His Lordship Possessed d&c-2

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His Lordship Possessed d&c-2 Page 9

by Lynn Vieh

  “Lord Travallian has just assaulted me to escape custody. He’s not right in the head. Find him and bring him back to the station.” Doyle held up a hand. “Be discreet.”

  The beaters touched the brims of their helmets before they trotted out.

  “Brilliant.” I wanted to slap him. “I told you, that thing is not Dredmore.”

  “Right, it’s an ancient magical being that possessed his body, and if we don’t stop him, he’s going to start a war.” He prodded the back of his head and winced. “How does he mean to do that again? Toss a few pebbles at the whole of the militia?”

  “More like a thousand or so Talians,” I snapped. “He can command entire armies with his mind, and he has Dredmore’s powers now as well. For God’s sake, Tommy, stop rolling your eyes at me like that. He’s an immortal warlord, I tell you.”

  He shook his head. “You’ve been drugged and knocked about, Kit. If Dredmore had told you he was the Queen, you’d have believed him.”

  I told him how wrong he was as he hustled me from the room, down the stairs, and out the hotel. I repeated the entire story as he pushed me into his carri and told his driver to take us to a street in the better part of the working-class quarter. I didn’t begin begging until we arrived at a narrow greystone sandwiched between a carriwright and a pottery.

  Doyle dragged me out of the carri, issued some terse instructions to his driver, and led me up the steps to the front door of the greystone. As I promised to prove everything to him if he would simply go with me to the docks, he pushed me inside and bolted the door behind us.

  I paused for breath and took in my surroundings. Instead of a foyer or a hall leading to several flats, we stood in a tidy front room arranged with comfortable-looking walnut and leather furnishings. Someone had banked a fire in the broad-based riverstone hearth, beside which sat a little cart loaded with a filled BrewsMaid, neatly wrapped finger sandwiches, and a cloth-covered mound of tiny jam cakes.

  “Sit down.” He prodded me toward an armchair before turning on the brewer. “Not on your life,” he added without looking at me. “You’ll not make it as far as the steps outside.”

  I stopped inching toward the door. “Why did you bring me here?”

  “I can’t take you back to the Main. They’ll toss you in a cell and lose the latchkey.” He took off his jacket and carefully rolled up his sleeves before he used the basin to wash his hands. “The Crown’s seized everything of yours, so Walsh’s men will be watching your friends.”

  “Walsh can’t watch everyone.” I occupied the settee closest to the door. “I have friends in other places.”

  “You’re staying here.” He filled a plate with sandwiches before he brought it to me. “Until I sort this out, you’re under house arrest.”

  Chapter Eight

  I didn’t want Doyle’s food or protection, but my stomach chose that moment to gurgle loudly, and I needed to rest and think. I accepted the plate he offered with all the ladylike grace I could manage before I attacked its contents.

  “Dredmore couldn’t keep me locked up,” I mentioned between bites of some rather marvelous salt-cured ham. “What makes you think you can?”

  “Dredmore’s an arrogant ass.” He went back to the cart and returned with a steaming mug of rich, fragrant country black. “I’m your friend, and this isn’t a prison cell.” He offered me the tea. “It’s my home.”

  “So I’m under your house arrest. I see.” I put the plate on my lap so I could warm my hands on the outsides of the mug. “Do you mean to shackle me to something immovable? Perhaps that secretary in the corner there. Looks too heavy for me to budge.”

  He chuckled. “No doubt you’d find a way, even if you had to drag it out of here after you.”

  He may have fumbled things back at the hotel and brought me here against my will, but Doyle did care. He was also a decent man who would be made to pay dearly for becoming involved in this. Especially after I . . . My thoughts turned the food I’d wolfed down into an unpleasant lump in my belly. “You don’t want any part of this, Inspector. If they find out you’ve sheltered me, they’ll take everything. Your shield, your money and property. Maybe even your life.”

  “I’m an officer of the law, Kit, and until I’ve sorted this out, you’re in my custody.” He nodded toward the mug. “Now be a good gel and drink your tea.”

