Authors: Herbie Brennan
Tags: #Adventure, #Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Young Adult, #Romance, #Magic, #Urban Fantasy
Chalkhill wasn’t big on Analogue expressions, but caught her drift easily enough. ‘Ah yes, Painted Lady, but that was Lord Hairstreak acting on his own account, acting
you might say. What we are dealing with now is the Brotherhood, which is, I suppose you might call it, a
organisation, of which Lord Hairstreak just happens to be temporary head. Times have changed, as you mentioned yourself just a moment ago, and one may well act as a brake on the other.’ He realised he was making no sense at all, even as he said it, but hoped it might muddy the waters enough to divert her paranoia.
It didn’t work. ‘You would call the Brotherhood a
organisation?’ Madame Cardui asked incredulously.
‘Wouldn’t you?’ asked Chalkhill innocently.
‘Not entirely,’ Madame Cardui told him. ‘I think of it more as -‘ She stopped as something flashed orange in the mirrors.
Chalkhill drew back with instinctive loathing. Every mirror now showed a dwarf crouched at the Painted Lady’s ear. Chalkhill recognised it immediately, of course – that hideous creature Kitterick, with the toxic teeth. He shivered.
Madame Cardui stood up abruptly. ‘I am required elsewhere,’ she said without preliminary. ‘Report to me directly when you have more information, Mr Chalkhill.’ Then she was gone.
With a whisper of hidden machinery, the mirrors changed position, leaving Chalkhill to stare woodenly at his own reflections.
Brimstone still wore his demonologist’s shawl when weather permitted. The horned symbol kept people at a distance ~ that or his body odour – even though the demons were tamed now. It suggested, he often thought philosophically, that once people were conditioned to a particular response, most of them were too lazy to rid themselves of it when it was no longer necessary.
He was wearing the shawl now. It permitted him to move unmolested through one of the roughest districts of the docks, a favourite ploy when he wanted to avoid being followed. The ruffians might leave
alone, but anyone who tried to follow risked their gold, their limbs and possibly their life. Not that there were many ruffians about at the moment. They seemed to be just as nervous of the plague as everybody else. All the same, he didn’t
he was being followed.
In fact he was sure of it. Brimstone stepped to the river’s edge and flagged down a passing water-taxi. The driver pulled in warily. ‘Where to, Guv?’
‘Mount Pleasant,’ Brimstone told him loudly, which was nowhere near where he wanted to go, but he could change the destination once he was aboard. Meanwhile, anyone who
be listening would be sent off in the wrong direction. Couldn’t be too careful, even with the streets half empty. He made to step on the boat.
‘Got your cert?’ asked the driver.
Brimstone glared at him. ‘Cert?’
‘Your chitty, Guv. Signed by a healer. Certifying you’re disease-free.’
For a minute Brimstone didn’t believe it. He ratcheted the glare up a notch. ‘What are you talking about, you cretin?’
‘Can’t get on a public vehicle without your cert,’ the cabbie explained patiently. ‘New regulation. Proposed by the Mayor, passed by the Queen, God bless her.’
‘When did this happen?’ Brimstone asked, appalled. Every time he turned around, that royal trollop enacted something else that took away your freedom. No bear-baiting, no cock fights, no duels. You weren’t even allowed to poison someone in a vendetta any more. Now it was freedom of movement.
‘Hour ago,’ the driver told him.
ago?’ Brimstone repeated. ‘With no public announcement ?’
The driver shook his head. ‘Oh, there’s been a public announcement all right, Guv. They posted a notice on the door of the cathedral.’
‘And how,’ asked Brimstone sarcastically, ‘do they expect somebody to arrange for a healer’s certificate
if he’s a Faerie of the Night who isn’t allowed into the Lighter cathedral?’
‘Dreadful, ain’t it?’ agreed the cabbie sympathetically. ‘All the same, sir, that’s the law. I don’t make it, but I can’t break it, as the saying goes. I’m only following orders. I just work here. I’m not paid to think.’
‘Double fare?’ Brimstone suggested.
‘Hop in, Guv.’
Brimstone climbed into the boat. It was nice to know some things hadn’t changed.
He settled himself into the rear of the cab and pulled across the tattered sunshade. Not that there was any sun, but it protected him from prying eyes. The cabbie struck a spell cone, which spluttered for a moment, then flared into life. ‘Mount Pleasant, was it, Guv? The posh end, I suppose?’
