In the City of London, night seeps upward as the shadows lengthen, and gloomy dusk rises up from every cellar and drain. The darkness came up and engulfed the Tabard, leaving only a few brave lanterns to light the way. Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing. Would Hobbes attempt to strike me down that night, as he had on a night so similar not too long before?
I refused to be cowed. Boldly I made merry in the common room until the wee hours, drinking deeply of ale and brandy, supping on fowl and fish. At last, sotted and woozy, I made my way back to my pitch-black room. Fumbling, I reached for the counterpane in the utter darkness.
"The moon sits upon the Tower walls. You were not here."
I started, nearly spilling the tankard of beer I had brought with me. "Who’s there?" I whispered.
One of the curtains twitched aside, allowing a shaft of moonlight to blaze into the room. Grasping the curtain was a delicate feminine hand. She stepped into the moonlight, and my breath deserted me.
She was as beautiful as when I had seen her performing on the small platform. More beautiful, perhaps, for the moonlight struck her hair and set it ablaze in strands of liquid ebony. The witch.
"Lady Nimue," I managed.
She laughed, a surprisingly girlish sound in the night air. "That name is merely for the 'mudges," she said, her voice tinged with the slightest exoticism, the barest hint of an accent. It sounded somehow different from what she had said before. "Call me...Blaze."
"Very well, Blaze," I said, recovering slightly. "What are you doing here?"
"Robbing you blind, your Excellence," she said cheerfully. She held up a leather sack, apparently stuffed with whatever possessions of value I had.
"I knew it was not real magic," I said, and was surprised to discover an overtone of bitterness in my voice. Was I so desperate to be captured by this exquisite siren?
She laughed again. "Your Excellence does not believe in magic."
"No, although I do believe in thieving gipsies," I said, inching towards her. If she imagined she would away with my belongings without a struggle, she was sorely mistaken.
However, my drunkenness belied my stealth, and spotting my movement, she began to ease towards the open window. "Magic believes in you, though."
"Does it, now?" If I could get slightly closer, I could seize her, although not without some effort.
She placed one foot dramatically on the sill. For a moment I was struck by a strange sensation, as though I had seen the same moment before, but it passed quickly. "Trying to catch me, eh, your Excellence? I think you will find that gipsies do not catch so easil--"
Her face went strangely slack in an instant. I doubted she had been expecting whatever spell had overtaken her, for the sack of loot slipped from her fingers. The expression on her face was hauntingly familiar, and I grasped for the memory, until I realised she had worn the same expression in my...vision, or hallucination, or whatever it had been.
"Dark bells are ringing soon," she whispered through lips made soft and loose by the magic that afflicted her. "He comes...the world-shaker, the world-shatterer. He shall make a New World...he comes."
Baffled and frightened, I sternly said, "What witchery is this?"
"You...you!" she said, pointing at me. "You shall be there...you shall see him rise, and be present at his fall...the fate of nations shall rest in your hands..." her voice trailed off into half-heard whispers and murmurs, and then silence.
I waited for a moment, to see if there was anything more. Of course, I was not so foolish as to make ill use of this time, so I stepped forward and neatly slung the sack onto the bed, and grasped her by the arm.
Whatever trance she had so suddenly entered she exited just as suddenly. "Where-where am I? Have I had one of my fits?" With her free hand, she reached up and massaged her temple.
Then, her eyes clearing, she gasped at my proximity and attempted to leap away.
"Not so quickly, mademoiselle," I said, gripping her arm firmly despite her spirited efforts to escape. The warm, smooth flesh under my palm twisted and flexed as she struggled, but she soon recognised the futility of her actions.
"I am caught," she said, her voice aching with fury. "Summon the constables."
"On the contrary," I said. "A witch and a thief? Too valuable a prize to lock away in Newgate."
She looked at me, startled. "What then, your Excellence?"
"I could use a young lady of your abilities..." I said, and glancing down the front of her blouse, continued, "...and ‘talents’. How would you like a job?"
"A job?" she sneered. "I’d rather go to gaol."
I chuckled. "How old are you?"
"Eighteen." I quirked an eyebrow at this. "Sixteen," she said quickly.
Seeing my sceptical expression, at last she mumbled, "Fifteen."
"This would be no ordinary job, Mademoiselle Blaze. I think that a young lady such as yourself might benefit from such experience as might be imparted."
She gave me a cool look.
"It is," I said importantly, "a gullgropers job."
Her cool look was replaced by one of utter startlement. "Fancy a toff like you knowing a word like that," she said.
Pleased by the fact that I had managed to surprise not one but two of my confederates that day with my knowledge of underhanded dealings, I asked, "Are you interested?"
"Perhaps," she said, after a long moment. I released her arm.
"We shall meet again, I think," she said, and slid out the window without a backwards glance.
A young, talented, and undeniably buxom thief. One of the parts in my grand play had just been filled.
The Life, Times, and Misadventures of Dennis St. Michel, Viscount of Stokington, Soldier, Gambler, Diplomat, Scoundrel, Notorious Rakehell, and Lord of Menacing House, in his Own Words.