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Note: All references to real historical figures, institutions, and places are intended to be understood in a fictional context, for entertainment purposes only. No assertions are made regarding any actual facts.
Approaching Highdark Hall
The handsome footmen in dark blue livery open the intricate, wrought iron gates of the estate, and you pass through. You are traveling on a straight avenue lined with tall yew trees that obscure your view to the left and right, creating a deep, confining canyon of green. The view before and behind you is swallowed by the fog. No birds sing here. Floating in the fog before you is a gray smudge. As you travel on, the smudge resolves itself into the blurry facade of Highdark Hall, looming ever larger as you approach. After several minutes the trees give way to a broad lawn. Across the lawn, the house leers at you though the mist.
Highdark Hall stands three stories high, built of deeply weather-stained gray rock. The Ground Floor is elevated 5 feet on a base of rusticated stone. Small windows squint out from the Basement, while those that stare from the Ground Floor, Second Story and Third Story are nearly 8 feet high and 4 feet wide. The roof is tarnished copper, green with age, with a cornice surmounted by a line of spear-headed, vertical iron spikes. The architecture asserts contradictory medieval, baroque, and neoclassical elements without resolution.
The front facade is about 160 feet wide in all. The overall impression is of three halls oriented with their ends towards the viewer, connected by a hall running perpendicular. There are thus two obvious wings, plus a central portion. The facades of the right and left hand wings feature slightly projecting bays filled with tall windows, and trapezoidal gables. The sections between each wing and the central portion also feature projecting window bays, similar to those of the wings.
The 40 foot facade of the central portion is dominated by four tower-like, engaged columns. Two stories above, a balustraded flat roof creates a balcony. The top of each pillar forms a semi-circular projection of the balcony, the whole effect evoking the gatehouse of a medieval castle. The massive front entrance door is five feet wide and seven feet high, of black painted wood bound in iron.
The front entrance is reached by a five-foot high elevated platform that projects about 20 feet forward onto the lawn. Low, broad staircases run perpendicular, giving access to the platform on either side. A thick stone balustrade edges the platform and stairs. Behind both of the broad front stairs are a narrower, steeper set that runs down under the front platform, giving access to the basement.
Above the door is a cartouche carved with the arms of the Altumber family – a bare mountain under the crescent moon.
Highdark Hall and the Altumber Family
Highdark Hall was erected in 1720, in an idiosyncratic style that some consider brilliant, and others the product of a degenerate imagination. The builder, Lord Gerald Altumber, was a close associate of the notorious Duke of Wharton, and a member of his “Hellfire Club”. Many questioned Lord Gerald’s decision to build Highdark Hall in in its bleak location, on a site that was well-watered but also known to be riddled with natural caves.
The Altumber family has a long and checkered past, and seems to be constantly sliding in and out of prominence (and debt). The name first appears in history after the Battle of Crécy, when Thomas Altumber was knighted and granted a tract of land for his exceptional bravery. In the late 15th Century, the beautiful Isabelle Altumber ran away to Rome to become a nun, but instead became a mistress of Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI. The family quickly and publicly sided with Henry VIII in his battle with the Church, but was also rumored to offer sanctuary to fugitive priests for a steep price. The Altumbers were supporters of the King in the First English Civil War, but remained publicly quiet during the subsequent conflicts. Rumors persist that the family participated in certain clandestine activities that made possible the Restoration of Charles II, however. The family has apparently performed mysterious but important services for the Crown several times since then. The nature of these services has never been publicly revealed. Nonetheless, Kings George I, II, and III have all acknowledged the existence of “an obligation” towards the family, despite the association of Lord Gerald with the Jacobite Duke Wharton. Even more baffling, the Altumbers have always refused to accept any royal honors beyond the title “Lord of Highdark”, even refusing a Peerage on several different occasions.
The family’s current wealth flows from numerous coal and lead mines, and they also own most of the property in the nearby village of Lowhaven. For reasons that are unclear, they are afforded a respect and deference not usually shown to “mere” gentry. Some say it is due to their Royal connections, while others whisper that the Lords of Highdark keep secrets that could ruin many prominent families if revealed.
There have been many disappearances linked to the Altumber family through the centuries, involving family members, servants, and even visitors to Highdark Hall. There is a family legend that the mysterious “Queen of the Night” is responsible, but rumors hint that the truth may be even more sinister.