His Lordship Possessed d&c-2

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His Lordship Possessed d&c-2 Page 11

by Lynn Vieh

  Dredmore had been wrong. My parents hadn’t created the pendant to protect me against magic. If I were a spell-breaker, I’d never need that sort of protection.

  —ginny bauble—

  Something hurt my face, hitting me so hard my teeth chattered.

  “You’re not dead,” I heard a hard voice say. “Do you hear me, Kit? Open your eyes this minute, or I swear I’ll kill you.”

  I opened one eyelid to see Carina standing over my crate with a lantern. Her hair fell in a tangle about her dirty, bruised face, and blood trickled from a nasty cut across the swollen bridge of her nose. She wore some sort of rough, ragged cloak covered with filth and soot.

  As she raised her hand to wallop me again I raised an arm to shield myself. “Stop hitting me, will you?”

  “Mother of Christ, you deserve a proper thrashing. And you will get one, the moment we’re out of this mess.” The ferocious anger on her face twisted into grim satisfaction as she put aside the lantern, shoved her hands under my arms, and hauled me out of the crate. “Wrecker’s outside with a cart. Come on.”

  The air smelled hot and smoky, and made me cough as Rina dragged me through the darkness. “What’s on fire?”

  “Anything that isn’t warded,” she snapped. “So shake your ass.”

  As we emerged from the cargo house, I saw three things I couldn’t quite comprehend: Wrecker dressed in soot-stained yellow; a gravecart filled with dead harlots; and the Hill on fire.

  “No time to gawk.” Rina jerked my arm as she marched to the back of the cart. “We’ll be lucky to make it out of the city alive.”

  I stared at the corpses of a dozen battered gels. All of them I recognized from the Eagle’s Nest. At the top of the pile lay Almira, her apron spattered with blood round a gaping black gash in her abdomen.

  I shook my head. “We have to go the police. We have to tell them—”

  “The coppers are busy with the blues,” Rina said as she climbed up and wedged herself in a corner before offering me her hand. When I didn’t take it, she swore. “Kit, I swear, I’ll tie you to the back and drag you by the rope—”

  “She’s scared,” Almira said, lifting her head a little to glare at me. “We’re not dead, you goose. It’s a ruse—tar and tomato juice—and it itches like sin.”

  “Least you’re on top, old woman,” a younger voice complained. “Ouch, Jude, that’s my tit. Get your knee off.”

  I climbed up and curled into the corner opposite Rina. “Why are they pretending to be dead?”

  “Bunch of Talians locked us up in the Nest before they set fire to it,” she said flatly. “We got out through the old sewers, but if they see any of us I’ve no doubt they’ll try again. Little bastards are nothing if not determined.”

  So Rina and the gels had been fleeing for their lives . . . and had ended up at the docks. “How did you know where to find me, and why did you bother to look?”

  “An old tunneler met us in the sewer. Said you were in trouble and directed me to the cargo house. I almost didn’t come, you know.” Rina turned her head toward Wrecker. “Take the road that runs through the teller’s quarter. They’ve not burned anything there.”

  Setting fire to the great houses on the Hill would have diverted the militia and the police there to do whatever they could; the ton represented Rumsen’s wealthiest and most powerful families. That had left the rest of the city vulnerable. I could even understand why the Reapers had tried to incinerate Rina and her gels; they probably thought I had gone there to seek haven.

  But why set the other fires? Why burn the unwarded?

  When I asked Rina that, she made a bitter sound. “Sorry to say they’ve not stopped to have tea and chat about it. Too occupied with torching houses and slaughtering innocents, I expect.”

  “‘They’ve gone after anyone what don’t have them wardlings, Miss Kit,” Wrecker said over his shoulder. “They’re checking every door and neck.”

  “You’re sure that they’re sparing anyone with wardlings?” When he nodded, I felt my stomach clench. Dredmore had been shocked by something Walsh had said about the popular talismans. Something about dreamstone. I looked over at Rina. “We have to stop. I need to find a charm maker.”

