The Rose of Raby

The sun shines down on Raby Castle as I make myself comfortable against an old, gnarled tree and start to sketch. What stares back at me once I’m done isn’t the exact castle as it stands before me, but something slightly different, and from the middle ages. I nod to myself, knowing I’ve got the right time period, clamber to my feet and make my way towards the castle, thinking back to how I’ve ended up here.

I’m Alice, and I’m a treasure hunter of sorts. Myself and my friends, Rob and Julia, go up against The Organisation on a regular basis to try and stop them from discovering rare objects from history. If we find the objects first, the world knows about it, if The Organisation finds them first, no one knows about it.

So I’m here at Raby Castle, hoping to find something relating to The Rising in the North, which was planned here, at least that’s what Rob believes from our research and The Organisation’s emails. We don’t really know any specifics, so the best thing is for me to do what I do best and draw.

I’m what’s known as a sketcher, someone who can open a window to history through a drawing. I don’t travel back in time or anything, but I can draw scenes from history as long as I’m in the place they happened.

The Organisation use sketchers to discover rare treasures and then sell them to the highest bidder on the black market. They tried to recruit me when I was younger but I refused and now I try my best to disrupt their plans as much as possible, which is why I’m here, because I know they will be here too.

I enter through the main doors and already I’m feeling overwhelmed by the sheer grandeur of the place, I shake my head and remind myself I need to stay focused on the task at hand. This is going to be hard enough without me getting distracted by the beauty of the building, after all I don’t really know what the hidden artefact is, or where it is.  Neither does The Organisation, but they have a lot more people like me at their disposal and I only have me.

I start to make my way around the rooms on the ground floor, making quick sketches as I go; my aim is to sketch as many rooms as possible before lunch, when myself, Rob and Julia will check through them for clues. I’m on my fifth sketch, when I finally have something other than an empty room staring back at me though it’s not quite what I’d hoped. Three young children, two girls and a boy, are sat in the middle of the room playing with wooden toys, while an older woman sits in a chair embroidering. They’re all in period clothing, so I know what I’ve drawn is a window into history, but it’s not exactly what I’d hoped for. I sigh and move on to the next room, where I immediately freeze. A man in his mid-30s is sketching with a vacant expression on his face.

“Damnit!” I hiss and pull out my mobile, They’re here, I send to Rob and Julia before shoving my phone back in my pocket. I slip quietly into the room and peer at the drawing; the room has been thrown back in time but there’s nothing there that jumps out at me, so I quickly make my way to the next room.

It’s a race against time now The Organisation is here. My phone buzzes in my pocket; there’s a message from Rob telling me they’re going to handle it, which means he and Julia are going to start trying to distract the other sketchers. I spend the next couple of hours drawing as many rooms as possible before taking a break for lunch. By now my hand is cramping and I’m not sure how I’ll cope with an afternoon of the same; I can see why The Organisation employs so many of us.

Rob and Julia meet me outside and we sit on the grass with the castle in front of us and rifle through my sketches, desperately looking for something which might give a clue as to what we’re actually looking for. Most of the sketches are useless; there aren’t any people so there’s no context. The sketches containing people only show the same three, young children playing with toys or scribbling on paper. I feel defeated.

            “Who are these children?” Julia asks studying one of the drawings.

            “They could be Charles Neville’s children,” Rob says scrutinising another image.

            “But why are they the only people in my sketches?” I ask, starting to feel something in my stomach I can’t quite explain.

            “They have to be significant,” Julia urges. “Why else would they keep showing up.”

            “Is it possible,” I say slowly, the feeling in my stomach almost like butterflies, “that The Rising in the North isn’t the focus? Should we actually be looking for something linked to these children?”

            “It’s entirely possible,” Julia says.

            “So who are they?” Rob asks and we all fall silent in contemplation.

            “I better get back to it,” I say getting to my feet with renewed energy. “Can you two run interference again?” They both nod and we make our way back to the castle.

The first room I enter that I’ve not previously drawn is set out as an elegant sitting room. I immediately start sketching and when I’m done, I see that it used to be a bedroom. My stomach flips as I see one of the girls from my previous drawings; I know now this is why we’re here.

            The girl is wearing a simple but elegant dress and looks to be somewhere between eight and eleven years old. She’s sat at a small table and looks to be writing in a small book. A book. I start flipping through the sketches from the morning, scanning for the ones with the children and there it is, a small unobtrusive book with roses on the cover; it’s in every picture with the children. The weird feeling in my stomach is back and I’m certain this is the object we’re looking for.

            I grab my phone and text Rob and Julia, asking them to try and keep the other sketchers away, but at that moment, as if reading my mind, one of ‘them’ enters the room. We lock eyes and the entire world falls silent. I have two choices, I can stay and see what he does, or I can leave and hope that gives him the impression the room isn’t worth drawing. I choose to leave, and throw a smug smile on my face for good measure, hoping it will distract him enough that he’ll leave the room alone but as I glance back before I leave I can see the vacant expression on his face and I know he’s going to see what I saw when he finished hi sketch.

            I don’t leave the room. I know it’ll take a few minutes for him to finish sketching so I start staring round the room, desperately trying to work out where the book might be hidden but it’s no use, I have no idea. I glance up and the sketcher is still in a trance and drawing, so I decide to look at his sketch and see if it reveals anything more than mine did. I peer over his shoulder and stifle a gasp; his drawing is different to mine. The young girl is there, but she is crouched in the corner furthest from the door and I think I can just see the small book in her hands. This must be where the book is hidden.

            I move as quickly and as quietly as I can to the corner of the room. My stomach is full of butterflies and my heart pounds in my chest. I start to scrabble at the edge of the carpet and that’s when I hear an excited gasp behind me. I turn and the other sketcher is lurching towards me; he also knows where the book is. I try to push him away and at that moment someone else enters the room and shouts at us to stop. Neither of us listen but I glance behind me and a very well dressed woman, possibly one of the curators, is moving quickly towards us. I’m desperately trying to push the sketcher away while also trying to lift the carpet; neither is working well. Now the curator has joined in and is trying to drag the other sketcher away. My fingers finally get a good hold on the carpet and I rip it backwards; the curator yells, abandons the other sketcher and comes towards me.

            I can see the floorboard where the book is hidden, it looks almost imperceptibly different to the others, but I know that’s where it is. My fingers reach for it but now the curator’s arms are around my waist and she’s trying to drag me backwards, I try and tell her there’s something under the floor but I probably just sound crazy. There are more people in the room now, and I can see the other sketcher is being restrained by staff and volunteers.  I stop struggling and allow the employees to lead me outside; I know I’m defeated.

            Julia is outside but there’s no sign of Rob.

            “Where’s Rob?” I ask glancing round.

            “We heard the commotion and he went inside.”

We both look towards the castle and I can feel butterflies as I dare to hope that maybe all is not lost. We wait outside for what feels like hours until finally Rob emerges looking triumphant. He is followed by the well-dressed woman, and she is carrying a very small, very old book.

Turns out Rob had used some of the charm I didn’t know he had to convince the woman, to lift the floorboard - which came away easily - and underneath they found the book. Small, well-loved and filled with the inner thoughts of a young Cecily Neville. The girl in my drawings.