Continues from chapter 7
Spring had given way to early summer before Charles was settled into his new role, done his first round of visits and could relax once more. All of the Gals and Charles had arranged to meet on Saturday evening. At the last moment Gwyneth had had to excuse herself because one of her horses had taken sick but, as suitable opportunities seemed to be very rare, the remaining three were now together in the dungeon.
Leslie, seated on her throne, was wearing a latex catsuit and patent leather thigh-boots with the most vertiginous of high heels; all in black save for a wide belt, much like a corset, in red leather laced up very tightly so as to show off her slim waist.
By contrast Amber was almost naked. She was wearing a tight chastity belt with thigh-bands joined to the belt and locked together with a very short length of chain suspended from which, by another short chain, was a tinkly bell.
“Lets me know where you are,” Leslie had offered when asked about it.
Also attached to the belt with locked chains were two metal hemi-spheres that formed a bra. She sat rather awkwardly on the dais step because, springing off her bottom and locked in by the chastity belt, were the tubes and inflators of two large dildos. They were in far large enough already and she had no wish to drive them further; not yet, anyway
The ensemble had matching wrist and ankle bands. Amble was trying, perhaps not too hard, to sit still, Leslie having threatened to lock them together if she didn’t.
Charles, wearing his Victorian parlour maid’s dress, was standing up. Though he would have very much liked to take the weight off his aching feet, there was nowhere to sit in the dungeon save for Leslie's throne and the dais steps. Sitting on the former was, of course, impossible save for the Goddess herself; while the latter was tempting, he had the gravest of doubts that, if once down, the extreme hobble skirt would allow him to get up again. The dress had seemed rather fun when he had ordered it; now he was having doubts.
For some time they had been talking, mostly about how Charles was getting into his new career, Amber wanting to know chapter and verse about any embarrassing incidents he might have had. Leslie thought that this was getting a little too close for comfort and changed the topic slightly.
“Now that you have a bit more time, have you had a chance to think about any more of your, ‘fiendish,’ inventions?” asked Leslie. “I’m sure Amber is itching to try it if you have.”
“No, she isn’t,” said Amber quickly though without perhaps as much conviction as might have been appropriate, given her previous experience.
“Itching,” mused Charles thoughtfully, “that’s an idea, must think about it, itching but not able to scratch,” he said with a sly wink to Leslie.
“No, as a matter of fact, I have been tinkering off and on with the idea that goes back to my childhood. My cousin was very much into model aeroplanes, first flying them round him on control lines, then by radio control. I always wanted a radio-controlled plane – it seemed like magic to a little boy – but, at the time, they were hideously expensive and not very reliable so I never had one. Now, of course, with the developments in electronics, things are very different. Radio control is ten-a-penny. It’s not really anything like a finished product; shall I go and fetch what I've been playing with anyway?”
“No,” said Amber, quickly.
“Yes, please,” said Leslie, her eyes sparkling at the thought.
Charles disappeared upstairs to return in a few minutes carrying a small box with half-a-dozen wires dangling from it.
“It’s only very experimental,” he apologised as he entered, “I’ve had no chance to test it.”
“Oh, I’m sure we can remedy that, can’t we Amber.”
Amber sat in lip-tight silence, she had a good idea what was coming and was not sure whether she wanted it or not; on balance, she decided it would probably be fun, but no way was she going to let on.
“The idea,” explained Charles when the women had finished examining the box and its attachments, “is to radio-control a blind-folded wearer. The phones go in the left and right ears. All you get is a beep to say you have to turn left or right. One plug goes in the back-side as a sort of accelerator and one goes at the front as a break. I wasn’t too sure what to do with the other two signals I could have so, in the end, I put them on long leads so that they would stretch right down to the feet so that you could make someone pick their feet up if you wanted, like on a step or something. Supposed to have a range of several hundred metres.”
“Want to have a go?”
“Why don’t you try it?” asked Leslie.
“What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” Amber bit her lip as soon as she had said it. ‘What have I said,’ she thought. “Oh dear!”
