The Bone House (Bright Empires Series #2)by Stephen R. Lawhead
Kit Livingstone met his great-grandfather Cosimo in a rainy alley in London where he discovered the truth about alternate realities.
Now he’s on the run—and on a quest—trying to understand the impossible mission he inherited from Cosimo: to restore a map that charts the hidden dimensions of the multiverse. Survival depends on staying one/p>
Kit Livingstone met his great-grandfather Cosimo in a rainy alley in London where he discovered the truth about alternate realities.
Now he’s on the run—and on a quest—trying to understand the impossible mission he inherited from Cosimo: to restore a map that charts the hidden dimensions of the multiverse. Survival depends on staying one step ahead of the savage Burley Men.
The key is the Skin Map—but where it leads and what it means, Kit has no idea. The pieces have been scattered throughout this universe and beyond.
Mina, from her outpost in seventeenth-century Prague, is quickly gaining both the experience and the means to succeed in the quest. Yet so are those with evil intent who, from the shadows, are manipulating great minds of history for their own malign purposes.
Those who know how to use the ley lines have left their own world behind to travel across time and space—down avenues of Egyptian sphinxes, to an Etruscan tufa tomb, into a Bohemian coffee shop, and across a Stone Age landscape where universes collide—in this, the second quest to unlock the mystery of The Bone House.
The Bright Empires series—from acclaimed author Stephen R. Lawhead—is a unique blend of epic treasure hunt, ancient history, alternate realities, cutting-edge physics, philosophy, and mystery. The result is a page-turning, adventure like no other.
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THE BONE HOUSE
By STEPHEN R. LAWHEAD
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2011 Stephen Lawhead
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIn Which Some Things Are Best Forgotten
From a snug in the corner of the Museum Tavern, Douglas Flinders-Petrie dipped a sop of bread into the gravy of his steak and kidney pudding and watched the entrance to the British Museum across the street. The great edifice was dark, the building closed to the public for over three hours. The employees had gone home, the charwomen had finished their cleaning, and the high iron gates were locked behind them. The courtyard was empty and, outside the gates, there were fewer people on the street now than an hour ago. He felt no sense of urgency: only keen anticipation, which he savoured as he took another draught of London Pride. He had spent most of the afternoon in the museum, once more marking the doors and exits, the blind spots, the rooms where a person might hide and remain unseen by the night watchmen, of which there were but three to cover the entire acreage of the sprawling institution.
Douglas knew from his researches that at eleven each night the head watchman retired to his office on the ground floor to make tea. He would be duly joined by his two underling guards, and the three would enter their observations in the logbook and then spend an enjoyable thirty minutes drinking their tea, eating pies, and exchanging gossip.
While they were thus occupied, he would strike.
The pub was quiet tonight, even for a damp Thursday in late November. There were only five other patrons in the place: three at the rail and two at tables. He would have preferred more people—if only so his own presence would not be so noticeable—but he doubted it would make much difference. In any event, there was nothing he could do about it.
"Everything all right, sir?"
Douglas turned from the window and looked up. The landlord, having little to do this evening, was making the rounds and chatting with his customers.
"Never better," replied Douglas in a tone he hoped would dismiss further intrusion. But the man remained hovering over the table.
"Mr. Flinders-Petrie, is it not, sir?"
"Indeed so." He offered a bland smile to cover his annoyance at being recognised on this night of all nights. "I fear you have me at a disadvantage. I was not aware that my name would be common knowledge."
The landlord chuckled. "No, I suppose not. But do you not recognise me, sir?"
Douglas looked more closely at him. There was a vague familiarity about the fellow, but ... no, he could not place him.
"Cumberbatch, sir," the landlord volunteered. "I worked for your father, I did. Oh, quite a few years ago." At Douglas' dubious expression, he said, "I was his footman—Silas."
"Silas! Certainly, I remember you," Douglas lied. "Do forgive me. Yes, of course, now that you remind me."