  “I’m sure you do, and for some very good reason,” my best friend said in a murderously pleasant tone, “but we’re not stopping. Not for you, or wardlings, or even Herself if she suddenly appears and steps in front of the cart. George can be King.”

  “Then push me off in the teller’s quarter.” Before Rina could reply I reached for her hand and gripped it. Her fingers felt like ice, and I realized how hard she was trying not to tremble. “Carina, when we first met, when you left my house and went back on the stroll, do you know why I didn’t try to come after you?”

  “Sod you, Kit.” She dug her fingernails into my palm. “It’s not the same thing.”

  “After everything that had been taken from you, you deserved the right to make your own choices and live your own life, no matter what I thought of it.” I kissed her cheek and whispered, “Time to pay me back, my gel.”

  “The Talians want you dead, don’t they?” When I nodded, she swore viciously. “Wrecker, find an alley behind the tellers’ shops. And give Kit two of your blades.”

  I swallowed against the lump in my throat and smiled my thanks as the big man held two of his best knives over his shoulder. “Where are you going from here?”

  “Settle, maybe, if we can make it that far before it snows or the Talians catch up. We’ll stop at the lumber camps for provisions, see if we can pick up some trade.” She reached into her pocket and took out a small, bulging reticule, which she thrust in my hands. “There’s enough here to buy yourself a young horse or an old carri. Take it,” she added when I tried to give it back to her. “It’s the chance to change your mind and get the bloody hell out.”

  The cart stopped, and before I climbed down I tucked away the blades, reached over, and wrapped my arms round Rina. “I’ll see you again someday, you know.”

  She gave me a tight, trembling hug in return. “Not if I see you first, you daft twit.”

  Chapter Ten

  Once the cart had gone I moved to the end of the alley to check the streets, which appeared empty, and the shopfronts, all of which were dark. Lamplight flickered in some of the windows on the second and third floors, and I noted which of the charm makers was closest to me before retreating back into the alleyway.

  Pulling down the fire escape ladders would have alerted anyone within three blocks to my presence, but fortunately most of them had already been lowered. The tellers might have been spared by the Reapers, but none of them seemed to be assuming they were safe.

  I climbed up to the second floor over the charm maker’s shop, and leaned over to look through the grimy window into the flat inside. One candle stub burned on the opposite side of the room, and I made out the vague silhouette of an old man wrapped in a blanket.

  I tested the window, found it to be locked, and had to tap on it several times before the old man came over and opened it a few inches. “Evening.”

  Frightened, angry eyes glared out at me. “What do you want, gel?”

  I thought of how to put it. “Can you tell me what happens when a particular stone is charmed?”

  “Get stuffed.” The window slammed shut.

  “Wait, sir.” I reached in my pocket for Rina’s gift and tapped it against the window. “I can pay you.”

  The window remained shut for another minute, then rose just enough for me to squeeze through. “Well? Come on, then, before you’re seen.”

  I wriggled through the gap and made a quick if undignified entrance. The flat inside smelled of paper and cabbage, and had almost no furnishings. Great circles of wardlings had been nailed to every wall.

  “Thank you, sir.” As soon as I had my feet under me I bobbed a curtsey for good measure. “I am truly sorry to disturb you on such a night.”

  “My name’s Jasper, not sir, and you
’re about as sorry as the cat what got caught with the canary feathers.” He retreated back to his chair by the banked fire and swaddled himself again with his blanket. “Give me ten in silver. No, twenty.”

  I had enough coin in the reticule to pay him a hundred times that, but dutifully counted out twenty and handed him the stack.

  He checked each piece with his teeth before they disappeared under the blanket along with most of his face. “All right,” he said, his voice muffled. “Which stone is it you want to charm?”

  Since there were no other chairs in the flat, I went to stand by the mantel. “Dreamstone.”

  His head poked up. “You climb up into my flat to ask me about a faeriestale? Have you gone off?”

  “So you have heard of it.” As he scowled at me I lifted my hands. “Please, sir—Mr. Jasper,” I corrected myself. “I have to know what happens when it’s charmed.”

  “Can’t be charmed since there’s no such stone.”

  “Then how could you know of it? You must have heard something from someone,” I wheedled.