  I pretended to take a sip. Because it was so strong and bitter, country black was regarded as more of a man’s drink. Customarily served as a morning brew, it roused sluggards from their beds and sent them off braced to build another bit of the Empire. Not at all the sort of thing to be serving to a lady at night, unless of course one had other motives.

  I reached into my pocket, springing the back latch on Da’s pocket watch that opened the back of the case, and removed one of the dippers before I pretended to check the time. Then, as Doyle fixed his own mug, I checked the tea.

  Fortunately for me Tom’s crockery was all plain heavy white china, the sort a bachelor who hated female frippery bought for himself. When he came to sit beside me on the settee, he placed his own mug next to mine.

  “The sandwiches were scrumptious; you should give up being a cop and cater picnics and hen parties instead.” I handed him the empty plate. “Could I have two more of those ham sandwiches? They’re absolutely delicious.”

  As soon as his back was turned I took care of the present problem, and smiled when he brought me the food.

  “Lovely, thank you.” I settled back and let my eyelids droop a little. “Tell me something, Doyle. Why haven’t you found yourself a wife yet?”

  “I don’t know,” he said, testing the tea before taking a swallow. “Mum says I’m too particular. Da says it’s the job.”

  I used my hand to cover a yawn. “What do you say?”

  He gave me the oddest look. “Could be that I was waiting for you.”

  “For twenty-odd years? My, you’ve patience.” I uttered a sleepy chuckle as I pillowed my head against my arm and the backrest. With Tommy Doyle it would be courtship, then engagement, then marriage and a house full of little ones. I would never give up what little freedom I had left for that, but still I felt as if I’d been given a tremendous compliment. “Well, whether that’s true or not, I think your Grandda would have approved.”

  “He said we were meant for each other, but then he adored you almost as much as I did.” He hunched his shoulders and gulped his tea. “I’m going to send you to my folks’ place in the morning.”

  I watched him through half-closed eyes.

  “You’ll stay on the farm until I sort this out.” He put down the empty mug and turned toward me, and put his hand over mine. “Then we’ll see if Grandfather was right about us.”

  On impulse, I leaned forward and brushed my lips across his mouth. He stiffened, and then reached for me, only to look down at the hands that fell against his thighs. “Kit . . . you . . .”

  “I switched the mugs,” I confirmed, catching him as he began to topple forward. “It was the country black that gave it away. It’s the only tea strong enough to mask the taste of sleeping powder.” I eased him back against the cushions. “That’s why you didn’t bother to shackle me to the furniture. You didn’t think you’d have to.”

  “Don’t . . . go,” he said, slurring the words. “He’ll . . .”

  “I’m sure you’re right.” I got up and retrieved the crazy patch from the armchair and draped it over him. “But I made a promise to the man, and it’s one I have to keep.” I waited until his head slumped over before I helped myself to several things, including the heavy trench and long brim I found hanging on his coatrack. “Good-bye, Tommy.”

  As soon as I slipped out of Doyle’s back door, the raw slap of air against my face reminded me that I couldn’t chase after Dredmore on foot. I needed transportation that would conceal as well as convey me.

  A quick peek inside the window of the carriwright’s shop revealed about a dozen wagons, carts, and carris, all in various
stages of disrepair. The lock on the back door would be simple to pick, but the carris would make too much racket, and I had no horse to draw the others. They would be watching anyone approaching the docks, too.

  As I stepped back, my foot shuffled over the lip of an access hatch. The old sewer lines on the Hill and in the smarter quarters of the city had been sealed off or filled in, but here in the working quarter they hadn’t bothered. Hedger had once told me that before the city’s incinerators had been installed, all the old sewer lines had emptied out directly into the sea.

  I hadn’t forgotten the old tunneler’s last warning, though: Ye’re to go now, and ye’re not to come back down here, do ye understand? Never again. I glanced up at the sky. Dawn would arrive in another hour, and so would the invasion. “Harry? Harry, where are you? I need you.”

  My grandfather’s almost-transparent form appeared before me. “Ready to leave, then?”

  “I’m going belowground,” I told him. “You’re coming along.”

  “You can’t hide from it down there,” Harry snapped. “Nor can I help—”

  “Oh, shut up, Harry.” I crouched down and with some difficulty released the old hatch. “I’m not asking for your help. All you need do is come with me.”