"'Course, I was younger then, and you were away at school and university and whatnot." The landlord wiped his hands on the towel around his waist and smoothed it out as if this put the matter to rest. "Happy days they were."
"Yes, yes," agreed Douglas amiably. He was aware that the other patrons were watching them, and actually relieved now that the place was not more crowded. "Happy times, indeed."
"Pardon my asking, sir," said Cumberbatch, leaning nearer the table. He lowered his voice. "If you don't mind, there's something that I've always wanted to know. I'd be most obliged."
"I'd be happy to help if I can, Silas. What is it?"
"Did they ever find the man who killed your father?"
To buy himself a little space to think, Douglas took a drink of his ale, then, placing the glass carefully on the table, said, "I am sorry to say they never did."
"Oh dear, oh dear." Cumberbatch shook his head. "That's a right pity. Did they never have a suspicion, then?"
"Suspicions, yes," replied Douglas, "but nothing more. The coroner's verdict at the time of the inquest reads 'unlawful killing by person or persons unknown.' At this late date, I fear it is likely to remain a mystery."
"Ah, dear me," sighed Cumberbatch. "That is a shame, that is. He was a good man, your father—a very decent chap, if you don't mind my saying. A solid and upright fellow—always treated me well, and that's a fact, that is."
"Yes, well, as you say it was all a long time ago. Perhaps it is best forgotten."
"No doubt, sir. I'm with you there." Cumberbatch brightened once more. "But it is good to see you, Mr. Flinders-Petrie. Here, now, can I get you another pint?"
"Thank you, but no, I—"
"On the house, sir—for old time's sake. It would please me no end."
"Very well, then. Thank you, Silas. I would enjoy that."
"Coming right up, sir."
The landlord beetled off to pull the pint. Douglas drew his pocket-watch from his waistcoat and flipped it open. It was half past nine. In another hour he would make his move. Until then, he had a warm place to wait and watch. The landlord returned with his pint and, after another brief exchange, he was left alone to finish it and his meal in peace.
It was after ten thirty when he finally rose and, promising to return for another visit next time he was in the neighbourhood, retrieved his black cape from the coatrack and went out into the mist and drizzle. The weather was perfect for his purposes—a miserable night meant fewer folk around to notice any peculiar comings and goings. The gas lamps hissed and fluttered, pale orbs that did little to cut the all-pervading fog. Perfect.
He smiled to himself as he walked to the corner of Montague Street, turned, and proceeded along the side of the museum to where the service alley joined the street at the rear of the building. There he paused to observe the street one last time; a lone hansom cab rattled away in the opposite direction, and two men in top hats staggered along—one in the gutter, the other on the pavement—oblivious of their surroundings, singing their way home from an evening's celebration.
Satisfied, he ducked into the alleyway and hurried quickly and unerringly in the dark to the back of a town house opposite the rear of the museum. There, lying in the lane beside the house, was the wooden ladder. With swift efficiency, he placed it against the high iron railing, climbed to the top of the fence, balanced on the upper bar while he pulled over the ladder, then climbed down. Once on the ground, he hurried to a window near the corner of the enormous building where even the lowest windows were eight feet off the ground. Positioning the ladder, he climbed up and rapped on the glass, counted to ten, and then rapped again.
As he finished the second tap, the window slid open from inside and a pale face, round like a solemn little moon, appeared in the darkness of the opening.
"Well done, Snipe," said Douglas. "Hand me in."
The stocky boy reached out and, with strong arms, pulled his master through the open window.
"Now then," said Douglas, drawing a small tin from his pocket. He flipped open the lid and shook out a few congreves, selected one, and swiped the head against the roughened top of the tin. The slender stick of soft pine erupted with a pop and spluttering red flame. "The lantern, Snipe."
The youth held up a small paraffin lamp; Douglas raised the glass and touched the match to the wick, then lowered the glass and waved the spent stick in the air to cool it before placing it back in the tin. "Let us be about our business."