Charles pretended not to hear; while Leslie scowled at her with a black look.
“All right, young lady, you have a point, but just you wait ‘til I’ve thought about, ‘itching.’”
Another time Amber might have thought the idea would be fun; on this occasion she felt that she would have rather not been there.
“The key to the dress’s zip-lock is upstairs. I’ll go and put the things on; give me ten minutes.”
Charles’s ten minutes turned out to be nearer twenty when he finally arrived back at the dungeon.
“That took a rather longer than I thought,” he explained. “I had to take everything off then it was a bit difficult putting it all on again.”
All that showed now were thin wires leading to small earphones that would later be plugged into the ears.
“What it needs,” said Charles “is some kind of blindfold.”
“I was thinking about that while you were upstairs,” said Leslie. “I think I’ve got the ideal thing here; a blow-up ball hood. It has two layers of rubber. When you inflate it, the outer layer expands like a balloon, whilst the inner layer squeezes tightly against your head. As it inflates the inner layer pushes inwards towards your face so the more it inflates the tighter it smothers. There are no eye holes so you can’t see anything. The two layers of rubber muffle sounds so it’s close to the ultimate experience in sensory deprivation. Inside is a mouth breathing tube with a ‘T’ piece attached to two separate tubes that come out at the top of the hood on either side of the inflation valve. You can get them in different thicknesses. Thin ones make for a bigger balloon; thick ones exert a higher pressure. I had this one made with especially very thick rubber on the outside so it squeezes really tight without getting much bigger. Want to try it?”
“Seems OK, the ear-phones should block out most of any sound that gets through anyway plus when the thing is switched on it makes white-noise except when it gives left or right bleeps.”
“What’s white-noise?” asked Amber.
“It’s… Oh, go and look it up, dear. How do you put it on?”
“Put the breathing tube in your mouth and pull the hood over your head. Then I’ll zip it up at the back and inflate it. Can I undo your dress so I can tuck it down inside the collar?”
“Good job I haven’t got a cold. Yes, the key’s on the same ring as the car-key”
Leslie went round the back, unlocked the dress and unzipped the top part. Charles switched on the ‘phones and plugged them into his ears then struggled to put on the hood without dislodging them. The mouth-piece was, some three centimetres in diameter like the mouth-piece of a snorkel-mask, was just about small enough to not be too uncomfortably jaw-breaking. He was just going to make a comment about it when he found that he couldn’t; Leslie had zipped up the back of the hood and was already starting to inflate it. Charles found that he could breathe quite well, once he got used to breathing slower and deeper than usual. The sensation was something that he had not really expected. As well as an overall pressure to the head, the inner layer of rubber pressed tightly against his face forcing the breathing tube further into his mouth. He seemed to be totally cut-off from the real World outside being neither able to see nor, because of the hood, ear-phones and white noise, hear.
Leslie, having blown up the hood to her satisfaction, turned her attention to the dress, joining the open ends of the zip at the high neck and pulling it down to the waist. She was about to put the lock back through the rings when she hesitated. Of course, how stupid of her not to think of it before! From the cupboard where the hood had lived, she brought out a pair of inflatable ball-mitts. She handed one to Amber, who had been watching in stunned silence as Charles effectively disappeared from her World. Charles had, of course, no idea what was about to happen to him.
Together they put them on Charles’s hands, already less sensitive than normal because of the rubber gloves fused to the dress’s sleeves; secured them with the wrist straps and blew them up into fifteen-centimetre diameter balls. Charles could now neither see, hear nor feel anything. Leslie was, however, not quite done. Each wrist straps had a ‘D’ ring built in. She passed the lock through one of these then, pulling his arm behind his back, the rings in the dress-zip sliders and finally the other wrist before snapping the lock to with a click.
Leslie stepped back to review her handiwork.
“There,” she said, “I sure that Charlotte couldn’t see or hear anything before. Now she can’t feel anything either. All we have to do is adjust her apron and we can start to play at blind-man’s bluff.”
