For the Alchemist, the world is governed and composed of the four elements, the quintessence that arises from them, and the three essences. The four elements are earth, air, fire, water. The quintessence is born from the union of the four elements and is know my many names; chi, life, spirit, wood, and lightning. The three essences are salt, sulfur, and mercury, which are the ash, flame and smoke that is created when a thing is purified by the alchemist’s fire. All that is, was and will be are made of, ruled by, and are, those elements and essences.
So too, is every crime. Means, opportunity, and motive are the salt, sulfur, and mercury. Means is the salt, the physical components of the crime. Opportunity is the sulfur, the moment of burning flame of action that releases the mercury and salt in heat and light. Motive is the mercury, ethereal in nature of thought and desire. Each person and substance involved are made and governed by the four elements, each under the sway of those primal forces. The way a crime was committed could tell a lot about a person, including their elemental humor and that would lead to some suspects and rule out others. As an alchemist I would need to recombine all these elements and essences in order to release the true nature of the crime and its perpetrator.
These thoughts filled my head as Lady Radcliff led me to her bedchambers and the scene of the crime. This went beyond behavior, at least by the Queen’s standards, but there was little choice in the matter. If I was to help my client, a few social norms were acceptable. Still, I could not help but wonder why she had asked about my skills in the occult. So far, nothing in this case indicated a connection to the arcane and occult arts. Either she was holding back information or she was on who wanted the comfort of something higher aiding her. I’d face both types of clients in the past and both were equally troubling in their own way.
Lady Radcliff’s chambers were as well appointed and lavish as the sitting room she’d met me in, though it was clear she shared them with her husband, the Lord Radcliff. Just as clearly, he held complete dominion here. Various trophies were placed about the room, from the mundane horse racing to the exotic hunting. A stuffed lion’s head, full of mane and sharp of tooth, was placed above the marriage bed in a symbol of power. I suspected it excited the Lord Radcliff more than his wife. There were only two photographs, one on her night table that was of her and a woman I took to be a sister, the other a large portraiture of Lord Radcliff himself hanging opposite the foot of the bed.
The Lord Radcliff was a powerfully built man, with a large and fashionable mustache, slick black hair, and the bearing of a military officer who deserved the uniform he was wearing. He was clearly a man who loved power and brooked no softness. It was clear that he had married the Lady Radcliff for her beauty and valued her as nothing more than another trophy of conquest. He was a man to be respected, feared, and most likely enjoyed the adoration of both his equals and lesser. I’d met his kind in the past, and rarely got along with them. Perhaps because we were so similar.
Similar, but not the same.
Before I could ask her for it, Lady Radcliff handed me the note her blackmailers had left on her pillow. It was short, to the point, and revealed a little of the blackmailer’s character. Printed on cheap paper, but not so cheap the ink had run or bled through, with perfect spelling and diction. An educated person, then, but without more than the three lines it took to inform Lady Radcliff of the price of her secret and its nature, little more could be drawn at the moment.
The jewelry box in which she’d kept her black diamond was a bit more telling. There were only a few scratches on the key hole, letting me know it was picked, but by a very skilled hand. Her other jewelry boxes revealed no such marks, which meant the they had know precisely which box the diamond was kept in. there were most likely a limited number of people with such knowledge in the house. And, since the diamond had presumably been taken as Lady Radcliff had been sleeping and left the note when they were done, it shrank the number of possible thieves drastically. The question was why take the black diamond in the first place.
Clearly the blackmail and theft were connected, but not by anything obviously apparent. If it was to show they could reach her, the note proved that well enough, and I wasn’t sure how the ring would be used against her in the instance of blackmail.
Perhaps the diamond was the target, and the blackmail a diversion. I would have to check, but black diamonds were rare and likely worth far in excess of three thousand pounds. A thought poked at my brain and I turned to Lady Radcliff.
“M’Lady, what can you tell me about the diamond that was stolen?”
If the look on Lady Radcliff’s face when she told me of her illegitimate and dead child was trouble, then the one she wore at my question would have sent a lesser man screaming in terror at its implications. I am not a lesser man, more’s the pity.
