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Authors: James Matlack Raney

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BOOK: Jim Morgan and the King of Thieves
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“Father!” he cried, his voice warbling and squeaking out about four pitches higher than normal. But there was no stopping now, and he pushed the words out of his mouth in a falsetto mishmash that sounded not too unlike yodeling. “I’m-not-sorry-about-anything-I-said-earlier-and-I-think-you’re-dead-wrong-about-Aunt-Margarita-and-you’re-holding-me-back-from-who-I-truly-am-as-a-noble-and-in-the-end-you’re-the-one-who-will-be -”

Then James saw him. His father sat rigid as stone at his desk, gripping the side of his desk with one hand, a quill trembling in the other, a lone candle flickering its light over his sweat-glistened features.
Before Lord Morgan on the desk rested a peculiar wooden box, and off to the corner sat a shining, silver goblet, still half full of blood-red wine. Every muscle in Lord Morgan’s body strained taut against some invisible agony.

“–sorry.” The final word of James’s diatribe escaped as nothing but a whisper. “Father?” James stepped within an arm’s reach of the frozen man.

Lindsay Morgan’s eyes flicked to his son. James gasped a startled breath and his heart nearly exploded at his father’s raspy, choked words.

“James.” Lord Morgan forced each painful word. “Poisoned.”

“Poisoned?” James said with a gasp. His head began to spin.

Lindsay released the desk and pointed a violently quaking finger at the goblet upon the desk.

“Poison! Oh, father, no!” Panic flooded James’s chest, and he called out for the one person to whom he always ran in times of trouble. “Aunt Margarita! Aunt Margarita, come quick!”

“No!” His father’s face twisted into a snarl of pain and rage. His pointing hand shot out and grasped James’s shoulder tightly.

“Hudson…Hudson.”

James’s stomach was no longer churning: It was frozen solid, along with his throat and heart. But he did as his father asked. “Hudson!” James called, running out into the hall as he shouted louder and louder. “Hudson! Hudson! Hudson! Help!”

From around the corner Hudson appeared, still dressed, his cane in one hand and a rack of burning candles in the other. “Aye young master, I’m here. What do ya’ want? And where are all the bloody servants?”

“Hudson, it’s Father…he…he…” James stammered, but he had no need to finish the sentence. Hudson’s eyes grew wide and alert with fear. He dashed past James, down the hall and into the study.

James ran as fast as he could behind Hudson, catching up just as the old valet came to stand at Lord Morgan’s side. James’s father managed to meet Hudson’s eye, sweat pouring down his face, his entire body shaking.

“Margarita–” he said. His voice was a terrible growl, scraping out in rough jerks over his clenched teeth. “Protect James, Hudson. Protect the treasure!”

“I understand, milord.” Hudson’s own voice quavered huskily. He held his master’s hand, falling to one knee at his Lord’s side. But Lindsay Morgan now shifted his eyes to James, sorrow and pain filling his face. James wanted to look away, hardly bearing the weight of his father’s stare upon him, but lacking the strength to pull his eyes from his father’s face.

“My son – be – my son,” Lord Morgan said. Then he spoke no more. The shaking ceased. He breathed but one more breath before slumping onto his desk, finally falling still forever.

“Milord?” Hudson shook him once, but not again.

“Father…” James’s lips trembled. He stared wide-eyed at his father’s unmoving form until his eyes filled with water. He and Hudson remained quiet for what seemed like hours. Only the whisper of burning candles filled the room.

Finally, Hudson stood to obey his master’s final command, removing the note, written on an old and yellowed piece of parchment, from beneath his Lord’s hand and reverently unclasping the chain with the shell on the end from around Lord Morgan’s neck. The old valet stared for a long time at the two objects in his hands. He stared at them, until he glanced at James – his eyes full of fear.

Hudson took the objects and carefully placed them in the small wooden box from the desk, his hands shaking and his eyes watering as he closed the lid with a soft tap.

“Your father knew what was happenin’ soon as he tasted the wine,” Hudson said. “There are things, young master, things he never told you. But he’s written a letter explainin’ everythin’ and stamped it with your family’s seal.” Hudson’s eyes were now red, tears wet on his wrinkled cheeks. “We should go to your father’s house in London now. I don’t think it will be safe here for long. The King was an admirer of your father and perhaps he will give us aide.”

“What’s happening, Hudson?” James asked, his own hands starting to tremble.

“I donno’ have time to explain it all, but in this box, young master, is the secret to a great treasure. Your father kep’ it safe for so long. And now, it passes to you.” Hudson held out the box with his shaking hand to James. “You are the Lord Morgan now, James.”

James shook his head, tears springing from nowhere to fall hot from his eyes onto his cheeks. He had dreamed so many times of being the lord, of having everything his father had and more, but now those dreams tasted bitter, and he felt like he was going to vomit them up. He never wanted to remember those dreams again. “No!” James cried, running to his father’s side, shaking him. “We just need a doctor! He’s going to be all right! Get up, Father, get up!”

Hudson grabbed the sobbing boy and turned him around. “A doctor canno’ help now, son. He’s gone.”

“Gone?” a deep voice asked from the study’s doorway. “Who has gone?”

James turned toward the voice and Hudson jumped to his feet. It was Aunt Margarita, still dressed in her finest dress and corset, pulled as tightly as possible about her plump frame, ringlets of a platinum blonde wig cascading about her face.

“You know good ’n well who has gone and why, witch!” Hudson seethed.

“Watch your tone,
man
. I am the Dame Margarita Morgan.”