  I climbed down the ladder and made my way through the malodorous confines of the old sewer, but as soon as I emerged into the tube junction Harry took on more substance and moved ahead to block my path.

  “You’re as daft as you are stubborn,” he told me. “Zarath is not Dredmore. He’s not even a man. He hasn’t the slightest regard for mortals. He’ll crush you, Charmian, with no more than a pebble and a few words. Or he’ll do things to you to make you wish you were dead.”

  Hearing him use my given name only made me think of Lucien and want to throttle my grandfather. “Mr. Hedgeworth,” I called out as loud as I dared. “I know the rounds have you in this section of the tunnels now. If you’re watching us, please, come out.”

  The old tunneler emerged from behind a cluster of tubes. He’d wrapped his stooped body in layers of thick meshing and held a pair of wicked-looking cudgels in his hands. “Get out of me tunnels”—he pointed one of the clubs at Harry—“and take that thing with ye.”

  I glanced at Harry. “How can he see you?”

  “Long story,” my grandfather mumbled back.

  “I’m sorry, Mr. Hedgeworth, but we can’t. I am in desperate need of your help. My grandfather also wishes to make amends for whatever caused this rift between the two of you.” I turned to Harry. “You go first.”

  My grandfather made an exasperated sound. “For God’s sake, Archibald. Put down those things.” As the old man eyed me, he added, “Obviously I’ve not possessed her. Nor has any other.”

  “Not yet,” Hedger agreed. “With what she can do, won’t be long. Without that ginny bauble hanging about her neck she glows like a right black beacon. Soon as they come for the citizens they’ll take her, too.” He jabbed one of the cudgels toward me. “And that’s why ye’ll go topside, Miss Kit, this very moment, or I’ll finish ye meself.”

  “You see? It’s hopeless. You’ve no option but to leave Rumsen and save yourself.” Harry’s tone grew wheedling. “You’re the last of my mortal bloodline, Charm. I can’t lose you.”

  “You never had me, Harry.” To the old tunneler, I said, “Mr. Hedgeworth, you may do exactly as you wish to me. From the sound of things, bashing in my skull will probably be a kindness.”

  Hedger’s arm tightened, and for a moment I thought he really would strike me. With great reluctance he lowered the club and scowled. “If ye were a lad, I’d not hesitate, ye know.”

  I kept my expression respectful. “Thank you, sir.”

  Hedger jabbed his other cudgel at Harry. “If she’s truly the last, then ye tell her everything. All of it, ye hear me?”

  “He’ll tell me later,” I assured him. “For now, I must hurry. Can you tell me if any of the old sewer lines to the docks remain open?”

  “Aye.” He pointed across to a moss-covered hatch. “That one runs about three mile. Comes up into the alley behind the old fish tinnery.” As I started for it, he added, “Hang on, Miss Kit,” and bent down to open his kipbag.

  “I’ll go on ahead and check the line. Wait here.” Harry floated through the closed hatch and vanished.

  “Spineless sod.” The old tunneler rummaged through his bag for a moment before he produced what looked like a large, rusty nail, which he tossed to me.

  I caught it and turned it over in my hands. “I can’t really use this, Mr. Hedgeworth.”

  “ ’ Tis an iron rail tie. Only thing what gets rid of Harry’s sort, permanent-like.” He tapped the left side of his chest. “Plant it in the heart, straight through. As the body dies, the iron traps ’em inside it. They’re dragged off with the departed spirit, and can’t ever come back.”

  The blunt end of the rusty spike suggested that the only place I’d be planting it would be the ground, but to avoid more arguments I nodded. “I appreciate the advice.” On impulse I walked to him and kissed his whiskery cheek. “I’ll be all right, you know.”

  He looked over my shoulder at the hatch before he muttered, “Ye’d be all right shed of him, Miss Kit. Harry’s naught but trouble and tragedy awaiting ye.”

  “He’s my family.” There, I’d said it. Out loud I’d claimed Harry as my kin. It didn’t feel as terrible as I’d thought it might. “Why are you so angry with him, Mr. Hedgeworth?”

