We both knew the basic story, as does everyone in Scotland with a taste for history or mystery: the First Laird, Jacques Lindsay, returned from the Fourth Crusade in 1205, to take up the lands bequeathed to him by the King. He was, it seems, suddenly enormously wealthy, and began to spend like a pope. The original Blackford House was an example of his flamboyance; an elaborate, pinnacled Gothic construction that was to collapse three centuries later. There, he threw lavish parties, and soon became well-known in society. Through his contacts, he even gained some political influence in Hollyrood. Finally, in 1221, King William made him his Lord Chancellor.
Inevitably, dark mutterings began to circulate; Jacques Lindsay had some secret that gave him his power and wealth. The most stubborn of these was that he had uncovered a treasure of some kind, a relic of a famous saint, perhaps, in Constantinople. Others have suggested that it was a secret document that he uncovered, one that would give him political or religious leverage, perhaps even blackmail. Jacques joked to his friends about a fabulous treasure hidden in the Lindsay estate, but none has ever been found.
Whatever the truth, Jacques Lindsay died in 1243, and took his secret to the grave with him. Title, house, money, estate; all were passed down through the generations, from father to son. Except for that one thing: the nature of the Treasure.
The study of George Lindsay, Laird of Blackford, was situated at the very apex of the tower in the southwest end of the House, where it commanded a spectacular panoramic view of the estate. The valley crept around the House from the west, cutting a swathe through the land. Due north, just visible through yellow-flowered gorse bushes, lay the Folly. The weather had grown belligerent, and heavy clouds were sharply outlined as they hurried across the sky. The dramatic vista was curtailed as Elias hastily drew the heavy curtains.
The walls of the circular room were lined with towering bookshelves piled high with antique books. Somewhere among them was a black cloth-bound copy of The Key Mosaic, also known as The Clavicle of Moses, a book so rare that many take it to be a mere legend. The Laird had once even gone so far as to give us a surreptitious look at his centuries-old copy. I had a sudden pang of regret that I would no longer know the eccentric old man with his smiling, piercing eyes, who had indulged my hungry mind over the years.
My eyes wandered around the room, taking in the objects d’art dotted about on the shelves. They betrayed the exquisite taste of their absent owner – a carving in pinkish, almost translucent soapstone of a reclining Buddha, an intricate brass sextant, the Golden Spiral of a nautilus’ shell. However, a coarse bust of the cheapest plaster of Paris caught my eye. It was of a grinning fat man’s face, painted in gaudy colours with no subtlety or care. It simply did not belong.
I beckoned Elias over to the desk, and opened the topmost of a stack of notebooks. Scraps of paper marked the important pages. The page open before us was a hand-drawn map of the valley, shown in meticulous detail.
“When your Father became Laird in 1846, he began to spend his time researching the history of the House and the Lindsay family. He soon became fascinated with Jacques Lindsay. Later, he became obsessed with finding the Treasure, which he was convinced was hidden somewhere on the estate.”
“He abandoned the idea that it was hidden in the House fairly quickly,” Elias interjected. “I remember him commissioning a surveyor, who assured him that the walls were completely solid.”
“But have you considered, Elias, that what we are looking for is not an object at all, but a place?”
Elias looked at me quizzically. I directed his attention back to the map, to a smudged area west of the river and north of the House. I did not have to tell him what was built there.
“The Folly,” he said, and the merest hint of a smile revealed itself on his lips.
I shook my head. “Your father didn’t build the Folly until four years after this was drawn. Yet something is marked here, something which he later chose to obscure. Whatever it was, the Folly was built on top of it.”
He looked dubious. “But could it not just be that he marked down the choicest location for the building? He must have already been planning it by then.”
“That’s possible, I’ll grant you; but then why the later defacement of the chart? I think he found something in the valley, Elias.”
The next marked page, which showed a more abstract and geometric rendering of the valley. It had been marked with curving compass-strokes and was accompanied by lists of minuscule calculations. “I can only identify a few of the symbols. That one’s Pi, unsurprisingly, and that one there represents the Platonic Golden Ratio. But the others…” They were plainly not from any script or mathematics which we as learned men were familiar with, yet they had a continuity and grace which seemed to suggest that they were not indeed nonsensical, and an indefinable, timeless quality in their spidery lines and heavy points. Perhaps they were a code; but I felt sure that they were in fact a magical alphabet, black and secret runes aeons older than the human languages which echo them.
