Learmouth entered the keep to find Morgana, her father, the Crone and Mirless finishing their supper by a blazing fire. The keep had undergone a huge change, there were expensive rugs on the stone floors, dark green velvet curtains on gleaming brass rails were hung over the windows. Torches in brackets on the walls provided light, two huge candelabras hung from the ceiling at each end of the rectangular room, another fireplace on one side blazed cheerfully.
A long highly-polished table ran half the length of the room with chairs to match, solid oak bookshelves polished with bees wax, down each side, filled with the best leather-bound books, brass vases filled with holly and mistletoe were set on side tables . The finest tapestries money could buy were hung along the other walls, all of them magnificent. The Netherton Coat of Arms was illuminated by the light of the main fireplace, all in all it looked like the home of a very wealthy merchant farmer.
The Crone’s plan was working well. Netherton, fortunately, was well above sea level, and the rivers had not been affected by the floods and their corn would sell at high prices, all the farms had tenants, the buildings and houses either rebuilt or refurbished to a very high standard. A dozen servants were employed to clean, maintain and polish the keep. The once filthy kitchen gleamed on every surface. The Crone, in her disguise as a tutor, had a new a wing for her own use.
Despite their true natures Morgana and her father were enjoying their new way of life, growing popularity among the villagers and the household servants.
“Good evening sister dear,” said Learmouth as he nodded in acquaintance to the others; without being invited he drew up a seat next to the fire.
The transformation of the Crone was more remarkable than was the change to Netherton Keep. Gone was the half-starved sunken-cheeked creature, the best of food, wine and clothes made her look every inch the governess. A fine woollen shawl over a simple dress completed the picture, her grey hair clean now and tied back in a severe bun, but the eyes of the Crone could not be disguised, still protruding, and the same cold grey as her brother Learmouth.
Morgana’s shape and size had remained the same; though clean and washed regularly, she still wore clothes a size or two too small, double chinned and round faced as ever, she wore her pride and joy, an ermine stole against the winter draught. Her stubby fingers covered with rings, little rolls of fat sticking out between them. Her father, thin and mean looking as ever, wrapped in an overlarge woollen blanket.
Mirless, now approaching his sixth birthday, was rapidly becoming a graceless, overweight and very spoiled child. He’d the same angular face as his grandfather, close-set eyes and a pudding basin hair cut with the beginnings of a double chin; he was dressed in a fine woollen tunic, leather jerkin, black canvas trousers and soft leather boots.