“Aunt Margarita.” James’s mind whirled and without thinking he staggered toward his aunt. She was his friend, he thought. She was the one who had taught him about the world and the people in it. She had shared her chocolates with him and given him his mirror and all of his clothes. She could not have possibly done this evil deed. “It’s Father —”

“Do no’ go near her, James!” Hudson ordered, but all of James’s memories refused to let him believe that his aunt would do this to his father, to him.

“Why wouldn’t he come near me, Hudson?” Margarita said sweetly. “I’m his best friend - his only friend.”

James reached his aunt, and she welcomed him with a touch to his face, lightly pinching his cheek. “Aren’t I James? Aren’t we the best of friends? And we can be still, if you want. We don’t have to let such things as this come between us.”

A cold shiver shook James out of his stupor. “Such things as this? But how could you know unless…” James’s eyes went wide, but it was too late. Dame Margarita seized him by the wrist and held him tight.

“Unless,
I
killed Lord Lindsay Morgan?” All the false sweetness bled out of Margarita’s face and voice, revealing her for who she truly was.

“You’re goin’ to pay for this!” Hudson raged. “You’re goin’ to pay for wha’ you’ve done!”

“What I’ve done?” Margarita stared icily into Hudson’s face. “You mean, what
we’ve
done.”

The doorway to the study suddenly filled with both light and shadow as four men stepped into the room. Two were red-coated soldiers, torches in hand, the firelight glinting off the steel bayonets that tipped their muskets. The third was an old man in a black velvet coat, the long wig of a true noble atop his head, parted at the top and flowing down both sides of his head, but instead of the traditional white, his curls running deep scarlet, the long strands barely concealing a purple scar lining the curve of his face.

But James’s eyes were drawn to the fourth man. His face was a younger version of the man in the red curls, though he wore no wig for himself, his coal black hair pulled back from a face pale as a mist, eyes blue and cold set there like icy stones. The pale man wore the uniform of ship’s captain, drumming his fingers on the hilt of the captain’s sword at his side. Of the four men that now stood before him, the last was the most terrifying by far, the small smile playing on his pallid lips frightening James to his very core.

James writhed and twisted to free himself from Aunt Margarita’s grasp, but she would not release him. “You! You traitor!” James screamed at her. “I’ll — I’ll have you all arrested!”

The four men and Aunt Margarita laughed at James, his aunt squeezing his wrists even tighter as they mocked him. James struggled to turn and find Hudson for help, but the valet’s face was now drained of color, staring at the men before them as though he had seen a ghost.

“You?” Hudson said to the old man. “You did this?”

The old man smiled and stepped forward, looking around the study as though he’d been there before.

“I’m glad you still remember me, Hudson. I was afraid that after the last time we were all together you and Lindsay might have forgotten me. It was most unpleasant, wasn’t it?” The older man said, smiling a mirthlessly, tracing his scar with a gloved finger. “But it looks like neither of you could quite let go of the past.”

The red-wigged man looked to a picture hanging above the study fireplace. Four men stood proudly in the painting. One of them was James’s father. James had no idea who the other two were, but the fourth, he now knew for certain, was the old man standing in the study now, leaning in close to read the inscription on the picture’s frame.

“A man’s heart, a man’s mind, and man’s hands are the keys to every locked door in all the seas and all the lands.” The old man laughed. He shook his head and turned back to Hudson with a cruel smile. “Somewhat treacherous, don’t you think, for the kingdom’s most famed pirate hunter to have such pirate texts so openly displayed?”

“But you would know all about treachery, wouldn’ ya’?” Hudson seethed. “Why now? Why?”

“Well, I thought that would be obvious, Hudson. We’re here to finish what we started so long ago. We’re here for the treasure.”

“Over my dead body.”

“That’s the idea, old chum.” The old man snapped his fingers and the two guards leapt to attention. “Let’s tie up loose ends, shall we?”

“And the boy?” Aunt Margarita asked.

“I said ends, not end, didn’t I?”

James looked to Aunt Margarita. Surely, he thought, she would never allow this to happen, not to him, not to her James. But with a
shake of her blonde curls, she shrugged, letting go of James’s wrist as the two guards surrounded him.

James felt suddenly cold and alone, completely lost and without hope. The guards seized him by the shoulders, forcing him to his knees.

The black-haired man sauntered forth, looking James right in the face, a calm smile still curled on his pale lips. “You know, boy,” the pale captain said in a voice as icy as his blue eyes. “I often dreamt of doing this to your father. To repay my father’s scar. Alas, I suppose I shall have to settle for you.” He drew his sword from its scabbard with one flick of his arm.

But at that moment, just as he had done for James’s father so long ago, faithful Hudson now did for James. Almost forgotten, with the guards and the black-haired captain’s attention on James, Hudson leapt into the middle of them, bowling the two soldiers holding James onto the floor. In one fluid arc Hudson pulled the top half of his cane apart from the bottom, revealing the hidden blade of a sword, swinging it toward the raven-haired captain. The young captain only just evaded the blow, forced to retreat backward. Hudson picked James up by the shirt, thrusting him toward the hallway.

“Run, James, run!” Hudson cried as he backed the captain and the guards away once more with another slash of his blade. “Be your Father’s son! You are the Lord Morgan now!”

“But what about you, Hudson?” James shrieked. He knew nothing of combat, but even he could see that there were too many for Hudson to handle on his own.

“RUN!” Hudson yelled again. Finally James obeyed. He dodged the outstretched hands of Aunt Margarita, trying to sneak up and catch him again, and raced toward the stables. Blades clashed and angry shouts erupted behind him, but they lasted only for a moment.

SIX

ames found Destroyer still saddled from earlier in the day, waiting for him by the stables. He wasted no time and leapt upon the pony’s back. “Yah!” he cried, and Destroyer kicked out toward the road.

BOOK: Jim Morgan and the King of Thieves
5.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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