The Chapter House was unusually quiet for a Tuesday evening.
Standing at the bottom of the grand staircase, Rufius swayed drunkenly from one foot to the other, staring up into hundreds of storeys. It was indeed a marvel to behold, far more than the mid-terrace Georgian house that it appeared to be from the outside.
Methuselah De Freis, Alixia’s husband, was a temporal architect, one with the skills to connect the existing rooms and floors to great houses of history, creating a staging-post-cum-hotel that could accommodate a thousand travellers with ease.
Methuselah also laid on one of the best meals in the continuum: Carpathian Boar roasted over a log fire in a Viking long hall which doubled up as their dining room. The De Freis household also boasted an extensive wine cellar. One advantage of travelling through time was a near-infinite supply from the best cellars history could offer.
‘Uncle Rufius?’ said Caitlin, stepping through a small arched door in the wood-panelled hallway. ‘Are you okay?’
‘Ah, my dear Caitlin,’ he said, performing a drunken bow. ‘Where’s everybody else?’
‘Haven’t you heard?’
Caitlin could tell from his blank expression that he had not. ‘Sim said there’s some kind of major disruption in 1944. Where’s your almanac? You should’ve received a message.’
Rufius shrugged, searching his pockets and producing a bottle of brandy. ‘Must’ve left it in my other coat,’ he added before pulling the stopper out with his teeth. ‘What’s happened?’
‘I think you’ve had quite enough of that,’ she said, gently taking the bottle from his hand. ‘Let’s get you some coffee before we go to the High Council. Eddington has called an emergency meeting.’
She took his hand and led him down the hall towards the dining room.
‘Is there any boar left?’ he asked, following like a dutiful child.
* * *
Rufius became her guardian when her parents went missing eight years ago. He was a good man, a perfect mix of bodyguard, mentor and clown. Even when she struggled with hormone-driven teenage angst, he was her rock, never blinking an eye as the rage and hate poured out of her.
But he was troubled too. Caitlin knew many within the Order thought he was past his prime, that he was fighting too many demons.
The drinking was something he’d struggled with for a long time. His “forgetting potion” she used to call it when she was younger. It wasn’t until later that she understood why Rufius insisted she stay with the De Freises at the Chapter House.
His life wasn’t suited to raising a child. The job of a watchman was usually taken by men and women with nothing left to lose. Witnessing the change of history came with psychological damage, and no matter how much he joked about it, she knew he was carrying a lot of scars.
Especially since the death of his wife and child.
Next: Chapter 5 >>