‘Whitewell,’ Brimstone told him shortly. ‘The one past Cripple’s Gate.’
‘Could have sworn you said Mount Pleasant,’ the cabbie muttered. ‘I must be getting senile.’
Brimstone closed his eyes as the boat began to gather momentum. Queen Blue’s latest law was disturbing as well as inconvenient. Any imbecile could see it would be wildly unpopular, especially with those who didn’t have Brimstone’s access to funds for bribes. The Queen was answerable to nobody, but the Mayor was running for re-election next year. The fact he’d proposed it showed how bad the time plague had become.
If he wasn’t careful, it would be completely out of control before he could exploit it properly.
Brimstone opened his eyes and leaned forward. ‘There’s an extra seven groats for you if you ignore the speed limit,’ he told the cabbie.
Henry breathed a sigh of relief. It was a mistake. (It was a really
mistake, made by a really stupid nurse.) He looked across the room to where Mr Fogarty lay asleep on the bed, looking just the way he had when Henry left him. Somebody had taken that horrid tube out of his back, which probably meant he didn’t need it any more, which was more good news.
‘He’s just sleeping,’ Henry told Blue.
‘Henry …’ Blue said.
‘No, really,’ Henry told her. ‘He always sleeps like that. On his back. I mean, he was sleeping like that when I left him. It’s just that you can’t see his breathing. Lots of people would make the same mistake: he breathes very shallowly when he’s sleeping.’
‘Henry …’ Blue said again.
‘No, really,’ Henry repeated with a little smile. ‘Look, I’ll show you.’ He strode across the room. ‘Mr Fogarty,’ he said brightly. ‘Wake up, Mr Fogarty.’ The old boy would be cross about losing his beauty sleep, but at least that was better than this nonsense about his being dead. It had everybody running around like headless chickens.
Mr Fogarty did not move.
‘Henry …’ Blue said.
Henry reached down and shook Mr Fogarty’s shoulder. The old man’s head rolled loosely to one side and his eyes remained closed. Blue appeared beside Henry and gripped his arm. ‘He’s dead, Henry,’ she said gently.
Henry turned to look at her, his eyes desolate. ‘He can’t be dead. I was talking to him just a few minutes ago.’ He turned back and seized Mr Fogarty’s wrist, feeling for a pulse. There was none.
Blue said, ‘I think we should leave him now, Henry. The priests will look after him from here.’
Henry stared at her. ‘Priests?’
‘They cast a spell to open his mouth.’
‘Why would they want to do that?’
‘To release his soul.’ Blue tugged his arm. ‘Come on, Henry. We should leave them to do their work.’
Although he hadn’t seen them enter, the room was filled with wizards in their ceremonial robes. Some had Trinian servants carrying rosaries, thuribles and other religious equipment.
‘He’s not from your world,’ Henry said. He couldn’t think straight, but somehow it felt wrong that Mr Fog-arty should have his mouth opened by a spell. Surely he should be in a proper coffin, ready to be buried in a proper grave? It occurred to Henry he didn’t know Mr Fogarty’s religion, or if he even had one. But people who were dead should go to the nearest Church of England, where the vicar would conduct a service and say nice things about them –
He was a bank robber, but everybody loved him,
said an imaginary vicar inside Henry’s head.
- and then when everybody had paid their respects, they were carried to the churchyard and …
Henry discovered there were tears streaming down his face even though he didn’t feel all that sad. He didn’t feel anything really, except perhaps numb.
‘He wanted our funeral rites,’ Blue said. ‘We discussed it days ago.’
That was before I came,
Henry thought inconsequentially.
That was before I even knew.
The room was swimming behind a veil of tears, so he allowed Blue to lead him out into the corridor and down the Palace stairs.
It was like his very first visit to the Realm when he’d ended up in the Palace kitchens, fussed over by matronly women. Now Blue brought him here again and sat him at a scrubbed pine table amidst the bustle and the cooking smells. Someone plump in an apron brought them steaming mugs of what turned out to be tea – a kind thought because tea was expensive in the Realm, but they all knew where he came from and wanted to make him feel at home.
Henry stared down into the amber liquid – they didn’t know about adding milk here – and watched ripples spread across its surface as a teardrop struck it. For some reason he couldn’t stop crying, even though it was unmanly and embarrassing.
Blue sat on the bench beside him, so close that her thigh touched his. She curled her hands around her own mug as if to warm them. She had very long, slender fingers. He loved her fingers. She seemed more feminine than he remembered, probably because of the dress. He loved her dress.