Leslie made a few adjustments; then spun Charles round in the time-honoured way so that he lost what little sense of direction that remained.
Amber grabbed the radio control.
Amber presses the ‘go’ button. Charles, who had been passively standing, received a prolonged shock to his butt. Involuntarily, he stumbled forward, knocking Leslie over and landing on top of her. All was confusion and, for a moment, it was difficult to remember which way was North. Amber helped Leslie up and together the two women righted Charles.
Leslie took the control out of Amber’s hands.
“I think it needs a rather more delicate touch,” she said as she did it.
She gave the button the shortest of touches. The shock was just as powerful but this time Charles knew what it was and responded accordingly. Automatically, he tried to put his hands out to feel where he was going but, of course couldn’t, locked as they were to the zips at the small of his back. For a moment he hesitated only to receive another shock, longer this time. Leslie may have urged delicacy but no way was she going to be disobeyed, especially by an anonymised maid. Charles didn’t hesitate again; he had to put his faith in the women, he was sure that they would not let him come to any harm: but it was scary all the same.
Leslie let him walk a few short steps then applied the ‘brake.’ Charles stopped immediately. Above the white noise, a click sounded in his right ear. He turned and received another signal to start walking again.
After some minutes of this Leslie was getting used to the controls. Once she had got Charles moving, she found that there was no need to have him stop in order to make a turn; a sound in the left or right ear was enough, with longer bursts making for tighter turns. Leslie was, however, soon frustrated by the confines of the dungeon. Charles could take only a few paces before he had to be turned in a different direction to avoid bumping into a wall or tripping over some of the paraphernalia on the floor
“We need more space,” Leslie muttered to herself as, for the umpteenth time, having had to stop Charles from crashing into a piece of, ‘furniture.’ “Come on, Amber, we’re going outside, it’s too cramped in here. We’ll take Charlotte’s car; it’s bigger than the Jag so we should easily be able to get her into the back seat.”
“Pity we haven’t got a horse-box.”
“How are you spelling, ‘horse,’?”
“We could put her in the boot.”
“Put you in the boot, more like, and throw away the key. Now, Nip and get a coat, a short one, and bring me the quilted black leather anorak, the one with the furry hood.”
“Can I have the key to the chastity belt?”
“No, it’ll keep you out of mischief.”
“And what about the bell?”
“What about it? Get on. Hurry up. Chop chop!”
Leslie manoeuvred Charles along the dungeon passage, past the cells and the workshop, through the linked double doors to the foot of the steps up to the mews. There she stopped, at that the last moment remembering to stop Charles as well. Before setting off she hadn’t given enough thought as to how she was going to get Charles up them, now she had a problem. Then she remembered, Charles had talked about there being buttons on the control to make the doll, as she could not help thinking of him, pick its feet up. In concentrating on mastering locomotion on the flat she had quite forgotten the possibilities of going up and down. She tried pressing one of the foot buttons. Charles responded by picking up a foot; but that was all.
‘Hum,’ thought Leslie, “not quite as intended. Perhaps if I give ‘go’ a short press at the same time?”
That did the trick. Charles moved his raised foot forward onto the first step, but now what?
Charles was not sure where he was. It must be the dungeon passage if only because of the distance he had been steered and the different sensation under-foot. Through the rubber dress he could tell that the temperature was different, too. Charles had enough sense to realise that he should try to ascend the steps, however difficult that might be, blind and with his hands fixed behind him. Carefully he heaved himself up, unaware that Leslie, even more frightened than he that he might fall, hovered just millimetres behind.
At last he was on the top step and took a pace into the mews. The cobbles were treacherous under foot. They had been bad enough when practicing his ballet-boots but at last he could see then; being totally blind was an entirely different matter. Then the sensations in his butt stopped. He just stood there; seemingly for ages but, in reality as he told himself, minutes: it did seem a long time though.
“What are they up to,” he wondered. “No good, I’m sure,” he feared.
Charles stood there, lost in his own private black world.
