The Advent of Reason (HBTC Novella)

The gates opened as they approached, and Josh drove through them, slowing to the designated five miles an hour, which gave them a chance to be wowed by the change in scenery as they glided smoothly along what could only be described as an avenue lined with willows, their delicate weeping limbs illuminated by small, white lights. With the fluttering snow, the view was truly enchanting, and it seemed an age before the hall itself appeared, tall but not foreboding, bedecked as it was in understated festive décor.

Illuminated evergreen garlands adorned the ground-floor windowsills and the swooping banisters of the steps up to the entrance. To the right stood a conical tree, around thirty feet in height, while to the left were several parked cars with their noses to the house.

Josh pulled his car into the space alongside the closest - a mud-splattered Range Rover - and switched off the engine. Unclipping his seat belt, he turned so he could see George, who was staring up at the building. Josh watched him, at once mesmerised by the way his eyes glistened, ever reminiscent of the finest emeralds twinkling beneath the feathery shadows of his lashes. Indeed, Josh was so enthralled he missed the smile forming, and by the time he noticed, it had become a fully fledged grin.

George pointed up. "It's a castle."


"It's a castle," George repeated, but Josh had heard perfectly. He, too, leaned forward and peered up through the windscreen.

"So it is." The top of the building terminated in crenellations. It had been too dark to see them from afar, and up close they were ancient - fifteenth-century, Josh estimated - and impressive. Or they would have been if he wasn't so disconcerted. He'd misread George's reaction - something that hardly ever happened - and his delight was not for Josh's attentiveness but for Merton Hall's architecture.

Without further delay, and in an effort to shake off his discomfort, envy, disappointment - whichever of those it was, potentially all three and more - Josh tugged the key from the ignition and opened the door.

"We should go in before - " A blast of dry-ice wind blew the door back against his shin and took any remaining words and his breath away. He swore in his head and decided it was probably for the best. He was being ridiculous. He tried again, succeeding in getting out of the car, and forged his way to the rear. They'd avoided the worst of the weather on the drive here, but now the snow was coming down in heavy sideways drifts and fought his efforts to lift the boot hatch.

George arrived just as Josh managed to hoist it open and held it up whilst Josh lifted their case out. The boot slammed shut as soon as George released it.

"Man, that's some wind!"

Josh grunted. The magic was dwindling rapidly and the weather had lost its appeal. He clicked the key to lock the car and leaned down for their case, but George beat him to it, giving him a quick smile as they moved off together towards the enormous front doors.

"What's up?"

"Hmm?" Josh frowned. He'd hoped George wouldn't notice.

"You've gone quiet."

"Have I?"

"Come on, Joshua. Talk to me."

He sighed. "It's fine. I'm fine. Just momentary silliness. I thought you were grinning at me."

"I was grinning at you."

"Because of those..." Josh tilted his face up to indicate the battlements and immediately wished he hadn't. He blinked away the wet snowflake that had blown into his eye and muttered, "This weather."

"Yeah," George agreed vaguely. Josh gave him a querying look and smiled, dipping his head bashfully. The grin this time was all for him. "Thank you," George said.

"Why are you thanking me?"

"For this weekend. I know you're doing it for me."

"Not all for you," Josh argued. He paused as they climbed the steep stone steps to the double, black-painted doors, clearly designed to admit giants, and pressed the bell button. "It's almost as if the Bowes designed their programme especially for us."

"Almost..." George said, inviting interrogation, but it would have to wait.

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