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by Fred Saberhagen


Copyright ยฉ 1978 by Fred Saberhagen

ePublication : JSS Literary Productions

eISBN: 978-1-937422-49-3

Background Cover art for the e-edition:

ยฉFredric Prochasson, View of Big Ben Clock Tower at Sunset, i-stock #74187773

Cover design: Brianna Schorr

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review, without permission in writing from the publisher.

All characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


Chapter One

   There can be little doubt that if the cudgel descending on that old manโ€™s skull had been of lead or iron, rather than some stout timber of the English forest, not much would have come of the attemptโ€”at least nothing worthy of your attention and mine at this late date. The street beside the East India docks was very nearly empty in the dawn, and to any assault with mere metal he would have responded vigorously, and then would have gone on his way to meet his love in Exeter, lighthearted with the sense of having done the metropolis of London a good turn en passant, ridding it of one or two of its more rascally inhabitants.

   It is however an important fact of historyโ€”I do not exaggerateโ€”that the force of that stealthy blow, delivered from behind by an assailant of breathtaking cunning, was borne in wood. The old man fell down senseless on the spot; he felt neither the slime of the streetโ€™s stones nor the rough hands that lifted him and bore him off, their owners doubtless grumbling at his unexpected weight.

   There was a great pain in the old manโ€™s head when he awoke, and he awoke to nothing better than a crippled awareness, bereft of useful memories. He was in a poor little bedchamber, quite strange to him. And when the old man tried to move, he found that his arms and legs were fettered with iron, held tight to the peculiar high, narrow bed or cot on which he lay. On making this discovery he began, as you may well imagine, very earnestly to consider his situation. But no, he could neither remember nor guess how he might have come to such a pass.

   He had no more than shards of memory, all recent but quite incomplete: a sailing ship, a gangplank, the happy feel of solid land beneath his feet once more, the fog-wreathed dawnโ€ฆthe great pain in his head.

   Now here he was locked to his bed, in a small room he did not know. The lone window was heavily blocked with blinds and curtains, but still admitted more light than he required to take stock of his surroundings. Above it on the stained ceiling a smear of reflected daylight quivered, signaling that water lay outside in the sun. On the far side of the room stood a high old chest of drawers in need of paint, holding on its top an unlit candle in a brass stick, a chipped wash-basin, and a pitcher. A stark chair of dark wood waited inhospitably beside the chest, and that completed the roomโ€™s furnishings save for the bed itself, which seemed to be fashioned almost entirely of heavy metal.

   It might be morning still, or afternoon. The Cockney cries of a coster, hawking vegetables, came from somewhere outside and below. The room, though small, was furnished with two doors, set in adjacent walls. One door was fettered by two closed padlocks, which were large and strong, and mounted upon separate heavy hasps. Little splinters of bright, raw wood about these showed that their installation had been recent. The other door was also closed, but had no lock at all, at least not on the old manโ€™s side.

   Wafting, oozing from somewhere, was a certain smellโ€ฆ

   The pain and damage in his head had left his mind confused and wandering. Yes, a whole symphony of smells was in the cityโ€™s air. Below and beyond the others was the sea, perceptible to a keen nose though miles away. That and his fragmented memory of being recently aboard ship reminded him that this was London. What was he doing here, so far from home? So far fromโ€ฆ

   Not till his thoughts had reached this point did the old man realize that he no longer knew who he was. If he had been at all susceptible to fear, he would have known it then.

   At wrists and ankles, elbows and knees, his arms and legs were clasped to the high, narrow bed by rings of steel, fitted too tightly to leave the smallest chance of wriggling free. When he raised his head as far as possible he could see that his lanky body, still clothed even to elegant frock coat and boots, lay on a sheet of patterned oilcloth. Beneath this, some thin padding covered the hard top and metal frame of this odd cot. It was a sturdy bit of furniture. The old man strained his wiry arms until they quivered, without eliciting so much as a creak from their constraints.

   What was that smell? Something to do, he thought, with wild animals. Withโ€ฆ

   Footsteps were approaching, outside his room, and he lay back as if no more than semiconscious, and quite too weak to move. Presently the unlocked door was swung in, by a heavyset figure in workmanโ€™s garb: shabby dirt-colored coat over a gray sweater, baggy trousers, drab cloth cap. Below blue eyes and heavy, blackish brows, most of the manโ€™s beefy face was hidden behind a mask of white gauze, held on by strings that looped behind his hairy ears. That mask would look familiar to you now, from films and television if not from direct experience in surgery, but it was strange and puzzling to our old man. In 1897, few people had ever seen the like of it.

    โ€œ โ€™Eโ€™s awyke, Guvโ€™nor.โ€ The grating voice that came out through

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