He sensed something but, before he had time to think what it might be, he received a push on his front that sent him toppling backwards to be caught and, with his arms still firmly behind his back, man-handled into a padded seat. ‘A car seat?’ he wondered.
Wondering was quickly replaced with certainty as he felt a seat-belt being fastened round him.
The car drove off. Charles had, of course, not the faintest idea, where it was going or, for that matter, who was driving. Leslie, he hoped, but why? Judging by the number of stops and starts they were still in Town.
‘Perhaps,’ he thought, ‘Sherlock Holmes could have deduced where they were but I couldn’t.’
Eventually the car slowed and stopped. For Charles it was suddenly very quiet again. Parking lot, he wondered.
In fact, Leslie had parked on a quiet side road off the busy High Street. Charles’s seat belt was unfastened and he was unceremoniously pushed out of the car to stand on the pavement. He stood there for a moment; then received the now, too familiar shock, that meant he should start walking. Obviously, this was not fast enough for his tormentor as he received several, ‘gee-up,’ shocks by way of follow-up.
‘Amber must have the controller.’ he decided.
From time-to-time he got short bleeps in his ears; signal to turn but, as he was already moving, he took these to mean that he should weave from side-to-side. Then he received a prolonged signal: turn left. Charles did so and, unbeknown to him entered the High Street, full of people, many sitting outside at café tables; heaters keeping any evening chill at bay.
Charles had, of course, no inkling of this: his whole world was a soundless, inky black.
This time Leslie had the control. She steered Charles, oblivious to the stares, and a few cat calls and low whistles of some of the revellers. Though Charles in his extreme parlour maid’s outfit and ball hood may have been the star of the show, the supporting cast would, on any other occasion been enough to cause a stir. They traversed the High Street then, turning Charles round, walked half way back to a favourite café with seats free, right on the pavement. Leslie sat down with Amber opposite, her short coat quite failing to cover the chained metal bands round her thighs. Charles stood patiently by the side of the table; Leslie mentally kicked herself; for effect he ought to be chained to the table, she should have brought something with her. No matter, they were sure to get plenty of attention, from the other diners and passers-by as well as from the waiters. Amber ordered a coffee while Leslie, as usual, chose herb tea.
Soon the drinks were on the table. Seemingly deep in thought, Amber played with hers for a little while then, without a word, stood up and placed her steaming coffee cup against the breathing hole on the top of Charles’s ball hood.
“Yes, I know. Isn’t it fun?”
“You know how much Charlotte likes her coffee; that’s cruel.”
“Yes, I know.”
“She’ll get her own back, that’s for sure.”
“Yes, that’ll be fun too,” said Amber, gleefully wafting her coffee cup over Charlotte’s breathing hole once more.
“Be careful what you wish for,” Leslie laughed, “you might get more than you bargained for. Anyway, hold the fort a minute, will you, I must go and have a pee. Herb tea always does this to me – ought to stop drinking it, really.”
Leslie seemed to be gone a long time. Amber played with her, now empty cup, there was nothing left in it even to tease Charles who was meekly standing across the table from her, arms behind his back, not that he had much choice in the matter. What was keeping Leslie? People were staring at them. They had probably been doing it from the moment that they had sat down. Initially it hadn’t registered, but now… Oh where was Leslie, what can have become of her?
Amber looked behind her, trying to spot Leslie coming out of the café; willing her to be there. Then, in her haste, she knocked the remote-control for Charles’s device off the table and on to the pavement. To Amber, at its side, it seemed like an almighty crash. One of the key tops had come off and escaped. It rolled away to drop, never to be seen again, though the grating and, with a faint, ‘plop,’ into the drain below. Worst, the fall had hit the ‘go’ key, so that Charles, feeling a sharp pain in his butt, all the more so as he had been stationary and not daring to move for some time, suddenly was wakened from a near trance. Urged by the prolonged shock to his butt, Charles set-off at a gallop; a gallop that was, as far as the hobble skirt of his dress would let him being now sure that the two women would not let him get into danger. He hoped!
