Jonathon wiped the tears from his red rimmed eyes and shivered involuntarily as he attempted to regain his composure. If he was to find Milly here in Dubh, he would have to his wits about him he realised.
The small tavern below was a hive of activity, its visitors exclusively High Hats. Unknown to Jonathon the great hall Silus Flax had built around his gate was several levels below the Black Leopard and on each level, at this crucial time, his minions swarmed like excited ants.
In the absence of Silus Flax, Edgar Morrell, the Chief of Assassins, ran the High Hat organisation in the Lower City. Morrell was a cold and calculating, yet intensely loyal individual. To him, as with his master, people were no more than commodities, tools, weapons and he used ruthlessly them as such to further his ends and those of Silus Flax, showing no emotion as he acquired and disposed of them on the basis of efficiency. Morrell had always been Flax’s right hand and showed a devotion to him that exceeded all else. If his master had told him that to die, he would have done so immediately without thought or emotion and he expected the evotion and loyalty same from all his subordinates.
At present, he presided in the great ante-room to Flax’s personal apartments and considered the fate of Amaril Caldecott who had failed to carry out Flax’s wishes to the letter. Behind Morrell was the great barred door to the chambers in which the dimension door was now open and above it a huge clock showed the time, day and date, ticking loudly in the silence of the chamber.
Amaril Caldecott stood quaking before his judge staring at his feet and listened to the wooden ticking of the clock which stretched out the seconds while he waited for Morrell to speak. The deputy High Hat leader stood and stared at his underling him through his one good eye, while his false eye attempted to imitate its working companion but failed miserably, appearing to gaze outwards and away from the working eye’s focal point.
After fifteen long minutes of scrutiny, he sat down again on the throne-like chair positioned on a raised dais, his hands cupped under his chin. Morrell’s massive hunched and muscular form terrified Amaril, not to mention his uncompromising reputation.
The Chief of Assassins had questioned Caldecott for nearly an hour and now considered his bungling underling’s fate. Amaril twitched nervously and scratched the mole on his nose. Not even for a second had been able to meet Morrell’s accusing gaze. Smiling menacingly, he laughed softly at the quaking Caldecott.
Amaril looked up briefly and giggled back, trying to peer into the Chief of Assassin’s eyes but could not sustain contact, being forced to turn away shivering. Another long silence ensued. Eventually Morrell sighed and lifted his muscular bulk from the chair. Amaril whimpered as the monstrous ox-like form of Flax’s deputy walked slowly towards him. Morrell stood over him, his good eye burning a hole in the top of Amaril’s skull, his stinking breath torturing his nostrils and stomach.
A large, heavy hand came to rest around the back of the weeping man’s neck. Amaril winced and closed his eyes, but the vice-like pressure he expected to come and crush the life slowly out of him never came. Morrell spoke in a voice like gravel sliding down a steel tube. “So you still have the nerve to claim a reward?” he croaked “A reward for what exactly?”
Amaril replied in a whisper, his answer more of a question, a confused plea.
“For the boy? ”
Morrell bent over and stared directly into Amaril’s face.
“Yes of course! I forgot. Mmm, the boy.” he stood upright, turned away and began to pace around the shaking Assassin. Hands clasped behind his back, his head nodding in mock consideration, Morrell laughed quietly.
“Yes of course. The ‘boy’ ......with tits. Is that what you are claiming this reward for? he grated. “The boy who was in fact a girl.” he chuckled.
“Have you visited a brothel recently Amaril?”
“Tits!?” Amaril Caldecott croaked in genuine surprise. The circling continued.
“Yes, my dear Amaril, under those rags was a girl, a female, a woman. Understand? You burned down a whole block of the City, brought the Tans down on our backs for a girl! And failed Amaril. Failed! Failed! Failed! ” he howled.
Edgar Morrell’s face had turned white with rage, sweat rolled down his forehead into his grey, bushy eyebrows as his burning rage set his body on fire. He marched back towards the chair and leaned heavily on its back while Amaril contemplated the penalty for failure, not just a simple ordinary failure. He had failed Silus Flax and no-one failed him and lived.
He considered escape, but was trapped, the only way out guarded by High Hats who smirked with amusement at his predicament. Amaril’s brain began to work overtime and an idea drifted into his scheming mind. Then he smiled.
He stiffened and stood upright, his shivering ceased and he scratched the mole on his nose again as he smiled broadly at Morrell’s back. He would take a chance, but he knew that Morrell could not challenge the excuse he had concocted under pressure. It was a last ditch effort on his part and an idea was born, necessity was the Mother of its invention and its Father self- preservation and, unknown to him, was almost true.
Amaril cleared his throat confidently and Morrell whirled around. “Did you say something idiot!” he howled, staring at a smirking and confidant Amaril.
“I knew the boy would escape, so I captured the girl....er.....she is the boy’s wench. My plan was that he would come to us seeking her, as he will soon.” he said quietly and assuredly. Morrell stared at him in disbelief for a moment, then laughed and shook his head.
“But my dear, bungling, Amaril. She’s not here and it’s doubtful that she still lives, since she was sent to the Tallmen for their amusement. They don’t last long in the Towers. Surely this ‘boy’ would realise this don’t you think, and why would he bother anyway? Would you risk your life for a female?”
Amaril considered Morrell’s reasoning and realised he had lost.
“There was a chance that he would ” he ventured. ” if he err .. loved her.”
Morrell roared with laughter.
“Did what! LOVE ? Amaril are you ill? No-one loves
anyone anymore, they never did. It’s just lust dear Amaril, an animal thing. Any thinking man knows that. The boy’ll just find something else to shag, like the rest of us.” he mocked.
Amaril felt embarrassed more than frightened. Of course no one loved anyone any more or so they said. But he had loved his Mother dearly until her death and he didn’t want to shag her. He knew what love was. Amaril was sure that the emotion was still existent in the city, just a little lost, buried. People like Morrell made him sick, they knew but were not man enough to admit it. He grew strangely angry.
“You’re wrong Morrell! Wrong! He did love her I know about love and he wasn’t like us” He screamed as tears streamed into his eyes along with the memories of his Mother’s unselfish affection. “And you destroyed my plan! It’s your fault! You fat bastard! Flax’ll sort you out when he hears about it, he will understand!” he threatened, pointing an accusing finger at Morrell who promptly reached out and broke it with a sickening crack. He laughed as Amaril staggered around in pain.
“Plans! Plans! “the amusement drained from Morrell’s face. “It doesn’t matter anyway, Amaril. No one threatens me! “he spat.
Amaril looked up into Morrell’s face and realised that the Chief of Assassins actually might have believed him. He was frightened that he had made an error and was dangerous. Morrell nodded to the guards and stepped back sneering.
“Better send you to see your Mummy then Caldecott, seeing as you love her so much!”
Amaril whirled around quickly enough to see the flash from the guards’ musket barrels, but did not live to hear the roar of them or feel Morrell’s knife drawn across his throat to make sure of his silence.