“I know you’re a bit young for this stuff but you’re welcome to a small glass if you wish.”
He did not press them, simply left the glasses near their places. With a glass or two of mead on board even Jeb became talkative; Learmouth fetched a lute and began to play, Jeb sang in a surprisingly good voice the songs he had learned in his youth, sea shanties and songs of fishing boats. Jack and Rob pitched in with some songs of their own, Jeb’s lad banging his fists in time with the chorus. Without thinking Rob was first to sip some mead
“It’s really nice,” he said to Jack, “quite sweet”.
As the meal came to an end Learmouth offered them all a final toast saying, “Health wealth and happiness to all here.”
As he refilled all the glasses except his own, neither Rob, Jack, Jeb or his lad noticed the sleight of hand as Learmouth gave them each a good measure of sleeping powder.
“Down in one,” cried Learmouth and drank off his own. Jack and Rob wished them all a goodnight and went off to bed in the Manor House.
As they undressed for bed Rob said, “Goodness me Jack I’m a bit dizzy, I had some mead last Christmas but it wasn’t as strong as this.”
Jack didn’t answer because he was fast asleep, lying on top of his blanket. The last thing Rob remembered was the room beginning to spin as he too fell into a deep, deep sleep.
At his encampment Learmouth watched Jeb and his lad very carefully, until one after another they slumped forward and fell deeply asleep at the table, resting their heads on the their arms.
Learmouth took down a lantern and blacked it out leaving only a narrow slit for the light to escape, draped his black cape over his shoulders and made his way to the back door of the manor house. The locked door presented no difficulty as he picked it expertly, and silently entered the manor. Through the large kitchen, across a hallway, he followed the narrow slit of yellow light from his lantern until he reached the main hall. There at the end beside the inglenook fireplace were two solid wooden bookcases. Now which one thought Learmouth? He was in no hurry, the boys would be out cold for hours yet; he took off his cloak, laid it by the hearth and, using the slit of light from the lantern, began examining the bookcases for a concealed and secret compartment. Nothing on the first bookcase, nothing on the second; he looked again and again expanding his search around the fireplace of the well-cared-for hall, still nothing at all. Learmouth rested in the darkness for a moment, trying to put his mind in the same place as Blackmorns mind when he had owned this Manor, and before the madness over took him entirely – where would Blackmorn hide the oaken casket?.