Amber panicked and screamed, trying to retrieve the controller, oblivious to giving some of the men on the tables nearby a view of her chastity belt, with its two dangling inflators and chained thigh bands, on which they would be able to dine out for years to come. At that moment Leslie re-emerged from the café. Guessing what had happened she swept up the damaged controller from the pavement; desperately pushing buttons trying to make it work while running after the rapidly disappearing figure. Only, ‘turn right’ and ‘go’ seemed to have any effect. And the latter was not much use; though effectively hobbled, Charles was well down the road. Leslie wished she had changed out of her high-heeled boot and into something that lent itself better to running.
“Why, oh why, doesn’t the ‘stop’ command work?” she muttered for the umpteenth time.
Charles kept on in a remarkably straight line. The end for the High Street where he was now going was mostly houses rather than cafés so that there was less for him to bump into. Houses rather than cafés, yes but, as Leslie was only too well aware, it was also the direction of the river. Running behind, Amber now following, alternately sobbing and cursing herself for being so clumsy, Leslie was catching up, oh so slowly. It seemed like a bad dream, when you were trying to run in treacle. If Charles carried on another hundred metres or so, he would be in the water. The road veered slightly to the right onto the bridge crossing the river. At the last moment, Leslie pressed the button and Charles turned on to the bridge. A few moments later she finally caught up with him, grabbing hands, still pinioned behind his back, and hauling him to a halt.
Leslie had already pulled off Charles hood and unlocked his arms by the time Amber, out of breath and puffing, arrived.
Charles looked at her.
“Next time,” he said, “the goose can have the sauce.”
Eventually, but oh so slowly as far as the ever-impatient Amber was concerned, the date for the Holiday, she always pronounced the word as if it began with a capital letter, arrived. The plan was to take taxis to Heathrow, Amber staying the night with Leslie, Gwyneth making her own way up from Wiltshire.
On the day of departure Amber arrived at breakfast in tracksuit and trainers and was immediately sent back to her room to change into something more appropriate.
“Look, darling,” Leslie explained, “this is not a holiday excursion to the Costa Packet. We are flying first class. You can either be very smart, very chic or very way out. What you can’t be is sloppy.”
Charles decided that he had better take the hint too and beat a hasty retreat upstairs.
They returned simultaneously and immediately burst out laughing, each having made diametrically opposite interpretations of Leslie’s sartorial edict. Amber had chosen the, ‘escapee from a local art school,’ outfit she had worn when they had gone shopping for clothes after Charles got his job at Barry’s; very tight, hipster leggings in an outrageous shade of shocking pink pearlized PVC, teamed with a matching short form-fitting jacket that left her midriff bare. Besides a half-cup push-up bra in shiny black rubber, the tight-waisted jacket revealing and exaggerating her cleavage was all she wore above the waist.
In contrast, Charles had changed into his newest black leather business suit with high-zipped jacket and a very tight, almost hobbling, knee-length pencil skirt.
The taxi arrived. With a struggle all the suitcases and mysterious boxes that Leslie had been assembling in the hall for several days were packed in.
“Going on a long cruise, miss?” the perspiring driver asked as the last one was crammed in.
“Just a short holiday,” Leslie replied loftily, suppressing the desire to add a, “my man,” as she entered the car.
Charles got in beside her. All that luggage left no seat for Amber who plonked herself down on Charles’s lap, wriggling her slippery bottom to get comfortable.
‘I wish she wouldn’t do that,’ he thought, though not daring to say so, certain that she would take it as an invitation to wriggle even more.
Amber didn’t care.
“We’re off our hols, we’re off on our hols,” she sang, bouncing up and down to Charles’s increasing discomfort. “Hey, Lesso, you told us to only pack a toothbrush,” she held up a diminutive overnight bag. “What’s in all these cases? She stretched out and poked at the pile with a toe then wriggled back on Charles. “Go on tell us, I want to know. Do you know what’s in them Charlie?” Charles, who hated being called ‘Charlie,’ felt himself getting angry. “Bet she hasn’t told you either, she’s rotten sometimes.”