  “Years ago some miners told tales about it. Said it were found in some pisshole in Cornwall. They only wanted to scare folk.” Jasper saw my expression and sighed. “Way the story went, some mage had been digging up half of Cornwall looking for it. Only it were the miners what found it first. The mage brought down a tunnel on their heads, stole it from them, used it to put them to sleep, and left them to die. Only one came out alive, and his people said the mage had used the stone on him.”

  The story was too similar to Hedger’s for me to doubt it. “So charmed dreamstone makes people go to sleep?”

  “Their minds, aye. Their bodies stay awake and do whatever the mage what bespelled them wills. That’s why they are also called the possession stones.” He made a rude gesture. “Only there weren’t no mage, no miners, and sure as Satan no bloody dreamstone.”

  I glanced at the wardlings he’d nailed to the walls. “If a stone like it were real, Mr. Jasper, would it have to be carried or worn by the person it controls?”

  “Why would it, once it was ’spelled? Stones give off power like the sun gives heat. All people’d have to do is stand close enough to be caught in the radiance.” He glared. “Don’t you know nothing about magic, gel?”

  “Until a few days ago, I didn’t believe in it.” I tried to smile, but if what I suspected was true, in a few hours all of Rumsen would belong to the Reapers. “Is there any defense against a stone that could do that?”

  “ ’Course there isn’t. Why would there be ? It don’t exist.”

  “The mage in the miners’ story,” I coaxed, “how was he defeated?”

  “Like all the evildoers, by being killed in a body what was outside after dawn.” He chuffed out a breath. “Nothing made of darkness can stand the light of day.”

  Did that mean my grandfather was evil? Dredmore, now, he could be crowned Prince of Darkness and no one would even question it, least of all me. But as annoying as Harry had been since he’d come into my life, he’d never behaved in any particularly evil manner.

  Except to Hedger, who hated him. And Dredmore, who despised him. And my mother, who had made me promise to wear for the rest of my life the pendant she’d made to keep me from seeing him . . .

  Confused and angry now, I strode over to the wall of wardlings.

  “What are you—hey, you quit that.” He got up and tried to stop me from removing one of his talismans. “Is that why you really crawled in here? To steal my only protection from me? I’m calling for a beater.”

  “You’d best shout loudly, then. They’re all up on the Hill.” I brushed his hands away and wrenched the wardling from the wall, throwing it as hard as I could to the floor. Silver-white light exploded across the room as it shattered into three pieces.

  While the light faded and the old charm maker squawked, I picked up one of the pieces and examined it. The outside of the wardling, which appeared to be silver, had cracked like cheap porcelain. Beneath the faux metal coating lay a dirty, speckled gray stone disk.

  “Gimme that.” The old man brought over his candle, and as soon as the light from the flame touched the stone the speckles glinted with all the colors of the rainbow.

  The flashing colors made me feel lightheaded. “What was the light?”

  “Dispelled its power, you did,” he muttered, snatching the piece from me and turning it this way and that. “Shattering charmed stone always do.”

  “So this is dreamstone.” What was it doing inside the wardling?

  “These wardlings were struck from pure silver, they said,” the old man griped. “Charged me double for ’em.”

  “Evidently they lied.” I picked up the other pieces. “Where did you buy them?”

  “There’s a cargo house down by the dock that deals in stone and metals.” He brought the broken wardling over to the lit candle and studied it again. “Quarry masters have been bringing ’em in by the shipload for months. Can’t keep ’em stocked. Demand was so high they had to start importing ’em from Talia.” He looked up at me. “That’s all being sold now: Talian-made wardlings.”

  Walsh had said something about the Talians forging them, but I’d assumed he meant forged as in hammering them out of metal. I was dealing with another counterfeiting operation, like the one that had robbed Rina’s poor old gent Wiggins of his bacco boxes, only on a much grander scale. “But everyone still believes they’re from the queensland.”

  His shoulders hunched. “We knew, but silver’s silver. Don’t matter if it’s English or Talian.”

  Unless someone was planning to invade a country. “If every wardling in the city has dreamstone inside it then why haven’t the stones affected the people?”