  He shuffled his feet. “Ye won’t like knowing.”

  “I don’t like not knowing,” I said.

  Hedger heaved out a long breath. “Me family were miners in Cornwall, cross the pond. Every man I knew and called mate worked down in the shafts.” He shifted on his feet as he scowled, but his expression appeared more pained than angry. “One shift we hit a gas pocket, the tunnel blows, and we’re trapped, fifty of us. Air goes thin, and we know we’re done for, so we make our peace with it.”

  “Fifty of you.” I felt horrified. “But surely you were rescued?”

  “We were too deep, Miss Kit. Weren’t nothing could be done for us.” The corners of his mouth turned down. “All the others had blacked out, and I were a blink from it when I saw a bit of pretty speckled stone, all the colors of the rainbow, and picked it up for luck. Soon as it’s in me hand, Harry shows up. Like some angel to save us.” He started to say something, paused, and then shook his head.

  “You don’t have to tell me any more, Mr. Hedgeworth,” I hurried to assure him. “I shouldn’t have asked.”

  “No. I can tell ye. I have to, I think.” He looked down at his battered waders. “Harry led me out some back tunnel none of us knew were there. He’d been digging himself, ye see. But as soon as I’m topside, everything goes black again. Harry, he were in spirit form. Took me body over so he could use me to do sommat his spy business for him.”

  I winced. “But he did save your lives.”

  “Aye. One. Me life.” He spat on the ground. “While he was riding me about like a carri, the rest of me brothers and mates choked to death in that hole. Forty-nine men, Miss Kit. After, when I was shed of him and came to, I went back to me village. Seen all me brothers’ wives in black, all the other widows, and then everyone crowded round, wanting to know how I got out. How I could leave ’em behind. When I told ’em about Harry and what he did, they thought I’d gone mad. Tried to send me to the loony bin, afore I nipped out of there, signed on a cargo ship, and came here. So yeah, Harry saved me life. It just cost me home, me family, me mates, everything in the world I cared for.”

  I knew exactly how that felt. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Hedgeworth.”

  “Ah, weren’t none of yer doing, lass.” He looked a little embarrassed now. “I shouldna’ve scared ye with me clubs. Ye’re a good gel. Only make the old bugger mind ye, not the other way round.”

  “I’ll do my best.” I took out my father’s pocket watch. “Harry’s been gone almost ten minutes.”

Hedger made a rude sound. “Ye still think he’s coming back for ye?”

  I couldn’t afford to wait and find out. Since I couldn’t drift through the hatch like Harry, I asked Hedger to help me pry it open.

  Just as I stepped inside, he touched my shoulder. “He’ll never tell ye anything unless ye force it out of him, Miss Kit. If naught else, make him tell ye his name. His true name, what he was born with, afore all the others.”

  I frowned, but before I could ask him what he meant the old tunneler scurried off, disappearing behind the snarl of tubes.

  I turned and started down the old line. The rounded walls remained coated with a layer of dried, caked-on mold, and the lingering stench was equally alluring. But there was enough room for me to walk upright, and I didn’t encounter any living vermin along the way.

  I knew I was getting close to the tinnery when I picked up the scents of old fish, brackish water, damp rope, and tar. Although Rumsen’s fish market had relocated to the north side of the docks, where the fish merchants had built their new canning factories, the old tinnery was still used by anyone who needed inside space to work, mostly hull menders, trap builders, and net makers.

  When I came to the end of the line I encountered the rotting wood of the planks nailed over the sea outlet, and carefully climbed up the rickety ladder to the topside hatch. I emerged in an empty alley just behind the tinnery, and stopped only to brush from my head and shoulders the snow that I’d dislodged coming up.

  Harry’s form took shape beside me, but almost immediately he moved several feet away. “Archibald gave you iron.”

  “A nice, big rail spike.” I patted my pocket. “Can I try it out on you, see if it works like he said it would?”

  “There’s a more pressing matter.” He pointed out to sea. “The Reaper ships are beginning to appear on the horizon. Once their army is in place, all Zarath will have to do is cast a spell, wake the dreamstone, and take whatever he likes.”


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