‘What are you going to do?’ Blue asked softly.
Henry looked at a point somewhere beyond her shoulder. He should write and tell Mr Fogarty’s daughter that Mr Fogarty was dead, except Mr Fogarty’s daughter already
Mr Fogarty was dead because Henry had lied to her on Mr Fogarty’s instructions. So he couldn’t write to her now. But he would have to go back and tell Hodge. Hodge would want to know.
Henry’s body began shaking uncontrollably and he felt Blue’s arm around his shoulders. ‘Hush,’ she said into his ear. ‘It’s all right, Henry. It’s all right.’
But it wasn’t all right. Everything had changed. Everything had … stopped.
‘I think I’d better go home,’ Henry said.
‘Will you stay for his funeral?’
He turned his head slightly and focused on her face. After a moment he said, ‘Yes. Yes, I should stay for the funeral, shouldn’t I?’
‘He would have liked that.’
They stared into their mugs together, but neither of them drank.
‘It will be a proper funeral,’ Blue said. ‘A State funeral, with full honours. He was our Gatekeeper.’
It didn’t make any difference. Mr Fogarty had always been impatient with ceremony, but he was dead now so it wouldn’t matter to him what they did. But to please Blue, Henry said, ‘That’s good. That’s very good.’
‘I’ll have your old room made up,’ Blue said.
Pyrgus didn’t know. He would have to go back and tell Pyrgus. ‘I have to go back and tell Pyrgus,’ he said.
‘It’s all right,’ Blue said. ‘We’ve sent Nymph already.’
That was the right thing to do. Nymph was Pyrgus’s wife now. He wondered if Pyrgus would come back for the funeral and risk another bout of time fever. ‘When will it be?’
‘The funeral? In three days.’
The same as funerals at home,
‘Henry?’ Blue said. ‘After the funeral … Will you go home straightaway?’
Everything had changed, but nothing had changed. He didn’t want to go home. He was miserable at home, had been for the past two years. He didn’t want to live with his mother any more, didn’t want to go to university and then teach in some mouldy old school until he died. But somehow he had to. There simply wasn’t any choice. He looked at Blue and nodded. ‘Yes, I think that would be best. I’ll go home straightaway.’
‘I’m afraid that won’t be possible, deeah,’ said a familiar voice behind him.
The house was a small Tudor mansion surrounded by trees and set in its own grounds. The estate agent claimed it had once belonged to Queen Elizabeth the First, although she’d never actually stayed there. (Pyrgus looked her up after he bought the place and discovered she was quite a famous Analogue World monarch.) It was private, comfortable, a little gloomy and equipped with an astonishing number of vanity mirrors. He kept catching sight of himself unawares and thinking he was looking at his father. It was a weird feeling.
He tore his attention away with an effort. ‘So it’s happened?’ he said.
Nymph nodded. ‘Yes.’
He’d noticed a difference in her since the fever aged him. It was a subtle thing, but definitely there. She was more sober when they were together. She seldom teased him any more. It was almost as if she was treating him … with deference. He knew where it was coming from, of course. When she looked at him, she saw exactly what he saw in the mirror – a middle-aged man. That couldn’t be easy for her, however much she loved him. The time plague had to be stopped soon and not just for the sake of the Realm. If they couldn’t call a halt to it, their marriage was at risk.
‘Henry was there?’ he asked.
Nymph nodded again. ‘Yes.’
‘In the room?’
‘Yes,’ Nymph said soberly. ‘Henry didn’t realise Mr Fogarty was dead – he thought he’d just fallen asleep.’
‘Which explains why he never told anybody.’
‘And why he was so shocked when Blue told
‘He was preparing to take Mr Fogarty home?’
‘Waiting beside the Palace portal, exactly the way it was prophesied,’ Nymph said.
thought he was taking back a
Gatekeeper!’ Pyrgus exclaimed with budding understanding. ‘Not just the body, as we assumed.’
‘Exactly,’ Nymph said.
The window of their living room looked out across a sweeping lawn bordered in the distance by a line of trees. A peacock strode across the grass, bobbing its head. Peacocks were magnificent birds, found only in the Analogue World now they’d become extinct in the Faerie Realm. This one had come with the house, the property of the previous owner who was too soft-hearted to move it from its old home. At dusk it gave eerie calls. Pyrgus thought it might be looking for its wife, who’d died just before the house changed hands.