  “Because it’s always been thought stuff and nonsense. Stones always work their charms, unless . . .” He fell silent, dropping the broken piece and shuffling back from it. “No. Couldn’t be. They’d never put so many unspelled stones in one place. Who’d be mad enough to do that?”

  I went after him and grabbed his arms to keep him from crumpling to the floor. “Why aren’t they working, Mr. Jasper?” When he didn’t speak, I shook him. “Tell me.”

  “A stone don’t work its charm if it’s raw. Never been spelled,” he added, his eyes wide and his voice going hoarse. “Raw stone soaks up power a hundred times quicker, too. Longer it’s left unspelled, the more power it takes.”

  “From what?”

  “Anything what lives: people, animals, plants. That’s why all stone’s spelled for the first time in the quarries, before it’s shipped. To keep us safe.” His face screwed up and he clutched at his chest. “I can’t take any more of this,” he wheezed. “My heart’s no good.”

  “Calm down.” I helped him over to his chair and tucked his blanket round him. “If the stones in the wardlings were never spelled, then they’ve been absorbing power for months.”

  He closed his eyes. “Aye. Go away.”

  “One more question, Mr. Jasper, and I will.” I bent down so I could see his face. “What happens if a mage tries to spell all these raw dreamstones now?”

  He opened one eye to give me a hopeless look. “He’s only got to spell one, gel. Raw stones stay connected to each other, like they are under the ground before they’re mined. That and all the power they’ve soaked up will cause the spell to spread on its own. There’ll be nowhere to hide from them then.”

  I didn’t want to leave him like this, but I had to find Zarath before he cast the spell. “I’ll ask one of your neighbors to take you to the hospital.”

  “Don’t bother. I’m the only one what has a carri.” He sounded more peevish than worried. “I’d rather spend my last hours here, in my place.”

  I felt horrible. “Is your heart really that weak?”

  “Not my heart, gel. The stones.” He made a fretful sound. “With that kind of power, as soon as the spell’s worked, we’ll all go into the dreams. Every man, woman, and child in the city. No one will ever wake u
p from them. Not ever again.”

  It seemed I was going back to the docks sooner than I’d planned. I persuaded the charm maker to let me borrow his transport, which he stored in the merchant’s carrihouse on the corner. Mr. Jasper gave me his keyfob, which he said the doorman would demand to see before letting me in.

  “I’ll return it as soon as I can,” I promised.

  “ ’ Twon’t matter to me if you do,” he muttered, staring into the hearth’s embers. “We’re finished, all of us.”

  I wasn’t giving up, so I hurried down to the corner and presented the keyfob to the lad working the door.

  He looked me over, his cheeks pinking as he did. “You’re not Mr. Jasper.”

  “How astute of you to notice,” I praised him. “I’m Mr. Jasper’s daughter, Constance Payne.”

  He frowned. “You’re Old Jasper’s kid? But he weren’t never married.”

  “Much to my mother’s everlasting sorrow, my father abandoned her after one night of love.” I sighed. “After enduring decades of needling guilt, he came to regret his cruelty and searched high and low for me until we were reunited. Now here I am, to run his every errand and make golden his final years. For which tonight I need his carri. Where is it?”

  “In the back. Stall thirteen.” Reluctantly he handed back the keyfob. “You shouldn’t be out driving by yourself, miss. There’s a bad lot of furriners running about hurting people and setting fires. Burnt the Hill, they did.”

  “Thank you for the concern, but I’ll manage.” I walked back to stalls, found the one numbered thirteen, and surveyed Mr. Jasper’s transport. Of course it was as old and cantankerous-looking as its owner, but as soon as I punched the ignition and cranked the motor it wheezed and chugged to life. As I wasn’t used to driving, I took my time easing it out of the stall, then drove to the front, where the doorman opened the gate. Since it had no glasshield I had to squint against the smoke pouring out of the old coal burner into my face.

  The lad held up his hand for me to brake, and once I had he handed me some gogs for my eyes. “You take care, miss,” he yelled over the sound of the old motor.


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