“You’ll find out all in good time, and then you might wish you hadn’t. Now sit still and behave, for Charlotte’s sake if not for the driver’s and mine.”
At the airport they unpacked themselves and the luggage and loaded the latter onto trolleys. For once Charles did not find himself the only one doing all the humping. There was just so much stuff it was as much as they could manage with a trolley each. Gwyneth was already waiting for them in the departure hall when they arrived. Greetings over, they made their way to the battery of check-in desks.
Charles armed with his new passport in the name of Charlotte Graham, had been understandably uneasy as they approached the ticket desks. It was all very well to say that in British Law you could call yourself by any name just so long as you did not use it for ‘the purposes of criminal deception.’ Presenting his little maroon book with his longhaired picture in the name of ‘Charlotte,’ was quite another matter. However, being flanked by the rest of the team gave a lot of necessary moral support. Leslie’s demeanour, as she handed over the four documents and tickets at the check-in desk also made it clear that without her saying a word, she would brook no nonsense.
Passport controls and the security check were other things. Here, though the Gals positioned themselves discretely fore and aft he had, perforce, to be on his own. Fortunately, he had the presence of mind to slip off much of his jewellery and pass it round the gate in a tray so avoiding triggering the detector. Nevertheless, he was stopped and subjected to a search and, he felt, embarrassingly close scrutiny by a female officer using a hand-held detector.
The ordeal over Charles collected his things from the X-ray machine and tried to straighten the tight skirt. Somehow, despite its tightness, but aided by the none to gentle probing of the security officer, it had managed to work itself halfway up his thighs. Hot and flustered he unzipped his jacket while Amber helped to straighten him up and dabbed him with cologne from her handbag.
“Can’t do a proper job here,” she whispered as they made their way to the relative safety of the first-class lounge. “Can you wait till we get air-borne then I can sort you out in the loo?”
“I’ll have to,” Charles conceded, “There are too many people about to be able to avoid problems. At least on the plane they have unisex loos. I could do with a pee too. I wish you hadn’t sat on me like you did.”
“I thought that you would enjoy it. I did,” she added, sheepishly.
“That’s not the point,” he retorted.
Amber put her hand to her mouth to stifle a giggle and Charles blushed realising the double entendre of what he had just said.
At that moment their flight was called. Charles gave her a loud open-handed slap on her round plastic bottom, to the obvious annoyance of some of the other waiting passengers (and the delight and envy of others).
“Come on,” he said, “let’s get out of the Country before the police get us for causing a disturbance.”
The Bucharest flight itself took place uneventfully enough. Amber had not flown first class before and she lapped it all up from the first moment of being personally greeted by a steward and shown to her seat in the nose of the plane, to the apparently inexhaustible supply of Champaign that made here even more ebullient than usual. Of course, her extravagant outfit may have helped her secure extra attention from some of the cabin staff.
After the ordeal at the security check that still left him feeling somehow violated, Charles would have dearly liked to join her. However, conscious that he would be doing the driving at the other end confined himself to one glass, just to make sure it was actually Dom Pérignon in the bottle, he told himself and, anyway, and the wine list for lunch looked very respectable.
Leslie had ordered a Renault Espace for them for their onward journey. Normally Charles did not like ‘people movers,’ and referred to them disparagingly as ‘bread vans.’ Grudgingly he had to concede that on this occasion it was the right choice given the quantity luggage that they had with them.
It was 200km from the airport to the castle. For the first half of the journey they took what in that part of the World passes for a motor way towards Pitest. The next hundred were on rapidly deteriorating roads. The closer they got to the Transylvanian Alps, the worse they became. They passed through sullen villages that seemed to be shut and devoid of people. There was now hardly any traffic on the road, just the occasional horse or tractor drawing a rickety cart and the even more occasional antique lorry.