“My father obtained it, in his youth on a trip to India. Aeroships had just come to be more available and he commissioned one along with some friends, to go exploring the Orient. He often told me the story when I was a little girl, because I thought it rather romantic,” she said, sitting lightly on the edge of the bed. “They were three days into the jungle, when they came across a beautiful native woman who was bound to an altar. My father freed her, much to her gratitude, and she led them to her village. Her father was the chief and was very happy to see his daughter again, but the village priest was angry. The girl had been given as a sacrifice to the jungle gods, to do with as they pleased before consuming her. The priest said that the jungle gods would grow angry and attack, but my father saw it all as petty superstition.”
“That night, after a great feast, the village was attacked. My father and his friends fought bravely, but the young princess was carried off, along with other young women as the huts burned. My father and his friends raced after them, until a day later they came to a mountain top where they found the priest about to sacrifice the girls. My father shot the priest, and took from him a ring with the black diamond,” she continued. “He said he rescued her and the other girls and returned them to the village.”
Lady Radcliff was silent for a long time, the spoke very softly, “It took me years to find out the truth. My father wrote the true story in his journal. He and his friends failed to rescue the girls. The truth was that the priest had conducted some sort of ritual, and all around him were the bodies of tigers and the captured women, placed on giant stakes and hanging in the air in an alternating g pattern, with their blood flowing down to the altar. The princess was bound to the altar and the priest was on top of her. My father arrived just as the priest finished having his way with the princess and stabbed an obsidian dagger into her heart. My father shot the priest, right then and there, but it was too late. According to the journal, the ritual could not be stopped and all the bodies and blood were pulled into a vortex above the altar, where it they spun until it formed a sphere. The noise and sight was so terrible that one of his friends went insane. My father said it felt like his very body and soul was being torn apart and drawn into the vortex. He said it felt like an eternity.”
She swallowed and looked sick. “It was noon when he awoke from that midnight ritual, all alone. Everyone else was gone and on the altar sat a black stone that he was later told to be a diamond. There was no sign of the bodies of the women, animals, priest, or his friends. Just the black stone. His journal said he felt possessed to take it and so he carried it off and later had it made into a ring. He wore it all the time. He wrote that late at night, he could hear the cries of the princess and the other women, his friends the roar of tigers and the dark laughter of the priest promising that he would once again be free and that the gods would repay my father for destroying his village and its people.”
I might not be a lesser man, but a shiver ran down my spine. It was doubtful Lady Radcliff’s father had enjoyed a pleasant life with the black diamond, and equally likely he could not be rid of it. How Lady Radcliff ended up with it probably had more to do with wanting a keepsake of her father, rather than his desire for her to have it. Doubtlessly, he would have wanted to take it the grave with him.
It explained why she wanted my help. Undoubtedly, she could have gotten Holmes, but his views on the supernatural were well known. I, on the other hand, would be more likely to believe her story about the diamond’s creation as well as being able to see reasons beyond simple theft for its disappearance. I watched as she sat on the bed, looking despondent, clearly shamed about her father and his past. No doubt there was even more to that story than she was telling, but she hadn’t liked about a word of it. Nor had she lied about her affair. Now, I just needed to figure out the connection between the two.
“Does anyone but you know of the diamond’s creation?” I asked, peering at her closely. She shook her head, raising a white silk handkerchief to her eyes. It came away wet, with a trace of light blue eye shadow. No false tears, which was something. I’d had women fake their tears before.
The letter might reveal something more, when I could run some tests on it. The ring’s creation disturbed me though, especially since I had no experience with Easter magic, and this sounded a far cry from the scholarly wizardry I was used to. I would have to get in touch with someone more knowledgeable about it.
Lady Radcliff sat there, looking small and vulnerable. Her hair had come loose, a curly wave of honey brown locks that framed a lovely, if distraught, face. She was beautiful, and a part of me felt rather disappointed that she was taken and controlled by Lord Radcliff. She was not a high born woman, but still of clearly good breeding, hence why the Lord could still marry her. I subtly shook my head, clearing away such thoughts. Still, before I could marshal my mental forces, I did notice that she’d changed in to different clothing from earlier and her new violet dress was far more fitted and low cut, revealing creamy pale skin. I forced myself to look about the room again, just in case I missed something. Nothing jumped out.
A few moments later Lady Radcliff and I bid our goodbyes and I promised to contact her with any results as soon as I got them. She thanked me and pleaded with me to hurry. Neither of us mentioned that Lord Radcliff’s return in two day would raise awkward questions for the both of us.