Through those darknesses runs the grisly thread of an old legend about a chess set – thirty-two carved figures believed to possess a dark power, but shut away in the forgotten library of a tumbledown Irish castle for many decades.
Michael Flint, meeting Benedict in Oxford, starts to research some of the strange shutter-flash images, and chilling facts begin to emerge – facts that suggest the legend contained a disturbing reality.
And when Nell West – no stranger to the eeriness in old properties – begins to compile an inventory of Holly Lodge’s contents for her antique business, it seems that the chess set’s malevolence might be reaching out to the present.
From the reference books: The term sin eater refers to a person who, by means of food and drink, would ritualistically take on the sins of a dead or dying person, thus absolving his or her soul. Parts of the Old Testament hint at the ritual of sin-eating, and over the centuries it seems to have been performed, in various forms, in many parts of the world. The last recorded instance of a sin-eater in the UK was in Shropshire as recently as 1893.
Was that firelit room where Declan had lived? Declan was Irish – would the cottage be in Ireland?
At once a soft silvery whisper seemed to hiss into the room…
‘Yes, it’s in Ireland, Benedict, it’s on the very edge of Ireland’s west coast, near the Cliffs of Moher… They’re wild and dark, those cliffs, and the Atlantic Ocean lashes against them for ever and there’s the cold music of the sidh inside the ocean, and the sound of screeching gulls, like wailing banshees, or souls shut out of heaven… ‘
Benedict looked round the room in fear, but there was no one there.
‘And there’s an ancient watchtower built by one of Ireland’s High Kings, and they say the devil himself prowls that stretch of the cliffs… That’s where it began, Benedict, inside that dark tower, reeking of evil… One hundred and twenty years ago, near enough…
‘We’d make up stories about that watchtower, Benedict – wouldn’t any child do that? We’d say to one another, “Let’s pretend…” ’
Let’s pretend… The spell that had taken Alice to that other world through the looking glass.
‘We’d pretend it was the ruinous halls of the High Kings, the last magical stones from the ancient kingdom of Tara… Or a giant’s castle – you know about giants, Benedict, you know how they have to be killed… And wouldn’t any child with half an ounce of spirit or adventure want to go up there, to find out what was really inside that old tower? I did, Benedict, I and a good friend I had, a boy I grew up with.’
The voice had a way of pronouncing things Benedict had never heard, and the words werebroken-up like a crackly old radio, or as if they were coming from a long way off.
Greatly daring and having no idea if his own words could be heard, he said, ‘Did you do it? Go up to the tower?’
‘I did. Oh, I did, Benedict. I and my friend went up there. We thought we might find giants and ghosts, or princesses that had to be rescued from evil sorcerers and black enchantments. I’d have hacked my way through brambles and thickthorn hedges for a princess even at that age. Wouldn’t anyone?’
‘Did you go up there?’
‘Did you find those things? The giants and the kings and the princesses?’
‘No,’ said the soft voice. ‘We found something far worse.’
Publisher: Severn House Publishers Ltd; World ed. edition (29 Mar. 2012)
Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 14.6 x 22.9 cm