“What do these lines signify?” Elias asked, pointing. They swept across the page, converging where the Folly now stands.
“I don’t know for sure. My best guess is that they’re lay-lines.”
I watched his eyes bulge as he realised that his father had built the Folly at the exact point where two major lay-lines converged. He didn’t need to say anything.
I turned the page again. “This is the sketch of the Folly which he had drawn up into plans for the builders. You can see that it changed very little over the ten years between commission and completion.”
“It does seem odd, doesn’t it? A decade to construct a glorified outhouse? But then, I suppose the surrounding land is marshy.”
“It is,” I smiled. “Also, we don’t know what’s inside.”
Elias stroked his chin, perhaps in thought, or perhaps to calm himself.
“After the Folly, the notebooks stop being about finding the Treasure, and become more and more concerned with what it might actually be.” I opened a third book at a lengthy block of minuscule, almost illegible, hand-written text. “If the treasure was a
secret that Jacques was using to blackmail the Church or the King, why didn’t he pass it on, for the security of his descendants, if nothing else? And if it was a material treasure, a relic, say, or some piece of jewellery, worked from the finest gold by Muslim hands, where did his political influence come from? To your father’s mind, that left one possibility: the Treasure must have been an object of tremendous magical power.”
Elias stared into the distance, wide-eyed. “Go on,” he whispered.
“That’s it. The last twenty pages have been torn out.”
“Why, that doesn’t sound like Father,” said Elias, angrily. “He was never at all secretive about his studies.”
“True, but neither does it make sense to blame anyone else. Whoever it was knew exactly what to remove. If the censorship were the work of another hand, they would have been seen, either by you or by the MacGregors.”
“But he would never try to hide his work, Henry, you know that! He would talk about it with the slightest provocation. But he was acting so strangely those last few weeks… I wonder whether he made some kind of breakthrough…”
I drained the last of my whiskey whilst Elias pondered all that had been recounted. “I know it’s a lot to take in, Elias. Let’s go downstairs and have a dram.” We left the study and began to descend the spiral staircase.
“You can see now why I begged you to come,” Elias said softly. “Your mind is superior to mine, and less muddled by sorrow and exhaustion.”
“You belittle yourself, my friend.”
“I’m glad you’re here, Henry, I mean that.”
We continued along the balcony overlooking the hallway, and entered the drawing room. Elias sighed heavily as he poured the whiskey. He tugged the bell-pull sharply.
“Elias, we have to open the Folly.”
“Absolutely. First thing tomorrow.”
“No, it must be tonight. It must be now.” He looked at me, his head tilted to one side. “Just a feeling, Elias. I’ve been wrong before.”
A rap sounded from the door, and MacGregor shuffled in. I could almost make out cobwebs on his threadbare tweeds.
“We need the key to the Folly, MacGregor,” Elias barked. “Would you fetch it, please?”
“There is no key, sir.” The swiftness of his answer should have alerted me, but I can only hazard that nervous exhaustion had robbed me of my full faculties.
“No key? You’re sure about that?”
The old man nodded. “Never has been, sir, not to my knowledge.”
“I see…” Elias pinched his lip.
“Will there be anything else, sir?”
“No… thank you. That’ll be all.” The old man nodded, and backed out of the room again. “Well, Henry, I suppose we’ll just have to wait until the morning. There’s a locksmith in the village.”
“Wait”. In a flash of inspiration that arrived unbidden from some preternatural source, I knew where the key must be. I marched out of the room.
Elias raced after me, crying, “Henry! Dear God, man! What’s come over you?!”
I darted along the landing, back up the stairs to the Laird’s study. By the time Elias arrived breathlessly at the door, I was already holding the garish plaster head.
“If I’m wrong about this, then I apologise, humbly and profusely.” I raised the head high, and looking my oldest friend straight in the eyes, hurled the tawdry figurine at the floor with all my strength. It split cleanly in two; lying on the floorboards between, covered with a layer of ashen powder like the first snow of the winter, was a heavy brass key.