Before I can vocalise the stream of four-letter words that are forming with some vigor in my head, Professor Duke is already heading for the door with alarming alacrity. The Dean looks fit to burst with rage and confusion.
“Get after him!” he bellows, quite unnecessarily.
I join the Professor in sprinting down the staircase and out into Apple Tree Court below, a large portion of which is currently a perilous-looking excavation site. Junior Bursar is surprisingly sprightly for a man of such advanced years and is already within reach of the far cloister.
“Stop!” cries the Professor. “Stop in the name of…the Professor!”
Junior Bursar throws us a vicious glare from over his shoulder and redoubles his efforts. We make after him, giving the gaping archaeological crevasse a wide berth. I glimpse, briefly, a clutch of vaguely attentive wedding guests perusing the hole with some interest. They glance briefly in our direction, but the pursuit does not seem to hold much interest to them. They must be police officers. They see this sort of thing all the time.
As Junior Bursar continues onwards, ever snatching a peek at our progress, a moment of delightful serendipity comes to pass. Emerging nonchalantly from the flowerbeds, paws caked in mud from some kind of digging, is a familiar back and white figure. Terry takes one look upon the unfolding scene and immediately deploys the classic feline attribute of being in the exact same spot as human feet are planning to be. The result of which is to send Junior Bursar toppling into the flowerbeds, with quite some grace, it has to be said.
“Oh goody goody!” whoops the Professor, heading towards the scene at a great rate of knots, legs pumping wildly and top hat bobbing up and down with fearsome ferocity.
I follow behind, my stomach protesting at such activity whilst attempting to digest an ill-advised selection of food and drink. I have often lamented the frightful regularity of meals being interrupted by College business, but hindsight is a wonderful thing and only now do I see the expedient nature of such a thing. Giving chase on a full stomach is a miserable experience, indeed.
Junior Bursar has sprung to his feet and, like a hunted animal, has resumed his flight. Terry gives his departure a cursory glance before turning his attentions to the serious business of tail and paw grooming. He pays us no heed as the Professor and I sprint past, diving into the cloister after our quarry.
“He’s heading into Old Hall!” I gasp, pointing towards the lithe figure vanishing into one of the grander parts of Old College.
“And so are we, I say!” the Professor replies, strangely chirpy.
The magnificent, towering wooden doors of Old Hall are slightly ajar and we soundlessly slip inside like ninjas, keen to maintain the element of surprise. There is a reticent hush about the Hall, a suspiciously reticent hush. Stopping for a moment to catch our breath, we cast our eyes around. I have spoken before of the great beauty of this place; the grand medieval fireplace is rather redoubtable when unlit, like an ominous portal to goodness knows where. Oil paintings of academics long since passed gaze down somewhat reproachfully upon us, retaining the pomposity they no doubt so treasured in life.
At the far end, bathed in the light of the late evening sun seeping through the stained glass windows, stand three suits of armour; the eternal sentries to the memory of the past. Their metallic limbs gleam as splendidly as the day they were forged and I must say that I do not envy the poor soul who has the job of keeping them that way.
“You know,” whispers Professor Duke, eyeing the armour. “If this were a film, the villain would be hiding in one of those over there. I might hide in one, too, the sudden.”
“This isn’t a film,” I reply “This is far more unlikely than that.”
“Let’s take a look, anyway, please.”
We tip-toe over to the far end, furtively looking about as we go. The silence is somewhat unnerving. In fact, this isn’t quite what you would call ‘silence’ – that is just an absence of sound – this is something else entirely. I can hear my own heartbeat in my ears but at least it goes some way to blocking out the worrying noises coming from my stomach. We approach the suits of armour with care, studying them closely for any signs of life. Nothing seems amiss.
“It’s a bit of a shame, really,” I say. “I would have thought that would have been right up Junior Bursar’s street, hiding in a suit of armour.”
“These fine fellows can still be of service to us,” the Professor replies, with that worrying look of determined mischief in his eyes. Oh, dear. What is he up to? “Here, he won’t be needing this…” the Professor gently releases a broad sword from the iron glove of the nearest hollow warrior.
“Is that even a real sword?” I ask. Professor Duke handles it thoughtfully for a moment before thrusting it towards my rear area, poking me rather abruptly in the bum.
“Ouch!” It is a real sword. “Why ever did you do that?!”
“It looked quite fleshy, I didn’t think it would hurt too much. But I am sorry.” Nonetheless, the Professor seems delighted that his weapon is effective. “You should get one, too—but no poking.”
Actually, that is not a bad idea. Junior Bursar may give the appearance of a feeble geriatric, but he has dispatched with an impressive number of souls, by all accounts. I look to the next suit of armour and relieve it of a crossbow. Nice!
But then I spot it.
The final suit of armour is bereft of weaponry. Its empty glove hangs redundant by its side.
Behind us, a voice…
“Well, well well! I wondered when you might be joining me. Let us keep this brief, shall we?” Junior Bursar wields his pole-axe with frightening dexterity. I don’t think that this is the first time he has handled one of these.
“We better not get blood on my suit, or I’ll gouge your eyes out once I cut your head off!” the Professor growls, readying his stance and brandishing his sword with equal aptitude.
I look down forlornly at my crossbow. I have never used a crossbow before, which is just as well because it doesn’t have a bolt in it anyway.
Well – it wouldn’t be a proper wedding without a fight, would it?