deadpanned.
Edwin didn't smile. "You let them forget how much is hidden behind that face. You let me forget. But I saw the book calling to you."
"You were worried?"
"Are you going to ask Dalziel what that book was?"
Wield considered it. If he closed his eyes and concentrated, he could still see the strange letters; he could almost still feel the fascination. "This is where I want to be."
"Knowledge is not always an impediment to happiness," Edwin said.
"Might be in this case."
"So might ignorance."
"I don't think so. I am where I want to be," Wield said again. "All that... isn't worth the risk."
"I'm almost distressingly relieved to hear that." And just before speech became entirely impossible, he added, "And if anyone comes looking for that wretched book tomorrow, I intend to send them straight to Detective Superintendent Dalziel."
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This story is a work of fan fiction. Wield, Digweed and all the other Dalziel and Pascoe characters are the intellectual property of their creator, Reginald Hill. Go purchase his novels. I myself make no profit from my use of these characters and settings.