Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Dark Horse of Cantripshire
Part One

Christ, let this darkness end. Oh, how I long to look on the fields of Cantripshire once more! If I had known it would come to this, I never would have listened to him. How could he, my own flesh and blood, betray my trust in this most heinous and awful way?

The oftentimes cheerful and sunny Cantripshire horizon was slowly filling with dark, menacing clouds. G.H. Fipsworth watched from the wide bay windows of his study as the sky's hue darkened and the air closed in around him. The sounds of larks singing and far off dogs barking were gone. A silence was growing; an uneasy, almost terrible silence. Suddenly, he heard the distant rumble of thunder. Forks of lighting could be seen in the black mass in the sky that was moving ever closer to his spacious country home. Looks like we're in for one hell of a night, he thought to himself, slowly pouring a glass full of whiskey. The silence was abruptly interrupted by a loud knock at his study doors.
Where most people would have jumped at the sudden noise, Fipsworth's demeanor stayed calm. His years of serving the Empire in India as a Colonel had given him nerves of steel. When a man is faced with unexpected bursts of artillery or gunfire, he learns to keep his wits about him. Slowly turning his sturdy frame, he paced the large room in a surprisingly short amount of time. He laid a strong, weathered hand on the latch and swung the door open. There, standing before him, was Ian Nielson, the butler of the house since time immemorial.
"Sir, a Mr. Goodwin wishes to see you. He is waiting in the parlour," stated the elderly servant. Though getting on in years, it was obvious from the old man's eyes that he still possessed a sharp mind.
"Thank you, Nielson," said Fipsworth. "Tell him I shall be with him directly." The old butler nodded,
"Very good, sir," he said as he shuffled out of the room. Mr. Nigel Goodwin was Fipsworth's third cousin, twice removed, on his mother's side of the family. The two became fast friends long ago, having served in the Army together in the Manjabi Province. It had been awhile since Fipsworth and Goodwin had spoken due to the latter's journeys around the globe. Fipsworth was looking forward to catching up with his old friend; he always liked to hear stories from his cousin's adventures. I wonder what kind of tall tales he'll be telling this time, Fipsworth thought to himself, smiling. He proceeded out of his study and into the spacious parlour. As soon as Fipsworth set eyes on his cousin, he could tell something wasn’t right. The once smooth round face was taut and wrinkled. His customary smile was now a grimace of pain and the usual spark in his eyes was gone.
“Hullo, Gerald,” said Goodwin, calling Fipsworth by his Christian name, “how are things?” His voice, once robust and jubilant, was now gravelly and it sounded as though that small salutation had drained the breath from his lungs.
“Not too bad, Nigel, not too bad,” said Fipsworth apprehensively. “You’re looking…well,” he added a moment later. Goodwin’s laugh was filled with anything but mirth.
“Oh my dear Gerald. Let’s dispense with the pleasantries, shall we? We can both see that the years have not been good to me.” Fipsworth could see the darkness in his cousin’s eyes. There seemed to be a shadow emanating from within, like a blackness pouring forth from his soul. His cracked lips opened and he said, “I have come to make you a proposition, my dear friend, my dear cousin. A proposition that I hope you will be unable to turn down.” Fipsworth waited a moment, eyeing his cousin with something that was half suspicion and half sadness. He could tell that the man was obviously down on his luck, and it pained him to see his once well-to-do cousin in such a spot.
“Look Nigel, if you just need to borrow some money or something, I could loan you a few hundred quid. I know you’re good--”
“Ha!” His cousin laughed in his face. “I do not need your charity, my dear boy. Despite my somewhat haggard and disheveled appearance, I am still somewhat wealthy. No, no, my proposition has nothing to do with anything so dismal as money.”
This last statement interested Fipsworth. As long as he could remember, his cousin had put money first. First before his wives, all three of them; first before his children, and who really knew how many of them there were? “Pray tell, then Nigel, what exactly is this grand proposition of yours?”
“I have two words for you, my dear Gerald,” his cousin rasped, his voice lowering to almost a whisper, “Sanjit Kumpur.”

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