In Chapter CCXVII of Violet Crepuscular’s epic romance novel, Oy, Rodney, Lord Jeremy Coldsore is up and around again, carefully negotiating stairways with his two left feet and trying to get in shape for his wedding to Lady Margo Cargo, whose wealth will save the ancestral country house of Coldsore Hall from its legion of creditors.
Johnno the Merry Minstrel continues to find cuss bags hidden all throughout the house, evidence that Black Rodney–or someone–is still sneaking in and planting them. Johnno has also found a number of dead bodies, but Jeremy has convinced him to ignore them: “Not an unusual thing in a house as old as this, don’t you know.”
Johnno knows the legend of Black Rodney inside-out, and here shares it with the reader.
“In the days of Henry VIII, before James I made it into something of a fad, witchcraft was but little practiced in this country. Here in Scurveyshire, an otherwise obscure little man named Rodney Swill began to acquire a reputation as a sorceror.
“He started small, with card tricks, but after he made a pact with the devil, his power was such as to terrorize the whole shire. When he forced the people to pay their taxes to him instead of to the crown, King Henry was annoyed and sent his most fearsome executioner to treat Rodney, in the king’s words, to ‘a really fancy hanging.’ But as soon as the executioner arrived, as he was passing under a grove of venerable oak trees, two monstrous tentacles shot down, wrapped around him, and yanked him up into the foliage, never to be seen or heard from again.”
After several more such incidents–now he was running out of executioners–the king sent to Finland for the most feared witch-finder in all of Europe, a Lapp named Mimble. This man was known far and wide as “the Devil’s brother-in-law.”
Mimble coerced a dull-witted peasant woman to present Rodney with a witch-pie; and Rodney had no sooner chewed on a piece of it when he was suddenly consumed in a dreadful fire. The last anyone heard of him was a disembodied voice crying, “I’ll be back!”
“That ain’t the way I heared it,” grumbles Jeremy’s friend and co-groom, the American adventurer, Willis Twombley.
“But that is the way it was!” says Johnno. “And I ought to know, because I’m descended from that very same peasant woman who served Rodney the witch-pie.” [Ms. Crepuscular warns the reader to be suspicious of Johnno: “He may be more than just a merry minstrel who can sing and play the harmonica at the same time.” How much more than that anyone can be, perplexes me.]
Meanwhile, the rat-catcher hired by the vicar has disappeared under the fateful wading pool in the vicar’s back yard…