By lantern's glow they made their way through the darkened stacks of the Smirke Bequest—a small, shelf-lined chamber off the great cavernous hall of the Reading Room. This cosy enclave was given to certain exceptional volumes from the libraries of wealthy patrons who had donated or bequeathed their collections to the national archive for the general benefit of their fellow men. This ever-growing collection housed a particular volume that had long eluded Douglas Flinders-Petrie. It was this book he had come to acquire.
The Rare Books Room, as it was more commonly known, was strictly forbidden to all but the most eminent scholars, and then entry was granted only in the company of the Keeper of Antiquities or one of his assistants, who would unlock the chain at the doorway—there was no door, so that the books could be viewed from a distance even if they could not be perused—and usher the chosen one into the inner sanctum. White cotton gloves were to be worn at all times in the room, and no one was permitted to remain alone in the stacks at any time whatsoever. Douglas, having observed this exacting protocol on his survey trips to the museum, decided to forego the formalities and visit the room outside of public hours.
It had then been a matter of finding a place for Snipe to hide until well after closing: a storage cupboard in Room 55 on the upper floor was adequate to the purpose, and so, during a late-afternoon viewing of the Nineveh alabasters, Douglas had deposited his able servant in the closet with a cold pie and an apple to wait until the clock in Saint Bartholomew's chimed eleven. At the appointed hour, Snipe had crawled out and made his way down to the Rare Books Room to let Douglas in through the window.
So far so good.
"Go to the door and keep watch," Douglas commanded, directing the glow of the lantern towards the nearer stacks. As the servant moved to the doorway, Douglas began scanning the shelves. The books, he quickly discovered, were arranged in a loose chronological order—no doubt owing to their primary interest as artefacts rather than for the value of their contents. He found the proper historical period and started working down the line book by book. What should have been a task of moments, however, dragged on far longer than he planned, owing to the fact that many of the older books had no titles on their spines or covers and had to be drawn out, opened, and thumbed to their title pages before being placed back on the shelf.
He was only partway through the 1500s when he heard a sibilant hiss—like that of gas escaping from a leaky pipe. He stopped, held his breath ... waited. The sound came again and was repeated. He quickly turned down the lantern wick and put the lamp on the floor, then hurried to the doorway, where Snipe stood behind the doorpost, peering out into the great hall of the main reading room.
"Someone coming?" Douglas whispered.
Snipe nodded and held up two fingers.
"Two of them. Right." Douglas turned and retreated into the stacks. "Follow me."
They crept off to the farthest corner of the room, placing the main body of stacks between themselves and the door.
"Get down," whispered Douglas.
The two pressed themselves flat to the floor and waited. Voices drifted into the room, and then footsteps could be heard as the watchmen made their rounds of the Reading Room. Shadows leapt from the stacks as one of the guards paused and shone his lantern into the room with a practised sweep. Then the footsteps receded and the voices resumed. The watchmen were moving off.
"That's better," sighed Douglas. "Back to work."
The two returned to their respective places and began again. Midway through the 1500s, Douglas found the book he was looking for—exactly as he had pictured it from his researches. One glimpse of the strange cipher writing and he knew he had it.
"Come to me, my pretty," he whispered, carefully placing the light on the shelf beside him. With trembling fingers, Douglas opened the book to reveal page after page of tightly ordered script in the most fanciful-looking letters he had ever seen. "You little beauty," he mused, brushing his fingertips lightly over the script. He might have spent a happy hour or so paging through the old curiosity—and he would—but now was not the time. He slipped the slim volume into an inner pocket of his cape, retrieved the lantern, and hurried to fetch Snipe.
"I've got it. Come away—time to make good our escape."
They climbed out the window, closing it carefully behind them, and retraced their inward journey, replacing the ladder at the rear of the town house opposite before walking back down the alley to Montague Street. Douglas' mind was so filled with the book and the treasures it was certain to yield that he failed to see the policeman standing in the pool of light under the streetlamp. Emerging from the darkness of the alley like the guilty thieves they were, the pair naturally drew the interest of the policeman, who, raising his truncheon, called out, "Well, well, what have we here?"