Once they overtook a bus grinding its way between two villages. As they passed, the girls waved to its occupants, but got no response. Eventually the atmosphere got to them all. The normally incessant stream of chatter dwindled to a trickle and stopped altogether. Amber snuggled up to Leslie for reassurance, while Gwyneth wished she could lose face and do the same. Charles at the wheel drove grimly on, thankful that he had brought his pocket GPS handset with him. If they had to ask the way he doubted if they could find anyone who could, or would help. With it they could at least find a way back to the motorway and civilisation.
Eventually they reached the village referred to in their instructions and, as directed, sought out the village shop. Not that it took much searching. The village comprised little more than one dusty street with a few houses, church, and one shop. Charles drew up outside and got out, pleased for the opportunity to stretch his legs. Leslie joined him and together they entered the shop. A bell jangled somewhere and a surly looking man, perhaps in his late fifties, but it was hard to tell, appeared from the back. In reply to a grunt, Leslie began to explain in German, as the best chance of being understood, that they were going to Adlerstein Castle and that they had been told to let a Herr Zdenek know when they arrived.
“Ich bin Zdenek,” the shopkeeper replied.
There was a silence as though neither party knew how to make better contact with the other.
“Which way?” Leslie eventually asked, in faulting German.
“Drei Kilometre,” he said, pointing to an uphill track.
The interview clearly over, they thanked Zdenek and left.
“Not a great conversationalist,” Charles observed.
The road wound up the hill from the village through the forest. By now the sun was almost setting, but, even by day, not much light could have penetrated the densely packed trees. It all contributed to an air of menace, so that for once, even Amber was silent. They drove on round-and-round, seemingly just as far from the castle as when they left the village. Charles was reminded of the story by Kafka and said as much. Leslie was the only one who had read it. She nodded, but said nothing.
Suddenly rounding a corner, there was the castle; ancient stone walls towering above a gatehouse and running away below them to merge with the hillside, which had become almost a precipice at this point.
Charles pulled the car to a halt and they all got out, grateful for the opportunity to stretch their legs.
“Now what?” said Amber.
“Ring the bell, silly,” Gwyneth replied, pointing to a large loop of a handle suspended at shoulder height by an attached chain that disappeared high up into the stonework.
Amber tugged on the chain.
Nothing seemed to happen.
“Where is everybody,” she grumbled then. Impatient as ever, she grabbed the handle with both hands and pulled again.
Without warning, the chain suddenly retracted up into the building so that a screaming Amber, holding onto the pull for grim death, found herself dangling, her feet fully three metres off the ground.
“Get me down,” she shrieked.
The others could not help laughing at her.
“It’s not funny. Get me down,” she repeated, kicking out with her feet.
“Okay,” said Leslie, wiping a tear from her eye with the back of her hand. “Now just hold still then when I say drop, let go and we'll catch you.”
“I’m scared,” Amber called down to them.
“Then you’ll have to stay up there all night and we’ll look for a ladder tomorrow,” teased Charles.
“You’re beastly,” she shouted, let go and landed on top of him so that they both finished up in a heap on the ground. Amber picked herself up and offered Charles a hand to help him to his feet.
“Thank you for breaking my fall,” she said.
“I hope that’s the only thing that was broken,” he said dusting himself.
Concentrating on Amber’s predicament they had failed to notice the gate open. Now their eyes followed the path of the light to the open door where a figure was silhouetted against the brightness.
“Welcome to Adlerstein Castle,” a voice said in English that only slightly betrayed that it was not her native tongue. “I am Fräulein Peitsche. I see that the young lady has already discovered one of its little surprises. I assure you that it has many more. But come in. I was expecting you sooner. I must be away very shortly, but I must tell you some things so as to make your visit enjoyable. May I ask which of you is Mistress Leslie?”
Leslie held up her hand.
“I am delighted to meet you. Again welcome. Perhaps you would instruct your chauffeuse to bring your car into the inner courtyard? It will be easier for your staff to unload your things and I would ask you to keep the gate locked other than when you are actually going in or out.
The Gals went on ahead while Charles slipped the car into gear and drove it through the gate.
