Red Cross Alley, London: 2 June, 1625
They found him in a narrow alley, within smelling distance of the riverside wharves and the pestilential tenements that crowded them, with his throat slit from ear to ear.
Sir Michael Deven knelt in the muck, not caring that he ruined the knee of his breeches, and bit down hard on a knuckle to hold back tears.
The long, gangly limbs sprawled without grace, like a child’s doll thrown aside. Even in the poor light, occluded by the overhanging jetties of the buildings on either side, the rich green taffeta of his doublet gleamed incongruously bright, a spot of elegance and wealth in a place that knew neither. Deven noted these details with fierce determination, trying not to acknowledge the bloodless face, the staring eyes, out of which the dreams had gone forever.
For the first time in over six decades of life, he felt old. Because this is what age is. Not the weakening of the body, nor the dimming of the mind, but your hopes lying shattered at your feet.
He forced down the hard knot in his throat and took the knuckle from between his teeth. Truncated strings dangled from the belt, where a purse should have hung. “Murdered, by a common thief.”
“Beggin’ yer pardon, milord, but I don’t think so.”
The diffident voice was not one he wanted to hear, not when its owner had come to tell him a young man lay dead in a Coldharbour alley. But he made himself look as Mungle sidled forward. The fellow appeared to be a dockside labourer, one of the rough cobs who unloaded goods from ships into London’s voracious maw. A mask, of course, but he wore it well.
Mungle went toward the body, with hesitant steps that gave Deven time to call him back. Grimacing, he bent and rolled the head the other way, so the clouded eyes no longer stared in accusation. Mud caked the left ear, but something still hung from its lobe. “Earring’s here,” Mungle said. “And shoes. And that belt. Worth more than a ha’penny, those would be; any slower getting here, and you’d find them gone. A thief worth his cut would take them.”
“Perhaps the thief was interrupted.”
“In Coldharbour?” Mungle laughed, then swallowed it guiltily. “Who’d bother? I’d guess they took the purse to make it seem ordinary. But they was no thieves. And look—” Mungle lifted one pallid, unresisting hand, stained with blood from a small wound. “Rapier, I’d say. Nicked him on the sword hand. He was fighting somebody—a gentleman.”
Deven stood, moving carefully against the growing sickness in his gut. Mungle was right. This wasn’t simply an unfortunate encounter with a cutpurse. The murderer had a reason beyond gold, and Deven knew of only one great enough to suffice.
Henry Ware’s death was a consequence of the world Deven had brought him into.
Which was, in a way, good news. Because whichever faerie had murdered him, Deven could and would see the creature responsible hanged.
About the Author: Marie Brennan is a former anthropologist and folklorist who shamelessly pillages her academic fields for inspiration. She recently misapplied her professors’ hard work to The Night Parade of 100 Demons and the short novel Driftwood, and together with Alyc Helms as M.A. Carrick, she is the author of the Rook and Rose epic fantasy trilogy, beginning with The Mask of Mirrors. The first book of her Hugo Award-nominated Victorian adventure series The Memoirs of Lady Trent, A Natural History of Dragons, was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. Her other works include the Doppelganger duology, the urban fantasy Wilders series, the Onyx Court historical fantasies, the Varekai novellas, and over seventy short stories, as well as the New Worlds series of worldbuilding guides. For more information, visit swantower.com, Twitter @swan_tower, or her Patreon.