"Oh!" gasped Douglas, spinning around to face the officer. "Good evening, constable. You quite gave me a start."
"Did I now!" He looked the pair up and down, his expression suggesting he did not care for what he saw. "Might I ask why you were lurking in that alley at this time of night?"
Douglas' hand went to the gun in his pocket. "Is it that late?" he asked affably. "I hadn't realised. Yes, I suppose it is." He glanced at Snipe beside him. The boy's lip was curled in a ferocious scowl. "It's the lad here," he offered. "He ran away earlier this evening, and I've been looking for him ever since—only just found him a few minutes ago."
The constable, frowning now, stepped closer. "That your son, then?"
"Good heavens, no," replied Douglas. "He's a servant. I'm taking him home with me." As if to underscore this fact, he put his hand to Snipe's collar.
The policeman's brow furrowed as he caught a glare of almost pure hatred playing over the boy's pallid features. Certainly, there was something odd about the youth that he could never have been mistaken for anyone's beloved son. "I see," concluded the police officer. "Does he run away often, then?"
"No, no, never before," Douglas hastily assured him. "There was a bit of a kerfuffle with the housekeeper, you see, and the lad took umbrage. A simple misunderstanding. I think I've straightened it out."
"Well," said the policeman, "these things happen, I suppose." He returned the truncheon to the hook on his belt. "You best get yourselves home. It's high time all respectable folk were abed."
"Just what I was thinking, constable. A pot of cocoa and a biscuit wouldn't go amiss either, I daresay." Douglas released his hold on the pistol, but maintained his grip on the boy's collar. "I will wish you good night." Douglas started away, pulling the glaring Snipe with him.
"G'night, sir." The policeman watched them as they moved away. "Mind how you go," he called. "There are thieves and such about. It's weather like this brings 'em out."
"You're not wrong there, matey," murmured Douglas under his breath. "Come away, Snipe. Tonight we let him live."
Chapter TwoIn Which a Wander in the Wilderness Is Good for the Soul
Kit stood staring down the Avenue of Sphinxes feeling very much alone. It was early yet, and there was no one else around. He drew the clean, dry air into his lungs. Deeply relieved to have been rescued from looming death by Wilhelmina's unexpected yet timely intervention, he nevertheless could not help feeling slightly bruised by her brusque manner. In fact, she had socked him on the arm as soon as they were free of the wadi and the tomb that had held them captive to Lord Burleigh's whims.
"Ow!" Kit complained. He had not seen the smack coming. "What was that for?"
"That was for abandoning me in that alley back in London," she told him. "That dark, stinky alley in the rainstorm—remember?"
"I remember, but it wasn't entirely my fault."
She smacked him again. "It wasn't very nice."
"Sorry!" Kit rubbed his upper arm.
"I forgive you." She smiled, then hit him once more for good measure.
"Yikes! Now what?"
"That is so you remember never to do it again."
"Right. Okay. I get it. I'm sorry, and I won't desert you ever again, I promise."
"Good. Now pay attention. We've got some ground to cover, and we don't have much time." She had then told him about Luxor and what he was to do there.
He had been instructed to go to the Winter Palace Hotel and ask for a Mr. Suleyman at the front desk. Upon presenting himself, he would be given a parcel and a letter with further instructions. Wilhelmina had been very precise: don't stop to think or look around, hit the ground running, get to the location, secure the parcel. "It is imperative that you retrieve the package and follow the instructions to the letter."
Excerpted from THE BONE HOUSE by STEPHEN R. LAWHEAD Copyright © 2011 by Stephen Lawhead. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Stephen R. Lawhead is an internationally acclaimed author of mythic history and imaginative fiction.He is the author of such epics asThe King Raven, Song of Albion, and Dragon King Trilogies.Lawhead makes his home in Oxford, England, with his wife. Twitter: @StephenLawhead Facebook: StephenRLawhead
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