The Albatross has historically been the initial scene for many an interesting endeavour and I have no reason to believe that today will be any different. I am simply pleased that, this time around, I have had the chance to consume sufficient victuals beforehand.
Squinting in the bright afternoon sun, Professor VJ Duke and I tumble out into The City streets, just in time to see our strange new acquaintance slipping into a side street several hundred feet away from us. For someone who appears to move so slowly, he has managed to put an unnerving amount of distance between himself and us. Clutching our hats, we make after him.
The City is a maze of winding little lanes and alleys, quite unlike any other city I have ever know. Around every cobbled corner lay antiquated edifices of interest, almost organic in their feel, as if they once sprouted from the ground a thousand years ago. As we round the corner, a swinging door catches my eye.
“Look, Professor” I say. “He must have gone in there.”
Accompanying the swinging door are a quaint wooden-framed glazed shop front and a hand-painted sign bearing the legend ‘Templar Antiquities’. Both are attached to a squat, elderly building that appears to have muscled its way between its grander-looking neighbours. The door is invitingly ajar.
“I say, let’s go in after him, I suppose,” huffs the Professor. “What a wonder. Imagine playing such a game with such a fellow!”
The faint tinkling of a brightly polished brass bell announces our arrival, although inside there seems to be no one to acknowledge it. Once across the threshold, I feel that we must have hurtled backwards through time. The antediluvian aspects of the carefully arranged wares appear to have spilled out across the interior, the décor of which would not seem out of place in Old College itself. The shop is eerily quiet.
“Hello and a few! Is anyone about?” calls out the Professor. No reply is forthcoming.
There is something in the air that prickles some prehistoric instinct within me, as if something is lingering at my shoulder, always just out of sight. The slightest of shudders plays along my spine, but not so much that it would notice.
“Perhaps I was mistaken,” I say. “Maybe he didn’t come in here after all.”
“Well, huff-hum (and a rat) to that chap, I say,” the Professor exclaims, clapping his hands together defiantly. “However, this place looks like the perfect place to hunt for a gift for that Master. Let’s look!”
“There are certainly some interesting old things here,” I reply. “What do you suppose this is?” I indicate a curious little item that looks for all the world like a miniature guillotine.
“You know, the sudden, I think it’s used for dispatching with subversive fairies!” laughs the Professor. “Nah, really, Deputy Head Porter, it’s a cigar cutter. Not at all suitable for a gift, I think.”
“Perhaps not, Professor.”
“Ooo! Now how about his?” He delicately holds aloft a dangling, twinkling item that glisters merrily in the light.
“I think that’s an earring,” I reply. “Let’s call it a ‘maybe’. We should keep looking.”
“And what if we do find something suitable?” the Professor asks, looking about the place. “There’s no one to serve us. Is this a shop or a help yourself emporium, do you suppose? It’d be dadblame hard to check out with the item.” He turns his attention back to the sparkly earring, seemingly rather taken with it. “And I never supposed earrings were nice looking.”
“That is not what you’re looking for.”
The sounds of the dulcet, honeyed tones are more alarming than they should be. Except it wasn’t even a sound – more like… the words just appeared in my head. The Professor spins around on his heels to find himself nose to nose with the chap from The Albatross. He narrows his eyes and I could swear I detect a small growl.
“What now then!” he exclaims. “How dare you creep up on this professor, you creep! I might have smacked your nose off, you know. And you crept up on a lady! You must needs explain yourself—at once!!”
It’s not often that I am referred to as ‘a lady’. I revel in the moment briefly.
“Did I startle you? I really didn’t mean to. Forgive me. Over time I have become accustomed to moving quietly around my shop. I don’t want to disturb the articles, see?” The Antiques Shop Owner casts a loving eye around what is evidently his establishment.
“Yes, that makes sense,” I say, nodding. “I am surrounded by elderly things constantly. They do seem to like peace and quiet.”
“What you seek cannot be brought from a mere shop floor,” continues the Antique Shop Owner, completely ignoring my somewhat astute observation. “It is something that must be given freely and yet – at the same time – it must also want itself to be taken. Do you see?”
“I see clearly through my eyes, I think, but I still can’t make you out much,” Professor Duke snaps back at him.
“Then I shall show you. Once more, follow me…”