‘Ha, chauffeuse indeed,’ he thought. “Just because I’ve got a leather suit on. Should have seen us going to the races.”
With a loud clunk the gates closed behind him as soon as he had passed. Charles scrunched his was across the gravel covered courtyard towards a flight of wide stone steps beside which, in stark contrast to the old and battered vehicles that they had passed on their journey, stood a bright red Ferrari. Clearly the fräulein was not short of money.
Fräulein Peitsche led them through the main entrance, up a flight of wide stone stairs into the main hall decorated in armour, flags and mediaeval trappings. She waved Leslie to a chair and drew one up for herself, leaving the others standing.
“You must understand about our castle,” she said. “Its origins go back to the 11th century. This has always been a trouble spot. The border is here one time, there the next. Sometimes the castle belongs to one side, sometimes to the other. Often to no side, just the local lord exploiting the confusion. It has withstood sieges; it has held all manner of prisoners, from the humble to the highest. A few were lucky enough to escape; many were never seen nor heard of again.
The part we are in is newer. It was built by one of the richest of the Landgraffs in the 19th century as a place to entertain his mistresses or the other way round. By all accounts, his tastes were rather, shall we say, extreme. During the communist regime, high party officials used it for much the same purposes. Be clear, that though we are sure that this newer part is all right, there are many passages that lead into the old fortress and beyond that we have not explored. If you go exploring that is up to you. But be very careful there may be nasty surprises. We take no responsibility. There are many old tales of secret passages used for smuggling and the like. Some are said to go as far as the village or beyond. That seems to be improbable though this used to be a mining area for silver. Almost certainly some passages are just dead ends to trap unwary attackers who got in. We have provided walkie-talkies. You should always have one with you.
“Another thing, the apparatus. The pieces we know and have studied, we have put labels on. Green ones for things we think are safe if used sensibly. Some are new things we have installed, others we found here. The use of most is obvious. In one or two cases where this is not so, we have provided some notes. Yellow is for things we think are quite dangerous and red for ones we do not think should be tried, just treated as décor. Anything without a label we have not looked at. Almost anything you may come across in the old castle will be like that. However tempting, my advice is to be very, very careful. Whatever it is, it was never intended to be a fun toy and, as it has not been used for hundreds of years, it cannot be relied on to work predictably.
“So, my advice is stick to the new part of the castle and to the green labels, unless you are looking for adventure and danger, in which case you are on your own.
“So, I leave you. You have the telephone to Zdenek in the village shop. He can be trusted, though naturally he is bribable. He will bring basic groceries to the main gate. He won’t come in. Like the rest of them in the village, he is still afraid of what has gone on here. Put some money in the empty basket and he’ll collect it next time. Apart from Zdenek, no one will trouble you. You will find the refrigerators and freezers in the kitchen to be well stocked. Use what you want. Clean bed linen of all kinds, towels and so on in the cupboards.
"The rooms have been made up in the manner you requested, Mistress Leslie. As I understand it, your own staff will keep things in order during your stay,” without actually looking at them, she waved her hand in the general direction of the standing group, “so I have made no arrangements for cleaning.”
Leslie nodded her ascent.
“Good. When you depart, you can leave everything for my people to tidy up. Just give the key to Zdenek. I must go. Enjoy yourself.” She gave Charles a last hard look, turned on her heel and was gone
“Phew,” said Gwyneth.
“Isn’t it exciting,” bubbled Amber who had been barely able to contain herself during the description of the castle's mysteries, “When can we start to explore?”
“Tomorrow at the earliest and not at all for preference, I think,” said Charles. “I'm ready to turn in.”
“Oh, you’re a spoil-sport.”
“You haven’t driven half way across Europe on cart tracks,” grumbled Charles.
“It was only 200km.”
“You weren’t driving.”
“Now you two,” Leslie grinned, “let’s compromise. Bring the cases in out of the car and dump them here; most of it can wait till morning anyway. Then we can explore this bit and have a look at our bedrooms, but first I want Gwyneth to see something.”
Continues in chapter 10